Friday. August 5, 2016. One of the most memorable days of my life. It was the last week of my summer break and I had to end it with a bang. And that I did. I drove hundreds of miles to Alhambra, California, to visit my childhood best friend. Nelson and I go way back. We met in Kindergarten and were best friends through 7th grade, but then my family moved in 1996 and things were never quite the same. Yet despite it all, we remained in touch throughout the years. Nelly and I share a special bond. We may go weeks, months and sometimes even years without talking, but as soon as we get back in touch it’s like we never left. Those are the best! Little did I know when I left my house to go visit Nelson in LA that he only lived 3 miles away from many of the filming locations of the 1978 classic, Halloween.
The initial plan was just to reconnect with my childhood best friend and go to Disneyland to hang out with Mickey Mouse. How serendipitous it was, then, to find Michael Myers unexpectedly lurking in Nelly’s backyard! Nelson and I were literally running down the streets of “Haddonfield” (AKA South Pasadena) hunting the Boogeyman — we were not only chasing a piece of our past but we were living it up in the present while looking forward to the future. When all the cosmic forces in the universe magically collide like that, it makes for the absolute best memories.
Hunting the Boogeyman indeed! There Nelson and I sat admiring the sights and sounds of Haddonfield. We fondly reminisced about our childhood memories growing up watching the Halloween movies together and a more innocent time of our lives. It was just what the doctor ordered to end summer with a bang and look forward to what the next chapter of our lives would bring. It’s funny how that works, eh?
Jump to October 2018. Fall break was fast approaching as was the release of the new Halloween movie, which was rapidly racking up rave reviews. Since I had the week off from teaching, I decided to capitalize on a once in a lifetime opportunity. Horror’s Hallowed Grounds with Sean Clark was doing a 40th Anniversary bus tour of Halloween. Sure, I had seen many of the locations just two years prior, but this was the 40th Anniversary! No way was I gonna miss that, especially with it perfectly landing during my 10 day fall break. This was all in addition to attending the 40th Anniversary Halloween Convention. Without further ado, here are some pictures and memories from that awesome weekend.
Going with Nelson would have been perfect but unfortunately it wasn’t meant to be. He left to Thailand for the month to visit some family and since I left on a Thursday (October 11, 2018), everyone else was working. So it was the first solo trip of my life. They say everyone should experience a solo vacation at least once in their lives. I don’t know if this qualifies per se, but I’ll take it. It was a blast and a weekend getaway that I will always cherish and remember. I slept at America’s Best Value Inn. It wasn’t the most lavish of places but it sufficed for a 2 night stay.
I left Thursday morning and hit Pasadena around 5:30 PM. After unwinding for 10 minutes in my room, I went out to grab an early dinner. The long drive had me feeling hungry as a mofo.
There were lots of cool Halloween decorations lighting up the darkening streets of South Pasadena.
Back in 2016 when I visited Nelson, he took me to Shakey’s Pizza Palor and I have been craving it ever since. It’s just pizza, fried chicken and potato wedges but damn did it hit the spot 2 years ago. So I had to come back.
Mmm, so good. I wish there was a Shakey’s where I live. I ate a few slices and took the rest to go.
I then spent the better part of 3 hours texting a new lady friend before crashing for the evening…
Here we are getting ready to pass by the now defunct All American Burger from Fast Times at Ridgemont High (1982). Good times.
Here’s the infamous spot from Halloween II where Michael Myers bumped into the boombox guy. After hearing the news that Laurie Strode has been admitted to Haddonfield Memorial Hospital, Michael Myers is once more on the move.
I took a seat at the bar and chatted with Craig. He asked what all the commotion was for. I told him it was a bus tour celebrating 40 years of Halloween. “Shit, it’s been 40 years already?” He took the rest of the work day off to start his weekend early to drink It was nice chatting with the locals.
America… a precious land where dozens and dozens of horror movie fans can gather to take pictures standing half obscured by a 7 foot tall hedge. God bless America indeed.
I’ve heard the hype for Shake Shack for years now, and finally I had a chance to try it out for myself.
There’s something about driving around LA at night playing all the old hits. I blasted Jackson Browne’s Somebody’s Baby as I drove up and down West LA. It was so damn peaceful and beautiful. The cool night air smacking my face as I left all my worries behind. Really transported me back to the ’80s. I felt like I was going to see Damone at the next light!
I eventually made my way back to the hotel and ended up texting a new lady friend for 4 hours before finally crashing…
After parking and taking the elevator down, I ran into Crystal. She flew in from St. Louis and we became Convention buddies for the day Shout out to Crystal. It was fun walking around the Convention and hanging out!
I had a blast roaming around in LA hunting the Boogeyman once more. Although Nelson was out of the country and unable to make it, I still made the most of it. Met a bunch of cool Halloween fans and we just got to live out our fandom and toast to 40 friggin’ years. Not many movies carry with it such a legacy and fanbase as John Carpenter’s Halloween. Best of all, I’ll also remember this trip as the weekend I really hit it off with my new lady friend, who is now currently my girlfriend. We spent 7 hours texting Thursday and Friday night while I was in LA laying in my hotel bed. We had our first date on Sunday (the day I drove back from LA). The next week we went to see the new Halloween (fittingly so) and it just went from there. So yeah, I’ll always look back on that weekend fondly. It was well worth the long drive and expenses I paid to make it happen. What else can I say but thanks for all the memories and long live Halloween!
There’s something special about having a best friend growing up. Someone you can truly call a best friend unequivocally. A best pal who sticks with you through thick and thin, good and bad, highs and lows. Nothing completes a healthy childhood like having a best buddy. And if you were lucky like me, you had one growing up. This is a tribute to my childhood best friend, Nelson. The greatest times we shared, the coming-of-age adventures of our youth, the falling out, the reconciliation and the most recent events that transpired between us not long ago…
SEPTEMBER 1988: DAY OF RECKONING
In a second, streams of sunshine. I heard a muffled voice that rose like a crescendo.
Great. Armageddon had finally come. The inevitable, as it were. No longer was I a free man. No more watching cartoons all day long. No more playing in the backyard with my brother’s Lego toys while he toiled along at school. I would wave good-bye to my brother and watch him disappear down the block before making a mad dash for his precious Lego stash (which he rarely let me touch in his presence). The sleek black spaceship called THE INVADER had more planets to conquer and it needed me to help it do that. Was I ready to give all of that up? Hell no. But you know what they say about Armageddon — it’s always got a face and a name. And now, a date as well.
