I was thinking about all the jobs I’ve had in my life and how out of all of them there was only one that I ever truly loved. It wasn’t saving lives as a volunteer superhero. Nor was it my time as a door-to-door door salesman. And as much as I loved being a midwife for homeless greyhounds, it just didn’t come close to the absolute joy I felt from October 1992 through June of 1993 when I was a video store clerk.
In December of 1991 -during my senior year of high school- I’d gotten the ultimate job. I was a bag boy at a local grocery store. One of my good friends had put a good word in for me with the manager and they decided to give me a chance. After a string of lousy, typical high school jobs, including fry fryer, chicken breader, and dishwasher, bag boy was a huge step up. I got to dress well, wear a tie, and occasionally be tipped by old ladies, housewives with screaming kids, and even creepy dudes I was worried that might push me into their trunk. Well, after graduation I continued to work at the grocery store and in August I was promoted to stock boy on third shift. I was in charge of HBA product. Health and Beauty Aids. You know, tampons, toothpaste, makeup, toilet paper, and disposable razors. It wasn’t a bad job, plus I was bumped up to $6.25 an hour. Not bad for pre-Clinton wages. But I wasn’t digging the hours. Third shift is for a certain group of individuals. I’m a morning person, and your mornings are your evenings on third shift. Unless you want to start resembling Charles Manson or Marty Feldman you go to bed after your shift. I never wanted to go to bed after my shift. I’d go home and make breakfast and talk with my parents. I’d read or listen to music. If it was “new releases” Tuesday I’d wait around till Video World would open so I could go in and grab whatever album I was waiting for. Pretty soon, I realized I needed to get out of HBA before I lost my mind. My best friend had gotten a job at the local video store Video World and he said they were hiring. Well, I went in and talked to the owner and he hired me on the spot. Video World was run by a guy named Bill Frazier. He was a good old boy from Kentucky that had retired from RR Donnelleys, the local printing company that had employed a good portion of my town(including my dad)for many, many years. Well, Bill knew my dad and liked him so he gave me a chance. I hung up my grocery smock and pricing gun for the lucrative world of being a video store clerk. Kevin Smith’s got nothing on me.
Video World was a place I knew well. When my parents bought their first VCR(Toshiba Betamax)in 1984 it was purchased from Bill Frazier. Bill saw a market in the early 80s. He may have been from a Kentucky holler, but he was a shrewd businessman. He was one of the first video stores in town and a good portion of his clientele were RR Donnelleys’ employees. I roamed the many rooms of Video World throughout my formative years, renting B-horror movies, lousy comedies, NES video games, and I’d also bought a good portion of music there as well. To be working there was an honor. By the time I started working at Video World there were a few more video stores in town. Video Plus, Broadway Video, and even the grocery store I’d worked at was renting movies as well. But Bill was the “King Video” in our town. Not just because he had a huge selection of new releases and an impressive collection of old flicks, but because he had a “back room” filled with all the best adult titles you could ever want. He also rented VCRs by the day. This made for some interesting business transactions.
The back room was like a maze you’d find in Bob Guccione’s mansion. A right turn, then a left turn, then BAM!, titles like Rump Humpers, Edward Penishands, and Will and Ed’s Keister Easter were there for the taking. Plus a plethora of classics to choose from were there for those seeking to learn the history of blue flicks. Now, as an employee, I had to got out in the store and hang tags in front of the boxes of videos that had come back in. Yellow tags were Betamax and white tags were VHS, this went the same for adult titles. Going into the back room was always an adventure. First, it smelled differently than any other part of the store. It was a cross between cigarette smoke and sweat. (and I won’t even go into how the VCRs smelled when they were returned with their 8 or 9 porn titles after a long weekend.) And it was a somewhat compact space, so if you were back there hanging tags and someone came in it became incredibly awkward for all involved. It was not a confined space you wanted to be in. And the clientele? Well, the folks renting those “back room” titles were quite varied. You had the ones you’d expect; those greasy, grimy, creepers you’d see slink back into the back room and not come out for 20 minutes before emerging with sweaty palms and a hand full of tags. But, you also had older couples, younger couples, straight-laced looking folks, and even teachers. Yeah, my Music Appreciation teacher’s wife came through the drive-thru window and dropped off some adult titles once. That put him in a whole new light for me.
From October of 1992 through May of 1993 I rented videos, hung out, talked music with one of my fellow employees, and watched videos as folks passed through looking for the latest and greatest flick on VHS. Bill also sold soda and snacks. Chips, popcorn, candy,…he had you covered. Another perk to the job was that in another back room there were boxes and boxes of discarded Betamax tapes that he no longer rented. I ended up taking quite a few home and copying several to VHS. We still had the old Toshiba Beta machine at home and would take some classics home to copy. Let It Be, Taxi Driver, Mean Streets, and Blood Simple were just a few of the titles I snagged. There also a bunch of Robert Altman flicks I “borrowed” as well. At the time, these were no longer available. You couldn’t go to the store and buy movies for $19.95. To buy a video you were looking at $70-$80 for one movie. This was before the days of mass video production. Yeah, this was illegal, but I felt I was preserving these movies for the next generation. I was doing AFI’s work for them.
In May of 1993 I felt it was time to find something full-time with benefits. I was 19 and had no desire to further my education. I needed to become a true working-class schlub. So I found a job driving truck for a, surprisingly, local printing company. I said goodbye to Bill and the unique group of folks I worked with and set sail for longer workdays and bigger paychecks. I still rented from Video World until the mid-90s when he was only opened on weekends due to losing several longtime customers to Blockbuster Video. He shuttered Video World’s doors for good around 15 years ago. The last of the locally-owned video stores said goodnight to a hell of a run. Not long after that Bill got sick and passed away.
“King Video” was gone. Long live the King.
Nowadays the building still stands where it always stood. Dilapidated and corroding from years of neglect. Tape racks still sit in front of the windows, still filled with tapes. It’s as if the store is merely closed temporarily. Like Bill is on vacation, but he’ll be back. He’ll be waiting behind the counter, Pepsi in hand and happily renting you porn and selling you chips.
***Someone recently was arrested for breaking into the abandoned Video World building and stealing $10,000 worth of vintage NES games that were in boxes in the back. There’s a veritable goldmine of analog and digital entertainment in there. An 80s childhood stuffed in boxes and collecting dust.