Stories, as we all know, are the life of Omega Mu, and they keep alive our Omega Mu spirit each time we see each other, and there is nothing wrong with feeling nostalgic and then saying to yourself: “Did I really say and do these interesting things while living in the house; did all those events occur in the RAM, and did I really look like that during my years in The Castle?” And the beautiful thing is that these events did occur, and you did look like that. The Castle has graced the ground of 79 College Avenue for generations of Omega Mu brothers, and our binding stories were framed within the distinctive walls of The Castle. The stories are delightful, poignant and filled with warm memories. Your stories provide a clear, significant lens in appreciating our long history; second, they provide a broad generational spectrum of our brotherhood and our shared home. That is the power of authentic storytelling, not shallow prattle. Anyway, to be clear, please send me more of your stories. Each story helps each of us to appreciate and love, in new yet familiar ways, our Omega Mu brotherhood and The Castle. Thank you.
Chip Chapman, ’82
Omega Mu, 1959
Of course it being the fifties one had to tolerate certain sometimes-painful experiences called Hell Week, and be called Zobies for a time. Our first clue of things to come was our instruction to have a paddle made for a brother and I dutifully had one made for Dave Rand. It should be noted at this time that Dave lettered in football and baseball and thus knew how to wield wooden instruments that might cause pain. I should have chosen someone else.
After that learning experience the brothers who had been through hell week then divided themselves into two groups, led by a brother who advocated a change to Greek Week and another who advocated retaining Hell Week. As a lesson in theater is was magnificent. Of course the Zobies all advocated that Greek Week would be a more productive use of our time. We were alerted by the possible down side of Hell Week by Zobe JJ Dibiase whose cousin was a Fiji Brother a few years before. There was talk about sleepless nights and eating raw onions. The debate raged on for several days, each day becoming more acrimonious. There would be a vote we were told and that Fiji Alumni would return to the house to participate. That fateful day finally came and graduate brothers turned up, allegedly to vote.
After some time the Zobies were lined up in the upstairs and the brother told us who favored Greek Week that the vote had favored Greek Week. At that moment the brother s who favored Hell Week stormed out of his room and accosted the Greek Week brother loudly and then still yelling, vaulted down the stairs. We Zobies were at the same time shocked and relieved, and vowed among our selves that we would heal the apparent rift in the house and introduce a new spirit called Greek Week to Omega MU. We were told to go to bed and get a good night sleep.
At midnight, as the saying goes, all hell broke out in the Ram and we were summarily ordered out of bed and told to line up in the downstairs hall. Hell Week had begun and the brothers had united. It had all been a ruse, theater at its finest. Hell Week became a bonding experience for we Zobies that lives to this day. I write this in the almost certain knowledge that it will be judged harshly in the light of today’s politically correct environment, but I assure the modern reader that no harm was done.
Of course bonding didn’t just take place standing naked in the hall with an onion tied around your neck – from which you took the occasional bite in unison with your fellow Zobies and to the count of one to four. We also had fire drills, a sumptuous Bean supper and “voluntary” body painting, Sixty plus years later I still have fond memories of these shared experiences.
But I also have fond memories of long conversations shared with my Catholic friend JJ –sitting on the floor in the upstairs hall not far from the coke machine that contained not Coke but beer – Schaefer beer as I remember – 25 Cents a can –The machine was owned and operated by two brothers who subsidized their education costs with their profits, and their take from a coin operated nickel slot machine. All of this was illegal of course – but I don’t recall any complaints. As for me I help subsidize my expense by arranging dry cleaning and laundry services through Craig, the Tailor in Orono.
Party nights were everyone’s favorite. Sometime we went upscale with Manhattan cocktails and suits and ties. Fiji Island party was of course grass skirts and a mattress covered floor in the game room. A Fiji King was crowned and was entitled to kiss everyone’s date as they entered the Castle through a grass entryway. One requirement of being King was that you not have a date. I met that requirement one year and was selected as Fiji King and handed a grass skirt. Unbeknown to me at the time was the custom of visiting the second floor room of each brother to have a drink on the way to the party. That usually assured that there was no girlfriend annoyed by the Fiji King.
