I didn't go in with too many expectations, but on hearing about it, the concept filled me with a sort of understated macabre glee, coupled with the NEED to see. It just got better once we got there. One of the staffers told nekouken that the owner was a minigolf enthusiast, and now that the owner's children are grown, they allow the space to be used by local Boy Scout troops and Indian guides (?!) - he did not delve into what that meant, which, as far as I'm concerned, is a modern tragedy.
The minigolf course is in the basement of the funeral home, and to get to it, we had to walk through the main floor. It was a strange feeling to be in a funeral home in street clothes. This is a place of hushed voices, uncomfortable formal clothes and furniture that discourages lounging, and that air hung over it even when empty. I haven't been in a huge number of funeral homes, but they have all felt this way to me, and looking into those peculiarly nonspecific communal spaces for even a span of moments definitely made me see flashes of funerals past. The only people in the building aside from us were staff, dressed the same way they would to help send off a stiff, which only reinforced that funereal air. As we were leaving, I interacted with a staffer myself, and he spoke with the same quiet solicitousness he would have if we were in mourning. All that was missing was a mass of floral arrangements.
The landing at the bottom of the stairs let out into another sitting area, but less formally appointed than the upstairs ones, with a pop machine and a coffee dispenser. This gave me a different kind of flash memory, specifically of being at my great grandfather's funeral, who I barely knew. I was seven and didn't really get what was going on, but I remember milling around in between the times we had to sit in the chairs and listen to people talking, bored but obedient to the solemnity all around me. This room took me back because it was clearly a place to take restless children, or to otherwise escape from the press of people.
Looking back at yesterday, I know this is what I was thinking, but in the moment, these reactions barely even registered, because I was more focused on the sound coming from the wall of arcade games - and a lone pinball machine - immediately to the left of the entrance. That's definitely one of the most important sounds of my childhood, and even though I can't even remember the last time I was in an arcade, I still felt that little thrill. For a while when we were kids, a local guy tried to start up an arcade in town, and Dad made a deal with him to do repair work on the machines for free in exchange for letting us play the games for free. It was so cool, and walking in that room reminded me of that.
The seating for these videogames, rather than the standard short barstool-like swivel seats, was a row of chairs made out of huge milk canisters, which is such a rural thing I don't even know. I haven't seen one in decades, and I am experiencing Google fail, as I can't find any images of that kind of chair online at all. They don't really show in the pics from the Ahlgrim's home page, or the page on Roadside America either, but they are beyond old school. Those took me back to something I don't actually remember at all. I pretty much need to get a photo, because damn.
The first thing we did was play ping pong, followed by bumper shuffleboard, which I'd only played once before, in Omaha. There was an actual shuffleboard layout on the floor as well, which I didn't try as I have no idea how. There was an abortive attempt at pool, of which the less said, the better. There was also some other kind of table, I don't remember what kind, that had pegs on it. It might have been a bar billiards table. I didn't look at it closely, as there was plenty to do, and we were only there for two hours. One thing I did wish for was rulebooks for all of these games, since they depend on people knowing how to play. Maybe they had one there, though; it just didn't occur to me to ask.
The centerpiece was the golf course itself. It was clearly home-made, with many simple parts - the edges were 2x4s painted black, and the holes looked to be made from repurposed butter tubs. There was just as clearly a ton of work and loving attention put into it. It's death-themed, Halloween style, which is hilarious in context, and the pictures don't really do it justice. The first hole was divided by a sandtrap with a skull with light-up eyes, the second mostly consisted of a wooden coffin, the third had a box that was like a cross between pachinko and skeeball, with labelled gravestones as pegs (that's what the front of the bright red box in this picture looks like). A later hole has a hazard of a tiny cemetery, for a penalty of 1, with a double penalty for disturbing any of the open graves. There were also some incongruously non-death-themed holes, such as a windmill and a water trap. Strange things were peppered in the spaces between each hole, though, among them a giant inflatable vulture and a parking meter with a big black snake wrapped around it. There were additional Halloweenish decorations scattered around, but the walls were mostly decorated with old street signs, which gave it a retro-collegiate feel.
The course was actually fairly difficult, but we probably spent less than an hour playing through, dividing the rest of the time between the arcade machines before wrapping up with more doubles ping pong. I think I needs me a ping pong table.
On the way home, R and I discussed the different kinds of responses we'd seen to the existence of this place. He and I both had that instant "MUST GO" reaction, as did nekouken and a few friends I told, but both of us, on telling others about it, were met with instant rejection of the idea. It makes sense to me, though - even now that I've been there, I still find the thought of a minigolf course in a funeral home wondrous, but considering how weird people can get about death, I certainly understand people being discomfited by the juxtaposition of death and fun.
By the end of the time there, the hint of macabre had faded, leaving the ultimate vibe of the place as a small-town kind of kooky, unique in a way that's unusual for the suburbs in my experience. It didn't reach the level of kitsch, either - the best summary I can come up with for the room as a whole is that it's like what would happen if a group of kids from a 50s movie time-travelled to the 80s and designed a rec center. nekouken and I both decided independently that, when the time comes, it'd be a good place for our loved ones to bid us their last farewells. "Oh hey I should do make a will" is totally on my sometime list, so perhaps arranging for that will be the thing that pushes me to finally do it.
Oh, and sometime before we die, there totally needs to be a party there. Our visit yesterday was free, but with a big group, I think maybe we can overwhelm them into accepting a donation.