The past is a bittersweet reality. The delicious flavor that comes from remembering the moments we lived through are inevitably followed by the bitter aftertaste that those moments are gone. For individuals like us, nostalgia is more than fond memories. It’s a way of preserving the past so that aftertaste goes down a lot smoother. Due to the nature of this article, I wasn’t quite sure I was going to write it this soon. This is without question the most personal article I will ever write for this website and that being the case I wanted it to be special. However, since I’m not quite ready to do Playin’ Games with Brent Part 2 and some other ideas I’ve been sitting on are best kept until later, now seems to be the time. This is the story of my three best friends and I. It recollects what I consider to be the golden age of my teenage years but also represents four people who though excited about the future, knew and appreciated the value of “back in the day.” Looking back, the time we had seems like it was locked in its own time capsule. Along with myself, their names were Danny, Jason, and Greg. This article is for them.
"Time it was, and what a time it was, it was
a time of innocence, a time of confidences..." Simon and Garfunkel
Looking back, I had something of a lonely childhood. I had kids to play with and such, but there was nobody I ever had that connection with. Like most of you, I liked to play video games as kid, heck I like to play video games as an adult, but I was somewhat alone in my enthusiasm for them. I realize that at the time of NES, revolution was sweeping the nation. Unbeknownst to me, millions of children were taken with this new pastime, but in my hometown of Hesperia, CA, I didn’t feel it. My affection for gaming was akin to liking the taste of pizza or Coca-cola; something that just couldn’t be helped. Nobody I knew really got it and in time, it was almost something like a running joke. “Brian’s the kid who likes play video games. Weird.” It’s not like I didn’t have other interests though. I made forts in the backyard, played with Nerf guns, watched cartoons and such. But if I had to be completely honest, most of the time I felt like this guy….
In junior high, all this would change. In the 8th grade I met Jason and within what felt like weeks, Danny, Greg, Jason and I became friends. I met Jason in my science class and we began talking because I asked him about Shadows of the Empire for the N64. I don’t know what the question was, probably something about challenge points, but it was the first time I made a friend based on my favorite hobby. Jason TA’s in home ec class and Danny sat next to me. Danny I became friends talking about Final Fantasy 7. We were both excite to play it and would have frequent discussions that revolved around an issue of GameFan I had that covered the game. Greg was a close friend of Jason and soon became a friend of mine as a result. While I treasured the time with all of them, I would become closest to Danny and vice-versa. Soon we bonded over the games and toys we played with. Danny told me he hated playing Ninja Turtles with other kids because they didn’t do anything special with them. Danny would make his do flips and things and really put his imagination into it. I told him about the Christmas where I got a Snake Eyes G.I. Joe with a spring-loaded grappling hook for a backpack and the kitchen cabinets became a mountain range. I had a unique relationship with each one of them though. After Danny, I was closest with Jason and he was the first one to come to house. But before I get into a typical Friday night for, here are some stories from junior high, where it all began.
We attended Ranchero Middle School in Hesperia, CA. During this time, the world was exposed to the James Cameron induced plague that was called Titanic. How this man went from Terminator and Aliens to Titanic still escapes my comprehension but as you all remember, every woman in the world was obsessed. Every girl in my school became obsessed with Leonardo DeCaprio and just about every guy in the school was sick to death of the whole thing. Our language arts teacher had a model of the ship in his classroom and started to reading “A Night to Remember” to us. While reading, he would point out events from the book and reference them to where they occurred on his model. One afternoon, Danny couldn’t hold himself any longer and asked very loudly “Which compartment did they do it in?” Our teacher just ignored it, but the class collectively shot him a look that made me feel bad for the guy. If looks could kill, he would have died about 30 times over. Jason and I thought it was funny though. Oddly enough, not too long before that day Danny said very loudly in a pompous accent “So I told Bob Dole, that was my foot!” and the class erupted with laughter. Junior highers are weird.
That same year, Jason and I both got Playstations for Christmas. I got Crash Bandicoot, Wipeout XL, Soviet Strike, Road Rash and Need For Speed with mine, while he got Command and Conquer: Red Alert. I’d heard of Command and Conquer before but never played it. Jason was huge C & C fan though couldn’t wait to get me into it.Jason played almost every iteration of this series, but this one would remain his favorite.