With Party nights came singing led by JJ and some time by Dana Wingren – The songs were often times bawdy but mild in contrast with today’s raunchy offerings. I still sing some of the songs to my dear wife and when I forget the words she always suggests that I call JJ - and I do – and he knows the answer. In later years we created a Fiji Songbook which I hope will become part of these Archives. And by the way most of us graduated, not always with the class we started with, and went on to have successful careers and raise good families. And we still believe in the motto “Not for College Days Alone” This is my testimony after 60 years a proud Fiji.
Omega Mu, 1961
“Sunday dinner at 74 College Avenue in 1960 followed a "well established" order of business.The dinner gong which hung on the dining room wall to the left of the door, was sounded by a white-coated waiter at exactly twelve noon. He then closed the door. At the sound, brothers in coat and tie from all over the house raced to the living room. They formed two lines with a lane from the dining room to the house mother's room at the left of the fireplace. The boys, then, with a lot of pissing and moaning',chose the "hero " to escort Ma Tate down the lane and be her companion for dinner. No doubt she could hear the goings on about the selection process but she never let on. She always came out with a smile and a hearty " Good Morning Fijis".
She was a kindly, chubby old girl who put up with a lot of crap from the guys. But, she made it clear that she was happier living with us than her daughter in Orono. As Ma and her host moved down the line with nods and comments back and forth the dining room doors were pushed open. Ma was seated at her place at one end of the center table. The brothers took their places standing at their chairs and benches. And yes, we had places! Changing from ones usual seat or table was certain to generate looks and smart aleck remarks. With Ma seated, the standing Fijis would break into a loud and enthusiastic singing of the Doxology.” The meal was plated in the kitchen and the waiters served the tables (center first, East windows second and the "Pig table" at the West windows last) One of the standard Sunday dinners featured roast pork followed by apple crisp topped with whipped cream....really good eating. Our cook was a tough old bird with many years experience cooking for loggers in the Maine woods. He fed us well and kept us happy on a strict budget. We told prospective members that we ate better than any other house on campus
and we believed it to be true.
Sunday dinner ended with much coffee and lots of talk around the tables. Following dinner, depending on the season, we played football or softball on the front lawn or watched sports on the only T.V. in the house which was Ma's 12 inch set. We loved our home team the N.Y. Football Giants. You can only imagine what her small sitting room looked and smelled like with a couple dozen or more of us jammed in for an hour of two cheering, groaning and farting. What fun! We were Fijis with boundless energy and spirit living the good life.
Omega Mu, 1970
Here’s a quick one: My bed in the ram was just south of the window to the flagpole. Since the window had no glass in the lower panes, in winter I often reached out a hand in my sleep and found several inches of snow on the corner of my bed right beside my head. I slept wonderfully in the cold ram with a down sleeping bag for a blanket.
One night I fell into bed drunk as a skunk. I had a pretty weak stomach so was prone to barfing after a serious night of drinking. I was so loaded I really didn’t know what I was doing as I awoke to the emergency of needing to puke somewhere right now. The easiest thing seemed to be to lean out the window and let ‘er rip. For some reason, I must have felt I needed more “reach” than just leaning out the window so I crawled out on the flagpole to make sure I didn’t hit the side of the house. It would have been a mess to clean that off the bricks. It was winter and damn cold, which you’d think might have sobered me up a bit. But no, being that drunk, I could have easily lost my balance and my grip and ended up on the ground. Lucky for me, Steve Carlisle, who slept in the bed across from me to the north of the flagpole, woke up and grabbed my legs to make sure I didn’t fall. He may have saved my life.
Do we need to tell the story of the greek week/hell week charade? Zobe fire? Onions on strings (“Take a bite, Zobe!") and crawling into the house through a basement window as the only allowable entry for Zobes during hell week? Tom Fisher coming to Sunday dinner with our house mother wearing the mandatory tie and jacket but no pants, just boxer shorts? She was a good sport about it!
