I like to believe I have a good memory.
I recall being pushed in a stroller, being amazed at the amount and variety of people at Toronto’s famous Ontario Place. I couldn’t tell you how old I was, but I’m sure my parents could. I remember the faded playgrounds, the “Lego-land” and “Nintendo-land” pavilions and my favourite childhood entertainer (that’s Mr. Dressup, folks) performing for a mass of children. My family would visit Ontario Place with me every summer and I have countless, not exclusively pleasant, memories from those times.
It’s very strange to think about. Burned into my brain is a water-pistol game that was lazily set-up around the playgrounds. Targets would pop up and kids would shoot them down with the stationed guns at the stand. I don’t recall there being any prizes—just a classic fair game that it seemed everyone had forgotten about. There may not have even been an attendant. Why do I remember this? Every minute (or two, or five for all I knew) the water would burst from the pistols and the targets would fly about, stuck in demonstration mode. This was surely meant to catch the eye of the crowds that swarmed passed it, and it became my obsession. I don’t know how my parents put up with me sitting by those guns, waiting for the demonstration to kick in. I’d launch my five-second water barrage, only to be left eagerly waiting for the next round. I remember almost every detail about this game.
Another memory that I simply can’t shake involved a ride with vehicles circling each other. Think the merry-go round, without class. These vehicles were all shapes and sizes—from tanks with mounted cannons to tiny cars with pathetic guns. Yes, it seems strange now that every car had mounted weaponry for the kids to play with, but back in the day that was the point—for me, at least. The first time I saw the ride, I wanted to sit atop the largest tank, with the largest guns, and howl with glee. I slumped in my stroller (again, I was very young, but only my parents could tell you the year) and starred at the cars as they rolled by. Kids laughed, they pointed their weapons and made exploding sounds, they pushed each other about and that huge tank towered above the all. When the ride finally stopped, my parents lifted me from the stroller, walked me to the attendant and helped me enter an empty vehicle. But no, I wouldn’t sit atop the tank—they were loading me the lamest, smallest, cheapest car in the circle. Its guns barely swiveled. Its design made no sense to me. I threw a temper tantrum. Years (and years and years) later my parents would swear to have a picture of me balling my eyes out, looking down on them with the strongest sense of contempt and sitting atop the shiny, golden tank. I’m not sure how I got up there.
Indulge me in one more therapeutic look back, will you? This time it’s from the Oshawa Center, my disputably beloved mall. With recent renovations nearly complete (apparently), one would never guess that the mall had a movie theatre attached. It sat above the rest of the center, sitting awkwardly on a Zellers (also gone) and only accessible through a maze of escalators. I have countless memories of this theatre (and even more of the mall, but I digress). The intense smell of popcorn, the sticky-sweet floors, the seizure-inducing arcade—ah yes, the arcade. My memories here are very select, because I didn’t often interact with the arcade and there’s a very specific reason why.
I was with my parents, waiting to see a movie. We had time to kill and my parents knew how much I enjoyed video games. We’d purchased a second-hand Nintendo Entertainment System from a garage sale, after all. I must have been about seven years old. We approached a seemingly brand new arcade machine—Darkstalkers! The creepy characters jumped about and attacked each other as I starred stupidly at the demo. My mother handed me a quarter and told me to show her how I play video games. I popped it in and carefully crawled through the character selection screen. I had played Street Fighter on my friends fancy Super Nintendo, but Darkstalkers was weird and wonderful and had me completely transfixed. I had taken too long and my character was selected for me. I was a zombie rock musician who wielded a deadly guitar. I wasn’t convinced this was the best choice.
My eyes turned down to the controls. Never before had I used a joystick. Never before had I seen six, huge buttons laid out for the various punches and kicks. One was labeled “JAB” and I had no idea what that meant. The fight began and I was facing an oversized mummy with an Egyptian headdress. My curiosity took over and I pounded the “JAB” button, hoping for a special fighting move to win the day. I couldn’t understand why my character was weakly punching thin air and not devastating my opponent. I was quickly defeated and the “Game Over” screen appeared. I’d lost, but more importantly I felt like I’d failed my mother. She had spent (what I considered) her hard earned money for my enjoyment—to see me relish in the fun of an arcade video game. Instead, I jabbed wildly and lost pathetically. Her money was gone forever and I’d wasted it away, without due appreciation for the opportunity I’d been given. She offered to pay for another round and I felt like crying. The next day, I would.
