It was late and cold and a few days after Christmas on the night when I took on the machine. It called itself Claw Grab and it rested within a sprawling and towering Regal Cinemas, one of the multiplexes or whatever they used to be called, a shrine to big Hollywood. Some twenty-four theaters in that place, all of them, save a couple or three, peddling nonsense trash. The art-house, the Davis it was called, not playing what was needed that night.
I was a Big Brother at the time and I’d brought my friend/”Little Brother”, Trey, with me to the movies because he wanted to see The Secret Life of Walter Mitty. We’d just gotten out. The film was good, I felt. Not sure why it incited so much critical frustration. What are we without dreams? Is it not joyful when we take control of our own lives and our own stories and finally live the way we always thought we would? To become fully realized is lovely. It is important to see something through so that another door might open. Behind that door may be love. Stiller’s been a fine director for years and this was a beautifully shot, wonderful looking movie. Apparently he swung and missed, though? Or so I was told to think. I don’t know. Whatever, though. This story is not about the movie, but we should encourage dreams.
I was at the Claw Grab and Trey was there, too, and there was a Pacers basketball inside hovering on the top of a pile in the back right corner of the machine. It was on top of a stuffed bear wearing an Andrew Luck jersey and on either side was a Cleveland Indians commemorative baseball and a green stuffed dolphin. Trey wanted the basketball and I would try for it.
The machine had a timer on it. You had 25 seconds to position the claw and click the red button on top of the joystick. I put a dollar in — that’s what it cost — and I began to take the claw to the back and to the right. I had Trey with his forehead against the glass at the back right corner of the machine and requested he let me know when the claw was directly above the basketball. I got what I thought was close and he told me to give it one more drag toward the wall. I did so and he gave me a thumbs up and I hit the red button with seven seconds left. The claw went down and as it began its descent I saw that I had overshot it to the right. Trey had misled me. I bit my tongue. He was only a boy.
One finger of the silver arm of the claw slid along the rubber and it grabbed at the dolphin. The arm raised and the dolphin was held loosely in its fingers. I thought it would fall and we could attempt once more, but even when it got to the top and the arm shook the dolphin stayed firmly within its grasp. The machine was making its noises and whistles and dings and swoops and as it dragged the dolphin along the top I still thought that surely the dolphin would fall.
When the claw released the dolphin it fell into the hole and it was now ours. I reached in and grabbed the dolphin and my hand dwarfed it. I handed it to Trey and his face was sad.
I will try again for the basketball, but you do not get to be sad.
I pulled my wallet from the back pocket of my Levi’s and as I was about to take another dollar from it I felt a hand on my shoulder. The hand was firm. It was a man in a Regal Cinemas polo-shirt. He had taken our tickets earlier. I recalled his frown.
I’m sorry, sir, but we have to be closing.
We’ll be done soon. I must try for this basketball.
That will not do, unfortunately. You must leave at once. We are closing.
That is absurd. I will try for the basketball once more and if it is ours after that attempt then we will leave. If it is not then we will stay longer till it is ours.
Sir, that is incorrect. You will leave now.
I will not.
It was then that twenty employees arrived at our backs and hovered around the machine. I looked at Trey and his eyes told me he was scared.
Roy, he asked. Are these people going to hurt us?
Don’t be silly, Trey. They wouldn’t hurt us.
We wouldn’t hurt you, son. But we would hurt him.
You would try.
We would succeed, sir.
I thought for a moment about what to do and for a few seconds I plotted what might happen if I swung on the man closest to me. There was no way I could do anything to save Trey. The scrum would encompass too much space. I would be putting him in danger. Besides, I was no fighter. Not really. I stepped back from the machine.
Come along, Trey. Bring your dolphin.
We walked to the front door and the twenty-one employees watched us without speaking. Someone was vacuuming the other side of the lobby and that was the only noise. When we’d gotten outside we turned around and an employee was locking the door. By the machine was the man who had first come up to us. He had his keys out and he was opening the machine. He grabbed the ball and closed the machine and began to walk toward the door. I thought about humanity, about goodness.
He neared the door and I looked down to Trey’s smiling face and prepared a monologue inside my mind about kindness. The man did not open the door, though. He threw the ball in a trash can a few feet away. He looked at me the whole time.
I was filled with rage and gave some thought to exploding but I did not. I would’ve just bloodied my knuckles on the glass of the door. We walked to the parking lot and got in my truck and drove off.
Mr. Hibbert? Why did the man do that?
Some people are sad and they take their sadness out on others. But it might be my fault as well. I might be hard to like.