NO!" Andy shouted, stomping his feet. For the hundredth time, it seemed, his mother had discovered what had to be the most hideous sweater in the store, and as she held it up in front of him, his reply was the same as the others: "It's ugly, mom!" Undaunted, his mother merely replaced the sweater on the rack and began browsing the next table of sweaters. Andy sighed, fidgeted, and looked desperately towards the exit of the store, something not unusual for a thirteen-year-old boy suffering the fate of so many like him, as his mother searched for what would most likely be the most embarrassing sweater possible for him for Christmas. In a move of desperation, he changed his tactics. The red sweater with the reindeer on it was the worst yet, but Andy forced a smile and offered, "I like that one; let's get it!" Instead of jumping with joy at the thought of pleasing her son, Andy's mother frowned and returned the sweater to the table.
After what seemed like an eternity, a sweater was found, along with slacks (that itchy kind) and a shirt. Having paid dearly for coming along, it was now time to go to the store which *he* wanted to go to. They walked past the Christmas decorations in front of the stage where kids were having their picture taken with Santa and arrived at a large, brightly lit store, whose windows were filled with rows and rows of televisions. Andy glanced quickly at the sign: "Electronics Emporium" and pulled his mother inside. He wasted no time at the video or music sections, and instead headed straight to the back.
There it sat, the Mercedes Benz of video game consoles, the latest and greatest the market had to offer, the GameGod Six Thousand. Andy stared at the kung-fu game running on the demo, so realistic that you could actually see the teeth fly out of the fighters' mouths whenever they received a roundhouse kick to the face. "Here it is, Mom! Look!" he exclaimed, as though this was some revelation. Actually she knew exactly what it was, since Andy had been dragging her here about once a week for the past two months. Andy looked enviously over towards the checkout counter, where several people stood in line with the enormous box of the GameGod Six Thousand in their arms.
His mother sighed. "Let's go, Andy." "Just another minute," came the reply, as the kung-fu game had been replaced by a jet-ski racing game on the demonstration unit. Andy stood staring at the screen, as if in a trance. The vivid colors, the smooth graphics, this was as real as it gets, he thought.
For the next several days the GameGod filled his every thought. The closer Christmas came, the more blatant were his hints, until he finally blurted it out: "All I want for Christmas is the GameGod Six Thousand. That's ALL you need to get me!" His parents smiled, and Andy was sure his message had gotten through. The GameGod would be his.
On Christmas Eve he climbed into bed with happy anticipation. Hopefully his parents knew to get the ElectroMit controller. Perhaps they'd splurge and get the DVD player upgrade, too, he thought to himself. He laid out his game plan for the programs he would buy with the Christmas money that was sure to come from his grandparents. First on the list was "Virtual Deathmatch", followed by "Screaming Supercars 2002". Then, well, he'd wait to see what new games were on the horizon. He could go to the store first thing on December 26th, though he was certain that his parents would not forget to buy at least one or two games for him to play. After all, what good is a game console without a game?
Andy awoke early Christmas morning, threw on his bathrobe, and bounded down the stairs into the living room. There, under the tree, sat a mound of festively-wrapped presents. He felt a momentary surge of panic until he saw the very large box, wrapped in bright, cheerful paper, standing in the corner. The GameGod! His excitement was unbridled, and he shouted for his parents to come downstairs. Mock groans emanated from the hallway as his parents trundled down the stairs and into the living room. "Me first, me first!" Andy cheered, scampering over towards the large box in the corner. In moments, the careful wrapping had been torn aside.
Andy stared in disbelief. He blinked once, twice, staring at the box in front of him. There were no flashy pictures of the GameGod on the box, no list of specifications on the memory, speed and graphical detail. Instead, the box featured. a train. That's right, the picture that greeted him was of a steam engine, a flatcar, a boxcar, a gondola, some kind of green caboose-thing. A train. A TRAIN! Andy turned towards his parents. Their looks of anticipation were quickly replaced with looks of surprise when he stammered, "You have GOT to be kidding!" This was quickly followed by a deluge of unintelligible phrases, sobs, complaints, tantrums, and rants. When he was finished, Andy burst into tears, kicked the box of trains over onto its back, and bolted up to his room, slamming the door behind him.
He sulked in his room the rest of the day, only coming down for dinner under the threat of physical punishment by his father. The train set sat abandoned in the corner next to the tree as Andy picked at his Christmas dinner, mumbling under his breath. As soon as he was excused he stormed back upstairs and into his room. He briefly powered up his older video game machine, but after a few minutes he angrily threw the controller at the console and shut the T.V. off. He lay in bed, furious at his parents, wondering where they got the NERVE to not only completely ignore his Christmas gift request, but to give him some stupid toy train instead.
