This post was written by Brian Ransom.

Nestled in a corner of Shakespeare’s downtown is a lone arcade machine. Amid the pizza-beer-sports-FUNTIMES chaos of the restaurant, the machine stands and blinks at anyone who dares pass. Between a pair of pale golden antlers at the top of the cabinet are the words BIG BUCK HUNTER PRO: OPEN SEASON.

The object of the game? Down as many virtual animals as you can. Aim for the head or the heart. Watch out for does. Stay on your toes when you’ve gotta take on some boars in the bonus round. Occupy time as you impatiently wait for Columbia’s delicacy. My college friends and I have stepped to this machine a couple times, but like most Shakespeare’s customers, we tend to ignore it.

Our hero this evening stands just shy of five feet tall, wears an orange stocking cap, and appears to be about thirteen years old. He pops out of one of the wooden booths at Shakespeare’s and tips back a bottle of Fitz’s Root Beer as though it’s his lifeblood, a tonic that gives him the strength to tackle anything before him. When he saunters up to the arcade machine, he is a spitting image of John Wayne or Clint Eastwood or one of those other actors people always say are cool. Not just ordinary cool, cowboy cool.

He clinks his quarters in the machine, raises the neon green rifle and glances over his shoulder to make sure my friends and I are watching. We are. Can’t keep our eyes off the screen. He shoots a solid round and then wanders back to his booth.

I step up to the machine to have a go at it, see how many elk I can fell, and then notice the kid is coming back. I’ve already put my quarters in the machine, though, and so I stand there anxiously as the kid sips his Fitz’s and critiques my technique. I feel his gaze on me, and I finally realize what it’s like to have a sensei. All of a sudden, he speaks up.

“You’ve gotta use the sights.”

I turn to look at him. Even though he’s probably at least seven years my junior, I’m awestruck that he’s chosen to speak to me. I don’t completely believe him because, well, this is an arcade hunting game we’re talking about, and I don’t think lining my onscreen targets up with the end of a plastic rifle that looks like a gross slab of sour taffy really makes much sense. But I take the advice anyway. He has an air of authority about him I can’t deny.

Sure enough, boom, three elk down in the first round. I glance back at the kid, and his waxy fish lips are peeled back in a sly grin.

(Photo on the homepage: Missourian file photo)

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