It became a ‘thing’ in our house around 1985, gaining momentum through the next 2 moves in Michigan, once in 1987 and again in 1994. We were living in the Quad Cities when it started. I had no idea what was in store for my life over the next 15 years when the Hubs moseyed through the door carrying a large box with Toshiba stamped on it.
It was a new fangled video cassette recorder/player. VCR for short. Designed to record programs right off your TV. Hallelujah, praise the Lord, Amen. Suddenly we were no longer required to watch ‘Moonlighting’ at 8 on Tuesday night, or ‘LA Law’ on Friday’s. It was a miracle. I can’t tell you how many times I missed a favorite show during the early years of motherhood because it was bath or story time, or I had to start another load of wash. Guess what? When you missed an episode of ‘Bewitched’ you might get a second chance to catch it during the summer reruns, otherwise you were screwed. Period.
This wonderful gizmo also played pre-recorded movies which had recently played in theaters. What? With a family of five and a very limited spending budget on any extracurricular activities, we could now watch popular movies. At home. Brilliant. At first it wasn’t easy finding the newest movies. No Blockbuster or Family Video just yet. But it didn’t take long before independent businesses began popping up throughout the Quad Cities, renting movies for 99 cents. We’d rent the daily limit, bringing home a variety of kid and adult movies. Four of the five of us were completely enthralled with this new form of entertainment. Shannon was in her mid-teens and not so enamored. She was too busy reading, doing homework, babysitting, cheerleading, playing music or yakking on the phone to be bothered by a two hour movie with 2 younger brothers and a pair of very dull parents, (who were actually quite young and hip).
A few months later I became somewhat distrustful/disillusioned with Big Brother’s ability to get inside my head because of how closely ‘they’ were tracking me. Every time I inserted a videotape into the magical VCR, pushed play, up on the screen would pop this disturbing disclaimer. “This film has been modified from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your TV.” (Yikes! How did ‘they’ know what size TV I was watching? Freaked me out so bad I didn’t dare ask John about it for a couple years in case ‘they’ were listening as ‘they’ adjusted every movie I rented to fit my screen. When I was finally brave enough to ask how this was even possible, Hubs laughed til he cried. The Sadist).
After we moved to Michigan my movie/VCR obsession continued and my trivia knowledge on the subject grew to epic proportions. On any given night, if the kids were with friends I could expect a phone call from one of them (two were teens) asking me a question of no consequence to anyone. “Ma, who played the girl who lost her glasses in the bus station in Adventures in Babysitting?” “Penelope Ann Miller, rookie.” (This is the movie where I fell hard for Vincent D’Orofrio with his portrayal of Dawson/Thor). “Hey Mom, who played the veteran catcher with bum knees in Major League?” “Tom Berenger,” another one of my heartthrobs.
But I wasn’t content with simply renting the best action adventures (Die Hard, Quigley Down Under, True Lies), rom-coms (There’s Something about Mary, Notting Hill, Green Card, Dave, Benny & Joon, Hope Floats), comedies, (Kindergarten Cop, “it’s not a brain tumor,” Major League, The Money Pit, Uncle Buck, Parenthood, Three Amigos, “You scum sucking pig! You son of a motherless goat).” Our two boys yelled this at each other for years. Years. Or psychological thrillers, (Sleeping with the Enemy, Sixth Sense, Pacific Heights, (who knew Mr. Mom’s, Michael Keaton could be so menacing)?
No, if I liked the movie enough to rent it a second or third time, the movie had to come stay in my house-forever. I had a quirky deal going for the movies I had to have. Knew a great gal who worked in the video rental department at (you know what’s coming) my favorite store, Meijer. Meijer would get several copies of a highly anticipated movie like Die Hard. After a few weeks my gal (on the inside) would research the tape’s rental history on the computer. Which copy of Die Hard (yippee-ky-yay-mf) had been rented the least number of times. And she’d sell it to me. Sometimes it hadn’t been out of the store twice, but I’d get it for a fraction of the cost. So my movie library was extensive-yet inexpensive.
I knew only one other family who were as ga-ga about movies like us. But they used a different method. They had two VCR’s and piggybacked it somehow so when they rented a movie, they copied it before returning it. (Hollywood figured this out after a couple years). This family attended movies different than we did too. The whole group (3 or 4 boys I think) paid to see a movie on Saturday. Not everyone wanted to see the same flick, but there were several movies to choose from at the theater. After the first movie ended, instead of loading up in the car and heading home, everyone chose a different movie (however not paying again) and sneak into a second, then a third and so on. Spent the whole day at the theatre on the weekends.
Hollywood had since lost their ability to come up with any new plots or originality, they settled for monotonous remakes of decent movies and duplicated them with lame facsimiles. I became disenfranchised. But all was not lost for my favorite piece of equipment beside my Kitchenaid mixer. We had moved to our lake home in North Muskegon and had 4 TV’s in that house for a few years. (The boys were still around and I had to have a TV in the kitchen to watch my Cubbies-duh). With the explosion of multiple cable stations we found ourselves watching series on channels besides the major networks. Sometimes there were 2 shows on at the same time but on different channels. When we watched a VHS tape (I bought them by the skid) Hubs could fast forward through the commercials. (Actually I think the last commercial I watched in it’s entirety was in 1995. And I’m still not ready to watch another). The problem was our TV’s were not yet capable of changing channels without me. Major bummer. If I wanted to tape a program at 8 on NBC, then a 9 o’clock show on CBS, I had to literally change the channel exactly at 9. That proved to be a bigger pain than watching commercials, so we just added more VCR’s than we had children.
After acquiring a degree in rocket science, my job was to program all the VRC’s in the house. Tried to leave the kitchen TV alone because it had to be on WGN most of the time for the Cub games. One TV was designated for CBS, one for NBC and so on. And I had to keep track how many hours I’d programmed on each one before I had to replace the tape, sometimes midweek. Bought a tape rewinder to save on the VRC mechanisms, then had to place all the unwatched tapes in the right sequence so we’d watch them in the right order. The. Struggle. Was. Real.
Got to mention this zinger. One of our favorite shows at the height of my VCR madness was NYPD Blue on Tuesday nights at 10. After we moved to North Muskegon (160 miles northwest of Jackson) in 1994, we were dismayed (ok, royally pissed off) to learn we no longer had access to NYPD. The local ABC affiliate in Grand Rapids deemed NYPD Blue to racy for their delicate constituent’s Dutch ears and eyes and blocked it out, running a lame rerun of something more suitable for the masses. Unbelievable. Just because Andy Sipowitz grabbed his crotch when disagreeing with a female attorney (whom he would marry later on the show). Now the whole Super Bowl half time show was filled with crotch grabs). I enlisted my friend from Jackson (sin city) to tape NYPD Blue for a month at a time and mail the tapes to me for a couple years.
My 15 year obsession with my trusty batch of VCR’s dwindled to one for watching rentals in 2003, when we signed up for Directv. Part of the package was a built-in, tape less recorder with the ability to record multiple programs at the same time. With oodles of hours of taped TV. Now my job was studiously pouring over the TV guide, then instructing Hubs which program/series, channel number, day, time, first run only, start recording one minute early and add 2 minutes at the end. Lucky I still had that degree…