Somehow, my mom managed to drag me to Room 1 by eight sharp. I sat in the corner, arms crossed with a scowl carved on my face. And it was then that I noticed a chubby boy sitting in the opposite corner who looked like he wanted to be there even less than I did. By the end of that week, the two of us became friends. Best friends. Nelly and I.
THE EARLY ’90S
Nelson and I had so much in common. We both loved monsters, ghosts, video games, wrestling, cartoons, TGIF, Are You Afraid of the Dark? and the list goes on and on. We lived only two blocks away from each other. On my way to school each morning, I would stop by to pick him up. After school, if he wasn’t at my house, I was at his. My mom often took us to the library. Nelly and I used to borrow all the monster books we could find. My local library had a small monster section that we often raided as though we owned it. And maybe we did. To this day I still vividly remember borrowing the Godzilla book and others from that classic Ian Thorne series. I also remember us believing in those infamous Loch Ness Monster and Bigfoot photos that we found in the library.
We watched all of the Showa era Godzilla movies together except for one: Destroy All Monsters. We read in a monster book somewhere about how Destroy All Monsters featured “all the TOHO monsters in it.” It then became an obsession of ours to track down a VHS copy, but at the time it proved very difficult to find. It’s not like today where with the power of the internet almost any obscure movie can be resurrected from the ashes. Oh no, back then it was the Wild, Wild West. We never did manage to track down a copy of DAM. I remember the author’s comment on DAM to this day. Nelly and I were flabbergasted when we read, “The movie is sadly not as good as one might hope.”
Nelson and I grew livid and defensive. “No freaking way! ALL the monsters are in it! It CAN’T BE ANYTHING BUT AWESOME! YOU BLIND JERK!”
Many years later I finally caught DAM when it was released on a larger scale. I have to say I agree with that author after all. So buddy, if you’re reading this somehow, I take it all back. On a side note, Nelson and I caught the opening night showing of Godzilla (2014) and it was glorious. Can’t wait for the 2019 sequel.
THE BURIED NOTE
Sometime in 1991, Nelson and I had the idea of burying a “Best Friends Forever” pledge in my backyard. We printed our names in blood (or at least, a sharp #2 pencil anyhow) and truly believed that in doing so we would remain best friends ’til the end of time. Ahhhh, the innocence of being eight. As we were preparing to dig a hole in my backyard, a booming voice rang. It was big bro. As big brothers often do, he spoiled our plans. The note, sadly, was never buried.
THE LEGEND OF THE MASKED MANIAC!
Back in 1992, Nelson told me a story that haunted me for weeks. In our hometown, according to him you understand, there was a maniac on the loose. On the prowl. Believed to be… at large. Again, according to Nelson, mind you. He wore a white hockey mask and wielded a horrific chainsaw. He was… THE MASKED MANIAC. Of course, a part of me knew my best friend was just spewing crap, but a small part of me grabbed and held on to the story. So imagine our shock and delight when we first saw Stanley Decker the following year in Zombies Ate My Neighbors. HOLY CRAP! It was Nelson’s MASKED MANIAC come to life!
The Masked Maniac became our little in-joke as the years went by, and I still believe The Masked Maniac is the world’s greatest slasher movie yet to be made.
THE GOLDEN AGE OF FIGHTING GAMES
The Street Fighter II craze hit the nation in 1991. Nelson and I fell in line but it was really World Heroes in 1992 that we truly adored. We both knew Street Fighter II was by far the superior game, but we sort of adopted the lesser touted World Heroes as one of our own. While the lines for the Street Fighter II cab went out the door, Nelson and I were perfectly content playing World Heroes with little fanfare. Nelson bought the SNES port in the fall of 1993 and we played it to death.
One of my favorite gaming memories came in late 1993 when both Super Street Fighter II and World Heroes 2 were jousting for arcade supremacy. On a rainy as hell Saturday morning, my dad dropped Nelson and me off at this gigantic jack-of-all-trades hobby store. I’ll never forget how my dad stopped the car right in front of the store, how Nelly and I streaked out of the back seats and to the safety of the store’s awning but not before the downpour managed to soak our jackets. Upon entering the humongous hobby shop, we wiped our feet and were immediately greeted by the soft Norwegian tunes of Erik’s stage from World Heroes 2. It’s just one of those simple little moments that stick with you forever. One of those magical childhood moments that even now as an adult you can still see vividly happening in third person.
THE FALL OUT
A lot changed in September 1992. I was a 4th grader in a 3-4 combo class that school year. Meanwhile, Nelson was in a standard 4th grade classroom. For the first time ever, we were separated. I met Timmy and Jerome, two third graders in my combo class, and we became good friends right away. At lunch I didn’t know whether to hang out with Nelson and Manny, or my new friends, Jerome and Timmy. I ended up hanging out with Jerome and Timmy more. Not surprisingly, this drove a riff in my relationship with Nelson. The line in the sand was drawn. It’s possible we had a fight prior to this which led to me picking Timmy and Jerome over Nelson and Manny, but I can’t quite remember the finer details.
Later that school year, things began to sour between me and Timmy. Somehow, we went from good pals to bitter rivals. This divided Jerome and our little three man clique disbanded as quickly as it formed.
Around December 1992, my teacher had each of us make a shoe box diorama. The box had to be decorated with things you liked. I chose my family and wanted to depict a typical lazy Sunday afternoon. My mom cooking in the kitchen, my dad reading the paper in the den, and my bro and I playing Street Fighter II on the SNES in our living room. Doesn’t sound bad on paper… until you factor in the cheap cut-out paper I used to represent everything in my shoe box. I’ll be honest, I didn’t do my best on that one…
Timmy, on the other hand, used grand 3D models: small dinosaur toys littered his diorama along with a pleasant looking volcano perfectly situated in the middle. Trees, even! It was a lush depiction of the Jurassic period, no doubt about it. He earned an A while Ms. Holly was kind enough to give me a C. Timmy’s shoe box sure bested mine, but it was what he did later that day that made me snap.
“What grade did you give Steve?” he asked Ms. Holly annoyingly.
“Timmy, that’s inappropriate to ask.”
“Did you fail him? Did you?”
“Timmy! What did I just say?”
I sat there and watched as Timmy grinned his stupid fat grin.
