VS. The United States

I’ve heard it said that smell is the sense with the strongest ties to memory. Which might be true, I don’t know. But I think music also has a way of transporting you back to a moment you’d forgotten about; a moment that, once you remember, sticks around for some reason. One has been circling my mind for the past few days. I saw a commercial using the William Tell Overture again. That used to happen a lot more, it seems like. Maybe I just used to pay more attention, or I was exposed to it more. Maybe it was a trailer – they all run together, especially when you don’t pay attention. Here’s a frequent conversation when I’m at my mom’s:

Mom: Did you see that commercial for-
Me: No

When I was around 7 or 8 I would end up at Wal-Mart in Taylorville, Illinois with my grandparents. While my grandma was shopping, I’d play the Vs. Super Mario Bros. machine they had in the- foyer? lobby? Enclosed patio? Whatever it was that has morphed into that humongous room with 500 carts and 1000 angry shoppers and 1 Subway/McDonald’s in it. And my grandpa would stand watch behind me. Or more likely, sit on the bench. And behind the machine was one of those galloping horse rides for 25 cents, and it played the William Tell Overture, non-stop.

In those days, we didn’t have the Internet, or much of anything really. The existence of a “Vs. Super Mario Bros.” in the first place – this weird, almost off-brand, similar-but-different thing almost like the game I played at home constantly was unexplainable. It just existed, and there was no way to know why, or why it was different. I remember being very confused about it, but never expecting that I would ever be able to understand it. It was just something that you had to accept.

I had a similar experience in what was most likely the fall of 1988. Super Mario Bros 2 had just come out and was a huge seller, with people standing in line to try to buy one. But that was North America. In Japan, the real SMB 2 had already came and gone, and Super Mario Bros. 3 was the latest. But somehow, at the county fair, I walked into a darkened tent and played Super Mario Bros. 3 on a Playchoice-10 machine. There was a separate arcade section on the promenade with old games like Donkey Kong and Pac-Man – I remember a guy refusing to let me play Donkey Kong because he kept getting free games by hitting the side of the cabinet. He needed those free games; he sucked bad at it. Couldn’t get past 25m.

So I played maybe 1 or 2 games of “Super Mario Bros 3” – which, to eyes that haven’t seen it before, at that young age, with no information – was the weirdest thing ever. Music blocks, misshapen goombas, a run meter. It was like a fever dream I had and that no one would believe – there was no way to get information about it, after all. I saw it once, and then didn’t hear about it again for months. And then, surely, I had a revelation when it was announced and showed off to the world – maybe even in The Wizard.

But I don’t remember that. I remember the half-seen, unbelievable moment of seeing it on the list of games on that Playchoice-10 machine and experiencing it myself for the first time, with no prior knowledge and none to come for months. I still get that feeling when I look at a note block. And it’s still one of my favorite games of all time. But that has another story behind it, for another day.

I could stretch here and find a metaphor, but I don’t really want to. I’ve seen people reacting very badly to the politics of today over the past week or two, trying to absorb it. I’ve seen some say it reminds them of how they felt on 9/11. But it really reminds me of Bush 2’s first election in 2000. I said, on this very website earlier that year, that I thought his being elected would probably be the worst thing to happen to this country. By the time the election came, I was parroting the idea that he and Gore were the same, but I was wrong. And young. He was awful. And you can see the tendrils of everything he did wrong in the situation we have today, both in the Mid East and domestically. And almost everyone let him do it. Wanted him to do it.

So the feeling of terror, the uncertainty I’ve been feeling both remind me of something, but it’s that early summer in 2000. The dread that I had, the awful things I thought could happen – all the “Anybody but Bush” stuff I even posted on here. But I saw it a year before anyone else did. The day of 9/11 was surreal and terrible, but in some ways, it was exactly what I expected. Dragging the nation into unwinnable wars and exactly the wrong fights we shouldn’t be fighting.

Now, I could say this pessimistic ability of mine to predict exactly what awful things are going to happen is a gift, a curse, or just a Thing. Whichever you like. But I definitely don’t see bright days ahead for us right now. I’d like to, but I think it’s going to be a really bad few years. And I’d like to say “hold your family a little tighter tonight, this Thanksgiving”. But let’s be honest, they probably voted for him. They’re not happy; far from it, they voted the way they did because of a deep, unrelenting unhappiness, shame. But I don’t know how we can solve all of it.

I suppose I’m just nostalgic for the days when I could wistfully only imagine wondrous things from everyday mysteries and all the possibilities of tomorrow. But right now it seems like all those mysteries have been solved. That Wal-Mart is gone now, as are my grandparents, and I know exactly the backstory of that game and how it came into being. Both of them. A boring line of business decisions based on different market favorabilities.

All of it’s gone. The wonder, the hope and change. I just hope we don’t lose everything else.