My roommate and I grew up on opposite sides of the country, but like most other guys our age we wasted countless hours of our childhoods playing an extremely popular first person shooter for the Nintendo 64 called Goldeneye. Multiplayer battles in that game were intense and addictive; unlike the punks playing Call of Duty these days, back then we were actually in the same room as the people we were playing against, which forced you to be a little more careful with your trash talk. Plenty of times he and I would swap 64-bit war stories and gas on about picking up an N64 to try and recreate some of that old magic.
With my roommate’s birthday bearing down earlier this month, and the rest of our friends planning extravagant surprise gifts for him (blindfolds, scavenger hunts, Disneyland, etc) the pressure was on for me, a particularly inept gift giver, to find a present that matched up. A few days before his birthday, it dawned on me: I could get us a Nintendo 64 and a copy of Goldeneye to play on our big screen TV.
This was an uncharacteristically good gift idea coming from me, and I knew it. What could be more fun and nostalgic than playing the video game of our childhoods on our 55 inch plasma TV? Best of all, it was simple – all I had to do was dig up an N64, a copy of Goldeneye, and the right cable to hook it up to our TV.
I love simple.
The guy at the vintage game store scanned the tag on an old cardboard box with a Nintendo 64 in it, and I handed him my card.
“I’ll take a copy of Goldeneye, too.”
“Oh, yeah, we don’t have that.” The sweaty guy behind the counter said.
I looked around the store, filled with games for the NES, Super NES, Sega Dreamcast, old equipment from the original Rock Band, Castlevania players guides, sun faded posters for Tomb Raider II, and seemingly every Nintendo 64 game ever made – except the one that sold eight million copies, apparently.
“Okay. Do you know anyplace else that might have it?”
He was struggling to work a credit card swiper that predated some of the store’s younger employees. “Maybe check the Internet?”
Woah, thanks for the tip! Check the Internet! Never would’ve thought of that on my own. “Hey, one other thing – do you guys sell an adapter I could use to hook this N64 up to our bigscreen TV?”
He handed me the console and my receipt. “Yeah, we don’t have anything like that here. Also, N64 games barely run on those big new TVs. The technology just isn’t compatible. Lot of frame rate issues.”
“Uh huh.” I said, staring at the N64 I’d just bought with the express purpose of hooking it up to our bigscreen TV.
ALL SALES FINAL, the sign behind the counter said.
On my way home I called my friend Sabba to gripe about the unplayable, gameless N64 I’d just bought my roommate.
“Maybe I’ll just give it to him like this, and the real gift is the personal journey he goes on trying to find a copy of the game and a TV he can play it on. Do you think that works?”
“Oh!” She chirped from the other end. “I’ve got an old TV that would work with an N64! Do you want it?”
“Yes! That’s perfect. We can have a special 90s TV to pull out every time we want to play our 90s video game. When can I pick it up?”
I reached Sabba’s house and she took me back to her room where the TV was waiting for me. I tried to pick it up and found that it weighed eighty-seven billion tons.
“So… There’s something else.” She said. “It turns out this TV doesn’t have any input ports you could plug the N64 into. But it does have a port we can plug this old VCR into, and this old VCR has ports you can plug your N64 into, so you can run the N64 through the VCR.”
It took me a second to make sense of all that, but eventually I did. “Okay. That’s cool. That adds a whole new dimension to this gift – now we’ve got a way to play N64 and a way to watch old VHS tapes.”
“Well, no. See, the tape deck on the VCR doesn’t work.”
“Uh huh.” I looked at the nest of cables snaking from the TV to the VCR to the N64 to the wall. “So the VCR is broken.”
“Except for the part that you need to use to hook up the N64, yes.”
It took about 20 minutes for Sabba, her father, and her brother to explain to me which cords had to be plugged into which holes, as well the myriad of input settings I had to configure on each device in order to get the N64 to display. Then it took all of us to lug everything into my car.
I called around to other game stores. None of them had Goldeneye. Maybe the game was just so good that none of the millions of people who bought it wanted to sell their copies? “You should check on the Internet,” virtually everybody I talked to said.
The first Amazon listing I saw for Goldeneye was a guy charging over $200 for a single copy. I closed the browser, called my parents, and asked nicely to air mail my old copy of Goldeneye down to me – the one that they’d scoured every game store in Salem to buy for me new on my birthday in 1997.
So now I was officially re-gifting.
The plan that had begun with me adding one new piece of audio/visual equipment to the apartment had now metastasized into three, along with two new remotes and four additional cables, all very old and heavily used. My roommate’s once-simple gift now had so many attachments that I needed to find a rolling cart to keep everything on so we could easily move this monstrosity into and out of the room when we wanted to play.
I had no idea how hard it is to find a rolling cart until I tried it for myself. At every antique shop I got the same apologetic look when I asked. “Oh, I’m sorry – whenever we get one of those in it’s gone right away.” One shopkeeper explained.
“So are carts always in demand like this? Or is it just a fad, and in six months everybody is going to go back to putting their possessions on stationary objects?”
She shrugged. “Have you checked on the Internet?”
I’ve lived in my neighborhood for close to three years, but it took me until the day before my roommate’s birthday to realize there was an Office Depot a five minute walk away from my apartment. What’s more, they were having a going out of business sale on the day I went in looking – everything in the store, from merchandise to shelving, was for sale.
A polo-shirted employee led me back through the store. “I don’t remember if we’ve got any media carts… If we did they’d be right… Here.”
He led me around a corner to a blank section of shelf where there were no carts.
“Ah, too bad.” He said. “Sorry about that.”
Turning to leave, I froze. There in front of me were two completely perfect carts, loaded down with clearance erasers and pencil cups. I pointed.
“I’ll take one of those. One of those would be perfect.”
He sucked air in through his teeth. “Oh, yeah, those aren’t really for sale. Those are part of the display.”
“But it’s a going out of business sale. The signs say you’re selling everything in the store.”
“I don’t think we can sell those carts yet.”
“Listen: I want to give you money. Do you want to take money from me or not?”
We went and talked to a manager who had a better understanding of capitalism than his employee, and two minutes later I was walking up Ventura Boulevard pushing a media cart purchased at a steep discount.
I kept the monstrosity in my room for two days, towering over my bed. In that period there were three minor earthquakes and every time I took cover on the floor I was sure the TV was going to topple off the cart and crush me.
By the time my roommate’s birthday rolled around, my gift had grown to be as extravagant – although not as aesthetically pleasing – as everybody else’s. My dogged pursuit of a simple solution wound up creating a five foot tall obelisk of pre-9/11 technology. His reaction was worth it, of course, as will be the Goldeneye tournaments we’re going to host. But I’m scared this may have taken up all the gift-giving competence I had left in my body.
So just a heads up to everybody I know, including my roommate: For every subsequent birthday, Christmas, wedding, baby shower, or other event, just plan on receiving a Border’s Books and Music gift card from me. Yeah, I know they went out of business. After this, that's going to be about the best I can do.