Pinball wizard rolls with skateboard/arcade combo
BY BOB KRASNER | They say the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree, but this particular one took a flying leap. Jon Eastman, owner and proprietor of Reciprocal Skateboards, at 402 E. 11th St. near First Ave., has a shop that is filled with skateboard decks on one side and pinball machines on the other. As for his dad, an accountant, “He doesn’t know what a pinball machine is and wanted to know what a skateboard does,” Eastman said.
The 38-year-old Eastman’s obsession with the classic arcade game began as a youngster when his dad would drop him off, but not stick around, every other weekend at his grandfather’s place of business, a well-known arcade in Coney Island. Video games were “new and exciting” back then, but the young Eastman’s good aim and aptitude for physics made him perfectly suited for pinball. (Not surprisingly, he’s also quite good at shooting pool.)
A college degree in business administration and a minor in economics led to a 13-year stint as a stockbroker, but he left, he said, because “Wall St. is an ugly place.”
Eastman spent the start of his early retirement learning how to repair the pinball machines that he kept in his apartment. Previous mechanical experience fixing cars helped him become a self-taught repairman. He’ll spend up to 200 hours putting a machine into pristine condition so that it plays, he said, “like it came out of the box.” Armed with a couple of reconstituted machines, he set out to make a few bucks by installing them in local establishments. He got turned down over and over until six years ago, when the previous owner of Reciprocal said yes. According to Eastman, “It was a terrible excuse for a store” at the time, and the owner was about ready to give up. But he hung on for another few years, showing Eastman the ropes and fueling a new obsession with building skateboards.
Three years ago the owner offered to sell the place to Eastman and he grabbed it, turning it into a neighborhood mecca for skateboarders. New customers become regulars right away, according to brand-new regular Nicholas Johnston. The 34-year-old tattoo artist praised the “super-friendly” nature of the place’s staff and remarked that “they took care of me as soon as I walked in the door.” Part of the draw is the selection of exclusive, limited-edition boards, of which less than 100 each are made. Some have even shown up on eBay.
A recent expansion doubled the size of the cramped store. The pinball machines got their own space and the crowd of regulars got bigger. Ian Harbor comes in two to five times a week to play, when he can get away from his duties as a stagehand.
Why pinball? And why here?
“It’s just a fun game,” he said. “The great thing about it is that it’s never the same game twice. I’m a video game junkie, but there’s only so long that you can sit in front of a TV. And they don’t put just any table in here. They are all in spectacular shape.”
In addition, a play on one of the pinball machines is 50 cents, down from the norm of 75 cents in the few bars where you can find them. Standup comedian and actress Karen Summerton noted that she keeps coming back because “it’s so hard to find nice, clean pinball machines that are not broken.”
Eastman’s tables at Reciprocal include Doctor Who, Tron and Doctor Dude, The Terminator and The Twilight Zone (the most popular). Eastman looks at them as works of art, not just arcade games. And those tables have attracted some notables as well, including the cast of “Doctor Who,” rapper Waka Flocka Flame, blues singer Ben Harper and a bunch of people that Eastman remarks that he is “too old to know.”
Eastman has watched his “high score” status disappear as some of the best players in the country have checked in. Lyman Sheats of Stern Pinball came in from Chicago, and champion player Alberto Santana put more than 4 billion points on the Creature From The Black Lagoon machine, quadrupling the previous score. Coming up soon at the shop will be the next “Pinferno” tournament, which originated in Eastman’s apartment on four machines. The date is still to be determined — “probably in May,” he said — and it’s first come, first served on the signup, which will be limited to 48 players in an all-day event.
The aforementioned Flame used the shop as a promo tool when he bought boards for a bunch of lucky kids and filmed it for Internet distribution. The kids are a big part of the experience for Eastman, who sometimes feels like a “babysitter for 700 kids.” He tries to be a good influence, especially on the “misguided youth” who find their way to the shop.
“The parents are not always there for them,” he said. “I have no kids, but I try to guide them. It’s stressful and they don’t always like what I have to say, but they listen.”
Eastman does have a girlfriend, though, who hangs out the shop and helps out after her nine-to-five gig is over. It’s a good thing that she does, because although he lives nearby, most of his time is spent at 402 E. 11th St. Seven days a week, 12 hours a day, he is at work, dealing with the daily adventure that is Reciprocal. He’s had four days off in three years of “dealing with crazy s— : crack heads, attempted thievery, all kinds of stuff.”
In the midst of the action, Eastman has no trouble summing up who and where he is.
“I’m a Jewish skateboard shop owner across the street from a mosque, next to an Italian tile shop and around the corner from a Haitian boutique,” he said. “I love it — everything I want in life is in this room.”
For more information on the Reciprocal Skateboard shop and the upcoming “Pinferno” tournament, call 212-388-9191 or visit reciprocalnyc.com .