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Back in 2002, they didn’t have cooking reality shows like "Top Chef" and" Hell’s Kitchen" to warn aware wannabe kitchen grunts from an industry that’s arguably crueler to the people who work in it than any factory farm raised animal they serve, so I eagerly took a job as a dishwasher at one of Edmonton’s finest restaurants.
I barely lasted two months. Turns out I didn’t enjoy working back-breaking 12-hour shifts six days a week. If Gordon Ramsey had been around to call me a pussy, I couldn’t have argued otherwise.
Having learned this valuable life lesson, I decided that for my next job I’d avoid anything strenuous. In fact, my ideal choice would be a position in which I got paid to do as little as humanly possible. If I could sit in a chair and watch movies all day, I’d be more than happy to accept minimum wage -- I’d be sincerely grateful.
In other words, I wanted to be a video store clerk.
This wasn’t a newfound ambition. Every time I’d gone on a job search, I’d sent my resume to every video store in the city, hoping to impress them with my near-encyclopedic knowledge of film, but I never got the chance because who wants to have a short geek working for them when they could hire an adorably sullen teenage girl instead?
(Note: That’s not written with any bitterness. Given the opportunity, I’d probably make the exact same decision.)
But despite this past history of failure, I still got excited when I found a want ad in the paper for a video store position that was just a few blocks away from where I was living.
My enthusiasm didn’t last long, though, when I realized which video store it happened to be.
While Source Adult Video was not your typical sleazy peep show joint, it still wasn’t what I originally had in mind.
Source was actually a chain of stores all identically designed to be as open and well lit as possible in a clear attempt to both appeal to couples and discourage any attempts at public masturbation.
Mostly devoted to renting adult movies (which at that time still came chiefly in clunky VHS form), Source also sold adult novelties that ranged from “erotic” candles to vibrating wands designed to look like the kind of small rodents various celebrities have been rumored to enjoy intimately.
As benign as it was, I still couldn’t help but feel a little embarrassed as I opened up the store’s frosted front door. I wondered if actually getting a job there would ever cure me of this (it didn’t).
Fifteen minutes later I was no longer unemployed, but the catch was that I would have to accept the 10:00 PM to 6:00 AM weekend shift. I had no problem with working graves, having been a habitual night owl since birth.
The next day I found myself being trained in the ways of adult video store clerking. The first thing I noticed was how the position fit in the same niche as psychiatrist or prostitute, in that the people who came up to our counter were frequently letting us in on the personal secrets they shared with almost no one else.
I remember one balding man in his forties whose hands were literally shaking when he handed over a tape he quickly grabbed from the store’s Gay section, as well as the guilty, shifty eyes of the well-dressed businessman who asked if we had any more tapes in a series devoted to rubber bondage gear.
My clueless tutor didn’t appear to notice his discomfort and made him repeat the name of the series four times before he told her to forget about it. I vowed at that moment to be much more respectful and discrete.
By far the most bizarre part of the shift was the mandatory novelty inventory, which required me to print a list of every dildo, vibrator, pocket pussy, tube of cherry flavored anal lube, etc., we had in stock and make sure it was still there and accounted for.
If you’ve never spent a late half-hour trying to figure out why you only have four rubber Ron Jeremy cocks, instead of five, you probably worked really hard in school. (Turned out someone hid the fifth one behind the penis enlarging pumps.)
Once I figured out nothing was ever actually done with the inventories I was supposed to do each night, I started faking them while I sat down and watched videos I brought from home.
As strange as it was working a job where 95 percent of the transactions I performed could be honestly concluded with a polite, “Have a nice self-induced orgasm!” I quickly came to realize that the average Source customer wasn’t a gross, disgusting pervert, but just a normal, lonely dude who was too homely/fat/short to get a girlfriend and too shy/sweet/poor to sleep with hookers.
That said, those guys have all sort of melted into a forgettable blob memory-wise. I really only remember the weirdos.
For example there was the guy who had a print out of our entire video inventory, which he used to make sure he didn’t rent the same thing twice. This might seem a bit OCD, until you found out he rented 16 movies at a time, which probably did make it hard to keep track.
I did the math and figured out that at an average length of 90 minutes, it would take him 24 hours to watch all 16 movies, which he would probably have to split up into 8 hour shifts for the 3 days he had the movies.
This meant that either watching porn was this guy’s full-time job or he was just recording them and building up his own library with the hope of opening his own store some day in the future.
But I didn’t find him quite as mystifying as the older gentleman with the suave mustache who came in and bought a new DVD (at $60 a pop) every Saturday.
That was odd, but what made it odder was the fact that his choices were always completely random.
One week it would be a gay DVD, the next it would be one that featured extremely overweight women, which would be followed by a vanilla bondage video and then a transgender flick. I didn’t give a fuck what anyone’s particular kink was, but it did become annoying that this guy seemed to want to have it all. It just seemed greedy.
OK, I admit I wasn’t totally lacking in judgment. One kink did bother me and that was when a guy my dad’s age would come up to the counter and hand over a tape like Barely Legal or Bring ‘Em Young (which went so far as to announce on its cover how many days its young participants were over the age of 18). That was undeniably creepy.
Another reminder of porn's creepy side was the saga of one particular tape kept in the part of the store devoted to the crappiest of the crappy discount titles.
At one point it was by far the most popular tape in the store, simply because it’s front cover featured an attractive anonymous blond woman suggestively petting a horse. Many of the dudes who rented it were actually bold enough to try and get their money refunded when they came back to return it.
It got to the point that someone on another shift wisely attached a sticker to the cover that simply read, “She doesn’t fuck the horse.” It became a lot less popular after that.
Beyond this, the most annoying part of the job was dealing with customers who assumed that my working a minimum wage weekend grave shift position in an adult video store made me a qualified expert in all things freaky and/or deaky.
One gentleman would always pepper me with questions about how he could start his own porn company, as if I had been personally responsible for producing the videos he was renting.
But that was nothing compared to the many, many male customers who would come up to me with plastic representations of female genitalia and ask, “Is this any good?”
All I could ever do in these cases was politely nod, even though I personally felt that even just using lotion while masturbating was an unnecessary extravagance.
My distaste for these ridiculous assumptions did admittedly change on the rare occasions when an attractive woman asked the very same question. Then it was all I could do to stop myself from turning into Barry White.
“Oh yeaaaah, baby. All the sweet ladies love the Swinging Monkey Asiatic Dual Three-Speed Vibrator with Massaging Action. It rocks their world.”
Speaking of women, as hard as Source tried to appeal to them, they weren’t a common sight in the store. When they did come in, it was usually as the uncomfortable half of a young couple (“No, Darren, I am NOT watching THAT!” I remember one young woman standing up for herself when her boyfriend tried to convince her that they should rent the latest edition of American Bukkake) or because they were on the lookout for something to spice up an upcoming bachelorette party.
I do know that I never once rented a video from our very large Lesbian section to a woman, much less an actual lesbian. Take of that what you will.
Truthfully many of the strangest moments on the job had nothing to do with the fact that I was surrounded by pornography, but rather the standard weirdness that comes from working with the public in any capacity.
Three months in, I got a call from an acquaintance asking me if I wanted to apply for a writing position at the local publishing company he worked for. Within three weeks I was a full-time working writer. But that didn’t stop me from whipping out my best porn store anecdotes at every available opportunity.
As someone whose resume makes for some interesting reading, it remains the funniest job I’ve ever had and if circumstances were to ever force me to return to it, I honestly don’t think I’d mind (except for the whole “Being embarrassed to walk through the door thing”).