Tue, 22 Oct 2002

Rented the Nicolas Cage movie Windtalkers last night. Popped it into my machine and it jammed – wouldn’t play, wouldn’t eject. I had to take apart the VCR in order to find the problem: the tape had gotten twisted up around a little spindle, and the spindle could neither free itself nor lock into its ready-to-play position. I used my fingernail to free the spindle and was able to eject the tape. Then I reassembled the VCR, and it seems to be working perfectly.

Now, having witnessed its complicated internal mechanics, I’m impressed that my VCR ever worked in the first place. First, all those tiny moving parts have to move smoothly together in order for the tape to contact the spinning metal disk that makes playback possible – and then the disk has to somehow read the information magnetically encoded on the tape and transform it into pictures and sound, a process that’s even more mystifyingly complex. As with all machines – my car, my computer, my own body – I’m more amazed when my VCR does what it’s supposed to than I am when it occasionally doesn’t. For, in spite of the countless ways it might malfunction, most of the time I can count on my VCR not to eat the tape, but instead to create the illusion of Nicolas Cage winning World War II on my living room TV set, just as I can count on my spine to effortlessly contour itself to the armrest of my sofa when I settle down to watch the movie, just as I can count on the earth to continue turning gently at a constant distance from the sun, rather than blundering off into the asteroid belt where I and Christina Aguilera and Bombardier’s new rocket-train and my moderately-priced VCR would all be smashed by space rocks and cease working forever, as we probably deserve.

For a few hours after the adventure with the VCR, I was filled with admiration for a God who would so kindly construct a universe that abides by verifiable laws of cause-and-effect, rather than the crazy-quilt universe of supernatural caprice imagined by our pre-scientific ancestors, in which at any time one’s methodical labours could be overturned by the intervention of a talking bush or a mystical trumpet. Then, while flipping through the channels, I spotted Gene Simmons on Hollywood Squares, and I thought, waitasecond, there is no God.

So I never did see Windtalkers. I was afraid to put the tape back in the machine.

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