Mario Stories

Renting Movies With Grandma

THE REQUEST: Write about something fun you did with your grandparents

If there's one thing you should know about the relationship between my grandparents and me, it's the fact that, on the Lanza side of the family (aka my dad's side), I was their first grandchild. That's right, out of eight greasy little Italian cousins running around back in the mid 70s through the mid 80s, I was the oldest.

Which meant that... not only was I the first of the Lanza grandchildren... let's face it, it meant I was also the best.

Me and my seven little side characters

I'm not saying this to put down my cousins, by the way. Who are all lovely people, and who I'm sure have all done incredible things in their lives (yes, even you Dom). And who have all grown up to be amazing, warm-hearted, wonderful human beings. No, I'm just pointing out the fact that because I was the first grandchild, and because I didn't have any other kids around to steal my thunder for a couple of years, that meant that in the eyes of my grandparents, I WAS BASICALLY A GOD.

I mean seriously, come on. In old school Italian families like the Lanzas, firstborn male grandchildren don't exactly come around every day.

In the eyes of Papa Joe and Grandma Gloria, I was basically The Chosen One.

Pictures don't lie, folks. I was both the fattest and first.

And this is where I need to come clean with something I have hidden from my cousins for nearly forty years. I hate to admit it now, finally, because I know it is just going to make people mad. But the truth now has to finally come out.

And that truth is...


Celebrating my first birthday as The Chosen One. No other cousins around to get in the way.

Look, I know my cousins all spent a lot of time over at Grandma's house back in the 70s and 80s. That was just sort of a tradition if you were Lanza grandchild. That was just what you did. But what most of my cousins probably DON'T really understand is how much time Grandma and I spent together before most of them were even born!

Seriously, to put this whole thing into perspective for you...

At one point when I was a kid, Grandma and I had Seattle Aquarium season passes together. We used to go to the aquarium together all the time. To the point that I eventually actually GREW BORED OF THE SEATTLE AQUARIUM. And I mean, come on, who does that? What three year old gets bored of going to the aquarium? What three year old is like "You know what, grandma? Let's take a break from the place with all the awesome fish and the touch tank, and maybe let's mix it up and you take me to the Woodland Park Zoo instead. Would you be cool with that?" And grandma would be like "Well of course, my darling grandson, I'd love to drive you to the zoo." And then we'd get in her car, and we'd go.

And I mean, why WOULDN'T we go? After all, we also had passes to the zoo.

My grandma.
My aquarium and zoo (and also Pacific Science Center) date.

However, this story isn't about the many times Grandma and I hung out together at the zoo. And it isn't about the many, MANY times she and I hung out together at the aquarium. No, this story is about the many, many, MANY times that, because I was The Chosen One, I got to sleep over at her house.

And because I liked movies, she would usually drive me down to the local video store.

And she would let me pick out a movie to rent.

Movie nights with grandma. They were the best.

Now, obviously, there were a lot of great things about my grandmother. From my perspective (which I'll admit is quite biased), she was pretty much the single greatest person in the world. I mean, she took me anywhere I wanted to go, whenever I wanted to go, ALWAYS. No questions asked. She totally coddled me. She would even cook dinner for me. Whatever I wanted to eat for dinner that night, THAT'S what we were going to eat for dinner that night. Every time. If I wanted pastina and burgers, then damnit we were going to have pastina and burgers. Being the first born grandchild was the absolute best.

But from a MOVIE perspective...

Let me just say that the greatest thing about my grandma (from a movie perspective) was the fact that when we rented movies together, she absolutely did. not. give. a rip. what movie we were going to watch. Ever. Whatever movie we were going to watch together that night, it was ALWAYS my choice.

And, you know, as a guy who was one day going to run his own podcast about movies... I really sort of enjoyed that.

How much did I like movies when I was a kid?
Um, I think this fifth grade school picture speaks for itself.

Oh, and by the way...

I still have that personalized Ghostbusters shirt

My grandma and I probably watched thirty or forty movies together back in the early to mid 80s. And again, the movie was ALWAYS my choice. If I wanted to watch Ringo Starr in Caveman, we were going to watch Ringo Starr in Caveman. If I wanted to watch The Cannonball Run, we were going to watch The Cannonball Run. If I wanted to watch Time Bandits, we were going to watch Time Bandits.

Oh and yes... to answer your question... no, my grandma didn't have the first clue what the HELL was going on in Time Bandits. And to be honest, neither did eight year old me. Neither one of us knew what the hell to make of that movie.

In related news, Time Bandits probably isn't the best movie to watch with your grandmother.

Even grandma was like... what the hell, kid? What are we watching here?

But Time Bandits was NOT the worst pick I ever chose for our movie nights.

No, the WORST movie I ever chose to watch with my grandma was...

...well, to be honest, there were two of them.

Temple of Doom. The movie that almost killed my grandmother.

Okay, so Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom. The big new hit movie of 1984.

This is one of those moments in my life I will never forget, I always felt bad about this one.

