OBSERVATIONS OF A VIDEO STORE CLERK
by Noel Wood
Monday, September 1, 1997
We all look for some sort of meaning in life. We all look for some sort of important yet attainable goal for which to achieve. So why am I sitting here in this tiny little store at 22 years old?
I'll be honest: I love my job. I hate the stupid customers and the annoying kids and the redundant typing and the countless returns and and the retarded questions and the boring shifts and the tireless cleaning. But I love my job. Why? I'm not sure at this moment. Hell, I haven't been able to figure it out for 3 years now. But perhaps by reading this, you may be able to figure out what has escaped me for so long.
What I have chosen to do is observe the activities of one day's work. Today is labor day. Perhaps the fact that I'm working on a holiday will help you piece together what has escaped me for so long.
I arrive. I'm tired. My feet hurt. I'm hungry. I need caffeine or a lobotomy. I can't afford the lobotomy ad I can't do coffee in the morning so Mountain Dew is going to have to do.
The lights come on. I am now open fo business. I check in a bunch of movies from the nite drop, including a copy of the much-demanded DANTE'S PEAK, better known as "That fucking Volcano movie with a literary reference in the title that 9/10ths of the target audience won't get."
My first victim...er, customer walks in. He's an older man. He looks at the posters for a while. Apparently he can't rent something unless it's heavily advertised. I want to call him a retard but his wife is a really nice lady and joins him shortly thereafter.
Aforementioned older couple comes to the counter with I'M NOT RAPPAPORT. I'm impressed. Actually a film they might have to think during. Then they ask if I have a copy of SHADOW CONSPIRACY. I'm no longer impressed.
Some fucker calls to see if we have a copy of "SWing Blade". I want to tell him there's no such movie but my better judgement tells me to play along and I tell him, "No, there are no copies of SLING BLADE in." I emphasize the "L".
The next customer comes in and bitches about his fourteen dollar late fee that his daughter has incurred. Then he rents the solo copy of that volcano movie and caves in on the late fee. I snicker as he huffs out the door.
Somebody drives up to the night drop and tries to return a movie. It's a night drop, hence it is not open during the day. He tries to put the movie in but it won't open. He looks for another opening, which we lovingly refer to as "looking for the bonus hole."
Some guy calls raising hell about the late fees his wife paid the night before. I tell him that since they're already paid for that they are no longer on record and him contesting them doesn't mean shit. He yells and screams and threatens to never come back again. I really don't give a shit but he's a pretty regular customer and thinking of the store's interests I cave in and give him a six dollar credit. I realize that this tiny morsel of pleasure will keep him happy for five minutes and I almost feel like I've done some good for this world. Then I realize that th ecredit will likely be used up in one fell swoop and the next time he rents he'll be unhappy again. I smile knowing this.
Some lady comes in and returns her movies and pays her late fees. She's returning SLING BLADE and THE PEOPLE VS. LARRY FLYNT. I am actually impressed that someone rented two good movies without some crap like MURDER AT 1600 thrown in. And she paid her late fees without bitching. Wow.
A woman comes up to the counter with two movies: A copy of DAYLIGHT and a copy of FARGO. She asks which is better. At this point I could have tried to make her happy and tell her to rent the mindless Sly Stallone action opus but I tell her to do her duty to society instead and rent the other. I realize she'll probably hate the film. I revel in this.
Somebody else looks for the bonus hole.
A younger guy comes in and rents THE DOOM GENERATION and MR. MOM. I like this guy. I don't know why, but I do. I guess it's because he's renting two movies that I willingly saw myself. So I guess that's not too bad.
Some teenaged kid comes in looking for the Faces of Death videos. Something tells me he should be in school. Out of boredom and/or hostility, I compose the following:
TOP TEN WAYS TO PISS OFF TEENAGE KIDS IN A VIDEO STORE.
