I am two hours into the flight and have two more to go. This is usually the time where I start to get real antsy; two hours in. I have finished the dull airline magazine and flipped through the catalogue of stuff I will never buy. I have feigned interest in the re-runs of Friends playing on the overhead. I have finished my little bag of complimentary cheese-like snacks and a drink. I have been to the bathroom, stretched and returned to my seat. I’ve now done it all… or at least everything you can do by yourself in coach-class on flight AA-514 non-stop to Seattle.
Flights were packed these days. Packed like sardines. I looked at the kid in the seat next to me. He’s a teenager; maybe sixteen. He’s immersed in his Nintendo DS. Over the course of the flight, the only thing I have heard him say was, “Like Donkey Kong!”
He said it when I asked him to let me out so I could go to the restroom. “Excuse me.” : “Like Donkey Kong, Man.”
He said it repeatedly while playing his game with ugly guys who hit each other: “Like Donkey KONG!!!”
So now, two hours into my flight with two more to go, I asked him what it meant. I am bored. I have nothing else to do. So sue me. “Excuse me,” I interrupt his game, “but what do you mean, ‘Like Donkey Kong’?”
He looked at me, unregistering.
“What is ‘Like Donkey Kong’?” I repeat, thinking that if I used fewer words, it would be easier for him.
He grins and says, “Everything.” And then he was back to playing his game about ugly guys hitting each other.
I settle into my seat and stared at the little nozzle overhead that blows air on you. Blown off by this kid, now I am blown off by a little plastic nozzle. I sigh. ‘Everything’ is like Donkey Kong. Of course it is, Donkey Kong; a video game. Everything is just like that, I thought disdainfully. I was playing Donkey Kong before this kid was even born. I was his age when Donkey Kong was popular in the arcades. This kid, engrossed in his game about ugly people hitting each other, has probably never even played Donkey Kong.
Yep, back in the day, I shoved many a quarter into Donkey Kong, determined to save the princess. Starting at the bottom of precariously tilted girders and climbing to the top as quickly as I could, trying to avoid barrels being thrown my way. It’s like the endless fire drills I deal with in my work, the unforeseen emergencies that crop up.
In the game, you have to time it precisely, when you will jump over a barrel or when you will climb up a ladder, always staying clear of the barrel on fire. There was eternal worry that a barrel will go errant and come down the ladder rather than do to the end of the girder. Eventually, you can grab a hammer and smash some barrels, but this is short lived. That is just like my work, avoiding the unnecessary and handling the challenges that must be dealt with head on. Timing and finesse is everything.
And when you do finally get to the top to save the princess, the victory is short lived. Donkey Kong grabs her and escapes, and it starts over, the same thing, only more difficult. The victories I have; the problems I solve, the computers I fix, the engineers I teach… its all temporary. When one problem is solved, there is another waiting for me address. There is always another broken computer to fix. I pay my bills. I pay my taxes. I save back a little as I can, investing here and there and planning for my son’s college education. Every month, it starts over and I have to pay the bills, pay taxes, save what I can. Rinse and repeat. Just like the levels in Donkey Kong, over and over.
I looked at the kid again, still hitting ugly people in his game, oblivious to everything around him. Maybe the kid is right.
Everything is like Donkey Kong.