I took that boxed NES home tonight, carrying it on the train, tucked beneath my arm. The air was crisp, with the eye-watering chill of fall edging toward winter; I wore a heavy coat, and a nebulous threat of fog, or perhaps rain, hung ominously despite the dark. The feeling of the impending Christmas season was in the atmosphere, tangible, not just a byproduct of too-early decorations peeping through the windows of impatient retailers.
The longer I carried the box, the most unreal it seemed — a packaged relic twenty holidays out of place. Sure, the print is faded and reddening in places, the edges are tattered, the cardboard starting to expand and separate with age, but it still gave me the damnedest sensation of being dislocated in time. I had a clear image of what the box would have looked like new, how it would have felt without the desiccation of age weakening its structure — not a sense of nostalgia, exactly, but certainly nostalgia’s strangely-displaced relative.
Were I lugging this box home two decades ago, I’d have looked like the greatest dad in the world, bringing home the season’s hot toy home for eager-eyed kids to unwrap, breathlessly, on an early morning a month distant. But so far away from the proper and possible time, I was simply an oddity, feeling all the more conspicuous for the way my burden caused every man I passed who was my age to do a double-take and murmur self-consciously to his companion about how weird it was to see someone carrying an old Nintendo system. I’m sure it didn’t show on my face, but this made me strangely happy, in a quiet corner of my heart. Not for being noticed, but for the fleeting, ephemeral connection I made with these strangers without a bit of eye contact or communication.