Sunday, December 16, 2007

A Christmas Memory

I guess now is as good a time as any for a little literary thievery. Yes, that's right, I'm stealing the title for this missive, so my apologies in advance to Mr. Twain. I know that you're probably aghast by this point. I've already admitted that I'm stealing the title of this piece wholesale from somebody else. What about the contents? Well, I stole those too, FROM MY OWN LIFE. Deal with it.

Let me take you back a few years to a simpler time. A time where folks were friendlier, when the roads were paved with gold and the world held hands to sing songs of harmony and understanding. I am speaking, of course about 1988, the idealized salad days of my youth. And let me tell you, to a teenaged boy in 1988 there was no grander wish for the Christmas season than a Nintendo Entertainment System.

Mind you, I'm speaking without hyperbole here. The NES is one of the progenitors of the modern day geek movement. Go to any male between the ages of 25 and 35 and ask him the "Konami code". Chances are very high that they'll know it. (For the record, U,U,D,D,L,R,L,R,B,A,Start...add a Select before Start for two players.) This little baby sold 60 million units and birthed Super Mario Bros, Metroid, Zelda, Castlevania and a number of other popular and still active series.

This wasn't just a game system, this was a cultural movement and my lack of ability to play Super Mario Bros meant that I was falling behind the curve and would assuredly reach the end of my life a failure, incapable of even the most basic social interactions because I lacked proclivity at claiming and consuming mushrooms and fiery flowers.

As any child around Christmas time is wont to do, I made it known at every conceivable opportunity how fantastic and appreciated a gift like a Nintendo would be. Assuredly, I would be the most contented child on the block who possessed the two greatest and most loving parents of all time because I got an NES.

Though I made every attempt to interject my passion for all things Nintendian at each conceivable moment, I found my efforts somewhat rebuffed by a pair of parental overlords who did not seem to view the holy gray machine with the same misty eyed adulation that came so naturally to me.

Nevertheless, I found my countenance undeterred as I optimistically believed in my dream coming to fruition. And not long after my sister returned home from college a large wrapped present found its way under our Christmas tree. Seeing that box only made the long wait until Christmas all the worse. Knowing what was in it caused my insomnia to flare up again, as I mentally pictured the hundreds of hours of digital entertainment awaiting me when sleep should have been taking me. Mario... Zelda... Contra... Metroid... So many fantastic worlds for me to explore and so many new characters to interact with.

Still the days crept by ever slower, the tree and it's promises mocking me each morning on my way to school and presenting themselves so tantalizingly real and yet so untouchable in the evenings. Which set did I get? Did I get the one with the robot? Were any of those smaller packages games? Which ones would they be? Finally, after what seemed an eternity, the big day arrived and I paced the house, eager with anticipation, salivating at the thought of holding my beloved NES.

When present opening time came you know which one I wanted to rip apart first, but rules are rules and that was the "big final present". So, we maintained our yearly tradition and opened the presents from Grandma first. Grandma's gifts were always good for a laugh. I don't know if she purchased these gifts with a smirk of irony, or if she really just didn't care. One year my sister actually got a bag of catnip and some bobby pins, no kidding. Grandma's presents this year were par for the course. A set of thick brown socks and a jigsaw puzzle. Actually, not bad considering...

Gift after gift made its way through the room and we each opened ours in turn. After making my way down to the final box, I couldn't help but notice the complete lack of Nintendo games that I had opened. But oh well, it kind of made sense, as they wouldn't want to give away the big surprise. And finally all packages were accounte for, save one, and the time arrived for the big reveal.

Intending to give everybody their money's worth, I opened the large package as slowly as possible. Hands trembling with excitement, I began removing the paper coating from the box. After removing a portion of it, I noticed that the box underneath was plain cardboard and not the black glossy box I would have expected. That was fine, though, they were just playing a trick, hiding the NES in a larger box so that I couldn't possibly guess what it was.

After having removed enough paper to see the uppermost section of the box, I undid the tape holding the flaps together and slowly pried them apart, waiting for the choir of angels to burst forth with their trumpeting and the golden light of holy electronic love to bathe my face in its irridescent glory.

Except, there wasn't another box to be seen. Just some logs. Plain old firewood. And a shit encrusted cat box scoop. My mood, which seconds before had been bursting with joyous anticipation immediately dissipated. A large and painful lump encased itself deep within my throat as I began to notice the sounds. Laughter. From everybody in the room, directed at me. Eyes watering, I looked up to see what the joke was, and as I feared it was me.

"If you want a Nintendo so bad, do some chores and earn the money for one," they said to me between bouts of laughter.

To my young brain this was proving to be too much. Was this serious? Had they planted this...JOKE under the tree for all these weeks? Surely, any moment now the laughter would stop and they would run to a closet and pull out my real gift. Right? But no such luck was to be found for me that night. Although I kept waiting for the reassurance that it was all just a mean spirited joke and here was your Nintendo, it never came. That lump stayed in my throat the rest of the evening.

There was no joy to be found in my other presents. No consolation in the fact that I had gotten other gifts. Hell, to this day I can't name ANY of the real gifts I got that year. The only gift I can name is the crushing sense of how unfair life can be at times. It was definitely a hard pill to swallow and to this day sometimes it is referred to jokingly. I can put on a fake smile and "laugh" about it now, as an adult, but even all these years later it stings me when I think about it, and a slight sense of anger always comes over me on Christmas Eve.

As a side note to this story, I got a job managing a restaurant in our town (it was a VERY small town) shortly thereafter and did, in fact, buy my OWN DAMN NINTENDO with my OWN DAMN MONEY. Merry fucking Christmas, indeed.

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Captain Colitis said...

HA HA!!! Your dad should have waited until you opened the package, then spat in your eye, kicked the family pet, and told your sister that all of the presents you got were actually for her. If at any time during this, you started to cry, he should have punched you. You know, to really make sure that you learned the lesson.

E said...

See, I find that rather cold blooded. Speaking as an adult now, I think I would have hidden a Nintendo elsewhere. Then once we'd finished laughing at the poor schmuck of a kid who THOUGHT he was getting a Nintendo, I'd take him outside just in time to watch me crush the REAL Nintendo with my car.

Although many of these things are far better suited for being done in front of crowds.

Captain Colitis said...

Wow. I bow to you sir. You may have won this round, but I'll find more ways of destroying the hope and joy that young innocence brings!

Anonymous said...

The following year I would have wrapped up a variety of brochures and registration packets for every shitty nursing home/adult retirement center I could find. Ultimately kids remember a shitty Christmas scam forever. Picking their nursing home is the only revenge.

E said...

Let's face the facts. I'm too much of a doormat to do that. :P