Back then, my only previous exposure to Real Time Strategy was playing the first level of Warcraft 2 on a pc at Sears. Jason had this thing that he would continue to do all through high school and that was write me a letter describing in detail the units and how the game worked and give it to me between classes. We would do this just about every time somebody got a new game. I read and reread that letter, and couldn’t wait to try it myself. Jason was really excited to lend it to me and when he did, I let him borrow Wipeout XL. Over the years, he would purchase the original Command and Conquer and Red Alert: Retaliation. Before the days of Wi-Fi, we gamers had to jump through a few hoops to play some multiplayer. Jason bought a link cable and this was how we played C &C together. When we got together at my house, Jason would attach it to my console in my bedroom and then to his console in the living room. The cable just barely stretched that far and when the action picked up the lag was terrible. But we loved it. As much I grew to like RTS games, I was never very good at them so usually ended being Danny and Jason having epic skirmish games. On the subject of old school multiplayer, Greg, Danny and I had computers. I don’t remember Greg’s, but Danny and I’s computer weren’t up to date, so we played a lot of older games. A popular thing we used to play was Duke Nukem 3d via dial-up modem. It was always one on one but it was fun. Another game we played was Shadow Warrior, but I don’t remember if we ever got around to playing vs.
8th grade also introduced me to what it still my favorite Doritos flavor: Salsa Verde. I also tried Surge once and only once. I remember it tasting good. Jason and I would swap demo discs and I let him borrow my Tomagotchi once. He had it for a one class and when it pooped, he didn’t clean it up and he thought it was dead. That was the end of that. I’d bring my Gameboy Pocket to school sometimes and we’d play it when we had free time and teachers weren’t looking. Danny was the first one of us to get Goldeneye for the N64, and we would constantly pester him to let us borrow it. It was a good year, but it really just served as an introduction for the good times high school would bring. Ultimately, junior year would be the most fun I would have during that period.
We all went to Sultana High School through 1998-2002. This is interesting because this is the time when many of things we love to talk about on this website were dying. But as I’ve said before the four of us seemed locked in a time capsule where one foot as planted in the future and the other in the past. I spent a lot of time at Danny’s house and he introduced me to a lot of old pc games I never would have played otherwise. Games like X-Wing, X-Wing vs. Tie Fighter, and Lucasarts point and click adventure games like Curse of Monkey Island, Fate of Atlantis, Full Throttle, Sam and Max Hit the Road, and Day of the Tentacle.
I also played some NES and Super Nes games I hadn’t before. It was at his house that I first played Contra 3 and Super Dodgeball. Thanks to Danny, this is one of my favorite NES games.
Actually, now that I’m sitting here thinking about it, Danny and I played a lot of old pc shooters as well. There were some overhead shooters like Raptor and Tyrian, but mostly DOS-based FPS. Games like Rise of the Triad, Heretic, Blood, and the Lucasarts western themed Outlaws.Heretic. Turn off the lights, plug in some headphones, and this game will scare the crap out of you.Outlaws. A cool art-style and some of the best music ever heard in an FPS.
I also remember a period where for whatever reason we started to play the crap out of Wolfenstein 3d.
During High School, Jason got really into Black Sabbath. I think he was always a fan of Ozzy, though. But during those years he really started buying Black Sabbath albums every time he had the cash until he had the whole collection. When Ozzy’s album Down to Earth came out, he was really jazzed about it. I owe a lot of my musical tastes to Jason, actually. I was never what you would call a music person. I only listened to Christian music when I was kid, and I never listened to the radio. Just wasn’t my thing. Jason introduced me to metal. He gave me a copy of Ride the Lightening once and that’s how it all started. He explained to me about Dave Mustaine and Megadeth. He used to wear a Megadeth T-shirt a lot. It was black and had a bunch of chains on it. In the end, my high school music memories consisted mostly of Metallica, Weird Al, and The Offspring. Not quite sure how it came to that. Nowadays I prefer instrumental music such as film scores and classic rock like Boston and Bob Seger. But I give Jason a lot of credit for my musical tastes back then.
