Collectors Items, Unemployment, and Doing Complete Teshuvah — By Ben

The special edition, gold, 1 terabyte, PlayStation 4 was on sale for only one week. The regular model was $50 dollars more. My friend Aaron could get me an employee discount of 10% and combined with the 5% Target RedCard savings knocked the price down to $212.50. I’d be a fool not to buy it. Except for the fact that I’m a 33 year-old-struggling-to-make-ends-meet-writer, with most of my money coming from an assistant job. I had enough trouble focusing with Facebook, Gmail, and Instagram. I didn’t need a PS4.

But I made myself a deal. If I could finish the script I was writing in nine days, I could have it. I had NEVER written a 30 minute pilot in nine days. The quickest I had ever done was two weeks and that was with a writing partner. Fast forward to the ninth day. I had the whole third act to go. I got off from the assistant job, sat down at Starbucks and wrote for four and a half hours straight until I was done. I called Aaron.

“Sorry man. All the Targets in Los Angeles are sold out,” he informed me. “Want me to try to order it online?”

“No. I think I’m good.” God clearly didn’t want me to have the PS4. The motivation had worked. Let’s leave it at that.

10 PM that night I called Aaron. “Let’s order it online.”

Suddenly the website was sold out too. Another clear sign to let this go. I don’t remember what voodoo internet magic I performed, but suddenly the PS4 was in my cart and ready to purchase!

I went into work the next day. By quitting time I was informed bossman was ‘letting me go.’ The job that would always be there to give me hours when writing got thin, the job that I was supposed to be giving me new responsibilities to take on, was now over.

The smart thing to do would have been to cancel the order or sell it on eBay. But I kept it. Despite many dumb moves in this story, there’s one smart thing I did with my newfound unemployment: A three-month trip to study in a yeshiva. Israel was amazing with incredible learning, fantastic relationships, extraordinary character development, etc. Through the grinding but rewarding Talmud learning, I was still looking forward to coming back home and playing that gold PS4. If that’s not a metaphor for idol worship, I don’t know what is.

I returned home to Los Angeles three weeks ago. I’m getting up at 6 AM to daven with a minyan. I have a new writing job with the potential for lasting work. Though I kept the PS4, I keep playing to a minimum. So what happens when a Facebook message group posts that every Toys R Us in America is getting a shipment of the coveted SNES CLASSIC?

For non-super nerds, the SNES CLASSIC is a special version of the 1991 Super Nintendo game system preloaded with 30 of the most popular games. Last year Nintendo did the treatment with its original NES and it created a frenzy on the level of Tickle Me Elmo. I didn’t care that much about the original Nintendo, but the Super Nintendo was MY system. I still remember the day my parents bought it for me for my 7th birthday.

You’d think after losing my job, three months in Israel, and the rebounding back to employment, I’d have learned my lesson. But there’s a Toys R Us 10 minutes from my apartment! At least I could see if they have any left.

At 9:30 AM, I’m 12th in line waiting for the store to open. It’s 90 degrees in late October and we’re right in the sun. I’m surrounded by people wearing fandom. Mushroom Kingdom shirts, shorts that go till mid-shin, someone playing a Nintendo 3DS. I used to go to anime conventions with these guys. I used to nerd out so hard on why X-Men 3 was a travesty. But now I’m wearing a yarmulke and tzitzis. Instead of playing a 3DS I’m flipping through a pocket Chumash telling myself I’m going to come up with my parsha blogpost while I wait.

The guy ahead of me tells me he called the night before and the clerk told him they got 12 units in, but today an employee came out and said they only had six. I have another test before me. Maimonides says that a person does complete teshuvah (repentance) when they are put in the same situation and make the right decision. Well this is about as similar a situation as possible. I look at the guy behind me, the 13th guy. If I decide to step out of line and go home, I’d essentially be giving this guy the coveted video game system.

I’ll cut to the chase. I don’t step out of line. A woman comes and hands out tickets to the first six customers. Only six! I’m amazed. People leave except for the victorious six and a few stragglers.

I stick around, half hoping they’re magically going to find some second box. The store is still 15 minutes from opening and the employee tells the victorious six that they are free to go do whatever, just bring the ticket to customer service when they are ready. One of the losers tells them not to fall for it. Last year a friend of his got a ticket, went to get a coffee and when he came back they had sold his to someone else. A girl with a ticket says as soon as she safely buys hers she’s going to get a bottle of water.

That’s when it hits me. I’m wearing the yarmulke and the tzitzis; why don’t I take the opportunity to be more than a disgruntled loser? I go buy a handful of bottled waters. For a grand total of $4.50 I’m able to bring comfort, kindness, and relief to winners and losers alike. The girl who made the comment is thankful. Other people are reluctant to take the water. I tell them that I don’t need five bottles of water, so they take them.

I’d like to say that I was relieved and thankful that I didn’t get the SNES CLASSIC because I knew it would be at best a distraction and at worst bittel Torah (when things pull you away from your learning, they actually nullify your learning). But much of my writing time that day was spent pouring over other internet outlets in search of a way to acquire the elusive video game system. (Sad but true.) Finally, I came across another lead. Target.com would be selling it on November 1stto RedCard holders (which I was.) However, as I looked over all the games that I had bought and never played, paired with the reality that I would be buying games I had owned 20 years ago, I knew God had made the right decision for me and I went back to my writing.

Funny enough a few days later I would be in Las Vegas for Aaron’s wedding. The night before, he, his friends and I would be partying in a 4-room suite at Caesars Palace. Sure enough, Aaron brought his SNES CLASSIC and we hooked it up to the 60 inch plasma screen. After five minutes of playing, I was glad I was 12th in line instead of 6th.

This post originally appeared on Aish.com.

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