That Nintendo Magic

I’m facing off against a giant turtle, like something from the Galapagos, but with a studded back that can kill me. It shoots lasers of flame from its open maw and grunts on occasion. Yeah, I should have absolutely no chance against it, but I’m determined to defeat this hybrid beast, even if it means my death…

Because I have many more where that came from. I have a Power-Up.

nes_super_mario_bros__cart_by_hellstinger64And to 10-year old me that was the most amazing part of the whole thing, that even if I was defeated, laid low as the dark screen replaced the background of the world of the Super Mario Bros., I would come back shiny and new to attack the same obstacles all over again. If practice did indeed make perfect then I became the perfect embodiment of that Italian plumber.

Or sometimes I was his brother.

I remember getting that package one Christmas (I think I was 9 or 10) and thinking it was an electric train set. I had hinted at wanting it, and my uncle was generally pretty good at supplying those wants instead of the needs that made me groan. He got us our first bicycles, our first VCR, our first black and white television sets, and the list went on. I didn’t realize it then but I loved him because of the stuff.

But when I opened that box, when I ripped off the wrapping and stared at it for a minute straight, a little man in red overalls stared back at me. It was the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and the year was 1986, and I was blown away. My sister and I had played the Mario Bros. game at our local laundromat whenever Mom would let us have a quarter or two on our weekly jaunts. But we never in a million years would have imaged being able to play it at home.

That was the magic of the NES, because before it came out there was no true representation of real video games outside of arcades and the occasional laundromat. It was so much better than Atari and those lame computer games we used to play on the Apple II-C computer, nes_super_mario_brosbecause I could play the same game from the arcade, and it was in COLOR. Not only that, but there were many games we could purchase for the system, so it was many arcade games in one beautiful system.

Nowadays, I look back on it and I marvel at how pure the world seemed back then, at how uncomplicated everything was. If we did our homework in a timely fashion we could become Mario and Luigi, at least for a half an hour or so each night. We could be world famous plumbers fighting obstacles, diving in pipes, and saving the much-maligned Princess Peach from the aforementioned giant turtle with back spikes — Bowser. It was like magic. Absolute magic.

But all magic fades, and when the Super Nintendo came out a few years later that NES was relegated to the dust balls in the back of the closet. Of course we never forgot the games we had played for the first time on it, but as Barney Stinson always says, “newer is always better.” And while that may not be always true, as kids it felt that way to us. I think kids these days feel the exact same because their parents (us) never really outgrew that mentality.

Now there are all these emulators so you too can go back inside the world full of 8-bit graphics that were revolutionary back in the ’80s but are so retro now. There are gamers who spend time recreating historical situations utilizing these characters and this low-grade technology. Even Tecmo Bowl (one of my favorite NES games) is making an appearance in car commercials these days. It’s crazy how things come back around again, but nothing is ever the same as it was the first time.

nes_controllerNow when I play Super Mario Bros. via the game I purchased from the Nintendo App Store on my Wii, it doesn’t give me the same feeling. I think I wanted to experience that thrill of naivete I had back in the mid-’80s but just playing a game from that time period doesn’t bring it all back. Just playing a game from back then can’t recreate everything that went into making it such magic.

But then my daughter comes in and asks me what I’m playing. To her it’s cool. It’s different. It’s something she doesn’t have on her iPad and she’s fascinated by the digitized character in the red overalls, and his green overalled buddy. She is mesmerized by the fact that they can’t work together in the same screen, that they have to take turn. She’s never been introduced to a game like that before.

And I rediscover my joy, that Nintendo magic that has eluded me for so long, that I thought had gone with the rise of the ’90s and everything that came beyond. Now we play together, fighting the forces of evil, Powering Up, and enjoying every second of this shared joy.


Dear Journal: E.T. Days

Dear Journal,

e-tSome days I feel disconnected from society, like I’m a pod person just emerging for the first time and reticent to interact with others for fear that they’ll find out I’m not one of them. This was one of those days, when I fought hard to keep in my “crazy” because I knew others wouldn’t understand. So I went about my business, and I responded when others spoke to me, but I didn’t initiate any conversations and I tried to keep to myself for the most part. I tried to avoid my lizard brain, my E.T. consciousness that just wants to phone home.

