Dear Uncle Harold:
Thanks for your letter, kind sir, and the top of the summer to you, too. We will never agree on Oliver North, or oysters, or whether to use the sacrifice bunt with one out. But I am pleased to see that we are in total sync on what drives us nuts: drivers who don't signal, kids who don't tuck in their shirts and the super-evil you just pointed out in your letter, video rental stores.
Harold, I have spent New Year's Eve in Times Square. I rode the Washington Metro during those awful snow days last winter. I have been on the bottom of a 16-player pileup in a football game. But I have never seen anything quite so pushy (or so shove-y) as movie fans on the loose in a rental emporium.
"Hey, man, check it out, 'Rambo!' " some kid will yell. And then, like the title character, he will stop at nothing (and fail to step on the toes of no one) as he galumphs over to the ADVENTURE rack.
Then there are the esoteric ones -- the film fans who can tell you the Social Security number of the assistant gaffer in "Beneath the Twelve Mile Reef." These people make the fatal mistake of assuming that employes of movie stores know movies. Harold, it was all I could do not to laugh the other night when this woman walked up to the counter and asked the young clerk, "Excuse me, but do you have any early Astaire?" The young man replied: "Astaire? Was he a director?" And this in the week that Fred died, Harold!
The excitable ones drive me around the bend, too. I call them The Oooh Oooh People. They will walk in and go straight for the NEW IN STOCK bulletin board. Then it'll be: "Ooooh! Ooooh! 'Beverly Hills Cop!' " Or: "Ooooh! Oooooh! 'Rocky Part Four!' " Would these people walk into a nice restaurant and say: "Ooooh! Ooooh! Fried flounder"? Of course not. So why are they getting so excited over a piece of tape?
But the point you made in your letter is the best of the bunch, Harold. Children and video rental stores don't mix.
First of all, kids don't ever want to take chances in these places. If they haven't seen it on TV, they don't want it. You can try all you like to shove "My Fair Lady" at them. They want Gobots. Or Care Bears. Or some militaristic collection of superheroes who blast even more enemies in even more gory ways than Rambo.
Second, kids don't ever want just one. In McDonald's, a sack of french fries is good, so two must be better. Ditto films. I have seen face-down-on-the-floor tantrums last 30 minutes, Harold, over the burning issue of whether Jenny will settle for "Rainbow Brite," or whether she has to have "Christmas with the Muppets," too.
Third, kids don't understand that these cassettes cost money. True, kids don't ever understand that anywhere. But there is something about video rental places that hypnotizes kids into thinking that it's all gratis. At $3 a night, and $2 for each night you forget to bring 'em back, it's not gratis.
Fourth, kids always misbehave in video rental parlors. I know that "always" is a word one uses with care, Harold. But this is the right context. I have never seen a kid walk into a video store and act like a lady or a gentleman for more than 23 seconds. Either the kids start tossing films all over the carpet. Or they start whining about how hungry they are. Or they insist on seeing the Berenstain Bears right that red hot second. Or they start a fight with another kid. I've long felt that kindergarten teachers have more patience than anyone in America. It's possible that video rental clerks have more -- because they need more.
And if all that isn't reason enough to ban kids from these places, or to ban the places themselves, this is:
A friend tells me that he went to his neighborhood rental place the other night. His 5-year-old daughter was with him. They separated for a few minutes, as people do in these places. After a couple of minutes, the little girl comes back with "Hot Time Honeys" in her hand. It has red X's all over the cover. "Daddy," the girl says, "what's this one about?"
I know you are a man who is sensitive to economic forces, Harold, so I will put it this way:
Television networks spend zillions to buy the rights to movies. The movies are usually good, and often very good. And they are very free. So why do we need to spend $300 for a VCR, and another $300 a year to stuff it with films we were too lazy to catch when they were on TV for nothing?
Better still, why don't they bring back the double features you used to take me to in Pittsfield when I was a kid? I still get goose bumps remembering those Audie Murphy movies we saw together in that musty theater, Harold. I can still taste the popcorn (they don't have any at video rental places). I can still see the usher and his flashlight as he showed us to our seats (they don't have flashlights in rental places, either). And I didn't bug you for "Christmas with the Muppets" as soon as Audie was finished, did I?
Your Loving Nephew,