I glared at his scrawny ass from my seat. I saw the stupid bastard grinning like a Cheshire cat as he continued to pester Ms. Holly to spill the beans. He came up to me at the end of the day with his usual smug expression looking all arrogant and cocky.
“Steve, you know what, actually, your shoe box isn’t THAT bad… I mean, you really did justice to your family… after all, they’re all so… lifeless!”
And that’s when I snapped.
Timmy had crossed a line he could not return from. But since we were still in class, I had to restrain myself well enough not to kill him then and there. Instead, I sat quietly in my seat with the rage festering inside. My eyes were glued to the clock counting down until the end of the day… just a few more minutes…
As soon as Ms. Holly excused my table, I bounced out of my seat like I was sitting on a spring. Storming out to where Timmy already was, he turned around, saw the intense look in my eyes and he knew IT WAS ON. He flinched right before I sprinted after him. He zipped through the school courtyard like a little jack rabbit, but I was right on his tail.
Down the 3rd grade sector we ran. No one attempted to stop us. Hell, I didn’t even see anyone around as everything suddenly became a blur and Timmy was the only concrete image I could make out. It was one of those out-of-body experiences. Not before long I managed to grab his shirt. I felt the life being sucked out of his puny body as I pinned him against the wall. Peering deeply into his eyes, I saw the resignation in it. He didn’t struggle, didn’t whimper.
It was the look of the lamb… right before the slaughter.
“Don’t you ever — EVER — insult my family again!”
I let his limp little body go. He held his left cheek as he walked off with his tail tucked between his legs. Timmy never messed with me or my family again following that.
I’m not saying violence solves issues, but at the time it just felt right. I defended the honor of my family’s name. The second half of that school year, Timmy kept his distance and I went back to being best friends with Nelson and Manny — the guys I should have stuck with all along. I guess at some point, every relationship has to go through the fire. Then, and perhaps only then, do you know what’s what.
BACK IN BUSINESS
The very next year saw a reunion — Nelson and I were in the same 5th grade classroom together. The band was back, baby!1994 turned out to be the best year of my childhood. Nelly and I were ten, and ten is a funny age, you know. Some days you feel like you’re five, and other days you feel like you’re 15. It’s a time to relish the twilight years of your childhood, as well as a time to look forward to all the teenage turmoil to come. Not only were we reunited but we also had the two prettiest girls in the whole school in our class: Jennifer and Elaine. Elaine was the “Prom Queen” type. Jennifer was more like the classic Girl Next Door. She was my version of Winnie Cooper growing up.
One spring day after school somehow, the four of us found ourselves walking home together. We never did this before and we never did it again, but there was magic in the air that day. All our friends shot us jealous and stunned looks as they watched me and Nelson escort the two cutest girls home. I remember us walking through the school’s huge baseball field just taking it all in, enjoying the sunshine beating down on us and shooting the shit with the two hottest girls in the entire school.
LAST MAN STANDING
Nelson and I were surrounded by a cast of characters. We were good friends with Manny and Jonathan but Manny and Jonathan didn’t get along. Jonathan was the new cocky kid in town. Manny didn’t appreciate that. For weeks we felt their budding rivalry build until finally, one fateful dreary day it came to a head.
During that lunch period, we were eating our Lunchables and drinking our Capri Sun pouches when the fireworks started AGAIN between Manny and Jonathan. Manny then challenged Jonathan to a game he deemed “LAST MAN STANDING.” It was the challenge to end all challenges. Manny and Jonathan would take turns doing something crazy and then the other had to copy. Whoever fails to do so first loses. The LAST MAN STANDING wins. Manny started it off by sliding down the slide head first. Jonathan followed suit. I winced as his head landed awkwardly on the tanbarks. But in typical cocky Jonathan fashion, he brushed the dust off and asked Manny, “Is that all you got, tough guy?”
It was Jonathan’s turn now. He stood there on the tanbarks, bent his knees and fell backward. He landed awkwardly and got up gingerly, rubbing his back. He grimaced and grinned at the same time. “Try that!” he yelled at Manny. Manny then placed both arms on his shoulders, crisscross style, and did a full on trust fall. No bent knees. No cheapies. It was the real deal. He shot back up like nothing happened. The dude was Wolverine. Now it was his turn. But not before Jonathan could shout, “LET’S SEE WHAT YOU GOT!”
Rookie mistake. Jonathan didn’t know Manny like we did. And that’s when Manny went for the kill.
Jonathan, Nelson and I found ourselves standing at the base of the first tetherball set. There were a total of six tetherball poles in all, each separated by 10 feet. Like a man possessed, Manny sprinted to the opposite end. We stood there staring on in bewilderment wondering what he had in mind. I’ll never forget what I saw next. Manny began charging 200 miles per hour with his right arm fully extended. You could hear the sickening SMACKof steel on bone as Manny streaked past all six metal poles. The sight of his arm jerking backward at a 75 degree angle following each pole made me cringe. After Manny was done, he stood there beaming not five feet away from us. He gestured to the end of the first tetherball set as to say, “You’re next.”
Exasperated, Jonathan threw his arms in the air and yelled, “You crazy son of a bitch!” Nelson and I watched as he walked off. There was only one thing left to do: we raised Manny’s arms in the air and declared him the undisputed champion.
Nelson and I share a passion for all things Halloween (both the movie franchise and the actual day). Anything that had to do with monsters, ghosts or ghouls, we were there.
Every October Nelly and I cranked up our year-round monster love to the max. Telling ghost stories in our rooms, watching horror movies, reading the latest FANGORIA issues — it was such a great time to be 10 years old and have a like-minded best friend.
We entered a phase where we were obsessed with collecting as many horror cassettes as we could. I’ll never forget this one in particular — “Sounds of Halloween.” That cover was epic!
We bought these tapes thinking they were taboo. We’d sit in Nelly’s room, close the blinds and listen to them while swapping ghost stories. I also loved the cheesy warning labels. Looking back on it all, these tapes weren’t that great, truth be told, but it was a time capsule. A sign of the times and days of innocence.
Speaking of things that go bump in the night, we were obsessed with Goosebumps. It was kind of the Harry Potter of the ’90s before Harry Potter.
Nelson’s favorite was The Haunted Mask.
And this was mine.
From that point on, I was hooked. Nelson and I had a friendly competition where each month we’d see who could read the latest Goosebumps edition first. Made for some fun times. Half of the fun was discussing it with your best friend afterward.
