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Nightmare at the Video Store

A 1980s college graduate goes behind the curtain

By Rebecca MortonPublished about a year ago 3 min read
Nightmare at the Video Store
Photo by Sean Benesh on Unsplash

I know Quentin Tarantino was inspired to become one of the world’s greatest filmmakers when he worked at a video rental store in the 1980s, but if he had to work in the store where I worked in 1989, he may not have been so inspired.

It was part of a national chain of stores which catered mostly to families that lived in the very small town in which it was located. I don’t recall ever being asked to recommend a film to a customer, though I remember a lot of customers asking when the movie Twins with Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito would be available.

I had just graduated from college that summer, and had no idea what I wanted to do next. I majored in both English and History, so, as you can see, a career wasn’t really my focus at this time. This was back in the days when stores put signs in their windows reading “HELP WANTED (Inquire within)” meaning they were hiring. I went in and got hired.

It seemed, at first, like it would be a good fit. I was, and am, a big fan of movies. I even concentrated in “Film Studies” within my English major. I had seen Citizen Kane and Fritz Lang’s M on the big screen at college. I knew the definition of “mise en scene.”

I soon learned that none of these experiences would come in handy at this video store. I also learned I was terrible at retail.

A big part of my job was signing up customers for a video store membership. For those younger than forty, you had to be a member of the video store to rent videos. You got a special card after your credit card was approved and you were told about late fees and to always rewind.

But I forgot to run a couple of customers’ credit cards through the machine to approve them for membership. I never quite got the hang of running credit cards through the machine for rentals or even running the cash register. I was asked to leave after three weeks.

But I think I was fired for a more disturbing reason than a slow learning curve dealing with credit cards.

About two weeks into my three weeks of employment, I was put in charge of a room in the back of the store which was behind a curtain. Only customers with a tag they got from a certain section of the store could get videos from behind the curtain. Can you guess what kind of videos were back there?

This is my senior photo in my high school yearbook. I didn't look much older at the video store.

Now, I was twenty-two years old, but I looked more like fifteen. I was a girl nerd, with straight hair, no makeup and big eyeglasses. I don’t know why they put me in charge of taking tags for movies with titles I can’t remember exactly, but which were often dirty versions of hit movie titles of the day.

I’ll make one up to illustrate this: “Indiana Bones and the Temple of Boobs”. What do you think? Did I miss my calling?

You can imagine how awkward it was for most customers who wanted a boob movie to hand their tags to me, who looked like a bespectacled Anne of Green Gables. They walked to me very slowly, looking at their feet the entire time. I was definitely miscast as a porn retriever.

The most disturbing scene I ever witnessed in this store involved a nice looking family that looked like they could have their own NBC sitcom. It was a dad in a business suit, a mom more casually dressed, and a few adorable kids. It was Friday evening and they chose some nice movies for a family movie night. Then they all left the store.

A couple minutes later, the dad came back in. Soon, he was approaching me with a porn title tag.

He, like the other tag holders, couldn’t look at me. I wonder if he, and the other tag men (I don’t remember any tag women), complained about having to approach me with their tags, or if the managers just got that vibe from them. All I know is I was fired by the end of that week.




About the Creator

Rebecca Morton

An older Gen X-er, my childhood was surrounded by theatre people. My adulthood has been surrounded by children, first my students, then my own, and now more students! You can also find me on Medium here:

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