Can’t sleep because I feel itchy. Not rash-itchy, or bug-itchy – skin-doesn’t-fit-itchy. I’m sure it’ll pass, and it had to do with the cold air seeping in through the windows now that it’s officially autumn.

I’m spending the time doing vector sketches of my current art project : creating achievement badges for a website, shifting from figurative to literal, making things polished. It’s stuff I’ve done on a personal level and enjoyed, but it’s great to do it on a professional level as well, and it’ll be excellent for my portfolio.

I landed the most interesting, rewarding, nerdy freelance art job ever. And they even paid a deposit.

I’m very excited.

Updates to follow.

My body feels weirdly weak today. I’m going to chalk it up to the stress of returning to work after a three-week, self-imposed exile from the building. It was necessary, but the impact of returning to the madness and the unfinished never changes, no matter how large a parachute you prepare.

I’m also in debt. I’d like to pay it off so I’m working extra hardcore on assignments. Also, if you want to buy some art, please please go to my Big Cartel shop. I’d love to make you some fancy trading cards. Seriously.

My birthday is in less than 3 weeks. The best gift would be to just ignore it. I deny all birthdays until the moment I’m happy with my life. Then they’ll start to count.

Just back from a 6-day excursion to the family’s rented house in Sea Isle City, NJ – a charming little vacation town that exists on a series of islands bordered by the ocean on one side, and marshes & bays on the other. Where once stood one-story bungalows are now three-story vacation complexes – but the soft hiss of the ocean manages to keep the charm in place.

It’s a town of minigolf and arcades, seafood restaurants and tourist baubles. Thankfully, it remains mostly devoid of chain restaurants, since there’s at least 7 months of off-season. We just happened to visit on the very first week of the off-season, which meant that 90% of the island and adjoining attractions were closed already. We scrambled around to play pinball at as many arcades as possible during the final weekend of life, but by Monday, it was a frustrating trawl through a ghost town and a few 50% off tourist junk shops.

Still, it was a good trip. Ten years ago, I stumbled on a decaying town in an enormous march, took some photos with an oldschool film camera, and subsequently lost the roll of film. I’ve regretted this for a decade, but through the wonder of Google Maps, I was able to retrace my steps this year and find the town again, and I took the photo that had been lost – as well as a bunch of others. The street continued along a massive overpass and eventually plunged into the grassy marsh, but not before branching off into a series of docks which was a town unto itself. There was no way of telling how large the town was, but it seemed significant, just hovering in the fields of green and black. The existence of such a thing was maddeningly romantic.

Over the course of the few days, I played a number of pinball machines – Iron Man, Spider-Man (which is forgettable), Indiana Jones (which is great), Batman, Sopranos (also surprisingly good and a staple of most NJ arcades), Family Guy, Simpsons, and an especially incomprehensible Rollercoaster Tycoon machine (which has a Norfin Troll stuck in it), as well as a perplexing Wheel of Fortune pinball. One arcade had a machine that dispensed one of six random ball-headed Marvel figures for 75 cents each. I was after the Iron Man, but after two rounds of every character but Iron Man and a third Spider-Man (which I placed atop the machine for the next kid to get), I finally scored an Iron Man. I consider this a victory.

Lots of time watching TV on a set which fell apart in my hands on the first day, and would not accept the PS3 despite every indication that it would, and drawing Coptopus. The people at Mike’s Seafood on the dock began to recognize us (not to be confused with Dock Mike’s Pancake House) with every other eatery in town closed, and Uncle Oogie’s being populated by rude, coughing waitresses.

A walk on the beach yielded a stingray barb and countless tiny mollusks in tide pools doing gooey mollusk things.

Home now – will post pictures of the seaside marsh town. My fingers spent so much time away from the computer that they’re relearning how to type again.

I took a three week vacation from work, in the interest of mental survival and figuring out what to do with my life.

In the course of this week, I’ve had many awesome adventures. I went to two parties, one of which was ‘The Office’ themed, and I got to be Toby (and for a few minutes, Dwight). I picked up a ton of cheap NES games at the Stormville Flea Market, which is surprisingly close to my house. I bought a second pinball machine which was delivered by this awesome ex-Marine guy. I made lots of good food and some not-so-good food. I went to the local bowling alley to play pinball. Picked lots of vegetables from the garden. I didn’t get a whole lot of art done as I’d hoped, but I’ve written a lot and added a few things to my résumé.

Learning a lot about pinball repair. Every few days, I get enough confidence to open up a new part of the machine and fix it, or figure it out. Bulbs are replaced, things are poked, I am slightly electrocuted and the process begins anew. It’s really exciting. Once I repair Time Warp, I think I’m going to sell it – it’s not nearly as fun as the images made it look. This opinion may change once I get the sound working, of course. Waiting for the right connector in the mail right now. Space Shuttle is still crazy fun.

