Archive for March, 2010


Lackluster Blockbuster

March 20, 2010

Wow, really? Five weeks since the last update? Way to be, Ken. You’re a tribute to adherence and focus. Bah.

In my own half-assed defense, I wasn’t completely sedentary in that interim. The day after my 34th birthday I started a new Tumblr blog called “Fuck Yeah, Voltron!!!!” where I’ve been posting almost daily. As you might expect from that title it’s pretty narrowly-focused, and it dovetails with another writing project for the upcoming anthology The Immanence of Myth from Mythos Media. Add to the mix that I’m finishing up a long dormant mini-comic in time for the Museum of Comic & Cartoon Art’s annual Art Festival on April 10 & 11, not to mention the day job, and you might have some forgiveness for my absence.

It doesn’t change that I dropped the ball, which is sadly something of a trend for me. I can’t and won’t promise it won’t happen again; hell, it’ll probably be another four weeks ’til I can get back around to this. But I am determined to continue this blog, not allowing it to be yet another abortive startup-turned-ghost town with which the net is littered. I have some definite plans for Thrift Fu, and I hope before long perhaps I’ll be able to bring on some other voices for whom thrifting is more than simply a distraction or an extension of home economics (not that there’s anything wrong with either).

I have been feeling somewhat constipated where Thrift Fu is concerned, both out of financial considerations and the quality of items I’m running across. It’s been rare that I’ve spent more than $20 in any one store lately; the last one may have been because I found the Clerks animated series on DVD, which was $10. That, I recognize, is not the bargain you may have come to expect I find. In trying to justify my actions under Thrift Fu I may at times stretch its reasonable boundaries into areas I know full well it’s not meant to go.

One such example happened a couple weeks ago after a twelve hour shift at my job. Since my longest, hardest days tend to be Fridays and Saturdays, it can be difficult to have a social life when most people get to enjoy one. (Luckily, it worked out for my birthday, which fell on a Tuesday this year.) Out of stubbornness and spite, when not totally destroyed by my workday, I try to go out and do things nonetheless, be it just a few drinks with friends or as much as a show or a party. I often suffer for it the next day, especially since for the past month my cat has been waking me before sunrise, but I prefer that to regret.

This particular evening I was to attend a show in my current favorite fringe musical niche, 8-bit chiptunes. (Brief lowdown: using outmoded videogame hardware no less than 20 years old, most commonly the original Nintendo Gameboy and specially-programmed cartridges, beats and notes are sequenced, sometimes augmented by filters, laptops and even live instruments, for music that is fresh and, by my palate, beautiful. I usually describe it as the music I thought as a kid I’d be listening to now.) I took three trains to an area I’d not been to in at least two years, despite its proximity to my neighborhood, and began plodding towards the vague promise of a club.

After about 10 minutes of said plodding, I was getting kinda discouraged and questioned just how badly I wanted to go to this show. It was at that moment, rising like Brigadoon out of the mists, that I spotted the Blockbuster Video, and completely changed my plans for the evening.

It is no secret that for at least the past three years Netflix has been eating Blockbuster’s lunch, and for good reason: they provide a far wider variety of films without the need of a storefront or, in the case of their on-demand content, even a physical item. Blockbuster has tepidly tried to copy that model, but remains far too married to the anachronism of the video store. Unfortunately this also has put a lot of mom & pop video stores out of business, too; with the return of late fees and other ratcheting up of prices, it seems Blockbuster’s days are numbered.

But Blockbuster’s inability to adapt is our gain, it would seem. After any given DVD comes out, there’s usually at least 20 copies any given store receives to use as rentals. Depending on how those DVDs fare (which I would imagine is pretty lackluster on even the high-profile films), the store slowly phases out copies according to demand; in most cases they won’t hold onto any more than five copies. The rest are sold at a discount as “Previously Viewed,” with prices determined by quantity and quality. A box office smash might still go for over $10, whereas others go as low as $4.

Anyone who’s seen my Amazon wish list knows that it’s teeming with various DVDs (and books, and CDs, and random other crap). It’s less for the benefit of anyone who might want to gift me anything (though I never discourage that) than just a chunk of my brain I don’t need cluttered up with remembering everything that’s tickled my fancy. As I find items on it, often through Thrift Fu, I do go back and eliminate them, though like the Hydra, for every head I chop off three more spring up in its place. Furthermore, as someone who still has many dozens of VHS tapes (and, it should be noted, a functional VHS player) I’m always looking to phase out some movie’s old tape with its sexy newer DVD; indeed, the week before I’d found one of my favorite flicks, Dark City, on a street corner non-bootleg DVD vendor’s table. Still heady from that victory in Thrift Fu, I viewed this Blockbuster as a good opportunity to do both sorts of housecleaning.

I started on tables that were patently items on sale, four DVDs for $20. Normally the store has gone to no great pains to to organize the movies by any recognizable system, so it’s a matter of visually skimming as best as one can and hoping a desired movie asserts itself in one’s mind. I did in fact find several I was considering. But from my vantage, I could see that there were more areas around the store where there were even more movies at that great discount. I asked one of the employees to confirm where those areas started and ended; her answer no more clarified the matter than before I asked. Going on vain hope and a foggy idea of what was what, I got to aisles where it seemed as though every DVD I ever wanted were displayed, and in roughly alphabetical order to boot. I was on a spree that went for a couple hours. Was this location going out of business? Was my Fu that powerful?

When I finally brought my teetering tower of media to the counter, an inkling of sense took hold and I asked the clerk, “Let me just ask to be sure: are all these DVDs Previously Viewed, four for $20?”

He eyeballed the stack. “Uh, no. In fact, almost none of it is.”

Ah. No, I’d not become a DVD thrift savant; I was a grabby, greedy tool.

It was now approaching 1 am. The Blockbuster employees were looking to close up shop, I had worked a 12 hour shift, I had work again early the next morning and it would take me who knows how long to get home. I’d more or less wasted my evening.

In desperation I grabbed four DVDs and plunked down for them. Two of them I was definitely seeking: Renaissance and Waltz With Bashir. One other, Shoot ‘Em Up, is a good, fun flick, too. But the fourth…

…well, I was one of the few that derived unironic enjoyment from Southland Tales, but I’m not sure that’s one I needed to own.

I think in my very first post here I’d set a ground rule that Thrift Fu had to be utterly random. Stumbling across a table on the street containing a DVD of a Top Ten movie is random. Attempted plunder of a specialty store with thousands of just DVDs is not. It is not true Fu. Yes, even your humble master is not without folly. Thrift Fu talks to me when it damn well pleases. Forced conversation in any context is usually awkward and unsatisfying.