Because I was not, and have never been, and never will be (I’m fairly practical) independently wealthy, I worked all while I attended college and graduate school. I had a number of part-time jobs, none which were really life-affirming, but none that involved taking my clothes off for money, so good for me, I suppose (although I probably could have worked less hours and gotten more sleep had I gone that route.)
One of my jobs was as a clerk in a video store. (Yes, a video store. DVD’s weren’t in wide release yet. We were actually one of the first places to get a DVD player and rent DVD’s, and we only had a few titles available. One was The Nightmare Before Christmas, and I had to listen to it over and over on the demo DVD player for weeks. I hear it now and I’m like one of Pavlov’s dogs. I salivate and ask people for their membership card and explain our late fee schedule.) Now, I know what you’re thinking. “Just like the movie Clerks! What fun!” You are wrong. You couldn’t be more wrong. First, those people had a lot of fun, what with the blowjobs and the funerals and the roof-hockey and such. We didn’t have time for fun. We had a supervisor who actually said – no, seriously, actually said – “If you have time to lean, you have time to clean.” No one actually says that. Only in sad, late-night movies about the drudgery of life do you hear things like that. Nope. He said it. Often. At least once a night. (In retaliation, I just made sure I wasn’t leaning when I was loafing. It blew his little favorite line all to shit. “If you have time to…um…stand there…you have time to…JUST GO CLEAN SOMETHING!” He was always so crushed when he couldn’t rhyme his motivational phrases.)
There are a lot of things I could tell you about: the cotton candy machine, and how, when you were chosen as the person to make cotton candy, you sneezed blue or pink or green for days; the people who tried to weasel out of late fees with lame excuses (“I couldn’t return it on time because my grandmother died! And she lives out of state! So I took the video with me! Out of state! Three weeks ago! And only now just got back! So you’ll remove the fees, right?”); how the smell of popcorn never got out of your clothes; how the one famous guy in town always picked my line to check out in (I think because I didn’t go all gaga over him, but in my defense, I’d only ever seen him in The People Under the Stairs, and he was wearing BDSM clothing in that, so I always felt at little ill-at-ease being all, “I LOVE your WORK” because what if he asked “What have you seen me in?” and all I could say was The People Under the Stairs? Then he would judge why I had seen that at all, wouldn’t he, and our relationship would just go downhill from there. So I just kept quiet. In all honesty – he was a very, very nice man, very classy, and he never spoke down to us, unlike a lot of our customers. I always looked forward to seeing him). But instead, I would like to tell you about something more important. Porn.
We lived in a mid-sized town, and this was, as I mentioned, in the heyday of videos. The video store I worked for wasn’t a national chain, but one of maybe three or four locally-owned “chains” in a small area. I don’t think the local Blockbuster had porn. Therefore, since we were trying to make money, we cornered the market on porn. We had a porn ROOM. There was a door warning you not to enter if you were under 18. (It wasn’t policed. I’m sure we had interlopers.) Once you entered, PORN CENTRAL! The red-light district of porn! Four walls and rows and rows of porn down the middle. It was a porn wonderland! So many shiny boxes of boobies and such!
I was not completely unaware that such things existed, but was fairly sheltered all the same, so seeing this for the first time was a bit of a shock, to say the least. I think what surprised me the most was the range. There wasn’t just normal porn. There was pregnant-lady porn. There was little-people porn. There was porn based on popular movies. (The Batman-themed one? Hysterical. I mean…um…not that I would have watched anything like that or anything.) There was a porn starring John Bobbitt. (“It wasn’t impressive,” one of my co-workers told me. “I feel like maybe it wasn’t reattached correctly.”)
One of my jobs was cleaning the porn room, a job I didn’t mind much, because I usually got to do it with my closest friend at work, and we’d discovered that if you stood in just the right spot in the room, the security camera didn’t see you, so you could talk for a while without anyone noticing you weren’t working. The first time I went in to clean, the person training me had me bring in gloves and a trash bag. I wasn’t sure why. (If you know where this is going – bless you. And I’m sorry.) He pointed out tissues on the floor and told me I’d want to wear the gloves when picking those up. It took a minute. Sheltered childhood, you see. Then I realized that people were jacking off to the covers of the porn. Without even having seen the porn. Gross, and possibly the saddest thing ever. Because I am perverse, this made me laugh until I cried.
Wednesday morning was new porn release day at the store, and somehow ended up a morning that I always opened the store. Tuesday night we’d get the shipment; we’d put them on the new release shelves in the room after we closed that night; and Wednesday morning, without fail, there would be a line of men (sorry if that sounds sexist, but we never had women waiting impatiently for new porn) outside the door, sometimes for an hour before we opened, waiting to be the first to get their hands on the shiny new porn releases. Sometimes they’d call a couple weeks in advance and they would know the names of upcoming porn releases, and ask if we were getting them. This is – this is a thing? People know about this?
One morning, a man went into the room, came out with some shiny new porn, skulked around the candy rack for a while, then came up to check out. (He was wearing a long trenchcoat. This is important. Also creepy.) My manager came up and asked to be the one who checked him out. I don’t mind letting someone else do my work for me, so I was happy to hand over the task. I stood to the side and saw the following exchange:
Manager: Sir, I’m willing to rent these videos to you, but I’m going to have to ask you to pay for the candy I saw you put in your coat.
Customer: (affronted) I don’t know what you’re talking about. Just rent me my movies.
Manager: Sir, I watched you on the security camera. You put a number of Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in your coat.
Customer: I want my MOVIES!
Manager: Like I said, sir, I will gladly rent you these videos, but I can’t let you walk out of here without paying for the candy as well.
(at this point, the customer started moving around agitatedly. You could hear rustling - the rustling of purloined Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups – coming from inside of his voluminous trenchcoat.)
Customer: I’m a good customer here! I rent a lot of movies! I spend a lot of money! (Note: he did. He was one of my Wednesday morning regulars. I called him Porny Pete. Well, not to his face. I didn’t say much to these people’s face. I had trouble looking them in the eye. Renting porn is one thing; waiting an hour or more for a store to open to have first shot – no pun intended – at the new release porn is quite another.)
Manager: Sir, if you’d like, we can watch the security video back together. It will clearly show you putting peanut butter cups in your coat. I don’t want to have to get the police involved here.
(He then RIPPED open his coat and what had to be twenty packages of the jumbo Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups came flying out. The four-pack kind you can get at video stores and movie theaters. How had they been secured in there? It was awe-inspiring.)
Customer: Just give me my movies. I just wanted some snacks. Movies are always better with snacks.
He then rented his new-release porn and left, snack-less. Yes, movies are better with snacks. Porn? Porn, though? Is that better with snacks? Also, you are going to go into a diabetic COMA if you eat 80 Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups.
Another entertaining porn moment was when an upstanding businessman-like person would come in and rent a stack of movies, and you’d be checking them out, all, “Con-Air, Face-Off, The Muppet Movie,” and then bam!, halfway down his stack he’d secretive-like stuck in a porn, like the kid buying condoms who also buys seven other things to mask his purchase. Dude. We know. The name of the film comes up on our screen. Also the price is slightly higher. Just rent your damn porn. It’s the combo of The Muppet Movie and the porn that worries me the most, honestly. Please let your kid be asleep, preferably in a sound-proof room, when you pop this baby in the VCR, ‘kay?
So when people ask my stance on pornography, it is this: do what you want, I don’t have that much of an issue with it as long as you don’t hurt anyone, but don’t expect your significant other to be able to perform like these people in the films do, because you will be disappointed. They are acting. Also, new release porn day is Wednesday, for your reference. You’re welcome!