Past Time: The Curious Case of the Blu-ray Player and the Irate Sibling

Photo by Dapo Abideen on

Hi there, Dear Reader. It’s early afternoon on Saturday, April 10, 2021 here in New Hometown, Florida. Currently, the temperature is 83˚F (29˚C) under sunny skies. With humidity at 64% and the wind blowing from the south-southwest at 15 MPH (21 KM/H), the heat index is 84˚F (29˚C). Today, we can expect partly sunny skies and a high of 89˚F (31˚C). Tonight’s forecast: Thunderstorms are expected to pass through our area; the low will be 70˚F (21˚C).

Last night I had a flashback to one of the most inexplicable arguments I ever had with my older half-sister during my mother’s five-year-long slide into depression, dementia, and – eventually – her death. It was one of the worst fights we had before Mom’s passing, and it still bothers me because it was so ridiculous and – ironically – caused by a good deed I did for my mom a little over a decade ago.

As you can see, I bought this item twice; I had bought a new TV for my upstairs bedroom and needed a player for it, so I bought another one like the one I bought for Mom.

On February 9, 2011 – per my Orders page on Amazon – I bought a Samsung BD-C5500 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player as a gift for my mom, who was basically confined to a small bedroom on the ground floor of what was then our townhouse in East Wind Lake Village after an operation to repair her lower spine a year earlier.

At the time, her mental condition was still good – she was beginning to show some signs of decline, but they were subtle and easy to dismiss if you were inclined to do so[1] – and we had moved her Samsung HDTV and a Sony DVD player down from the master bedroom to her new digs in what had been the guest room so she could watch the few movies she had in her collection. We also had called Comcast to have a new cable connection set up in that room so Mom wouldn’t miss her favorite shows.

Not a good photo, I admit, but this is part of my Blu-ray/DVD collection as it appeared in my former home in Miami.

By this time, I had moved into the master bedroom and I had bought a Samsung 26-inch HDTV and a Blu-ray player on which I could watch my then modest collection of movies in the still newish HD format. The titles I had on Blu-ray at the time were a mix of “upgrades” – films I already owned on DVD – and Blu-ray discs (BDs) only; when I started buying Blu-rays in late 2008 I decided to try and not replace every single DVD I owned with its BD counterpart,[2] so I had Blu-ray titles that I could watch by myself in the upstairs room but not with my mom in her room.

At first, this fact did not register in my brain. I was under considerable amounts of stress at the time because I was my mother’s primary caregiver. Part of this was because my mother willed it so; she knew how disorganized my half-sister is about finances and paying bills, and since Mom wasn’t in any condition to keep her checkbook balanced or keep track of the many bills we received each month, she tossed that hot potato to me.

I also knew, deep down, that my mother was not going to recover from her many illnesses. Not only was her mobility hampered by the slow recovery at home from the surgery she had undergone in late Spring of 2010, but she had issues with her kidneys, high blood pressure, glaucoma, and the early symptoms of dementia. Depression, too, although at the time of this story (February 2011) that ailment wasn’t as obvious as it later became.

In 2013, Mom was still hanging in there. She still insisted on having her copies of The Miami Herald and El Nuevo Herald taken to her every day, but they went unread.

I don’t recall the circumstances that led to my purchase of a Blu-ray player for my mother. I must have been watching a movie – Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World more than likely – that I thought Mom might enjoy watching…then realized that she couldn’t watch it unless I bought her the DVD version or, better yet, her own Blu-ray player.

At the time, I was getting ready to leave Miami to visit my friend Leigh and her family in Atlanta for a few days in March. I had known Leigh as an online friend for seven years, but we had never met in person. So in November of 2010, knowing that I was running myself ragged taking care of my mother and learning how to manage a household under highly stressful circumstances, Leigh and her husband Mike invited me to go to Atlanta to celebrate my 48th birthday with them and their child, Skye.

Less than a month before my trip to Georgia was set to begin, I ordered the aforementioned  Samsung BD-C5500 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player and a HDMI cable so Mom could watch any of my Blu-ray films and even have a few of her own in her small collection of home media releases. I also bought her a DVD/Blu-ray rack to store her discs on. It arrived about a week later – Amazon had not debuted its own Amazon Prime delivery service and relied on UPS, the mail, or a crappy company called Lasership to deliver orders to customers, and because I knew how to set the Blu-ray player up, I happily surprised Mom with her new “toy” and connected the Samsung BD-C5500 1080p Blu-ray Disc Player to her TV.

Mom’s old Samsung LCD TV set is now in the garage in New Hometown, FL

Mom was happy.

I was happy.

Naively, I assumed that my half-sister would also be happy.

How wrong I was!

The hooking up of the Blu-ray player to Mom’s TV took only a few minutes, and I did it hours before Vicky arrived at the house, as was her custom when she worked the day shift (7 AM to 7 PM) at the now-shuttered Metropolitan Hospital in Miami.

In those days, I was rarely cheerful about anything, but on that day in February 2011 I was feeling pretty good. I loved my mother, and my primary concern was to make her happy; I suspected that even if she somehow recovered her mobility and regained some of her mobility, she didn’t have many years left to live. So my main goal in those dark and sad days was to brighten up her existence, even in small and maybe insignificant ways.

Mom, Vicky (standing), and I at one of the few IHOP locations in Miami-Dade County, circa 2013. This was the last time we went out to a restaurant as a family. Mom looked tired. I looked sad and tired. Vicky looked like she was pretending to be happy there.

