I entered the gleaming white store with trepidation. A cardboard box, previously used to store wrapped, uncooked chicken legs, was held tightly between my arms. Inside of it, dozens of gray plastic squares slid back and forth with the sway of my body.
The automatic doors closed behind me with a whoosh as I felt the overhead air system blow down onto me. I was miles away from where I had been three steps back.
At the front counter stood a bored young woman, her red smock stained in the lower left corner. Coffee? I didn’t care. Beside me stood my oldest sister, who was home visiting from school. I don’t remember what she wore, only that her eyeshadow was dark blue.
The girl at the counter turned and gave a halfhearted smile as I approached, which was further dulled by the gum that smacked around between her teeth.
“Hi there,” she said. I went to speak, but my sister interrupted.
“Hello!” she responded enthusiastically, doing that voice of hers that I hate. You know the one, the voice you make when you’re trying to be polite to someone you just met, the one that doesn’t sound anything like your own. It further added to the phoniness of the situation.
I strolled over to the counter and set down the box, peering over top of the rim. Behind the counter, the floor was raised, giving the girl this king-like view of the entire store.
“What can I do for you folks today?” Folks? Was she kidding me?
My sister went on gabbing as I frowned, wondering what I was doing here.
A few weeks before, I had seen the ad on television: Zelda. The first Zelda for the N64. I was ecstatic, having been waiting for this moment for a long time. Oh, it had been hyped before, especially in the Nintendo Power subscription I had received every month like clockwork for damn near seven years. This was the game to have, and if you didn’t, you sucked.
While kids at my school were giddy about the upcoming dance, I was gibbering about Link with my merry group of nerds, geeks and outcasts.
“Did you see the graphics?”
“Yeah, what about the story?”
“I dunno, it’s gonna be awesome, though.”
These were the substantive comments made during lunch period. At the table across from us, a gaggle of girls were discussing the stud-factor of the football quarterback. Beside us, more fellow classmates were passing notes to those girls. (Do you like me? Circle Yes, No, Maybe.)
Let them have their crushes and notes. I had Zelda.
When I went home, I spoke to my parents. I told them about it, how cool it was going to be, etc. They, however, had bad news.
Now, I had known we were having financial problems; but, like all situations of that kind, my parents tried shielding it from me. I was, after all the youngest (a.k.a., the “baby”) of the family. Little did I know that this thing I craved was not to be mine, because we just couldn’t afford it.
I was crushed. More than that, though, I was angry. I was to be denied this? Who did they think they were? Didn’t they know how much I wanted it? How much I needed it? They must have known, but decided to go into debt just to spite me.
As I sat sulking in my room, my gaze drifted to the box in the corner. I had been asked to clean out my closet, and most of the clutter I had grudgingly taken out was in there.
“That’s it!” I thought. I scrambled over to it and beheld the treasure trove of yesteryear. The box was filled to the brim with NES games. Back when my parents had a thriving business, they spoiled us kids rotten. Bubble Bobble, Mega Man, Batman, Castlevania and more!
I remembered that Toys ‘R’ Us had a program where you can exchange old games for store credit. This was my chance! I ran down to my mom and explained what I wanted to do, and she said it was fine with her. I was giddy. Hundreds of old NES games, at a few bucks of credit apiece? I was going to have it all!
At least, I thought so.
The box was half empty and I had racked up a total of $150 so far. Into the entrance of the store walked a man, a brown trench coat dangling around his ankles. He noticed what we were doing and wandered over to us.
Apparently, he wanted to buy the games for actual cash. My sister, the savvy big city girl she had become, was eager to have an actual monetary transaction occur. I was confused. Why was she talking to this man?
He reached into the box, looking at the wondrous toys before him. His eyes lit up as he went through them, each one bringing more and more joy to his face. I just thought he looked creepy.
“Well, I don’t have a problem with it,” said the manager to my sister, who had been called over. “You just can’t do it in the store, that’s all.”
“What about the parking lot?” she responded.
“That would be fine. Just no outside money transactions inside the store.”
As they bickered, I saw him pick up something I didn’t even know was in there: the original NES game – Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt.
What was I doing here? How could I have been throwing away the past like this? Was I really going to let her give my formerly prized possessions to some weird guy in a trench coat in the parking lot?
I tapped her on the shoulder.
“I’ve changed my mind.”
“What do you mean?” she asked.
“I don’t want to sell these anymore. Let’s go.”
“No arguments, let’s just go.”
She could tell I was serious, and possibly a little upset at this recent turn of events. So, we quickly got the receipt for the store credit from the girl, I pulled the games out of trench coat man’s hands and exited the store, quickly rushing to the car to go home.
There was a sudden change of heart in there, but really, wasn’t I just shoveling out the old for the new? Once upon a time, these were the top tier of home entertainment. Doc Wiley and Mega Man, Mario and Luigi, those weird dinosaur things from Bubble Bobble, these were the hit-making characters of the day, all in glorious pixilated 8-bit resolution.
Now, of course, Mega Man is hardly the star he was, now known more for an anime series than his games. Mario and Luigi have their own games, and the most recent ones don’t even reflect that for which they were best known. And Bubble Bobble? Ha!
In our society, it’s all about the new and exciting, the shiny and freshly wrapped, the ones with the multi-million dollar marketing campaign attached to them. And I suppose that’s just how things go.
But we must be careful, for in our attempt to seek out the latest and greatest, we may sacrifice that which made us who we are, and lose a piece of ourselves forever. Otherwise, we may all end up as old men, looking through cardboard boxes, wondering what happened to our childhood.
Tom Rhodes is a writer and filmmaker currently living in Ohio. He can be reached through [email protected]