Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New York Stories, Part VII

I got my first VCR while I was a senior in high school. I recall going to "Pick A Flick" a mom-and-pop in nearby Lake Worth, FL to catch up on all the movies I'd always wanted to see. I was fortunate enough to find ERASERHEAD there. One weekend, I asked one of the staff for a recommendation. Unfortunately, they suggested the Richard Gere/Kim Basinger vehicle NO MERCY, a tedious action drama. I realized that my tastes were different than that of many others. Still, I thought it was cool to have a job where you suggested movies to people.

Unless you own the store, a job as a video clerk is not financially lucrative. In this culture, having such a job also carries a stigma, a branding that you are some kind of geek. Worse, a failure. Quentin Tarantino is America's most celebrated former video clerk. He's certainly still a geek, but he did go on to Big Things. He's the exception.

I resisted taking such a job, even though I knew I would enjoy it. Plus, I was a college graduate with a B.S. in Bus. Adm. In my twenty-something mind I felt it was demeaning to go that route. Movies were my hobby, not my vocation.

After the pharmacy debacle in New York, I spent a few days wandering Manhattan. I was on Broadway on the Upper West Side when I was greeted by a bright window belonging to a video store. Within a day, I was behind its counter. My pride took a hit but I needed money. It did not pay well. It was frustrating, being in a neighborhood filled with cool eateries and having to go to Subway for lunch. I DID frequent Grey's Papaya: 2 hot dogs for a dollar. That was cool. You should try it.

I rang a register and walked the aisles, offering my picks to perplexed or particular Manhattanites. Many of them appreciated my recs for Truffaut and Rohmer films. My co-workers, not so much. They were mass consumers, only interested in the Hollywood factory. I was in disbelief when this older man I worked shrugged when I told him how great I thought THE CONVERSATION was.

I felt like a loser. I was enjoying having discussions about film with many nice folks, but it wasn't enough. I observed their affluence and coveted, too. My career ladder may have afforded my, at best, becoming store manager some day. The owner was a decent guy but I got strong mafia vibes. I knew this gig would not have a long shelf life. I felt trapped, but it was fun for the most part.

Memorable Moments:

-Mel Gibson was filming CONSPIRACY THEORY in the 'hood and we created a display of several of the Aussie's films in the window, in case he may have strolled Broadway after a tough night.

-One memorable neurotic said I made her nervous when I provided change, stapled receipts, you know, typical clerk doings.

-One gent looked at my shirt and stated that the material of which it was made was insufficient for the chilly weather.

-Frank Oz, former collaborator of Muppeteer Jim Henson, came in and rented several films. He had his kids with him. I got to wait on him part of the time. He was polite but not very talkative. He would be the biggest star I recognized in the store.

-I fought with the manager, a very fiery Italian woman, over just about everything. She also hated the Gere flick PRIMAL FEAR because she felt it was anti-Catholic.

-I fought with a co-worker, a student at Agnes Scott, who seemed to have a perpetual sneer and gave me crap for playing the MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER 3000 movie on the TV that faced the aisles. "That doesn't play well for the customers", she snorted. I discovered that she really hated Eddie Murphy's NUTTY PROFESSOR; I played it as often as possible when she worked.

-The Yankees beat the Braves in the World Series in Game 6 on October 26, and the street was wild with excitement. I walked outside and hollered along with them, even though I hadn't rooted for the Yankees since the late 70s. The electricity in the air was just too strong to deny.

-The best thing? A guy came back, quite miffed, that his selection of DONKEY DICK, an adult title of course, did not live up to his expectations. He stated this matter of factly, saying the film's title several times and with what sounded like a Danish accent. This would be a supreme test of my mettle. Keeping a straight face had never been more difficult.

There were more episodes, I'm sure, but I've largely put all of that out of my mind. It was a career and personal low point, and just one more confirmation that my move to NYC was a mistake. It was hellish, being broke in a city that had so much to offer. Yes, there were/are lots of low cost and even free things to do-I loved toiling along Riverside Park, for one. But it became clearer and clearer that I had been hasty. My big romantacized ideas about living in the City were being replaced by cold reality. And so, I ended up at a telephone booth, bashing a receiver over and over. I had completely lost it. I had to go home.

My first weeks back in West Palm were filled with regret and bitterness. And defeat. Relief, too, I must admit. But I was quite bummed. I did not want to see the Big Apple ever again at that point. That feeling only lasted for a month or so. I went back for a visit the following year! There would be no long term estrangement.
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