The next morning Andy awoke early, in as sour a mood as he had been the night before. His father had to work this day, and mom had gone to visit Aunt Lucy. Andy was alone. He walked back into the living room and pondered the box in the corner. He recognized the set, now that he thought about it- it was from a store downtown, a huge toy store that carried all kinds of toys and gadgets. In fact, they would probably even carry the GameGod.
An idea formed in Andy's head, one that gave him a small knot of guilt in his stomach. Still, anger and desire would win out over guilt. Andy pulled on his coat and shoes, hurriedly stuffed the big box into a plastic garbage bag (it was, after all, snowing outside) and headed out the door to the bus stop. He had never taken the bus downtown, only to Tony Pitrelli's house, and once to the movie theater with his dad. Today, however, was made for adventure, and Andy was hell-bent on trading in this dumb train set for a new GameGod, and if the train set wasn't worth enough money, he would get the store to give him credit, and when his grandparents came to visit tomorrow, he would hit them up for the difference. What a fantastic plan!
The bus churned up the road through the slush and falling flakes and stopped in front of the stop where Andy got on. An elderly couple stepped off, and Andy let them pass before stepping onto the bus and confronting the driver. "Do you know how to get to Schwartzes on 7th?" he asked. The driver mumbled something about changing to the number 62 bus at the depot and demanded a dollar sixty in payment, which Andy paid before sitting down. The bus was quite full, and Andy grasped his garbage-bagged train set firmly in his hands, lest any of these shady characters on the bus try anything.
When they reached the mid-town depot, Andy rushed through the snow to catch his connecting bus. He barely got on before the bus departed. Again, the bus was quite full. He strained to hear the announcements from the driver above the din of the other passengers. Finally he heard it: "Seventh!" Andy pushed past the standing riders, repeating "excuse me, excuse me" like a skipping record. Finally he made it to the door, and stepped off right before the doors closed and the bus roared away in a cloud of blue diesel smoke.
Andy looked around, completely disoriented. It was seventh, all right, but Andy didn't recognize any of the buildings. In fact, Andy shivered noticeably when he looked around. The buildings that occupied the corner were all large apartment buildings, in very dilapidated condition. Andy was sure they were abandoned, until the door opened on the building behind him and a mother hurried out into the snow with a baby on her arm, wrapped in several old brown blankets. Andy couldn't actually see the baby, but the baby's cries were quite unnerving, the short, repetitive cries of a child that's hungry or in pain. Andy shivered again. 'Pick a direction,' he told himself, turned right, and began walking down seventh.
All the way down the block Andy clutched his box tightly in his arms, certain that a gang of thugs would jump out from behind a door and beat him up and steal his trains. He looked around cautiously, but those seedy high-schoolers, bent on whitewashing him and taking the trains to get their *own* GameGod, didn't materialize. Andy felt self-conscious when he realized he could look right into the windows of the apartments on the ground floors of the buildings, and that those inside could see him as well. Andy walked about three blocks without spotting the Schwartzes (or anything else familiar) when he decided perhaps he had made a mistake.
He should have stayed at the bus stop, gotten on the next bus back, and waited until his folks calmed down, or until his grandfather and grandmother came, to trade in the trains for a real present. Besides, it was lunchtime, and Andy was hungry. Andy turned around and headed back. The snow was still falling when Andy reached the bus stop where he got off. He waited for the signal, and crossed the road to where the bus stop in the other direction would be. He found it soon enough, right on the corner, in fact, and stepped into the shelter of the building behind it to keep out of the snow. The next bus was to come in about ten minutes, so Andy wouldn't have long to wait.
Suddenly he heard the sound of quiet singing behind him, and turned. Through a window, broken and taped over with plastic wrap, he saw a young boy, perhaps a year or two younger than he, playing in a sparsely decorated room with a girl a year or two younger than that, who was the singer of the Christmas carol that had gotten his attention. There was a mattress on the floor on each side, the sheets on them neatly made. In another corner sat a desk, the walls above which were adorned with posters of Michael Jordan, Brittney Spears, and other celebrities. Actually, they weren't posters, Andy noted, just magazine pictures that had been cut out. The boy and girl sat on the floor of the room playing with what had to be the saddest excuse for toys he had ever seen.
