Saturday, November 23, 2013

I miss the days when saying you were a movie buff meant something


For as long as I’ve been on my own, one of my favorite weekend rituals has been to set up camp on my couch, have plenty of food within arms reach and watch movies.  I’m partial to the older stuff (like on Turner Classic Movies) in the winter, and the independent and foreign films (on IFC) in the summer. 

Weekends are reserved for DVD rentals, which must always be accompanied by pizza!

And then last year, I got my nifty Nook HD Tablet (which doesn’t cease to amaze me), downloaded the Netflix app and for the paltry sum of $7.99 a month am now able to go to bed, plug in my earphones and have a million hi-def movies to pick from.  Ya gotta love technology.

But as much as I enjoy the low cost & convenience of it all, I think I miss the days when watching a favorite movie from your couch really meant something.  I’m not just talking before Netflix, but before the days of Blockbuster, when there was no such thing as renting videos.  You waited for movies to air on tv—or you bought them.

I came across this old advertisement recently and it immediately took me back to 1982, when I first saw it in the back of OMNI Magazine.  It was love at first sight.  (And yes, I’m sure that image of the USS Enterprise played a part too!)

At the start of the 1980s, videocassette recorders cost a thousand dollars, and were uncommon.  Even if you did have one, you had to buy the movies you watched and they were EXPENSIVE.  (A videocassette of “Superman” was a hundred bucks!)  When RCA Videodisc Players hit the market, they sold for less than half the price of a vcr, and boasted you could choose from “over 1500 titles, $30.00 or less.”

Still, 500 bucks for the player was a lot of money—especially when you had a take-home pay of 90.00 a week like I did.  I actually went to Signal Finance & borrowed the money just to buy this contraption.  It came with 3 free movies:  Rocky and 2 of my own choosing.  (I selected Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan and The Way We Were for my sister.)  I was in love, and over the next four years—from 1982 to 1986— somehow amassed a collection of around a hundred titles, including some movies for my sister Shawn.

This played at the beginning of every movie, letting you know you were part of an elite crowd; you owned an RCA Selectavision VideoDisc!

The discs looked similar to a vinyl record, locked in heavy plastic sleeves; you’d slide one into the player, pull the sleeve back out—then repeat the process to watch the second half of the movie on the other side.

The machine had no remote and if a movie was longer than 2 hours, it came on 2 discs.  (These things were heavy too—I think my collection of 100 movies probably weighed close to 75 lbs!)

That videodisc player became my pride and joy, and for those few years I can remember going without new clothes (or other such luxuries like food) just to get something like The Petrified Forest with Bette Davis or The Empire Strikes Back.  Sometimes a couple friends from work would stop over to see my latest titles.  (I can still remember my pal Brenda shuddering under a throw during Christine, or Pete and Kevin staring at Clockwork Orange with their mouths hanging open).

I think these two were my favorites, simply because of their covers: 


I bought this for Shawn one Christmas, a collection of Judy’s live performances and enjoyed it just as much as she did


I loved the MGM discs best—I owned a couple of their old musicals, but on Selectavision they had the best sci-fi!


All this & Kramer vs. Kramer too; Dustin Hoffman was all over these discs (at least the ones in my collection)







I’d only seen Mel Brooks “Young Frankenstein” until RCA Videodiscs came along; I’m embarrassed to say how many times I probably watched these two


And finally, my Star Trek collection:  the first 3 movies, and 12 tv episodes (two episodes per disc)

trekdiscsIt was a fun ride while it lasted, but within a few years, prices on vcrs dropped pretty drastically and video rental places began poppiing up everywhere.  I knew it was just a matter of time before RCA pulled the plug on their discs, but for me it was just as well.  By 1986, I was done collecting movies and trying to figure out what I was going to do with my adult life.

FYI, being the nerd I am, I kept an updated inventory of my videodiscs and still have the list to this day.  Below is my complete collection—there’s a few klunkers here n’ there, but I bought many of these ‘sight unseen’.   

Nothing like the cinephile I am today, of course…  Nerd smile

Monday, November 18, 2013

Tales from the bedroom: the older I get, the less I’m getting it


This is my bedroom.  I use it pretty much for the same things as other people, but it’s also where I go when I need to get away from the gay couple’s shenanigans next door (which come in loud & clear thru my livingroom wall).  In fact, just recently I spent the entire evening in my bedroom after one of the boys found 100+ photos of Liam Neeson on the other’s cellphone; the shrieking went on for 4 hours.  But that’s another crazy-ass story.