I remember seeing these at the local library with Nelson. We always psyched ourselves out and made these books scarier than what they really were. It was all part of the fun.
It was just a magical time. You’d go to the arcade with your best friend to play all the latest fighting games. Then you’d swing by the local book store to peruse the latest EGM and GameFan issue before making your way to the back of the store where they had R.L. Stine’s latest and greatest. Whether you were into Goosebumps or Fear Street, it always made for a good time with your best pal.
In my hometown growing up, Game Hunter was widely revered. It carried nothing but video games and anime (hell, even a few arcade cabs). Everything from handhelds to Neo Geo, you name it, they had it. Best of all, they even carried import games. Japanese versions of games you couldn’t wait to play that would not be released in North America until weeks or even months later! Game Hunter was legendary
Nelson rented Fighter’s History and I chose King of the Monsters 2. Their North American versions were still weeks away. I remember thinking that Nelly and I were the two luckiest kids in the whole town that weekend. Needless to say, we were glued to the TV like a pair of zombies that epic weekend. Great times.
Whenever I see Lee’s bucolic stage, with those damn ducks, the fisherman dipping his line lazily in the water and those moss-covered hills, I can’t help but be instantly transported back to Nelson’s living room on a hot Saturday afternoon of June 1994.
TWO WEEKS LATER — EGM SCORE!
My brother slept at a family friend’s house two hours away. For me and Nelson, this meant only one thing: UNRESTRICTED AND UNLIMITED ACCESS TO MY BROTHER’S EGM STASH!That very first day Kevin was gone, Nelson rode his bike over in record time. I’ll never forget the image of Nelson opening my brother’s drawer and seeing him pull out with both hands a HUGE stack of EGM issues. He looked like a man possessed!
EGM in 1994 was God-like. We didn’t have internet or YouTube back then so EGM was our source of news, rumors, reviews and previews. There’s something inexplicably awesome about flipping through an EGM issue with your best friend back in those days. You could literally spend hours lost in those magical pages…
GRADUATION — JUNE 1995
They say all good things must come to an end. In June of 1995, Nelson and I were facing our final days together in elementary school. We had a hell of a run, but it was nearing time to enter the hollowed halls of junior high. On Friday, June 9, 1995, Nelson, some other friends and I walked to the local theatre to see the opening of Congo. I remember it was our first time walking over by ourselves and we felt like such a big deal. We came late though so we had to sit in the front row and crane our necks for the entire showing. The movie kind of sucked, too, but that was besides the point. We were on the verge of a brand new chapter in our lives, but we were going to hopefully stick together through it all.
Later that night, it was our school’s End of the Year Dance. We all attended but not before we all fished for reasons and excuses not to. Hey, we were 11 and it’s what 11 year old boys do. But in the end we knew we’d regret it if we didn’t. Seeing Jennifer and Elaine there and interacting with all our friends for the final time made it worth it. I remember a lot of multi-colored dots dancing around the cafeteria and drinking a lot of fruit punch. Talking with my friends and enjoying our final days in grade school together. The following week we graduated and I knew deep down that life would neverbe the same…
THE MOVE — JANUARY 1996
Halfway through my 7th grade year, I had to move. Even though Nelson and I would only be separated by about 20 minutes, I knew things were going to be different. Neither of us could drive and it just isn’t the same as when you live within walking distance. We slowly but surely fell out of touch.
FRIDAY: SEPTEMBER 12, 2003
Now a junior in college, it was my tradition every Friday after my final class to hit the gym on campus and play pickup ball. I became obsessed with basketball (see Coach Butler and 9/11 for more). It was on this fateful Friday late afternoon walking out of the gym that I noticed a local news station on campus. Before I knew what was happening, they approached me to ask if I had any thoughts on a hot topic related to my campus. I spoke to the camera for about 15 seconds and afterward they told me I’d be on the 5 o’clock news. I raced over to my cousin’s house in my old hometown to record my 15 seconds of fame. My little cousins were screaming when they saw their cousin on TV. I felt like a rock star. Feeling like I could move mountains, I decided to break the silence and reach out to my old best friend, Nelson.
It had been two years since we last spoke. Hell, I had no idea if he even still lived at the same place. We were 20 now so there’s a good chance he had already moved out of his parents’ place. Only one way to find out for sure, though.
And so, it was around 5:45 on a cool early Friday evening that I swung by the old haunt. Butterflies were swooning in my stomach as I parked in Nelson’s old driveway. I rung the doorbell and waited anxiously.
It was his mom.
“Yes! Hi, does he still live here?”
“He sure does, but I’m afraid he’s out.”
“Oh,” my voice couldn’t help hide the disappointment.
“I know it’s been a while… he’d be so thrilled to see you again.”
“Likewise. Please tell him I stopped by.”
She invited me in for a drink but I told her I should get going. That ol’ road beckons me home. As I started walking back to my car, a huge black Toyota truck came roaring into the driveway. We both stared at each other stunned for a second.
“STEVEN!? Holy shit, how long’s it been?!”
We went to his backyard, the same one where Nelson and I spent many hours of our youth during the dog days of summer, and we caught up on the past couple years of our lives. The skyline was beautiful. The sun was just dipping over the horizon with a light September breeze gently greeting us every few seconds. That evening Nelson and I talked. About the good old days. About Elaine and Jennifer. About college. We talked about LIFE.
It wasn’t all rosy, though. I found out that evening that Nelson had dropped out of college. He felt directionless. He also took up smoking and not just cigarettes. He told me he was trying real hard to quit but it’s just that — real hard. Part of me had difficulty processing the ‘new’ Nelson. I never envisioned him in a million years as someone who would use drugs or drop out of school. But I guess that’s life. Things change and shit happens. On the bright side, Nelson was working as a part-time mechanic and making some money at least.
We ended up shooting the breeze for a couple hours straight as it was soon nightfall. It felt surreal to be back in the same backyard I used to patrol some odd ten years ago. Except now we were no longer 10 year old kids. No longer children of innocence. Now we were 20 and young adults. My life was on track while Nelson’s was a bit more uncertain. And despite the long disconnect and “growing apart,” that evening we found out we would always be friends at the very least. No matter what happens, or where life takes us, Nelly and I’ll always share an unbreakable bond.
