Tuesday, August 21, 2018

Pizza Propaganda Pinball

I’d only stopped in to the Domino's around the corner once. There's better pizza elsewhere. But one night amongst a downpour, my friend Bob and I wanted to split a large sized concoction of dough, cheese, and pepperonis. Other than that, the chain pizza location tucked into a residential street at the back entrance of my apartment complex wasn’t something that ever tempted my palate. While ducking out of the rain and into the warm embrace of Ann Arbor, Michigan's finest pizza conglomerate, I noticed they had a pinball machine. I’ve never been able to play pinball for more than a few minutes, but have had several friends with a deep interest in the game, the machines, and even how to repair them. On a whim one day, I decided to stop back in and play.

I sorted out the change from a coffee mug atop my dresser like a kid trying to see if he has enough money to visit the arcade. I grabbed all the quarters, a glob of coin filling my pocket like slot machine winnings before everything became paper receipts.

It was a nice night, the sun starting to go down while the heat began lifting off of the asphalt. I walked by the apartment pool occupied by the professional soccer players who reside here and have bodies that were not created by eating Domino's. The firefighters at the local house were sitting outside, chatting and waving to those like me who passed by. I walked past the fleet of delivery vehicles, emblazoned with their shark fin-like signs, and into Domino’s to pay the admission price. I thought it might be weird if I just came in to play pinball and didn’t buy anything. Maybe they’d be annoyed? Maybe they’d tell me to get lost? I didn’t want to wonder about it, so waiting for a pizza to be made seemed like a good cover for simply indulging in pinball.

The $9.36 for a ten inch, classic crust, hand tossed pepperoni was what the bill settled up at. “It’ll be about ten to fifteen minutes,” they said. “That’s cool, I’m gonna play this pinball machine.” The guy simply nodded back at me. I walked over, plopped in a quarter and saw nothing happen. I dropped in another, maybe it needed fifty cents?

Then I saw “Free Play,” this machine was taking no money and the ball was already in position. I pulled the lever and fired it. I did my best to try and understand how the score worked and how hitting the ball into various positions made things happen. The music and sound effects were turned off (probably for the sanity of those who work there). The only audible sounds were from the clanking of metal, the rolling of the ball, and the smack of it hitting objects.

I’d shoot the ball up into the “pizza oven,” some things would turn, the score would dial up, and the ball would fire back. Occasionally, I’d get “The Noid,” Domino's 1980's era mascot, to spin around on the “pizza crusher.” If there was a storyline or plot to this game, it seemed to be that striking certain objects allowed you to follow the Domino's process: ordering, baking, etc. To achieve ultimate victory, I think you had to avoid The Noid and get a pizza delivered? The whole game was a propaganda tool to highlight who Domino's is, and how they do things (Papa John should probably never make one of these).

There was a healthy splash of nostalgia layered in and some artistic representation of the modern incarnation of the company. The illuminated glass above the table showed Domino's employees manning an armored tank as a jubilant crowd thanked the Good Lord for not just their arriving hero's pizza making prowess, but also their apparent urban combat skills. The depicted employees/soldiers were there to battle the massive Noid as he stepped on the corner of Deliciousness Drive and Tasty Trail. There were all these other little details, a hallmark of pinball machines, in the artistic representation:

• The tank outfitted with oversized pizza ingredients.

• A helicopter firing a nondescript laser (or Raytheon BGM-71 TOW Missiles) at The Noid

• People casually waiting at a bus stop, with pizza, seemingly unaware that the street before them is destroyed and that the city is descending into chaos

• Silhouettes of people enjoying a nightclub despite the raging war

• A protester holding what must've been a quickly made sign, stating: "What a night-MARINARA" (marinara is a type of sauce commonly found on pizza)

• Another protester, this time taunting The Noid, telling him to "eat this" ("this" presumably being Domino's Pizza or the munitions of the Domino's defensive counter-attack)

• A third protester with a sign hinting at The Ghostbuster's famous Stay-Puft Marshmallow Man scene : "I ain't ALFREDO (another type of sauce commonly found on pizza) no Noid!"

• A Domino's delivery vehicle speeding away from the scene, apparently driven by an employee who won't let the wanton destruction around him stop him or her from making an on-time delivery

• A Domino's employee waiting to cross the street on their bike (wearing a helmet)

• A flag with a strike-through of an N (for Noid)

• A rebellious youth spray painting "Noid Rules" on a brick wall (Antifa? Alert Fox News!)

As I perused this work of art, I was in the way. Dispatched delivery drivers were bumping into me as they moved from beyond the counter. The "I'm sorry's" I uttered weren't so much directed at them, but to myself, as I wondered what the hell I was doing playing pinball at a Domino's on a Wednesday night.

I eventually lost interest and turned around to the television behind me. Then my pizza came and I walked home. It was good. Not great, but good.

I probably won’t eat at Domino’s again, nor will I seek out "The Domino's Spectacular Pinball Adventure" (although I do appreciate the artistry, detail, and work that goes in to making these machines, even if it's filled with ideas of a marketing executive who wants it to be "on brand").

Nevertheless, it was a good day, even if I should've probably been focusing my time and effort on more meaningful things.

Sometimes you just want an excuse to go eat shitty pizza.

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