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Pac-Man: The Hard Drive Interview

I told Pac-Man I didn’t want to meet him in a restaurant. I’d done my last two interviews at restaurants chosen by my subjects, and they were disastrous. I’m down two childhood heroes and I didn’t want to make it three. 

“Cool,” he said over the phone. “You mind driving me around?”

Wait a minute. This sounded even worse. Based on my time with Luigi and Crash Bandicoot, the last thing I wanted to do was prowl the seedier parts of some neighborhood I’ve never been in while Pac-Man tries to buy god knows what from god knows who. No way, I thought. Maybe it wasn’t meant to be. 

“Pick me up in the morning. You can take me to work and we can hang out and talk,” he said, following my silence.  

Oh, well okay, that’s a little different. I didn’t think that sounded too bad. I was a little puzzled that Pac-Man, the original video game star, was working a job, but I was curious to know more. What was the job? Is some new re-release happening? Is he consulting somewhere? I sure didn’t know, but curiosity and good vibes got the better of me, and I decided to pick him up like he suggested. He got in my car when I arrived on the street corner he’d specified and told me to take him uptown. 

“Do you know the laundromat at 12th and Clark?” he asked me. “Because that’s where I gotta go first.” 

I didn’t know the place, but I entered it into the GPS and we began the short drive. I found Pac-Man to be charming, funny, and warm, even if his larger motivations remained mysterious to me. 

Hard Drive: Thanks for doing this, Mr. Pac-Man. 

Pac-Man: No problem at all. Love your guys’ stuff. You can just call me Pac, too. 


Hard Drive: Oh, wow! Thanks, Pac. Are you sure?

Pac-Man: No actually, I’ve changed my mind. Let’s do Pac-Man. 

Hard Drive: Oh. 

Pac-Man: Nah, I’m fucking with you! Pac is fine. So, what do you want to talk about? I’m down for whatever, man. Ask anything. I’m a complete open book, and I want to do everything I can to help you succeed. Also, do you know something? I’ve always been surprised that more people don’t ask me to do these things. I’m just sitting around most of the time! Anyway, let’s go ahead. 


Hard Drive: Well, it seems like kind of an obvious question, but what was being a first wave video game star like?

Pac-Man: Oh, see? You’re good. You’re beating around the bush. You’re asking me why I’m not living in some mansion somewhere, limos and champagne and all that, but you’re actually gassing me up while you do it. Not bad, Hard Drive. Not bad at all. 


Hard Drive: No, no no! I’m a huge fan. I am actually so nervous I don’t know what to ask you, so I just threw that out. 

Pac-Man: Hey, I’m just breakin’ your balls a little. Ease up. 


Hard Drive: Alright, I’ll try. 

Pac-Man: Wow, you just blew through that stop sign. 


Hard Drive: Oh, shit!

Pac-Man: (laughs) You’re alright, man. I do that on purpose all the time. Here’s the laundromat, pull in and park in the back, okay? This won’t take long. 


Hard Drive: Are you picking up some laundry?

Pac-Man: Yeah, something like that. Just wait here, okay? And leave it running. 

Okay, was this weird? I decided not to think so. It was a famous guy that was picking up some laundry, that’s all. He was using the back door to avoid the hassle of turning an everyday errand into a frenzy of paparazzi. And he was being very nice to me! 

Still, though, this did feel a little strange, and each passing moment brought with it a growing realization that this is a lot like what getting duped into participating in an armed robbery must feel like. I was the perfect fall guy. Some fucking idiot that swears he can pay his bills writing about video games. 

“No officers, I swear it wasn’t me. Pac-Man put me up to it!” Oh yeah, that oughta stick. God damn. 

As my concern blossomed into panic, I debated leaving. Surely, that was the safe move, right? I’d cut my losses, scrap the story, and always wonder what might have happened. But at least I would be safe. 

After a long contemplation, I shifted the car into drive. I took one last look at the back door of the laundromat, and was shocked to see Pac-Man exiting with a small laundry bag. Oh shit! I couldn’t believe I’d let my paranoia get the better of me. He approached the car and suddenly it felt like seeing a friend I’d known for years, despite having just met him 20 minutes prior. 

Pac-Man: This thing got a trunk?

Hard Drive: Yeah, way in the back. Above the tires. 

Wow. Here I was hanging out and cracking jokes with Pac-Man. THE Pac-Man. This was so cool! He put his bag of laundry in the back of my car, and said we should go grab some lunch. I thought it was a suspiciously small bag of laundry at first, then I remembered he was a little circle guy who wasn’t currently wearing any clothing outside of some boots and a pair of boxing gloves, so his laundry needs are probably very minimal. I decided I had to stop worrying so much. It was easy to do once Pac-Man got back in the car. Hell, I was so comfortable I didn’t think twice when asked me to go to a restaurant. 

Pac-Man: You feel like grabbing lunch? 

Hard Drive: Sure. Where do you want to go? Somewhere we can sit down and grab a dot?

Pac-Man: Very funny, you prick. Do you know Shooter’s up on Division? I gotta go see a guy up there. We’ll get some beers, too.  

Hard Drive: Sounds good to me. Say, didn’t you say something about going to work eventually?

Pac-Man: This is work, kid.

I found that comment strange, but would come to understand what he meant in time. Back in the car we shared a joint and sang along to some songs on the radio, and then my new buddy Pac circled back on my earlier question. 


Pac-Man: I fucked up, by the way. My contract wasn’t very good. 

Hard Drive: Huh? 


Pac-Man: That’s why I’m not filthy rich. I know what you were asking. We’ve all seen that prick from Burger Time’s mansion. People can’t believe I’m not set up as well as him. But it’s all in the contracts. I got fucked on my contract. See, people think that every time someone put a quarter in a Pac-Man game I got a nickel, but that’s not how it works at all. More like my agent got a nickel, my manager got a nickel, and the government got 20 cents. That’s the reality of the video game business right there. It ain’t all extra lives and free pretzels, kid. 


Hard Drive: I’m 38 years old, Pac-Man. 

Pac-Man: Well I’m 43, kid. This is the place right up ahead here. 


Shooter’s was an empty little dive. Maybe it’s always like that, but it being a Tuesday afternoon sure wasn’t helping. Not even the rain was getting people to come in. Pac-Man knew the bartender, and they seemed to like each other. We ordered some food and briefly continued our conversation. 


Hard Drive: Wow Pac-Man, you ate that burger so fast. 

Pac-Man: Pretty cool, right? I don’t even taste it. It’s like taking a pill or something. Please take your time eating, though. In fact, would you excuse me for a moment? 


Now, this is normally the sort of trivial conversation I’d trim from a piece like this, but I’ve included it because after several minutes, I realized I’d finished my lunch and Pac-Man had not returned. Curious and a few beers in, I decided to go look for my new buddy. If nothing else I thought maybe I’d find him in the bathroom and see how he handles his business with those boxing gloves he’s always wearing. But I was wrong, and soon discovered him using the gloves for something besides urinating. 

“Where’s the money?” I heard someone yell from the back office, making me change course and head that way instead of the restroom. I opened the door and saw Pac-Man on top of what I assumed was the owner, pummeling him. Demanding money. 

Look, I’m not proud of this next part. Just please know that, okay? At this point, both Pac-Man and the guy he was hitting heard me open the door and they stopped to look at me. The guy on the ground saw his opportunity and hit Pac-Man in the crotch with his knee and managed to get up while Pac-Man groaned and collected himself. 

This is the part I warned you about. The guy went to run past me. I tripped him, okay? I have no good defense, but I will just say that there was beer, there was weed, and there was Pac-Man, star of one of my favorite video games of all time, yelling, “Trip his ass!” So that’s what I did. I tripped his ass. 

Pac-Man caught up to him and told me to leave the room. Said I did good and that he’d be to the car soon. I listened, naturally. 

I feel I should apologize for the lack of dialogue towards the end of this supposed “interview,” piece, but the truth of the matter is the ride home was a quiet one after that. Pac-Man was suddenly much less talkative, and even if I had any questions left, I was too scared to ask him by now. 

I dropped him off where I’d met him several hours earlier. We didn’t say goodbye, but he gave me a quick look. Maybe I’m wrong, but to me it said, “I’m sorry this didn’t go the way you thought it would.” I thought he was about to say something, but he just left. I popped the trunk and heard the laundry bag jingle when he took it out. 

Turns out we weren’t going to be friends after this, and that was fine by me. 


The interview may have been over, but my story hardly was. I couldn’t sleep. Couldn’t write. Couldn’t do anything but picture that man I helped assault with no knowledge of the situation. I headed back to Shooter’s first thing in the morning, and found the bruised man in his office. 

He was getting his ass kicked again.

I intervened and split them up, and quickly learned that the man assaulting him today also felt he was owed some money. Turns out he owned the vending machines inside Shooter’s, and someone had emptied the quarters out before he could collect them.

“I don’t have your money!” the owner said after standing up and straightening out his shirt and jaw. “I gave it all to Pac-Man yesterday. I took his quarters, too. Come back next week, I’ll have it.” 

After a parting blow to let him know he was serious, The Vending Machine Man left, and I asked the Shooters’ proprietor if that meant that Pac-Man wasn’t some kind of violent gangster as I had figured? 

“Oh no, no, not at all,” he said. “He just owns some Pac-Man cabinets all over town and scrapes together a living from them. He’s warned me the last three times that if kept gambling his money away he’d be forced to rough me up. To be honest, I’m surprised it took him this long.”  

For reasons I still partially blame Crash Bandicoot and Luigi for, it became clear that I had very quickly assumed the worst in Pac-Man. I jumped right to the conclusion that he must be a wiseguy or a junkie, making a bleak living from illegal extortion. But no, he was just an aging guy trying to scrape by in a world that cared about him a little bit less every day, that never made it easy for him. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I actually felt that I had grown to understand Pac-Man a little bit better that day. Maybe he wore those boxing gloves at all times because every single day was a fight to survive. 



“It ain’t all extra lives and free pretzels, kid.”

I contacted him about the story I was going to publish, making sure I had Pac-Man’s blessing. I worried that my childhood hero might not care for some of the unflattering things being reported to the public. I thought if I left in the stuff that made me look bad too, he would see it for the type of vulnerable, honest writing I was hoping to deliver. About a “kid,” meeting his hero, and realizing he was merely a man. 

Pac-Man replied, “Don’t give a shit, really. I just used you to make my collections that day while my car was in the shop. I’ll never think about you again.” 

Hm. So actually, Pac-Man just needed a ride that day it turns out. Funny world, isn’t it? You either pay the machine, or it pays you.

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