Once upon a time I was a fourteen-year-old, and an adorable one at that, all innocent and cherub-like. When I was said fourteen-year-old I went on a school ski trip to Boston, Massachusetts. On this ski trip a lot of embarrassing things happened to me, or more accurately, I did a lot of embarrassing things. One of these embarrassing things was pretending to smoke a cigarette in front of my peers. I’m still not sure how I got away with such an obvious ruse… maybe they couldn’t believe an adorable cherub full of innocence could commit such a deception. Another embarrassing thing I did was urinating on the top of a ski peak in front of a horrified German family including a pre-teen daughter who was surely scarred for life subsequently. This week’s column is going to be about the embarrassing thing that occurred when I tried to purchase a Nintendo Virtual Boy, something which is pretty embarrassing in itself.
Most of the trip was spent falling on my ass and being caught-up in huge ever-expanding snowballs, but one day we were taken to a local shopping centre, or ‘mall’ as you Fancy Dans call it. Most of my friends were held by the lure of the candy shops, full of artery-annihilating candies and sodas that hadn’t and have yet to reach the homeland. Being dangerously addicted to carving seconds out of time trials on Super Mario Kart at the time, I decided to investigate the video game store.
What greeted my young, naive eyes in the shop window was quite unexpected — boxes upon boxes containing something called the Virtual Boy. You have to appreciate that this was before the days of mainstream Internet and no news of such a thing had reached the UK’s shores. What I did know was that this Virtual Boy was made by Nintendo, and I sure loved me some Nintendo. What I also knew was that it had come down in price from a staggering $175 to a paltry $25! A new Nintendo console that I could afford? This seemed to good to be a true (which it kind of was).
The shop-owner, clearly sensing the presence of a chump from a foreign land, revealed that the clearance was a one-off and the Virtual Boys were going to fly off the shelves at this preposterous price. He of course neglected to mention the ill-fated handheld’s cancellation. I was sold and then some, but in a weird twist of fate I realised I didn’t have the physical cash one me, having somehow neglected to bring it with me on a bloody shopping trip. The shopkeep politely informed me that his shop stayed open until late, but it was no use, as we had to return to our cabin within minutes and I was certain we wouldn’t stop by the mall again before flying back home. I slumped my shoulders and left the store in resignation.
On the coach journey back to the cabin I told a friend about what had happened. He thought a moment before informing me that I absolutely had to get my hands on a Virtual Boy. In his words: "So it’s like a Game Boy, but 3D? Mate, that is truly wicked." He was right — I had to have this new, futuristic Nintendo console, and I had to have it before it reached the UK. If only I could’ve known…
In the solitude of my room I devised a plan. As the others went for dinner in the dining room, I’d walk to the local bus stop and catch the coach to the mall, a mere thirty minutes away. The teachers would never notice that I wasn’t there at dinner since there were loads of kids on the trip. Sure, it was dark, this was a city I was completely unfamiliar with, and I was just fourteen, but what could possibly go wrong? I double-checked for the wallet full of moolah in my pocket and headed off in search of treasure.
I slipped out with stealth skills worthy of Tom Clancy. It was sub-zero and pitch dark, and as I approached the bus stop I started to wonder whether I’d made a mistake. I hushed myself, resolving that I’d come this far and would have to see this thing through. Thirty minutes passed whilst my cherub-like ass slowly froze on the stop’s fragile bench. I started to suspect that the coach wasn’t coming. Maybe, I thought, if I went back to the dining hall I could make certain of avoiding getting in trouble. Just as my tenacity weakened, a gleam of glorious light entered my vision. The coach had arrived and I was going to get my Virtual Boy! But wait: this is an embarrassing story and not one of plucky determination, remember? So, as the coach pulled up, I could hear a distant voice behind me calling my name. I closed my eyes with dread, and sure enough I turned round, opened them and saw the panting, lumbering figure of Mr. Hassan, evidently unamused by my antics. I won’t tell a lie; the thought of getting on the coach anyway did enter my mind, but it departed just as quickly as it had entered. I knew I was in enough of the deep stuff as it was. Instead I just stood there frozen in every sense of the word, waiting patiently for my teacher to grab hold of me and frogmarch me back to the cabin.
I knew I was in a lot of trouble, but I was half-expecting a stern man to man finger wagging and that would be the end of it. I soon realised that I had missed the shitstorm. All the teachers had been desperately looking for me for the last hour, and they’d even called the police. When I was returned to the dining hall in front of my fellow students, clearly safe but deviant, I could see that this debacle had infuriated the trip leader, Mr. Milligan. It was now that I feared for the worst; Mr. Milligan was a man of principle, red-blooded at the best of times and not a fellow to mess around with. As I was led towards his crimson visage, I could see some of the teachers murmuring to each other, the others giving me glares icier than our surroundings. I sensed 160 eyes belonging to my classmates fixated on the proceedings. If I had missed the shitstorm earlier then I was about to view a repeat showing. I have never been bellowed at so loudly, for so long and in front of so many people in my entire life, and all the while I could pick out the suppressed sniggers of my classmates as the eruption flared on. Suffice to say that it was thoroughly embarrassing, and it was all in the name of a blooming Virtual Boy.
The funny part? Two days later we did go back to the mall before our flight back and I did indeed pick up a Virtual Boy and a bunch of games for about $45. I loved it for a few months before the ugly truth of it being absolute crap and having no future set in. Happily, twelve years later I’m (just about) comfortable enough with the story to detail it in an Internet column. I’m also one of the very few British owners of a Virtual Boy since the damn thing never did reach the UK. Plus, eBay exists and I loved to make some money back on that pile of junk. The whole fiasco was almost worth it. Almost.