Names (when used) have been changed to protect the innocent, the guilty, and the eternally downtrodden.
Sleepover At The House Of The Kid Whose Parents Didn’t Let Him Play Video Games: We all had that one friend growing up whose parents tried to set him/her “on the right path” by banning from their household Atari, Nintendo, and the like; this particular friend of mine was also only permitted to watch PBS. Based on my observation, the plan worked in the sense that this kid was skipped a couple grades ahead of us in math and could name all the presidents in order before he hit double digits. On the other hand, homeboy also tore his thumb open on a chain link fence during his first week of college whilst attempting to steal a case of soda (something else he was never really allowed to have at home) from the cafeteria. So nature, nurture, whatever.
Anywho, the lack of cable tv and Super Mario forced us fifth graders to play board games and have conversations at this party, which turned out to be plenty of fun (especially when we all started talking about the concept of “God” and what he/she/it might actually be; to this day I don’t think I’ve ever had a more adult conversation). There’s a pretty epic photo of me from the morning after this all night Shoots n’ Ladders rager—I’m asleep in a sitting position, clutching a tiny stuffed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, and this enormous maroon hoodie that I’m sure was B.U.M. Equipment brand is practically swallowing me. I’m also wearing my glorious Air Jordan rip-off sneakers, the Sir Jams.
Most kids probably would have felt self-conscious about such bootleg kicks, but I never really gave a flying fuck about basketball or shoe culture. I just wanted my feet to be comfortable.
Sleepover At Shouty P’s House: Shouty P was this shrimpy kid we all knew and adored who, as his name implied, had only one volume to his voice. That was okay, though, because ninety percent of the time he was hilarious and as far as I know he never tried to wrong me or any of my friends in that way middle schoolers like to wrong each other sometimes. He runs a golf course now, in case you were wondering. Ironic, as I think shouting at golf courses is generally frowned upon.
My overriding memory from this particular get-together is the fight that broke out very early in the evening on Shouty P’s front lawn between The Kid Whose Growth Spurt Put Him Three Heads Above Everybody Else and The Kid Who Was So Obsessed With Batman Sometimes He Literally Thought He Was Batman. I don’t remember what the fight was about but it was maybe the only time in my life I’ve seen an altercation that played out like a Popeye cartoon, by which I mean these two individuals turned into a ball of dust, fists, and fake curse words as soon as it was “on.”
Eventually peace was brokered and we settled in for the evening, all taking turns playing T&C Surf Designs on regular Nintendo. I’d never seen that game before and it instantly became a dangerous obsession. Hold the phone, we got a skateboarding gorilla in Jam shorts? Nintendo, have you been renting space in my head?
The Sleepover Where I Saw A Dirty Movie For The First Time: The Kid Who Was So Obsessed With Batman Sometimes He Literally Thought He Was Batman invited me over one Friday night in seventh or eight grade for some midnight Mortal Kombat action. On the walk to his house after school he was like, “Check this out…” Batman Kid turned his bookbag around and pulled out a VHS labeled Naughty Girls Need Love Too.
I really wish I could tell you what my exact emotions were in response to this revelation, that my friend had somehow acquired a porno and we would be viewing it that evening, but all I remember for sure is watching it at one in the morning and cracking up at the theme song (in which some “groovy dude” repeatedly sang the title of the movie) and being really grossed out that one scene was two people doing it on a pile of tires. On the ladder of erotic experiences of my life Naughty Girls ranks pretty low (it’s several rungs below Courtney Thorne-Smith in Revenge of the Nerds II, which is really ground zero for eroticism as far as I’m concerned).
I’m sure my first porno viewing was somehow skewed by the fact I watched it with a kid who was simultaneously working on his homemade Batman costume. This may have also been the night I discovered The Kid Who Was So Obsessed With Batman Sometimes He Literally Thought He Was Batman was also obsessed with the theme song from Wayne’s World, so much so that he had dubbed it as many times as he could on a ninety minute blank cassette. A full ninety minute cassette with nothing on it but the Wayne’s World theme twenty or thirty times. Yeah, that’s no cause for alarm.
Sleepover At The House Of The Kid Who Owned Every Nintendo Game Ever: Barry was a young fella I only knew because our dads were pals from way back; in fact, I only hung out with the kid three times tops because he lived sorta far away and went to completely different schools. However, Barry and I always had a blast together—he was a super nice kid who didn’t seem to have any hang-ups and could have a grand ol’ time even when we weren’t glued to the Nintendo (has this post made it clear yet that home video game systems were the center of the universe in the early ’90s, a cultural force more vital to our stupid existence than the Bill & Ted movies and Bo Jackson combined?).
Of course, it was hard not to be glued to the Nintendo at Barry’s house because somehow he had gained possession of every regular NES game ever. I can honestly say I’ve never met anyone in my life with a comparable NES collection. I guess his parents were rich, or maybe another twelve year old he knew died and willed him all his games. All I know is any game I could think of Barry had, which explains why the first time we ever hung out at my house he took me to school on all twelve or thirteen games I owned.
