Last weekend, I had the good fortune to again be invited to my friend Adrian’s Summer Soirée and BBQ. I have missed this mostly annual event the last few years, but fortunately I haven’t been scratched off the invitation list. This year it was more of a post-summer event and I was actually able to go.
From the name of the event this year, I wasn’t sure whether I should show up in a tux, flip-flops, or maybe both. I decided on a Quicksilver shirt and faded Levi’s and managed to fit in reasonably well at this family and friends event.
It’s been a few years since I last saw Adrian. Our path inevitably seems to cross every few years. We share a number of things in common: a history of work in the technology biz, hobbies like ham radio and music (we’re both musicians, but he seems to have picked up one more new instrument every time I see him), and a curiosity about all things.
I’ve noticed that whenever we sit down to catch up on life, our light banter always seems to carry strong, though quite unintended, philosophical and metaphysical undertones. Go figure.
This time, as our conversation ranged from Pachinko machines (we both love gadgets) to how we got to where we are in life (don’t we all wonder about that?), it wasn’t until later that I realized that the way we get to where we are in life is just like the way a vintage pachinko machine works.
A pachinko machine is, well, sort of a cross between a pinball machine and a slot machine. They can be found in smoky, crowded pachinko parlors all over Japan. Players shoot small steel balls into the machine, which then bounce off numerous little pins and travel down to the bottom of the machine never to be seen again. But if one of the balls travels down just the right path, the player will get a jackpot.
The new machines look and sound too much like the slots at a north american casino, but the vintage machines really showcase the many bounces that the balls make – just the like the many decisions we make in our everyday lives. Do we go this way or that? Do we stop and talk to that person or not? Do we go on that date or apply for that job? Do we answer the phone? Bounce, bounce, bounce. Where do we end up? Would we have ended up in the same place if we’d made a different choice at some point? Will we ever hit the jackpot? How many different paths will take us there?
Adrian said that he had recently revisited the pathway formed by the decisions he made in his life – what factors played in the decision-making process; where did it take place; who was there to influence it; who was merely a catalyst; who showed up again and again at key moments?
To me that seems a little like watching a replay of a pachinko machine in slow-motion. You can watch the little steel ball hit a pin and bounce off and see where it goes next. You can follow the path the ball takes. You can see how close it came to hitting the jackpot. (Oh! So-o-o close!) But you can’t change the ball’s path anymore. All you can do is go to the cashier and get another container of little steel balls to feed the machine and hope that this time you can nudge it at just the right moment and send the ball to victory. Because the game must go on.
Still, I’m curious about the pachinko machine that is my life, so I think I’ll go see if I can find a replay and figure out why that little steel ball went to the right instead of the left.