Just though of another: Leigh Hiram Morrill, a classmate of mine in 1970, was an early experimenter with psychedelics. He was also, I believe, a high school state champion in long jump and hurdles. Very coordinated and strong although he rarely put those skills to use in any athletic sense at UMO. One spring night, I was awakened by singing out the window beside my bed in the ram. I looked out to see where it was coming from, and to my surprise, it was coming from above me. I looked up to the peak of the roof and there was Leigh sitting on the peak of the roof, singing cheerfully and swinging his legs off the edge. I don’t remember our exact words but I expressed concern that he might fall and talked him into coming down. I went outside and watched as he walked the peak of the roof like a Flying Wallenda, humming softly to himself and finally descending to the back of the house where he could come back in the ram windows. Pretty scary for me, but he was cheerful as can be.
Just thought of another one. Doug Baston or Emerson Gorham may have corrections, embellishments, or details I have left out. My sophomore year (1967-68) Emerson had a wonderful car that I can’t recall the make or year but it was a very curvy, swoopy design like any car from the late ’30’s. He called it “the black nerd”. Pushaw Pond was a popular party and recreation site in those days and Emerson decided that he would stage a spring spectacle since the “nerd” was on its last legs and wasn’t likely to be worth much on the used car market. He drove it out onto the ice on the pond and we had a betting pool of what day it would break through with the spring melt. Frequent beer runs to the pond were needed to monitor this event - sitting in the spring sun, drinking, and watching the car on the ice. Thrilling! This car participated in many adventures that only Doug or Emerson can do justice to. Some involved jail.
Omega Mu, 1970
How kind of the Lambda Chi's to recall that snowball epic. Fijis did indeed initiate that running battle by attacking Phi Mu, which used to be across College Ave. After being caught off guard, the Phi Mu's needed to vent, so we joined forces to attack ATO - a slaughter, I might add. Some ATO's joined us and we proceeded up College Ave. picking off targets as we went. One memorable moment for me came as we paused to catch our breath across the street from Phi Eta and Jim Chaplin, pitching ace for the Black Bears baseball team was challenged to chuck one of his best at Stodder Hall, a dorm about 40 yards away.
Jimmy packed a ball, wound up, and followed through with a beautiful stride. There was a hushed pause as the crowd watched the building, the only sound the falling snow. Then a large window on the third floor exploded. A cheer went up from the snowy warriors and the attack recommenced on the next house, probably Kappa Sig. A fine time was had by all - except for the guys (I think Stodder was a men's dorm then) who lived in that dorm room.
Omega Mu, 1972
“Other memorable events:
Gangster changed his clothes twice
Woody wore his bathrobe
Shitball got a free feel ...from under Chappy's bed in the ram
Eaton fell in love with The Barrel.... pretty much every Saturday night
Teddy won front stairs surfing championships
We won the Intra-Fraternity sing off (Country Joe and the Fish)
Numerous brothers fell off the ladder and Hiram skied off the roof... only minor injuries reported AND so the year went!
Omega Mu, 1972
On the remembrance side, one very telling incident was during John _______ presidency. In those days it was customary for national fraternities' visiting field secretaries to visit with the University President. At the time it was Winthrop C. Libby., and the field Secretary was Barry Mees, a great guy and fresh out of a Canadian university. He had all the positivity and enthusiasm of a new puppy under the Christmas tree.
I was utilized as the house "fixer" for campus issues. If something outrageous happened in regards to the brotherhood, he always said, "Find McLean, put a tie on him and tell him to find the person who can make this go away."
Two photos of Jim McLean
Recognizing that Field Secretary / University President in the same room dynamic had all the potential to be a lot like open gas valve / match in the same room, I was delegated by John to escort Barry to the meeting. Libby, a great guy, and about as dry a Mainer as you could find, looked an awful lot like Abe Lincoln with a shave. When we walked into his office his six foot six or so lanky frame was slouched in one chair with one of his feet up on another chair and his hands were high-steepled in front of his non-smiling mouth. He managed to move just enough to shake hands with Barry, without rising. Barry was filled with positivity and new-guy enthusiasm.
