I feel it's imperative for every kid all around the world, regardless of race, color, gender or beliefs, to know what's it like to be and to have a best friend. Someone you can truly call a best friend unequivocally. A best pal who sticks with you through thick and thin, good and bad, high and low. Nothing completes a healthy childhood like having a best buddy. And if you were lucky like me, you had one growing up
BFF... yeah I said it
In late 1988, I began my scholarly duties when I entered the hallowed halls of Kindergarten. There I met a portly classmate. That first week of Kindergarten we became friends. Best friends. Nelly and I. And we would remain so for life
At least, that's what I wish I could say. But I'm getting ahead of myself. This is a tribute to my old best pal, Nelson. The greatest times we shared, the coming-of-age adventures of our youth, the falling out, the reconciliation, and the recent events that transpired between us not too long ago...
SEPTEMBER 1988: THE DAY OF RECKONING
In a second, streams of sunshine. I heard a muffled voice that rose like a crescendo
FIRST DAY OF KINDERGARTEN!"
Grrreat. Armageddon had finally come. The inevitable, as it were. No longer was I a free man. No more watching freely cartoons all day long. And no more playing in the backyard with my older brother's Lego toys while he toiled along at school. I would wave good-bye to my brother and watch him disappear down the block before making a mad dash for his Lego stash; the sleek black space ship called THE INVADER (epicness!!!) never failing to satisfy my wildest imagination. Was I ready to give all of that up? You bet your ass not in a million years. But you know what they say about Armageddon -- always got a face and a name -- and now, a date as well: September '88, to be precise
Kindergarten was the last place I wanted to be
Somehow, Mom managed to drag me to Room 1 by eight sharp. I sat in the corner, arms crossed with a scowl carved against my face. This was nuts, I could be home watching the Smurfs or playing with my brother's Lego ship THE INVADER; the only time I really could, coz Lord knows, he was damn anal about anyone else touching it
And it was then that I noticed a chubby boy sitting in the opposite corner who looked like he wanted to be there even less than I did! I don't remember what exactly happened next, but I know by the end of that week, the two of us became best friends
THE EARLY '90s
While snap bracelets and Zooba pants died off along with the dazzling '80s, our friendship did not. We had more in common than OJ did with Ed Gein. We both loved monsters and also ghosts; anything horror-related, really. Video games, wrestling (WWF), cartoons, T.G.I.F., the list went on and on. We lived nearly within shouting distance of each other. On my way to school each morning I stopped by to pick him up. After school, if he wasn't at my house, I was at his. My mom often took us to the library or the mall. Nelly and I used to borrow all the monster books we could find. My local library had a small "monster" section that we often raided as though we owned it. And maybe we did. To this day I can still vividly remember borrowing the Godzilla book and others from that classic series. I also remember us believing in those infamous Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot photos, heh heh Ahhhh, the blissful ignorance of being 8, 9 years old...
Nelly and I believed with all our little hearts that the Loch Ness Monster was indeed legit. On field trips sitting on the bus passing any body of water, Nelly and I would always look real hard and deep to see if we could discover our own Loch Ness Monster!
The Godzilla book written by Ian Thorne became a cult classic in our eyes. It had pictures of Godzilla movies and some of them I'll never forget. We must have borrowed this book a hundred times!
The back cover showed all the monster books in the series. Our library carried a good eight or ten of them and Nelly and I would always borrow 'em
Some of the covers that haunted my childhood, and still remember fondly to this day
We watched every Godzilla movie together except one: Destroy All Monsters. We read in a monster book somewhere about DAM how "all the TOHO monsters are in it." It then became a cult-like obsession of ours to track down a VHS copy, but at the time it proved very difficult to find. Unlike today, where with the power of the internet almost any obscure movie can be resurrected from the ashes. Oh no, back then it was far FAR more difficult, not to mention we were severely limited by our (lack of) age as well! We never did manage to track down a copy of DAM. I remember the book's comment on DAM to this day. Nelly and I were flabbergasted at the author when we read, "The movie is not as good as one might hope"
We shouted and cursed at the book as though the author himself could hear us: "No freakin' way! ALL the monsters are in it!!! It CANNOT be ANYTHING BUT EPIC! YOU FLAMIN' IDIOT!!"
Many years later I finally caught DAM when it was released on a larger scale. The author was actually right... so buddy, if you're reading this, I take it all back. You're not a flamin' idiot after all. You, good sir, knew quite full well what you were talking about. A thousand pardons, sir
THE BURIED NOTE
Sometime around '91 Nelly and I had the idea of burying a "Best Friends Forever" pledge in my backyard. On a piece of paper the two of us wrote an oath to remain best friends forever, no matter what. We printed our names in blood (or at least, a sharp #2 pencil anyhow) and truly believed that by doing so, we would remain best friends til the end of time. Ahhhh, the innocence of being eight. As we were preparing to dig a hole in my backyard, a booming voice rang... "HEY! What the HELL do you two think you're doing?"
It was my anal brother. To this day I still can't exactly figure out why for the life of me this event upset him so greatly that he had to do what he did. Wasn't like we were digging a hole in Mom's garden bed. Nope, rather I had carefully chosen an isolated, slightly elevated bare patch of dirt in a far corner. There was *NO* reason for my brother to butt in -- other than, that's just what older brothers do to their younger brothers growing up
The note, sadly, was never buried
Would have been a nice thing to revist years later...
THE LEGEND OF THE MASKED MANIAC!
Back in the early '90s Nelson told me about a story that resonated with me so deeply I'm crazy enough to recall and retell it on a by-and-large Super Nintendo game site more than 15 years after the story broke. In our town, according to him you understand, there was a maniac on the loose. On the prowl. Believed to be... at large. Again, according to Nelson, mind you. He wore a white hockey mask and he wielded a horrific chainsaw. He was... THE MASKED MANIAC. Of course, part of me knew he was just spinning crap, but a small part of my wild nine-year-old being grabbed and held onto the story. The Masked Maniac became our little in-joke as the years went on, and these days whenever it gets brought up, we still laugh about those days... to be young again, eh?