FRIDAY: MAY 23, 2008
Nelson and I always have our mini-reunions after x-months of not seeing one another. On this day we decided to catch up over dinner with two other mutual friends. They were a couple — the guy lived next door to Nelson growing up and I used to have a crush on the girl back in college and possibly vice versa. Quite the interesting evening it turned out to be. The four of us shared a lovely dinner at a steak house. Afterward Nelson and I drove to the theatre to catch the new Indiana Jones movie.
On the drive over, Nelson shared some very deep issues with me. He talked about how our friend Jake possessed such natural charisma speaking to the waitress serving us, and how much Nelson wishes he had the same ability. I encouraged him with a little pep talk and told him to keep his head up.
“Wow Steve… no one has ever believed in me like that before. My whole family’s kind of written me off a little bit y’know… it’s nice to see you have my back and believe in me.”
I know, it was a sappy little moment, but I tell ya, Nelson is my guy. I’ll always believe in him and want the best for him. It’s not easy to be real like that, to open up and be so vulnerable to another person. We all have our shortcomings and having support is key. It takes a lot of guts to share something so personal.
MY KNIGHT IN SHINING ARMOR
That spring 2008 semester I student taught at my childhood elementary school. Yup, the very same one where Nelson and I met and became best friends. My dream was always to return home, teach there and give back to the community. It was a blast coming back to the old digs. One day after school I went to my car and found in my haste earlier that morning I’d accidentally locked the keys in the car. D’OH! Fortunately, one of the back windows was opened about two inches. There was *JUST* enough space for a clothes hanger to maybe prop the lock open.
Luckily, my grandmother happened to live just half a block from where I parked my car. I walked over and she loaned me an old wire hanger. Much to my chagrin, the wire proved too weak to get the job done.
Then I called Nelson, who still lived in that same house about a block or two away from our old elementary school. After describing the embarrassing situation to him, he was on his way.
Next thing I know, as I’m standing there on the sidewalk by my car, in the far distance I could make out Nelly coming around the corner on his bicycle! The scene from The 40 Year Old Virgin immediately flashed in my mind, complete with the cheesy ’80s song “Heat of the Moment” blaring in my overactive mind.
Nelson brought one of those back scratchers, and this was the result:
But then we applied a little force, pushing the stick down. It slid down and we managed to prop the lock open!
My ’92 Honda had been through the wars and the back right window stopped working a while back, so it was opened an inch or two permanently. I covered it with some tape… it all looked very tacky as you can see. But this defect allowed me to skip calling AAA which I didn’t have at the time. At first the stick wouldn’t go in but a couple clever angle squeezes and it just barely made it through.
I treated Nelson to lunch afterward where we laughed about this incident and just talked about life, carrying on our conversation from a few weeks ago. There’s something about connecting with someone who knows your history as well as you yourself do. There’s something very special about that.
FRIDAY: MARCH 26, 2010
While I studied to earn my teaching credential in college, I minored in Theatre Arts. I’ve always been fascinated by acting, and I love the camaraderie that it naturally builds. Rehearsing late nights, even past midnight, has a funny way of bonding people. Well, on this night I was playing a Roman soldier and we opened to a house of 2,000 people. Among the two in that audience of 2,000? Nelson and yes, my childhood crush, my Winnie Cooper… Jennifer. It meant so much to me that they both showed up. It was a great night.
SUNDAY, MARCH 29, 2015
Fast forward five years. Nelson and I crossed a major item off our bucket list: attend a freaking WRESTLEMANIA. WrestleMania 31 was one of the greatest live events I’ve ever been to. We had pretty decent seats and it was a childhood dream come true. Hell, we got to witness Sting’s first and only WrestleMania match!
FRIDAY: AUGUST 5, 2016
Nelson and I share a special bond where we may go months without contact but whenever one of us gets in touch it’s like we never left. Precisely one year ago, as I write this, I decided to visit Nelson’s new place in Southern California. We set out to visit Disneyland since it was about 30 minutes away from his apartment.
As I was about three miles away from his place, I passed through a neighborhood that I couldn’t help but feel an overwhelming sense of déjà vu. That’s funny. How can it be familiar if I’ve never been here before?
It suddenly dawned on me. Was it? Could it be? No way. I passed a few traffic lights before finally pulling over. I had to quench my curiosity before heading to Nelson’s. Busted out my phone and typed into Google:
“HALLOWEEN 1978 FILMING LOCATIONS”
A website came up and an address in South Pasadena was given. My hands were shaking as I punched said address into Google Maps.
“1.8 miles away”
I had just driven by one of the iconic Halloween filming locations! HADDONFIELD IN THE FLESH! The Halloween super geek in me was coming out big time. What were the odds that my childhood best friend (who also loved the Halloween franchise) would live three miles away from Haddonfield?! It was a moment of true serendipity. I texted Nelson to tell him I’d be coming 30 minutes late. I had no doubt we would return later but for now it was a personal pilgrimage I simply had to brave for myself first. And this is what I recorded on that serendipitous day:
Following this, I drove the three miles over to Nelson’s. I showed him the pictures and video I took. He couldn’t believe it! He moved to L.A. about seven months ago but had no idea he lived just three miles away from “Haddonfield.” Next thing you know, we found ourselves on an impromptu trip down memory lane. What initially began as a trip to chill with Mickey turned into a trip of HUNTING THE BOOGEYMAN. We ended up driving all over South Pasadena that late afternoon looking for a ton of Halloween nostalgia live in the flesh. This is what we found that day…
HUNTING THE BOOGEYMAN
Michael’s house was demolished and moved to a new location. It now serves as an office. Despite the disappointment of that, Nelson and I still sat there in awe. Reminiscing and laughing about the good old days, that’s when we noticed a DirecTv satellite dish on the side of the house. We also could hear the loud humming of an air conditioner. It was a hot August day in Haddonfield… the dog days of summer indeed. That’s when the line of the day was uttered by yours truly. “What the hell, Michael Myers watching Game of Thrones with the AC on? DUDE IS GETTING SOFT!” Nelson added, “What’s Michael Myers doing browsing PornHub!?”
We laughed hard for what felt like minutes. We laughed so hard we both had tears in our eyes. Man, I hadn’t laugh that good in quite a while. A mere hour prior to this, we both just assumed we’d catch up a bit and find Mickey. Little did we know! Instead, we found ourselves reconnecting and hunting a boogeyman who has haunted us both since childhood. Suddenly, we were chasing a ghost from our past. A ghost with no face. “And the blackest eyes… the devil’s eyes.” Rest in Peace, Donald Pleasence.
