“WTF do you want for your birthday this year?” my wife asked two weeks out from my 31st big day.
“You have the list,” I said, referring to my video game collection I have meticulously organized on Google Sheets. I’ve forwarded the link to anyone who cares about me just in case they get a charity streak or wonder what I would like for a holiday gift. Spoiler alert: I still only get gift cards to Olive Garden.
“Yeah, but you say you like to hunt those down on your own.”
“I never said that I don’t like receiving them as gifts on occasion too! A freebie here and there is certainly welcomed, ya know?”
“Ok. But which one?” she asked.
“One I don’t have is fine. You have the list of what I have and don’t and here’s the ones I’m really looking hard for and ones I’m sort of embarrassed I don’t have already.” I emailed her another product of boredom that lists games I really want soon. Fortunately Paperboy was crossed off the list, I’m no longer embarrassed about not having that one.
The big day rolls around and I know I’m getting a NES game for the collection but I have no idea which one. Exciting! She hands me the gift bag and I haphazardly yank out the tissue paper and pull out a big box. A Simpson’s Duff Beer clock for the game room. Nice! I’m such an adult. Below that is a NES game wrapped in more tissue paper. I tear through it as she pleads for me to be gentle because she can reuse it and unveil Duck Tales. “Fuck yeah!” I say. “Let’s play this later!”
The night rolls around and she sits on the couch near my recliner in the game room and we give it a go. We know it’s only one player but she wants to watch me enjoy the gift so I go to town. I had never played the game before but recognized it as a classic. I love classics. There’s no reason for me not to love this one too. It’s a Disney game made by Capcom, a good recipe for an 80’s boner.
Well, immediately I’m awful at it and I begin to incessantly whine. This is my trademark. I’m such a baby when I’m doing poorly at a game. It’s not my fault, ever. The game. It’s always the game.
“What the fuck?” this. “Where the fuck?” that. I’m relentless.
“No, I had the fucking cane pointing down. I HAD. THE FUCKING CANE. POINTING DOWN!”
She’s no longer attracted to me, I can tell. She’s already looking at puppies on Instagram to make herself feel safe. I continue to die and moan over it.
“OHHHH, these fucking BEES. I SWEAR TO GOD THESE BEES.” Seriously, those bees.
Eventually I beat the Amazon level. I look over at her until she feels my stare and wink at her to remind her that I’m still a worthy sire to our offspring for I have just beaten a stage in Duck Tales. She’s not amused. “You need to calm down, you get so mad.”
“I know. I’m sorry”
I try Transylvania and I do well at the start. “I’m a new man,” I think to myself. “I’m going to be calm and just enjoy the…”
“FUCKING GHOSTS. How do you kill the GHOSTS? CHRIST GHOST ALMIGHTY.”
“Travis. Please. It’s just a game,” she begged.
“Okay, okay. I’ll put it up. I’ll try again tomorrow.” We retire for the night.
The next day rolls around and I head straight down to play as soon as I’m home from work. I’m all alone and when I’m alone I don’t feel the need to whine. I don’t need to make excuses for blowing when there’s no audience, I guess. Suddenly the Amazon level is no longer hard. Bees be damned, I’ve learned their timing. I find the boss quickly in Transylvania and while she’s mean, I learn the pattern. I eventually beat the Himalayan level and then the Moon level too, and then back to the African Mines level. I’ve beaten every level but I’ve not done it all in one go. I usually burn through all my lives. Now I need to string it together in one playthrough. I’ve been playing for nearly two hours but everything is fresh, I can do this.
On my first full attempt I get close. I beat the Himalayan and Moon level and have no lives left. On that last life I beat Amazon and Transylvania but die in the African Mines like an idiot. My friend shows up because it’s time to record our podcast together and I decide I’ll stop there and try again the next day.
The next day rolls around and I finally beat every level but I have no lives left. I did not know there was a final showdown after you beat those five levels so when the game transports me back to Transylvania I don’t know where to go. I search the castle, avoiding where the first boss was because I assume that’s not where this boss is (why would they reuse a boss location?), but I end up dying at the hands of a stupid ghost while searching and earn a game over.
I try again.
This time I’ve nearly beaten all five levels without losing a single life. Then something absolutely nuts happens. I still don’t understand it. It’s been storming and raining where we live for weeks. Power surges, outings, and flickerings happen from time-to-time. As I’m on the Moon level, the level I’ve saved for last, I see the lights in the room flicker and the TV turns off. I had not died yet, I was on the verge of a perfect playthrough by my standards. But now I’m staring at an off television.
I’m pretty sure I’ve lost all my progress. The lights in the room are still on but the TV remains off. I push the button to turn it back on and see static. I assume at this point that the NES reset and the game is off so I go ahead and check the channel on the television and it had reset back to Channel 3, which it does when power is cut, but I need to be on Aux. I change the input and am ready to hit reset on the NES but as the picture fades in I see my Scrooge McDuck sprite standing on the Moon level.
“What in the… duck cocks... ?” I’m in disbelief. I can't even think of a new pair of pointless curse words to utter over the shock.
Somehow the power did something funky that caused my lights to flicker off and on and the TV to turn off completely but the NES was unphased! Astounded, I look over at the cat who does one of those things where he locks eyes and then falls down and rolls over for a petting. I’m wondering if his good luck Paperboy tit rubs have carried over. I also realize that’s a weird sentence if you didn’t read this post.
I beat the Moon level, I win the final showdown, and I eventually get the final credits and knock a classic game off my bucket list. I take a pic of the final screen and of the game inside the NES and post it to Instagram because I’m a small-time social media whore like everyone else. I rush upstairs like an excited child to tell my wife.
I slide into the room, “Hey babe, you see my Instagrams?”
“Not yet,” she pulls it up on her phone. “You already beat it??”
"Yep," I said smiling, leaning against the doorjamb with my hand on my hip like this accolade alone will swoon her beyond her wildest dreams.
“Did you whine the whole time?"
I’m really lucky she loves me for whatever reason.