The Question - Let’s Reminisce
It was March of 2018, my Dad and Mom came over for a visit and we were sitting around talking as we always do, usually over coffee and a ton of desserts that could feed a small army. For crying out loud, we’re 7 people – do we need pie, ice cream, cookies and a tiramisu?!?! <sigh> Eventually, my Mom went off on another discussion with my wife – and my kids decided to take advantage of the situation and took off to do their own thing. Dad and I started talking yesteryear and the subject of old video games came up. He knew I was involved in this retrogaming-scene and wanted to know what ever happened to our old Atari 2600? Something he bought for us years ago as a Christmas gift. We started to reminisce.
I still have memories of Dad and I actually opening the Atari 2600 box and playing it BEFORE Christmas! Dad wanted to “test it”. I recall my Dad getting it from our neighbor, Jimmy, whom used to sell stuff out of his garage – no, no it’s not what you think, it was a legal business. Dad set it up on the coffee table in front of the old wood panel, Sylvania TV. Attaching the “devil’s pitch forks” to the back of it. The family room was dark and all that lit the room was the bright glow of the Combat game screen. I was the big pink plane, he was the 3 small green ones. I was playing my first video game console. Man! I had to be about 5 at the time.
The memory fast forwards to my Mom playing Space Invaders and her almost having a heart attack as those little guys moved across the screen faster and faster with each shot. Her voice getting louder until that little bastard made it to the bottom. Shit!
There’s a memory stuck in my head where my brother is playing Asteroids, thinking he was Han Solo navigating the asteroid field — we recently saw The Empire Strikes Back. We’d play PacMan, Defender, Adventure, Mazecraze, Combat, Adventures of Tron, Megamania, Frogs and Flies, Laserblast and Raiders of the Lost Ark. I recall my Dad taking pictures of the scores on the TV from Activision games and then sending them in to get patches. I don’t know where those patches are today, but I still have the Atari windbreaker he was going to put them on.
My parents would always surprise my brother and I with an occasional video game. One Saturday night before they “went out dancing” – yes this was a thing – as soon as the babysitter arrived – they surprised us with Donkey Kong. I think we stayed up until 2Am playing it. (Yes those same two levels over and over.) Another time we were in the Massapequa Mall on Long Island – and while we were walking we saw a man in a safari outfit, standing outside of Sam Goody – with a green box in his hand, Pitfall – it was Pitfall Harry! “Oh Mom, Dad please can we get that? No? Why? Oh come on, please!” <whining and carrying on like a spoiled brat>. Dragging our feet, heads down – my brother and I would not be playing Pitfall that night. That same night, which happened to be Saturday, was the night they “went out dancing” with Uncle Nick and Aunt Claire. Dad and I sat watching Star Trek on WPIX channel 11 NY – something to do as he waited for Mom to finish getting ready. The smell of Paco Rabanne was heavy in the air. Star Trek had ended and Aunt Claire and Uncle Nick were walking their way up the walk. My father calls for my brother to meet us in the family room. Joey walks in with my Mom following and she is holding something behind her back. You guessed it, it was Pitfall. They had purchased it earlier on another occasion and meant to give it to us later that night. Boy I felt bad for about 2 seconds for acting the way I did in the mall, but that faded fast and this rush of sheer joy went over my face. Joey and I played that all night, it was a crazy feeling.
Our neighbor, Jimmy, the guy with the garage business, would always have Atari games for sale and my “Aunt Pat and Uncle Jim”, our friends “Loretta and Dick” and my Mom and Dad were his biggest customers. We all lived near each other and the families hung out together, but to me nothing was more exciting than seeing what other Atari games they all had. I would shuffle through their games like they were decks of cards. “Awww man – Circus Atari, cool – Dragster, no way Starmaster – mint, Haunted House?– Yes, “mint” was a word too. “Aunt Pat and Uncle Jim” and “Loretta and Dick” always seemed to have better games and more of them too. They had the fancy keypads, the single paddle racing controllers, tons of Joysticks and bigger TVs. However, there was never any jealousy, we were just one big family that would share the games with each other. The more Atari games the better.
End of an Era with a New Beginning
As I got older, eventually the Atari 2600 took a back seat and finally went into storage somewhere in our musty, creepy basement. I found a new fondness for computers such as the Atari 800, the Commodore VIC- 20, and the Commodore 64. I would not see another game console again until the late 80s when I discovered the Sega Master System while living in a Nintendo world, but that is another story.
“So, whatever happened to that Atari?” – he asks. I struggled for an answer. “Dad, I have no clue, I think you threw it out when we had the flood in the basement. I remember the Atari box was all destroyed and falling apart. Funny thing is, I have most if not all of the original games so somehow those made it.” Dad replied, “That’s right I threw almost everything out, the water destroyed everything.” I gave him a sneer, “You know you could have probably saved it, those things are practically bullet proof. There is not much to them – I have an original 4 switch upstairs, in working condition! Let me go get one, I’ll show you, maybe we can play something like old times?”