Friday, December 4, 2015

Star Wars Memories 04: Uncle Larry's Video Disc Player

I know, that's a Star Trek disc in the ad.
That's not the issue, here. Please focus.

My father’s younger brother, Larry (brother to Jerry, and son to Harry), was something of an early adopter. He and his wife Kathy were fun, especially Kathy. She loved listening to 50’s rock and roll music. She loved Grease. She had some Peter Pan Syndrome issues going on, but when you’re a kid, she’s like the cool older sister. I never knew how she and Larry got together. Larry was fun, but in a grown-up kind of way. My father’s side of the family laughed a lot. They were all high-functioning, affable alcoholics, and they got a lot out of life back then.

I will never forget the Saturday we all caravanned over to Larry and Kathy’s house. It was a family get-together of some kind. I can’t remember what. A birthday party, maybe. But they had all gathered around in the kitchen to drink and smoke and eat off of small plates. My cousin was still a toddler, and not much fun to play with. So I was by myself.

Uncle Larry appeared in the living room, where I was watching something forgettable. The other adults followed him in, and he started to demonstrate for everyone this new thing on top of the television. I later learned it was an RCA SelectaVision Video Disc Player, and it cost just under a thousand bucks at the time. I have no idea how Larry got it. He sold shoes, for crying out loud. But then he slid in the cardboard cover and extracted the disc and hit play and son-of-a-bitch, there it was: “A Long Time Ago, in a Galaxy Far, Far Away...”

The John Williams fanfare started, and my jaw hit the floor. Star Wars! On the television! Right in front of me! This is what the party should have been about! This should have been what the hubbub was over. But the adults, one by one, drifted back into the kitchen for food and booze, leaving me alone, sitting two feet from the television screen, watching the movie, sometimes adjusting the volume when their laughter overrode the dialogue.

Those fools! They had this magic thing in their house and they were just nattering away in there, like it was no big deal. Oh, god, what I would have done for the ability to watch Star Wars in my own home...and then watching it again...and again...and again...

The disc ran out about an hour into the movie, and I hollered for Uncle Larry to help me. He came in, turned it over, patted my head, and hit play. And I watched it all, my brain fully engaged at the task of recording the movie into my brain, memorizing the scenes, even the dialogue itself, because I didn’t know when I was going to get another chance to do this.

That’s something I’ve noticed people my age have in common. Prior to the early 1980s, when the video cassette players became available to rent and later, to own, those of us who were attracted to fantasy, science fiction, and the like, had to watch movies and television and give it our full and complete attention. We purposefully listened to the dialogue. Sometimes, I even took notes. We did this because there was no way of knowing when, if ever, you were going to see that movie again.

I know, it sounds absolutely crazy today. But back then, movies and television (and lp records, too) were our only means of seeing a particular film or show. TV was, on a local level, very cool in that respect, showing lots of old movies that I wouldn’t have otherwise been exposed to. But re-watching a hot movie meant buying another ticket. Did I have the two dollars and fifty cents to see Star Wars again? Or did I leverage that into a Ben Kenobi action figure? Five bucks only went so far.

I watched Star Wars twice that night, while my parents yukked it up and ate ham salad in the other room. I fell asleep in front of the television. But I had it locked in. Huge chunks of scenes, long sections of dialogue. My recall, even now, is impressive. Most impressive. See what I did, there? Some of you know.

The adults, sensing that Larry had inadvertently picked a winner, were only too keen to let me visit Larry and Kathy after that. And I was a gracious, quiet, and undemanding houseguest. Just put the Star Wars movie on the laser disc player and go do whatever you need to do. I’ll be right here when it’s lunch time.

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