Tuesday, February 24, 2004

Sally Standing by the VCR

Last week, a beloved old family member passed away. It was our VCR. Before it died, however, it ate up two videotapes and spit them out in pieces. So what little life the machine still may have had in it, I probably finished off when I smacked it for chewing up my only copy of the Mary Tyler Moore and Rhoda reunion movie.

So I checked out the VCRs on Ebay and found a brand new one exactly like our dead one for under $50. Times sure have changed.

I still can remember back when VCRs were first widely introduced to the public for home use. I was excited, very excited.

“You mean to tell me,” I asked my husband, “that I could record my favorite singers or movie stars and play them over and over again?”

“Sure,” he said. “You could even run back the recordings in slow motion or freeze the tape whenever there is a close-up.” When he saw my eyes widen at the thought of all the TV hunks I could freeze, he quickly added, “Forget it. VCRs are way too expensive.”

I would have tried to tempt him by telling him that he could record the Super Bowl or the World Series and replay every exciting moment, but my husband is probably one of the few men on earth who would prefer to be doused with syrup and staked naked to an anthill rather than watch sports.

So I had to try a different approach. “I just thought of something funny,” I said, giggling. “You know how they show scantily clad girls running down the beach on TV all the time? Can you imagine how funny they’d look in slow motion bouncing up and down…over and over again?”

The next day, we were at Montgomery Ward, charging a VCR. It cost $799. We also bought a single blank tape for $15.98.

I am convinced that learning how to program a VCR is one of the major causes of divorce in this country. I still can clearly remember reading the instructions out loud to my husband as he tried to hook up that first VCR, and how, when nothing worked, he accused me of skipping over something important in my reading. As it turned out, he’d forgotten to plug in the machine.

But even to this day, with the more modern VCRs, it still takes about three years to learn how to set up everything correctly. And when you finally DO, odds are that a power failure will strike and undo it all.

Unfortunately, we live in a place where if a bird flies by the power lines and flaps its wings too hard, we lose power. This causes the VCR to stop showing the correct time and start flashing “12:00” over and over again. And believe me, nothing on earth is more annoying…except trying to reset the correct time afterwards.

Which is why a guy on TV the other night caught our attention. He was saying, “Are you annoyed when 12:00 keeps flashing on your VCR and you have to go through all the trouble of reprogramming it? Well, I have a simple solution, and I promise you’ll never see a flashing 12:00 again! The materials you’ll need are a piece of cardboard, scissors, a measuring tape and duct tape.”

My husband and I watched with interest as the guy explained, “First, take the measuring tape and measure the blinking 12:00. Then cut a piece of cardboard that exact size. Cover the 12:00 with the piece of cardboard and tape it securely with the duct tape. You’ll never see it flashing again!”

Nobody likes a smart aleck.

Eventually, when VCRs became less of a novelty and the prices dropped, we retired our old recorder to our bedroom and bought a new one for the living room.

That’s when I found a unique use for the old VCR. It was the type of machine that when you pushed the “eject” button, a platform popped up out of the top and you were supposed to slide a video into it. Well, when I was dieting and bragging to my husband about how much willpower I had, I discovered that the VCR was the perfect place to hide Hershey bars. Every night after dinner, I’d sneak into the bedroom, push the button on the VCR, and voila! Up would pop my secret stash.

It worked fine until I forgot to shut off the machine one night and the heat melted the chocolate.

We’ve had about eight VCRs since that first one from Montgomery Ward, mainly because we discovered it was cheaper to buy new ones rather than have the old ones repaired.

The other day, when I mentioned to one of our friends that I’d just bought a new VCR on Ebay for under $50, he said, “A VCR? Those are so old-hat! You need to get with the times and buy a DVD player.”

I don’t think so. Now that I’ve finally learned how to program a VCR, I’m not about to rush out and buy something new-fangled. Besides that, unlike videotapes, DVDs are round.

And Hershey bars are rectangular.