In 1996, I was in fifth grade—a sprouting youngster still jumping fences and chasing down the Ice Cream Man. It was the end of summer. I don’t remember the exact date, but I know that it was night, 8, maybe 9. I was ready—I had anticipated the contest for weeks, to the point where it was all I thought about, at all times. Nothing else mattered.
Before that, early one weekend morning, I saw a promo on Nickelodeon. “Spot the Dot, win a Nintendo 64,” was the gist. Simple as that. I finished my breakfast and went outside.
My mother and I lived in a perfectly quiet cul-de-sac surrounded by families and innocence and abundant sunshine. It was the perfect situation for a young boy like me to run free; Summers were all about swimming in pools, biking off low curbs, and hitting baseballs into backyards. If I wasn’t eating a meal at home, I was outside with friends, enjoying an ordinary childhood. Dingdong ditching. Scrapping with friends. Catcalling older girls.
Back in those days, the presence of tech in my household amounted to an old TV and cord phone nailed to the wall. Back when people still called each other. Back when you could read a book faster than you could load a Web page. I had no desire for any electronics—that part of me had yet to spark. I was just a kid.
And then one day that changed. A friend and I from down the street were on his porch, counting baseball cards and speeding through packs of Bazooka, when I glanced a magazine tucked beneath his waistband. It was pristine, glimmering; it looked like a secret, something that was reserved for his eyes only.
“It’s a Nintendo Power,” he said. Nintendo. Power. I annunciated, smiling, thrilled. He unfurled it, held it like a delicate fossil. And then: “I’m gonna win,” he exclaimed. “This is the winning ticket.” He showed me a puzzle piece designed for that Spot the Dot contest I’d seen earlier that morning. The rules went: When prompted by a familiar Nickelodeon cast member, you’d hold up your puzzle piece to the TV, and if you saw a “dot” in the center, you were a winner. “This is my ticket to a new Nintendo 64,” he said, which was the grand prize.
I knew next to nothing about the Nintendo 64—I knew it was a video game console, but that was it. So my friend explained why it was so exciting. He showed me Mario. He showed me the sprawling, vibrant world of Pilotwings. For the time, the graphics were phenomenal, unlike anything I’d ever seen. I didn’t know things like that were possible. It was like learning Santa was real.
After that day, I wanted to win. I wanted a Nintendo 64 more than anything. More than a new bike, or skateboard, or new shoes. It was at the top of my wish list, on my mind every waking minute. I slept, ate, and thought about the Nintendo 64—that’s it. So I started collecting. Every Nintendo Power magazine with a Spot the Dot puzzle piece, I begged my mom to buy. Out at the grocery store, I’d snatch three or four up without hesitation—it became a reflexI imagined myself playing Mario, catapulting myself through the air, jumping on Goombas, riding on turtle shells. I wanted to collect red coins, and find hidden worlds. Up to this point, as a rambunctious eleven-year-old, I’d never enveloping myself in a fictional digital world like that—it was never on my short to-do list. But somehow, this was different. It commanded my attention.
I wound up collecting so many magazines, kept safely in my school backpack, that I looked like some mini hoarder. I was maniacal, rabid. But I was going to win, because duh. I was a little kid that willed it to be true.
When the contest got underway—it lasted for two weeks, I believe—I made sure the TV was tuned to Nickelodeon, that the volume was way up, and that I had all my puzzle pieces ready. Every night when the contest was going on, between a primetime slot in the late evening, viewers would be instructed to hold up their tickets. Every night, I didn’t win.
But I kept hoping. I felt like I was destined to. I felt like each night when I was being instructed to hold my piece up to the TV, I was the only one playing. Therefore, my chances of winning were guaranteed. So when the last night of the competition came, I was confident. I even cleaned off a space by the TV for my brand new Nintendo 64.
When Alex Mack instructed me to check my tickets, I frantically held them up one-by-one, carefully inspecting each. My first piece didn’t win. And neither did my fourth. When I got to my last one, my heart pounding through my chest, I preemptively smiled in victory. This was it. I held it up.
There was no dot.
All that buildup, anticipation, and I lost. Some other kid across the country, maybe in Wyoming or Utah, was celebrating, an owner of a brand new Nintendo 64. In all my life, and since, I’ve never been more devastated. Surely it was a mistake that I didn’t win—I couldn’t accept it. I cried.
That Christmas, a few months post Nintendo 64 Doomsday, I was forlorn, mourning my horrible, terrible luck. I barely ate at our family dinner. When it came time to open presents, I didn’t feel excited. No gift would have been good enough to replace what I desperately wanted.
I showed about the same enthusiasm a fish has for the desert when opening my presents. Money, a sweater, socks, etc. Great things, but my mind was occupied by my loss. No amount of Christmas spirit or free stuff was going to change that. Until I received one last present, which my mom took out from a closet in her room. I already knew what it was before opening it.
This was my reaction.
The Nintendo 64 wound up being everything I hoped for and more. It sparked my passionate affinity for technology, and has, and always will be, my favorite console. Ever. I didn’t Spot the Dot. But, in the end, I still enjoyed a Christmas miracle.