At a quarter to nine, I walk out on my newly super-sized family and our cozy wooden-floored apartment and head for one of the sleaziest quarters of Vienna. What do other forty-six-year-old men do in the Prater after dark? Feed slot machines, haunt sex clubs, and god knows what else in the shadows of this ancient fairground. What do I do? I play pinball. I kill Trolls and smack the Magic Trunk. I go for multi-ball.
I've been playing since I was about ten, and I'm not much goddamn better now than I was then. I still kick my feet involuntarily as I play, like some sort of upside-down, left-handed Elvis. It's my poor excuse for a sport and my inscrutable sin. But I enjoy the hell out of it.
As vices go, pinball is not exactly, er, cool. But I had real vices once. Really. I stayed up late and did questionable things with people I didn't know. Yes, way.
But these days, except for pinball and my continuing obsession with German synth music of the seventies, I'm pretty much viceless. Hence my dilemma: if one gets older, has children and finds oneself viceless, should one cultivate some sort of badness, just to feel alive?
This is a half-serious question. Some women I know, for example, wish they'd slept with thousands of people when they were younger (like some men I know) because now they feel like they missed something. And since when did being terrible mean being young and vital? (Okay, don't answer that--it probably started with right-handed right side-up Elvis. Probably before.)
I guess someone like me starts asking questions like these because he no longer lives in a late-night, shadowy viceland, but he suspects that, after he puts kid A and kid B to bed and himself falls asleep in front of the TV, that shady world and it's inhabitants still exists out there somewhere, raging, unrepentant.
Someone like me has to see neon occasionally. Though I don't actually go into Cafe 69 or the VIP room of the Love Story club, I need to ride by them on the Strassenbahn and know that those places exist, as some sort of accursed alternative reality to my current world of diapers and playdates.
I finished writing this post after I finished playing pinball and repaired to the Fluc, my favorite cool kid bar in Vienna. Everyone there is always about eighty years younger than me. Tonight there was live onstage facepainting. I declined to participate. But oh! the bass sounded sweet and the DJ played only killer tracks and I bobbed my head like a true disciple of the late-night, all-out world.
After that, I was good.
And I knew it was time to go home.