Two weeks of vacation left, and I hope to dedicate this week to art.

The replacement part for the rare 4-digit Williams screen cost $75, but it worked. I knew it wasn’t a power problem when the wires shocked me, though that’s really not the best diagnostic took available. All I could do was buy a replacement part and hope for the best. So, after this test I switched them out and now I can inspect the old one to see if it’s worth a hamfisted repair and possible resell. I have a bunch of fuses and a replacement start button, but what I’d most like to do is clean the playfield, replace the bulbs and fix the busted drop targets – still waiting on those supplies.

Saturday was a parade of disappointing tag sales and getting turned around throughout the Hudson Valley area. I ended up purchasing a Nintendo 64 Star Wars game, as well as a $2 julienne device in celebration of getting the kitchen to myself for two weeks. Beckie hung out overnight & we went to Brian’s housewarming shindig up in Rosendale with a ridiculous armload of burger meat and all were fed well.

After a sleepy Sunday and napping while American Pickers was droning on the TV, we drove to the Pound Ridge farmer’s market, based solely on a two-sentence blurb we stumbled across in the back of the newspaper which read ‘smoked meats’. I ended up buying a jar of peach jam, some smoked pepperoni (which just tastes like really good pepperoni and destroyed my insides), and 3/4 pound of smoked duck. I’ve never had duck before, but this seemed like a good time to try. It was organically raised and the guy seemed nice, so it’s worth a shot. Let’s see if these recipes do anything.

I’m also aspiring to pickle some of the green tomatoes from the garden, though the local A&P failed to provide anything for the experience, so I’ll have to hunt down pickling spices after I get some jars tomorrow from a cute little kitchen shop in Mahopac.

Aside from that, today’s plan involves finishing a comic page, cooking up some duck, and making it through another scary night in a dark house. A potential client found my online portfolio and is interested in having me sculpt some miniatures for them – just waiting on more details. I also snagged a freelance gig wherein I review music, which is a pretty handy portfolio builder.

Say a little prayer that hurricane Earl leaves me alone.

I knew it was going to happen : my first pinball repair disaster. Fortunately, I resolved it within an hour. An hour of spazzing out.

Space Shuttle is known to include internal AA batteries to keep your settings & scores retained. These batteries are also known to leak & destroy the expensive CPU parts. There’s a mod which many people do that moves these batteries to a less sensitive part of the machine in case they leak. I cracked open the machine to investigate this (or at least switch out the batteries for newer ones) and found that someone had already done it for me – but the scores still weren’t being retained after the power was shut off.

Only later did I read that you need to leave your machine ON during this process, or else your specific settings will be totally lost. My settings included free play, and when I turned the machine back on, it refused to start an actual game. And the screen which presumably displays your setting choices – well, that’s dead. A new one is coming in the mail, eventually, and it’s a rare $75 piece.

I don’t know how I did it, but after I e-mailed a dozen people about WHAT THE FUCK DO I DO NOW, I figured out some weird thing by hitting buttons until the bizarre number displays kinda made sense, and I pressed a ’19′ until it said ’0′, based on weird manual instructions – and I can play again.

This marks the beginning of a 2-week vacation away from my family, and 3 weeks away from work.

I played around with the first round of machine improvements, as more problems reveal themselves. I was brave enough to open up the field glass and touch some of the mechanisms to test them out. The main shuttle ramp is supposed to activate a ‘heat shield’ – an illuminated orange bumper which emerges from between the flippers, but it hasn’t been doing anything. Thankfully, it’s not an electrical problem – it’s just a wire that’s not bent at the right angle to trip another sensor. A few re-bendings later, it works inconsistently. Still thinking about how to fix it completely, because there’s a very fine line between trapping the ball and setting off the right switch.

The machine also pitches to the right and might be at too shallow an incline, so I’m playing with a level and the leg bolts.

I’m a little discouraged by the cult of pinball. While they present themselves as a welcoming group, they’re surprisingly unwilling to spit out certain details. I learn best by hard visualizations of things – I prefer satellite maps to illustrated ones. I reverse engineer better than I engineer, so pages of schematics aren’t too useful to me. Show me something which is already assembled and I can probably fix it or improve it.

So, when a pinball supplier has a pack of fuses designed for my machine but does not disclose what’s actually inside this pack, I write to find out. When the seller then tells me to check my manual, instead of actually just telling me what’s in this mystery pack, it’s not helpful in the least.

