So Many Tapes, So Little Time : The Hazards of Owning a VCR

In a recent Berry's World cartoon, our hero is sitting on the floor in front of his VCR, surrounded by tape cassettes, and he's saying to his wife: "I'm afraid the only way we can catch up on all the stuff we've taped is to quit our jobs and stay home."

Anyone who owns a videocassette recorder, and knows how to use it (which eliminates a good many), can share that feeling.

Though I own a recorder, I am not diligent in its use. Either I forget to tape shows that I might want to see later or I set the machine wrong and it doesn't work.

But I think part of my indifference is the feeling, deep down, that I'm never going to find the time or the inclination to play a tape back.

When I bought my VCR, it was state of the art. That means it is so complicated that I had to have professional help to find out how to work it. I am still intimidated by the procedure required to tape a show that is going to be on the tube a day or two in the future.

I am most reliable at taping a show while we're watching it; but of course there is no great urge to have a tape of a show that you have already seen.

Even so, despite my apathy, we already have a large and growing library of tapes we have never seen and probably never will see, unless, as Berry suggests, we quit our jobs and stay home.

Some of them are classics. For instance, we still have, and have yet to play back, the wedding of Prince Charles and Princess Di: all that pomp and ceremony and romance captured on tape for all time--and never seen.

We didn't watch the wedding live, and somehow the prospect doesn't seem as real and exciting today. Life goes on. The prince and princess have two children. Their wedding tape would be like pictures in an old album, with the odor of pressed violets.

We still have our tape of the Olympic Games' opening-day ceremony. We were there, in the Coliseum, for that stirring spectacle, and perhaps someday we will find the time, and the mood, to replay it in our living room. But there's no hurry. Anyway, the excitement of that glorious day can never be re-created. A rerun can only make us feel older.

I used to have a tape of Super Bowl XVIII, in which the Raiders, led by my hero, Jim Plunkett, demolished the Washington Redskins, 38-9. But, alas, I taped over that game to record, for posterity, the 1984 campaign debate between Geraldine Ferraro and George Bush. Somehow it seemed important at the time. Now I can't think of anything more out of date. I wish I had Super Bowl XVIII back.

I also have a tape of that old movie "Summertime," in which Katharine Hepburn, as an unmarried woman from Akron, Ohio, goes to Venice on a holiday and falls in love with Rossano Brazzi, a married Venetian merchant. We could play that some Sunday evening, I suppose, but we are always seduced away from such old fashioned sentiment by some soft-porn miniseries like "Hollywood Wives" or "Sins."

I also have "Grand Hotel" on tape, which is useful mostly for settling arguments. This is the one in which Garbo says, "I want to be alone." She does not say, as some people believe, "I want to be left alone."

This is also the one in which Garbo has her grand passion for John Barrymore, a passion that Garbo somehow managed to suggest without thrashing about in the nude with Barrymore, on the rug, as she would probably be required to do today.

I doubt, though, that I will ever find time to play "Grand Hotel" again. It will probably just gather dust in my archives. But one thing I won't do is tape over it to record the next debate between vice presidential candidates.

What my VCR has taught me is that we are creatures of the moment. We are always more drawn toward what's new than toward what's great. Today's sequence of "Miami Vice" has more appeal than last October's World Series.

One of the reasons I bought my VCR was that it has the capacity to record nine programs of anywhere from one to eight hours each. It never occurred to me that at no time in my life will I ever be far enough ahead to watch nine hours of recorded television, much less 72.

Still, there is some magic in old film. As I was writing this, I couldn't remember what town Katharine Hepburn was from in "Summertime"--Cincinnati, Toledo--something like that. I went into the bedroom and started my "Summertime" tape, meaning to play it far enough to find out.

Played it all the way through.

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