I hang out with my Oregon friends Dylan and Holly two or three times a week. On Monday nights we download and watch the latest episode of Mad Men from iTunes because we don’t have cable, on Tuesdays we go to one of the several Mexican restaurants in our part of town for cheap tacos, and usually at least one evening out of the weekend is spent together in close proximity to pizza and alcohol. This, kids, is what happens after you graduate from college and move away: Now that you no longer live within walking distance of 30 drinking buddies, you begin to get very close to the friends you have, whether they want you in their life that much or not.
Dylan and Holly are a power couple – they started dating in December of our freshman year at the University of Oregon, making their relationship roughly as old as this blog (although far more consistent in terms of quality.) I, with my somewhat spotty dating record, can scarcely wrap my head around the concept of having a significant other in your life for that long without them donating your DVDs to charity or humiliating you at your senior prom or revealing that they’ve had a secret boyfriend at the US Naval Academy for the duration of your relationship (all true stories!), but I think Dylan and Holly have made it all these years for two reasons:
1) Both of them are significantly more mature than I am, and
2) They work out any latent aggression toward one another through relentless, brutal, unending competition.
Both Dylan and Holly played sports in high school and, in college, each tried to outdo the other with extracurricular activities and classes. On top of all that, there’s the constant games – in virtually every competitive board or video game, these two are constantly going head to head, working out whatever subconscious frustrations they may have with one another by aggressively trash talking and trying to drive the other to ruin in a friendly game of Bananagrams.
This usually spells disaster for me, because a sibling-free childhood and an adolescence full of arts rather than sports has made me a fairly noncompetitive person. I do not have an unending thirst for victory in all things. In most games I play I lack the willingness to give it all up for the big win because I simply don’t care enough – Coach Bombay would not be pleased, at least in the first 80 minutes of The Mighty Ducks.
It’s good that I don’t care if I win or lose, because I lose a lot when I play against Dylan and Holly, whose entire lives together have essentially been a grueling, four year crucible of competitive things. When I join in any of their reindeer games, the best I can usually hope for is third place – and I’m okay with that.
That all ended two weeks ago when, after watching Mad Men, Dylan said, “Oh, yeah, we downloaded Mario Kart 64 on the Wii. You want to play a round?”
Long dormant fires ignited deep within me. I nodded curtly, grabbed the Gamecube-style controller, and began flexing my thumbs.
As I’ve mentioned before, my parents and I played Mario Kart 64 every night for a good five to seven years of my childhood. After awhile, we didn’t even call it Mario Kart. We just called it Kickin’ Butt. It would always start after dinner.
So, Dad would say, folding his napkin. Who wants to get their butt kicked?
And away we’d go to the gentle curves of Luigi Raceway, the snowman-littered peril of Frappe Snowland, or the sulfur-scented shitstorm of Bowser’s Castle, with its fucking Thwomps and 90 degree turns and narrow rope bridges over lava, trading PG-13 trash talk all the way.
Again, this was virtually every night for years of my impressionable youth. None of us knew back then that Mario Kart 64 would stand the test of time so well, and that it would forevermore be a staple of drunken college shenanigans. My parents were not aware that these nightly sessions were slowly but surely turning their young son into a seasoned Mario Kart master at an early age. I was like one of those Asian cello prodigies whose parents force them to practice for hours every day from an early age, except unlike them my skill is completely awesome.
This was where I forged a competitive spirit.
That ‘one round’ of Mario Kart we were going to play that night, when it was already late and all three of us had work in the morning, quickly turned into us playing every single level in the game until well after midnight as soon as Dylan and Holly noticed that my skillset and competitive spirit in this particular game was significantly higher than in any other facet of my life, which, in turn, made them more competitive.
Dylan and Holly are Mario Kart masters in their own right – before they were even dating they would regularly play against one another in the dorms, sprinting to the N64 and tackling one another to try and be the first to pick Yoshi and potentially cop a feel on the way – so for arguably the first time in our friendship, we were playing a game where we were evenly matched and similarly fanatical about winning. That led to unprecedented levels of trash talk.
On that first night, Holly clocked me with a red shell within inches of the finish line, opening up the win for Dylan instead of me. I sort of blacked out for a moment, and when I came to I was in the midst of saying several things to her so offensive that they’d make Rush Limbaugh blush.
To Holly’s credit, she was unfazed, and proceeded to fling most of that language back at me in the next race.
What I learned that night, and in the two dozen or so Mario Kart games we’ve played since that night, is that this game, which was designed for children, brings out some of the filthiest, foulest, rudest language and behavior among adult friends.
That, I guess, is the nature of competition – wanting that arbitrary goal so badly that at a moment’s notice your mouth can open and all kinds of potentially friendship-ending language can pour out. Maybe that’s what scared me away from competition before – in sports, in academics, in most other games.
But not in Mario Kart 64, where my parents unwittingly have turned me into a monster of 150cc Bowser proportions.
Truman Capps hates Rainbow Road so much.