There once was a 99¢ store on 14th Street just west of 6th Avenue. They sold household items, school supplies, snacks and plastic toys, just like every other 99¢ store in New York City. It was a cavernous space, studded with heavy white wood bins filled with travel size shampoos, 3-packs of gym socks, and used VHS tapes. These were the days before the internet, before cell phones: we were just entering the world of CDs and DVDs. We were about to be asked to shed our bulky and beloved entertainment collections and replace everything with silver discs. Little did we know that soon we would be asked to replace these discs with, well, literally nothing, but that’s skipping ahead.
I refused to throw out my LPs and VHS tapes. Instead, I took the opportunity to increase my collection. Everyone was selling, or simply discarding these things, and the 99¢ store was the perfect place at the perfect time. They expanded their used VHS collection, separated it from the rest of the store with walls of black metal racks, stuffed, from the floor to seven feet up, with videos. I worked a few blocks away, so I’d go by on my lunch hour, or after work, and sort through the tapes. Three rows deep, placed haphazardly, some tapes had covers, some didn’t, but there were so many gems that the dust and lack of air conditioning were not a problem. Movies that I just knew weren’t going to make it to DVD, things I had to have like ‘Satan’s School for Girls” and literally almost everything with Linda Hamilton.
Eventually the 99¢ store morphed into Entertainment Outlet, with huge TV screens and a security guy sitting on top of a ladder. They sold video games and consoles, top ten CDs, porn, Spanish music, blank tapes, and new DVDs. Gorgeous boxed VHS sets, still with lower prices than anywhere else. The white bins remained, but now they held used DVDs. Soon enough, VHS tapes could no longer even be given away. It was where I shopped for all my entertainment needs. And then there was the internet.
I love the internet, how much easier everything is now, but it creeps me out how it’s replacing everything else with itself, like a shitty science fiction movie you’d find at Entertainment Outlet. For a while, they were one of the few places left in Manhattan where you could purchase DVDs and CDs, and after a few years, no one even cared about that. They lost their space on the north side of 14th, and moved to a smaller spot almost directly across the street. Their inventory narrowed—the only music they sold was Spanish—but you could still get stuffed Yoshi’s and two movies for ten dollars.
Oh but not now. People no longer care to hold objects in their hands–perfect facsimiles are the style of the day. Entertainment Outlet closed last week, they are just a website now [ http://www.entoutlet.com ] but at least they are a website that sells real objects–DVDs and video games. And they have a blog. Almost everyone I know has rid themselves of older formats and I’ve resisted for so long. My videos collection reflects my personality, my LPs prove my sixties realness, my cassette tapes—well, there’s no excuse for them, really…except the mixes… and the answering machine messages. Recently I was gifted with speaker systems for my iPod, and it was like, wow. Suddenly the idea of all the room I could have if I got rid of or converted my old stuff, well, it seemed more appealing than it had in the past. Maybe I could save the best of the old formats as examples? Examples of the person I used to be, of what was cool in the world I used to live in.
It was during a recent emergency preparedness fantasy that I realized if I were to pack for being stuck on the island in “Lost” I would not have to bring photograph albums or games or music or books or movies: I would just have to bring my iPod. Pack it all up in this imaginary space, take it with me everywhere.
The more we all get used to not needing to own things, the easier it will be when there are less things to own. Call me a conspiracy theorist if you must, but it seems that our leaders are not going to attempt to fix our planet. Instead they are preparing us for lives where there’s no room to spread out, to surround ourselves with our belongings. Lives where going outside is unpleasant if not fatal, but we’ll all be fine with it because our focus is on the amazing little screens we hold in our palms.
Mark my words—within twenty years it will not be unusual to have iPods implanted in our flesh, and all the Olivia Newton-John picture discs in the world won’t be able to stop it.