Another One Bites the Dots

I expect you've seen this video by now; the teaser for Bohemian Rhapsody. It's hard to tell much from a teaser trailer, but it's a pretty good teaser.

The prominent use of Another One Bites the Dust really gets me thinking about Pac-Man, and I don't mean regular arcade Pac-Man or any of the modern iterations of the game, I mean the deeply crappy 1982 home version for what we now call the Atari 2600, but at the time usually just called the Atari.

When 2600 Pac-Man hit stores, Another One Bites the Dust had already done victory-laps on the charts two years earlier. But they'll always be smooshed together in my mind.

I was living in Cumberland (Maryland) in those days, living the formative years, as they say. Mom was busy going to school, Dad was off doing Marine stuff. We went shopping regularly at a department store called Hills.

I loved Hills for exactly three reasons: they had Hot Wheels and Matchbox cars (which I adored beyond all reason), they sold previously-frozen hot pretzels from a snack bar near the checkout (mustard packets at the ready) and they always kept at least one Atari out where kids could play it. Not much different from a modern department store, but lower-tech and with a greater chance of someone wearing plaid. Including me. Old photographs prove beyond the power of my denials that I wore plaid pants as a child.

At no point in my childhood, teen-hood, or early adulthood was I ever in a position to play cartridge games at home; things like that were for for other kids. This never bothered me; it didn't occur to me that it should. I had Matchbox and Hot Wheels and we had television and record-players and I had no more direct contact with reality then than I do now; I was busy daydreaming. I think I was 12 or more before I even noticed the difference between the gadgets I had access to and the gadgets others had, and by then I was obsessed with reading, and reading is a pretty cheap obsession.

But man, I loved going to Hills and playing Atari. I remember some deeply awful games. Empire Strikes Back was one I must've played a hundred times there; Mom would just leave me to the Atari while she did her shopping, presaging a basic parenting technique that would define my and all subsequent generations.

Pac-Man though ... that was an event. The normal Atari display got moved away from the long wall and placed on a big end-cap display with tons of Pac Regalia. There was sometimes a line. A frickin' line to witness the butchery of this beloved arcade game, reduced to sluggish boxes colliding with other boxes making a dull bump-bump-bump noise while the player wrestled with the world's least cooperative alternative to a joystick. Every ounce of charm from arcade Pac-Man had been extracted with a rusty bandsaw, the resulting gore sprayed in the eyes of eager children.

And for whatever reason (to show off the bass, I suppose), the nearby wall of stereo equipment was thumping out Another One Bites the Dust on an endless loop. This was true for several visits in a row, and the resulting association is a bit like that scene in A Clockwork Orange where Beethoven is tainted for all time. Part of me doesn't understand why no one in this trailer is playing Pac-Man.

I hasten to point out: it didn't feel like childhood trauma. It felt like getting to play Pac-Man without any need for precious quarters, followed by disappointment I couldn't fully process, followed by having a song stuck in my head for weeks, the loud singing of which concerned my mother for reasons I didn't understand.

I just thought it was nonsense words. I mean, we were poor but we could usually afford a previously-frozen soft pretzel. Nobody I knew bit dust for real. It just sounded really fun and was easy to sing and made higher-quality thumping noises than department-store Pac-Man.

They didn't look this good. Clipart pretzels are better pretzels.