THE MASKED MANIAC LIVES!!!!
So imagine our shock and delight when we first came face to face with Stanley Decker a couple years later in Zombies Ate My Neighbors! HOLY CRAP! It was Nelson's MASKED MANIAC come to life!
Of course, they combined Jason Vorhees and Leatherface. Same thing Nelly had done
Nelson was once more at it again. In early '94 there was a large picture printed in the pages of EGM of Jack Nicholson looking like a werewolf. I had no idea who Jack was at the time, so Nelly joked with me that EGM was revealing an exclusive picture of an actual wolfman. I was now no longer a little kid, but I loved monsters so much and my imagination was still running high... part of me wanted it to be true. I still remember one late afternoon my mom took me to the local library. Same as every Friday. Outside the library there were some tall trees. I remember just standing there that day, around 4 PM, wondering if the EGM Wolfman was looking back at me from behind the trees. A chill ran down my spine as my mom called for me to join her. Ahhh, the innocence of childhood. Nelly, you got me once again buddy... "STEVEN! DUDE! THE WOLFMAN LIVES!!!"
Nelly's tongue-in-cheek attempt to trick me came prob'ly because the EGM Wolfman pic appeared in issue #57, April '94. EGM was infamous for their April's Fool jokes. That year presented one of the lamest (see the extra E in Streets there) so I guess ole Nelly felt like taking matters into his own hands! Son of a -- !
Remember the legendary Sheng Long April Fools joke? *wink*
THE GOLDEN FIGHTING GAME ERA
'91 and '92 saw releases of such arcade classics as Street Fighter II and World Heroes (hey, we liked it, anyhow). In fact, Nelson and I loved World Heroes to death. While fellow gamers waited in line for a shot at the SF II machine, we happily played the lesser populated World Heroes cab. When World Heroes came out for the SNES in '93, Nelly bought the game and we played the darn thing 'til our eyes bled. And just as how best friends do, Nelly even loaned me the game for the odd weekend here and there as well
There was nothing like the golden age of 2D fighting games!
One of my favorite gaming memories came in '93 when both Super Street Fighter II and World Heroes 2 were jousting for arcade supremacy. On a rainy-as-hell Saturday morning, my dad dropped us off at this gigantic jack-of-all-trades hobby store. I'll never forget how my dad stopped the car right in front of the store, how Nelly and I streaked outta the back seats and to the safety of the store's awning, but not before enough rain managed to soak our jackets. Upon entering the humongous hobby shop, we were immediately greeted with the soft Norwegian tunes of Erick's stage from World Heroes 2. It's one of my fondest memories as a youth... just those brilliant little moments that stick with you for a lifetime. One of those surreal moments that even now as an adult you can still see vividly happening in third person!
It was a moment that burned itself into my retina forever
THE FALL OUT
A lot changed in '92-'93. That school year I was a 4th grader in a 3-4 combo class. Meanwhile, Nelson was in a standard 4th grade classroom. For the first time ever, we were separated. I met Timmy and Jerome, two third graders in my combo class, and we became good friends almost immediately. At lunch I didn't know whether to hang out with my good buds Nelson and Manny, or Jerome and Timmy. That year, I chose Jerome and Timmy. Don't ask me why as I can't quite remember why. Not surprisingly, this drove a riff in my relationship with ole Nelly. The line in the sand was drawn
Later that school year things soured between me and Timmy. Somehow, we went from good pals to bitter rivals. This divided Jerome, and our little 3-man clique disbanded as quickly as it formed, like a chalky ghost vanishing in the night
That year my teacher had us make a shoe box diorama. The box had to be decorated with things you liked. I chose my family and wanted to depict a typical lazy Sunday afternoon. My mom cooking in the kitchen, my dad reading the paper in the den, and my bro and I playing Street Fighter II on the SNES in our living room. Sounds good, until you factor in the cheap cut-out paper I used to represent everything in my shoe box
Timmy on the other hand used grand 3D models: small intricate dinosaur models littered his diorama along with a pleasant looking volcano perfectly situated in the middle. Trees, even! It was a lush depiction of the Jurassic period, no doubt about it. He earned an A, while Ms. Holly was kind enough to present me with a C as I recall it. Timmy's shoe box sure owned mine, but what he did later that day.... well, ole Timmy asked for it
"What grade did you give Steven?" he asked Ms. Holly in his typical annoying tone
"Timmy, that's not appropriate for you to ask"
"Did you fail him? Did you?"
"Timmy! What did I just say?"
Meanwhile, I glared at his scrawny ass from my seat. I saw the stupid bastard grinning like a Cheshire cat as he continued to pester Ms. Holly to spill the beans. Near the end of the day he came up to me with his usual smug expression looking all arrogant
Just wait til I wipe that stinkin' smirk off yer lousy face!
"Steve, you know what, actually, your shoe box isn't THAT bad... I mean, you really did justice to your family...
... They're all so... lifeless!"
And that's when I snapped
Timmy pushed the wrong button. But since we were still in class, I restrained myself well enough not to kill him then and there. Instead, I sat quietly in my seat with the rage festering inside; my eyes trained on the clock counting down til the end of the day... just a few more minutes...
As soon as Ms. Holly excused my table, I bounced out of my seat as though I were sitting on a spring. Power walking out to where Timmy already was, he turned around, saw the look in my eyes and he knew.... IT WAS ON. He flinched right before I gave chase at breakneck speed. He zipped through the school courtyard like a little jack rabbit
Down the 3rd grade sector we ran. No one attempted to stop us. Hell, I didn't even see anyone around as everything suddenly became a blur, and Timmy and I became the only concrete objects around. It was one of those out- of-body experiences. Not before long I managed to grab his shirt. I felt the life being sucked out of his puny body as I pinned him against the wall. Peering deeply into his eyes, I saw the resignation in it. He didn't struggle, didn't whimper
It was the look of the lamb... right before the slaughter
"Don't you ever -- EVER -- insult my family again"
I saw the sweat on his brow, heard the clanking of his wobbly knees, and I smelled the terrible fear emanating from his very being
The look of the lamb...
