The “he” referred to the Inimitable Mister Chirp, our lovable, intelligent, and mischievous cat who, of late, has decided the stacks of tapes next to the television make for a great scratching post. My tower started out as a couple of drawers and, when those filled, I began stacking. At first there were two, then four, and finally six stacks, two across and three front to back. A mix of store-bought movies and things I taped from the television grew, finally slowing when I started buying DVDs instead a few years ago. Since I mostly watch movies on my computer now, my growing DVD collection resides in my room. I generally don't save things on tape anymore since most of the old shows are available on DVD, and I'll reuse the same cassette for months before moving to a new one, either because I've filled it with things I do want to save, or because it starts to wear out. Other than taping shows when there's a scheduling conflict, when I'll be home late from work, or when I don't feel like getting up early on a Saturday, I don't use the VCR as much as I used to, and I definitely haven't watched any of my commercial tapes in some time.
Chirp's scratching began innocently enough, a few frayed edges on the boxes, barely noticeable until he did it in front of us, sauntering in casually, stretching and standing on his hind legs as he began digging at my tapes with his front legs. At some point today he must have pulled one of the stacks down, while neither I nor my parents were home. He never bothers any of the cassettes to the right of our television, because those are in a tall shelving unit my dad made for my mom's collection. Perhaps it's time to do the same on the left.
I fell to my knees and began checking each box carefully. They seemed intact, until I got to Highlander. Something sounded loose when I lifted it carefully, a fallen and wounded friend. On the side, the plastic had cracked by the hinge. The tape seemed otherwise intact save for this key one inch square piece of plastic, and I knew I probably couldn't risk putting it in the VCR ever again. As for my copy of a 1978 Spider-man TV movie, a classic collection of episodes of the old show in which college kids accidentally build an atomic bomb and a villain nearly destroys the World Trade Center, the hinge piece had complete snapped off, bits of black plastic scattered across the floor. Fortunately, these were the only casualties. The other fifteen or so fallen tapes were various shows I had recorded myself, irreplaceable unlike the store-bought movies I could always pick up on DVD. Calmly, I set about rebuilding the towers as my mom came inside from gardening, and I heard her quietly asking my dad if I had a fit. When she saw how well I was taking it, she remarked that it was a good thing she hadn't been the culprit.
I probably would be able to get angry at an adult human who would know better, but I can't get mad at this face. It gave me some insight into what it must be like to be a parent. Sure, there were times when I broke something that my parents lost their temper, being only human, but most of the time they were surprisingly forgiving. I remember one time when I was a little boy, sitting in the car waiting for my dad at an automotive junkyard, and I was playing with the little dial that made the rearview mirror tilt. Suddenly, the mirror was in my hand, completely detached, and I knew I was dead. I would have ran, but feared the dogs outside the car, the reason I opted to wait there in the first place. When he returned, I carefully explained what had happened, leading with my trademark expression: “Now, don't be mad...” To my amazement, it was nowhere near as big a deal for him as it was for me, and he didn't yell or get upset. When I was younger, I could get away with a lot of things with my cute, innocent face.
My friend Rey has a saying about sentimental value: “Toss the junk; keep the memories.” As a packrat who has never parted with anything, I have a hard time with this. I can accept the damaged tapes because I know I'll be able to see those shows again someday in another form, but there are memories with those physical objects. I vividly remember my glee in a Borders out East near where my girlfriend lived, when I saw the Spider-man tape on the shelf and remembered seeing it on television when I was much younger. I paid way too much for such a fragile media, over twenty dollars, a lot back then, but it made me happy when I got home and I didn't care. It was a rare treasure I had acquired. The object may be damaged, but not the experiences it represents, and that's why it's easier to accept.
The life of a couch potato is evolving. VCR's were a miracle, an answer to the dilemma of shows being on at the same time, of not being home during a favorite program. VHS defeated Beta and reigned for years. In the 1980s, I had one or two friends who were wealthy enough to own laserdiscs, early optical technology that would eventually give way to more compact DVD. These new formats were expensive, and took time to become popular. We didn't get our first VCR until the late ‘80s, around the time my friends had laserdiscs, yet both technologies were developed nearly a decade earlier. I really only started buying DVDs in the last 3 or 4 years, but that technology is also a decade old. Now a new format war looms on the horizon, with the recently-released HD-DVD format poised to combat the upcoming Blu-Ray. Will Blu-Ray be the next Beta, or will HD-DVD fall? Will Tivo find its way into every household? My tower of cassettes, once a prized monument, isn't as important to me as it once was. It wasn't until my cat broke a few though, that I realized this. Usually, it takes loss to recognize value, but it's a rare occasion when loss of something reveals its insignificance.