So the other night, I was stretched out on my bed doing some reading when I heard a woman’s voice from behind my headboard.  She’s going “yeah… yeah… uh huh… UH HUH!!”  and if you’ve ever seen Meg Ryan fake a you-know-what in When Harry Met Sally then you’ll know what I’m talking about.  Her boyfriend (I’ve met them both, a good looking pair in their twenties) said “Michelle… cool it!”  but she went right on with her exclamations.  The very next day when I was getting my mail, she bounced down the stairs, saw me & sang “Hello!”  I said hi back, but my face felt pretty warm.

I know that she knows we can hear each other thru that bedroom wall we share, but I think she gets a big kick out of it!

Darn it, back in my younger days I would’ve gotten a big kick out of that too.  Maybe I’m becoming more prudish or something, the older I get.  Why is that?

Here’s me and my girlfriend’s elbow, 1980; we were spending the weekend with a couple friends, and got caught with our pants down, so to speak.  By the look on my face I didn’t seem to mind

I’m not longing for the days when women hid behind layers of petticoats (I’m not THAT old) but it seems more and more, women keep surprising me.  This happened a couple weeks ago in the office:

Lunchtime, myself and a a group of women are waiting for someone to come back from the ladies room before we head out.  We see her coming our way.

  • Julie:    So what’d you do in there, number 1 or number 2?
  • Kathy:  Number 2.
  • Julie:    Was it good for you?
  • Kathy:  Yeah, a big piece of poop fell outta my butt.
  • Jamie:   I’m so jealous, I’m really constipated.
  • Doug:   Hey ladies, what happened to the feminine mystique?
  • Julie:    Shut up Doug, you’re one of us now!

Okay, okay—we’re all friends there, I suppose when you spend 8 hours a day with the same group of women, the gender lines tend to get a little blurred.  But recently when I was in the basement of my apartment building doing laundry, my Russian neighbor Uriel walked in with her basket of clothes.  I said “Hi Uriel, how are you?”  She said “Hello, not so good right now.”  I said “Oh I’m sorry, what’s wrong?”  She said “I started my period.” 

Dear you didn’t need to tell me that! 

By the way, I recently signed for a package for Uriel that came all the way from Russia; it was from someone named Vulva.  When I handed it to her, she said “Oh good, from my sister.”  

And lastly, just when I thought nothing could surprise me anymore, a woman from West Virginia  recently moved into the apartment directly across from mine.  So last night while watching ‘60 Minutes’, I hear hammering in the hallway outside.  I opened my door and it’s my new neighbor, hanging a decoration on her front door.  It appears to be a witch’s bottom half. 

She said “I’m sorry, am I disturbing you?”   I said “Not at all, go right ahead.  But isn’t it a little late for Halloween?”  She said “This isn’t for Halloween… I’m a witch.” 

Oh okay--silly me

Saturday, November 16, 2013

I’m 52 years old now, but it’s my freshman year all over again

I have some very fond memories of this photo; it was taken in November 1975, a couple months after the start of my freshman year in high school.  I had just turned 14 years old and my mom got me this cool leather jacket.  (Well, it was cool at the time.) 

I can still remember exactly what I was doing too, I was on my way into town to see my girlfriend Penny.  (I also like how I can see my Mom’s shadow at the bottom of the photo; she was so camera-shy I’ll take any reminders of her I can get.)

I turned 52 a couple weeks ago, and with my graying hair I certainly look the part.  But I still feel very much like the Doug in this picture, a little nervous and excited about what’s down the road. 

On the day I turned 52, I had this conversation with my coworker Danielle (who enjoys pushing my buttons):

HER: It would’ve been cool if your mom named you Damien.

ME:  You mean like in “The Omen”?

HER: Yeah, because of your birthday!  You know, born on Halloween.

ME:  Don’t you think it would’ve been creepy?  I was born 15 years before that movie even came out!

HER:  Oh I thought it came out in the sixties!

ME:  No, The Omen came out in the mid-70s.  I was born in 1961.

HER:  So you’re like 79 now.

ME:  Right.

Anyway—my birthday got me to thinking about that time and place again, my freshman year in high school.  All I knew for sure was, in four years I’d be making some big changes in my life.

That’s where I’m at now, in regards to wanting to retire at 56.  That’s only 4 years away

Six months ago I put the bulk of my savings into mutual index funds, and as of yesterday they’ve returned a healthy 10.65% earnings.  Oh I know that could drop at any time, and probably will soon—but if I wind up with the market “average” of 7-8% earnings after a years time, I’ll be in good shape.