I’d like to delve into a few more memories (if only for selfish reasons) but perhaps I’ll save those for another article. Right now I want to talk about comics, okay?
My grandparents have a cottage about an hour and a half north of my home. Every summer (and usually many times each summer) my family would make the trip up and I’d visit with my relatives. I have more vivid memories of being at the cottage than perhaps any other place I’ve ever been (homes included). There’ve been fights with my cousins, long treks through forests, innumerable boat rides, strange people I’ve met, exciting things I’ve learned, unique things I’ve felt… it’s all a tad overwhelming. Looking at the old furniture I find I can recall dozens of experiences. The particular smells, the familiar sights, it’s a magical place, indeed. Not all of the memories are good, but I find myself at a loss when trying to recollect the traumas. I feel so many things, and so few of them are negative. In fact, I sometimes find that I can think of nothing but comic books.
My first job was delivering newspapers door to door every Sunday morning. I made very little money, obviously, and almost every penny I made went right to the comic books store. I gobbled up every Age of Apocalypse tie-in, every Phalanx Covenant crossover issue and any other X-book I could find. Come summer time, I’d round up as many issues as I could jam into my backpack and I’d take them to the cottage. My first impactful comic book experiences took place on the old sofa by the wood stove. While my siblings and cousins would run around the property arguing about who-knows-what, I’d be lying nearly motionless, fascinated by the books in my hands. I never purchased new issues from the shop, however, so I was always stuck in a world that had just passed by.
One year I’d forgotten my comics, so on a short trip to the gas station my parents grabbed the latest issue of X-Men for me. It was all I had to read at the cottage and I read it till it nearly fell apart. The next year—same thing, but this time I got a MAD Magazine. The joy of reading those issues was so strong that I find as soon as summer hits, I think about the X-Men and I get an itch to read piles of books at a time. It’s not just nostalgia—it’s a deep-seeded need.
This need isn’t exclusive to comic books either. The first video game I was ever obsessed with, Final Fantasy Tactics for the original Sony Playstation, is burned into my subconscious as well.
I would play that game for hours, with one ear to the television set and the other painstaking listening for my parents to finally kick me outside. In the game, characters battled across various terrains in variable weather, including some superficially magical battles with what was then considered impressive “rain” effects. I must have heard each song hundreds of times. The intense, somewhat impenetrable story got to me as well. When it rained outside, I’d try to play all day long. This doesn’t seem like a bad thing, but now I find whenever spring rolls around and the fog gets heavy, I find myself in the same state of mind as when I sat inside playing my game. When the grass is a rich green, when the rain hits lightly and the air smells crisp, fresh and invigorating, my thoughts go straight to Final Fantasy Tactics. Is this healthy?
I believe this is what I crave. Memories created before my indoctrination to games, comics and television seem to be genuine. I can still feel that water pistol between my fingers and feel the red hot rage of my public tantrum. My body trembles with thoughts of unappreciated gestures, frivolous purchases and utter failure (although those feelings are still, strangely, tied to a video game experience). With the light spring showers come endless memories, but an overpowering need to suit up in armour and take on hordes of monsters. When I’m lying on my back, swimming in a pool or lake, fixated on the rich blue skies and complex clouds above me, my mind goes to shiny foil comic covers and franchise-wide crossovers. It isn’t that I fail to recall the important times spent with family, but when snow falls and Christmas is in the air I can’t help but get the same excited feeling I’d get when grabbing my newly gained stash of graphic novels and retreating to my room to devour them. I feel overwhelmed by the amount I can recall, but more importantly, I’m slightly disturbed that so many of my innate, uncontrollable feelings turn to seemingly pointless (in the grand scheme of things) indulgences in media. A strong, cold, autumn breeze conjures the thoughts of every Halloween, Thanksgiving and dark-too-soon school day of my life, but my first thoughts are always of old cartoons and Simpson’s Treehouse of Horror specials.
Have I been infected by media? Has my over- indulgence of entertainment set me on a disturbing path, always chasing nostalgic feelings and perhaps shying away from the true, human experiences that are occurring all around me? Perhaps as I get older and further removed from playing that rainy-day video game, reading those wonderful 90s crossovers and watching those hilarious cartoons my mind will readjust. Perhaps real-life will catch up with me and my overarching sense of nostalgia will fade. Perhaps it will grow stronger. I mean, I can waste a quarter today without having a traumatic experience. Will I eventually overcome the good experiences as well?