10. When they ask where KIDS is, tell them it's in the "K's".
9. Continually refer to them as "hoss".
8. Tell their parents what KIDS is about.
7. Make them pay their parents' late fees.
6. Make them go get their parents' member cards or drivers license.
5. Remind them that KIDS is making fun of them.
4. Hit on their girlfriends.
3. Tell their parents what the "420" on their T-Shirts stands for.
2. Be really picky about checking ID's when renting them the movie KIDS.
1. Be an asshole whenever possible. Of course, that's a prerequisite for working in a video store.
A really hot girl comes in to the store to pay her late fees. I'm trying to be kind of funny and suave while I'm ringing her out. As she reaches in to her wallet to pull out some change, I glance at her ID. She was born in 1979. She's more than four years my younger. She's probably still in high school. And Yet I still will never have her. I hate my life.
A guy rents EXOTICA. He normally rents pornos. I bet he hits the fast forward button a lot during the movie.
Somebody else looks for the bonus hole.
Some lady comes up to the counter with three movies and a coupon. She hasn't rented in six months, probably since the last time she had a coupon. Call me a fool, but I see movies because I want to see them. Not because I can save money I wouldn't have normally spent anyway because I have a fucking coupon.
Some dumb ass guy asks about some movies. He starts asking about "Donnie BrIsco" and "AlBEEno Alligator". I really want to enforce my unofficial rule that people who can't pronounce a movie's title aren't allowed to rent it. Then he comes up to the counter with SPAWN: THE ANIMATED MOVIE. You see, the live-action SPAWN is currently in theaters and these dumb asses see a Spawn video and assume it's one of those magical movies that comes out on video at the same time. I really want to let the guy rent it and come back pissed off tomorrow demanding his money back because he didn't take the time to read the box ahead of time but I refrain and tell him. He puts it back and settles on that fucking volcano movie.
Somebody else looks for the bonus hole.
Somebody returns TURBULENCE. Which means someone actually rented TURBULENCE. Which means someone made a conscious decision that they wanted to see TURBULENCE. Which means that someone was actually willing to pay real money to see TURBULENCE. I'm assuming the box tag line that says "It's TWISTER at 36,000 feet" had something to do with their decision to rent TURBULENCE. Which means they probably enjoyed TWISTER.
Some old guy comes in and asks me about some TNT original movie he saw half of six months ago. He doesn't know the title or any of the actors, but he said it had something to do with the Civil War. On TNT? No! He wanted to see the rest of it, But I told him since it was on TV it may or may not be on video but I wansn't sure because we tend not to carry TV movies anyway. He asked why. I wanted to tell him that it's because 99% of TV movies are shit but instead I tell him it's because they don't rent well. So then he tells me about why he never saw the end of it and basically starts telling me his life story. I pick up a stack of returns and walk away from him while he runs his mouth.
This redneck comes in and says his mother wanted to see some movie with Jack Lemmon and wanted to know if I knew who Jack Lemmon was and knew of any Jack Lemmon movies. Need I say more? Well I will. Turns out his mother wanted to see MY FELLOW AMERICANS. He sees the box and recognizes Lemmon as "one of those Grumpy men." Yeah. Forget that Mr. Lemmon has been a star for four decades. Forget his work in such classics as THE APARTMENT and SOME LIKE IT HOT. He's just one of those Grumpy Men.
Someone who really wants to see SLING BLADE also really wants to see DANTE'S PEAK. I feel sad for this work.
The boss comes in to relieve me. I am done.
This is one day. Just one. Today I got some gems. Not quite on the level of the lady who screamed my head off because she rented IL POSTINO, a movie with an Italian title, in the foreign section, and didn't realize, and I quote, "It was in Spanish." Yeah, draw your own conclusions. But gems nonetheless. But maybe in writing this, I have come to the conclusion of why I love this job so much. There is the knowing I am on this side of the counter and am not the people I am relegated to serving on a daily basis. I don't mean to sound like a snob. Hell, I work in a fucking video store. This isn't exactly a prosperous and aspiring career move. But it does get me by at the moment. And at least it gives me a feeling of pride in my life to know that in some way, I am better than them. Maybe that's why I love my job. Maybe not. Maybe it's because I could be flipping burgers or fixing cars for less than I make an hour. Maybe it's because I can rent all the movies I want for free. I don't know. But whatever it is, I do it and I love it.
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