Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Call Me Hollywood

I was the overwhelming favorite to beat Nookie, curb stomp him and leave him for the vultures and other various scavengers. Nookie was massive, a defensive end at a local high school, and I was just a little old Jew, three years older than him, but in this case size and age and religious views meant nothing.

Everyone was staring at us, and even the Hollywood Video customers—technically called our “guests”—knew that what we were doing was not in our job descriptions. Nookie and I were Guest Service Representatives having a race at the cashier counter to see who could unlock twenty DVDs the fastest.

If it wasn’t an official race for a coveted prize then I would’ve unlocked 100 DVDs before Nookie got to 20. I had Chad Johnson caliber arrogance, but I also had Randy Moss speed. My hands were fast as fuck.

Paycheck movie posterBut not on this day. My normally calm hands quivered under the hot lights and menacing customer eyes, unable to get a strong hold on those tricky 2004 summer DVD blockbusters like Mystic River and Paycheck. Yes, as hard as it is to believe, a Ben Affleck movie was one of our most rented.

My expectations, like for Big Brown, were too high. Instead of a slaughter, Nookie and I were tied after unlocking our first five DVDs. How is it possible that this big dude with his thick fingers is able to keep up with me, who took piano lessons for half my life and can type 100 words per minute with no errors?

Zours sour candyWhen I unlocked my tenth, Nookie was already at his fifteenth. When I got to thirteen he was done, looking over at me with the grin of a champion. I angrily paid him his earnings, the coveted candy money. He used it to buy Zours, which was my favorite, just to rub it in.

“Rematch tomorrow,” I said.

When I lost that contest and one more two days later, I quit playing. If it were a video game my Speed rating would’ve been a 99, but my Clutch rating would’ve been a 5. I was the Alex Rodriguez of video store DVD-unlocking competitions.

Freezing sales so we could have our races wasn’t the only reason I was a stellar Hollywood Video employee. Once I forgot to give back the customer’s driver’s license and she left without it, only to come back hours later fairly upset. Several times I played a non-cartoon movie on the TVs that was not only frowned upon, but was blatantly against the rules. “But Top Gun is rated PG,” I said. “I even fast forwarded the sex scene.”

Apparently there were anonymous complaints. I don’t know what the problem was. Top Gun only uses the word “shit” 21 times.

Messing with customers was the most fun part of the job. I dabbled with a fake accent, especially of the British variety. I used a lot of “bloodies,” “chaps,” and “jolly hos.” I was checking out a couple, probably in their 30s, when I turned to the back counter to answer the phone and heard the man whisper “fake British accent.” I couldn’t switch in the middle of the transaction so I continued using my terrible Brit voice, giggling all the way through.

I got several odd requests, one from two middle school boys. “So, um, where are your adult movies?”

“You mean rated R? They’re sort of spread out around the store.”

“What about, like, uh, naked movies. Don’t you have a side room or something?”

I couldn’t tell if they wanted to rent porn or whack it in my store, and either way I felt bad ruining their plans. “We don’t carry that. Sorry.”

Another time a small, Indian man in his fifties said he wanted to ask me something. He then walked around the counter to the employee side, unbuckled the red rope that was meant to prevent these very incidents, and got very close to me, so close that I could smell his breath. He whispered, “Where’s your porn, I know you got porn.”

I was afraid to let him down out of a legitimate fear of being stabbed for our store not carrying porno. “We don’t have that here, but you might want to try Manassas Video Club. I’ve seen commercials.”

He left the store, but not before kindly buckling the red rope. He should’ve just bought Zours. They’re orgasmic.