Inveterate local bowling alley East Hampton Bowl will be closing its doors for good on June 27, and local players are not taking the news well. But only one man stands to lose his life’s work.
A longtime fixture in the East Hampton Bowl arcade, Mickey “The Wrist” Habler was more crushed than anyone when he heard the alley would close. “I’ve spent years perfecting my mastery of this arcade, and now it’s all going to be over,” Habler sneers, nearly spitting on the carpeted floor, then thinking better of it and instead combing back his long, thinning hair with two fingers. “My initials have become legend in this place. Did you know every machine in here has M.W.H. as the number one highest score?”
Unemployed and living with his parents in nearby Handsome Hills, the 42-year-old gamer says East Hampton Bowl’s arcade captured his heart the moment he stepped inside 28 years ago. “My parents brought me to bowl, but as soon as I found that arcade, nothing else seemed to matter,” Habler says, noting that he’s since earned the top spot in Bad Dudes, Arkanoid, Zaxxon and Dig Dug, to name a few. “No XBox or Playstation can replace the real thing. I know it’s not popular, but arcade games beat the home console any day of the week,” Habler says, surveying his territory and gesturing to the machines at East Hampton Bowl. “Games have come and gone—heck, punks have even beat my score from time to time—but I always finish on top.”
While it’s true that many of the arcade’s games have been changed over his 28-year career as an arcade troll, Habler’s favorite, Joust, has remained a constant. And no one has dethroned him from the game’s high score slot for more than 12 hours since 1997. “That’s my girl right there,” Habler says, slipping on a pair of fingerless gloves and preparing a demonstration on his beloved machine. Following what is clearly a decades-old ritual, Habler lines up six gleaming quarters below the game’s dark screen, slips a seventh into the glowing slot and then carefully grasps the joystick’s white pommel. Standing a tall and surprisingly thin figure considering his vocation, Habler bends slightly at the knees and assumes his playing position, just as the game’s familiar music begins.
Wearing skin-tight, faded black jeans, white Reebok high tops and battered leather coat, he is the picture of concentration. Even as sweat drips through his wispy mustache and onto his gloved hands, Habler’s focus never breaks.
Some 45 minutes later, he steps away from the Joust machine, seemingly satisfied with his performance. By now, six local boys have gathered to watch. They giggle at the game’s antiquated graphics and Habler’s unique style, but they are clearly impressed.
This is why he does it, Habler admits. “I was never good at anything until this,” he says. “Now it’s going away and I don’t know what to do.”
In an attempt to preserve his scores, Habler has been taking donations at East Hampton Bowl with hopes to purchase each machine, though he’d settle for Joust, “if things don’t go well.”
With a week remaining in his effort, Habler has only $375.43 of the $1,500 needed to take home Joust, and he’s counting down the days until his “babies” go dark.
“This ain’t easy, man. I’m not sure I can raise the cash for this machine,” Habler says. “And if I do, I’m not even sure my mom will let me keep it.”