The conversation, to the best of my memory went as follows:
Barry, "Hi President Libby it is a real honor to be visiting the U of Maine and its very historic chapter of Phi Gamma Delta. I am Barry Mees, Field Secretary for Phi Gamma Delta. I am a recent graduate of (I forget which school, but I believe it was the University of Western Ontario). So what do you think of Phi Gamma Delta at U Maine? Barry was as animated and leaning forward as Libby was leaning back and unresponsive in a manner that would do the Sphinx proud.
Libby, (through steepled hands and with no sign of warmth) "Well. Mistah Mees (pregnant pause)....... "That is a COMPLICATED question".......... pregnant pause as Barry leaned forward in positive anticipation)..........."On one hand, Mistah Mees".......... pregnant pause as Barry leans even more forward and Libby slumps even more backward........ as individuals, they ahhh the most TALENTED group of people I have ever seen on this campus........... (if Barry had a tail, it would have been wagging at the speed of sound)........ "but" ........ (looooong pregnant pause)............ "collectively, they ah my wust nightmayuh (Barry looks like he has just witnessed a triple homicide), then, with no pause pregnant or otherwise Libby puts both feet on the floor and leans forward into Barry and says, "what can you do Mistuh Mees to pull theyuh chahtuh.......)
At this point Barry looks like the fourth homicide victim, and I know he isn't, but I am..............
Libby stands up and pointedly offers his hand and thanks Barry for visiting, signaling that the meeting is over.
It was a long walk back to the Castle, and I was effuting bullshit as quick as I could think it up, ie. "Barry you gotta understand, Win Libby is a real Mainer..... they are always pulling your leg and doing it with a straight face..... BLAH, BLAH, BLAH, (improvise), BLAH BLAH, "If he didn't love us he wouldn't be kidding us......"
I went back to see Dr. Libby about a week later, and as tactfully as I could, asked him what was on his mind and why did he conduct the meeting in that way."
He grinned, patted me on the shoulder and said, "I'm an educatah and I thought that young Canadian fellah needed to luhn that the world can be a hahd place. Take the stahch out a bit, so to speak......I also wanted to push you along a bit. I am quite amused by yoah ability to talk yoah way outta just about anything, and thought you might luhn from a bit of a challenge......."
Libby "Is Mistah Mees gone?"
Libby: ...and I see yoah lights ah still on?"
Me "Yessir, Mr. President, sir......."
Libby (laughing) "Then I guess we both did owa job. Good day, Mistah McLean.”
Omega Mu 1982
My pledge brothers, Dennis Mulherin, Steve Swan, Dave Rushton, and I were planning a "bag" of epic proportions in the spring of 1980. We were going to kidnap the president of the Fraternity, "Buddy" Cote and spirit him to a location known only to us. We had informed our pledge brothers of this act in order for them to be prepared for the inevitable fallout from the brothers, once word got out of our success. We carefully scouted out Buddy's activities for that Friday and decided the place to take him was the Student Union. We positioned ourselves such that when he got to a particular location, we could take him with the least amount of commotion. We were literally about to rush him, when another brother came out of nowhere and they stopped to talk. Chance foiled us. Seconds later, Dave came rushing upstairs. Peter Berg had just entered the bookstore. Not allowing chance to deny us of a prize, we raced to the entrance of the bookstore and tried mightily to look innocent.
Peter came out of the bookstore and we overwhelmed him in a rush right out of the door to the rear parking lot. I don't think Pete knew what was happening until we starting stuffing him into the rear of Steve's Corolla. He begged us to let him go. He had a field geology prelim test the next day for a critical grade he required. We could have cared less.
We headed south on the interstate I-95, destination: Bradford College in Haverhill, MA. Naturally, as we drove we participated in the prerequisite pre-gaming, Peter's protests falling on deaf ears and soon he was no longer our captive, but accepting his situation. We arrived and meet with the one person known to Dennis, a young lady who offered her room as a staging area for the night. We soon learned the college was having a Toga party in the Student Union. Naturally, we found our way to this soiree and found that this was going to be quite an evening, as we learned that this was a very "liberal" college. I am not sure I recall what became of Pete that night (but I believe that he achieved a "weekend at Bernie's status at the party) as I was enthralled with the sights and sounds, particularly one "exotic" young woman that I recall told me, that, "You white guys sure dance funny". I do recall sitting next to Steve and hearing a different young woman, proposition him and his polite refusal. I recall looking at Steve and asking if I really heard what I thought I heard, and his laughter and explanation that it had been a prank set up by our host. I believe that we all got back to the room much later and simply spread out on the floor to sleep.
