by: Tom Rau
Day 10 of our 12 days of holiday stories brings us back to a Christmas that changed a childhood…..
This is what I had been reduced to in the early winter of 1985, “It’s all I’ll ever need. Ever. I swear on my life! PLEEEEAAAAAASSSSSSEEEEE!!! Can I have a Nintendo and Excitebike, I’ll do so many chores! I need it! I need it! I want it so bad! Please get me a Nintendo! I’ll never want another game or anything else ((This whole section should have probably been in caps, I spared you.))!” It was the pathetic groveling of a seven year old. For four hours a day, and for the seventy five days prior to Christmas, this is what the airwaves around me were bombarded with.
It all started with the Sears Catalog ((Holy Shit! Really? I can’t even believe I used to base my Xmas lists on the Sears Catalog, it makes me feel like I grew up in 1950.)). There were around fifty pages of toys, games, and kid friendly electronics packed within its three hundred and fifty plus pages. I would spend the following month after its arrival refining and iterating, perfecting my list, toting around the ten pound catalog like some kind of favorite blankie. These lists were a thing of beauty. Granted, I only got four or five things from them each year, but that never stopped me from turning in a three-page handwritten Christmas manifesto.
That year the catalog included a five-page section that would blow kid’s minds, bodies, and souls all across America: pages and pages of Nintendo games and accessories. The home video game world had entered into a slump. With the advent and uprising of a new breed of bad ass arcade games, Atari and Coleco sales had fallen off the map ((We all love the retro aspect of them now, but try playing Pitfall, after a two hour Double Dragon session at the Mall had become a tough sell)). I knew this was a system that was going to change everything. I fucking had to have it. You know that feeling ((They call it love. Deep, hard, and true.)) you have when you would do literally anything for someone? For me, it was this kind of all encompassing love at first sight with the Nintendo Entertainment System (N.E.S).
Despite growing up fairly well-off, my father ruled over the Rau household with an iron fist. If homework wasn’t done, or we weren’t reading when he got home from his office or the hospital, he would turn the television around backwards so no one could watch it for the night. And Dad was not pro-video games. In fact, in retrospect I’m not sure Dad was pro-anything. So when I began my campaign for the Nintendo, I was quickly told by my brother and sister it just wasn’t going to happen. I was likely to just end up with a sore ass for begging.
But, truth be told, I was a born hustler. There are some things I have always understood inherently; start by asking for a lot and work backwards, be persistent, and in the end never take no for an answer.
So, when I turned in my list that year it included, like every year, pages of action figures, legos, and games. But it also included a page solely dedicated to the Nintendo, its accessories, as well as a good percentage of the games that were currently out or coming out by Christmas.
Like every Christmas, I had gone big. But, like I said, the whole video game thing was being met by heavy and quite frightening resistance from the patriarch. So, while being a born hustler, I also went from,”I want everything,” straight to my MVC ((Minimum Viable Christmas.)) – Nintendo and Excitebike – in about as much time as it took to knock out Glass Joe.
For the next two months I put on the most high-intensity, full-court press imaginable. I zigged. I zagged. I did things like unload the dishwasher without crying. I ate five shitty green beans ((I would make everyone sit at the dinner table for hours sometimes while I did not eat my beans.)). I made the case that video games would increase my hand-eye coordination, and thus my baseball skills. And then, I made my final case, because even at the age of seven I knew that all I would ever need in life was to ride that little orange pixely Excitebike motherfucker over some turbo arrows, speedhumps, and across the finish line. That was the simplified pitch that I settled on. One Nintendo. One game. And that’s it. Forever.
As gifts piled up under the tree that year, I closely inspected every single one of them. It didn’t seem promising. Nothing game-sized. Nothing Nintendo-sized. I was still being told it just wasn’t happening and that I needed to move on. Did these people not understand true love?
When it was finally time to open our one traditional gift on Christmas Eve, I was in a state of disbelief with what I got. “Oh awesome, a book about planes. I can’t wait to learn about some planes,” I said as I retreated to my room nervous and terrified, knowing my last hope was my homie, Santa Claus.
I always laid in bed on Christmas Eve listening for the sound of sleigh bells, imagining Santa magically sliding with his big belly down our chimney and stuffing our stockings and the area below them and then relaxing on the couch and eating the milk and cookies we had left out for him ((If I ever have a kid(s) Christmas is going to be crazy fun and full of all of this magical nonsense and much more!)). The sounds never came and I finally drifted away.
I used to turn it up to eleven on Christmas mornings. I felt like I was full of shooting stars. I went plaid ((Spaceballs.)). I’m sure it was both hilarious and disgusting for everyone else. I would have punched me in the face and asked questions later. But it doesn’t get any better than exploding into a room full of presents for a seven year old kid. And this was the most important Christmas ever. So when I woke up at 6am on Christmas morning it was time for work. We weren’t allowed to go downstairs until we were all ready, so I would just crash and bounce into everyone’s room like the Tasmanian Devil, jumping on beds, off walls, and back again, until everyone had succumbed and was ready to enter my hyperspace.
This was going to be both the longest and shortest trip down the stairs in the history of the universe. I knew The Nintendo was going to either be under the stockings where Santa always left the big gifts or I was going to be crushed. So a split second later, when I had careened down two sets of stairs and stood face to face with the work of Big Santa, only one thought washed over me….
There was no Nintendo. No Excitebike. As far as I was concerned this wasn’t really Christmas. But you could never complain in my family or act spoiled or a spanking would be upon you. I attempted to put on the face of a happy Christmas boy who was enjoying his sweaters and his books, his pack of Lifesavers and his stupid toys.
My devastation was obvious. I was somewhere between acting maniacally happy and having a complete mental breakdown over a Nintendo. And it went on for a couple of hours. There was no more hope, only the torn and tattered remains of wrapping paper that had previously concealed someone else’s dreams.
Then my mom had the nerve to ask me, “Hey Tom, is there anything you didn’t get that you wanted for Christmas?” It was such a cruel question. I was on the verge of tears. I couldn’t even answer for fear of total meltdown. Meanwhile, Dad, was sitting in a chair on the other side of the room with the biggest shit eating grin I have ever seen. I think Mom was sensing that I was about to both implode and explode at the same time and interjected, “There’s a couple of boxes over here between the couch and the chest that might have your name on them.”
And just like that, it was the best Christmas ever. Those awesome motherfuckers took me to the brink and back. Later that day we went to the mall and watched a movie. I snuck off to the toy store and bought Mike Tyson’s Punchout! with my Christmas money. Never cross a hustler.
Rau Family Christmas Shot circa 1985.