Before I knew it I raised my right hand, turned it into a fist, and socked him on his left cheek. I let his pathetic, limp little body go. Staggering away, he held the left side of his face as he walked off with his tail tucked between his legs. If you want to call it one, it was the first "fight" of my life... and the last one as well
I don't necessarily condone what I did and I'm not saying violence solves issues, but at the time it just felt right. I defended the honor of my family's name and Timmy never messed with me again. The school year ended with him keeping his distance, and I went back to being best friends with Nelson and Manny; the guys I should have stuck with all along. I guess at some point..... every relationship has to go through the fire. Then, and perhaps only then, do you know what's real and who's not. The infamous "Timmy Trial" of the early-mid '90s was our walk through Hell, I guess
BACK IN BUSINESS: NELSON, ME, JENNIFER AND ELAINE
The very next year in the 5th grade Nelson and I were reunited in the same class. The band was back! 1994 turned out to be one of the best years of my life. Nelly and I were ten, and ten is a funny age you know. Some days you feel like you're five, and other days you feel like you're fifteen. It's a time to relish the twilight years of your childhood, as well as a time to look forward to teenage turmoil. Not only were we once again reunited, but we also had the two PRETTIEST girls in the whole school in our class. I'll never forget Jennifer and Elaine. Nelson and I shared huge crushes on both, though I liked Jennifer a bit more and Nelson, Elaine. Elaine was sort of THE"Home Coming Queen" so to speak at our school. Every girl wanted to be her, and every guy wanted to be WITH her. Jennifer wasn't as popular, but she was just as beautiful in my eyes. The two of them were good friends and wherever they went, that was the place to be
I have fond memories of messing around with Elaine and Jennifer, as well as the one time the four of us walked home. I don't remember the exact circumstances surrounding this, but for one sweet day anyhow, Nelson and I were pimps walking the two hottest girls home. It was just the four of us walking across the giant grass field, talking, laughing and soaking in the warm spring sun... such great times. Can't forget Sex Ed. either. I remember looking at Jennifer that afternoon in a whole new light *chuckles*
My parents didn't want me to go to Science Camp, and neither did Jennifer's. We made the most of the week, though. There were only nine students in class that week. One of them was a relatively new guy who I quickly became friends with, Jonathan. He became my slave of sorts. He sat next to Jennifer and I sat all the way across the room. So during quiet work time, I would crumple up two sheets of paper on purpose and walk by the trash can, where Jonathan and Jennifer sat. I would dump one crumpled piece in the wastebasket and the other on Jonathan's desk. After returning to my seat I watch as he uncrumpled the piece of paper and read the one simple word printed inside:
The next thing you know, you see Jennifer's pink scrunchie flying across the room! Ahhhh, good GOOD times...
On a side note, after moving in 1996 I never saw Jennifer again. Until one fateful day in college. Circa 2002-ish. I walked by her on campus and suddenly got a major whiff of 1994. Her face was all too familiar... it HAD TO BE HER! But she was going that way, and I was going this way. It happened so fast before I could say anything she walked out of my life once again. It wasn't until a year later in 2003 or so that I ran into her in one of the buildings on campus. This time I asked her if she was who I hoped she was. It was her all right! What followed was a nice 10 minute conversation of catching up. Most recently, as in just this past week, she came to support me in a play I was in. Nelson as well. It's funny how things come full circle sometimes... thanks for the memories, Jennifer. You were my Winnie Cooper... at least... the closest thing to. Still waiting for that kiss in Harper's Wood *chuckles* [You're scaring me -Ed.]
LAST MAN STANDING: MANNY VS. JONATHAN
Oh man I'll never forget the impromptu "death match" that Manny and Jonathan had on a dark afternoon in '94. The weather was a sign of the times. The thunderclouds marked an ominous backdrop to the infamous battle of the crazies. Manny was the craziest mofo I ever knew. He was literally gifted with an iron body. Jonathan was the new, cocky kid in town, and one lunch bored sitting around the lunch table the duel was laid down
The darkening afternoon skies cast an ominous backdrop...
It was the challenge to end all challenges. Manny and Jonathan would take turns doing something "crazy" and then the other had to emulate. Whoever fails to do so first loses. The LAST MAN STANDING wins. Manny started it off simple by sliding down the slide head first. Followed by falling flat on tanbarks. Jonathan was trash talking and saying things like "COME ON! IS THAT ALL YOU GOT?!?" after successfully emulating each of Manny's stunts. Nelson and I were there to witness every step of the war. Nelly and I gave each other the look when Jonathan taunted Manny. We both knew Manny well... dude was just warming up...
And then, Manny went for the kill
Jonathan, Nelson and I stood at the far end of the last tether ball pole, the fifth one. Manny stood at the first tether ball pole on the opposite end. We were all wondering what he had in mind. Without warning Manny took off and then I saw something I would never forget... charging at 200 miles per hour with his arm sticking out to the side, Manny passed by all five tether ball metal poles with the sickening *THUD!* of his arm hitting each pole as he zoomed on by. I'll never forget Jonathan's reaction. His jaw had to be scraped from the blacktop. He threw his arms in the air, proclaimed Manny as one "crazy sonuvabitch" and walked off. Nelson and I held up Manny's arms in the air to declare him ultimate champion of the crazies. Manny had no equal. He indeed was... LAST MAN STANDING. Looking back, there was a simple magic to those days...
