I sit gazing into my rapidly cooling coffee. It’s two in the afternoon on a sunny day in a sleepy New York bistro. Nintendo, sitting across from me laughs uproariously into his cell phone and says his goodbyes to the caller, closing it and setting it beside his untouched cup.
“That was Time magazine,” he says. “They want to do an interview with me this week.”
“I know,” I say. “You just agreed to meet them Friday after lunch.” Nintendo nods and takes out his Blackberry, tapping at the tiny keys and smiling.
“Mmm,” he says.
“That was the day we were going jet skiing on Drake Lake,” I say pointedly. Nintendo stops tapping and looks at me as if waking from a dream.
“Can we make that Saturday?” he asks and starts to check his Blackberry. “Next Thursday…sorry, the Tuesday after that?” I look at Nintendo as he starts to pencil me in and my shoulders slump.
It was never like this before. We met in 1985 when we were both very young. It was one of those friendships that you find yourself holding up as the yardstick to every relationship. He was fun back then, and honest. We’d play at exploring castles, rescuing princesses, battling fire-breathing monsters and all the other things kids find to do. We grew up together and our friendship only became stronger. We played better, smarter games, went Kart racing and got into RPGs exploring vast imaginary worlds. He learned new skills and I learned from him.
Then came high school and college and we still kept in touch, even though we saw each other less. I hooked up with an ex-girlfriend of his, who was a little more mature then either of us, causing an undeniable rift – yet still every time we met it was like we were kids again, but with encounters tempered by our newfound view of the world. The imaginary lands never seemed more vivid and real.
Of course people change. They grow up and move on to greener pastures with the inevitability of little Jackie Paper. The last time I saw Nintendo he wasn’t doing too well. The imagination was there in his work, but he was having an awful time of getting people to really pay attention to it. I was frankly worried about him, but the distance between us was growing vast and noticeable. We kept in touch; we both got jobs and moved in different directions. The way it always goes.
Next thing I know, it’s New Year’s 2006 and he’s calling me up, blind drunk and very happy. His business ventures in Japan, America and Europe are all paying off so well, he can barely get the stock in to meet demand. I’m so incredibly happy for my old friend and tell him so, but for the first time it doesn’t seem like he’s listening to me. Then he calls me the wrong name. I mention it, and he mumbles something and hangs up.
It’s July 15th 2008. Today. I haven’t seen Nintendo for four years and he’s sitting across from me in the bistro, with the world at his feet.
“I saw your work with the space project,” I offer, “Great stuff.” He looks up at me from his iPhone.
“Thanks,” he beams. “What did you think of the sports programs?”
“Also good,” I say diplomatically. I don’t want to bring any personal feelings of indifference into the conversation. I’m trying to be as positive as I can be, but it’s hard when he’s received seven calls since we’ve been sat here. I feel like the proverbial third wheel.
“And what about that music project? That looks like great fun doesn’t it?”
Not wanting to be painfully honest, I change the subject. “Are you planning any more projects based on your old creations?” I ask hopefully. Nintendo’s brow creases.
“That’s a lot of effort for not much return,” he says absently, ordering us both another coffee. “The last one took three years to make and made substantially less profit than a cheap little Carnival I set up in two days.
“But it was such a great piece of work,” I press on. “Surely that’s what counts in the end; building something of substance, something of merit. Something that will last and future generations can appreciate.” He looks stumped and chews thoughtfully on a biscotti. Then Time magazine calls and I’m alone again for fifteen minutes.
“So I’ll put you down for jet skiing on Duck Lake on Tuesday the twenty-ninth, OK?” Nintendo repeats.
“Drake Lake,” I say quietly and nod.
“Swell,” he says, rising from the table, throwing down a handful of bills. “Listen, I have to run, I’ve got to be on the Tonight Show, and they start recording in three hours.”
“I’ll see you later,” I say, locking eyes with him. He smiles, but his eyes are on his Blackberry again.
And you know what? In a few years time, when the standard of his work is at an all time low, his new friends have all deserted him and he’s no longer the man of the hour, he may come to me, deflated and contemplative, with plans and ideas that more closely resemble the heights he reached as an imaginative child with a world of potential. On that day, when I could crow and sneer at his downfall, I will instead sit back and look at his new ideas and encourage him in doing what he always did best; creating worlds that were bright and fun and innovative, and of undeniable substance and quality.
I tell myself this as I watch him go. Who knows what will happen to him, but if my battered heart knows anything it’s that he’ll always land on his feet, and I’ll always be there for him.