The next morning we collected our charge, thanked our host and headed back to Maine. Now, we, per the rules of a bag, needed to be sure that Peter could in no way get back to the house before we did, as a keg was at stake. So we stopped and plotted our drop-off and escape. I don't know why I recall it so vividly, but we found the Phinneas W. Sprague Bird Sanctuary, located on a small peninsula in the Old Orchard Beach area, dropped off Pete as the sun was dropping on the horizon and wished him luck.
We did in fact make it back to Maine before Pete but learned that Pete had only to get to Old Orchard Beach, as that was where his girlfriend lived and he spent that night at her parents house. He later was able to make up the prelim as he explained he had become "incapacitated".
I think about the trip from time to time and how these memories, and others, make me smile. I enjoyed my time at Maine and can't imagine not being an Omega Mu brother, and can't wait to see my brothers again, to make more memories and live the phrase, "Not for college days alone”.
Omega Mu, 1982
He was at
The deep tissue
Omega Mu and,
Be on the
His Omega Mu
Which is forever
In every way;
Never showing a
Is a better
The bone and
John “Popeye” Kennealy
Omega Mu, 1983
For those of us who came of age in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s, Deliverance was an iconic movie. So, it was no surprise that we would give our end of school year canoe trips that name. The trips were typically three to four day affairs on the West Branch of the Union River out by the Airline Road.
On the first trip was Jeff Brinch, Matt Smith, and myself. Matt, or Scud, as we call him, canoed solo in a cut down canoe, while Brinchy and I used my old, keeled, aluminum canoe. Not the best river canoe on the planet!
One of the highlights of this trip, besides the three pound brown trout that Scud landed, was the beginning of a tradition: SPAM Stew. Brinchy’s dad had served overseas in WW II, and it seems, one of the most ubiquitous foods served, was SPAM, which is rumored, stands for “Something Posing As Meat.”
It wasn’t just the stew, it was how it had to be made. Sure, the ingredients were the same as beef stew, with the substitution of SPAM. It was a very thick stew, as we would cook it down over the fire, then, the key was to mash it all together with, at first, a Mountain Nectar bottle, but, on later trips, a Bourbon bottle.
“Another Deliverance trip comes to mind. On this trip, were myself, Scud, Joel “Sluggo” Gardner, and Jeff “Mr. Wizard” Farnsworth. There were a few highlights to this trip. One was waking up covered with 2-3 inches of snow. Since it was before bug season, we had just covered ourselves in a tarp over our sleeping bags. We were expecting just a heavy dew. We got a little more than that. Another highlight, was one morning, Scud and I got up extra early, and went out fishing. We had a glorious morning, and kept a few trout for breakfast. Wizard and Sluggo had slept in, so we got the fire going. They didn’t stir until the bacon was cooking. All of a sudden, we noticed Sluggo’s nose begin to wiggle as the scent of bacon wafted over our campsite. Next, we heard him say, “Wooo, Bacon!” Then, he and Wizard were up and ready to eat! On this same trip, though he denies it to this day, Wiz took a wiz in a spring by one of our campsites.
After college, I had returned to New York State for about ten years, but on my return, we re-introduced the Deliverance trips with Andy Bradford, his Dad, and Greg “Scooter” Scott. We floated the East Branch of the Penobscot a couple of times, The Big Black River, among other trips. After a hiatus, we have introduced a June fishing trip to the Jackman region. Phi Gam is not for college days alone.”