High School was also where Jason started accumulating RPG’s. He didn’t buy games very often, so I guess he just wanted them to last. It was a good time for it though. Following the 16-bit era, The PS1 played host to a second golden age of great RPG’s. He bought games like Star Ocean, Legend of Legaia, Final Fantasy 7, 8, and Shadow Madness. He devoted quite a bit of time to them too. He was really psyched about Star Ocean. He named the characters after himself and the three of us. (I was the guy who accidently fused himself with a dragon and had two dragon heads coming out of his shoulders.) If my memory serves, Jason managed to do everything in the game. This astonished me because it was pretty massive from what I remember. And he was really, REALLY excited when bought RPG Maker. Jason and I were also the first of the group to play Smash Bros. I had a subscription to Nintendo Power and when I brought the issue that first talked about the game to school, we could barely wait. Jason was spending the night at my house when we rented it for the first time. We loved it. He would get good with Ness ultimately and eventually I favored Kirby. However once Melee and Brawl were released, I couldn’t use Kirby to save my life. Something about him in the first one was different. He was the first of us to really play Metal Gear Solid and Medal of Honor, the latter of which would be quoted endlessly by the for of us. My mom used to let Jason spend the night on Wednesday nights so he could go to church with us. Our church’s youth group had a game room that had a PS1 and Super NES in it. One night we brought Twisted Metal 2 with us and even though we only got to play it for about 15 minutes or so, we made quite a few people jealous.Yes, we played this at church. Yes, it was awesome.
Another Wednesday night, we made the dumb decision to stay up all night after staying awake for hours trying to catch that one uber-elusive fish in Ocarina of Time. It was that golden one that you have to throw back once you catch it. We did end up catching it and we actually felt ok up until our first class the next day. I had video production and every second was a battle to keep my eyes open. It would stay like this until I got home from school when I promptly threw myself on my bed and passed out.
I was probably the least closest to Greg. Don’t get me wrong, he was one of my best friends, but between three of us he and I had the least in common. He was, however, the only person beside myself who had Hogan’s Alley for his NES. I thought that was cool. When I went to his house, we would shoot hoops in his backyard and watch old SNL celebrity Jeopardy videos on his computer. I think he was the only one of us who was into sports at all. He liked basketball and was a Laker’s fan. During our senior year he really got into System of a Down, Something he would pass on to Jason. After I got into Tony Hawk 2, Greg got it for his pc. He also got Tony Hawk 3 when it came out for his gamecube. I’ve got nothing against Gamecube at all, but that controller is just not suited for a Tony Hawk game. Even though we all had it for the pc, Greg bought the n64 version of Starcraft. We would play it coop, but the lag when there were a lot of units onscreen was terrible. It was at Greg’s house that I saw Goldeneye for the first time. I loved the game like everybody else did, but I really didn’t take to the movie right away. All four of us took French in high school and we did get a kick watching it with a French language track and trying to keep up with the dialogue. (We failed quite miserably)
All throughout High School, we hung out and had classes together. What made our junior year so great was that it was that we had the most classes together, had the easiest classes of our for year in High School, and we got away with playing a lot of games at school. Jason and I used to play Tetris via Gameboy link cable after finishing our work in Intro to Business. We get into personal competitions to beat each others score. He would usually win. During some type of fair at school, lunch was an hour long so we installed StarCraft in the computer lab and played it. At the end of year, Jason brought his Dreamcast with him and we found a teacher who let us hook it up so we played Marvel Vs. Capcom during lunch.Yes, we played this in school. Yes, it was awesome.
I installed Doom on a computer in one of my classes and played it whenever my teacher wasn't looking. Danny had the class after me so I informed him which computer it was on. Around this time, somebody at my Dad's work gave him an old Ping-Pong table. This became a favorite past time whenever the four of us got together at my house. At first, we were so bad at it that our goal was just to get it across the net so it didn't matter where the ball bounced. If you could hit it, then you did. This led to chaos as the ball was launched all over the garage but it was a blast. Eventually we got pretty good at it and started playing by the rules though. The only problem was that we played in the garage and it got real hot real fast. So we'd play with the garage door open. One night when we were finished, I was shutting down the garage door when Danny yelled "Indiana Jones!" and did a quick and flawless roll underneath the door as it was closing. Unfortunately, he activated the sensors and cause the door to go up again which pretty much ruined the whole effect. A similar thing happened at his house when Danny tried to dragon punch a tennis ball. He didn't get much air, but his form was pretty good. He did the spin but the ball missed his knuckle and bounced of his wrist. This threw everything off and he ended falling over. I laughed, but I felt bad for the guy.