The local pinball supplier who I hoped to befriend is ridiculously oldschool, refusing to take credit cards or in-person pickups. Instead of driving the 45 minutes it would take to pick up my supplies in person, he insists on charging 12 bucks for shipping and getting a money order via the mail. As a result, a process which could take 24 hours and be incredibly simple is prolonged into an expensive week-long event. Which, honestly, is fucking annoying. Why be so encouraging about the hobby and then make it difficult for me?

It’s all a little offputting, but dammit, I’m enjoying my crazy little pinball machine. Once I get these pieces in my hands and experience them, the understanding of the next machine will be much easier.

I recently visited the half-forgotten graveyard at the end of my road, complete with rusted-gate-falling-off-the-hinges and Revolutionary War heroes aplenty. It’s much larger than I recall it being, but back in high school, most of it was impassably overgrown. Since then, it’s been cleared out and forgotten again. I recently had dreams about a deep, dark evil that lived there – but when I was actually there, it felt really peaceful.

I’ve been preoccupied with Google Maps lately, and found a completely residential path to my favorite sushi restaurant instead of taking various busier roads. I also stumbled upon a local road called ‘Enrico Lane’, which culminates in ‘Fermi Ct.’, which is awesome and amazing and now I need to go take a photo of that street sign.

Oh, and that Chicago Museum doesn’t want me. I blame my unsexiness. There’s gotta be a better way to earn $10,000.

Also, Toyota rotated my tires and forgot to tighten a hubcap, which vanished the next day. After a week, they replaced it for free. I’d like to go to Curry Toyota just once and get in and out without them really messing something up.

My grandfather and I drove over to Wappingers yesterday to pick up Space Shuttle, after a day of stomach aches and black outs. Either I ate some undercooked sausage or some unholy force is seeking vengeance upon me, but the headaches and waves of nausea aren’t too great. As a result, I haven’t slept all night and I’m now obligated to bring my niece & her friend over to the semi-local arcade after work today. About eight years ago, said arcade had a Star Trek : The Next Generation pinball machine there, which is the object of my ultimate desire – so here’s hoping it’s still there.

The man selling the Space Shuttle machine is a hardcore pinball collector, but is moving from Williams machines to Gottlieb machines, and was thus making room for the new additions to the collection. I was glad that he didn’t have some hard luck story which was forcing him to part with his most favorite possessions. I prefer the ‘such good luck that I have excessive awesomeness to get rid of’ stories. We plugged it in, I played a ball, got a brief tutorial in pinball machine care and moving (and they are heavy as bastards, presuming that bastards are very very heavy), took it apart and loaded it into the SUV. I managed to get it back out of the SUV by myself, except for reattaching the fourth leg, when my industrious mother helped out. In reassembling the thing, I realized that the guy had forgotten to pop a necessary bolt into the toolkit, so I’m off to Home Depot for a replacement part later today. Home Depot, by the way, opens at 6 AM, which is news to me.

I look forward to a few hours of playing it to figure out what needs to be done. There are some burnt out bulbs and some dirt all over the playfield, but the most troubling thing is a few LED readouts that won’t light up. They don’t impact gameplay at all, and the scores are still displayed for the first player, but it would be nice to fix it all up. Unfortunately, the game’s original cabinet graphics were painted over, so I’m deciding on whether or not to get decals printed, or to carefully mask out things and paint them by hand. Most people seem to use acrylics to repaint small details, and I have a steadier painting hand than most, so I’m not too concerned.

I’ve dreamed of owning a pinball machine for 20 years, so I’m quite psyched to finally have one of my own – at least until I fix it and possibly resell it, but I think I’m just gonna fall in love with it.

… which would be an awesome indie band name.

So, a few days ago I set out to find a pinball machine to refurbish. Everything was either far away or too expensive, so I was shooting for anything under $500 and local. Yesterday, I made a deal with someone in Wappingers for a $375 Space Shuttle pinball machine from 1984.

The display doesn’t light up (possibly a fuse or a bum wire), it’s been poorly repainted, and it’s probably a little shaky – but it’s MINE. I’ve been watching pinball refurbishing tutorials all night, so I’m learning all of the magical tricks to making this thing look brand new. I’m picking it up today after work. If I can’t get it to work, it shouldn’t be hard to resell it – I just happened to beat out a handful of other buyers due to my close proximity to the seller.

Regardless, it’s an awesome theme, and I’ve been taking astronaut photos lately.

Also, and this is especially neat, I won an Emmy.

Well, Star Wars : Uncut won an Emmy, and I have some film in it. The top-rated Cantina scene, no less. Can I call myself an Emmy winner now?

Try and stop me.

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