Omega Mu, 1984
I returned to the Castle in the fall of 1983 to begin my Senior year studying economics at UMO and my third year of living in the house. Having been away the previous summer refining gentlemanly arts at Fort Bragg and Fort Benning, I remember now how much I looked forward settling in to the familiar routine and surroundings of 79 College Avenue; top of the stairs, first room on the right. This semester had already started off on a high note as my parents had given me a small new car when I came home from training and for the first time after three years of school I had a way get around or back and forth from Taunton to Orono on my own without bumming a ride. I could never have afforded to buy my own wheels at the time much less a new one – this was going to be a great school year for sure. I think that I was rooming with Jim Doliner and Bob McDougall that year.
In any case, that October the house was going to throw a Halloween party and somehow a few of us got it in our minds that a giant pumpkin would be an appropriate decoration. The pumpkin may have been meant for the foyer table where brothers on ‘door duty’ during a party checked names of invited and paid guests. For big party events, non-Fijis were expected to sign into our guest book that had Mary Ann McCarty as perpetual first signatory as well as some elaborate sketch from our resident artist, Jimmy (‘Boo-Boo’) Faucet.
A few nights before the big Halloween party a group us piled into cars and went up Stillwater Avenue hunting for a pumpkin to bag. I remember Sean ‘Father’ Flathers, Richard ‘Buckwheat’ Banks and Joe ‘Mama’ Colluci were involved but there were a few others for sure. Sean had his pickup truck.
We passed up several candidate pumpkins until eventually we came up to a house on the right-hand side with a long drive way and there under a light on the porch was a pumpkin about three feet high. A couple of us ran up the drive way to grab it while others readied the pickup tailgate. But that plan was not happening so easily - this thing was a monster - and it took everybody to lumber it down the driveway and into the truck. Laughing our asses off we made it back to the house and delivered the pumpkin to Boo-Boo for carving. He did an amazing job getting it ready for the party - especially considering that at the time there was no such thing as a tracing template. We all thought it was great.
The night of the party came and after a few beers Sean and I got thinking that someone must have been growing that pumpkin all year for their grandkids. Several more beers and the imagined story about disappointed kids was nearly drawing tears (‘shit, and what if they were sick?’) and then some wicked Irish guilt started weighting in on Sean. Next thing you know its late, the party is over (who knows what time that was) and we are driving back to Stillwater Ave. in the pickup to redeliver the pumpkin with a note attached from the ‘Halloween Leprechauns’. We pulled up to the dark house, stumbled onto the porch and put the pumpkin back where we had found it. Our (barely legible) note explained that we just borrowed it to carve, Happy Halloween, Ha Ha, etc. etc. Guilt assuaged, high-fives all around, a good deed well done and Ram bound we felt a bit better about bagging the monster pumpkin. The world had righted itself.
Temporarily that is. The next weekend we went to the Zeros Halloween party; and there as a center piece was our same pumpkin. After all that!
Omega Mu, 1982
It is said that an army marches on its stomach. For the fraternity it was not much different. There were great cooks, there were poor cooks; there were good Stewards, there were bad Stewards; and there were times of plenty and exceptionally lean times too. FIJI’s kitchen was not just about providing sustenance, it has its own rich history of events and stories, some of which I relate here; no doubt brothers can write of many others.
Double duty. With a house of 40 brothers and one washing machine, one had to be creative. Refrain from washing your Ram sheets (ever), bring your laundry home for mom, convince your girlfriend to do it in one of the dorms, or in Brother Audie’s case use the dishwasher to handle a small load of underwear. I wonder how that next load of dish-ware tasted?
Sugar Ray. And speaking of Brother Audie, do you recall his sweet tooth that gave rise to the alternate nickname ‘Sugar Ray’? Razor was found in possession of an entire tray of chocolate mousses that he absconded from the kitchen. Another time it was an entire baking sheet of chocolate chip cookies.
The Steward. “A kitchen steward, also sometimes called a “kitchen porter,” is a person who works in a commercial or industrial kitchen as a sort of support person.” At FIJI, the steward was responsible for assisting the cook when necessary, tracking kitchen and food expenses, and on weekends when the cook wasn’t around, for meal planning and prep. Saturday breakfasts were a source of pride for me with eggs to order, oatmeal (gruel), home-fries, and occasionally pancakes and waffles. Not so much the time I and fellow steward, Brother Gebauer mistakenly used shredded frozen potatoes in a giant batch of lasagna instead of frozen shredded mozzarella. Or the how about the never ending turkey dinners that Steward Brother Keneally made us endure?