The boy's pistol was nothing more than an L-shaped piece of wood painted black, while the little girl was playing with a doll who had to be older than dirt, without more than a few strands of hair coming from the plastic head. The girl was pushing the doll around in one of those cars they made for dolls in the old days, with plastic wheels and cheesy bright colors. Even the car was falling apart! The boy had a trio of plastic soldiers he was doing battle with. The soldiers were hiding behind "bushes", nothing more than crumpled up newspaper. Why didn't he just buy the landscape kits from the hobby shop, and get himself some decent Warhammer figures instead of those plastic soldiers? Why didn't the girl go get one of the new remote-controlled Corvettes they made for that kind of a doll? Well, perhaps they were on their way to the hobby shop right now, Andy thought, since they were both dressed up for going out, with coats and hats on. Why didn't they.
As the realization slowly hit Andy of the reason why they were wearing their coats, and the fact that they were probably not leaving the room at all, he suddenly felt very, very alone, and really wished the bus would come RIGHT NOW. When the young boy in the room looked up, saw Andy looking in, saw Andy's nice, new jacket and hat, and quickly looked down in shame, Andy wished he could just disappear. It was Andy's turn to feel shame.
The bus did come, and Andy immediately hopped aboard, though the warmth of the bus did nothing to temper the coldness Andy felt inside, and he continued to shiver. By the time he arrived home it was after three, and he hurried inside the house. Suddenly the trains seemed okay, and out of curiosity Andy opened the large box. He was surprised to find a crane, something he had overlooked on the box cover. As he sat on the floor looking at the box's contents, he didn't hear his father come home from work. His father joined him in the living room.
"That was the first present I got from Gramps and Oma when we had some money after the war," Andy's father recalled. "I used to play with it for hours and hours. I guess these days it's a pretty old-fashioned gift." Andy shrugged. "What do you say we give it a try, Andy?" Andy nodded in agreement. A space was cleared near the tree, and soon Andy's dad had helped put together a loop of track with a passing siding. Andy connected the transformer, and with a slight turn of the knob, the steam engine, with cars in tow, began to make its way around the circle of track. The crane was set up, too, and Andy's father brought some nails from the workbench as a load. It was a pretty neat electric crane with an electromagnet, and Andy was surprised at how difficult it was to maneuver the arm of the crane back and forth, to get the load to land in the car just right.
Before long the GameGod was as good as forgotten, and Andy and his father were laughing in delight. Even when Andy's father left to get some work done, Andy continued to play. He "liberated" some branches from the bottom of the Christmas tree, and after some careful pruning he had made a few bunches of "trees" to put up around the train tracks. A placemat half-rolled-up made for a neat tunnel, and even the green Christmas sweater Andy's mother had picked out was crumpled into a pile to make a makeshift mountain inside the circle of track. Andy practiced his switching with the engine and handling of the crane for the rest of the evening. His mother stopped in disbelief when she came home at seven to find him playing happily with the trains. From boxes of toys in the basement Andy had brought up some Legos, which he built into a small train station and freight depot. Even the small Lego figures took turns riding around the circle of track on the train. Hey, he thought, this wasn't such a bad toy after all. In fact, it was pretty darned cool.
That evening Andy went to bed in a much better mood, even thanking his parents for the train set. He wanted to play some more, but was too tired from his long day, and fell asleep almost immediately.
He was up early the next morning playing with the trains, and didn't get dressed until ten. He was just pulling on his pants when the doorbell rang below. His grandparents! He hurried downstairs into the living room and gave them a big hug. Grandpa smiled when he saw the trains set up, complete with crane, tunnel and mountain (though his mother frowned when she saw his sweater lumped into a pile on the floor). "Changed your mind about those, have you, Andy?" his grandfather queried. "They *are* kinda cool," Replied Andy. His grandfather continued: "Does this mean that you won't have use for. THIS?"
He moved aside, revealing a new huge box next to the tree, this one sporting the unmistakable graphics of the gift he desired the most, the one-and-only GameGod Six Thousand. Andy's father frowned, his mother rolled her eyes. "Are you KIDDING?" screamed Andy, rushing up to the box, kicking over the crane in the process. He pulled the box out and dropped it onto the temporary train layout, looking at the bright graphics, the list of specifications that seemed to go on forever, the list of exciting games now available for the G.G.SixEx, as the 'hip kids' called it. "Can I set it up, mom?" he asked. "After dinner," came the reply. Andy frowned. Well, that was okay, he supposed.
