Excerpt from JOB SLUT

Chapter 5

Running for Governor

 

Sometime around 1996, I applied at the new video rental store in our town.  And by “new” I mean that it was the only one, thus becoming a novelty in a town for which a stoplight was a mere twinkle in a borough councilman’s eye.  It seemed like easy work, and I imagined that the heaviest lifting would involve popcorn, a selling point for someone with hernia problems.

 

            Stu seemed to eye me skeptically from the start of the interview.  After going through some preliminaries about the job description, including asking if I’d be willing to piss in a cup (lest I be so durg-addled that I forget to rewind, or put Sluts on Sluts in the kids’ section), he posed the question, “So, are you a big movie buff?”

 

            “Not exactly.  I mean, I watch little TV to begin with.  I’m more into doing stuff.”  I wasn’t trying to be critical of him; I am just usually too honest about things—a notable exception being answers that start with “Officer…”

 

            “Well we’re looking at other candidates, but [Don’t call us, we’ll call you].”

 

            It amused me to hear applicants for a minimum wage job described as “candidates.”  Candidates were elected through a procedural system wherein the rules were set up in some form of a constitution.  Stu may as well draw names out of a hat.  Regardless, neither call occurred.

 

* * *

 

In January of 2000.  I was going through one of those radical transitions in life, precipitated by the death of my mother, the upcoming move that that entailed, and the completion of a major phase of my education and start as an educator.  I would be starting with only one class and eyed a doctoral program.  In the meantime, I needed to make some money faster than my meager teaching money would start trickling in.  I was waiting to retrieve my license from a DUI suspension, so I was looking at the few businesses in our town.  I again tried the movie store.

 

            “So, are you a big movie buff?” I was again questioned.

 

            I was a little wiser, i. e., less honest, this time around.

 

            “Sort of, except I’m often too active and hyper to sit down and focus.  When I do settle down enough to watch one, I often try to multi-task it with something else.  But then if I start getting involved, I drop whatever else it is I’m doing and pay full attention.”

 

            I refrained from telling him that “settling down” for me and watching a flick usually involved getting so zonked out that, even after multiple viewings, I still have no idea how Cheech and Chong got out of Mexico in Up in Smoke.

 

            “So what’s your genre?”

 

            He stressed the word as though it were an exotic term that only Mensa members understood.

 

            “Mostly comedy.  Drama if it’s done well or ‘based on a true story’.”

 

            “You know Brian,” his voice growing with excitement, “one of the great things here is that you’re entitled to free rentals.  And we encourage you guys and gals to take full advantage of this perk.

 

            “I worked at another chain for six years before this one, and I think I’ve probably seen every one in the store.  Even the old-timey ones.”

 

            Is that why you just said “gals?”  Seriously, I would never brag about this sort of “achievement.”

 

            “Oh, and another thing is that you get to eat a heck a lot of free popcorn.  Does this all sound attractive to you?”

 

            So, in other words, I’ll be expected to get fat while doing research for free in what once would’ve otherwise been my free time?  Can I at least get paid a sub-minimum wage for these extracurriculars?

 

            “Yeah, sounds pretty good.”  I’ll be damned, being around all these movies had brought out my own acting skills.  It was time to steer this conversation toward my turf.  “I’ve been trying to get on the Millionaire game show, and I know I could use you as one of my lifelines because of your movie expertise.” 

 

            “That would be so cool!  I’m gonna’ offer you the position, if you promise to plug the store should you get on.”

 

            “Sure,” sure I’d love to announce to the world that I work as a clerk.  “I’m generally not the recusant type.”  And you’re not the only one who can use big words.  I’m Mensa-level too.  All most. [sic]

 

* * *

 

So Stu had elected to hire me.  Of the benefits the job afforded, he neglected to tell me about the fun involved with the invasion of others’ privacy.  This could easily exceed the mere bounds of propriety were any of us to access the credit card accounts of virtually everyone who had a membership.  I reckon that minimum wage workers would have the greatest incentive for such theft; but since we were generally minimum wage caliber workers, most such individuals would simply grab a twenty or so out of the till.