Each filming location foray brought me and Nelson closer to the edge of a bygone era. An age we both thought had all but disappeared. It was like slipping through the back door of a time machine. Suddenly, we were wide-eyed kids again. Completely unjaded and uncorrupted by the foul orders of life and the cruelties of growing up.
Wow. Standing there taking this picture sent goosebumps up and down my spine.
Next on the list was the old elementary school featured in the 1978 film. It still looked pretty much the same. It was crazy thinking it had been almost 40 years since Michael stalked Tommy here.
Here Nelson and I sat in his car on a street used in the filming of Halloween. We shot this quick video below:
After this, Nelson and I decided to drive around L.A. randomly and then get some dinner.
You can’t go to L.A. and not take a shot of those beautiful palm trees.
What else would two guys in L.A. do on a Saturday night but break out the good stuff? Nelly and I hit up the local laundry mat so he could have some fresh clothes for Disneyland tomorrow.
The laundry mat had a Neo Geo cab! How cool is that? That led to some natural reminiscing about World Heroes and the like.
Nelson took me to Shakey’s Pizza Parlor for dinner. It was the ultimate haven for comfort food. We ordered a large piping hot pepperoni pizza, some chicken and potato wedges. I probably consumed like 2,500 calories alone but it was damn worth it. Totally hit the spot!
After dinner Nelson drove us through a fancy part of town. We drove up to the top of this hill and it overlooked the city. It was nice to get away and just shoot the shit with my old best friend. Every once in a while it’s nice to drive far away and get away from it all for a bit. Nelson smoked a cigarette as we talked. I stared at all the tiny houses below, and wondered what was going on in that house with all the lights turned on. Nelly and I just stood there reminiscing for a bit before talking about current life. My teaching career. His new life in L.A. It was a good night to be alive. Hanging out with your old best friend. Then Nelson asked me if I had seen Stranger Things. I laughed. That’s exactly the show we would have watched as kids. We drove back to Nelly’s apartment and watched Halloween to end the evening. After everything that went down earlier that day, it was the only proper way to close out that night.
Nelson and I went to Disneyland the next day and we had a blast. We left the park around 9 PM because his back started to flare up. He took me to this local Chinese joint that he said was legit. We spent the rest of that night eating some of the best Kung Pao chicken I ever had and reflecting back on the highs of our little two day adventure. It was truly a magical weekend — the kind that stays with you for life. Hunting Michael and Mickey with your childhood best friend all within 24 hours? Can’t top that.
It’s crazy that Nelson and I have known each other now for nearly 30 years. I always have a great time with Nelson. It doesn’t matter how long we go without communication. The second either one of us reaches out, it’s like we never left. Those friendships are the best. Maybe we’re no longer best friends, but I’m grateful we still keep in touch and that we still know how to have a good time together. No matter what happens going forward or where life takes us, there will always be a special place in my heart for Nelson. My childhood wouldn’t have been as awesome without him, and the memories we have forged over the years — all the ups and downs — have played a role in who I am today. That’s priceless and I’ll always cherish the experiences we had. Here’s a toast to Nelson and all the best friends out there. Cheers!
This is a story of how a best friend, one groovy dad and some enticing imports made the summer of 1994 one for the ages. As a kid, I’d always dreamt of having one perfect summer. And 22 years ago…I found it.Some summers stay with you forever. Some more than others. On any given hot, lazy June Saturday afternoon, I still can’t help but think back to that fateful day. It was a summer of discovery… a summer of magic… THE SUMMER OF IMPORTS. There’s something about summer and gaming that goes together; especially though, when we were kids. There was a magic to it.
Nothing completes a healthy childhood quite like sharing it with a best friend. While I had my legendary out-of-town gaming crew, I was fortunate enough to have a best friend outside of that group, Nelson, who lived within walking distance. We grew up together being best friends since Kindergarten. He and I were often in the same class together and we shared the same interest in just about everything. We spent a bulk of our weekends hanging out and playing games. Whenever I think back to my childhood or to the glory days of gaming, inevitably, Nelson always comes to mind.
I’d like to take a moment to pay my respects to the memory of renting games back in the ‘90s. Every weekend my dad would take me to the local rental store(s) and I would pluck out one title to bring back home. My brother, Kevin, was too shy or embarrassed (or both) to go rent games, so he always made me his little grunt to carry out the deed. Though I was renting the games he wanted (well, at least most of the time…) there was always something magical to those pseudo-adventures my dad and I shared. It was a weekly tradition, rain or shine. Sometimes, even Nelly would join me on those renting excursions. And there was one such instance that happened 22 years ago that left an indelible mark on us, making that summer one he and I would never forget.
The year was 1994, and as the final piercing school bell of that year rang, the euphoric cries of 800 kids rang out even louder. We all knew what stood ahead: 2 and a ½ relentless months of splendid carefree summer days: no teachers, no homework, and no school to interfere with our final days of childhood. As much as I love the fall and winter seasons for Halloween and Christmas, there is nothing… and I mean NOTHING… like summer time, especially when you had a best friend like Nelson to share it with. He and I had just finished the 5th grade together. It was the best year of my childhood. My best friend was in my class; we had Mr. G, the best teacher ever; we had the two hottest girls in our class, Elaine and Jennifer, and Nelson and I were simply at the top of our game. We were 10 years old, going on 11 that summer. We had come of age, and that summer was one for the ages.
Nelson rode his bike over the very first Saturday morning of that summer and my dad drove us to Game Hunter. Game Hunter was a legendary privately owned video game rental store. It was renowned in my neck of the woods for catering to the diehard gamer. Game Hunter didn’t bother to waste time with movies. It had every video gaming system library under the sun from the 8-bit Nintendo to the Neo Geo. Being able to actually touch and pick up those classic bulky Neo Geo boxes was incredible. Game Hunter even housed an arcade machine or two, plus they had a small anime section. How many stores could claim that?! Simply put, Game Hunter was a little slice of gaming paradise.
