Matter of Laugh or Death
By Bill Dunn
Interesting observations on this thing we call life
SMILE! YOU’RE ON RANCID CAMERA
About ten years ago we started videotaping family events. The kids were young and we thought it would be a better way to preserve precious memories than a shoe box filled with silent, out-of-focus, red-eyed snap shots.
At first, we borrowed a friend’s video equipment, which he had purchased in the early 1980s. Since his gear was manufactured during the Thomas Edison era of home video, whenever we wanted to tape anything it was like having the Channel 3 Eyewitness News team at our home—minus the annoying bleach blonde reporterette shoving a microphone in your face. In our case, it was the annoying dad shoving a camera in your face.
Getting prepared to videotape an event was a major project. The camera was the size of a guitar and the tape player—a separate unit—was as big as an overstuffed suitcase, only twice as heavy. At least three miles of cable and extension cords were required. If I wanted to videotape, say, a birthday party, I had to begin setting up about a month in advance. I think it would have been easier (and less costly) to have hired Steven Spielberg.
Then, about five years ago, my father-in-law bought us a fancy new camcorder for Christmas. What a difference. The whole unit is about the size of an alarm clock. I was all set to do some serious taping. Now when I shoved the camera in someone’s face, I wasn’t dragging all these wires behind me, which greatly reduced the number of times I accidentally knocked over furniture or flipped Grandma onto her butt. (She would always get angry when I did that—not because she was suddenly flat on her back in the middle of the living room, but because she invariably spilled her glass of Jack Daniel’s all over the place. I was always angry, too—not because I almost killed my grandmother, but because I never captured her tumbling routine on videotape.)
Recently I was rummaging through our tape drawer trying to find my copy of “Casablanca.” (It was almost three months since I had last watched it, meaning, of course, that I was way overdue.) I came across our pile of home movie videos, dozens of them, and suddenly realized that I had never once actually viewed any of the family events I had so painstakingly videotaped.
“Who am I recording all stuff for, anyway?” I thought, “Some archeologist 10,000 years from now?” If I don’t take the time to enjoy my own home movies, why bother making them? So, I decided to spend a Saturday afternoon watching the last ten years of Dunn family history.
If some archeologist does happen to unearth my home movies 10,000 years from now, he will have to conclude that our family spent all its time doing three things: singing “Happy Birthday” off-key, gathering around the Thanksgiving table, and opening Christmas presents.
On one tape we went from my daughter’s birthday party in mid-November, to a quick shot of a Thanksgiving feast, to a shot of presents under the Christmas tree—all within about 15 seconds.
After no more than four gifts were opened, the tape suddenly offered another off-key rendition of “Happy Birthday,” this time for my other daughter in April. But no sooner had the last sour-noted line concluded, “…hap-ee birth-day toooo yooooooo!” the tape jumped to a shot of my mom pulling a Thanksgiving turkey out of the oven.
Weren’t there any other activities in our lives during the past ten years? I seem vaguely to recall a few. Too bad I left the camcorder in the closet on those occasions.
The future archeologist will also draw another conclusion: our family had no male head-of-household, but an ever-present phantom voice haunted all of our family events.
Through hour after hour of tape, I never once appeared on camera. That’s what I get for not trusting anyone else. On an early tape, my eight-year-old daughter speaks to the camera: “Can I try using it?” A voice replies, “No, you’ll break it. Maybe when you’re a teenager.”
On a later tape, the same daughter, now age 16, says, “Can I try using it?” The voice again replies, “No, you’ll break it. Maybe when you’re a teenager.”
Although my face is never shown, a steady stream of smart-aleck comments dominates the sound track—few of which are remotely humorous. You would think it might have dawned on me that the mouth of the person using the camera is by far the closest to the microphone.
After seeing and hearing the results of all that high-tech video equipment, I’m now convinced the best way to preserve memories is a shoe box filled with snap shots.
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