VCRs are great, but you've got to get with the program


LIKE MILLIONS of Americans, I derive a tremendous amount of enjoyment from my VCR, although there are still a few minor operating instructions I have to get the hang of.

For instance, I don't know how to set the clock.

I don't know how to record TV programs.

I don't know how to get the stupid thing to record a program while I'm away.

I don't know how to do that thing where you watch one TV program while recording another.

I don't know how to make a one-touch recording, whatever that is.

All that aside, however, it's a pretty good VCR. Or so they tell me. I'll say this: it plays great movies. I'm telling you, you pop a movie in that baby and it really, um . . . plays.

They tell me my VCR can do a lot of other things, too, although this seems to be mostly hearsay at this point.

"You can search for a scene in two speeds, forward and reverse," said my friend Neil, the part-time NASA engineer who set the VCR up when I bought it. "You can view a still picture. You can directly select up 110 channels."

"Is that right?" I said. "Boy, that's terrific."

That was two years ago. From the moment Neil walked out the door, the VCR has been used for two things: to play movies and as a base for an old softball trophy that says: "Bonney's Inn -- 2nd Place -- Monroe Industrial League."

Whenever we want to record something, Neil has to come over to do it.

"Listen, " I said to him one day, "why don't you ditch your wife and kids and move in with us? C'mon, it'll be fun. Plus my wife's a great cook. And that way, whenever we have a question about the VCR, you'll be right there to answer it."

Neil thought it over for a few minutes, but finally decided his wife Eileen would track him down and shoot off one of his feet, which would upset the kids. And then he's be stuck with a limp for the rest of his life.

"Suit yourself," I said. "Just don't start whining when your phone rings every night and it's me trying to record a program."

(By the way, is it 5 in the morning now? That's what the clock on the VCR says. Seems like an odd hour for me to be writing. Apparently, I'm not sleeping too well these days.

(It's probably all this stress. From worrying about how to program the VCR.)

But, as I say, my VCR plays great movies. Oh, boy, you can't say enough about how it plays movies. It's almost . . . well, it's almost like watching a movie in the movie theater.

Except the screen's a little smaller.

And a little darker.

And there's an FBI warning threatening you with hard time in the slammer for taping the movie.

And I'm not shelling out $2.75 for a box of Milk Duds to Axl Rose's little brother behind the candy counter.

(Getting back to the FBI warning, don't these people have anything better to do than peer through someone's window to see if "Lethal Weapon II" is being copied?

(Hey, FBI, I pulled up to a stoplight an hour ago and there were about 27 dope dealers hawking their wares on the corner. They might as well have been holding signs that said: HONEST AL'S CRACK HOUSE -- ASK ABOUT OUR GUARANTEES. Why don't we send a few agents over there instead of busting in on two little old ladies taping "War of the Roses?")

It's funny, people say it's not that hard to record a TV program off my VCR. Well, I just looked in the owner's manual. Here are the first three instructions for recording a TV program:

1 -- Locate 75-ohm coaxial cable and 300-ohm twinlead wire.

2 -- Press VCR/TV. Press CHANNEL UP or DN. Holding down CHANNEL UP or DN, close eyes and tap heels together three times.

3 -- Press REC. Make sure moon is in the Seventh House, and Jupiter aligns with Mars.

Well, it's all too much for me. In fact, I even wrote a song about all this madness, a little number called "VCR Blues" that I like to get down to with a harmonica.

Goes something like this:

Got dem . . . got dem VCR blues,

I said I GOT dem, got dem VCR blues,

Got a high-quality unit with a whole lotta FUNC-TIONS,

Don't know what to do . . .

Hmmm, I see there's an old John Wayne flick on tonight that I wouldn't mind taping.

( Think I'll go call Neil.

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