Firefighters traded bootleg tapes in the 80’s and my dad got E.T. when it was still in theaters. Somebody had bribed a projectionist to run film at 3am and set up a camcorder in the first row, and my father brought home the movie a decade before its home video release. The VHS of the spaceship’s landing-lights were nightblue and smeary and eerily beautiful. The flickery images lit a sense of wonder in me.
That tape added to rows of hundreds of movies in a coffin-like piece of furniture in the living room. When I was small enough to kneel on tightly packed VHS tapes without cracking them, I’d push open the lid and crawl over them to find Alien and Blade Runner.
An Indianapolis movie theater provided free admission for the families of firefighters, so we saw most of the movies that came out in 1984. Few moments in later life thrilled me as much as Eddie Murphy’s joyride in the opening of Beverly Hills Cop. Hearing the Pointer Sisters’ “Neutron Dance” gives me a tingle even today.
Entering my teenage years I was riding my bike to the video store every day and handing over paper-route money to bring home 80’s weirdness. Decades later I parked a wine-chiller in my front yard so my rich neighbors could borrow my VHS tapes without leaving the sidewalk.
A form of dialogue emerged as people shared their own tapes. My Halloween choices prompted a guy across the street to literally fill the box with weirdness, including the stupefying “Silent Night, Deadly Night 2.” I got to watch the “garbage day” scene on tape.
After I left some thinky books in the box, an unknown neighbor left movies based on a Vonnegut novel and a Tom Robbins novel nestled together. Seeing the VHS tapes standing shoulder-to-shoulder when I opened the wine chiller’s door one morning, I found a sense of wonder for how community works.