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The Back Room (A Short Story)

[I wanted to share with all of you a semi-autobiographical short story I wrote when I was in college. I won numerous awards for this particular story and actually read it at a cafe in front of my friends, classmates and a few strangers. Part of my extensive knowledge of horror, exploitation and indie movies and my quirky sense of humor was the fact that I actually worked in a few video stores back when I was younger. This story was the result of all that trauma of staring at oversized boxes with oversized breasts. Enjoy!]

*Note: These are not actual pictures of the store*

The Backroom

“What’s the name of the movie?” I asked curiously.
“I think it’s ‘I seduced a straight tight end’ or something like that,” he whispered quietly.

The customer looked around the store, scared as if he had just announced this week’s lottery numbers. As I typed the movie’s name into the search screen another customer approached me from the left. He wasn’t so modest.

“Hey buddy! How much is this dildo?” he asked as he lifted up the clear yellow sex toy.
“I’ll be with you in just a minute,” I said.

The movie title came up on the screen and I told the customer it was in the “Gay Classics” section. The old man about 60ish with a slight speech impediment waddled his way over to the back corner and searched for his movie.

“It’s $15.99,” I said.
“The larger ones are $19.99 and the jumbo ones that are on the bottom shelf are $24.99,” I screamed across the room.
“Thanks,” he said, putting back the dildo back on the shelf.

I knew he wasn’t going to buy it. After a while you get to know the type of people that come into the backroom. They come in the early morning to avoid “the rush” and also the embarrassment. I wasn’t in a good mood. I didn’t need all these annoying customers bombarding me with pesky questions at about 10AM on a Saturday morning, especially when I didn't even have my first cup of coffee.

At first working in the backroom felt kind of odd but like all jobs, you get used to your surroundings. The only difference is your surroundings don’t usually have trans-sexual she-male movies and nipple clamps.

This job was sort of like the movie “Clerks” and I was a clone of Randall, just without the witty comebacks. With all of the zany customers and the unique co-workers that I work with my life was a running sitcom. I work at Videos Maximus and go to college full-time. It’s really like many other college student’s lives. It was a part time job and I needed money. But seriously folks, it’s not as like a typical student would pick this job out of the Help Wanted ads.

I’m a movie buff. I love horror, cult flicks and independent movies. I have an extreme hatred for Hollywood and the big picture garbage they put out. So instead of working at the rival, big business “Hollywood Video” I searched for work at a “mom and pop” video store. In about mid-October I landed a job at Video Maximus. It wasn’t without its own story.

The interview consisted of the assistant manager, one who was "money" hot, relentlessly asking me questions. I don’t remember half the interview but one particular question stands out.

“So, are you alright with working around adult related material?” she asked.
“Yeah, that’s no problem at all. Adult movies…porn. No problem here. I love porn! I’m a collector. Jenna Jameson…she rocks,” I said enthusiastically. I think I said too much. It looked like I had “dork” tattooed on my forehead from the way they stared at me.

I could see they were well amused. Three weeks later I was working and spending my mornings in what some certain conservative, church going citizens call “The Gateway to Hell”.

Every morning was a different story. I only worked in the backroom when I was scheduled to. I usually “float” which means I go where it’s the busiest. It’s fun working up with the regular movies but it’s quite hilarious patrolling the back because you never know what to expect.

Sundays are unpredictable too. They bring to the store a new kind of stupidity. One of my co-workers made a killer observation. It went something like “People in this town are so stupid but they all end up having Video Maximus cards”.

I usually read while I’m on duty. It’s something we shouldn’t do but the aesthetics of the backroom are surreal. Flamingo pink saloon style doors with a big warning sign that reads “Adults Only” separate the store. Meditative and classical music randomly play in the background from a CD player. Inventing games is one of my hobbies. One of the CD’s in the machine is The Smiths and I always pray that I’ll hear “How Soon is Now?” It usually never plays it.

The backroom is divided into sections. The area where you initially enter is devoted to gay porn. Thus, it is subdivided into further sections. I am constantly returning the oversize boxes to the “Uniform/Leather/Bondage” section. But that’s not all folks! We’ve got “Huge”, “Black/Hispanic Interest”, “Import”, and my favorite “Hardcore Wrestling”. It’s a wonderamma of all that is porn.