Now, my half-sister is smart in many areas, but she is a Luddite when it comes to home electronics – and deliberately so. When Mom and I transitioned from VHS to DVD in the early 2000s, Vicky said she wasn’t giving up her videocassette recorder and VHS tapes. (I didn’t visit her apartment frequently even in the best of times, so I had no idea how extensive her VHS library was. Probably smaller than mine, which at its apogee consisted of 100-115 titles.) She often sneered at my “early adapter” philosophy and bragged that she would hold on to her videotapes until she died.

“What will you do when your VCR finally dies and there aren’t any new ones because they have been phased out?” I asked her during one of our many discussions-turned-arguments on the topic of her hate for new electronics.

“Alex,” she said with a tone of utter conviction, “there are too many people with VCRs. They will never discontinue them.”

(In 2008, newly manufactured VCRs virtually ceased to be sold in the U.S. due to the popularity of DVDs and the emergence of HD BDs; Hollywood studios had stopped releasing movies on VHS in 2006, and even though the VCR was still manufactured in Japan after that by one holdout – Funai, which kept making VCR/DVD combos – production ceased in 2016 due to the non-existence of new content on VHS.)

“VHS players will go the way of the eight-track tape players, Vicky. And videotape doesn’t last forever. It wears out, and the audio-video quality diminishes every time you play a tape. Optical discs have their issues, but they don’t have those problems.”

“Well, I’m never buying a Dee-Vee-Dee,” she said in that annoying, supercilious way of hers that always got under my skin.

Oddly enough, she seemed to like “Dee-Vee-Dees” just fine whenever she watched them at the townhouse with Mom and me, and she learned how to use Mom’s player (a Sony model that I bought for her after Vicky arrogantly took Mom’s VHS player to replace her own broken-down one not long after we had that argument about which format was better) so she could watch movies with our parent without having to ask me to put the disc in the “Dee-Vee-Dee” player for her.

 But back to the day in question…..

I don’t know if Vicky had had a bad day at work, or if she was just stressed out over the whole situation with Mom. And, honestly, I don’t care now. All I know is that when I showed her – in a friendly, brotherly fashion, at that – the newly connected – if still unused – Blu-ray player, her reaction was unexpectedly hostile.

“Why did you buy this new…thing for Mom?” Vicky demanded angrily.

I flinched. “Well…I….”

“Mom didn’t need a newfangled player!” she continued to rant. “Her Dee-Vee-Dee player works well. I know how to use it. This thing is not the same!”

If you know me well, you know that I’m not usually a person who gets angry easily, but Vicky has a special talent in that she can get me riled up. Especially if I am already stressed out, and especially if someone is being unreasonable and particularly dense. And on that evening, Vicky had hit the trifecta to get me upset.

“Look, Victoria Eugenia,” I said in that exasperated, acid tone I adopt when I’m mad as hell at her. “This is a Blu-ray player, not a thing. It works exactly the same way as her old DVD player, only it plays the new Blu-ray discs that work only on a high definition TV like Mom’s.”

Vicky was furious beyond reason. She kept saying such inane comments as “I can’t learn how to use a Blu-ray player!” and “Now I can’t play DVDs on this thing.”

I tried explaining the concept of “downward compatibility” to her, but no matter what I said, Vicky was stubbornly clinging to the notion that she was never going to learn how to operate that “thing” and that I had denied her a way to watch “Dee-Vee-Dees”[3] with our mother.

Fed up, I said, “Vicky, you’re acting like a child. Grow up, okay? I bought this for Mom. Not for you. For Mom. She likes it. She’s happy with it. And like it or not, you will learn how to use it. I’m leaving for Atlanta in a few weeks, and you will learn how to put discs in the tray and use the remote control. Blu-ray discs and – here I imitated her – Dee-Vee-Dees are almost identical, and the controls are not as different as you think they are.”

It took Vicky some time – I want to write an hour, but in all fairness it might have been less time than that – to calm down enough to let me show her that using the thing (“esa cosa,” in Spanish) was just as easy to use as Mom’s Sony DVD player. And, after all her ranting and “I can’t do this” complaints, she did learn how to use a Blu-ray player. But she was angry about it for a while, for reasons that I’ve never understood.

[1] My half-sister, unfortunately, was in denial, which was surprising and somewhat shocking, considering that she was a nurse whose specialty was in geriatric care.

[2] A policy that has long since gone the way of the dodo, although financial limitations and lack of space will probably prevent me from going “100% Blu-ray” unless I give away much of my DVD collection.

[3] By this time, the VHS player Vicky had grabbed from Mom’s room and claimed as hers had, as I knew it would, died, so Mom and I gave her a DVD player with a 5-disc changer similar to the one I had in the dining room/kitchen area. So she, too, had a few “Dee-Vee-Dees” of her own.

Published by Alex Diaz-Granados

Alex Diaz-Granados (1963- ) began writing movie reviews as a staff writer and Entertainment Editor for his high school newspaper in the early 1980s and was the Diversions editor for Miami-Dade Community College, South Campus' student newspaper for one semester. Using his experiences in those publications, Alex has been raving and ranting about the movies online since 2003 at various web sites, including Amazon, Ciao and Epinions. In addition to writing reviews, Alex has written or co-written three films ("A Simple Ad," "Clown 345," and "Ronnie and the Pursuit of the Elusive Bliss") for actor-director Juan Carlos Hernandez. You can find his reviews and essays on his blogs, A Certain Point of View and A Certain Point of View, Too.

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