But, what made them stand out was their unforgettable import selection. Back then, imports symbolized a whole lot more than merely just the Japanese version of a game. Indeed, back then, imports held a certain aura of mystique to them, especially when you read all the little blurbs on those games in Electronic Gaming Monthly and DieHard GameFan on a monthly basis, realizing that they were an ocean away and that you would never even so much as sniff one. Seeing a wall covered by hundreds of Super Famicom boxes never failed to amaze my little ten year old eyes. They sat on the very top shelf, purposely out of reach. It was symbolic, even. They would cover the entire upper wall from left to right. You were completely mesmerized as your eyeballs darted from one treasure to another. It was a never-ending parade of divine, exotic esctasy. These were games that were either Japanese exclusives, or Japanese versions of games that were set to hit American soil a month or two later. It was nothing short of magical, and a time in my life that I’ll always cherish.
*** FLASH BACK TO LATE 1992 ***
Game Hunter’s origins began innocently enough on what appeared to be just another ordinary Saturday morning. But as fate would have it, this particular Saturday morning was anything but. My dad and I were set to embark on our latest renting escapade together. But first we had to stop by my cousin’s house which was a good 15 minutes away. After that my dad needed to run an errand at the local drug store a block from my cousin’s house. I didn’t mind as I always enjoyed being out with my dad, especially after a long school week. Little did I know that fateful morning I would stumble upon GAME HUNTER. The store was decked out from top to bottom with video games from every system imaginable. You had the 8-bit Nintendo, Neo Geo, handheld games and everything else under the sun. I wasn’t a religious kid but I’m pretty sure I thanked God right then and there.
I made my way over to the SNES section looking for my brother’s requested title of choice. When I happened to gaze up, I discovered the upper shelf teeming with hypnotic Super Famicom imports. At that point, all bets were off as I had officially gone rogue. Sorry, Kevin. Power Athlete caught my eye. My dad lifted it off the top shelf and I examined the back of the box. It was a Street Fighter II clone. Sold! My dad obliged and that day I came home with the Japanese version of Power Moves. My brother flipped out because A). I disobeyed him and B). we found out that it didn’t even play on our Super Nintendo; it refused to fit inside the cartridge slot. I had never seen my brother so damn angry before. I promptly called Game Hunter to let them know of my plight, and they explained how I had to rent the device that allows one to play import games on an American SNES. Yeah thanks guy, you could have warned me about that before I left. Yeah, let’s just say Game Hunter was never known for their stellar customer service. But, much like how one goes to Five Guys for greasy goodness, we went to Game Hunter for their legendary and vast gaming library. After all, nobody goes to a concert for meditation.
Luckily, they still had one in stock and said they would hold it for me. So, being the great father that my old man was, we traveled back to Game Hunter to pick it up. This time, even my brother came along as he himself wanted to come see this new store that I’d hyped to the moon. Once there, our pops rented the special converter adapter for a dollar while Kevin and I stood there gawking at the import selection. The very next week, he and I went back and we picked up our 2nd import game, The Combatribes. We had fun terminating Martha Splatterhead and her sleazy gangs. Game Hunter became our new favorite store. It was revered within my gaming circle for damn good reason.
*** BACK TO JUNE 1994 ***
There Nelson and I stood, eyes popping, drool coming down the side of our mouths. On the very top shelf sat the Super Famicom ports of Fighter’s History, King of the Monsters 2 and Saturday Night Slam Masters (Japanese name Muscle Bomber). These were 3 arcade-to-SNES conversions that Nelson and I were dying to play! And on that idyllic June Saturday morning there they stood right before our very eyes. Their US counterparts were still weeks, even months away! After a brief moment of dead silence, Nelson and I looked at each other in astonishment. And just like how it was over a year ago when I first saw Power Athlete, at that precise moment in time I’d forgotten whatever game my brother wanted me to rent. Once more, I had gone rogue.
The only “dilemma” was picking which one of those three games to rent. The indispensable thing about having your best friend along with you meant he could rent one and you could rent one. Nelson was adamant on choosing Fighter’s History, the infamous Street Fighter II clone that Capcom even attempted to sue. I was plenty happy about that as I loved Fighter’s History in the arcades and was long anticipating the SNES port. I always felt the game was a bit underrated. Good pick Nelly! Now it was my turn. King of the Monsters 2 or Muscle Bomber?
I had played Saturday Night Slam Masters a good bit in the arcades. I adored Capcom’s representation of the zany pro wrestling world cranked to the 10th degree, thanks to Slam Masters’ comic book-like violence and über-wacky wrestlers that were even MORE outrageous than those found in the WWF. After all, few things can rival spewing venomous mist into someone’s eyes, or piledrivering bastards into oblivion all over the globe with Metro City’s mayor! It was a tough call at first, but then I remembered something…
King of the Monsters 2 and I were like two SHIPS PASSING IN THE NIGHT. Somehow, we always missed one another. I never played the arcade once. As a staunch supporter of the original, I was dying to FINALLY play the sequel. From 1992 to 1994, finding a King of the Monsters 2 arcade became my white whale, so to speak. None of the local arcades had it for whatever reason. And the one time that I did find it, it was at an arcade hall 2 hours away from home, but of course the machine was broken. That sums it up perfectly. It was that one game that somehow always managed to elude me. Standing there with a choice between Saturday Night Slam Masters or my great white whale, King of the Monsters 2, it dawned on me suddenly which one I was going to pick.
As Nelson and I rode home in the backseat talking excitedly about our import finds, it dawned on me that I soon had to face the music. The last time I went rogue and rebelled against my brother he did everything but tear up the house. But I figured with Nelson by my side, maybe Kevin would be less demonstrative. After all, in public or whenever there were guests, Kevin had no choice but to uphold a certain degree of decorum. Nelson knew this even without my having to ask him for backup. That’s how close we were. Like I said at the beginning, nothing completes a healthy childhood quite like having a best friend support you through thick and thin. He gave me a nod as my dad pulled into the driveway; I knew he had my back. The moment of truth had arrived. My dad went inside the house as Nelly and I stood there on the driveway — import games in hand.
We were delaying the inevitable. But there’s a reason they call it the inevitable.
“Did you get it??” my brother asked excitedly as he came to the door a minute later.
“Uhhh, no. But I got this,” I stammered, handing the game over to him as if it were an adequate consolation prize. It wasn’t.
“King of the Monsters 2?!” A mixture of shock and disgust filled his voice. “Was my game there for rent or not?” His eyes, which had turned into burning coal, burrowed its way deep in my soul.
