Mike Hooker spends his nights maintaining trains on the Long Island Railroad. He spends his days fixing pinball machines.
He’s a freelance pinball repair tech, one of the last serving the New York City area. As you might expect, people call him when their old stuff breaks; often times, they simply want to get rid of it.
When we visited Hooker at his Sayville, Long Island home, he led us downstairs to a museum of rare, odd, and historical games. Sea Devil, a submarine-hunting game with a periscope from 1970; Coney Island Rifle, a boardwalk-style target shooting game manufactured in 1976 but that feels like it’s from the Roaring 20s; and Bull’s Eye, a 1972 electronic wall dart game. I hadn’t seen or heard of any of these games before, let-alone played them.
Hooker systematically destroyed me on all of them, before turning to the only pinball game he’s actually kept: Happy Clown, an electromechanical pinball board produced by Gottlieb in 1964 whose art features a disembodied, bouncing clown head. Hooker has replaced Happy Clown’s pinballs with The Twilight Zone’s infamous “Power Ball,” a white ceramic ball that, because of its lighter weight, zooms around the board at speeds much faster than a standard steel ball. He crushes me at Happy Clown, too.
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