A Toys R’ Us Tale

I actually learned a lot from that place.

Way back when I was like 7, I wanted a NES. In the late 80s, Nintendo was all that mattered. You either had one, or you spent a ton of time at a friend’s house who did.

I was a nerd for gaming. A few friends and I actually had a club where we’d pool our allowance cash and save up for games, then share them with each other. Turns out I came up with the idea for GameFly, but that’s another lawsuit for another day.

My parents, rest their souls, used my desire for a NES as an opportunity to teach me about hard work and the value of a dollar. Or they were cheap. I dunno.

Rather than just buy me a Nintendo, they made me earn it. I sold newspaper subscriptions (remember, this was before the Interwebz, and now we don’t print the Internet), and did chores for my parents, and chores for neighbors, and saved my allowance, and asked for cash for my birthday. Whatever it took, I was getting that $110.

My first love.

It didn’t take long, mostly because I had a birthday coming up and was diligent about saving and had a neighborhood full of supportive adults who invented stupid jobs for me, but the day finally came. A NES, that shit-ass gun, Super Mario and Duck Hunt, and a box that seemed about as tall as me (so. much. styrofoam.). I was super proud. Proud I had that damn NES, not that I earned it. I actually didn’t care about that. I wanted to play Mario, like, ASAP.

At the time, you either got stuff from Toys R Us, or you probably got ripped off. Toys R Us had my NES package for $110, but Gemco (big shoutout to old school big-box stores; I also got lost at Gemco once while looking for toys and got separated from Mom) or Target was charging like $125. First lesson: shop around.

Toys R Us also forged something in me about ownership. I could have secured my NES through KMart layaway (via my Mom, of course, which some other kids were doing), but I didn’t like the idea. Driving past a Toys R Us hurt my soul as I was saving for my NES, but it also drove me. Instead of satiating my anxiety for gaming, I waited until I had the cash and just bought a NES outright. At the time, the NES was selling out fast, and there were no tricks; you called a store, and if they had one you went down to buy it. Second lesson: unless you own it, it owns you.

The third and final lesson Toys R Us taught me was I had to have goals. I had to want it, whatever ‘it’ was. If I didn’t want ‘it,’ then ‘it’ wasn’t worth worrying about. This manifested itself as a NES in the 80s, but also elsewhere in life.

Most importantly, these lessons just sort of became part of my character. Thanks to my parents (who were probably also sort of trolling me by making me work hard, or at least I hope they were having fun with it all) I was able to own one the right way. Hard work, dedication, blah blah blah — but it’s true. And Toys R Us was a central part of that. It became the best place to get a Nintendo, and while getting my hands on a NES was the end goal, Toys R Us facilitated it. At one point, my obsession became ‘get $110 and get down to Toys R Us.’

Now, kids just log onto Amazon and find what they want and bug Mom and Dad for it and maybe try to become YouTube stars to earn money. I have no idea if it’s good, bad, worse or better, but it’s different. And I’m glad I was around when Toys R Us was a physical beacon for getting what you wanted so badly.

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