A convert to the game turns his passion into profit
By CHRIS SHERIDAN
Article from The New York Daily News
Originally published on November 28, 2004
Forty-nine narrow, rickety steps lead to the fourth-floor studio apartment on 10th Ave. where pinball reigns king in the cramped living quarters of Levi Nayman.
Nayman, 29, is a young eccentric who played so much pinball at the old underground bar Siberia that the day after the bar closed, he bought his own machine. He dragged the 1977 Williams Argosy up his stairway to the 150-square-foot space that serves as his living room/bedroom/under-the-loft-bed office.
Then the pinball machine broke.
"I freaked out. What had I done? How was I going to get rid of it?" he recalls.
Out of pure desperation, Nayman opened the game, messed around and was amazed when it somehow fixed itself.
Machines in the kitchen
"It tricked me into thinking I can save these things," says Nayman, whose obsession with finding, fixing and squirreling away pinball machines has left him with a current total of four fully functional classics stuffed into his kitchen and living room.
"My high was six, but that was a little out of hand," he admits. Nayman also has more than a dozen other machines tucked away some 20 blocks south in a basement storage warehouse. The oldest is a 1972 Gottlieb Sheriff, the newest a 1994 Bally Creature from The Black Lagoon. Some games from Nayman's collection are from the '70s, electromagnetic models with chimes as charming as their electrical switches are archaic.
He sells the machines that he restores on eBay, when not buying them through the pinball word-of-mouth network that once led him to actress Sandy Duncan's upper West Side apartment. There, he relieved her of a 1988 Williams Cyclone that had been out of commission for a while.
Nayman, who handles communications for a department store union, has turned his tinkering into a side business.
At Monkey Royale, a coffeehouse on Second Ave. between 11th and 12th Sts., Nayman services a 1969 Gottlieb Stock Car, one of only about 300 built.
"What gets everybody is that the machine is so old, it actually has a space on the back glass for the score to be written in grease pencil," says manager David Faitelsum. "Our customers love it. It gets a lot of use, and Levi shows up to keep it humming more out of passion than because of business."
"As far as I know it's the only publicly accessible electromagnetic machine available in Manhattan."
Learning as he goes
And as far as Nayman knows, he's the only person in Manhattan fixing the machines, especially the older ones from the pre-electronic age with their myriad moving parts.
Spare flipper coils, drop targets and relays are purchased from Pinball Resource in Poughkeepsie. The most daunting glitches are resolved through the same trial-and-error process that has allowed Nayman to restore about 35 machines since he first purchased that Argosy three summers ago.
Nayman sells his pinball machines for as little as $800, and counts his most rewarding sale as the 1955 Williams Wonderland that he drove to JFK Airport and shipped to a collector in Italy.
What makes 'em special
Ironically, Nayman was a video-game fan during his youth, supporting the technology that made arcade pinball passé.
"That's how it was in the old days. The video games were what drew the attention of the early '80s arcade-goer, and pinball machines looked old-fashioned. I would wonder who would be enough of a lunatic to drop their money in one of those things when a shiny new Ms. Pac Man was sitting right next to it."
But with age came wisdom.
"There is something special about pinball. A video game can be mastered, patterns learned, bugs exploited. But every single pinball game I've ever played has been different, and that really makes it special. Plus, there is an attraction to a pinball machine that you don't get with a video-game console. They are works of art, and most importantly, larger than life."
For more information or to contact Levi Nayman, visit www.crazylevipinball.com or call (917) 209-8523.
Nayman's top 5 pinball machines
Dimension, 1971 Gottlieb
What else is there to say about this fantastic machine? 20 drop targets, small flippers and beautiful "What was in that drink?" artwork.
Firepower, 1980 Williams
The first digital multiball game, with awesome sound and play. Mercilessly addictive, and can humble even expert players.
Creature From the Black Lagoon, 1994 Bally
The best game of the '90s, it is simply a work of art with a great drive-in 1950s theme and tough game play. A cool hologram of the creature, too.
Pop-a-Card, 1971 Gottlieb
Another great add-a-ball wedgehead like Dimension. Dimension and PAC are the only two short-flipper, drop-target, add-a-ball games, both classics.
Argosy, 1977 Williams
The finest Williams EM game made. It has EVERYTHING, drop targets, a spinner, ball-save gate, kickout hole ... all the things that make EMs great in one package. Addicting game play.