Nelson and I loved Halloween, both the movie franchise and the actual day. As fans of monsters, ghosts, ghouls 'n goblins, October was our month of reverence. Nelson and I had always wanted to share that one epic Halloween adventure together. Sadly, it never happened. For years in the early-mid 1990's I somehow got sick every Halloween. In 1994, Nelly planned ahead and went with his cousins out of town. He invited me to join but I declined -- the reason being, my older cousins nearby lived in this grand, infamous neighborhood, with the best houses, decorations and Halloween atmosphere. It was LEGENDARY, and although I loved Nelson, I was adamant on trick or treating in THAT neighborhood on THAT night. And well, 1994 turned out to be the best Halloween of my life, as well as, indeed, one of the greatest nights of my life so far, period. You can read more about my Halloween 1994 adventure here: Memories of Halloween
Every October Nelly and I cranked up our year-round monster love to the max. Telling ghost stories in our rooms, watching horror movies, reading the latest FANGORIA magazines... it was such a great time to be 10 years old and have a best friend into the same things you yourself were. Halloween just wouldn't have been the same without Nelson. From the Masked Maniac to EGM's Wolfman, Nelson always had a story or theory up his sleeve. One of the spookiest stories he shared was one day he was cleaning his house when the front door slammed open. He went to investigate and found nobody. When he looked on the ground, there were foot prints of a little child. He followed the trail on the wet tiles he had been washing, and the foot prints led to a dead end. He searched the whole house and no one was home. He was all alone. He claims this to be true. To this day, whenever he recollects this haunting, especially on a cold, dark night, I still get goosebumps! Matter of fact, Nelly recently recounted this story to my 15 year old girl cousin. As Nelly picked up steam, her face quickly grew pale. The first time Nelson told me this story I was outside the very scene of the crime at the witching hour. I knew it was more than just the chilly midnight air that was making me shiver and quiver like a newborn kitten!
I believe there are certain things every kid should experience growing up. Things that are part of, and essential, to a healthy childhood. Best friend, yes. And of course, at least one Halloween adventure he or she can look back on and truly recall with fond reverence. For me, that night took place on October 31, 1994. There's not a single Halloween that goes by where I don't recall that awesome night of spooks, thrills and hi-jinx. It was simply classic suburban Americana Halloween in a script that Hollywood could not write any better. My only wish was I experienced that night with Nelson rather than John. Nonetheless, it's a night I wouldn't trade in for the world. One of those rare nights where the universe revealed itself to you for one second and you saw all that was possible in the world
Corny I know, but you just *HAD* to be there for yourself
Ah yes, I'll also never forget the infamous Halloween cassette soundtracks that Nelson and I bought. He bought this one and the cover was so damn cool I had to convince my dad to buy the tape for me as well. I remember this tape was sitting at the Wherehouse counter where you rent your video and games. Nelly and I listened to the tape in his room with his little bro Johnny, and poor little Johnny would be so scared (he was only like 7 or 8 at the time). He would try to escape the room but Nelly and I would hold onto him, making sure he listened to the chilling sounds of wolves howling in the night, the wind rustling leaves in the trees, and ghastly spirits roaming the graveyard restlessly. Looking back, these tapes were dumb as heck, but back then, it was a cheap, fun little thing to have experienced with your best friend Definitely a sign of the times that was 1994
I went quite crazy with these horror tapes. After that late afternoon scaring little Johnny, I became convinced that these tapes were EPIC and could freak out anybody, even my older brother and his friends. So I went out and had my mom or dad buy a bunch of them. I remember buying this one from SAM GOODY at the local mall. The cover consisted of real occult images rather than the hand drawn art on the other one. It really possessed a demonic quality to it. Just look at it! Pure evil. I thought whatever was on this tape had to be legitimately frightening, based on the cover. Hey, I guess back then I didn't just rely on gaming box art to make my decisions... it was also lame horror tapes!
Talk about a disconcerting cover!
It was quite the flashback finding these old cassette tapes in a drawer recently. Seeing them immediately made me think of ol' Nelly and all the crazy, wacky adventures we shared. I remember us making a *HUGE* deal out of the WARNING label there on Sounds of Halloween. It said something about don't listen to this tape in the dark and listen at your own risk! To a couple 10-year-old's, it was an easy sale to make us get all amped up and wondering just how frightening this tape was. I remember Nelson pulling the blinds in his room and we would just look at each other, then we'd look at the warning, then look back at each other wide-eyed, wondering if we should break the WARNING code or not. Of course, we did. Ah, the innocence of being 10 huh? It wasn't really scary much, but Nelson and I always managed to freak each other out more by adding in our own soundtrack and commentary (read: fake-out scares). Ah man, what a hoot if I could enter a time machine and just spy on one of those outings, especially that late afternoon we pinned down Johnny and refused to let him exit Nelson's room. His screams and struggles adding to the spooky soundtrack that was.... SOUNDS OF HALLOWEEN... mwahahahahaha! Ahem, sorry [Ya should be! -Ed.]
Speaking of monsters, ghosts and witches, when Goosebumps exploded onto the scene in the early-mid '90s, man, Nelson and I ate it up. It was basically the Harry Potter of the early-mid '90s. R.L. Stine had hit a gold mine! Here's a look at the first 24 books in the series. Nelson was the first to discover it, and I was slow to catch on (I had a weird thing back then where if something was *TOO* popular, I tended to avoid it until it died down some... that's why I loved the World Heroes of the world over the Street Fighters. I've always been an underdog fan). Finally, when I caved in to reading Goosebumps, man, it was like CRACK. If you were in the 4th or 5th grade, you were READING GOOSEBUMPS. It's that simple. Boys. Girls. EVERYONE READ THEM. AND EVERYONE BOUGHT THEM. It was a trendy thing to do. A hip thing. We discussed the books, characters and twist endings like there was no tomorrow. Sure, the writing wasn't THAT great, but it was an easy addicting read. It was really lightning in a bottle for Mr. R.L. Stine. Nelson and I couldn't get enough! In fact, we had a friendly competition each month to see who could read the latest and greatest Goosebump entry first!
Here's one of the greatest from the series. It had such a great Halloween aura and atmosphere to it. All of us were raving about this entry. Hey remember the TV episode of this book? It was surprisingly well done and gave me the creeps! I remember it airing in 1996, years after this book first came out. There was a sequel called The Haunted Mask II which my brother, shockingly, bought me one day out of the pure kindness of his heart (who knew! Just kidding, Kev). It was a great sequel, but the original will always hold a soft spot in my heart
It told the tale of Carly Beth (great name huh) and this spooky mask she found at a creepy Halloween store. Every time she puts the mask on, it gets harder and harder to take off... and it made her heart darker and darker. Think Jim Carrey's Mask, except evil. It was a great book! Perfect to read every Halloween... Awesome cover, awesome atmosphere, awesome classic!
As I said I had refused to fall for the hype that was Goosebumps. I remember Nelson and all my other friends and classmates all raving about it. Even though I loved monsters and such, as I said, when something gets so popular I become a bit resistant. Well one day in the 5th grade I remember Mr. G's silent reading time I finally plucked this book off his wall, and the rest as they say is history. I took it home and read it in one sitting! I absolutely fell in love with the series
This one is about little old Lucy Dark who notices something strange about the new librarian... that's because he's a monster! Will her parents believe Lucy? What about her friends? Problem is, Lucy has always told fibs about monsters and such.... this book really might as well be about Nelson, haha. Great, fun read. It started my Goosebumps craze!
R.L. Stine, I salute you. You helped re-ignite my passion for reading through the various usage of monsters, mummies, dummies and yes, even evil lawn gnomes. You, sir, ARE THE MAN. Perhaps one day I'll dedicate an article to your Goosebump books. 'Til then, thank you for the memories
THE LEGENDARY GAME HUNTER
June '94 was one for the record books. In my old town there was a small little diehard gaming rental store called GAME HUNTER. Every kid in my town knew it was the place to rent games. It carried nothing BUT games. No film crap, no posters of blockbuster movies adorning the walls, none of that lousy nonsense. Just good ole fashioned video games (and anime). Everything from 8-bit NES to Neo Geo and in-between. And of course, they were perhaps most well-known for their selection of import titles. Keep in mind that back in the early-mid '90s, IMPORT did not mean just another version of a game but rather carried a strong aura of mystique
On a lazy Saturday afternoon in June 1994, my dad drove me and my old best pal Nelson to Game Hunter, as per usual. However, that day turned out to be one of the defining moments of my SNES career. It was right there that Nelson and I nearly fainted, when we saw perched high on the top shelf Fighter's History for the Super Famicom! Nelly and I loved the arcade, and we had NO idea we would see it there that day. It was like finding a hundred dollar bill in your jacket. We just looked at each other flabbergasted. What a gorgeous sight to see the import version sitting there, with the US release months away! "WHY SO SERIOUS?"
If that weren't enough to wet our appetite, right next to Fighter's History was MuscleBomber! Better known to most gaming fans of the mid 90s asSATURDAY NIGHT SLAM MASTERS. It was another arcade game that Nelson and I loved; we sure as hell poured our fair share of quarters into the cab at the local GOLFLAND. Nelson and I grew up as big fans of the WWF. Slam Masters captured that crazy circus of a world quite well, with its almost larger-than-life wrestlers that seemed to have stepped out of some colorful, zany, violent comic book
"Pinch me, Steven. Seriously, pinch me"
My eyes wide like the Grand Canyon, I was practically speechless. There we were, just two ten-year-old boys slobbering like hungry dogs looking at a fine piece of meat
And then, there it was. Right next to Muscle Bomber, which was right next to Fighter's History... KING OF THE MONSTERS 2! I think that was the precise moment where I fainted. All those years searching countless arcade halls for a cab only to be denied, on this day my quest would end. For those of you who have readMemories of Renting, you know I often did the dirty work of renting the games my brother wanted, because at a certain age he became too shy and/or lazy to go rent games on his own accord. That day I said "SCREW IT!" I can't remember what he wanted me to rent, I just knew seeing King of the Monsters 2 changed everything
My dad picked the KOTM 2 box off the top shelf. "You sure this is what Kevin wants?" he asked
Hey, these were bold and reckless times. And I was a bold and reckless guy
And so was Nelson. He rented Fighter's History and I rented King of the Monsters 2. I could only rent one game, and so could he. We agreed to split time that weekend with both games. Hooray for best friends eh? Epic gaming weekend for the ages
Moment of truth time. My bro Kevin rushed the door as usual to see if I had delivered the goods or not. When he saw me holding King of the Monsters 2, Kevin snapped. I guess he was really looking forward to whatever game it was he instructed me to rent, or maybe, it was moreso his knowing that I had disobeyed his orders; little bro upstaging older bro. Or maybe a combination. Whatever the case, he TRULY lost it. So badly that I had to jet off to Nelson's to give Kevin time to cool down. Hell, he even threw my Crash Dummy action pal, Spin, at me. The nerve of him....
After we arrived back at Nelson's place, we put the incident behind us best as two ten year old boys knew how: we played video games. We started off with Fighter's History for a good while. I remember really liking it and thinking what a very faithful translation of the arcade it was, which I had spent much time with in '93 and even parts of '94. To this day it's a translation that holds up
But then... it came time for the Main Event. Finally, I would get to experience King of the Monsters 2. Long story shorter, Nelly and I had a blast trying to destroy all the ugly alien monsters together. About 3 hours later, Nelson and I went back to my house to find cooler heads had indeed prevailed. Kev gave KOTM 2 a go and he ended up liking it a lot. That weekend the 3 of us rotated turns on Fighter's History and King of the Monsters 2, glued to the TV set like zombies
To this day I can't play Fighter's History without remembering that fateful Saturday afternoon over at Nelly's. It was so hot that we propped open the living room windows and left the front door wide open. Lee's stage is SEARED into my retina. That peaceful and calm lake, the family of ducks nibbling away, a fisherman enjoying the great outdoors with his line dipped lazily in the water, and those picture-esque moss-covered hills in the background. Finally, a formation of clouds move their way through the sky in a very haunting and majestic manner. This bucolic stage SCREAMS June 1994 to me. It's an incredibly nostalgic sight and anytime I see it, I'm transported right back to Nelson's living room 20 years ago. This stage perfectly captures that whole time frame for me. One look and it feels like I'm 10 hanging out with my best friend on a hot June Saturday afternoon all over again. Nelson feels very much the same as we still reminisce fondly of that epic weekend
As for Game Hunter, it sadly went by the wayside by the time the 32-bit era hit its stride. Its service wasn't always all that hot, either. Still, I'll always look back on GH with nothing but fond memories. It earned a cult-like legendary following in my town among my gaming friends, and its grand import selection shall forever resonate with a part of my being. Thank you for the memories, Game Hunter. It was an innocent and great era... my wonder years
Like a lot of my other friends, Nelly and I loved browsing the latest EGM together (or an oldie, they were all very good back in the early-mid '90s). In the summer of '94 my older brother left for the entire weekend to stay with some out of town friends (more on them in a future piece...). Nelly came over and we immediately headed to my bro's room. My bro stored his set of mint '94 EGM issues in a drawer and was quite anal with them; not allowing me to handle them more than necessary. An image that sticks with me vividly is opening the drawer and seeing Nelson literally dig in and pull out with both hands a HUGE stack of EGM issues. We would always run out of my brother's room in haste -- as though his spirit was lingering in the air giving us the stank eye
We spent the next two hours of that afternoon just thumbing through the issues. He had one, I had another, and we paused to show to the other a really cool article or picture. We were two kids in a candy store! It's just a fond memory I recall to this very day... our great EGM raids that week that my brother never, ever knew of. It was poetic justice in a way... for the way he prevented me and Nelly from burying our BFF note several years prior!
