There's only one word to describe it: Betamania.
The onset came recently when my husband and I decided to give each other an early Christmas gift: one Sony 5600 Betamax, the Cuisinart of the '80s. With our purchase came a six-month membership in the store's video club, which provides low-cost tape rental and discounts on video accessories. Beta brushes. Beta belts. Beta booties.
"I want 'Carrie,' " my husband said, surveying the store's video case.
"I've seen it."
"Too bad. I want it."
We compromised. He got "Carrie" and "The Stunt Man." I got "Kramer vs. Kramer" and "9 to 5."
That night we went to a dinner party. It was the last time we were to venture out for the next two weeks.
"Why did you get a Betamax?" my hostess wailed. "We've got VHS. We could have traded tapes!"
"How many do you have?"
"Two," she said.
We got home at 1 a.m., set up the machine in the bedroom and watched "Carrie" until 3 a.m.
"I can't go to sleep after watching that movie," I said.
We put on "Gigi." It had been on television earlier that night, but since we were out, the machine automatically taped it for us -- probably a superfluous function since people who own Betamaxes never leave the house.
"I can't watch this," my husband said, Leslie Caron making goo-goo eyes at Louis Jourdan.
The next morning, friends called to ask us to brunch.
"Why don't you come over here?" I said. "We just got a Betamax."
Five minutes later, they arrived at the door. Five minutes after that, we were all in the bedroom.
We ate bacon and eggs and drank Bloody Marys while "The Stunt Man" droned on. We hardly said a word. They left after the 2 p.m. show.
Betamania was setting in. The television guide, normally the last thing I read in the Sunday paper, became the first. We stopped reading books. Our skin took on a flick-sick pallor. Our eyes were Betashot. We began to eat a lot of Chinese takeout, preferably delivered.
"We have to go out," my husband said one night last week. "I'm taking you off the life-support system."
He grabbed the remote control pause/freeze frame/fast forward/fast reverse gadget out of my hand and dragged me out the bedroom door.
We drove straight to the video store.
"The Clones of Bruce Lee," "Laura," "Ordinary People," "Humanoids From the Deep," "Being There," "The Great Santini," "I Spit on Your Grave," "Happy Hooker Goes Hollywood," "Superman," "Heaven Can Wait." We couldn't.
"We're getting obsessed," my husband told the clerk, who was stacking our tapes.
"No we're not," I said. "It's called 'Obsession,' with Cliff Robertson and Genevieve Bujold. Besides, we've already seen it."
We watched 12 movies in six days.
" 'Foreign Correspondent' is on tonight," I said. "We have to tape it." The Hitchcock classic was scheduled from 3:30 a.m. to 6 a.m. No matter, my husband said, setting the automatic timer.
We went to bed. At 3:30 a.m. the little red light went on, the tape started rolling and the silence in the bedroom was broken by the annoying yet comforting sound of the humming tape. We slept fitfully.
We began having dinner parties in the bedroom. Popcorn replaced celery sticks for hors d'ouevres. In the '70s, it was considered de rigueur for the hostess to ask if the guests were vegetarians. In the '80s, it's "Have you seen 'Alien'?"
"Look what I've got," my husband said, walking in the front door one evening. " 'Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.' " A colleague at work had taped it last year. All six hours of it.
Finally even I had to have relief.
"How about a night at the opera?" I sighed.
"I'm not in the mood for the Marx Brothers," he said.
"NOT THE MOVIE," I shrieked.
We were beginning to lose touch with reality. We needed help. My husband called the video store. "Look," he told the manager. "I know this is a strange request, but we're getting worried about this thing taking over our lives. Frankly, we need an exorcist."
"Part I or II?" he said.