I could easily have lied, “No, your game was rented out.” But I was a straight shooter. In hindsight… maybe I was being foolish. But I had made my choice to disobey my brother. The least I could do was be honest about it. When I told him I forgot to look for his title once Nelson and I caught sight of the imports, my brother lost control. The scary thing was all this happened even in front of Nelson. I can only imagine how much crazier it would have been without Nelson there next to me. My brother flipped out, stomping and screaming expletives like a drunken sailor. Then he ran to my room, sprinted back and threw my Crash Dummy break-apart plush buddy, Spin, out the door. It smacked me in the face with such velocity that the head flew off its shoulders. Thank goodness it was just plush! Nelly retrieved the head which had rolled onto my front lawn and placed it back on Spin’s headless Velcro neck. You would have thought that I killed my brother’s puppy or something. He stormed off, leaving the door open. You know those parts in action movies where the guy says, “Don’t you think this is a trap?” Yeah. I took one glance inside and then back at Nelson. Once again, without even having to say a word, he knew. Just to confirm, he said, “Um… let’s go back to my place for a while…”
Shoot, you don’t gotta tell me twice! I fled the crime scene faster than OJ Simpson.
And so it was. On the first Saturday afternoon of my last carefree childhood summer, I found myself walking with Nelly to his house. He clutched his copy of Fighter’s History while I held King of the Monsters 2, along with my Crash Dummy action buddy, Spin. I’m sure we were a sight for sore eyes. As soon as we got out of viewing distance, Nelson started trash talking my bro. One might think I would happily join in to pile on, but no. Like a battered victim of Stockholm syndrome, I actually defended my brother a little bit. Hey, blood is blood, no? Sure my bro could be a little rough around the edges, and there were plenty of times where I wished he could have been more quixtoic and slow to anger, but you don’t get to choose family. I mean, sure, he could snap every once in a while, but he wasn’t a bad guy, or a psycho or anything. Nelson couldn’t believe I was defending Kevin. Finally the matter was dropped as his house came into view. Suddenly, the excitement of our import snags revived us. We were about to play two arcade conversions not anyone else in the entire town had, so that made us, as far as we were concerned, thetwo luckiest sumbitchesthat weekend ^_^
We wasted no time firing up Nelly’s Super Nintendo. We threw in Fighter’s History first and took turns wasting the computer opponents. We were both impressed by how faithful it was to the arcade original. There was a simplicity to the game that Nelson and I found to be charming. To this day I can’t play Fighter’s History without remembering that fateful Saturday afternoon at Nelly’s. It was so hot that we propped open the living room windows and left the front door wide open. Lee’s stage is SEARED into my retina. That peaceful and calm lake, the family of ducks nibbling away, a fisherman enjoying the great outdoors with his line dipped lazily in the water, and those picture-esque moss-covered hills in the background. Finally, a formation of clouds move their way through the sky in a very haunting and majestic manner. This bucolic stage SCREAMS June 1994 to me. It’s an incredibly nostalgic sight and anytime I see it, I’m transported right back to Nelson’s living room 22 years ago. This stage perfectly captures that whole time frame for me. One look and it feels like I’m 10 hanging out with my best friend on a hot June Saturday afternoon all over again.
Then we swapped it out for King of the Monsters 2. He chose Cyber Woo (the King Kong doppelgänger) and I picked Super Geon (the Godzilla lookalike). We waded our way through the various cities demolishing everything in sight. Beating all the bosses 2-on-1 handicap style made for mindless monster mash ‘em up fun. Finally, after several hours of switching between the two games, late afternoon descended upon us and we agreed that maybe Kevin had cool down by now. Nelson headed back with me. We couldn’t hide out at Nelly’s forever. The only question left… was Kevin still pissed?
I found out that day that miracles exist when Kevin no longer wanted to kill me. Instead, he wanted to kill giant alien monsters from outer space. It’s funny how we each had our own pet favorite. Nelson liked Cyber Woo, I dug Super Geon and my brother was all about Atomic Guy. The three of us rotated turns and passed off the controller whenever one of us died. On some stages it was Kevin and me. At other times it was Nelly and me. There was even Kevin and Nelson. Seeing them laughing together as they trashed the Grand Canyon was pretty cool. A few hours ago no one could have predicted this outcome. Now watching the two of them working together as one cohesive unit, you never would have thought there was any kind of beef there. It was poetic, even. And of all the gaming memories I harbor, that one remains, still to this day, one of the sweetest ones. It’s a reminder of how gaming has a strange way of bringing people together.
The three of us played King of the Monsters 2 and Fighter’s History to death that unforgettable weekend, before returning them both late on Sunday evening. I told my brother we also saw Saturday Night Slam Masters. He grew pale at the mention, being a Slam Masters fanatic. We’d played it tons in the arcade. He ordered me to go rent it the next weekend. This time in particular, I was more than happy to carry out his command. No fat chance of me going rogue, as Slam Masters was also right up my alley with its outlandishly wacky wrestlers and frenetic 4-player mayhem. Giant foam fingers, flashing cameras, comic book moves come to life, and Mike F’NHaggar, made Saturday Night Slam Masters or in this case, Muscle Bomber, one fantastic brawl-for-all.
A SPECIAL GAME HUNTER EULOGY
Game Hunter eventually closed shop in the late ’90s as rental stores started to become more and more a thing of the past — they were fast going the way of the dinosaur. While their service wasn’t always top-notch, I’ll always remember them fondly for their import selection. Game Hunter arrived during a precious period of my childhood, and at a special timein gaming when renting games blindly and taking weekend trips with your old man was all part of the magic and wonder of the hobby. Sometimes the game you wanted was rented out at the first two or three rental stores, so you had to go to your 4th or 5th option around town to find it.. It just meant more hunting and more quality time spent with your old man. I’ll never forget those days when my dad and I would hit up all the rental stores every Saturday afternoon, rain or shine. They symbolized a simpler time in my life. A time where bills, junk emails and clogged six-lane highways didn’t yet exist. The renting relics of my youth were more than just brick and mortar. They are deeply embedded in what made gaming as a child so magical and wondrous. I’m so thankful I was able to enjoy it with a best pal like Nelson.
The summer of 1994 was memorable for many reasons. It’s hard to believe those halcyon days are over twenty years old now. I credit Game Hunter, the Super Nintendo and Nelson for helping to create so many fond memories. It was in large part thanks to those three that made summer of ’94, the last carefree summer of my childhood, bar none, the best one I had as a kid.