Surrealist transit

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.

20 thoughts on “Surrealist transit

  1. And this is where you launch into discussing your sex life, before finally bothering to talk about the game ten paragraphs later.

  2. It’s the same effect that eirikr’s Mega Man 9 shirt got or when I wear my Street Fighter II shirt. The difference is just that your nostalgia item was the real thing. It’s got more credibility than a shirt, but it’s also far more unwieldy.

  3. If you are ever hurting for ideas for Bonus Stage, consider camping out in a coffee shop or some other discrete location with a retro gaming console (ex: NES, Genesis, Colecovison, etc.) or a piece of retro gaming paraphernalia (t-shirt, plushie, Zapper, etc.) and see how many people make a comment or start a conversation with you about it.

  4. Very nice.

    But “too-early decorations”? My local supermarket had it’s Christmas aisle set up in freaking OCTOBER. How’s that for “dislocated in time”?

  5. I experienced a little bit of that same feeling when recounting how I got Zelda II for Christmas for the 1up Yours holiday gaming retrospective, that I realized that Christmas was exactly 20 years past. It seems like if there was ever a time to accidentally stumble into a time warp back to one of the most seminal Christmas holiday seasons console retro-gaming history that this would be it.

  6. Aww, this is beautiful. My twenty-one years younger self would be far too occupied playing those shiny brand new copies of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda a few weeks from now to appreciate this, or at this exact moment in time but twenty-one years back, he’d be too busy hoping with all his might that a “Nintendo” would be under the tree, but the present me thanks you sincerely for taking the time to reflect on this. You probably made the day of every single person of similar age you passed on the way home!

  7. The man you described was my dad, when I was three years old. I still have vague recollections of him brining the NES home.

    Ahh, memories…

  8. This was one of the more beautiful, literary blogs I’ve read on GameSpite. It really represents a feeling rarely described yet often felt. Thanks for writing it!

  9. Are you familiar with “sehnsucht”? It’s a German word which has no translation in other languages, but it may be an appropriate description for your experience on the train, and what you call “nostalgia’s misplaced relative.” The musician Brad Mehldau explains sehnsucht as “A sublime recognition of our own infinite longing.” Wikipedia, as usual, can probably explain it better:

  10. Sitting here in my girlfriend’s house reading this post. She walked in and saw me staring off. She asked me what was up and I said “wow.”

    20 years for me too, this Christmas.

    Thanks Parish.

  11. I’m glad I wasn’t in that situation. Nostalgia hits me like a sledgehammer to the abdomen most times, so that’s no good when you’re lugging something through the cold.

    Just lying down thinking about the first time I played a Nintendo makes me feel all wonky. It was before they were actually released and Universal Studios (I *think*) was doing some weird contest where anyone could come in and go for a high score on some skateboarding NES game. The winners GOT an NES.

    I’d never played one before, so of course, I completely boned it up. I was completely bewildered by the plus sign on the controller and the lack of a joystick.

    I did get a really neat Mario hat that I wish I still had. he’s jumping up and reaching for a star.

    Then, that Christmas, I received an NES and an RC Pro Am. And even though I’m sure I MUST have known better, I still expected the RC Pro Am box to literally have little cars and a race track inside it.

  12. It was 20 years ago last June when I got my NES. I had the deluxe set with Duck Hunt, Gyromite and R.O.B. I also got Zelda and, I think, Kung-Fu with it. Good times.

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