Everything is in a loop. You’ll walk back to it no doubt. Keep trying, you’ll see. Those voices will call you back the further you dig. Leave the business parts of things behind and you’ll get to it. It’s harder when you’re older. You’ll see. Focus. Let me take a step back here and tell you about Vince.
Vince worked at the Musee De Mecanique when it was still located at the base of the Cliff House just off of the Great Highway, which hugs the coast up there. At that time, nobody much went in. It was an after thought. I think now it’s on tour or something because of the nostalgia it holds. People feel warm with that kind of thing. I can’t place the time when I was there – but there was always that push inside of me to escape into what I thought might have been an easier time in the past. It never was.
So Vince, Vince McGilroy, that was his name. His real name. I can’t see him still being alive now, so I’ll use his real name for this and perhaps take care of it in the edits. He was the man who fixed all of the machines. These were all throwbacks in the true sense – old penny arcade machines and flip card movies. Baseball games with steel balls and flippers. Giant amusement parks that started and stopped with a nickel. This is just a setting for this part of the story though. No need to make it the main character. Let’s see.
My friends were leaving. The woman I was in love with was in love with a boy she helped to commit suicide. The vampires and prostitutes I was living with were stealing everything I had. I worked in the back room of a woman’s dress shop. School was on my mind but not in my heart. When I walked in, the sounds of that old carnival song played just off tone. Vince was fixing the old Opium den – where if you dropped in your coin you’d see people delivering opium, nodding out, and moving around the red dim lit room that was created for whatever reason. I couldn’t get away. Everything is on loop. Was on a loop. Next to that was an old baseball card machine that had spit out 1 cent cards of legends not too long ago, but was now retrofitted with replicas of those cards and charged 50 cents per pull. The price went up but the value of what came out went down.
I walked through the old spot and touched every machine, thinking that it would ground me an connect me to something that I could believe in – perhaps a religion of affirmation that at one point everything was as it should have been. Vince was the gatekeeper to this world and the one who kept it all going.
“Not sure anyone else could do what I do,” he said, noticing me notice him. “I see you in here from time to time. That’s good. Returning people are going to help keep all this alive, which is going to help keep me alive.”
We extended greetings. I had never spoken to him before – I just watched him work. There was always a pleasure in that for me – to see someone doing a job they loved to do. These days you just walk around the office and see people looking over their shoulder while having whispered conversations to make sure the person they’re talking about isn’t near. It’s fear based. Vince was doing something in the world. He was keeping it going for all of us. His tool belt held everything he needed to make it continue to rotate on its axis. It was hard at that time because I hadn’t realized how painful it was to stay distant and yet try to step inside when looking at characters. At people. However you wanted to look at things. It’s hard to tell the difference.
“I just fixed up the Cail-O-Scope with the girls,” he said, winking at me. “I’m gonna take some lunch now – go on and enjoy.” He was talking about the old XXX movies that were hand cranked and showed pictures of what, at that time, were thought to be erotic pictures. None of them were ever naked, but there was something wonderfully sexual about them being in black and white and un-airbrushed.
“All the photos inside are breaking down,” he said. “They’re going to replace them with duplicates soon. I take them home and retouch them as much as I can, but there’s only so much you can do to fight time. Can’t do that.”
Vince went to go eat his lunch outside and look at the waves. I put my quarter in and started turning the crank. It was nice because you could control the flips of the movie and center in on what you really wanted to look it. The face of the girl in there, i think her name was Marietta – naughty Marietta yes! Hey, wait, that is a fantastic name. I’m going to use that on the rewrite. Anyhow, her face was not at haunted as the ones that were behind the glass of the Lusty Lady. It’s as if they were posing for art. Everything is on a loop. I put in a dollars worth of quarters to watch 4 times, each time pausing on a different page of the flip book. How many faces must have looked through those viewers? Was I connected to them? If so, all men are connected at their lust for looking at a woman about to undress. It’s always in the reveal.
The orchestration, the player piano at the museum, was set to start playing every half hour. Whenever it played, it’s jolted me. Even though I knew it was playing an automatic tune, it appeared to be haunted. There was enough haunting going on in my life at that point. Those old places, which were many in San Francisco, had too many spirits that seeped into the buildings they spent their lives in. I wondered if Vince, sitting out watching the waves, would just become a spirit inside each of those machines. I allowed myself to think that perhaps I should become his apprentice and learn from him, then when he died, I could take over the place and have something to do with my life. When you’re alone in the middle of the day, you allow yourself to think these things – to dream about what you’d be happy doing. It’s only when you get back to the world that the voices inside you’re head tell you it’s absurd.
I walked through until I was out of change and out of tolerance for daydreams. I stepped out to the overlook where Vince had finished his lunch and was now taking a moment to digest the horizon.
“Are you happy with your life,” I asked him. “Is it enough for you what you’ve done with it.”
“I guess that’s a good question to ask right now,” he said. “Seeing as how I’m old enough to look back on things, which I don’t think it’s good to do because you might miss what’s in front of you – but, yes, I think so. I’m part of something here. Not something that other people think is great or not great, but what I think is pretty great. That’s enough for me. See, when I go to sleep, I can see the faces, faces like yours, that I made happy with my trade. I helped with their memories – and that’s good for me. Why are you asking such things? You’re young and should be concentrated on girls and maybe even an education.”
“Women,” I sighed. “They take up most of my time. Education – not sure it’s good for much out there.”
“Not really what is good for out there,” he said, waving his hand over the ocean, thing bringing it to a point where my brain was supposed to be. “It’s what it’s good for in there. Keeps it working. Keeps the gears going. We’re no different from machines. That’s why we build them. I think we’re all looking to understand ourselves a little more, so we build these things we can take apart and put together with math equations.”
He pulled a pocket watch attached on a shoe string from his front pocket and jumped of the wall he was sitting on.
‘Time to get back to it – you should do the same.”
He smiled and faded through the doorway, the sounds of off beat carnival music playing his entrance song.