My favorite job

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.

14 thoughts on “My favorite job

  1. Video Library in Reno Nevada kept me alive. Seriously. Ex and I lived there without cable because we worked too much to stay home for the random three to five hour window of ‘maybe’ the cableguy would show during random days offered during the week. Instead we journeyed to the Video Library and pretty much watched half the movies there. Including the Full Moon Video line of lousy-bad Charles Band ‘films’. Did they even make them on film? Or straight to video tape?

    Thanks for the amazing flash back!

  2. Alphabetizing wouldn’t be so tough if people would just put the letters in the right order.

    Oh, the dismay of the Beta customers when Blockbuster bought them out and ditched the format.

  3. Jer – poignant. INteresting meld of autobiography and movie reviewing. Whadda writah.
    Lydia – I recently (finally) exited the stone age, and entered cable internet (Jer – thanks for the Dlink. Its sweet.). The “window” I had to sign up for installation was 8AM to Noon. At 7:30AM I am still in bed…ding dong goes the doorbell. I groggily look out the window to see a van. Oh damn, the cable guy. With haystack hair and smelly breath I let him in. He was six foot four and full of muscle and surley. When he was done settin up the modem, he gave me reems of documents to fill out and sign, one of which was a cusomer satisaction thing. This cust sat document was more than just a pleasant survey, it was like a legal document that said the cable company was all butterflies and rainbows in their treatment of me. It was…get this…All ready filled out. Especially the line that said “If you show up early, you have already prearranged with the customer.” I was incensed but groggy and I’ve never been an especially assertive guy, so it was difficult to look at Big Man and refuse to sign it. But I did. He grumpily pulled out a new one and only checked off a few items, which I signed.

    My to-do list still has “Write blistering letter to Time Warner Cable.” on it.

  4. Your (and John’s) dedication to Video Library also included hours of unpaid overtime watching videos (for free) at home.

    The happy denizens and elegant guests of the Emma Dome thought it was a perk, but now we understand it was pure research.

    Particularly impressive was how you and John tried to out do each other in bringing home the worst of the worst movies. No doubt you were thinking of that underserved segment of the movie renting public: bad movie adicts.

    I can imagine the subsequent in store conversation as:
    [Jer] “Thinking of having a bunch of friends over and drinking a 12 pack of Lucky Lager each? Have you seen Inframan?”
    [Customer] “Er, thanks dude.”

  5. “Inframan” was Oscar-worthy compared to some of the dreck we brought home. Remember “The Jet Benny Show”? And the movie that finally broke our collective will and forced us to resort to fast-forward (before we finally just turned it off): “The Newlydeads”?

  6. Jesse, I am into buying DVDs rather than dealing with cable. Can we say non-confrontational? Rather than writing Time Warner Cable and getting a ‘tragic’ failure in your cable area for the next trillion days and nights I tend to sublimate such anger into my vampire victims over at Pikers.

    That and I curse rather wickedly while folks cut me off in traffic when I am driving a mere 80mph to their 110 or something.

  7. Hi John,
    My initial answer was “no” and “no” followed by the contented feeling that any alleged memories of those so called films were completely repressed. [We’ve all seen that contented feeling on TV – usually right after a line like “I have no recollection of that, Senator.”]

    Then, the word “Newlydeads” began to wiggle and gnaw somewhere in the basement of an offsite storage shed of unneeded memories.

    Now, I still can’t recall anything about the movie, but I’m afraid to go to sleep.

  8. Jesse – it occurs to me now that you have met Michelle, in a pub somewhere in the south central midlands of England. It is truly frightening how long ago that was. Remembering her that day, how dazzling she was, how blindingly bright, I’m still wondering what errant star moved out of alignment to bring us together, if only for an awkward moment.

  9. Holy Smokes! was Michelle that stunning redhead who worked as a French translator for some something or other?

    Zowie, she was…(in here insert clumsy mooning that would just be Jess and Jer mindlessly reminiscing and wasting the bloggcomm’s time. And only encourage Keith to track her down in one of his crazy projects. KEITH! DON’T DO THIS! But she was sweet as apple pie.).

  10. Yes, that was her. U.N. translator or something like that. I don’t remember how many languages she knew, but Latin was a hobby for her.

    Her father flew the Concorde for British Air.

    Keith does not know her last name. I suspect not even my family members have retained that nugget of information.

  11. I know that I knew it. I suspect that I still know it, deep in some recessed pocket of memory. It will probably come to me in the dark of night, when I have nothing to write it down with, and it will vanish with the break of day.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *