131 08/06/2022

It’s-a me, Mario! I was-a working as a plumber in New York when I fell-a down a pipe and landed in the Mushroom Kingdom. Pretty soon, I was-a having all kinds of super-fun adventures, crushing Koopas, dodging hammers, and jumping through castle after castle. It’s-a like my whole life was a game. I’d-a wake up each morning shouting, “Wahoo! Yiiiiippeee! Here we go!”

That feels like a really long time ago. I was-a born in 1981, which means, if you do-a the math, I’m-a forty years old.

I wasn’t-a really thinking about it much until last summer. Just another birthday, right? Then it’s-a like the reality of the thing just hit me. Like, “Mamma mia, I’m-a going to be middle-aged.” It’s-a like one of those fireballs that moves-a so slowly you forget it’s even coming, until it’s-a right in your face.

The thing that’s so hard about turning forty is it forces you to take-a stock of how you’re doing. And, to be honest, I’m-a not doing so great. These days, my life, it’s-a fucked up. Like, there’s just a lot of super-heavy shit that I’m-a dealing with right now. I guess the best way to explain it is-a to start from the beginning of last week, which is when shit really started to get-a, like, super fucked up.

Here we go . . .

So basically one day I wake up, and it’s-a like I can’t-a move my back. Like, at all. So I go to Dr. Mario (no relation), and he’s-a, like, “Mario, when’s-a the last time that you had a physical?” And I’m-a, like, “Can’t you just look at my back like-a normal?” And he’s-a, like, “No, because I’m-a starting to think there might-a be underlying problems.” So I’m-a in this tiny room for hours, doing all kinds of tests that I’ve-a never done before, and finally Dr. Mario comes back holding some X-rays, and he says that, between the jumping and the running and the smashing the bricks with my head, I’ve-a basically given myself arthritis. So I ask for a cortisone shot, and he’s-a, like, “It’s-a too soon since the last one.” And I’m-a, like, “Come on, it’s-a me, Mario.” So he sighs and gives me one, right in the spine, and it’s-a, like, literally the most painful experience of my life, but the sick thing is that I’m-a grateful. That’s-a how fucked up my back is. I’m-a crying from agony and thanking him at the same time, because I know this shot, it’s-a going to at least give me a few days of relief. And he says, “We need-a to schedule the surgery, Mario. The one we’ve been-a talking about. To fuse-a your spine. Recovery’s-a going to be brutal, but the alternative is you could-a end up in a wheelchair. You could lose-a your ability to walk.” And he gives me his card and writes down his cell-phone number on it, and I’m-a thinking, Mamma mia, it must be serious if he’s-a giving me his private line. And I walk out of his office, and I’m-a staring at his card, and I’m-a just, like, “I can’t face this.” So I stick it under the shell of a passing beetle and give him a kick, and he slides across the bricks, just skidding off into oblivion.

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So then I check-a my phone and there’s-a, like, twenty missed calls from the Princess. And I just sigh, like, “Here we go.” And I call her back and she’s-a, like, “Who’s calling?” And I’m-a, like, “It’s-a me, Mario. Who the hell else would it be?” And she’s-a, like, “I’m sorry. I guess I didn’t know if you were going to call me back or not, because lately it’s like you’re not even a part of my life.” And then she just starts-a going off on me for being out of touch all day, and when I tell her I was at the doctor she accuses me of lying to her, because at this point in our relationship there’s-a, like, zero trust. And I’m about to hang up, when she tells me she’s-a been kidnapped by a Koopa.

And I know I’m-a not supposed to say this, but lately I’ve started to think she’s been getting kidnapped by Koopas on purpose. The first few times it happened, I was-a, like, “O.K., that’s a weird coincidence.” But then it happened again, and again, and, like, literally thousands more times. And recently I said to her, “If you know that the Koopas are after the Princess, why do you walk around wearing a crown?” And she was, like, “Oh, so you’re saying I was asking for it ? Because of the way that I was dressed ?” And I was, like, “You know what? If you want to get-a me cancelled, go ahead!” Because, honestly, sometimes I fantasize about that shit, since it would give me an excuse to stop. I wouldn’t even do an apology, I’d-a just go off the grid, like Zelda after that N-word thing, because at this point I’m-a so goddam tired, I’d just be, like, “Great, I’m out! Wahoo! Yiiiiippeee!” You know? Like, fuck it.

So anyway, she texts-a me the address of this castle she’s trapped in, and it’s-a, like, seven worlds away, with dozens of levels in between, plus mini games. And my back, it’s-a already starting to tingle, which means the cortisone’s-a wearing off. I have at most, like, two days of mobility left before it’s like I’m-a basically going to be paralyzed. And so I tell her, you know, “I’m-a sorry, but I can’t save you this time. Even jacked up on stars and hauling ass, there’s-a no way I can make it.”

So she’s-a, like, “Guess I’ll call Devon.”

And Devon, he’s-a this d.j. who’s, like, twenty-two at most, and he’s-a got that whole Machine Gun Kelly look, like super tall and thin, with the face tattoos. And I don’t even think she’s-a actually into this guy, but it doesn’t matter. Because it’s-a like she has this power over me, like, when she wants to hurt me, she can hurt-a me. Still, after all these years.


So I say, “Hey, come on, baby. Relax. It’s-a me, Mario.” And her voice gets soft, and she asks if I’m-a coming to save her or not. And I say, “Of course. Just wait on your floating block over the fire. I’ll-a think of something.”

