Friday, November 12, 2010

Mario and Luigi

My best friend since Kindergarten lived in a two-story house with a green metal roof. The roof wasn’t always green, but what it used to be I can’t remember. We met when I moved to Montpelier in May of 1986, right at the tail end of the school year. It wasn’t the greatest time to move—with only a couple weeks left before summer vacation, how could I possibly make any friends before first grade began?

But somehow it happened. I don’t remember it at all, except a faint impression of a grinning kid who always wore a baseball cap, probably representing the Red Sox. My mom, however, remembers the start of that friendship with crystal clarity.

“I drove down to pick you up, and just when I saw you I see this kid out of nowhere screaming your name before giving you a big hug!” She likes to say. My mother has been known to wax quite eloquently, but there’s always at least a kernel of truth to her stories of my childhood. That kernel was this: Mike and I, whether the hugging and shouting actually happened, became friends fast.

All the years since elementary school have unfortunately crushed that period of my life into an amorphous time blob, from which clear blips of things I had done stand out, but I find hard to place in time. I traveled to India with my family in first or second grade; I remember playing in kick ball on the gravel playground at recess, or hiding in the huge dump truck tires, and yes, avoiding (but not really) getting cooties from disgusting (cute) girls. I also remember that until 4th grade, Mike and I had the same teachers—Mrs. Brown, Ms. Westcott (now Mrs. Rome), Mrs. Dubois. We played soccer at the Rec field, and farm league baseball on the Pirates.

One of those elementary school years, Mike got an NES. Probably a birthday or Christmas gift. It came with the Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt cartridge, and two controllers (when did two controllers go out of fashion?)

The NES was not my first gaming experience. Fleeting wisps of several others dance in my head; an Atari 5400 at the house of some kid named Brian, in New Jersey. It’s the oldest and least clear, but somehow I remember being in the basement of a nice house, turning the system on, but no memory of playing it. Later in Vermont someone, probably my older brother, found an Odyssey2 at a garage sale, and convinced the parents to get it—quite a steal at just $17. We also had an Atari 2600—the ‘slim’ model, I remember. We had a bunch of games, including the original Mario Brothers, sans Super. It was an endless single-screen platformer, bumping enemies from below before kicking them off.

But it was Mike’s Nintendo I remember most vividly. Every day after school that I went to his house, we’d run up the long staircase with the thick, rounded wooden banister, he shouting “I’m Mario!” and I shouting “I’m Luigi!”, round the corner and into his room, sit on the carpet, push the button and bask in the electron-charged glow of his 13” tv with dials while pounding buttons like they were brewskies.

How many days we repeated that ritual! And the lack of variety didn’t faze us. Maro and Luigi, fireballs and invincibility stars, Bowser and a princess, were all we needed. Mike almost certainly had other games, but the only one I remember playing at his house was Super Mario Bros.

In time my family picked up a Nintendo, almost certainly the result of parents desperate for silence. We added maybe a half dozen games to our collection, but most I think we rented from the local video store or borrowed from friends. The original Ice Hockey, with fat, medium, and skinny players; Double Dribble, Contra, GI Joe, Life Force, and so on and so on.

Years later Mike picked up a Sega Genesis, and I went with the Super Nintendo. There was no symbolism to the split, but in middle school and the early years in high school we drifted apart, mostly my fault for trying to be someone I wasn’t. But in high school, I think a shared dislike for school sports coached by douchebags brought Mike and I back together in a way. We’d grown up a bit, naturally, and were very excited about PC games, getting the latest processors and video cards, and all that.

More than twenty years later, we work, we live half way round the world from one another. I can’t say whether things would have turned out differently if we stuck to the typical boys outdoors activities we might have otherwise done.

The Nintendos are gone now.

But not forgotten.

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