Family Activity Review: The Cold, Indifferent Breath of Time, or, Borrowing Movies from the Public Library

Ah, the public library system – a precious resource for our community. I do really, truly love the library with all my heart (especially Milwaukee’s Central Library) and we try to get there at least once a week.

So it made perfect sense to eschew Netflix and Blockbuster and get our movies from the beloved library. Oh, how wonderful and thrifty this would be! What money we would save!

We’ve never been more wrong. In the last month, we’ve spent an average of $40 a month on late fines for these “free” library videos. This is not an exaggeration. In fact, out of shame, I’m minimizing the amount of the fines.

Right now you’re asking yourself: “Why? How? Are you guys really that stupid?”

The answer to the first two questions is simple: The Fucking Three-Day Movie Policy (FTDMP).

And I’m just going to lay it on the table now -- I’m almost positive that the long-term economic growth strategy for the library is built on our family’s failure to navigate the FTDMP. And I have proof.

The first few times we failed to meet the FTDMP deadline it was a psychological thing. It’s the fucking library -- you get to keep library stuff for like two or three weeks, right? Something from the library doesn’t have to be back in 72 hours! That’s some fascist-Blockbuster-type shit.

Also, these three-day returns are supposedly based on some sort of “New Release” system. Ok, fine, I’m familiar with the “New Release” concept from the old Blockbuster days. But “Jaws?” I'm supposed to wrap my head around the fact that according to the library, “Jaws,” released in 1975, is a new release and therefore must be whisked back in a few fleeting hours? In what kind of fucked up universe do I need a reminder in Outlook to make sure I meet my “Jaws” deadline?

I’m guessing the person who decides the “New Release” status is heading toward the end of their 7th decade and doesn’t really like movies.

Think I’m being dramatic or mean-spirited? I simply ask you to consider these hot new releases we’ve recently borrowed from the library:

The Seventh Seal (1956)
1900 (1976)
The Sorrow and the Pity (1969)
Jane Eyre (1970)
The Last Emperor (1987)

Considering how totally insane it is to pair any of these titles with the concept of “New Release,” I thought maybe the FTDMP was instead based on a title's popularity.

All you really have to do is read the list again to know that’s not true either.

So it's just totally random. Further proof that the FTDMP is a deliberate profit center.

The other problem stemming from the FTDMP comes from a phenomenon I call the “over-borrow.” Something about the Central Library’s media center makes us lose all control and grab movies like we’ll never get another chance.

“Hey, how about this 12-tape collection of “The Jewel in the Crown?”
“Why the hell not?”
“Isn’t it about time we actually watched an Ingmar Bergman film?”
“Sure, get ‘em all!”
“Number one son wants the entire X-Files series on DVD.”
“Great, whatever. (You don’t have a lot of homework this week, right?)”
“Here’s a nine-part series of dramatic biographies about 18th Century Japanese composers.”
“Great, great. Only nine parts? What else can we find?”

We have never left the library with fewer than 18 individual titles. And that’s a HELL of a lot of keep track of in a mere 72 hours.

The library does nothing, NOTHING, to save us from ourselves. If there’s a limit to the number of movies you can borrow at one time, we haven’t reached it, and believe me we’ve tried. Another reason I’m sure this is a deliberate money-making system.

We try to get the movies back in time, really we do. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve wrenched a sci-fi movie from a surly 11-year-old’s hands, screaming “But it’s a three day video, A THREE DAY VIDEO!”

A weekly scene finds Michael and me at the dining room table, surrounded by dozens of empty DVD and video boxes, disks and half-rewound tapes -- eyes glazed, mouths agape, minds numbed by lack of sleep -- trying to match FTDMP titles with the appropriate case. At our backs, we feel the relentless push, the never-ending march, the cold indifferent breath of time --circling nearer, bearing down, threatening to drown us in unmet responsbilities.

On the bright side, no children’s videos or DVDs fall under the FTDMP. You get seven days for those puppies.

So, in summary:

Title: Blues Clues, Blue’s Birthday
Length/Particulars: 38 minutes, released 1998
Library Says: No prob. Relax. Take as much time as you need.

Title: Middlemarch
Length/Particulars: Six and a half hours. Released I don’t know when. I think it was an old Masterpiece Theatre mini-series.
Library Says: Missy, you better get yourself some crystal meth or work yourself into a depressive insomniac state or something, cause you’ve got 72 hours to get this thing done. We’re betting you won’t, though. Oh yes, we’re betting you won’t. We’re betting exactly $2 in maximum library fines that you won’t. AAAAAHAHAHAHAHAHA!

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