My coworkers run through the video aisles with butterfly nets, swiping frantically at the air, trying to catch a loose bat or two escaped from “The Batcave.”
I ask my boss, Sal, about liability and rabies. And what about the little kids people don’t watch when they’re busy? Like right now, when some man’s asking me for that movie with the guy in the Hawaiian shirt who’s a cop or maybe a dolphin trainer. You know, that actor, the one in the other movie about fires. What was the name of it?
Customer service is more about pretending to be helpful than actually being helpful. I type jump code “111,” “Hawaiian shirt,” “Denzel Washington,” and hit “f4” to search. The black screen shows 300 different matches in green letters so I say, “Sorry, we don’t have it.”
A few days later, a copy of Cum Fu falls out of a DVD case that’s supposed to be Man on Fire while I’m processing a buyback, and I remember the name of the movie: Out of Time.
Sal tells me that rabies isn’t serious and flicks his long black ponytail over his shoulder. His gold chain glints like in the MySpace picture Miguel showed me of him at a LARPing event called Spring Wars. In the picture, he’s decked out in cardboard armor spray painted silver. The gold chain catches sunlight as he charges forward with his foam sword towards another role player, and I see reality shift for a moment.
On Mondays, Corbin and Shane let us watch movies and eat popcorn without paying. Tonight, we’re watching Jumanji. During the scene when bats shoot from the fireplace and one clings to Sarah Whittle’s back, I cringe.
Colby catches me reading Rant: The Oral Biography of Buster Casey during my break and asks if I’d rather work books instead of music. He has a shiner under his eye from last night at The Square. There’s a copy of What Color is Your Parachute? full of Post-it flags in his hand.
Sal likes to schedule me to work register because I’m the only one that can upsell the $10 giant gummy bears that corporate keeps ordering. It’s not hard. It’s all about smiling while you tell a good story.
Kenneth calls me darlin’, asks when I’m gonna marry him, and trades me kindness for home cookin’. He warns me not to wait too long to get married. I tell him I’m never getting married. We laugh and “Jejune Stars” begins playing in my head: Any expression of love is the way to return to that place that I think of so often, but now never mention. The one the voice in the back of my head says that I don’t deserve.
When Sal leaves for the day, Matthew slips Circa Survive’s new CD from its shrink wrap, out of its jewel case, into the play bin, and we both feel free.
Jim, the music manager, pretends not to notice. He likes to tell us about living in Upstate New York during the ‘60s, how free he was when he was our age before his hands began shaking like stutters. Sometimes, I can see him for a second as a young man when he’s talking. I wonder if he tells us these stories to keep that part of him alive.
There are days Devon doesn’t like being alone in the book department so he helps me alphabetize records and CDs while talking about 4chan, trolling, and occasionally about driving with his girlfriend Adeline down Devil’s Backbone. He reaches for the James Avery ring on a chain around his neck. I can see the ravine in his eyes—the night in his voice as he talks about her in past tense.
As always, on the weekend, Miguel calls in sick to go LARPing or to play Dungeons & Dragons or some other shit. He texts me to join him, but I’m covering his shift.
Greg cleans out the back of the candy rack where the mice have eaten all the Hershey’s Cookies ‘n’ Crème bars (their favorite). He says the mice are as ravenous as his baby boy and wants to know if I believe in reincarnation. I tell him, “Yeah, of course I do.” When he thinks no one’s looking, he throws away the glue traps.
When Judith and Harold come in, I pull my hands out of my apron pockets to sign, “Hi, how are you?” We scribble notes on receipt paper once my ASL fails. I wish I knew how to sign or write, “The world is vibrant when you smile,” but I don’t think the correct sentiment can be translated.
A man left his crying baby on the floor between the video and music departments. It was the first time I ever held a baby. All I could think was, you’ve got the right idea about the world, kid. It took 15 minutes for the baby’s father to come retrieve her despite Ruby’s numerous intercom announcements. The man wasn’t even embarrassed, just angry that he had been rushed. Back in her father’s arms, the baby girl cooed like a tiny dove.
The other night, one of the bats hit the ceiling fan, landed on my neck, and clung there until it slid down onto my grey striped sweater, which I slowly took off and dropped on the floor, before clocking out. I didn’t cry until I called my mom to tell her what happened. Every event feels like a movie until I describe it out loud.