What a PHENOMENON Street Fighter II proved to be!
GRADUATION - JUNE 1995
Our elementary school career was coming to a rapid end. Nelson and I had forged such great memories. On our last weekend together, we celebrated by going to town with several other 6th grade buddies. This was big because for the first time we went without parents driving us. We walked like we were men. Ate at this restaurant where the hot little waitress was pseudo-flirting with us, and how we caught a glimpse of her bare bosom every time she leaned over to take our order (kid you not, she did not wear a bra that day). We saw Congo afterwards... a hyped to the moon movie following Jurassic Park, but turned out to be quite bad, yet back then I remember liking it. Just the whole sense of adventure that Nelson, me and the other guys had as we raided the town on our own... is something I'll never forget. We capped off the evening by attending the end of the year school dance
Seeing Jennifer and Elaine there, interacting with all our friends for the final time... and then the graduation itself the following week. Life would never be the same...
In January 1996 my family moved. Being young and naive, I assumed Nelly and I would remain good friends, if not best friends. Little did I know, our friendship would crumble. Not that he or I wanted it to, but it just happened that way I suppose. We lost touch for a number of years. I did pay Nelson the odd visit here and there (1996-2000), but they were fleeting, at best. Junior high happened. High school happened. Life happened. We went our own ways, as it were
SEPTEMBER 12, 2003
It was my junior year at University. As usual that semester, Friday after class I headed to the campus gym to play pickup ball. After a couple competitive games and a solid sweat going, I left around 3 only to find a local news camera crew nearby. They approached me and asked if I could say a few things regarding a school topic about the sports team. And before I knew it the news anchor fired a question my way and stuck the mic in my face. Post interview I asked them what time this piece would air. 5 o'clock. I wasted no time driving to my cousin David's house (yes, same David fromBUON COMPLEANNO!). It was a great chance to catch up with David, plus it enabled me to record my 15 seconds of fame at 5. (At the time my VCR was busted). David's little sister Mia thought I was pulling her leg, but sure enough, at 5:25, during the sports segment there I was. Mia went nuts, screaming "OH MY GOD!" over and over again in 10-year-old fashion
Feeling high and drunk on life, I decided since I was already in town, why not swing by Nelly's to see if he's still around? And so, it was around 5:45 on a cool early Friday September evening that I swung by the old haunt. Butterflies were swooning in my stomach. Mind you, I hadn't seen him in a couple years. I rung the doorbell and waited anxiously
It was his mom
"Yes, I'm alive! Does Nelson still live here?"
"He sure does, but I'm afraid he's out"
"Oh," my voice couldn't help hide the disappointment, and his mom knew it
"I know it's been a while.... he'd be so thrilled to see you again, Steven"
"Likewise. Please tell him I stopped by"
She invited me in for a drink, but I best be on my way I told her. That oleeee road a-callin'. As I started walking back to my car, a huge black Toyota truck came roaring into the driveway. It was Nelly! His jaw dropped and his skin turned pale. It were as though he spotted a ghost!
"STEVEN!? Holy shit man, how long's it been?!"
(more than two years, at least)
We went to his backyard, the same one where Nelson and I spent many hours of our youth during those lazy dog days of summer, and caught up on the past couple years of our lives. The skyline was beautiful. The sun was just dipping on the horizon, with the light September wind blowing in the air... and two old best friends just shooting the breeze. That evening Nelson and I talked. About his "old" house. 'Bout my "new" house. 'Bout Elaine and Jennifer. 'Bout college We talked about LIFE
It wasn't all rosy, though. It was that very evening that Nelson told me, point blank, he dropped out of college and had no real direction in life. He also took up smoking, and not just cigarettes. He told me he was trying real hard to quit, but it's just that -- real hard. Part of me couldn't believe the 'new' Nelson. I never saw him as someone who would use drugs, or drop out of school. But I guess that's life for ya. He held a part-time job as some sort of mechanic, so at least he was making some money
We talked until nightfall. It was surreal being there in the SAME backyard I used to patrol some odd ten years ago. Except now we were no longer 10. No longer children. Now we were 20 and young adults. My life was on track, while Nelson's was a bit more uncertain. And despite the long, LONG disconnect and "growing apart," that evening we found out we would always be friends. He was the only best friend I ever had growing up, and vice versa. A LOT of good memories. I drove home on the freeway that night thinking about all of this. Yes, no matter what happens, or where life takes us, Nelly and I'll always share an unbreakable bond. Or would we?