Other duties as assigned. And speaking of duties, what about Pots & Pans duty? This had to be one of the worst jobs in the house. There was a whole strategy to when you served this sentence. After taco night – good; after rib night – bad. Invariably there was no hot water and soap was rarely enough to cut through a night’s worth, let alone maybe decades worth of grease and grime on some of those pots and pans (did we even have soap?). And equally certain, there was always a brother that would blow this duty off and hose whoever followed with a mountain of stuff to clean and a partially filled sink of slimy water from a grease clogged sink drain. And it had to get done, remember JT refusing to cook and leaving because the pots were not done?
Omega Mu, 1985
Pinball seems lost on the younger set mostly because of the instantaneous access to handheld Nintendo’s and home video games. But to many of us pinball is nostalgic retreat. I saw pinball evolve from those old wooden machines with a few bumpers to some pretty amazing stuff. No joke, I have played pinball at least 10 thousand times, mostly with FIJI Brothers and friends in college. I graduated in ’85. There were pinball machines all over campus at U-Maine back then. If you play pinball, my favorite was Black Knight, one of the best multi-ball machines to have ever existed – and toughest.
From all outward appearances, especially to the casual player, pinball was a random game that cost you a quarter for which you got to lose three huge metal ball-bearings right down the middle in the course of less than a minute! But not us! We were truly pinball wizards. We should have accumulated college credits for the time we spent but alas, the only credits we racked up were on the machine. And we racked up a LOT. Most of us could play for hours on a quarter; except for Craig. He depended on us winning games so he could play. Given the light pockets we all had, this was damn cheap entertainment.
When discovering things that work in life, I think you'll find a very common thread that runs through them. These are the things I learned while playing pinball.
- Don't shoot the obvious targets.
They are affectionately known as tube-shots! The angles off the target are designed to bounce the ball right back down the center of the machine.
Moral of the story: you can't win doing the easy stuff.
- Get good at one thing.
If you seem to be able to hit a difficult ramp every time, keep doing it! A pinball machine is a box full of distractions. Your task is to ignore all that and hit the ramp.
Moral of the story: find out what you are good at and keep doing that. Ignore distractions.
- Don't hang out in the bumpers.
This is the most random part of the machine. It makes a lot of noise but you don't accumulate many points in the bumpers and the ball is completely unpredictable.
Moral: Random events rarely generate wins, can sometimes be dangerous, and almost always generate more fluff than stuff.
When you are in multi-ball mode, keep your eyes focused on the flippers. The point is to keep the balls in play as long as possible. Try to hit the shots you were good at. You've got two eyes but they can only focus on one thing. The minute your eye follows one of the balls up over a ramp, another one trickles down past your flipper and you completely missed it.
Moral: FOCUS on what you need to do to win.
- Make your own rules
We discovered a neat trick too. If you soap up the floor underneath the legs of the pinball machine, you could slide the machine left and right. If you practiced enough, this could be done very strategically without tilting the machine. It came in handy at times when the ball was heading down one of the exit lanes or the middle where the flippers couldn't reach.
Moral: Think outside the box!
I'm sure there were a few other lessons there. When I think of pinball, what I remember most is the five of uss; each duking it out to get his initials in the number one spot. They were me, Jeff Farnsworth – my Big Brother, Steve and Craig (friends off campus) and David Brown. We didn't drink coffee; we couldn't afford beer. We invented "ball breakers", "pinball catch", "multiballistics", "tubeshots", "shatter shots" and the infamous "slide" (the soap on the floor thing). We left our stress at the machine, laughed a lot and apparently learned a lot. The last I remember, Craig got to put his three letters in the top post."
Moral: hang with people who like what you like, keep your balls in play and swear when it means something.
Chip Chapman, ’82