I just found out today the father of my style is Stan Harris, and unlike other old dirty bastards, I enjoyed the silent support of my pop at many critical junctures of my life. Stan Harris Amusements was a vending machine company at the corner of G and Lycoming Streets in the Juniata Park section of Philadelphia. ( G street may be the coolest named street, maybe. ) Stan’s motto was “If it works with a coin, we have it” and he ruled a vast empire of machines that sold pleasure for quarters. I was a customer before I was in school, and even before I put my first quarter in a Stan Harris machine, my art education began.
The Cigarette Machine (Pre-School)
Cigarette Machines were deviously designed to attract the attention of lickle youts like myself. They were built so the brand logos and pull levers were eye level to this four-year old, with lots of mirrors and shiny surfaces to catch my eye. The coin slot was high on the machine, which was a set up for a mother-son bonding moment. Mom would put in 4 quarters, and I would pull the handle to dispense the smokes. The lever was stainless steel with a sparkled acrylic handle that was a pleasure to pull, no doubt like a slot machine. The payoff was along with the cigarettes, a pack of matches would slide out. I loved everything about those matches. The design, the overload of information, and the fire inside. Mom always had a zippo lighter, So the packs of matches were mine. Mom cared enough to tell me, “don’t burn the house down until your father pays the insurance”
Juke boxes (Grade School)
There was a little diner at 62nd and Lancaster Ave that had those little juke boxes that were on every booth. The diner had seating for 30 total and did a booming business for breakfast and lunch. By the time my school let out at 3pm the place was empty. I would drop a quarter in the juke box closest to the door and play “Long Cool Woman” by The Hollies. Then riding on the sound, I would slink next door to the gas station, where my small hands could reach into the bottom of the pepsi machine and I help myself to free cans of soda. eventually I (literally) grew out of stealing soda and The Hollies, but eventually again I (figuratively) grew back into both thanks to remembering the design to the Pepsi Light can with a brush in my hand while listening to “I Can’t Let Go” by The Hollies.
Video Games (High School)
The 7-11 at 64th and Lebanon in the Overbrook section of Philadelphia had a small game room that held 2 stand up video games and one pinball machine. Because these were Stan Harris machines they all had ashtrays attached to the sides. and because this was Overbrook, the ashtrays were ignored and the machines were tattooed with cigarette burns. The machines were in constrant use for last half of the 80’s, with players from every strata of overbrook society, from roofers to firemen, but after dark it was all 15-19 year olds from the local civic booster association, The 6-4 Posse. This club would dedicate a few weeks learning a new game, wearing out the linoleum between the game room and the front counter fetching “just four more” quarters. Once the game was mastered, the bonus round was to break into the machine for free games. If Stan didn’t come around to empty the machine after a month, when the crew was sufficiently bored with the machine, they would beat the final level and break into the cash box. One night I saw them slink out, cargo pockets on their shorts laden with the booty, laughing as they were dropping their pants as they strolled across the parking lot. Me I was innocently reading SPiN magazine and making sure my brother, night manager of the 7-11 at 64th and Lebanon, knew I had nothing to do with anything. When Stan Harris answered the repair call, my brother snagged the marquee before it got trashed. It inspires me to this minute.
Pinball (Graduate School)
I am writing this to you in my 4th office ( after ESPO’s ART WORLD, Broadway Elegance, and The Strand Underground ), The Silverball Museum in Asbury Park, New Jersey, a place of visual and aural cacophony that overloads most people, but I find it a perfect place to work. I am inspired by every inch of this place, here is the closest square inch to where I am standing.
There is a bunch of Stan Harris Machines in here, I can see the tell-tale remains of his stickers and a few holes where the ashtrays were screwed in. And there is a through line to my work today. A lot of paintings I make look like pinball machines. Your eye ball bounces around until you tilt or win a free game. Remember, the game isn’t free, but the game will free you. Thank You Stan Harris. I can never play you back so I will play it forward.