I’ve been trying out a lot of online retirement calculators (all you have to do is google retirement calculator) and more & more I’m appreciating the one by MSN Money.  It has a couple preset percents (3% inflation per year, 8% earnings on investments) but you can change those if you like.  And it will also factor in your social security (and assumes you’ll begin collecting at age 62 if you retire before that age). 

I ran it with these hopeful variables:  1) retirement at 56  2) 500K in combined 401K and personal investments.  I left the defaults for inflation & investment earnings alone, and for ‘Desired Retirement Income’ (the sixth column) I entered a percentage of my current income (adjusted for inflation each year).  Here’s how it turned out:

You can’t see the entire chart, but I said I planned to live to age 90 (who knows, I may just get lucky and do that) and according to the calc, I’ll still be leaving behind a nice chunk of change (around 600K, more money than I started out with.)

Now do I really expect to be making such gains on my portfolio every year?  I wish!  I know some years it’s going to be lower or minus, but it works both ways y’know—there may be a year or two when it’s 10-20%.  It all evens out though, and in the leaner years, I’ll just do a little less dipping.  Heck, I’m paying myself 41K the first year and my expenses are currently half that!

So my “freshman year” is off to a promising start—and this reminds me, last week I made an appointment for the eye doc (for January) to get some new glasses.  It was in January of that first freshman year when I got new glasses too.

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Stephen King’s ‘Doctor Sleep’: We’re playing those mind games, together

So who doesn’t remember “The Shining”?  Even if you didn’t read the book, or see Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie based on King’s novel, surely you recall that scene of a crazed Jack Nicholson chopping down a door with an axe and yelling “Here’s Johnny!!”  Well, what I’m holding here is the sequel to King’s original story—I just finished the book an hour or so ago, and I sorta feel like I just finished eating a big plate of spaghetti… it wasn’t a pot roast like the original, but filled me up with some good stuff just the same.

First things first; if you read (or saw) “The Shining” all those years ago, you’re good to go—King does a nice job of refreshing your memory of those events that unfolded in ‘The Overlook Hotel’ back in 1977.  I enjoyed the flashbacks here, but my favorites were with the hotel’s chef (who picked up on little Danny Torrance’s special abilities then, and told him what he had, and what to be careful of). 

But that was 35 years ago; the hotel has long since burned to the ground and Danny is now a middle-aged man, always a job or handout away from living on the streets.  He’s not quite the wunderkind he was then, but that’s a good thing; he’s managed to hide those inner demons from his past (and the ones that still appear in his bed or bathtub) with lots of cheap booze.  He’s as alcoholic as they come.

Meanwhile, halfway across the country exists a tight-knit group of middle aged folks who travel the highways and byways of America in a fleet of Winnebagos.  Not quite gypsies (as they seem to have all the money they need) they call themselves the “True Knot”.  Their leader is a sexy, vivacious woman named Rose who wears a top hat cocked jauntily on her head.  She too has “the shining” (well, they all do to different degrees but hers is strongest).  And you begin to understand that this caravan has been around for a very, very long time.

”Gather the troops, Crow; we need steam”  (this is just how I pictured Rose, the True Knot’s leader)

Steam?  Why yes, they keep metal canisters of it under the floorboards in Rose’s deluxe motorhome.  What is it?  Let’s just say that certain people possess it, some more than others.  Where does the Knot get theirs?  You don’t want to know.  (Well, you do but I don’t want to give away too much here.)

And finally, somewhere in New Hampshire, a little girl named Abra is both impressing (and frightening) her parents with her assortment of psychic abilities.  As a baby, she replayed old Beatles songs her dad tinkled on the ivories by “saving the musical notes from the air”.  She can read others thoughts, and even look through another persons eyes.  But lately, Abra knows someone has been looking thru hers as well.  Go look in a mirror dear, so I can see who you are...  Danny Torrance may be a flashlight (when it comes to the shining), and Rose a pair of headlights on high beams, but little Abra is a lighthouse.    

So you can probably guess what’s coming, how these characters connect:  it’s one of King’s favorite storylines, good versus evil, David vs. Goliath style.  We’ve seen this in ‘It’, ‘The Stand’, a dozen other of his titles.  (But at least here, he manages to make it subjective; its “our” good versus “their” evil.  Does a man-eating shark or black widow spider see themselves as bad guys?  No, but we do—does that make us right?   Depends on who you ask.)

What made this book special to me though (besides the reunion of sorts with the Overlook Hotel, the trippy ESP stuff, the surprising twists and turns) was the glimpses into Danny Torrance’s troubled mind, both his alcoholic thoughts and the cleaner ones of someone in recovery.  We’ve all known such people in our lives, and King reminds us that ultimately, the biggest battles we must face are not with characters in top hats, but with ourselves.