The day passed, dinner came and went, and Andy hurried to the living room. He scooped up the G.G.SixEx and climbed the stairs to his bedroom. He dropped to his knees and opened the box. The cold, gray game console that greeted him seemed oddly unfamiliar, unidentifiable. Andy pulled out the instructions and began reading. The more he read, the less interesting the gray box became.
His parents were surprised to find Andy, minutes later, setting up the crane he had knocked over, and preparing another load of nails for delivery to the other side of the tunnel. A small piece of green wrapping paper from the train box remained, and Andy crumpled it up to throw it into the trash can. It fell short, and dropped onto the makeshift layout. Andy noted to himself how much it looked like a small...bush.
This night Andy did not sleep well. The simple act of missing an easy two-point shot into the trashcan had brought back the events of the day before. Andy pictured the two kids, playing in their bitterly cold room, making do with an old doll, a piece of wood, and not much more. In the morning Andy knew what needed to be done. The train set would be just fine for him, there was someone who needed that G.G.SixEx more than he did.
At breakfast he finally broke down and told his mother the story of the day before, from how he had intended to trade in the trains for the videogame, to what he had seen through the window of the apartment building. When he had finished with the tale and apologizing for doing something as dangerous and stupid as trying to go downtown on the bus all by himself, He told his mother what he wanted to do. She nodded in agreement, and before long the two of them headed out the door to Seventh Avenue, Andy with the GameGod, carefully re-wrapped in wrapping paper, tucked under his arm.
Although it took them some time to find the house, Andy recognized it immediately. With the gift in-hand and his mother behind him, he walked up to the door of the large apartment building. It was unlocked, and Andy stepped inside. It was still cold enough in the foyer to see his own breath, Andy thought. The hallway was dim, with only a single bulb burning in the large light fixture overhead. He turned right and faced the door to the apartment he had seen the children playing in. The name on the door read "Conway". He was about to rap on the door when he paused. It wasn't right, no, it wasn't quite how he wanted it. He turned and walked past his mother out the door. "C'mon, mom."
Andy was back at the door an hour later. He took a long, deep breath. Behind him, his mother stroked his back, giving him the support he needed to rap on the door. His knock was answered by a woman about his mother's age. She looked suspiciously at Andy and his mother. Andy, who had carefully determined exactly what he would say, stood there, suddenly speechless. Finally his mother stepped forward and introduced herself, explaining only briefly how Andy, on his way to the toy store to exchange one gift he didn't want for one he did, had been taken aback by the two children playing in the room through the window, and that Andy, on his own, wanted to offer them some Christmas cheer. The woman, uncertain of what to do, finally responded with, "Thank you, that's very kind, but we are not charity." She began to close the door. "No, please!" Andy stammered, "I need to make this right!" Andy and his mother were invited in.
There are times in your life when God touches you on the shoulder, when by bringing someone into your life, He makes a point in a very effective way. For some, it is the birth of their child, or their marriage to a spouse. For Andy, it was a chance meeting, a glance through a window. That was the moment he was nudged into a very important relationship, as it would be, with Casey and Jenna, the two children Andy had seen through the window. A wonderful relationship for all three kids, if Andy had the courage to get that relationship started.
Andy was quite nervous when he entered the room where the kids were playing, with much the same toys as two days before. "Hello," the girl smiled. At first the boy didn't recognize Andy, but his look of suspicion didn't turn to shame when he recognized Andy, just puzzlement. "Here," Andy said, "Merry Christmas". With both mothers standing in the doorway of the room, Andy, Casey and Jenna began to pull the wrapping paper off the box. The two children stared wide-eyed at the box when it had been unwrapped. "I really like mine," Andy said, pointing to the train pictured on the box, "it's a lot of fun! Here, let me show you how to set it up." In minutes, with Andy's guidance, the kids had set up the tracks and crane, and the steam locomotive was coursing its way around the circle of track.
Andy and his mother often visited the Conways after that. Andy's family had gotten the windows in the Conway's apartment fixed and the heater repaired, and now Andy, Casey and Jenna would play trains for hours. Andy often brought his trains, too, and the three would take turns running the trains or operating the two cranes. Andy had gotten enough credit at the toy store from the GameGod to not only buy the identical train set for the Conways, but had enough left over to pick up a catalog, and he and Casey would ooh and aah over the pictures of trains for hours. The two boys became best friends, and whether it was Andy or Casey who had that little bit of extra money, they would always buy a little something for their trains. In fact, they would always be sure to buy...two.