I hate feeling like I have to rein myself in sometimes, but my references to obscure books and movies, and my imitations of obscure people are generally met with a “Huh?” and I know they’re judging me. Of course I know I’m always being judged (who isn’t?) but the obvious judgments, the on-the-spot judgments, the “he did NOT just do that” judgments, they’re the ones that sting. So I fight hard to filter myself for their sakes. For my sake.

Then I get back here, and my wife, the one person I can truly be myself around at any time, gives me that same look I was so afraid of receiving from my coworkers. Then she smiles, because she’s not judging me. She never judges me, even though I tell her those obscure references to those odd movies, and I twerk it out while speaking pseudo-German. Because while she might not “get” the references, or the funny nature of the things I have tried to keep in all day, she GETS me. She understands that I need to have that outlet, that my mind works in odd ways, that I’m a unique individual who shouldn’t be judged.

So on these days when I feel the most alone for the vast majority of the day, when I can’t help the ways in which my mind meanders, the ending always goes according to script. Even when I’m about to bust because I feel I can’t just be myself, I know somewhere in my scattered mind that in the end I’ll be reunited with the person I know will always accept me for me, quirks and all, and that keeps me grounded enough to go through those “E.T. days.”

And that’s more than enough for me.


The 90’s

“Baby, let me show you how to do this. You’ve got to move this. You’re doing fine. Ain’t nothing to it. You gotta move this. Come on and move this. Shake that body for me.” ~Technotronic (“Move This”).

4-non-blondes-whats-up-1993I love the 90s. There’s just something so… treacly sweet about a decade that honestly didn’t know what to do with itself. I trace its meandering path through the music that heralded each step along the way, from the pseudo-80s dance grooves of Technotronic’s “Pump Up the Jam” to the soft stylings of Enigma’s “Return to Innocence,” to the fierce lyrics of Natalie Imbruglia’s “Torn.” I listen to these 90s artists and I remember the decade more fondly than even the 80s.

That’s probably because I grew into an individual in the 90s. I was 13 when the clock struck midnight on that New Year’s Day that heralded the new age, and for the first time in my life I knew exactly who I was and what (hopefully) lay ahead of me. I was halfway through my final year of elementary school by that point, and I had just been introduced to secular music not long before. It felt like I was a kid in a candy store when I would listen to the radio with my headphones on and immerse myself in whatever was being spun by the DJ.

So many of those songs from that time period evoke strong emotions in me even now, two decades later. Songs like Paula Abdul’s “Rush Rush,” The Cranberries’ “Linger,” and Bel Biv DeVoe’s “Poison,” have become as much a part of my DNA as my brown eyes and large nose. I remember having my Too Legit to Quit tape buried in a box of powdered laundry detergent because I was hiding it from the dean at my christian boarding school. When I listen to those songs now I can’t help but go back in time.

41er10nx3slOf course there was a time in the middle of the 90s when I thought it would go on forever. I guess when you’re in the middle of anything it’s hard to see the edge of tomorrow. Those were my teenage years, for the most part, and we all know how those seem endless at the time. I discovered myself through so many songs like TLC’s “Creep,” Duncan Sheik’s “Barely Breathing,” and Collective Soul’s “December.” They were beautifully flawed, just like me.

The 90s was beautifully flawed, just like me. And as I go back down memory’s lane I’m reminded of all that and more. It was the decade when I graduated from high school, the decade I turned 21, and the decade that gave me at long last a sense of confidence in myself as a man. No wonder I still love the songs so much, because they are living, breathing manifestations of my coming of age.

And I will never forget.


Requiem For a Date

the_tombstone_meme_by_v_oblivion-d50bjhxOn this day, 18 years ago, I got married. No, don’t congratulate me. In fact, for the entire first half of today I had completely forgotten about it. It’s actually been a few years since I’ve even remembered that fact. You’d think it would be the most important day of the year to me, but it’s merely the answer to an obscure trivia question now.

It was raining that day, 18 years ago, when we went to the Knoxville City Hall, a modern building that somehow still exuded age and decay. I neglected to mention to her that I was on the rebound, having recently been rebuffed by another, and she didn’t ask. That should have been a red flag, but it wasn’t.