So it's late 1984, or maybe early 1985 (I forget). It depends on when Temple of Doom came out on video. Or "Vee-dee-oh" as my Papa Joe always called it. For some reason, my grandfather never could figure out the proper pronunciation of "video." He always called it "veedeeo."

So anyway, I'm sleeping over at my grandma's house that weekend (in probably early 1985), and I think my brother is there too. I forget. And as always, grandma asks if we'd like to drive down to the local video store, and we'd like to rent a movie for the night. In fact, I believe the conversation that night probably went something like this:

"Hey Mario, because you're my best grandchild, and because your cousins are so much younger and weak*, would you like to pick out a movie for tonight?"

* not an actual quote, this may have been paraphrased

And I would have been like gee grandma, that would be fun! Let's head down to the veedeeo store and pick out a movie!

And so we did.

And so I did.

And the movie I chose for that night was the new blockbuster Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.

Which, again, might not have been grandma-appropriate

So we take the movie back to her house. And we pop it into her VCR. And grandma sits down, and she watches Temple of Doom with us. Her beloved grandchildren.

And again, I will never forget this moment. This was so horrible.

To make a long story short, there's a jump scare about halfway through the movie. And it's a really BAD jump scare, too. If you haven't seen Temple of Doom in a while, it's about an hour into the movie, it happens right after Mola Ram rips out his first heart (which btw, I'm sure grandma must have loved.)

So the heart ripping scene happens. And then afterwards, Indy, Willie, and Short Round are up in an alcove, looking down at the altar. And they're discussing if they should go down there and grab one of the glowing Sankara stones.

And as they're discussing what to do, this guard suddenly POPS his head up right in front of them, and he SCREAMS.


If you're watching Temple of Doom, watch out for this scene. One second before the big jump scare.

And you know, I've seen a billion jump scares in my life. And I've always hated them. I have never enjoyed jump scares in movies, because I don't think they're fair. I just think they are mean. And this jump scare in Temple of Doom is PARTICULARLY mean, because there's no build up to it at ALL. It just randomly happens in the middle of a dialogue scene.

And... well... suffice it to say... my grandma wasn't prepared for this particularly mean jump scare.

So this head POPS up on the right. And this guard SCREAMS. And the next thing I hear is my grandmother scream. She's sitting right next to me on the couch, and she must have jumped at least a foot in the air. Because we were sitting on the same cushion, I could actually feel her get air time.

And then, about twenty seconds later, after she had recovered...

She had to excuse herself from the room. Because I believe she had to go to the bathroom, and take a heart pill.

And again, I really am serious when I say this. I felt SO bad about that moment. I mean, I had already seen Temple of Doom once before, I had already seen it in the theater. And I didn't even REMEMBER that jump scare. If I had remembered it, I definitely would have warned my grandma about it. I felt bad that it had absolutely blindsided her.

And anyway, that's the only thing I think about whenever I watch Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom now. I always think oh crap, here comes the part where Steven Spielberg nearly killed my grandmother.

Is mean to old people

However! Take heart*, because there's a happy ending to this story.

*not a Mola Ram pun

See, I didn't want to end this entry on a sad note, I wanted to end on a happy one.

At the end of the day, WHY did my grandma watch so many movies with me? Well because she loved me, of course. She knew that movies were important to me, so she would sit down and watch movies with me.

With me, her beloved firstborn grandchild.

And not the interloper, Amy. The secondborn who would have my throne.

And because my grandma loved me, her firstborn, so much, that's why we're going to end with maybe the greatest "Awwww, your grandma really did love you" story of all time.

Because let me point out, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom was NOT the most inappropriate movie my grandma ever rented for me.

No, to get to the REAL punchline of this story, we're going to have to jump backwards a little. Back to 1984.

Just kidding. My grandma didn't rent The Kentucky Fried Movie for me. Wouldn't that have been incredible, though?

No, the movie my grandma rented for me was even WORSE.

So one weekend, in the spring of 1984, I'm spending the night at my grandma's house. And I'm nine years old. And as usual, she asks if I want to drive down to the video store and rent a movie. And I say well there's this new James Bond movie out that I've wanted to see. Can we rent that?

So grandma gets me in her car, and she drives me down to the local video store.

Side note: Keep in mind this was 1984, so there was no such thing as "family-friendly" Blockbuster Video yet. In 1984 most video stores were shady little mom and pop holes in the wall, usually run by some shadowy character named Tony. And they usually had a huge porn section in the back, that was separated from the rest of the store by a curtain. And a lot of the time, if you wanted a movie, you had to literally go up and ASK the guy at the counter to go into his collection and find it for you. Keep that in mind as we finish this story. This was NOT Blockbuster.

So grandma drives me to this shady little video store somewhere in Rainier Beach. The one that we always went to. The one with the massive porn section in the back.

And my grandma walks up to the counter. And I'm about two steps behind her.

And in her sweet little old lady voice, she asks the shady man at the counter if we can rent a movie.

And the guy at the counter goes sure, which one? And my grandma asks me, what's the title? So I tell her.

And I gotta tell you...

You have to love your nine-year-old grandson an AWFUL lot to walk up and ask for a movie called Octopussy.

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