Kid trapped in claw machine

This 2006 photo shows a 3-year-old who crawled into a claw machine in Antigo, Wis., to try to grab a SpongeBob SquarePants when conventional means failed. Store employees couldn't find a key, so firefighters had to break the padlock at right. However, two latches inside the cube still blocked the rescue, so firefighters passed the lad a screwdriver so he could contribute to his own rescue.

Kate tried to make me go to rehab

I said, “No, no, no.”

It’s just such a drag,

But she continued to nag,

When I wouldn’t go, go, go.

I win most times I claw,

But my sweetie said I’m wrong.

So when she makes me go to rehab

I’ll say, “Oh, all right.”

Cuz she’ll continues to nag,

So why fight, fight, fight?

I offer the above with apologies to the late, great Amy Winehouse, who I wish would have gone to rehab so we would not have lost her talent way too young. But I assume she would have appreciated my twisting her lyrics, a la her own often-twisted antics onstage and off.

What’s more, my interpretation of the Bible of Amy pivots on one of her earliest songs, “Help Yourself,” in which she sings, “I can’t help ya if you won’t help yourself.”

That said, I hereby acknowledge: My name is Mike, and I’m an addict — a claw machine junkie. I want to help myself.

My affliction began when I was a freckle-faced lad, drawn to the malevolent machines — then disguised as innocent mechanical cranes — like lemmings to the ledge. Sucked in by the noise and the lights at county fairs, I shoved countless dimes into the mechanical bandits and, usually, walked away empty-handed, empty-pocketed and empty-egoed.

Ten-cent machines used to be almost a dime a dozen, but nowadays, they are as rare as an apology from Donald Trump. The cost jumped to a quarter by my teen years, then 50 cents and eventually, to the buck most cost now (some even cost a Lincoln, as in a fin and not a penny).

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Of course, machines are bigger and have morphed into actual claws of varying design, with bigger prizes beckoning for my bucks — and even lobsters, in some restaurants.

To my credit, even when in the middle of a losing streak rivaling John Kasich’s, I soldiered on and never got as desperate as some youngsters who actually have climbed into claw machines to grab their elusive prey. Stories about such misadventures appear every few years, and, while some seem apocryphal or even as rigged as the games, others have required fire department rescues.

Failures with the joysticks curbed my ill-fated flirtations with stuffed toys for several years — until a day shortly after St. Patrick’s Day about a decade ago. I spied a machine full of Paddy’s Day toys and leprechauns, all whispering my name.

I was traveling in Florida, away from home, where I was sure nobody knew me. Just the same, I glanced over my shoulder before I started feeding the machine George Washington.

I hit the jackpot, snagging 17 leprechauns in various guises while chucking in less than 20 bucks. The thought entered my mind that perhaps the big-box store had tightened the claw’s grasp to liquidate the green merchandise, but I dismissed it to boost my ego and, perhaps, justify my spree.

It took awhile to dump the evidence, but suffice it to say that my winnings brought joy to four grandsons and chagrin to their parents, who felt like the old lady who lived in a shoe, except they had so many stuffed toys they didn’t know what to do.

To those who might say I should just stand up and have the courage to resist, I would answer that it was a clear case of Hobson’s choice. In other words, I have no choice, because I’m addicted.

From there, I plunged into a downward spiral of seeking out stores that might have claw machines. I learned which ones have tighter action that would grab more loot, and I avoided those that I suspected would set me up to fail.

I studied the patterns in which the prizes were piled, learning which to pass by and which to give a try.

Unfortunately, Kate also learned my habits and insisted that I take the straight and narrow — straight away from the machines. While some women raise an eyebrow if their husbands come home smelling of women, booze and cigarette smoke, she would glance at my hand to see whether it had cramped up from toggling.

I eventually learned to honor her wishes, avoiding even the proximate occasion of sin by going into store doors where I was sure no machines lurked.

I was like Michael Corleone: Just when I thought I was out, they pulled me back in.

In my defense, I did it only because I wanted some cheap Valentine’s Day decorations for my desk at work. (My co-workers will attest to the fact that my desk is as barren as the Mohave Desert.)

The one thing I can’t claw my way out of is the guilt. It’s driving me to confess to Kate, and she’ll send me back to rehab.

My name is Mike, and I’m a claw addict.

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(4) comments


While the article is an attempt at humor, addiction is not and is far too real of a struggle not to be made light of.


I used to love the 2 cent penny arcade claw machines in the early 50's. Little ceramic figures, all made in "occupied Japan" were the main contents.

Cool. That was before my time (but not much). Love the historical addiction of "occupied Japan."



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