I met Belladonna on a movie set, so it’s only natural that she thought I knew something about movies. From the start she was a better conversationalist than I was, more open and sincere, but she eventually tired of trying to reach me through cinema. ‘Do you remember in…’ she would ask, only to be confronted by my apologetic shrug. The list of movies I haven’t seen is immense, and finally she got tired of saying “I can’t believe you haven’t seen…”
There was a period when I felt very comfortable with Belladonna, when there was a mutually understood vast gulf between us. In fact, even now she is one of the few members of the XX set that I can just chill with, although I haven’t seen her for quite some time.
She would be surprised, I think, to learn that once it was my job, my paid profession, to watch movies and talk to people about them.
Once upon a time there was a video store. This is not a David and Goliath story; this little video store had managed to carve out a big chunk of the Southern California market. The way they accomplished this feat was remarkable, however. Get this: they succeeded with two crazy gambits. They offered bulk discounts (if you rent a lot of movies you don’t pay as much), and they offered good customer service.
In each store, much of the time, there was an extra person on payroll whose job was to hang out and talk about movies with the customers. That was it. Much of the time customers would approach that person for recommendations, but other times the movie whisperer would simply strike up a chat with indecisive renters. Did you see X? What did you think? If you’ve got a big sound system, you’re hurting yourself if you don’t see ‘Mission’.
You hit a couple of good recommendations, people are looking for you later. You miss, people are almost apologetic that they didn’t like it, but when they explain why you can nail the next recommendation. My job, even though I ostensibly was in management, was to watch movies at home and to talk about movies at work. I did that job well.
Some of you, the ones who have bought whole-heartedly my craftily-constructed image as an antisocial recluse, capable only of communicating through grunts and belches (and when confronted with a female simply losing consciousness), might be surprised to learn that I did very well in this role. Here’s why: It was a controlled transaction. I can deal with strangers, I can even deal with surprises. It’s uncertainty that’s tough.
Log jam in my head. So many metaphors, so many moments.
Back to Video Library. It was easy work, pleasant work, and almost none of the other people there wanted floor duty. Even people who loved to talk movies with coworkers dreaded going out and talking movies with strangers. So I would do it. It was better than working. It made it easy to go into the office each day. Working with Wendy and Maryann didn’t hurt, either.
Wendy. For a long time she thought I was gay because I didn’t hit on her. I wasn’t gay, I was just afraid. When I dropped a semi-truth to establish my heterosexuality I became a curiosity to her, a science experiment. Had the stars shifted a little bit one way or the other, placing me at the top of the stairs at a party rather than at the bottom, putting me in the back seat rather than in the front seat, I would have come to know all that lay behind the promise that was Wendy. Oh, stars! Still you taunt me so!
Wendy’s friend — I’ve called her Maryann, but as I sit here and remember it seems like there’s been a awful lot of Maryann’s in my life. More than is natural; I suspect I’m painting old faces I remember affectionately with a name I also like. None of them will ever touch the real Maryann, young and poised with dark hair and fair skin and, yes, buxom — she sat at the back of the bus, her stop beyond mine. She sat three rows behind me when I told the lie to Suzie (Susie? oh, please forgive me I don’t remember), the horrible lie that would have been nothing but I repeated it, and again; there was no cock to crow but the betrayal was just as real. And three rows behind was Marianne, cool and perfect and unaware. I never felt as alone as I did at her birthday party.
Which all leads up to Michelle. Susie introduced us; I think she was relieved to divert me. Michelle liked me. I didn’t really understand that, then, and even now it mystifies me. Michelle. To me she was (and still is) some unattainable thing, and I considered myself a dalliance and treated her the same way. We did not share our dreams. We did not reveal our secrets. But now, much too late, much too late, I realize that she liked me. At night, sometimes, I wonder what might have been, even though I know the answer. There is a little echo of her in every strong, intelligent woman I write. I miss her, and hope she is well. I doubt we shall ever speak again. I don’t think I’d have anything to say, even if we did.
That was before Wendy, before this particular Maryann, before Video Library. It was all a long time ago. It was a good job, though, talking about movies.