By Hillel Aron
By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
Early video games couldn’t be paused or continued. When Tim McVey got more than a billion points (yes, a billion) on Nibbler in 1982, he did it with one quarter — that was 44 hours of Nibbler for 25 cents. And when Billy played Centipede for two days straight in 1986, he had to go to the bathroom so badly he actually dragged the game into the restroom with him.
“We do things that the average person can’t do,” he says. “Things that no one should be able to do.” Indeed, many of the companies that made early games say that they didn’t think such high scores were possible. “We play so long that the program runs out and there’s no code left. At really high levels, parts of the screen disappear,” Billy explains. “Or the game gets so violent and fast it’s hopeless. We call that a killscreen.”
Pac-Man, for example, goes haywire at level 256. Same thing with Dig Dug. Galaga ends in existential emptiness: Eventually, it’s just your ship and space. Which, when you think about it, kind of makes sense.
Upon hearing I was from Los Angeles, Billy expressed sympathy for our state’s political disarray. Then he suggested that the Davis recall could be solved with a video-game competition. “Whoever wins would be governor,” he said, which I thought was kind of strange, until he added, “It would be just about as effective as the upcoming campaign.” He has a point. And Arnold probably would win at Contra anyway.
I have seen things on Silver Lake Boulevard: four car accidents, a knife fight, a man walking a Siamese cat on a velvet string. So it wasn’t surprising to walk out, find a medium-size turtle plodding gravely, with great determination, toward oncoming traffic. His very grimness made him seem as if he was on his way to work.
Looking under “emergency turtle rescue” on Google and Hotbot, a picture starts to emerge. There’s a woman. She lives in Montecito. She’s a wonderful woman, wonderfully strange, quite possibly eccentric. An 805 phone number connects you to a machine that tells you that, if you are looking for the Turtle Lady, you must call another 805 number. On that number is a machine with a delightfully flutey voice, a voice that sounds authoritative, calm and kind. It is the voice of Jeanie Vaughan telling you you’ve reached Turtle Dreams.
It is rather dreamlike to wind up the lofty hills of Montecito, passing the gated mansions, the faux country spreads, the thick eucalyptus, lazing horses, men playing golf in astonishing pants. You drive and sigh. At the end of a tropical cul-de-sac you spy a low, lovely Spanish-style estate; olives, fuchsias, thick shrubbery abound. A map is consulted. Maybe a wrong turn has been taken; almost certainly a movie star lives here. But wait. There are tanks and aquariums piled next to the black Lexus. There are plastic tubs, hoses, panes, coils of indeterminate usage.
First question: Does she look like a turtle? Well, no. She looks like a patrician, elegant, wry mother of three grown kids, which, in fact, she is. ‰
Through the window, Jeanie Vaughan waves you forward. On the driveway in a box is the latest of the new refugees — 19 turtles and tortoises so far that morning. The telephone is jumping; Jeanie is talking and waving and smiling. The anteroom smells of heat lamps, of water, moss, movement. The room is alive with turtles: pale, elegantly orange-tipped japonicas, jewel-like graecas, musk turtles, box turtles, painted turtles, more. The hallway is simply a turtle-endowed extension of the anteroom: pelusios, ornates, comical pig noses, snake-necked turtles that look exactly as their name implies. What kills me are the matamatas; each looks as if dressed for the Carnivale, piquant streamers of skin adhere like tassels to each face.
“The matamatas are native to South America,” the turtle lady says.
That would explain it.
Jeanie is still on the phone; turtle matters are being taken care of. Who knew how much turtle-saving business went on in the world?
The heat lamp burns bright in yet another room. Signs read “Deworming,” or “Tube Feeding” or simply “check.” In the sparkling bathroom, you find, of course, terrapin prints, a soap bottle decorated with a turtle theme. The garage has tanks and tanks, an enormous snouted pig nose, a giant Amazon River turtle, an incongruous Everlast punching bag.
“When my mom spends too much on turtles,” Jeanie’s daughter jokes, “my father comes out here and punches away.”
And yet, at the Turtle Lady’s house who can be angry? The lovely, hushed grounds have been mostly converted to tortoise habitat. In one expansive enclosure, African desert tortoises, huge as walking ottomans, recline in a landscaped tableau. In another, newly hatched babies walk around unsure like little, tottering top hats. A pond, enclosed against coyotes, gurgles forth turtles with tart racing stripes. In the winter, the Russians hibernate in a family-sized Frigidaire.
Turtle noises are quiet, soothing, munchy. Their placid blinks make you yawn. “What you’ve got is a cooter,” the Turtle Lady says, in a rare moment of inactivity. She bends to look. There’s always time for turtles. “How beautiful he is.”