A Personal History Of the NES

Next month, Nintendo will ship a miniature retro console called the NES Classic Edition, a release that will take generations of gamers down memory lane. Perhaps not surprisingly, this throwback device has also triggered some memories of my own from the late 1980s.

In 1985, I graduated from Dedham High School, and unlike many of my fellow students, my future was clear: I was heading to art school. As a kid, I was the most decorated artist to come out of Dedham. I had won some prestigious awards, had sold paintings and drawings to individuals, and was given the opportunity to choose between "Most Artistic" and "Most Creative" at graduation, the idea being it wasn't fair for one person to get both, though I had in fact received the most votes for both. You get the idea: Art was my future.

Except of course that it wasn't. I attended the Art Institute of Boston for the 1985-1986 school year, but I ended up basically flunking out on purpose after I quickly realized that a Fine Arts degree didn't have much of a future. This left a bit of a hole, of course. And after an abortive attempt to switch over to the University of Massachusetts in Boston, I ended up taking a year off. (And later attended the University of New Mexico in late 1987.)

So. What did I do during that year off? I worked at Toys R Us. Of course.

Before heading off to the Art Institute of Boston, I had spent the previous year or so working part-time for The Daily Transcript, a local newspaper that was at the time headquartered in Dedham, where they had a printing press. But my school schedule that fall made continuing at the paper difficult to impossible. And after driving by a giant "NOW HIRING" sign at the Dedham Toys R Us on my way into Boston each day, I semi-randomly veered off into the parking lot, went inside, and applied for a job. They needed help on nights and weekends, go figure, and that's when I had free time (go figure). Done.

I can't recall exactly what I did the first week or so there, but when calls went out over the intercom for help in the computer aisle---at the time dominated by the Commodore 64 and 128, and the Atari 8-bit PCs of the day---I would head over to answer questions. No surprise, I knew my stuff. Would I like to run this section of the store for the night shift? Of course I would.

And so it went for the school year. I had a great time working with what passed for personal technology in that day, and helping customers find what they needed. But when summer 1986 arrived, and my future was unclear, I just moved to full time and lost the orange striped smock.

I recall a number of events from my time at Toys R Us. For example, we very briefly received Atari ST equipment---the 520 ST computers themselves, plus the disk drives and displays, each with their cool, angular styling. And then had to send them back, just days later, with no explanation. I remember turning a new type of displays into interactive displays where each PC was run...

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