The $543 DVD

Elizabeth Donald

Tonight my husband and I will watch a DVD that cost us $543.

Then we will return it, but we won’t get the money back.

This is probably the dumbest thing we have collectively done in the nine years that we have been a couple. I can’t say it was the dumbest thing we’ve done in our lives, because there were some truly questionable personal choices back in the nineties that don’t bear close examination.

But Othello is probably in the top ten list.

I was a Netflix early adopter, back in the days before it was an app on the Apple TV that popped up and fed me entertainment at the press of a teeny tiny button on a teeny tiny remote we keep losing in the couch cushions. I signed on back in the days when you ordered discs by mail and everyone knew that wasn’t going to last when you could drive over to Blockbuster and get your movie right away. Who waits for the mail?

Note to self: Don’t attempt to play the stock market. It’s not going to work out well for you.

When Netflix launched streaming, I hopped on board, and eventually settled into one of the dual plans: $7.99 a month for the single-disc DVD service and $7.99 for the one-screen-at-a-time streaming which is now $8.99 and thank goodness we only have one TV. Yes, even at my house where we watch waaaaaaay too many shows, one television set is sufficient.

It was Christmas 2013, and I had a hankering for some Shakespeare. The DVD queue had grown to at least 70 movies, and so I scanned through and picked the 1995 Laurence Fishburne Othello. All I knew about it was that its poster used to hang in my college newsroom, and that it costarred Kenneth Branaugh (at the height of his Branaugh-ness) as Iago. It seemed like a fun way to spend a holiday evening. It arrived on New Year’s Eve, 2013.

We still have it.

I don’t know what happened that New Year’s Eve, or how we forgot about Othello. It got shoved in a drawer in the entertainment center, and every once in a while one of us would say, “Hey, we need to watch that so we can send it back.” Months passed, and I often noted that we were paying the monthly fee for our Netflix DVD service and not using it.

“This is dumb,” I declared on more than one occasion. “Let’s just send it back and get another movie.”

But wait. Othello still looks like a good movie. We’ve held onto it this long, isn’t it silly not to at least watch it before we send it back?

Just one more month…

Next week begins the semester for our collegiate family. If you follow us on social media, you know that my husband, my son and I are all in college together for various purposes. This is, at long last, my husband’s last year as an undergrad, and I am beginning my second year working toward my masters degree as my son continues as a traditional student.

Five jobs, three students, one car. When we embarked on this crazy adventure, we had to do a serious budget cut, and the Netflix DVD plan almost got axed.

Almost. Because… isn’t it cheaper to use the DVD mailing service than to go to the movies, which is one of our favorite family activities? Sure, if we actually sent back Othello. The best of intentions…

This fall, my husband is taking a class on philosophy and film. The syllabus lists approximately 25 films that he will be required to watch out of class. Some of them are excellent films, like Lawrence of Arabia and The Exorcist, though I cringe that his first viewing of Lawrence will be on our little TV instead of the big screen where it firmly belongs. Some of them give me hives, like The Big Lebowski and This is Spinal Tap (see, I just lost about 40 percent of my readers, didn’t I? The Dude does not abide.)

No, they’re not studying Othello, but that would be hilarious.

This class is problematic for us, because of the 25 films, we only own about five of them. (Like I wouldn’t have Alien. Sheesh.) A few are available through the Kanopy system at the university, and a grand total of one each on Netflix and Amazon Prime. The rest we must rent or otherwise acquire.

I sent a missive to my father, the retired film professor, but sadly he has been downsizing his formerly insane collection and does not have any of them. I examined our local library, and found a good number of them are available and most of the rest through interlibrary loan, but then we run the risk that the obscure DVD he needs for a particular week will be checked out or damaged.

“I can’t believe how few of these are on Netflix,” I griped. Bad enough that we’d have to spend money on nonsense like Spinal Tap, but Re-Animator? Evil Dead 2? I’m not objecting to Vertigo, mind you, but Zulu? I have to pay money for this while I’m paying perfectly good cash to three (3) streaming services….

My son piped up, “What about the Netflix DVDs?”

Crickets. Staring.

“I’m an idiot,” I declared.

Yes, we were still paying $7.99 a month for the DVD rental service. I looked up our queue and found Othello listed at the top, on rent since December 30, 2013. Just to make myself cringe, I calculated how much we have spent on the DVD rental service while Othello has slept in his drawer, and it came to $543.32.

I wonder if this is the longest any moron has held onto a Netflix DVD in the history of the company. I am tempted to research it, just for my own dubious bragging rights.

Both of us will be studying film this year: he’s got the philosophy class, and I’ll be beginning work on my thesis, which will involve watching approximately every film about journalism since time began. The Netflix DVDs will finally get some use, and save us the trouble of renting all those bloody movies.

But we’ll have to watch Othello first. I mean, we’ve had it this long. It’s only right.

Elizabeth Donald

Written by

Journalist for more than 20 years, president of St. Louis SPJ, masters candidate/teaching assistant, freelance writer, editor, photographer, and fiction author.

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