I don’t think it’s uncommon for many teenagers to grow up thinking that a job in a music or video store as being somewhat cool. You get to surround yourself with pop culture all day, every day, and (at least when I was growing up) had the ability to exercise that music snobbery so effectively portrayed by the clerks in High Fidelity or Empire Records.
And for a period of time, I had the opportunity to work in a video store when I was around 18 years old and going to university. While I enjoyed the job immensely, and planned on staying there for a period of time, I never thought that Patrick Swayze would cost me my job.
In as much as the part-time staff at a video store is made up of students trying to make supplemental education money, and the full-time staff (save the occasional owner/operator) is someone who is there as a way station, the average employee really lives by the basic tenet of: do as little as you can while still pulling in the minimum wage salary that’s keeping you out of a fast food kitchen. From this general rule comes a couple of key realities: 1) anyone who shows any initiative whatsoever is a likely candidate for assistant manager, and 2) 15 to 18 year-old guys only show initiative for one thing, and it’s not organizing a VHS inventory “fun day”.
And so it came to pass that I was working in a video where the two “adult” managers had decided that the two “assistant” managers would be teenage girls. Now, let it be clear that I never coveted the job or begrudged the young women forced to oversee the occasional evening shift of the general ne’er-do-wells. I was quite happy slumming at the register, restocking the shelves or feasting on a slice of greasy pizza for dinner on the picnic table out back.
The one thing that did absolutely drive me insane however, was that both of the assistant manager were absolutely in LOVE with all things Dirty Dancing. When they worked the film played non-stop, sometimes for eight hours a shift. Maybe Bill Medley had the time of his life recording soundtrack fodder for the trite piece of cinematic drivel that was Dirty Dancing. But I wanted to sharpen a pencil and jam it in my ear after the third hour. I worked there for a year and the film never changed. Dirty Dancing from shift beginning to shift end whenever the young women were “managing”. If enough of us ganged up and whined enough, we could arrange the occasional showing of Adventures in Babysitting when they went off on break… not much better I know, but a far cry from Swayze and Baby.
I soon learned that Swayze was the real culprit. For soon after the onslaught began Patrick Swayze pictures and posters started going up in the break room and magazines with his picture were left conspicuously under the register. I, through a complete lack of tactless honesty, had let it be known of my distaste for the film and everything to do with it. I could, therefore, never get away with destroying the store’s dozens of copies or mangling the posters.
I would have to assert my revenge in another way.
You’re probably wondering, at this point, how Swayze actually cost my job.
There was an unwritten rule in the store that once someone put a tape in, it would be allowed to finish. The tape choice was also decided by store rank. While I never was around long enough to hold such a position, the only time I had say over which tape was in the machine was 8:30am Sunday morning. The overnight guy was cashing out and I manned the front counter alone for half an hour before the “assistant managers” came in to help with the ongoing build of the post-church crowd that crescendoed around noon. One of those mornings I scoured the store, not only for something that I could live with, and was rated PG or lower, but something that disgust and revolt any of the Dirty Devotees.
I settled on a concert film. I settled on Pink Floyd at Pompeii.
For six glorious months of Sunday mornings I cranked the volume to eleven and freaked out many a church-goer and their children to the demonic strains of One Of These Days I’m Going To Cut You Into Little Pieces and Careful With That Axe Eugene. The psychedelic volcanoes exploding over the Italian ruins were enough send many a customer away from whichever section was nearby. I have to give credit to my assistant managers as they clearly hated my weekly selection, but respected the unwritten law. Although I knew I was in for three straight showings of DD when Floyd was done, Pompeii gave me a sense of poetic justice.
And we all were quite willing to grin and bear it until one Sunday morning the “adult” manager came in early and saw David Gilmour playing an acoustic guitar while a dog howled accompaniment in a studio clip. Said manager decreed that Pink Floyd at Pompeii was not an appropriate film to be shown at nine o’clock on a Sunday morning.
I calmly retorted that “Dirty Dancing was not an appropriate film to be shown to anyone with an I.Q. above 50, yet I was forced to watch it three times a shift.”
He replied, “No one’s making you watch it. You should be working anyway.”
I tried to argue that my productivity suffered at having to be lulled into a soma-like trance by the horrible sappy music and hackneyed storyline.
He stammered that I should really consider if I truly wanted to be a proud family member of the store’s staff.
Turns out… “no”.
If it wasn’t for Patrick Swayze’s hunky good looks to all the teenage girls, I could’ve been king of the video store… not the most impressive title for sure, but how many kings do you know?