Mike Perry sits perched on the arm of a white couch inside an old church, explaining how he ended up here — in this dimly lit room surrounded by 60 pinball games that pulsate and buzz.
“I was kind of a latchkey kid, and there was a pinball arcade I would often sneak out to,” he says.
“You know pinball was huge for 30 to 40 years,” he adds. “It was a major part of Americana that’s basically been forgotten. They are very violent games. It is you against gravity. Gravity is always going to win.”
Perry is encircled by bouncing multicolored lights that swirl on the floors. There’s a silver disco ball above him, a full drum set and other musical instruments to his rear. The room has a soft purple glow.
It’s not only home to what Perry calls the largest collection of vintage pinball machines in the South but also serves as a hub for the Mystic Krewe of the Silver Ball, a hodgepodge band of pinball enthusiasts, technologists, musicians and other creative types who commune amid the flickering screens.
The idea is a riff on the original Carnival social clubs, where doctors, lawyers and other professionals would gather to relax and network, according to Perry, a software developer. He says he is appealing to a different creative class, hoping to link up those with similar interests to work collaboratively on a wide range of projects.
“I had this idea of creating a scene,” he says. “Our society is so individualistic. It’s all about me, me, me! I want to get people to work collectively to become more powerful.”
For Perry, a 40-something New Orleans native who attended Brother Martin High School, success came early in the technology field. A mostly self-taught programmer, he designed a highly sought-after program in his early 20s that made him wealthy.
“I went from living in a $250-per-month apartment in Gentilly to making deals with General Motors,” he said.
He also cashed in on the early land grab for dot-com addresses, registering a number of common Web domains and reselling them for a profit. In 2000, he sold wisdom.com for $475,000.
The money and success weren’t ultimately fulfilling, and Perry began to feel isolated by his work, which consisted of long hours sitting alone at his computer.
About two years ago, he bought an abandoned church in a residential section of metro New Orleans — he asked that the exact location not be revealed — and began stocking it with pinball machines. He dubbed it the PinChurch.
His oldest machine was built in 1932, and his collection includes games from a number of decades, the most expensive of which is a recently released “Wizard of Oz” game that costs about $6,000.
Perry said he’s put between $200,000 and $300,000 into the collection, some of which he’s starting to earn back in the form of private memberships in the club. He has 35 members paying dues of $50 per month for access to the church. All the games are on “free play.”
Mike Migliore, a 59-year-old Kenner resident, is one of the members. He remembers distinctly when he began playing pinball as an 8-year-old growing up in Algiers Point.
“It was very special for me, because the guy who taught me was 14 at the time,” he said. “A few years later, he was killed in Vietnam.”
Migliore said that around 2000, it became increasingly difficult to find pinball games.
He discovered the PinChurch on Facebook and said the moment he walked in he was hooked.
“I was just wowed,” he said.
The PinChurch hosts frequent pinball tournaments, and Migliore said he won the first one he entered.
“Pinball is really about coordination and instincts,” he said. “You get coordinated enough to hit one flipper at a time, then you learn how to hold the flipper and the ball. Guys who are really good can stop the ball.”
Wes Ganucheau, 31, has watched the PinChurch and the Mystic Krewe bloom. He and Perry share a mutual affection for playing music and pinball.
Ganucheau remembers Perry deciding it was time to find a venue for all of the pinball machines accumulating at his house.
“We would go eat lunch at Bud’s Broiler and then drive around and look for a place for this pinball mecca,” Ganucheau said.
They finally settled on the old church, which had been flooded during Hurricane Katrina and abandoned in its aftermath.
After about eight months of hanging ceiling tiles and doing other renovations, the place was ready.
Ganucheau, whose wife, Adrienne “Black Widow” Black, is a competitive pinball player, said he enjoys the social scene at the club and the way members come together to sound off on mutual interests and ideas.
The club has a full video editing suite and has occasional classes on a number of eclectic subjects ranging from electronics repair to concealed-gun licenses.
On a recent Friday night, Ganucheau, Black and their two children, ages 3 and 6 months, spent the evening at the PinChurch along with about a dozen other club members.
Roy, their 3-year-old, perched on a footstool and played the game “Attack from Mars” while his dad chatted.
A technology director at a local school, Ganucheau said it is the intertwining elements of pinball that he finds so compelling, especially that “it’s an art form that combines electronics, music and design.”
The pinball machine, Ganucheau, said, is a metaphor for the Mystic Krewe of the Silver Ball. The idea is that there’s no common purpose, only a sprinkling of disparate parts that, when assembled together, have the ability to produce something alive with its own unique energy.
For information about the Mystic Krewe of the Silver Ball, visit MysticKrewe.com.