It was Danny's house where the four of us got together most often. It was the scene of countless Friday all-nighters, lots of tea, chips, soda, and lots of gaming. We watched movies too, but gaming was center stage. Danny had like 5 TV's in his house so Jason put his link cable to good use. But it also meant we would play different games at the same time. 4-player always took precedence whenever it was available though. So what did game nights consist of? The video games would change over the years, but it consisted of both old and new. Smash Bros. Smash Bros Melee. Twisted Metal 2. Twisted Metal Black. Resident Evil 1 and 2. Goldeneye. Perfect Dark. Warlords.(Atari) Gauntlet Legends. Contra 3. Metal Gear Solid. Duke Nukem 64. Duke Nukem Zero Hour. Street Fighter 2. Mortal Kombat. Even if we didn't all play, we all watched.
We weren't limited to video games though. After a while, it became routine for us to have a game of monopoly whenever the 4 of us got together. Not just any monopoly though. Whenever we played, it was the Star Wars edition. Danny had the classic trilogy edition.
I had (and still have) the regular collectors edition.
There wasn't a whole lot of difference between the two. The boards had different pictures. The pieces were the same, but Danny's version had them in cooler poses. And where his hotels/houses were red and blue, mine were grey and black. That was about it. Every time we played, the flow of the game somehow kept repeating this pattern; Danny would be winning, Greg would be losing. Jason and I would be doing ok, but we'd end giving him extremely generous trades so he could stay in the game and ultimately take Danny down. Rarely did this ever not happen. In the end, these were the nights that have become special to me over the years. There's nothing quite like when his parents went to bed and the four of us had the house for the night. It was perfect time to be teenager, all the benefits and none of the responsibilities. Good times indeed. Junior year also deserves a very special mention because that was when I met a certain pretty red-headed lass who would one day become my wife. I didn't know that then of course, but I'd certainly say it turned out very well. ;)
"This is ancient test, it's a shiny lie
Discover something pure, then sit and watch it die..." Bob Seger
These were great times, and for a while it seemed like there was no end to it. Unfortunately, senior would be the end of our time as we knew it. Danny started going to a different school and though we still had some one on one time, the four of us getting together didn't happen anywhere near as often. I guess it was a combination of things. Danny was my best friend out of the three of them, so while we all felt his loss, I hit me harder. Added to that, we were dong some growing up of our own. Jason found himself a girlfriend so he spent his free time with her. I begin to spend more time with my new red-headed lady friend. My last class was algebra 2 with Greg, but I ended up trading it for early dismissal. Time went on, and then eventually we graduated. Jason didn't show up for it. I hung out with Greg for a little bit, but I spent the majority of the evening with Rachel(the red-head.)I'm not complaining that we all started going our separate ways at this point. I just wish it had all ended a little more...smoothly, that's all. I do remember the last time the four of us got together though. It was at Danny's new house. Jason bought us a 48 pack of pepsi. Greg had his driver's license. There were 3 bags of Doritos. It was fun, but it was kinda sad too. Danny had an x-box and Halo, but he only had one controller. I don't know even remember what games we did play. Jason brought a taped copy of Not Another Teen Movie and we watched it. We laughed. It was a good night, but it didn't have the same vibe the other ones did.The last movie the 4 of us watched together. Looking back, it somehow seems appropriate.
I went to Danny's house one more time by myself after that. And that was it. He moved to Arizona. I went for a 4 year stretch in the Air Force and was stationed in Florida. Jason and Greg stayed in Hesperia. Rachel and I got married.
During my last year or so in the air force, something very cool happened. Jason called me out of the blue. I guess he talked to my folks about my whereabouts and got ahold of me. He was married now too, had just welcomed a son, and Greg was living with him. He was working nights at a local grocery store. We caught up and stayed in touch via MySpace. (Remember that?) And not long after that, Danny called me too. He said he was doing well. Then we started playing games again. Mostly World of Warcraft and Warcraft 3. I enjoyed our time playing Warcraft 3 so much in fact that I after I bought the frozen throne expansion, I bought him a copy and mailed it to him so we could keep playing it. One time the four of us attempted to play StarCraft together, but it didn't work. Frustrating, but it didn't matter because it felt good just to talk to them again.Looking back, this season of our lives didn't last long, but it was special while it did.