Toward the back is the straight, heterosexual section. There’s no need to alphabetize the movies but I do have to put them back into the proper category. I mastered that easily. “New Releases”, “Anal”, “Oral”, “Import”, “Couples Erotica”, and my all time fav: “Breast Lovers”. I knew where everything was in a matter of weeks. It’s how to handle the customers that I had a problem with.

A customer came into the store mid-afternoon on a Sunday. He complained about how the tape he rented had been cut off and somebody recorded a soap opera towards the end of it.

“Are you sure that somebody taped over the movie?” I asked.
“Yeah I’m sure,” he responded with verbally crunching words.

“Maybe the soap opera was the plot?” I asked.
“Hell no!” he screamed.
“I was watching it and then it suddenly got cut off. The next thing I know I’m watching some soap opera like ‘Days of our Lives’ or some shit like that. I thought my VCR stopped and the TV was on but I realized I was still watching the tape,” he continued.
“Where was it cut?” I asked him.
“Towards the end. I can get another movie, right?” he questioned. His voice turned deadly serious.
“Well I’m going to have to see if this movie is cut like you said. I’ll leave this for---”
He cut me off.

“Look I ain’t leaving till I get a free movie or my mother fuckin money. You can give me a refund can’t you?” he asked.

“I have to see if the movie is defective before I can credit your account,” I responded back with a glimpse of courage I had no idea I could muster talking to a huge 300-pound man.

“Well watch the movie then! You got a VCR right here,” he said pointing to the mini TV that consisted of a built in VCR.
“Let’s watch!!!” he yelled.
“We don’t watch the movies during the day. We usually watch them to see if there is something wrong after the store closes,” I said with a little hesitation.

The man looked at me with a certain distaste. He seemed like he was going to explode. His forehead pulsated and he leaned over the counter and looked me straight in my eyes.
I was fucking scared.

“I took the day off from work because somebody told me that they could take care of it today. I am not walking out of here without another movie or my fuckin money,” he said in a soothing, but tense voice.

I called for my co-worker. The customer roamed around the store hunting for a replacement. We discussed the current situation.

“This guy wants me to put a credit on his account,” I said pointing at him as he stood in front of the anal section.
“Just fast forward the movie and see if there is anything wrong. I gotta go up front now, there are a billion people waiting on line,” she said as she charged to the front rattling the saloon doors.

“Excuse me sir? Well I’m gonna fast forward to where it got cut off. Let me know when I’m close ok?”

I put in his tape one entitled “Black Street Hookers 17” into the VCR and proceeded to fast forward. With the remote control in my hand I periodically stopped and played the tape. On the screen was a sample of pretty much straightforward Larry Flint filth. A girl was giving a guy a blowjob as another guy, more muscular than his counterpart, was anally penetrating her from behind. It was quite a sight. I wasn’t use to watching what I rented out to people.

“Is it near this part?” I asked.
“No I think it’s past this. A couple more hookers later,” he said with a sense of surety.

I kept fast-forwarding and after 5 minutes stopped the tape. Pornography is truly an art form as this time I had ceased the movie in the middle of some gratuitous cum shots. The guy had emptied his load over a young black girl’s face. She smirked and tried to give a little smile to the camera. I really believe she didn’t like that. I kept fast- forwarding.

“Am I near it now?” I asked more impatient than ever.
“Yeah. It’s near this part coming up,” he joked.

I stopped the tape and pressed play. The scene that unraveled was quite a sight than the others. In a white painted bedroom, a woman was giving oral pleasure to two guys at once. Clinton style. She grabbed both their packages and was sucking like there was no tomorrow. I interrupted the silence that now had engaged the customer and I. He was focused on the TV. He probably missed this part.

“Are we near it now?” I asked again.
“Fast forward just a little bit more,” he said. I did and as we passed by some beaver shots he told me to stop.
“It’s right here, play it here!” he yelled emphatically.

I played the tape and as another man was getting down and dirty with two woman the scene was cut. Instead was a scene from a soap opera. The CBS emblem was on the lower right hand of the screen. Then the tape cut back to the end of an anal dildo scene. I stopped the tape immediately.

“OK pick out a replacement and I’ll give you credit.” I said.
“Thanks” he said as he trudged to the Oral section.

I scanned the tape and put it in a bag. He left the store without saying a word to me. It was truly an end to one of the most interesting customer complaints I ever got. That is until the next week when I got a call from a customer who rented “Up and Cummers 15” and told me the tape was stuck in the VCR and somebody from the store should come over and get it out. But that’s another story.

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