HAPPY 21... OR NOT
2004 was a memorable year. I met a really cool freshman girl on campus and we hit it off. She lived by herself a few blocks off campus and for a while there, I was sleeping over almost every night. I was still 20, on the verge of hitting 21, with a hot girlfriend (who loved her fair spot of video games) and all-around good relationships in my life. My Sega Saturn collection was also nearing completion at the time, so life was really splendid
In April that year I drove to my old town, dropped by the local Walgreens (ahem, Jennifer used to work there, but that day she was off, dangit) and bought a Happy Birthday card for Nelson along with a pack of MAMBA candy. My old best friend was turning 21 in a couple days
I remember driving to the old library in town (now defunct, yes, the very same one where I stood outside admiring the trees in the distance wondering if Nelson's EGM Wolfman was staring back at me!), claiming one of those individual work seats, and just toiling over all the various things I wanted to squeeze on that Birthday card. I remember referring back to that chilly night in September 2003 where we had our impromptu reunion of sorts, and how much I appreciated his friendship throughout the late '80s to mid '90s. I was never able to tell him that face-to-face, so here was my chance, and I took it. He meant a lot to me growing up. Honestly, I probably wouldn't be who I am today if it weren't for our coming-of-age adventures and whatnot during that all-too-important stage that they call... CHILDHOOD. About 30 minutes and 18 chewy fruity MAMBA pieces later, everything I ever wanted to tell Nelson, but never did, I wrote down on the card. This time, I would leave no stone unturned. I closed the card with:
"Friends for life, Steve"
Sure, it might have been a little sappy. And a little cheesy. But I wasn't afraid to go there. It was how I felt unequivocally. Putting my pen down, I sat back and read the card over three times. I had written down everything I ever wanted to tell Nelson, from our "Fast Times at Ridgemont Elementary" to 16-bit gaming, urban legends, Elaine and Jennifer, the epic year that was '94, the present and the future. Still, one thing was missing. I furrowed my brow.... ah-ha!
"PS- Here's my cell. Whenever you wanna hang out, grab a bite to eat or whatever, hit me up"
Now the card was right. I sealed it up and drove to Nelson's. Placed the card in his mailbox and then left as quickly as I came. I was excited. And I expected to hear back from Nelly soon... but...
I never heard back from Nelson. He never called. I guess he just didn't care about our past history as much as I did, and he didn't care to create new memories in the present. It hurt of course, but what can ya do but move on. So I did. Forgot all about Nelson. Then one day a number I didn't recognize called my cell phone. I usually never take calls from numbers I don't know, but somehow, on that day I decided to. And it turned out to be... *dun dun dun!* Nelson!
"Hey Steve! Thanks so much for the card. I'm sorry I'm getting back to you so late. My mom saw the card in our mailbox, put it in a drawer to give to me when I got home, but she ended up forgetting to. She didn't see the card until earlier today!"
We laughed about the whole thing. Wow. So he did remember the good times, and we both wanted to keep our friendship going. It's always good to welcome back a dear old friend, especially one who was your best friend
DECEMBER 20, 2006: ROCKY ROCKY ROCKY!
On this day I caught the new Rocky movie in theatres. In some ways I could relate to Stallone's character... in the sense that he still held onto the fond, RICH memories of yesteryear. In the movie he revisits his old haunts and it's all done in a very haunting matter... those scenes pierced my soul and made me think of my old home town, the great spots I used to frequent, the people I hung out with, grew up with; whenever I think of my old childhood home town, I think of Nelly Ever ventured back to your childhood roots?
Revisiting your old haunts can indeed be surreal
I'll never forget that day myself when my old favorite mom 'n pop rental shop closed down in the early '90s. I just stood outside looking at the debris that littered the floor, wondering where Tom and his family went, as well as now where would I rent my NES games? I know how ya feel, Rock...
Rest in Peace, Evergreen Video
In 2006 I got my fair share of deals from Game Crazy inside Hollywood Video. Revisiting my old town this was the only old renting entity that survived. It was neat to see it again, on this particular rainy night some odd four years ago. All the other rental places, from US Video to The Wherehouse to Game Hunter to Blockbuster, had long been replaced. Nice to see though at least one friend made it out alive and well! The last pillar of my childhood renting memories!
Yet sadly, this past January or so I revisited my old home town only to find that Hollywood Video had been torn down. It's now empty except for the debris still littered inside waiting for someone to clean. It's in shambles. I have to admit, a small part of me inside wiped away an imaginary tear. It was now complete. All the rental stores from my childhood had been completely eradicated. Now only the memories remain, and the memories alone *sniff* Farewell Hollywood!
Rocky was a great movie, and not just for the fond memories of my own life that the film conjured, but I thought it was just a classic tale of an old hero, an old dog, having one last moment of glory in the spotlight. After the movie, I naturally had to drop by Nelly's and see him. I swung on by and we chewed the fat for an hour or so. Most of our visits consist of me dropping by on short notice or none at all. And every time, we always pick up where we last left off. It's nice to know some things never change
FRIDAY: MAY 23, 2008: THE TENTH REUNION
Nelson and I always have our mini-reunions after x-months of not seeing one another. On this day we decided to catch up over dinner with two other mutual friends (a couple, ironically the guy lived next to Nelson growing up and the girl I used to have a crush on back in college and possibly vice versa). It was a lovely dinner at a steak house and afterward Nelson and I drove to the theatre to catch the new Indiana Jones movie
On the way there Nelson shared some very deep issues with me. He talked about how our friend Jake possessed such "natural charisma" speaking to the stranger waitress serving us, and how much Nelson wishes he had the same ability. I encouraged him and then he told me, "Wow Steve... no one has ever believed in me like that before. My whole family's kind of written me off a little bit y'know... it's nice to see you have my back and believe in me" I will always believe in Nelson, and want the best for him
I know, it was kind of a sappy little moment, but I tell ya, it was something else. We enjoyed a very good conversation driving to the theatre
The movie was enjoyable. Loved the "reunion" scene between Indy and his girl. In a way, it was quite symbolic of me and Nelly reuniting that same night. Shush now [Hey, it *IS* 2010... -Ed.]
KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR
That semester I worked for my old elementary school. It was a blast coming back to the old digs you know. One day after school I went to my car and found in my haste earlier that morning I'd accidentally locked the keys in the car. D'OH!!! Fortunately, one of the back windows was opened about an inch or two or so. There was *JUST* enough space for a clothes hanger to maybe prop the lock open
"AW COME ON!!!"
I walked to my grandma's house conveniently not 50 steps away from where my car was parked. She loaned me an old clothes hanger and I tried, tried in vain, much to my chagrin
"SON OF A MOTHER!!!"
Then I called Nelson, who still lived in that same house about a block or two away from our old elementary school. Described the situation to him and he said he was on his way with help
Next thing I know, as I'm standing there on the sidewalk by my car, in the far distance I could make out Nelly coming around the corner on his bicycle! This is sad, but the scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin immediately flashed in my mind complete with the cheesy '80s song "Heat of the Moment" blaring in my over-active mind. Nelson had one of them uhh, back scratcher thingies, and wow, praise the Lord it just managed to fit in nicely and it was JUST long enough! Nelly to the rescue!
I never meant to be so bad to you One thing I said that I would never do A look from you and I would fall from grace And it would wipe the smile right from my face Do you remember when we used to dance And incidents arose from circumstance One thing led to another, we were young And we would scream together songs unsung
It was the heat of the moment Telling me what my heart meant The heat of the moment showed in your eyes
And now you find yourself in '82... The disco hot spots hold no charm for you... You can concern yourself with bigger things... You catch a pearl and ride the dragon's wings
'Cause it's the heat of the moment The heat of the moment The heat of the moment shown in your eyes
And when your looks have gone and you're alone How many nights you sit beside the phone What were the things you wanted for yourself Teenage ambitions you remember well
It was the heat of the moment Telling me what your heart meant The heat of the moment showed in your eyes
IT WAS THE HEEEEEEAT OF THE MOMENT!
At first, the back scratcher wasn't long enough by a couple inches -- oh the agony of defeat! But after squeezing it down and managing to push the sucker down deeper, it just made it. SWEET!
Thanks Nelson... my "knight in shining armor"
Are you KIDDIN' ME?!?!?!
My '92 Honda had been through the wars and the back right window stopped working a while back, so it was opened an inch or two permanently. I covered it with some tape... it all looked very tacky as you can see. But for a change, thank God, this defect allowed me to skip calling AAA which I didn't have at the time. At first the stick wouldn't go in, but a couple clever angle squeezes and it just barely made it on through
A little tactful twist and slide did the trick! Very nice :)
We went out to Subway for lunch afterward, laughing about this incident and plain talkin' about life, carrying on our conversation from a couple weeks ago. It's so good to be able to talk to someone who's been with you through the wars and through the years
There's something about connecting with someone who knows your history as well as you yourself do. There's something very special about that "Ha yeah... those sure were some good times, man"
I remember us talking that afternoon about how we're not THAT young anymore. How we're no longer 20, no longer feel like the "world's at the tip of our fingers." We no longer felt invincible or immortal. Nelly was going through some very difficult soul-searching times, and I was there to listen and we encouraged one another. He told me he can never open up like this with his other friends. Even though we are no longer best friends, Nelly and I, we both know in this crazy ever changing turbulent world, we need each other's support and it's comforting to know some things NEVER change. We're always going to be there for each other. We'll always pull for one another and want the best for the other. You know, those friends that in spite of going through (long) stretches of not speaking to, when you catch up y'all pick up right where you guys left off without missing a beat? That's Nelly and me. I guess that's one of the perks of having a friend with whom you share a 20-plus year history
SATURDAY: FEBRUARY 20, 2010
It had been several months since I last saw or even spoke with Nelson. We often go through dry stretches, but the amazing thing about knowing an old best friend for over 20 years is... it's one of those special and rare relationships where you can go eight months without talking, but then pick up exactly where you last left off -- without missing a beat. On this particular Saturday night, it was my niece's 1st Birthday. After the party, I went to a play at a theatre where my old college acting buddy, Jen, works. She gave me four complimentary tickets and I went with my 15 year old girl cousin, Jen's ex Dan (same Jen and Dan from Playback) and of course, Nelson
Driving to Nelly's old house, passing by my old house... man... sweet memories swelled up like a zit on prom night. His mom answered the door just like she had done a thousand times before some 15, 20 years ago. I once again went to Nelly's old room and we looked up directions while playing catch up. We drove to pick up my cousin and she was forced to listen to two old men reminisce about the "good old days" as we rode on the freeway. We were telling her about our awesome 5th grade teacher back in '94, and she said, "Wow, I was barely born!" HA! Nelly and I were indeed old farts now =P
The play was awesome and we all had a great time
FRIDAY: MARCH 26, 2010
Ironically, most recently, I was in a play of my own which, irony of ironies, both Nelson and my old childhood crush Jennifer, attended! They didn't catch each other in the lobby after the show, but it was fitting that they both showed up on the same night. It meant a lot to me that they both came out to support me. They both loved the show and told me what a superb acting job I pulled off. Great times! HA! Kid still got it! ;)
I always have a great time with ol' Nelly. It doesn't matter how long a period we go through where we don't communicate, or whatever happens in our lives, I know Nelly and I will always have a special connection, a spark, and perhaps we're a reminder to each other of more innocent days gone by. More importantly, I like to think whenever we see each other, we spur one another on to achieve greatness, and take one step closer to fulfilling our respective dreams. I know that sounds corny as heck, but it's truly how I feel about the big ole guy... and I know he's said this before to me, but we're joined to the hip with our 20+ year history. We may no longer be "best friends" today in the traditional sense, but perhaps no one alive will ever know me better than Nelson. To Nelly and all the best friends out there, here's a *TOAST* to ya "We'll still get together... have SOME LAUGHS..." "Yeah... just like the good old days" "THE GOOD OLD DAYS!"
By the way, if you're in a best friend mood after all this, be sure to check out the Home Improvement episode where Tim Taylor reunites with his old best buddy, Stu Cutler. But are they still best friends of 15 years... or best friends... 15 years ago?