Backroom at the Video Store

I’ve been working on an essay about some of the jobs I’ve had in my life, and I was sort of, well, cracking myself up (as I do a lot, while my family looks at me in awe and shakes their heads). I was cracking up because I was thinking about that one time I worked at a family-owned video store that had a “backroom.” Yeah, for real. For those of you who aren’t privy, a “backroom” at a video store is where they kept the “adult” movies. And no, I don’t mean the Bowling for Columbine documentary, I mean porn. Straight up, hard-core porn. We had soft-core too, cause we weren’t animals. We were the only one in town with a “backroom,” and we were popular. Even when Blockbuster came to town, our little video store survived at least a decade or two more because, well, people are gross. (Side note: I worked at Blockbuster when the little video store folded. That’s where I was re-introduced to Jerimiah and we started dating. He was the store manager, at 19. It obviously wasn’t that hard to work at Blockbuster Video.)

Anyway, this little video store was called, “Home Video” and it sat on the corner of Cherokee and 6th Streets, right across from the Water Department, and (when I was there) right below a nightclub that favored a fog machine on Friday nights. Which meant every Friday at 10:00 pm, an hour before we closed, the store would fill up with “fog” and people would scream thinking there was a fire and exit the backroom in a hurry. Then I’d tell them it was probably because God knew what they were doing. Hehe.

Anyway, there were a lot of, oh let’s call them “quirks” about Home Video that made it a unique, albeit bizarre, experience for the two or so years I worked there, which was just after high school, while I was at the local community college. One of them were the owners themselves, Del and Linda. One of the oldest employees filled me in fast about old Del and Linda. Apparently, they were first-cousins from Minnesota. Or Michigan? Or maybe Milwaukee? Either way, they were definitely cousins, and definitly had to sign a letter when they got married that said they wouldn’t have kids. Then they promptly had two kids. Two boys. And by the time I met them they were grown, one was married with kids of his own, and while he was weird (that’s being kind) he was normal-ish. The other one, well, I felt really sorry for him. He sort of crept around downtown Leavenworth. He lived alone in an apartment near the store, but his parents didn’t actually let him work there. I think he was probably on social security, or disability. I don’t know what was wrong with him, but he had trouble walking and standing up straight. But he was my favorite of the two. He was polite and quiet. He just liked to stop in a talk to me sometimes, and I was okay with that. I would even let him shelve movies if he wanted. He’s the one that told me about the other weird thing: Linda’s Disney collection.

Apparently, Linda had a locked room in the basement that was full of Disney products. First release VHS tapes, cardboard cut-outs, special promotional items. And this, he told me one day, was a secret. It was also her retirement plan. She was going to sell off all her stuff and get an RV and travel around the country with Del and their giant Great Danes (of which she allowed to roam free in the store from time to time.) Weird shit, y’all. So of course after that, I made it my life’s ambition to see this “Disney room” in the basement, and would often make up reasons to go down there. I knew that they had cameras EVERYWHERE, they had too. Too many freaks in and out of the backroom, so I was always cautious. I’d have to stock up the candy, or look for more shrink wrap. I’d usually do it when it was just Del and me in the store. One day I finally found the extra room and tried the knob, but it was locked. I wasn’t getting into that bitch.

Usually I was the only one at the store when I worked there, because I worked Sunday mornings, when they had church, and Thursday nights, which weren’t all that busy. But I was also in charge of employees from time to time, like on Fridays and Saturdays when there would have to be at least two of us working the night shift. It was always fun when it was with someone I liked, like my friend Toni. We had a great time working the weekends together. Mainly we watched the video in the backroom, from the closed circuit tv we had under the front desk. That tv had a one-way microphone attached to it, so that we could tell the people back there that we were closing in five minutes. Or, more usually, we could click the microphone on, which made a loud clicking noise, then say in a low, slow voice, “God knows you’re here.”

I watched a lot of people I knew come in and out of that backroom. Teachers, noted members of the communities, friend’s family members and parents. They would spot me from the outside, as the store was all windows on one side, and sort of try to spelunk into the room without making eye contact with me. But alas, I was the one who had to check them out, remember the whole I was there alone thing, so I it was pointless. They would look around when they came out of the backroom, waiting for someone else to come to the front, pretending like they were browsing the “New Releases” until eventually they gave up and walked up. I’d say something smart ass like, “Castaway just won’t do it for you, huh? Not a Tom Hanks fan?” And they would squirm and say they have never watched “one of these movies,” then I’d say, “That’s not what your account shows…” I was kind of a bitch, but I mean, it was menial work for 6.00/hr, I had to get my kicks too, you know?

Of course there were times when I was embarrassed. Like when we’d get a new shipment of backroom movies, and Del and I would stand at the counter on a Friday afternoon and take the tapes out of the boxes, put them in their black rental cases, and shrink wrap the VERY explicit boxes they came in. Linda had nothing to do with the ordering or displaying of the backroom, she was an “outta sight, outta mind” kinda Christian. So it fell on Del and me. We’d both stand there, in relative silence, while Toy Story or Harry Potter played on the television screens in the store, and wrap titles like, “Facial Blasts from the Past,” “Buttman’s Big Titty Adventure,” “Boobsville Caberat: Where the Boys Aren’t,” and “Dumb-ass Fucking Sluts” or what it “Dumb, Ass-Fucking Sluts”? I just don’t remember. I can go on. Want me to go on? No? Okay.

So there it is, my Home Video days. It wasn’t too long, but you know, it was long enough for me to get some good quality fun in, while meeting some unique people, learning about shame (I was researching shame like Brene and I didn’t even know it! Haha!) and to make me realize how gross it all was. So thanks, Home Video. Thanks Del and Linda. Thanks to Lee Anne, who hooked me up with her job when she adandoned me for Boston. Thanks Toni, for the fun times. Thanks Jen and Roger for spending so much time at Home Video it was like you worked there, even though you didn’t. We had some fun.

M.

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