by Jeremy Clymer
I can’t help but feel that the Internet has had a negative effect on the sales of hand sanitizer. For a few years during and after college I worked as a clerk at a video store that rented out pornography to those who had not yet experienced the benefits of a high-speed Internet connection. The porn was cordoned off in the back room, of course, so as to be out of sight to the customers who were there to rent more respectable fare such as the Faces of Death videos or straight-to-DVD Disney sequels like The Hunchback of Notre Dame II. Whenever someone would bring a stack of videos from that back room—and it was always a stack—we would ring him or her up while making minimal eye contact and trying desperately to avoid small talk. Then, once the person was out the door, we would pump a few squirts of hand sanitizer and rub our hands vigorously.
This was not a job that is conducive to high self-esteem. It was a black period in my life in which I drank a ridiculous amount of alcohol at night to try to forget how miserable I was during the day. More often than not I would be drinking with my coworkers, because they were just as miserable as I was. It wasn’t the pornography itself that was necessarily the problem; I enjoy hot girl-on-girl action as much as the next guy. Rather, it was the sort of shenanigans that the back room tended to engender. Everyone who worked there—and I mean everyone—had to clean up biological material at some point or another. There was a mirror that allowed the clerks visibility to the back room, but nobody was looking at that mirror every minute of his or her shift. Somehow the perverts knew when we weren’t watching, and that’s when they would whip it out and coat the display box for The Slutty Professor in their giggle juice.
There are a few customers that stand out in my mind as having played a particularly large part in crushing my soul. One was a mentally-challenged individual who would ride his motor scooter to the video store every day and hang out in the back room for upwards of an hour at a time. He was a known frequent offender of public self-love, but the customer is always right so he was never banned from the store. Instead, he was free to do things like lock himself in the bathroom and desecrate a poster of The Legend of Bagger Vance that was hanging on the wall. In case I was being too subtle there, let me put that another way: The man shot his load onto a Legend of Bagger Vance poster. Was it Will Smith or Matt Damon that was the catalyst for his arousal? Or did the poster just happen to be in the wrong place at the wrong time? The world may never know.
There was also the polite, diminutive Asian man who approached me one day asking if we had a particular type of video. I struggled for a while to understand what he was talking about as he made a motion with his hand over his stomach that to me indicated something about being overweight. I didn’t quite get it, though, until he led me into the back room, made the universal sign for “large stomach” again, and asked, “You have… uhh… woman with baby?” It took a minute as I stared at him trying to figure out it out. OH MY GOD. PREGGO PORN. HE WAS LOOKING FOR PREGGO PORN. “Jesus Christ! No, dude!” I exclaimed, now past my breaking point. He left the store a dissatisfied customer.
The customer that depressed me more than any other, though, was my former theology professor from college. I had spent the latter two years of college at a Christian institution, even though I’m an atheist—a position my job at the video store only reinforced—and he taught a class I had actually quite enjoyed despite its theological underpinnings. Now here he was, emerging from the back room, recognizing one of his former students, and trying to hide behind one of the racks of videos in hopes that he could slip by unnoticed. I had already noticed him, but he continued to hide behind that rack of videos for roughly half an hour. Finally, my co-worker showed up for her shift and he made his way over to her register to check out his copy of… wait for it…Freshman Fantasies. Not the first one in the series, but one of the many totally essential sequels. It was somewhere around number 15 or so. If they’ve made any more since then, I really don’t want to know. It seems like a harmless enough title until an actual college professor is renting it. Then it’s just all sorts of wrong.
In the end, I was fired from my job at the video store for being too sullen. I was chronically depressed and not on any medication at the time, and I was drinking so much that I sometimes had no idea where I was when I woke up in the morning. I was rude and indifferent toward the customers, but not in that clever, hip sort of way that video store clerks always are in the movies. I just generally despised them, and I did so openly. I haven’t worked in retail since that job, and with any luck I won’t have to. As soul-crushing as my current office job may occasionally be, at least my hands aren’t dry and cracking from overuse of hand sanitizer. With the proliferation of faster, cheaper Internet access, I am optimistic that the era of people renting porn from video stores is coming to an end, and future video store employees will not have to go through what I and my colleagues went through during that dark period of my life.
Jeremy Clymer lives in Michigan, where he is a part-time freelance writer and full-time system administrator. He writes regularly about pop culture for Break Studios and has had a short story included in the ShadowCast Audio Anthology podcast. Read his blog, Eggy Toast, Disconnected Musings Inspired by Restlessness