So that night I’m-a frantically searching through these message boards about back pain, and I see there’s this miracle device from Europe that’s, like, an electronic belt that takes-a all the pressure off your spine. And I make some calls, and there’s a guy downtown who’s got one of these things, but it’s-a going to cost ten thousand dollars. And I’ve-a got, like, five coins in my checking account.

And I know what you’re-a thinking: “How does Super Mario go broke? You collected entire rooms of coins! What happened?” And the answer is-a simple: I trusted a close personal friend to manage-a my money. And I can’t say too much about what happened, because the lawsuit is-a ongoing, but essentially, all those years I thought that I was riding Yoshi, it was the other way around. That dinosaur, he was-a fucking me from moment one. And I know I deserve-a some of the blame for not catching on, because by the end he had his own island, and safari, and there was even Yoshi’s World. I mean, this guy had his own private world, named after him. But still, when you’ve-a known someone forever, and he’s always just-a smiling and laughing and, like, making little cooing sounds, you never think, This guy’s-a fucking me.

So anyway, the Princess is-a waiting for me, and I can’t-a do shit until I get this spine belt, and that means there’s-a only one move I can make. I’ve-a got no choice but to take the bus out to the suburbs and go see my brother.

So, look, here’s-a the deal with Luigi. I’m-a glad he got sober, because, you know, he was-a going to die. And now he does four hours of yoga every day, and he and his husband, Kwame, they seem-a genuinely happy, and I’m-a happy for them. It’s-a great. Wahoo, yippee. At the same time, I’m-a not going to pretend like it’s a blast hanging out with them and all their dogs.

So I walk up to their fancy gate and ring the stupid intercom and say, “It’s-a me, Mario.” And Kwame’s, like, “Mario, what a pleasant surprise!” And this guy, he’s-a nice, but he’s-a more boring than World 1, Level 1, on Easy. He reads self-help business books for fun, and I’ve-a known him for three years and I still have no clue what he does. But I guess that he’s-a loaded, because Luigi is essentially a professional sunbather now, and their driveway, it’s-a, like, Tesla, Tesla, Tesla.

So they buzz me in and I tell-a them my whole fucked-up situation—how the Princess is-a trapped, and I need to buy this spine belt, but I’ve-a got no money—and they say they’re-a going to help me. And I’m-a super relieved. But, instead of writing me a check, Kwame says, “Mario, are you familiar with the concept of a career pivot?” And I’m-a, like, “What?” And he hands-a me this book called “What Color Is Your Parachute?” And then he’s-a, like, “Hey, you know what might be fun? If we made you a new résumé right now!” And Luigi gives me a big thumbs-up, like I’ve-a just won a fucking extra life.

So Kwame takes out his laptop, and he’s-a, like, “O.K., what would you say is your most marketable skill?” And I’ve-a got no choice but to play along, because I still have to hit them up for money. So I’m-a, like, “I don’t know, I guess fighting Koopas?” And Kwame’s, like, “We could focus on your combat skills. But I think it might widen the net if we highlighted your experience with plumbing.” And Luigi rattles off the dates of my last plumbing job, and Kwame types them in, and then he’s-a, like, “We need a strategy for how to explain the gap.” And I’m-a, like, “What gap?” And he’s-a, like, “You know, this multi-decade period where you were out of the workforce.” And I’m-a, like, “It’s not like I was just sitting on a cloud all day. I was-a travelling from world to world, going on quests.” And he’s-a, like, “Right, but a plumbing executive won’t necessarily interpret it that way.” And he writes up this cover letter that’s-a designed to turn “the negative into a positive”:

Dear prospective employer,

I am writing to apply for the position of journeyman plumber at your company or business. Plumbing is a lifelong passion of mine. After beginning my career in New York City, I took a multiyear hiatus to the Mushroom Kingdom in order to improve my knowledge of pipes. Now I am ready to jump back in the game and pick up where I left off. I am confident that I am the right person to help you achieve success.


Mario Mario

And Luigi’s, like, “Wow, that’s-a perfect!” And I’m-a just reading it over and over again, like, Really? All my adventures, the entirety of my adult life, it all boils down to a “hiatus”? And it feels like I’ve walked into a spike and gone from big to small, and all the mushrooms in the world can’t make me big again.

And by this point the Princess, she’s-a texting me non-stop, like, “Where. The. Fuck. Are you.” So I turn to Luigi and say, “Listen, I really appreciate all this great life advice, but today the main thing is I need-a to borrow some money, so I can buy this spine belt and save the Princess from the Koopa.” And there’s-a this long silence, and eventually Kwame squeezes Luigi’s hand, and Luigi takes a deep breath, and I’m-a just rolling my eyes, like, “Here we go.” And Luigi takes off his hat and launches into this speech, which is obviously super rehearsed. And he’s-a, like, “Mario, we want to help you, but we don’t-a think we’ve-a been helping you in the right way. And that’s-a why, for your sake and ours, we have-a decided to put up some financial boundaries.” And that’s-a when I kind of lose my cool and start running around shooting fireballs. And Luigi’s, like, “Mario, don’t-a do this.” But I’m-a so angry now, it’s-a like I’m just in battle mode. And Luigi runs at me, and I shoot him a look, like, “Let’s-a go!” But even though I can usually take him, my back, it’s-a so messed up that he manages to jump on my head, which makes me motionless. And these giant block letters appear over our heads, saying, “LUIGI WIN!” And he’s, like, “I’m-a sorry, Mario.” And I’m-a, like, “Fuck you.”

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