Courage is the power to let go of the familiar. -- Raymond Lindquist
When overwhelmed with options, I revert to what I know. If confronted with an extensive menu at a high-end restaurant, I scan for the words "pasta," "chicken," and "halibut," bypassing any dishes that do not contain at least one of these comfortably familiar basics. Rather than researching the latest automobiles on the market, I traded in my 1994 Toyota Corolla for a used 1998 version of the same make and model. And yet, despite how often I succumb to the gravitational pull of familiarity, I am defensive when David teases me for being a "naked mole rat," blindly following my own well-worn path. My typical response to this nickname-slash-insult is to recite the many times in the past I have been adventurous. "There was that one time," I'll argue, "when I took Doheny to Melrose instead of Sunset to get home after partying in the Hills. So there ."
My preference for the tried and true never seemed to bother David. He'd often push me to stray from my standards, but, when I stubbornly refused, he would just smile, scratch his shaved head, roll his blue eyes, and we'd move on to the next subject. But that was before my adherence to the known began to affect his life, before I subjected him to what he calls "the unspeakable torture" -- that was before Netflix.
Before Netflix, David and I would go to Hollywood Video on El Cajon Boulevard and, as a team, select a few movies to bring home and watch. I would beeline to the walls that held the new releases and search out any faces or titles I might recognize. David preferred to read the back of every box in the comedy and foreign film sections. Upon reuniting after our independent searches we would discuss and debate the DVDs we each had selected. Without fail, I would end up returning most of my handful to the shelves.
The system worked. We were usually happy with our mutually selected movies, and if any of them sucked, we shrugged our shoulders and blamed the cast and crew. But now, because of Netflix, the blame for David's lack of enjoyment of the last dozen or so movies is mine alone to bear.
For those of you still adjusting the tracking on your VCRs, Netflix is an online movie rental service. All of our friends were doing it, it seemed like such a great idea -- thousands of titles at my fingertips, reviews, synopses, easy searching using key words, and I would not even have to leave my office! But after creating my account, I saw the potential for disaster: Me, alone on my laptop, clicking madly through genres and sub-genres, and then, without giving David a chance to debate my selections, pressing the button that puts my virtual handful of flicks on a list to be sent to our home.
There were so many to choose from and they were so easy to sift through, I couldn't deal. One afternoon, as I agonized over where to begin, one fateful image, a distant memory, popped into my head -- Tom Cruise dressed like a woodland fairy fighting an imposing Tim Curry costumed as the devil. I allowed the memory to develop until I saw white flower petals floating in the air and heard snippets of a song that filled my chest with warmth. These images were from a movie I had seen as a child and though I couldn't quite remember the premise, I sensed from the warm fuzzy feeling in my belly that this was a really great film. I typed Legend into the search bar, and there it was.
When the DVD arrived, David was skeptical. "Come on," I coaxed, "Give it a chance. It's really good. Humor me." Reluctantly, David plopped down onto the red leather cushion beside me. The movie began with a scantily clad Tom Cruise frolicking in the forest with a young girl wearing a flowing, gauzy white dress and a crown of flowers. I could feel David's penetrating stare, his glaring baby blues burning a blush onto my cheeks. Then I uttered the three words, words I have found myself using with increasing regularity, that have caused my love to lose all faith in my movie-choosing ability -- "It gets better."
Legend wasn't as magical as I remembered. But that didn't stop me from choosing The Last Unicorn, another nostalgic title, as our next flick. "You're kidding me," David said when he read the words on the little paper jacket. "What is it with you and unicorns?" I hadn't remembered, but unicorns also featured prominently in Legend.
I urged him to join me, dropping names from the cast like Mia Farrow and Jeff Bridges, until David sighed heavily and sat down. During the part in which the unicorn learns she may be the last from a limerick-singing butterfly wearing sunglasses and a beret, David rolled his eyes so hard I thought he might have a headache. "It gets better," I offered. He shook his head, sighed again, and retreated to the kitchen, where he poured himself a glass of scotch, straight up.
As if possessed by a demon of nostalgia, I continued to select movies I'd seen and loved, overlooking the fact that I was ten when I fell in love with them. Goonies was next, a children's adventure to find buried treasure. "If it's not unicorns and fairies, it's pirates and sparkling jewels?" David asked after I used puppy-dog eyes to persuade him to watch it with me.
"You know how much I love things that sparkle, beh beh," I said, right before pressing play.
"I know," said David. "It gets better, right?"
After Practical Magic (in which Sandra Bullock and Nicole Kidman are sisters in a family of witches), David had just about had it. "No more. I hate Netflix! Every time we get another DVD I cringe, wondering what kind of poo I'm going to have to watch this time." He was wearying from the slow and steady exposure to the stories and characters of my childhood, as one might tire from the persistent drone of an elusive mosquito.
When he returned from collecting our mail yesterday, David tossed the new Netflix arrival on the counter. "I don't even want to know," he said.
"Oh, it's The Neverending Story!" I shrieked. David's eyes bugged out and his breath caught in his throat, as if I had just punched him in the abdomen. "Come on, let's check Rotten Tomatoes. This is a great movie. I really think you might like it." I was intent on redeeming myself and, after all, I'd seen this movie a dozen times, it fit me like an old pair of jeans.
David logged on to rottentomatoes.com, where a quick glimpse allowed him to see how well the film had gone over with critics.
"See? Eighty-two percent, a fresh tomato, I told you it was a good one," I said.
" Flying dragon ?" David squawked after reading the synopsis. "Barb, tell me there's not a flying dragon in this movie." I smiled at him, and in response, earned myself a loud, drawn-out sigh.
"Come on, five minutes, just give it five minutes. If you totally hate it we'll turn it off, but I think you'll like this one," I pleaded. "And I promise I won't make you watch Labyrinth or The Dark Crystal again, even though I want to."
David looked at me warily, but, in the end, he sat by my side, and he didn't even complain when I was inspired to hop up off the couch, stand over him, and dance like the flower girl at a wedding reception as I sang along with the theme song.
Though he recently demanded my Netflix password, David's been a pretty good sport. Now that I have indulged this craving of mine to review every cinematic influence I have had from preschool through adolescence, I can kind of see where he's coming from. If I were seeing these movies now for the first time, I'd probably think they were dumb too.
Lucky for my love, I've just about gotten the nostalgia bug out of my system. Maybe I'm ready to cast off the shackles of the known and stretch my arms toward things untried. I'll let David choose one of those old black-and-white movies he seems to like so much and we'll get takeout from someplace strange and exotic and I'll even try a dish that doesn't include chicken, pasta, or halibut! But, just in case things go horribly wrong, I've prepared an emergency kit that includes a DVD of Steel Magnolias and a box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese.