Bob Beard's Merry ChristNES

Christmas is coming a little early to the New Times blogs this year -- in the form of some darn good holiday storytelling. Our food blogging friends at Chow Bella celebrated the holidays last month with Misfit Thanksgiving and are featuring Christmas and Hanukkah stories throughout the week. Our addition to the collection is a geeky, NES-themed holiday story by longtime fanboy Bob Beard.

Let me ask you: when you hear The Dance of the Sugar Plum Fairy - do your thoughts automatically go to Clara and the Mouse King or do you think of Music Option 1 in Tetris?

I rest my case.

You see, the Nintendo Entertainment System was my Red Ryder bb gun. For at least two Christmases in a row, every boy and a few girls in my neighborhood coveted that little gray box with slavering enthusiasm. 

The rich kid across town was the first to get the NES that year - and not even around any particular holiday, either - like a home arcade system complete with your own robot operating buddy is a perfectly acceptable gift to celebrate Arbor Day. Regardless, I cozied up to him on the school bus and in class, hoping that I could borrow just the game manual for Kid Icarus overnight, such was my frenzy for anything connected to that magical 8-bit world.

My family had just moved earlier that summer, the third time in four years. I was too old to believe in Santa, but too young to think that I wasn't entitled to everything I wished for, so I wheedled and begged my parents for the NES incessantly. 

They reacted only with tired smiles; my mom worked in retail and would often be at work by the time I woke up and home only after I'd gone to bed. As the weeks droned on, I faced the realization that my having access to the world of Gyromite was probably not the year's highest priority.

It was a surprise then; while sitting amongst my Christmas bounty, eating Pillsbury cinnamon rolls and listening to my new "Weird Al" tapes (it's not like I hadn't already stated to develop nerd-ish tendencies) that my mom and dad emerged from their room carrying the tell-tale box. I'll spare you the saccharine tropes of every Holiday TV special ever produced - about how we all wept with joy that year, realizing that Christmas was not about the presents, but what was in our hearts, etc. Instead, I'll tell you that like so many kids that year, I finally became part of the club.

The winter break between Christmas and New Year's Day was a week of pure electronic indoctrination on the NES. In the months that followed - as I attempted to integrate myself into a new school, amid the misery that comes standard with every ticket to junior high - I became a new person. 

I often played the games in one-player mode, but outside, I found a larger community of kids just like me - our shared language was Nintendo. Mario, of course, begat Link, who gave rise to Final Fantasy, RPGs in general, DC comics, HP Lovecraft, Nikolai Tesla, Carl Sagan and every one of my little arcane interests since, but the NES was the gateway to all of it.

This Christmas, I'll sit with my parents and watch my own kids (one of them named after a certain character in the Castlevania series) open their presents. I'll imagine what worlds and explorations those simple little toys might inspire. 

Later, we might even fire up the Virtual Console and play a little Super Mario Brothers all together to celebrate the gift of geek I received all those years ago.

Next week ... check out some EV gamers who are keeping the NES alive for all of us.

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