A lanky 6-year-old wanders the beige-carpeted aisles of his local Lechemere department store. Held tight in both hands is a plastic bag containing a VHS copy of Beverly Hills Cop II, a rental he’s already seen… twice.
He is winding through the store without much care or purpose, passing metal spoons and vacuum cleaners, greeting cards and carpet swatches. Now a yellow Sony double-cassette deck is playing the beep-ity bops of “Nightmare on My Street” by DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince. Nice.
I was probably just wandering away from my dad and brother, just checking out shiny things like television sets… and then it found me.
A girl — who was apparently a Lechemere employee on an interminable break — was handling a gray and black controller attached to a gray and black box about eye-level on the shelf. Gray, black, bland, blah. But next to that box was crack on a TV screen: an electronic love letter from the Mushroom Kingdom.
She was good. Defiantly she deftly dodged goombas and trumped turtles, always pushing forward in her quest: Rightward Ho! I couldn’t risk conversation (her being a girl, and 10 years older), so I casually-for-a-second-grader perused the area… keeping my eye on the television screen from isles over.
Finally she abandoned her post, and it was all mine! But whoah, buddy! Pacman’s ghosts, Asteroids’ spiders and Frogger’s passenger vehicles hadn’t prepared me for the difficulty of Mario’s friggin’ turtles. They bounced! They tortured me, and again and again I died until I couldn’t take it any more. It lasted maybe 5 minutes, but my 25-year journey as a Mario enthusiast had begun.
So that’s the good part. The fond rememberings. But I wonder what would have happened if I’d kept on walking that day… right into the children’s woollen sweaters, Fall ’85 Collection. Was I going to be an engineer or an architect before video games ruined my childhood? Maybe a sweater weaver — a kick-ass sweater weaver who cures cancers, saves puppies and shearers lambs.
My encounter at Lechemere’s was only the anti-pasti. It wasn’t until later that year that my childhood journey was irrevocably forked. It happened in one day. The day I stopped drawing schematics of race-cars that walked down the street like AT-ATs, the day my plans to build a garage with an under-ground hideout inside of it languished, the day my imagination was poured out into a hole in Nintendo’s money bin. It was the same day my neighborhood friends received an original NES with Super Mario Bros number 1.
That was a pretty good day.