Barry and his family were nice enough to let me sleepover one weekend; yeah, we cycled through all those Nintendo shits, but we also watched Silver Streak (recommended by Barry’s dad; we weren’t really into it) and ceremoniously cut open Barry’s brother’s Stretch Armstrong to see what was inside. I’ll never forget standing in that bathroom watching Barry trying to tear Stretch open with a pair of scissors when a sudden noxious cloud of something that looked like baby powder shot out of the doll’s incision. We both laughed hysterically.
The Plastic Pillow Pillow Fight Sleepover: In the sixth grade or so my pals and I all spent the night at Louis’s house, where for once in our dumb lives we got to have a massive uninterrupted pillow fight in the basement rec room. Unfortunately, this kid Louis had a plastic pillow. That is to say, he had a regular pillow inside a plastic pillow case. I’m not sure why—if he was a bed wetter, he would have needed plastic sheets, not a plastic pillow, unless he slept backwards on his bed? I don’t know and honestly did not care about Louis whizzing in his bed. I don’t think any of us did.
What we did care about was this kid whomping us in the face with his plastic pillow. It stung like a fucking bastard (especially if one of the corners caught you). Louis whacked our buddy Thom one too many times; Thom shot me this look that said, “Mah’fucker’s goin’ down.” Then he tackled Louis, snatched the plastic pillow, and went apeshit on Louis. It was like Raging Bull. Louis absolutely started crying, but none of us cared because we all had red marks from that stupid fucking pillow. Eventually a parent came down to admonish us all. Boo.
Louis later joined the Air Force and got totally jacked. Sometimes I worry he’s gonna show up on my doorstep with another pillow. Louis, please, I’m sorry. Let’s do lunch. Unrelated: Louis had an “ALF For President” poster up in this rec room, an item I definitely coveted for many years.
My Thirteenth Birthday Sleepover Party: The final sleepover before being a teenager made everything kinda weird. My friend John brought me a jar of gefilte fish as a joke; my mom put it in the refrigerator and over the course of the next year or two we watched it turn all sorts of neat colors.
This sleepover is probably best remembered for a racially insensitive remark one of my friends shouted out during a heated game of Super Dosgeball on the NES; the teams in the game were U.S.A. and Nigeria, and an angry comment was made about the latter team immediately returning to its continent of origin, which my father overheard, which naturally made him go ballistic. The offending friend—who shall remain anonymous even from silly nickname since this was twenty some-odd years ago and he was twelve or whatever—was almost bounced from the party until some profuse apologizing surfaced (I also think since it was January in rural Connecticut my dad didn’t really fancy carting this kid home on allegedly icy roads).
Many hours later, while we were all watching L.A. Story and eating severely cold pizza, I felt a sense of contentment and happiness, like, These guys, they’ll be my friends forever. I’ll always be able to count on them. I was basically correct in that assumption. Only one of them really went off the deep end later in terms of friendship duties; surprisingly, it was not the kid who made that remark about Africa.
1991: The year punk broke, and also the year the Nintendo Company rolled out their sixteen bit video gaming system—creatively titled Super Nintendo. Several months ahead of the August release date I caught wind that game cartridges from the regular Nintendo system would not be compatible with this new console. I want to say I felt nothing but white hot rage over this development, but cranky depression would probably be a more accurate assessment of my feelings. How could I get on board with SNES when it would instantly render my pre-existing game collection obsolete?
Putting pen to paper, I wrote Nintendo’s monthly periodical, Nintendo Power, to express my frustrations. My lede—which included a vision of future America as a soulless land of blank zombies who have forgotten Mario, Luigi, and Lolo thanks to this SNES compatibility blunder—was buried under a recollection (and artist’s rendering) of the time my father bet one hundred dollars that he could beat me at Major League Baseball, lost, and actually paid up on the spot. Below is Nintendo’s official response, dated May 17, 1991. Click to enlargenate:
Well Jane, you were on the money about Super Mario’s longevity, but for poor Lolo “quite a while” turned out to be roughly one year from the time you inked those not-so-prophetic words. Not that I’m mad. I’m sure you had nothing to do with our blue mouthless friend’s disappearance from the pop culture landscape. I can at least respect you for being so upfront about the fact my letter would probably never grace Nintendo Power’s sacred glossy pages. It didn’t, and that’s okay.
To this day, though, I’ve wondered why Nintendo decided against making the NES library compatible with SNES, According to AllGame.com, it was an issue of (what else?) money:
The head of the design team for the original NES, Masayuki Uemura was again commissioned as the architect for the new console. President of Nintendo, Hiroshi Yamauchi asked Uemura that he explore the option of making the new 16-bit system compatible with the millions of cartridges they had sold for the 8-bit NES. He knew that cross-compatibility was a major factor in the success of a second-generation system.
As before, Uemera’s primary goal in designing the SNES was to keep production costs down as much as possible. He found that in order to make the new system compatible with NES cartridges, a minimum $75 would have to be tacked on to the cost of each unit. Instead of opting for this, Yamauchi decided to make an NES cartridge adapter available at a later date; though none was ever introduced (note: the unlicensed Super Eight converter from Innovation for $59.95 does allow NES cartridges to be played on the SNES).”
I’d never heard of this Super Eight accessory until two hours ago, which goes to show how quickly I drifted away from video gaming after SNES debuted. Doesn’t sound like it was so hot anyway—I mean, what good was the thing if you couldn’t even play Battletoads correctly on it?