#1 Crush of a Lovefool
I was seventeen years old when William Shakespeare’s Romeo + Juliet, the Baz Luhrmann film adaptation starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Claire Danes, was released in the theaters. Away at college in downtown Milwaukee, just weeks from my eighteenth birthday, I recruited two girlfriends to see it the weekend it opened. It didn’t matter that we had to shiver our way through a city bus ride on a wintry night to reach the theater, or that while on said bus, we were seated next to a drooling homeless man who almost fell on us on more than one occasion.
What mattered was the opportunity to see Leo, whom I had already fallen madly in love with after discovering him through The Basketball Diaries, make himself even more swoon-worthy in my eyes, through a performance that embodied the zeitgeist of my mid-90’s adolescence. His brooding, impulsive Romeo, amplified by frenetic camerawork, bright, flashy visuals, and a grunge-heavy soundtrack was EVERYTHING I imagined an ideal partner to be. Passionate, devoted, romantic – you have to understand that I’d gone through high school having had only one semi-serious, very short-lived boyfriend, and felt positively starved for emotional and physical intimacy. Watching Leo on the big screen allowed me to temporarily feed my hunger, giving me a fantasy object upon which to project all my unfulfilled desires.
It also fostered an obsession that led me to revisit the film with another group of friends when I returned home to Chicago for Christmas break. And convince myself that this was the BEST. MOVIE. EVER!!!
It was a belief that lingered in the months that followed, a tumultuous period where an unexpected turn of events led me to bail on my second semester in Milwaukee. I found myself back in Chicago, exhausted and completely uncertain about the direction of my life. With things feeling so up in the air, it was only natural that I’d gravitate toward the places and things that provided comfort and familiarity. One of those was the small video store where I’d worked as a clerk immediately following my high school graduation.
My old boss welcomed me back with open arms, and began training me to take on tasks that were a bit above my retail associate pay grade, such as ordering product from our distributor. In doing so, she educated me on the source of recorded videos at a time when they weren’t widely available for mass market purchase. Back then, rental retailers paid top dollar for the right to obtain a limited number of copies of popular new releases, which they would then turn around and rent for a few dollars a night. By controlling the supply, store owners could quickly make back the cost of their investment and then some – taking advantage of a film’s demand until the buzz died down. Even then, it would still generate steady rental income until our corporate overlords changed its status from “New Release” to general rental. At which point it would either be moved to its appropriate genre shelf or converted into a previously viewed tape available for re-sale.
With all of this in mind, you can imagine how eager I was to review our invoices that spring, when my beloved Leo masterpiece was finally released for home viewing. My plan was to increase the size of our order by one, and simply pay out of pocket for that extra tape, so I could take it home and feel privileged to have my own personal copy.
You can also imagine my colossal disappointment after learning that it retailed for $80.
I tried being sensible – telling myself to wait until the price dropped. I’d even entered into my first real relationship by then, so there was less urgency around having 24/7 access to my fantasy boyfriend.
At yet ... the BEST. MOVIE. EVER. obsession remained. And one of my greater faults is that I get super impatient when it comes to my obsessions. The thought of knowing this brilliant piece of cinema was in reach, that I was only a very expensive purchase away from being able to hold it close to my chest and watch breathlessly on an endless loop from the comfort of my bedroom ... it was simply too much to bear.
So it went that I found myself at the front counter of Zap Video, a large distributor warehouse that also allowed visits from the public. And despite merciless teasing from my new boyfriend, I said fuck it, and plunked down the full retail cost for that goddamn tape. I could justify it – most of my income at that time was disposable. And it seemed like a well-earned reward to make up for the turmoil of the previous few months.
I can’t tell you how many times I watched my new prize before a new edition, this one priced to appeal to Best Buy and Target customers, hit the shelves. But I feel like it was only a few months. I felt a little sheepish, knowing how much I could have saved if only I’d cooled my heels. But still, I felt satisfied knowing that I’d taken control, and used my own resources to get exactly what I wanted, when I wanted, despite feeling utterly lost within my world at large. To commemorate this, I bought the cheaper version as my viewing copy, and preserved the original with the help of my video store employer’s shrink wrap gun.
Twenty years have gone by and I still have that tape in my possession. It has traveled with me through three moves, and sits prominently displayed atop of one of the cube storage bookcases that flank my bed. Because life and its various troubling circumstances are temporary. But the poetry of Shakespeare uttered by Leonardo DiCaprio? Man, that’s forever.
Jenny Seay was a life-long Chicagoan until the siren song of the Bay Area stole her away in 2015. She has her MFA in Creative Writing from Columbia College Chicago, and has published stories, reviews, and feature articles in publications such as Punk Planet, TimeOut Chicago, Swink, and Gimmick Press's own Working Stiff: The Anthology of Professional Wresting Literature and Art. She doesn't write as often as she should, but she's been working on a young adult novel about independent pro wrestling that she's ready to approach with more focus and discipline.