This year was a tough Christmas for Liam. He discovered the big reveal about the big man. When he talked with Christine, he said that he already knew a few years ago, but this year it became official when Christine said that he wasn’t going to get Santa presents anymore. I never grew up with Santa, so I can’t fully sympathize with what he’s going through, so Christine has just continued to deal with the fallout. In my defense, I did have a couple of ideas to help him. One, I offered to purchase the gift cards that he didn’t want to give him the cash for his desired “Santa” present, a Gamecube for Pokemon Colosseum. Also, I suggested that he and I go to the Quarters in Hadley (also, he wanted to buy some books at Barnes and Noble with one of his gift cards) just the two of us to get out of the house and have some guy time together.
We’ve been to the Quarters at least once before. I’m pretty sure we were there twice, but I definitely remember one other visit for my birthday a few years ago. Christine got a Groupon deal and we used it on one of their Super Cereal Saturdays. They sell it as a way to recapture the magic of cereal and Saturday morning cartoons. I’ve mentioned in the past that I’m not usually much of a nostalgia guy, but there are some aspects of my youth that I treasure and want to relive. This is one of the ones that got me big time.
After all, our generation (I know, generations are an idiotic way to define a group of diverse individuals, but bear with me on this one) are the absolute masters of nostalgia, both real and imagined. Generation X, if you believe in such a for some reason, constantly looks to the past to define their present and future. Heck, we were the ones who tried to relive Woodstock without ever actually having been there, except through the copies of the record in our parent’s collections. That might be one of the reasons that I generally push back on nostalgia. Well, that and the fact that things really weren’t better “back then” by and large.
I’ve already discussed comic books as one of my nostalgia triggers. I’m also planning an end of the year extravaganza for the weekend. So, I suppose something about the end of the year and my looming 42 (the answer to life, the universe, and everything) birthday have me looking back. Like comic books, arcades and arcade games hold a special place in my past. Unlike comic books, which gave me a quiet escape in a fantasy setting from people, the arcade was a social experience for me.
My friend Kevin, who you may know from our lost episode 2 of the now far too long dormant podcast, and I used to spend almost all of our free time and money at the arcade. I say almost all because the remainder of it was spent at McDonalds or the movie theater. It started for the two of us with stupidly epic battles on the first Mortal Kombat machine where neither of us knew a damn thing other than the graphics were killer and so was the violence.
We graduated to MKII, then unfortunately, MK3. All the while, we dabbled with other games like Primal Rage, Virtua Fighter, and Street Fighter. When one or the other was on a winning streak against other competition, we moved on to single player games like Super Mario Bros and Tetris. As our sphere of influence grew because mutual friends became more interested in sports than nerdy pursuits, we got together a 4 man group to tackle Gauntlet, X-Men, The Simpsons, and TMNT.
When I went off to college, Kevin and I lived together in a tiny apartment above a store that my extended family owned. When Kevin had to return home, I found myself taking the bus out to the mall to hit up the arcade because I missed having him around. Even today, the love affair with video games continues. We sent each other Steam games for Christmas this year. I chose an old school style D&D dungeon crawler to remind him of the days that we wasted on his old PC playing those games after school.
So, the pull that I felt towards the Quarters every time we drove or rode by on our bikes was real. Almost every game in there has some memory or another attached to it. If it doesn’t, then I wanted to try the game and see if I could make it memorable. Once again, what got me back into the arcade was a promotion. They offer unlimited tokens on Tuesdays from 5 until closing for 5 dollars. It isn’t a bad deal either. As a barcade, they are open until 1 am. I didn’t think that either of us could make it that far, but we were both still ready to play at 9:00 when I finally decided to play Dad and start the drive home.
It’s often difficult for parents to know if they are doing right by their kids. As I’ve discussed with Kevin on more than occasion, you don’t know if you’ve screwed them up until it is too late. But, I’m positive that this was the right decision. Liam seemed to have a great time, I had a great time, and he thanked me for taking him out. That almost never happens voluntarily anymore.
Things get busy (“And the cat’s in the cradle”) and, as our terrible podcast schedule (what podcast schedule?!) shows, we lost track of time. But, I really have to start making a conscious effort to do these things. I joke about Liam becoming a teenager, mostly because it is a defense mechanism against facing the reality that he isn’t a “kid” anymore. He’s growing into the adult that he will someday be. While I love watching it happen, I also find myself doing what I never thought I would.
I never thought I’d miss the days when…fill in the blank. But, when I look at Liam now, I don’t see that crazy little boy who changed my life 13 years ago. I see a young man who is still changing my life, but in vastly different ways. Every now and then, I have to take a breath, push that pause button, and revel in the silliness of youth. There will be a time, sooner than I I’d like to admit, that it won’t be there for a few years.