Sunday, June 6, 2010

little Italian men and my first taste of obsession

It's a strange and funny thing to spend time with the people who knew you before you had fully mastered yourself. Back when you were in high school, or younger, just bits and pieces of a self waiting to be colored and trimmed and sewn together. I remember that time with vividness, when I swapped out one identity for the next with the regularity of movie stars changing their hair, or their husbands.

Many of my old friends have come home for good, and we sit now at the cafe in town town and look back on ourselves in those younger days. We talk about the things we struggled over, the things we fought for and failed at, the things we admit now might not be worth repeating. We reflect not with remorse or embarrassment, but with humor, and fondness, as if our younger selves were merely little dolls who did outlandish things for the purpose of causing ourselves laughter and disbelief in later years.

I had dinner the other night with two of those friends Cass and Elissa- both writers- we closed the restaurant, drank a bucket's worth of two dollar margaritas, scribbled on the table and arrived at the conclusion that these stories we were sharing screamed out to be written down. Small stories, and at first glance insignificant, yet we've come to realize that what separated us in our adolescence are, like it or not, the very things that define who we've come to be.Growing up in someplace like rural Vermont, our stories revolved around the elaborate schemes we came up with to entertain ourselves. I lived (and live currently) in the middle of a land trust, miles away from anyone or anything except the three summer houses of any aunts and uncles, all vacant the majority of the year. Whenever my parents agreed to drive me and my sister into Quechee to get a candy bar at the Jiffy Mart, I would fall into fits of nearly epileptic glee.

I was not often lonely in the negative sense of the word, it's just that I was fully aware of the community that we were lacking- community in the classic, neat squares of front lawn where neighbor children play sense of the word. We're so far out that no one will actually claim us. Half of our dirt road is in West Harford, our mailing address is White River Junction, the closest town is Quechee, we went to school in Woodstock, and we're technically in North Pomfret. When it came time to plow our roads, they all dismissed us as belonging to somebody else.

From all of my unusual and creative endeavors, my arsenal against the many slow hours of childhood, this very small, admittedly peculiar detail stands out: my obsession with Nintendo. And my desperate attempt at compensation for there being no Nintendo.

We've never had television in my house in Vermont (movies, yes) and we certainly did not have any video games. The no TV I was at peace with, and had in fact already developed an attitude of slight superiority with regards to it. But as a ten year old, I was ready to mutiny on account of the video games. I fantasized about throwing myself on the stoop of any house that I knew had a Nintendo system, and begging for them to take me! Just take me in! Make me yours!

I was rabid for any device that could allow me to wile away in the hour in a gaming induced stupor: game boy, game gear, duck hunt, even Tetris would have been better than nothing. I blame my cousin Christopher, whose vast collection of electronic games was constantly replenished as new models came out. He exposed me to the stuff and then withheld: allowing me brief access during holidays at his summer house, and then bringing it all home with him when he left. I met Yoshi the green dino on their big screen TV one Christmas, and fell instantly in love. I dreamed about Yoshi. I dreamed about all of them: the Italians, the hedgehog, the ducks, the mismatched pieces of brick.

On a few occasions, I came close. So, so very close. Christopher promised me one summer to let me borrow his older version of Nintendo, but every time he visited, he had neglected to bring it. Such was my disappointment that that summer, I believe it permanently whittled away at my girlhood spirit.

Then there was that shining moment- one of the most ecstatic in remembrance- when the daughter of my mother's friend left her Game Gear at my house. They had just hit the road back to Boston after a long weekend, I walked into my bedroom, and there it was, lying alone on my bed. Feeling religious in my joy and gratitude, I lay down next to it, took it in my two hands, and turned the ON switch.

One of my most despondent moments was when, ten minutes later, they drove back to retrieve it. "Close one!" her dad said to my mom, jauntily. "Five more minutes, and we would have been too far to turn back!"


Fortunately, I was a do it yourself kind of kid. I could always be counted on to take matters into my own hands, even when it yielded pathetic results. One summer day when I was eleven I was woken by my own brilliant idea- of course! Why hadn't I thought of this before! I ran downstairs in my shortie pajamas, rolled out some butcher paper, and with colored pencils and intent focus, drew out the entire first level of Mario brothers. Green mushroom trees, puffy clouds, neat rows of brick boxes and question marks. Then I sketched a little Mario, cut him out, and bopped him along the drawn out landscape. I repeated this a few times, before it finally dawned on me how sad I was.

Still, A for effort.

Looking back on it, my not so super Mario world was the beginning of a long and illustrious career of faking it till I made it. Which is just another way of saying "make it work with what you got". Still others might call it "lying". I myself consider it a tool of immeasurable value, a combination of improv and resourcefulness. It's what makes one scrappy.

When I was sixteen, 8 months and one terrifying driver's ed class held in the vacant building next to the strip club away from getting my license, I hijacked the family Subaru. I drove it at twenty miles an hour towards the rope swing, a popular warm weather hang out that, at only six miles from my house, was practically in my backyard. (We live a long, long way from anywhere.) My hands sweating and my heart banging at the thrill of my own daring, I inched past the roadside swing. Thank you God, I remember thinking, because there on the riverbank stood John Maguire and some other popular boys, taking turns doing back flips off the rope. I put my elbow out the window, put the car in neutral as I had practiced, and said all casual, "Oh, heeey." Look at me, just driving past. Just driving, alone. No parents. Just driving. And they said "Oh, heeey," and nodded in appreciation. I drove past them. Then I drove home, mission completed.

I was also the girl who, for a few months in 10th grade, kept Visine and a lighter in her jacket pocket. Even though I had no need for them, as I never smoked pot. Ever. But I figured, hey, who has to know that? By then I knew that a suggestion of coolness was as valuable as coolness itself. And it worked. A friend of mine eventually put my jacket on, put his hand in the pockets and drew out my two props. "Heeeey!" he said knowingly, "I wonder what these are for!" I just shrugged and said, "Well, you know." Later that day I threw them in the trash, no longer needing their services.

I blame the success of these foils on any and all incidents of exaggeration or misrepresentation that have occurred since.

The truth is, I figured everyone had a little of this in them. A little resourceful A little scrappiness. A little do what you gotta do.

And then I moved out to Seattle, and my total and complete misjudgment became evident.


Tracy said...

You poor thing! You should have told me and I would have made Chris remember the old Nintendo.

Rose said...

This post was incredible, Melina. Delighted by the way you described your favorite game characters: "The Italians, the hedgehog, the ducks, the mismatched pieces of brick."
And your energized pre-license drive to see the boys by the rope swing - felt total empathy here. The things we'll do to impress the boys. Our generation was partly raised on Nintendo, wasn't it?
P.S. The dude I liked in high school was obsessed with video games. :]

Jess said...

This post is hilarious, Melina. One of your best written yet, I think. This should be an essay in a book. It's so quick and funny. I did things like that in high school, except I went so far as to smoke cigarettes in front of certain people. Three times. I almost threw up from the gagging and coughing, and really blew my 'cool' look. Whoops. Love it! Keep on posting, it really makes my day when I see in my browser that you've updated!

-Jessie from MT!

Adriane said...

wait wait, you've fully mastered yourself? Hm. Am I behind, then?

ps- You are *absolutely* scrappy. That is such a you word, I think. Scrappy is such a good thing.

Melina said...

Oh yea, Adi, I had trouble wording that...I wanted to say something about how we're never fully formed and we keep on transforming but it was too much a tangent and I thought, ehh...whatev. Geez, I mean, I HOPE i'm not fully this all...? See you soon over Allechante coffe...

Anonymous said...

I like your funny posts a lot. Keep them coming.

Andrew said...

Between the all too familiar tales of self deprecation, and all the references to my beloved Mario, I think i'm in love with this post.