Craig and the DVDs
Understanding my best friend through his vast collection of movies
I was raised in Rockland County, a suburb of New York. Everyone who lives or has lived in Rockland will tell you that nothing ever happens in Rockland. Perhaps one of the only peculiar things about Rockland County is the county's multitude of high ranch houses. The high ranches were built in Rockland en masse in the mid-twentieth century to accommodate the growth of the suburbs, and if you don't live in one yourself, you know someone who does. The high ranches vary in size and decorative architecture, but their layout is generally the same. The upper level has the living room, the dining room, the kitchen, a bathroom, and three bedrooms. The bottom level is usually a den of some sort, and there is another bathroom, one more "bonus room," and the garage. You've probably guessed that I've spent some time in high ranch houses, and I have. Many of my childhood friends grew up in what I call the "Rockland special" including my best friend, Craig.
I met Craig in either late 2006 or early 2007, when we were both suffering the indignity of being high school "theater kids" (shudders as the opening chords of "Seasons of Love" pop into my head). We became close very quickly, and I spent many of my afternoons and weekends at his house. Craig's high ranch has the standard three bedrooms, and for most of his childhood, he shared a bedroom with his twin brother Carl. When Craig was twelve, his family renovated the house, and half of the garage became his bedroom. Craig decorated his bedroom in typical pre-teen boy style; dark blue, almost black carpeting, bright blue walls, and standard cherry-wood furniture. Nearly 20 years later, the room still looks typical. The one item of curiosity is his mammoth collection of DVDs, a mass of movies and tv box sets that fill two large bookcases, relegating his book collection to the ledge and floor below.
In high school, when we weren't in rehearsal or performing, Craig and I lived at the then-hub of Rockland life, the Palisades Mall. Visit a few stores, go to the food court, loiter, see a movie, go home; that was our ritual. Craig leaving the mall with one or two new DVDs never struck me as odd. Movies are an integral part of our friendship. We have different tastes, but we are both rabid cinephiles, and after fourteen years of concerts, Broadway shows, long weekends on LBI, and two trips to Europe, Craig and I are happiest just watching a movie. We even consider cult classics Clue and The Rocky Horror Picture Show "our" movies, as we watch them together all the time, and we delight in all things Tim Curry and camp.
Craig is two years older than I, and I was not looking forward to his inevitable leaving for college. But summer 2008 flew by; we were both performing in Carousel at the time, and before I knew it, he was off with his favorite Spice Girls poster, purchased at the first concert we attended together, and a massive storage container full of DVDs. Every year of his undergrad career, he would lug that long, flat, plastic container back and forth from upstate New York. Craig's collection of DVDs was like Mary Poppins's carpetbag: always traveling with him. During his summers at home, the way some live out of their suitcases, Craig lived out of that storage container, never unpacking it entirely. We plucked movies from it all summer until it was time for him to leave again. Thanksgiving and Christmas break were both too short to haul the whole container home, so he would call and give me the rundown of movies that would be coming home with him. "I'm bringing Clue, I'm bringing Rocky Horror, what else should I bring?" he would ask.
After undergrad at Ithaca, Craig moved to Montreal to do graduate work in Creative Arts Therapy. By that point, I was living year-round in western Massachusetts while attending Mount Holyoke. Our busy schedules never allowed us to visit each other at school, but we always found time during shared holidays for movies in the bonus room. Now that we've both finished school and live back in New York, we have a movie night once or twice a month. Whenever I approach his shelves to choose, I see a movie I didn't know he had. That makes sense, as Craig is still constantly buying DVDs and Blu Rays. Every Black Friday, every time target.com has a sale – Craig is buying movies. The collection has grown so much it has spilled into his backyard shed.
When I found out about the shed movies, I began to think seriously about Craig's DVDs. We live in a world of streaming entertainment. I have Netflix streaming on my TV as I write this. Craig has Netflix and various other streaming services. Why the fuck is he hoarding movies in the shed? Why is he still buying DVDs all the time? When is Craig ever going to watch all six seasons of The Nanny? And why did he start this hoard? My relationship with Craig is one of the closest relationships I have. I like to think I understand him, but I never understood the movie collection. I asked him about it, and he told me the collecting of movies began with his father, also named Carl.
Now comes the part where I play therapist, much to the chagrin of Craig, who is an actual professional therapist. Craig and his siblings lost their father on 9/11. I never knew their father, but I am well-acquainted with his memory after nearly fourteen years spent with his family. Craig shares many qualities with his late father, so one could write off buying movies as one of them. I think it runs deeper than that. Craig's father was very organized, and he always took time to write up after-school schedules for Craig and Carl. To this day, Craig loves a good schedule, a good plan. When Craig makes a plan, it may as well be in stone – there is rigidity, permanence, and stubbornness to the way he does things. After many years of friendship, I know one thing to be accurate, if you're late to meet him, or you change the plan....Lord help you.
Based on the afternoon schedules of his childhood, I suppose he gets that rigidity from his father. Craig's brother may be the twin named for their father, but they share an even split of his traits. I've concluded that Craig collects the movies because of this inherited firmness and strong-mindedness. If Craig wants to watch something, he wants to know he can always watch it – he needs it to be tangible. The impermanence of Netflix or Hulu does not satisfy him, as he knows the impermanence of life better than most. When I told Craig this conclusion, he smirked and sassed, "aren't you proud of yourself?" He could be as sassy as he wanted – I was proud of myself, I had figured out the riddle of the DVDs. "I do get rid of movies," he asserted. "Like, I have Fatal Attraction on Blu Ray now; I don't need the DVD, so it's in a bag in the attic." Shed movies and attic movies? That I could not rationalize. I told him he was hoarding. "There are worse things to hoard," he snarked at me. "But it's not hoarding, it's a collection."...okay, Craig.
Sentimentality is not my typical style, but I believe that platonic love is the purest form of love. Friends are people who base their mutual devotion on the admiration of one another's character. Not sex, not blood, just two people who like each other's vibe. As a person who grew up in an immigrant family far away from most of my relatives, my friends are critical, and I treat my friendships with just as much care (...if not more) as my romantic relationships. Craig and I watch so many movies because we are comfortable sitting with each other in silence; the other person's presence is what we need to know we're supported and loved. Now, Craig and I may be the best of friends, but as I said, sentimentality isn't our style. I prefer when Craig expresses his love by randomly texting me to tell me if I died young like Barbara Hershey's character in Beaches, he would care for the child that my ex-husband abandoned me with, like Bette Midler's character. I tell him that I love him too by responding that nobody wants to hear him sing "Wind Beneath my Wings."
That is our style. Love expressed through movies and playful derision. I love him even though he's a cranky hoarder. He loves me despite my many, many, flaws, including my similarity to Sleeping Beauty. I got that moniker from his brother, as I'm "always tired" and "fall in love with a guy after two seconds." Sleeping Beauty and the cranky hoarder, watching camp movies in silence; the perfect pair of best friends.
Note: I originally wrote this story in 2016. I have updated some details. Craig has since moved into his own apartment in Brooklyn, and the bulk of the collection moved with him. The shed movies remain in Rockland in the shed, and I forgot to ask about the attic movies. I'd also like to add that he and I both watched all six seasons of The Nanny during quarantine. I streamed it on HBO Max; he watched his DVDs.