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In Memory of Video Stores

Posted: 12/27/11 02:38 PM ET

Everyone is very sad and mourning the slow death of book stores, while video stores too are all but extinct. When I am elderly I will surely be telling tales of going to Blockbuster on a Friday night and browsing the aisles for the perfect weekend flick. "You mean there used to be stores where you would, go to to rent movies?" I can't exactly imagine what type of movie technology we will have by that time, but I'm pretty sure the idea of going to Blockbuster on a Friday night will sound as alien as the stories my grandmother told me about the man who came around once a week to sell them big brick of ice for their ice box. Or how every other day, a milkman delivered fresh milk in slender glass bottles to her house. Or how each day they used to get two newspapers: one in the morning, the other in the evening. All of it sounds surreal.

I had a weird dream this morning. Aside from the beginning of it, where I was debating whether or not I should try out for American Idol, the rest of the dream was quite unusual. I was the passenger in a car. We drove through a shopping plaza parking lot. The sky was dark but then there was a rainbow that shot across it. My attention was diverted to the people who were walking on the sidewalk. There was something weird about them but at first I couldn't figure out what it was, I squinted my eyes and looked harder, trying to perceive what it was that registered in my brain as odd-without-explanation, and then it hit me.

"Why are those people in black and white?" I asked my Aunt who I now noticed was driving the car. Though the dream was in color and looked much like reality, the people in it were black and white like an old TV show or movie.

My first serious boyfriend and I would go to Blockbuster and spend a half hour or more looking for something to rent on a Friday night. I always wanted to rent the obscure foreign films and documentaries. He always refused. I'd beg. It was funny, actually, the way he perceived this genre to be boring or even nerdy. One time, I wanted to rent Life is Beautiful, but he refused to watch it because he didn't like subtitles. He thought it was a chore to have to read while watching a movie.

It is funny that I can remember the last movie we watched together before breaking up: The Last Samurai. He picked it out, not me. It was an action flick and that's what he said he liked. I'm not sure if he really liked action flicks as much as he said he did or if they were just props to add credence to his already inflated machismo persona. I was obstinate about watching it. I didn't like war movies. To me, they were boring. The movie began with a battle scene. Rather than really watching it, I quietly waited for the movie to be over. Slowly it drew me in as Tom Cruise's character fell to the ground and became a prisoner of war. He was thrown into a household where a Japanese woman, the sister of a samurai, nursed him back to health. Soon he would learn that the woman who'd been caring for him was the wife of a samurai warrior he killed days earlier.

It ended up being one of my favorite movies. I cried in the end and he did too. I hadn't seen him cry often, maybe once over his mother who had died when he was very young. It couldn't have been just the movie that made us weep, but our souls' unspoken knowledge of our imminent break-up.

As a child, my family never rented movies but when I slept over my grandmother's house, my aunt would take me to the local video store and let me pick out one or sometimes two tapes. The video store had three "Rainbow Bright" tapes. I couldn't read and knew them as the pink one, the blue one, and the yellow one: the colors of tapes' jackets. Almost every time we went to the movie store, I rented the one in the pink box. Rarely deviating from it, I picked the one in the yellow box once, only to have solemn regrets that sent me back to the pink one time and time again.

The tape in the pink box was reliable and I always knew what to expect. Now here I am, almost in 2012, I have already witnessed the death of video stores and perhaps the future holds an inevitable demise of the bookstores, and maybe actual books as well. Some people are very sad about this, having spent most of their life reading books and visiting local stores to purchase them. They are not happy or comfortable with the gradual evolution of the physical into the digital. It is the very reason I didn't deviate from choosing the pink box, with the yellow or blue box -- I had no idea what to expect or if I would even like those tapes. I understand why people are clinging to bookstores. It is more than a store, it is an experience that has options like coffee and a variety of seating. It was a public meeting place, and it is fun to get out of the house for an hour even if it is to a place like Blockbuster just to pick out a movie. So which is it? Why are we sad about losing these once enjoyable commodities? Is it nostalgia that is fueling our disappointment over this loss or a fear of the unknown? Perhaps it is better to focus on the exciting innovations the new year holds?

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