 

            Before I really got to know him, Joe was the only co-worker I considered amoral and savvy enough to perpetrate such fraud.  That was before I really got to know him, although I gained a lot more respect through interacting with him at that job and in subsequent years.  You see, I knew him in a sense; he dated one of my sister’s best friends and consequently was a regular at our house.  But he was so infuriatingly quiet, and soft-spoken when he did talk, that he remained an enigma to me.

 

            I knew that he was smart in the same way that I was.  It was the kind of intelligence that got under the skin of the nerds whose cred was premised on their intellectual supremacy.  These kids looked at the higher SAT scores of people like Joe and me, who had not taken any of those prep courses and may have smoked pot the night before the test, and undoubtedly fumed.  “You mean he did better than me?!  But he carouses at those parties where people act promiscuously and throw ping pong balls into their beers.  How uncouth and unsanitary!”

 

            Joe, however, was smart in a sense in which I’ll never be.  He was able to parlay his pretty boy looks and general reticence into a relationship with one of the school’s most sought-after girls.  (She is also someone who belatedly earned more of my respect as time passed, although she was always one my sister’s friends whom I found to be a fun presence.)

 

            “You know how Stu talks about having seen every movie here like it’s a good thing?” he asked me the one night.

 

            “Yes!  He even mentioned that during the interview.  He probably thought I would aspire to that.”

 

            “Probably.  Yeah but what’s even more fucked up is that he knows a lot about what movies other people like.”

 

            “Like Big Brother or something, huh?  ‘Hey Mr. Jones, what did you think of Runaway Bride?’  I’ve seen him do shit like that once or twice before.”

 

            “Right,” a comment accompanied by his quiet snicker, “he’s like a fucking Rain Man of movies or something.”

 

            “Joe! Listen to yourself, brother, making movie references.  You’re turning into him!”

 

            “Fuck, you’re right, Dude.  I’m going to hang myself in the back now.  You lock up for me.”

 

            “Really, I mean at least I used a literary reference with ‘Big Brother.’  You know what we should do?  Fuck with him by talking about movies around him and screw up the plot so he’ll have to go back and re-watch them to either prove us wrong or to see if he’s losing it.”

 

            “Shit, man, that would be funny.  I could say like, ‘Hey Brian, did it surprise you in Independence Day when Will Smith became president?’”

 

            “‘Yeah, and that cameo from DJ Jazzy Jeff was the shizzle!’“

 

            “But you know what would happen, right?  He’d start calling off work so he could catch up with the movies.”

 

            “Well, if he got fired, I’d nominate you for the position of New Boss.  Four more years  Four more years!”  (I knew he’d worked there part-time since the opening of the store, while taking a light course load in college.)

 

            “You really do want me to kill myself, don’t you?”

 

            “I guess I should just tell you:  I hit on Whitney the one night, and she said that if you ever hung yourself in the back of the store, she would be with me.  I got her to sign a contract and even had it notarized.”

 

            “Goddamn, you are cutthroat.  You’ve been reading Machiavelli, haven’t you?”

 

            Yes, I had certainly misunderestimated Joe in the past.  And now we were just two smart guys with hedonistic lifestyles who were trying to make a little money until our lives significantly improved.

 

* * *

 

Although less intense than Stu on this point, Angie also played this game that he engaged in, nosily evaluating others’ rental picks.  She was a cute young girl who had a sweet, down-home personality, yet I suspected a latent wild streak as well.  We had a funny conversation in hushed tones the one evening.

 

            “That guy over there. He has a separate account that his wife doesn’t know about.  Uses it to rent porn.  He’s gonna’ pretend to be looking at the New Releases until ‘the coast is clear,’ until the store clears out some, then,” she shot her hand forward to indicate going to the Back Room.

 

            “Look, he’s going for it now. Yep, there he—”

 

            Ding.

 

            A quartet of teens had just entered, prompting the guy to circle around to the Suspense section.  He could have made it in there, but then he’d have to hide out until they left.  Chances are he knew exactly what he wanted.  And that he knew that teens could loiter for quite a bit.  I don’t know what was harder:  Angie and I stifling our laughter at the guy’s predicament, or me at the thought of making a porno with Angie.  Since I was a young college teacher and she a high school senior, maybe something along the lines of “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.”