After my time in the air force, I moved back to California. I was a mechanic in the air force and since I have zero interest in that field, Jason helped me get a job at the market where he worked. It was great to see him and Greg again. My wife and I got to meet his wife and son, and he and Greg met my daughter. He and I got together when we could. We kept talking to Danny on the phone. There was talk of him and his girlfriend maybe coming out from Arizona to visit us. We didn't know how or when, but the thought of the four of us hanging out again was exciting and we were all looking forward to it. But then something happened that caused those thoughts to come crashing violently down...
It was one of those days to, quote Thomas Harris, you would think would shudder to begin. It was my day off and I got a phone call from a coworker telling me that something terrible had happened and I needed to call Jason's family. She was crying as she told me. I thanked her, called Jason. A woman I didn't know picked and I asked for Jason. She asked who was calling. I told her, then she uttered a sentence I will never forget for the rest of my life; "Jason has taken his life."
Out of respect for my friend and his family, I won't go into the details of it. I don't know how many of you have been through a suicide before, I pray none of you have, but it consists of a lot of unanswered questions, nobody knowing what to say, and the nightmare of telling your family about it. I lost it when I called my wife at work to tell her. When I told my parents, my mom got quiet and just said "Our Jason?" I asked Greg if anybody had told Danny yet. I called him later that night, but he already knew by then. After that, we said should definitely made a point to say in touch now. But ironically, I was the first to move away. My family and I moved to Colorado Springs and that was the last I've seen or heard from Danny and Greg. Maybe it's my fault we didn't stay in touch. Maybe it's not. Maybe they felt the same thing I did, that something had happened that could never be replaced or repaired and try as we might to keep it together, the glue just wasn't there anymore. I don't know. I honestly don't know.
"Time, you ain't no friend of mine
...I think I'm going out of my mind
thinkin' about time..."Hootie and the Blowfish
I think I'm correct when I'm assuming that most of us here find ways of recapturing the past. Maybe it takes the form of reading/writing articles for websites such as this. Maybe it's watching a tv show you grew up with. Personally, my wife and I own the entire series of Full House, Boy Meets World, and Saved by the Bell, along with some seasons of Ducktales, Rosanne, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, and Family Matters. My daughter loves these shows and I'm thankful for this, along with the fact that my wife shares my passion for the nostalgia for the 80's and 90's. Very thankful, indeed. I've been blessed. But one of the times Retrojunk reminds me of so often is the time I spent with Danny, Jason, and Greg. I've only mentioned a fraction of what we used to do back then. I could give you near countless stories of the movies we went to go see, our talks about things like Star Wars, and all the really bad Resident Evil fiction we would write between classes. I know many people don't keep the friends they had in school but there's certain things I really miss doing with them. Every time I fire up my ps3, it just feels...wrong, I guess is the right word. It feels wrong that the four of us never got together to do things like complete the easter eggs in Call of Duty's zombie maps or teamed up to do terrorist hunts in Rainbow Six Vegas 2. And I swear that the very first time I played Playstation All Stars Battle Royale, my first instinct was to write Jason a note about how it differed from Smash Bros and give it to him after class. Certain things you just get used to, I suppose.
It's funny, but whenever I get to thinking about the four of us hanging out again, we're never any older. We're still teenagers, hanging out at Danny's house on a Friday night. Time has passed though, because we're playing Firefights and Horde Modes, Zombies and Terrorist Hunts. And instead of monopoly, we're playing board games I discovered years later like Arkham Horror, Settlers of Catan, and Mice and Mystics. I see it so clearly sometimes that I'd swear it all happened. I think there's a special place in mind where we all still exist that way, forever locked in our own sort of time capsule. And just in case there's the off chance that Danny and Greg are out there reading this, I just want you both to know how much it's meant for you to have been a part of my life and to have been allowed to be a part of yours. And for those of you who have read this lengthy article to it's conclusion, I hope the time you spent with your friends meant as much to you. Stay retro folks. Thanks for reading.