Saturday, May 13, 2006

From dusty drawers...

Nearly twenty years of packratting add up, in boxes and binsful of baggage dating from grade seven. Moving from one place to another becomes a two-fisted attack on psyche and system. The big punch comes from the basics of home transplantation, the universal physical and financial hassles of moving. But before getting to that point, the packrat has another blow to weather -- the emotional gutpunch of sifting through (again) a lifetime of sacred objects.

Love letters, old photographs, creased menus, cheap toys, neglected notebooks, antiquated mixtapes... gone girls, lost friends, forgotten goals. If you have the luxury of storage space, it's better to just carry those old boxes, unopened and unexamined, from place to place to place... the physical weight is easier to bear than the emotional. That's what I did, for years, with a little chest of drawers that began life as the pedestal of my junior-high Ikea desk. Already packed to the point of unusability when I first left home at 19, it's been with me for fourteen years, a near-static time capsule. Brick-dense with junk, it annoyed the hell out of my dad move after move, every time we grunted it up onto a truck.

This time, though, I knew I needed to break the seal, to go back to the portable hallways of Elizabeth Seton Jr. High, the stairwells of Austin O'Brien, the barroom floors of those first blurry semesters of university. Most of the revelations lie outside the scope of this or any column, but somewhere in the middle of Drawer Three, between the substrate of old Dungeons & Dragons and Shadowrun character sheets and the sheaf of photos from a road trip to Jasper I keep losing from memory, I found a stack of old PC games. Strange to think they'd been with me all this time...

Like, Bloodwych? The only thing I remember clearly about this game is a feeling of boredom and frustration, which is weird 'cause crawling around dungeons and killing monsters was/is kind of my thing. Maybe it didn't grab me because I was 16 and too busy writing painfully earnest crush notes, drafts of which were tucked into the instruction manual. I totally don't remember the supposedly groundbreaking two-player action Bloodwych offered, which is as good a friend-o-meter as any.

And here's Starflight! I saved the hell out of my allowance to get this game in '87, the year after it was released, a year filled with reading and re-reading ads, reviews and hints in the pages of Family Computing; that beautiful moment in my mom's minivan, just pulling away from the old Softwarehouse, when I tore the shrinkwrap off and opened the EA flat-pak is probably the last golden memory I'll be reliving when the Alzheimer's takes me. The vast universe, the humor-laced mystery, the space battles, the nail-biting returns from surface-survey trips with nothing but fumes in the terrain vehicle's tank, the painstaking re-discovery of Earth and the ruins of Disneyland... wow; I'm going to have to fire up the emulator as soon as I get the 'net hooked up. "Borno, where's my money? --Xenon." Classic!

When our family first got a computer, there was a "no games" rule, a rule that lasted about three days until a couple of my parents' friends started handing us boxes of pirated discs. Still, it was way easier to get my folks to shell out for educational games, which is how I got Ticket to Paris, where you have to learn about the City of Lights and French culture in order to find your mysterious cousin. I'm still not really clear on what "profiteroles" are, but I do know that passing out from exhaustion is a good way to get cheap Parisian accomodations via the hospital.

There are many more: The Colonel's Bequest I remember coming with a notebook embossed "Tulane," and I didn't know what that was (I drew parody superheroes in it); the aptly named Impossible Misson; The (boring) Omnicron Conspiracy; Rad Warrior; King's Quest IV, which I bought but couldn't run... an arcade of ancient mystery, mostly B-grade games snagged from bargain bins, an oddball collection curated by the slow attrition of time, the surviving remnants of an adolescence spent staring into a flickering 256K, 16-color well... and... uh...

Yeah. I guess the point is, moving makes me moody. Readers, what 5.25" floppies are cluttering up your emotional space?

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