By late 2001 I was in need of a new job. I wasn’t able to sustain myself on multimedia contract work and couldn’t get hired at any other company. With some reluctance I headed back to the customer service field.
There was a time in my early 20s when all I wanted to do was work at a record store. I still remember HMV calling me up for an interview literally moments after I had accepted a job at the Rogers Video across the street from my apartment, at the corner of Carling and Maitland.
I don’t regret taking it. Over the two and a half years I spent working there, I met some entertaining people and watched movies for free. It was working at that video store that facilitated my interest in Ingmar Bergman, Vincent Gallo and Tom Tykwer. It made it necessary to observe the tactile nature of films more closely and made me more aware of how and why films are distributed, where they come from and the spaces in the art market they aspire to fill. I had access to much low-budget and art house fare that I took home in bunches, from Harmony Korine to Richard Linklater to Richard Kelly.
I also sold cell phones, for a period, and handled people’s issues with their cable and Internet hookups. I witnessed the turnover in stock and media standards from VHS to DVD, the former of which persistently clung to a few shelves in their scratched plastic squeeze sleeves. By the time I left the store in 2004, I was on my third manager and even more disillusioned by minimum-wage jobs that required working with the public (a daily lesson in human behaviour and psychology, from the frightening to the bewildering).
There’s a moment in “Reality Bites” when it’s revealed that Ethan Hawke was fired from his job at a news stand for swiping a Snickers bar. His argument is that the establishment owed him Snickers. A couple of weeks back, revisiting the old store, now populated by unfamiliar faces and with nary a VHS tape or cable counter in sight, I laid down the money for a king-sized Oh Henry, confident that Ted never felt the pinch.
It was a clerk job. I was Randall Graves if he had worked at Big Choice. My coworkers were sardonic, horny, funny, quiet, self-entitled, lazy, indignant, beautiful, friendly. We rewound tapes and stacked them on carts, watching the original “Star Wars” trilogy on the in-store television sets ad nauseum, or something dirtier if a manager wasn’t around. We called the “late list” for the entertainment value of talking to crazies.
Thinking back on the motivational product meetings led by folks not much older than I am now, seemingly always in the mode of parlaying their mediocre jobs into sales careers worth a damn, I’m sure that I spent certain 10-hour days fantasizing about better circumstances. The people and unparalleled access to movies made it worth it, even if arguments over late fees fostered pretty deep existential angst at times. But existential angst is what being 22 was all about.