Saturday, November 29, 2008

Shocks and Bonds

(Author's note: here's something I wrote in Lynda Barry's Writing the Unthinkable Class. It's in the second person, but it happened to me in the 1980s)
Disneyland's Main Street Penny Arcade is full of early 20th century amusements. Most are in wood cases and cost a nickel. There's black and white slide shows, a wooden fortune teller, and a machine that will rate your kissing ability (with lightbulbs) when you squeeze the handle.
You're at the Electricity is Life shock machine. For a nickel you can test how tough you are: insert the coin, grab the two upright bars, and see how long you can hold on. An increasingly strong stream of electricity flows through your hands and arms. A dial measures progress.
Are you tough enough to take it?
You admire tough people in adventure stories. Do you have any trace of toughness? You've never taken a bullet or won a sword fight. Could you? Maybe the shock machine will tell.
The current starts as a faint buzz. It grows stronger as the dial rises, points up, than dips to the right. It hurts, slightly. Like a Novocain shot. Your arms grow stiff.
Don't wuss out! Hold on!

A bell goes off. The electricity stops. The relief is soothing, like you've dipped your arms in warm water.
You did it! You're tough! Okay, this isn't as tough as taking a bullet, but you didn't wuss out.

One day (you spent a lot of time at Disneyland) the machine is broken and gives shocks for free. Dozens line up for free shocks. Then everyone finds they can all get shocked together by holding hands, with members on each end of the chain touching the machine. It's an odd bonding experience.

Years later you question the saftey behind playing with a malfunctioning shock machine. And is it ethical to get shocks you didn't pay for? Or were you shocklifting?


Linda said...

I find it hard to believe that this was at Disneyland. Sounds like grounds for many kinds of lawsuits.

Sally said...

That's a really interesting post. We forget that Disneyland wasn't always so monster corporate. It did relate to early 20th century America in Walt's ideal vision. Knotts Berry Farm had even more ties to early California history, (I think Walt's vision was more about Kansas.) They actually removed parts of old mining towns and set them up at KBF. Now that historical aspect is almost gone.

Namowal said...

It really was at Disneyland. Here's a picture of it. I later read in a guide book that it was an old carnival amusement and that Disneyland reduced the zapping capacity when they acquired it. I don't know if it's still there.

Disneyland has gone a bit overboard trying to squeeze a few extra bucks out of the guests. My biggest peeve is the shops. Some used to stock unique, theme appropriate items. Now it's mostly Disney Store stuff. Something's wrong when you enter a shop at Disneyland and are transported to the local mall.
I haven't been to Knott's in a long time. I thought the rebuilt "ghost town" made it unique (and worth a visit if you were from out of town). If they've ripped that out and installed thrill rides... BOO!

stray said...

This machine sounds wild. I suppose this sort of thing has been outlawed?

Namowal said...

Hi stray,
I don't know if it's been outlawed or not. On You-Tube I found people (allegedly) getting zapped by what looks like a modern, Adams Family themed version. My guess is, in both cases, that the current really isn't strong enough to injure you.
When I worked at the tropical fish shop we often got zapped when wires from the tank lights got wet. And until recently you'd get a good jolt at my parents house if you touched the fridge and dishwasher at the same time. These shocks were way stronger than anything from the shock machine.

walterworld said...

'Shocklifting' - That's great!

What a fun story...

I certainly remember (and miss) the old Penny Arcade, when the focus of the space was actually games and not merchandise.

I wonder where they keep all the old games they removed?

Thanks for sharing :)

Namowal said...

Thanks for visiting, Walterworld.
Good question as to what happened to the old games. I'm guessing they sold them or have them in storage. It could be worse- at least they didn't "refurbish" them with Disney characters and charge you fifty cents to see, say, a slide show like "Aladdin meets the Lion King at the Disney Store"

Mary Pensik said...

Namowal: They have that modern version at a bowling place I go to. Maybe next time I go there, I'll try that (the bonding trick). (:

Anonymous said...

Wonder if the Girl from the Cracks skit did this too.

Anonymous said...

I tried to trick my brother into doing the Addams Family shock machine at high voltage. My mom and older, autistic brother did it instead. I'm not wasting my life.

Danielle Pluzsik said...

TOM could take that, he's tough.

Danielle Pluzsik said...
This comment has been removed by the author.