Yet time was of the essence. I needed a place to stay, so I married a woman I had met only two months before that rainy day at the Knoxville City Hall. Every shred of common sense told me it was a bad idea, but at the time I was between a rock and a hard place, an area where common sense fears to dwell.

And for the next three years I celebrated the day, like people are supposed to do when it belongs to them. Even though I never felt like it belonged to me. Because I realized pretty early on that I wasn’t in love with the woman I had married, because she had only been playing a role when we met. So this day, October 19th, became a time of dread, even as the celebrations commenced.

october19Then it was over, but memories don’t just go away. I’ve never understood how people can go into a new relationship and simply forget what existed before. Perhaps they never do. Maybe they just pretend they do because they think it’s healthy. But I disagree. I think it’s important to remember the past because that’s the only way we can truly get past it, the only way we can learn and not repeat it.

So I’ve remembered on and off these past 15 years, ever since the death of the relationship, but I feel like I’ve learned all I need to learn from it all, from that tortuous time in my life. I’m ready to lay this date 6 feet deep where it belongs, to give it some new meaning other than the last sad gasp of a relationship that never should have been, but one that changed me nonetheless.

I’m ready to cleanse it again, to make it just another day, like it used to be before that rainy day, 18 years ago, at the Knoxville City Hall. So rest in peace, October 19. May you find contentment in knowing that others will use you as their reference point from now on. Just no longer me.




Every day I return to this place, and I exhale as I round the final curve and drive down the hill. I crane my head to the left to catch my first glimpse of our house, lonely out there in the field, waiting for us to move in. But there is still time remaining to get it ready, even though the outside is intact. Most days there are subtle changes that give me renewed hope that it will be our home soon.

Until then, of course, we are still here, in a place that can at once be both hostile and welcoming, depending on who’s home at the time. And I hold my breath after that exhale because in only moments after seeing our new house taking shape I can see this driveway, and I turn in. I have no idea what will await me here, but this is not home. We merely live here.

Someone once said that home isn’t a place, that it’s the people we love, and I find that to be partially true. My heart is with my family, so wherever they are is where my heart resides. But home is not as simple as heart. A home is an amalgamation of the two: heart and place. A physical place is necessary because it provides a context for interaction between family members. Because it gives a hearth, somewhere to come back to, a common ground that welcomes with open arms.

That’s why this is not home, and why this will never be home, even though my family lives here right now. That’s why I exhale when I round that last corner and drive down that hill, because they are doing so much more than just building a house out in that field. They are creating a home where we can grow as a family, where we can return after our long days and feel whole again.



“Oh, all the promises we broke. All the meaningless and empty words I spoke…” ~The Cranberries.

promisesIt’s easy to make promises. The part where we have to actually keep them, though… that’s a bit trickier. Time was when a promise was an unbreakable oath, said only under the most reverential of circumstances.

Back when I was a kid I remember my mother saying that a promise was something you never committed yourself to if you weren’t 100% in. It wasn’t something to be taken lightly, so I’ve never taken it lightly. It’s kind of like the word “love,” to be cherished because it is rarely seen in the wild.

And my whole life I’ve followed that piece of advice, reserving promises until I was sure I would be able to come through on the fulfilling portion of it. It was especially important to me because my father almost never came through on his promises, yet he was always big on what I called “one more promise.”

“I know I didn’t come through last time, but just give me one more promise,” he’d say, and I knew he meant it, that he was absolutely sure he would come through even when he hadn’t before. But that was the problem. He didn’t see the glaring signs that said he wasn’t going to keep his promise, no matter how heartfelt it was when he made it.

That “one more promise” made me hate promises. It made me want to stomp all over them and throw them in the garbage, but it also made me that much more determined to keep my own. When I use those words they’re more than words. They’re bonds that, come hell or high water, I will fulfill. So I keep it close to the vest. I reserve my promises for high percentage situations.

And on the rare occasions that I have to break a promise my soul dies a little. It doesn’t matter what comes up to make that happen, or how forgiving the other person is, I feel absolutely horrible. I wish that weren’t the case, that I could forgive myself in those rare moments, but that’s also why I only use that word “promise” sparingly.

That’s also why the word has so much more meaning when others use it with me, and why I’m so devastated when they don’t come through. And I hope at some point society remembers the meaning that word should have. I hope in some way my dad would stop using it too, because I can’t stop getting my hopes up.


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