 

            “Poor guy,” she empathized, “but, man, he gets some pretty twisted stuff.  And pretty frequently.”

 

            “Yeah, I’ve seen what they have back there.”

 

            “Oh I’ll bet!”

 

            “No, I mean for work—”

 

            “Look, I wouldn’t care anyway.  You’re a nice guy.”

 

            That kind of put the kibosh on my fantasy.  Everybody knows that nice guys don’t do porn.

 

            “So does he—”

 

            “Look there he goes!”

 

            “Score!”

 

            “Anyway, what were you saying?”

 

            “Does he give you the heebie jeebies?  Like, does he say,” affecting my best creepy guy impression, “‘You sure are pretty.  Where do you live?’“

 

            “No, he actually seems pretty ‘normal.’  Shit, should I be offended?”

 

            “I wouldn’t worry.  I’m sure he’s stalking you somehow.  If anything happens to you I’ll be sure to point the cops his way, but I’ll let the reward get a little high first.”

 

            That evinced a deep throaty “oh, oh, oh” laugh and I was met with a handful of popcorn.  Our patter was interrupted by the teenagers arriving at the counter.

 

            “Cool.  A food fight.  Can we play?”

 

            “Sure, but I wouldn’t worry about her.  Throws like a girl.”

 

            That remark was met with another barrage of kernels.

 

* * *

 

I heard what was probably the most offensive comment ever while working at the store.  It had nothing at all to do with race, gender, class, or with me personally.  It was rather an affront to the gift of life in general.  As was his routine, a particular customer rented five movies one beautiful Saturday afternoon, this time adding, “That oughta’ kill the day.”

 

            He said it with the manly confidence that someone might use when pronouncing accomplishments like “That oughta’ stop that leak,” or “That oughta’ teach them terrorists.”  To him, life was not something to be savored and cherished, sprinkled with the occasional rented diversion.  It was something to be killed.  I wondered if, while on his deathbed, he’d think, “It’s about fucking time.”

 

            My enchantment with life may have waned since my mother’s death several months prior, but it was still there.  I seriously think I could lose all my limbs and senses and my Joie de vivre would never be sapped to this guy’s deficient levels.  This innate enthusiasm, buttressed by my faith, translated into the charisma that would help make me so popular over the years.  It was as infectious as misery.  This popularity prompted Amanda, a co-worker, to make a humorous suggestion the one day.

 

            “You should run for governor. You know practically everyone that comes in here.”

 

            I explained this and the other bases for my popularity to her.  My mom and sister had a lot to do with it, as each had their own boatload of friends.  And I inherited the “Who gives a fuck?”-ness from my dad that is a quintessential aspect of coolness, or at least my form of it.

 

            I had picked up another two courses—more on that next chapter—and had an interview at the community college scheduled for the next week.  I had given myself a week’s notice to give my two weeks’ notice.  I only had about a month left before the bank kicked me out of the house anyway.  I’d mentally checked out on this transitionary job and looked forward to the future.

 

            Governor some day?  Why in the hell not? I  just might appoint Amanda some movie-related position in gratitude.

 

* * *

 

Later that year, when I was immersed in a hectic teaching schedule, I got a call back from Who Wants to Be a Millionaire? indicating that I had qualified for the next round.  It would require me to get five of those fastest fingers right.  I did, and I used the knowledge I’d gained from the store to help with one of them.  My advancement to the actual show came down to the luck of the draw.  I had no such luck and never got that last call to go to NYC.

 

            Years after that, my penury made me so extraordinarily desperate that I called up Stu to see if he had any openings.  I got the same pat question, I think worded verbatim from what I had been asked years prior:  “So, are you a big movie buff?”

 

            “Absolutely!  I’d watch them all day long if I could.”

 

            I knew Stu would re-hire me; he all but guaranteed it.  But there were developments afoot to which he was not privy.  I didn’t hear back from him, and within two or so weeks the store was bought out by the behemoth in the industry.  I think they retained the employees to the best of their abilities, but his near-promise to me was null and void now.

 

            And running for governor by that point was effectively ruled out forever.

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