Quarteron May 27, 2011 at 4:36 am
Those of you who are of a younger bent might be shocked to know that, once upon a time, you had to leave your house for the finest in video game entertainment. You could have a Nintendo in your home and stack thirty of the finest titles next to it, and if I asked you where the best video games were, you would give an answer that would never make sense today. The bowling alley. The place at the mall. The gas station. Or, if you were lucky, the Arcade.
I was not lucky enough to have a full arcade nearby. Living in a quiet suburb, the closest mall was not in reach on my bicycle, let alone somewhere my parents would let me venture alone as a child. I did have quite a bit of leeway in the local neighborhood, though, and so one of my favorite haunts was the Kum-n-Go a few blocks away. It was awkwardly attached to a T-shirt shop that our next door neighbor owned and operated, with an interior hallway needlessly attaching the two. Within that hallway, the manager had tucked in two arcade cabinets that were guaranteed to not be maintained properly. It was a revolving door of familiar titles: Smash TV, 1942, NARC, Mortal Kombat, and some other SHMUP games whose names escape my memory. All of them demanded my respect and hard earned playing time. But as a kid without an allowance, this was not a simple task. Sometimes random change would be found in the convenience store parking lot, or loose coins would be found on the kitchen table that nobody had claimed in a few days. I would frequently claim salvage rights and then find an excuse to get on my bike and go for a ride. My parents were probably happy I was getting out of the house for exercise. And while I was, my dark intent was much different. I was off to practice Fatality moves that I’d hastily written on a scrap of paper.
Finally, my parents figured out where I was always off to. My mom turned it into a game for awhile. She wouldn’t just give me money to go play, though. Instead, she turned it into a task. Handing me a dollar, she’d tell me to run to the Kum-n-Go to buy her a bottle of Mountain Dew, and I would be allowed to use the change to play a game of Smash TV. Suddenly becoming the eager errand boy, I would take off for the store, buy the soda, ask for a bag to put it in, set it by the machine, and stretch my quarter for as long as I could. Any time my mom would have to ask where I’d wandered off to when I returned was a victory. It meant I’d truly put in an epic session of high-level gaming.
Then, one magical day, the store installed a Street Fighter II machine. Unblemished and perfect, the machine gave off a glow of authority that made the Arch Rivals cabinet next to it shrink into the corner in submission. I had to play it. I became focused solely on beating it on a single quarter, because that was the only way I could.
The next day, my mom needed a soda. Not because she asked, but because I insisted. Looking back, the hard sell must have been adorable coming out of the mouth of an 11 year old, doing his best impression of a used car salesman. My mom was won over. There probably was a whole 12-pack of cans in the refrigerator, but she knew what I was after and wasn’t going to stand in my way. Off I went to the Kum-n-Go, ready to meet my destiny as a Street Fighter champion.
Bounding through the door and waving to the clerk, I rudely cut past a couple in the candy bar aisle to grab a bottle of Dew. Not even breaking my stride, I sprinted back to the counter before the couple couple put down their items. I understood their annoyance, but it would take too long to explain. It was better that I just get this over with now. Placing my dollar on the counter, I vibrated with anticipation, the Street Fighter cabinet peeking from around the corner, taunting me and making the whole process that much slower in my head.
Receipt already balled up in her hand to be disposed, she handed me my change and slid the Dew in my direction, wrapped in its customary brown bag. I glanced down at the change as I said thank you and then realized that something was amiss.
There was only 19 cents in my hand instead of the normal 26. There were six coins in my hand, none of which were quarters. The world stopped. Already my lip was quivering as I looked up to the clerk, who had most likely been mentally preparing for this moment since I’d entered the store.
“The price on soda went up,” she said, seeing I was about to turn into a mess. I tried to eek out a response, maybe some attempt to beg for more change, but it didn’t come. Instead, I bit my lip, looked back at her, offer her the bravest “Thank you” that I could, and walked out of the store… bawling my eyes out as the couple I’d cut in front of offered their best confused look.
I wiped my face as I gripped the brown bag holding my mom’s soda, getting back on my bike and blubbering all over myself as I attempted to disembark. Being emotional, riding a bike and holding a small bag at the same time is not simple, and it took me a minute to get going. Going over the curb of the sidewalk, my hand, wet with tears, lost the bag and the bottle shattered on the pavement below. (Yes, remember when 20 oz. sodas were glass?) I was now a complete basketcase. No video game Valhalla, and now I had failed in my task for my mother, and strewn broken glass all over the parking lot. My duty overruled all other action, and still attempting in vain to stop crying, I walked back into the store.
The clerk had to have been a mom. In comes a kid in tears holding the top of a broken glass bottle as if to demonstrate all that is wrong in the world, and she immediately ran around to remove it from my grasp before I could cause a medical accident. As she took it from me, I pointed back out into the lot, praying that the devastation would be cleared before a car would almost certainly explode upon running over the broken glass. Upon disposing of the glass, she came back to where I was frozen in place, and knelt down and asked if I needed another Dew. I sniffled in the affirmative, saying it was for my mom, and she walked to the shelf and grabbed me a replacement, placing it in a larger plastic bag with handles.
“Don’t drop this one, okay?” she offered encouragingly. I nodded over the pout I was still trying to remove from my face, and pulled myself together for the ride back home.
I still had not been able to play Street Fighter. It remained back at the store, almost certainly being violated by some other kid who would immediately beat it before I could claim my rightful place as champion. But I pushed those thoughts to the back of my mind as I delivered my mom’s soda and handed her the 19 cents in change. The amount made my mom ask why there was so much, which almost set off another round of tears, but I was able to keep most of it in as I explained that the price had changed. My mom, empathetic to the end, expressed how horrible of luck this was, placed a quarter in my hand, and told me to head back and play the game that I’d wanted.
I did not suddenly spaz in joy. I didn’t run around the room shouting THANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOUTHANKYOU like I totally did when my parents bought me a Game Boy for Christmas. Instead, I became a warrior, suddenly realizing that playing this game was clearly destiny. I went back to the convenience store, sizing up the Street Fighter cabinet while the clerk still worked to remove the rest of the broken glass from the parking lot. I could stand nearby making polite gestures to offer to help, knowing they would be refused, but there was no time for that now. I had a game to destroy.
It was then that I learned a very valuable lesson: The AI in that game was cheesy as *fuck*.