I want to say the Fury family got its first VCR in 1987. Must have been ’87, because that winter I remember watching The Drive For Five, a recap of the Lakers title that I ordered in the mail. Chick Hearn narrated. From my earliest days I possessed unnatural quickness in programming a VCR. If a program was beginning in 30 seconds, I could go through the programming menu without even looking, my hands dancing on the remote, my fingers knowing exactly where to go. Hit the record button only? For amateurs.
In 26 years since I recorded thousands of hours of programming. It changed when the cable box went digital and I had to actually have it on the proper channel to record — no more setting it for one channel and watching another at the same time. Last thing I recorded? Game 7 between the Heat and the Spurs.
On Sunday afternoon a nice gentleman from Best Buy came and installed our new HD TV. We needed an upgrade. My 17-year-old TV flickered nonstop, even when I gave it corporal punishment. As the man with the badge hooked everything up, I pointed to the combo DVD/VCR player, which is really just a VCR now because the DVD slot refuses to open and is currently holding Fletch hostage inside. Still, I wanted the VCR set up immediately. I knew I needed it this weekend, as I always tape the third and fourth rounds if Tiger Woods is in contention for a major, wanting to save it if he gets a step closer to Nicklaus, erasing it when he flails away on Saturday and Sunday.
“You can’t tape with the VCR on this TV,” our guy told us.
The techies out there know the reasons, but I didn’t hear much after that original message. Louise clapped, her dream of watching me get with the times one step closer to reality, as she pictured me finally admitting defeat and throwing out the five or six boxes of tapes I own. The worker then said watching the tapes on HD is problematic as well; it works but the quality’s terrible, almost as if the new technology is punishing and mocking those who still slide a cassette into a slot and set the timer. The faces are blurry, the screen fuzzy, something he proved when he played a few seconds from that Spurs-Heat game. Even on that screen, Manu still looked terrible, even if I could only identify him by the bald spot.
We could still use a “tube TV” according to the worker, which we had before. We still have a tiny TV/VCR combo in the bedroom but no cable there. No recording. Someone on Twitter — and I’ve read elsewhere online — talk about getting equipment that enables you to use a VCR on an HD TV but at this point it’s time to move on.
Wednesday I called Time Warner and asked about DVR, a technology I still don’t completely understand or trust, and, yes, I am your 75-year-old grandfather.
Mourning, I’ll probably binge on tapes on our small TV, the whirring of the rewind providing comfort on a warm evening. As devastating as the lost VCR is, what I probably really fear is the idea that it could mean the end of the tapes. The Best Buy guy — who Louise might have paid off even before he stepped foot in the apartment — pointed out that old sports games can be found online or you can buy the DVDs from people. And why would I do that when I have tapes? Why do I need tapes of old Seinfeld and Simpsons reruns that I taped in 1996 when the reruns are on nightly and each season is on handy DVDs? Because I like going through and seeing weird commercials that played on Minnesota TV in the mid-90s. Why would I search for old Lakers games on DVD when I have the 1991 Western Conference Finals on a tape and if I watch it now I can see KARE-11 interrupting the Blazers-LA series for severe weather warnings.
Oh, the recordings we had. In high school I taped Letterman each night and watched the monologue and opening routines when I came home from lunch. A bunch of those old tapes are in a box at my feet now, helpfully labeled “Letterman,” although there are no dates. When Letterman made the move to CBS — 20 years ago now, back when VCRs were cool — I taped him every night there for about a year. Again, the tapes read “Letterman.” There are some specials sprinkled in, like his 10th anniversary on NBC, when Bob Dylan, or someone wearing Bob Dylan clothes and singing like someone who hasn’t yet learned English, or, really, any language, performed.
St. John’s victory over Mount Union in the 2003 Stagg Bowl makes — made, sigh — frequent appearances in the main VCR. I can remember taping that game, figuring it’d be another one I’d erase once Mount Union steamrolled the Johnnies. Instead the opposite happened and I can watch it all over and over again, and listen to Mark May talk about John Gagliardi not kicking a field goal at the end of the first half. I suppose I could get rid of the Hoosiers screening I taped off of HBO more than 20 years ago, but only because I have a studio-produced cassette that I picked up at work one day, when I found it discarded in a box filled with junk and free stuff, the previous owner either unaware of Norman Dale’s genius or content to buy a DVD. It’s one of those cool tapes, too, the type without the tab so it starts right when you shove it into the VCR. So official.
What do I do now if the original V comes on TV and I can’t record it like I did when it replayed in 1996, with Robert Englund serving as the host who introduced each episode? I realize the DVR means the shows I record still exist, but our installer said you can’t really record onto a DVD either, not anymore. Where’s the physical evidence I have a show?
The tapes are something I can hold, whether they’re in my hand or resting in stained, torn TDK boxes. Now, what’s the point of picking up a dusty four-pack from Rite-Aid that’s been on the shelf since the summer of 01? I have hundreds of tapes, but without my beloved VCR recording I guess I won’t be adding hundreds more. Be kind and rewind, to 1992, when VCRs ruled and I wasn’t scared of the brave new recording world.