From the time Maura bought her first VCR in 1993 up until we moved into the House on the Hillside in 2004, the two of us recorded at least two dozen video scrap books of odds ‘n’ ends taped from basic cable. It was a means of preserving items of note in those days before streaming video-on-demand. Old SNL and Kids in the Hall sketches, fragments of forgotten sitcoms, documentary segments, music videos, and whatever other shit we deemed worth preserving was collected in six-hour blocks labeled with the year/season and tossed into a box for never-realized future screenings.
The box of tapes remained in storage at my in-laws place until a few weeks ago, when I bought Maura a VCR-to-DVD recorder as a Valentine’s Day present. She’d been talking about getting one for ages, mostly to preserve her VHS tapes of Japanese dramas and British sitcoms which will likely never see a North American DVD release. The cost of the machine kept forcing her to put off getting one. Worried that the tech (never mind the tapes) was living on borrowed time, I scraped some cash together and bought her the damn thing.
“I can’t imagine what even on these,” Maura said when she brought the box of old tapes home. Two of the tapes near the top of the pile particularly caught my eye — “Summer/Fall 2001″ and “Fall/Winter 2001-2.” While Maura was out doing her Sunday errands, I threw them in our ancient VCR and took a gander at their contents.
There were clips from short-lived sitcoms and forgotten stand-up comedians, snippets of AbFab and Gilmore Girls, and old Hullabaloo and Ed Sullivan band appearances cribbed from some PBS special. Buffy, Angel, and Charmed were in there, too, alongside fragments of some Bravo documentary on punk rock and a Dexter’s Laboratory cartoon.
Much of it is baffling in hindsight, with the ciphers necessary to provide context to the ephemeral interest or inside baseball being long lost to time.
And then, following the end of the X-Files episode where Scully had her baby, the realization of my anticipated dread appeared — two hours of 9/11 footage taped across half a dozen stations on the day itself. Terrified panic and rampant speculation unspooling in real time, with howls for blood serving as a backbeat.
And lots of shots of bodies falling, at which point I had to pause the tape and do some housework as a distraction.
Next up were the monologues — Leno, Conan, and Stewart — shaky calls for solidarity mixed with lashings of patriotism with the insistence that the show must go on. Then a sequence of Daily Show and CNN segments covering the fall of the Taliban, color-coded threat levels, and a growing sense that the “War on Terror” was shaping up to be a permanent fixture of American society.
This in turn was followed by a Buddy Holly performance clip and footage of Kevin Spacey singing, which my Maura is at a complete loss to explain.
And as hard as the 9/11 stuff was to take? This clip — which I deny all knowledge of taping — was still the worst thing I found on there.