Fighting in the War Room: How Foosball Almost Ruined Me

Facing the first struggle of his post-collegiate life, Brandon Lueken fights to free himself from the addictive clutches of foosball.

While contemplating the draft and a possible expansion team, it occurred to me that I might have a problem.

I was considering replacing surrealist Russian novelist Mikhail Bulgakov, author of Master and Margarita and my team’s goalie, with crazed Objectivist Ayn Rand. I wasn’t working on a real fantasy league or the local little league schedule or anything that mattered. I was funneling all of my creative energy into the claustrophobic foosball league I had created with my two housemates. It was then that I realized I needed to get a handle on my life.

Courtesy of the American Memory Project

My obsession with foosball began after my college career ended in mid-May. Following graduation, half of my housemates moved out and only we three post-collegiate males, all basement dwellers, remained.

Peter had brought his foosball table up from Portland, which gave us something to do after selling our Wii. The table lived in the “War Room,” an extra entertaining room that solved a lot of house drama earlier that semester. Besides the foosball table, the room contained a semi-working Air Hockey table (we had no puck or paddles), and rasterized posters of The Stig and Vladimir Lenin.

Our obsession started simply enough: When we didn’t have anything better to do, it was foosball time. Then, it was something to draw us out of our rooms into the better-lit upstairs. It wasn’t long before foosball was the default option any time two of us wandered into the same room. We played foosball after episodes of The Wire, while waiting for dinner to cook, and immediately after dinner. We played best out of three, best out of five, and round-robins. We had nothing else to do, why not hone our skills? Why not try to get good enough to win a little money in bars someday?

Instead of applying for jobs and looking for housing, I played foosball. When I wasn’t playing foosball, I was thinking about foosball. In late May and early June, we all had enough graduation money to live comfortably without work. School was over, so this became our last summer vacation. Foosball filled the void in our lives, vacated by all of our working friends.

Time dragged on, and our madness deepened. What’s the name of your team? The name of your stadium? Your entry music? Who’s on your roster?

After an embarrassing shutout as the Yorba Linda Nixons, comprising Spiro Agnew and his 1972-74 cabinet, my team was reborn as the San Diego Fighting Flamingos, stocked with prominent literary figures. Mikhail Bulgakhov tended goal, flanked by the Romantic Defenders, John Keats and Lord Byron. The Modernist forwards were Ezra Pound, Wyndham “Blast” Lewis, and Ernest “The Bell Ringer” Hemingway.

Amazingly, my team was by far the least obscure. The Chicago NecroFlappers and the Portland Spotted Balls filled out the Kremlin Foosball League (KFL). Combining Matt’s love for death metal and ‘30s films, the NecroFlappers were an all-female team employing classic movie sirens like Barbra Stanwyck, Greta Garbo, Anita Page, Joan Crawford, and Norma Shearer (and those are just the ones you might’ve heard of). The Spotted Balls featured either vicious dictators like Fulgencio Batista and Juan Peron or obscure military heroes like Dutch Admiral Michiel De Ruyter and Roman General Scipio Africanus.

Competition was vicious, and on more than one occasion, one team’s loss aroused a pouting grudge match the next day.

Courtesy of the American Memory Project

We tried to draw others into our mad ways, explaining the importance of charisma on a team of lifeless plastic figures skewered on metal poles. I can only imagine the wide-eyed stares our friends gave each other after they left our house, wondering if we realized how tenuous our grip on reality had become.

Eventually, we grew bored of our rosters and began dreaming up expansion teams, trades, and drafts. We set up a white board listing all the players and other pertinent information, so that whoever wasn’t playing could give color commentary.

I’m sure that other people would have played with less enthusiasm, but as it stood–occasional visits from the LA Drug Lords and the San Francisco Center Lines notwithstanding–we were the only regular players in the KLF.

But then came my moment of clarity: What was I doing?

If I kept going without a job and without a new lease, I would be too broke to move. I needed to dig myself out of a rut. With reckless abandon, I threw myself at my housing problem and job search. I scoured Seattle neighborhoods for reasonable apartments and tried to read between the lines of their staged photos and muddled language. I wrote and re-wrote cover letter after cover letter, applying to five, six, seven, sometimes ten jobs a day. These spurts of energy ebbed and flowed; sometimes, the greatest thing I did in a day was taking out the trash.

My work paid off, and I moved from Tacoma to the Seattle neighborhood of Ballard–away from the foosball table. After more searching and interviewing, I finally landed a job.

I no longer fear the shameful discussion of personal finance around my housemates; I no longer need to buy the cheapest bread I can find; and soon, maybe, I can afford to go out for a drink with friends on a Friday night. But these are victories for the future.

Right now, I’m just happy that I don’t want to play foosball. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have galactic domination to attend to.

Brandon Lueken is a graduate from the University of Puget Sound with a Bachelor's Degree in English. He has done many things, including editing his college newspaper, writing and directing a short play, angering large groups of people en masse, and acting as both the good and the bad shoulder angel. One day, Brandon hopes to give people their dreams, but whether this is literal or figurative, no one knows.