I spent the majority of my childhood in video stores. My mother managed a place called 'Video USA' in Danville, Virginia, and because we were a low-income household without a lot of nanny options I found myself in the video store before and after school, squatting on a stool watching Beetlejuice or Pee-wee's Big Adventure (or Hot To Trot ... I'm not gonna front) for the thousandth time. An adolescence identifying more with the covers of VHS tapes than with the people in my classroom had three major effects on me:
1. I like things more than people.
2. I have seen everything.
3. I am, at once, the best and worst possible video store employee.
It's far from bragging, but I've had so many moments browsing in a Best Buy or a Buybacks Entertainment listening to a customer struggle to explain the plot of a movie they're looking for to an employee who has no fucking idea what movies are despite being contractually obligated to stand amongst them where I had to silently walk to where the movie was in the store, pick it up and walk it back over to them without explanation. Actual conversation:
Lady: "I'm looking for a movie and I don't know the name ... it came out a while ago, and it's got Kevin Bacon in it, and he gets like ... HYPMATIZED ..."
Me: /walks over to Stir Of Echoes
Guy at Buybacks: "Uhhhhhhhhhhhhh are you looking for Footloose"
Lady: "Nooo, it's like ... he works for the city ... an' he gets hypmatized"
Me: /hands lady Stir Of Echoes, immediately walks away
Lady: "THAT's it!"
Guy at Buybacks: "OHHH, Stir of Echoes, oh okay I thought you were talking about ... no I don't think he gets hypnotized in that one ..."
Me: /looks for copy of The Man Who Laughs they never have
It's awful. I feel like the guy from fucking 'Early Edition' when I'm in a video store. A lady goes "UHHHH" and my body immediately drags me over to Entrapment, because she's looking for goddamn Entrapment. As sad as the passage of time and the comfort of those wooden shelves with little hooks and numbered circles on them is, I'm happy that Netflix and Redbox are a thing, because Heaven for me is truly a place where I never have to tell a stranger what I thought of Fight Club again.
In addition to giving us whatever movie we want for like 10% of what Hollywood Video would ask, the Internet is great for going back and finding the awful training videos you were forced to sit through during days one through whatever at a new job. Endeavors like the Found Footage Festival and VH1's I Love The Whenevers have turned kitschy 80s videos into tampon-in-a-teacupesque Found Art, so I present this to you less as "LOL 90s" and more "Blockbuster Video was the worst and should go even more out of business than they already are". Meet the man who helped train me: Buster Sales.
Okay, he didn't really help train me, but my Blockbuster had a bunch of old training tapes in the back and I watched them obsessively because I was an ironic teenager. The gist of the series is that working at Blockbuster is stressful and drives you fucking insane to the point that you become the Son Of Sam killer and start seeing fat-faced 90s comedians in your store's monitors, and they passive-aggressively tell you all the shit you've done wrong and make wanking gestures in the direction of the VCRs until you start renting them out. I'll let you watch and draw your own conclusions, but here are nine 1990s Blockbuster-specific things Buster should've taught this lady:
1. If you live in the American South, do not rent widescreen films to your customers under any circumstances. They don't know how movies work and think the black bars at the top and bottom of the screen means the tape is broken, because I guess there is a way to break a tape like that. Any attempt to explain aspect ratios to someone with The Muse in their hand will only be met with spat accusations that you're lying to them.
2. Do not rent foreign language films. It doesn't matter if the film has THIS WAS MADE IN ITALY across the front in giant red letters, it will never even cross their mind that it could be in Italian. This will make them extremely angry ("learn to speak English or get out, movie!") and they will return the movie for a refund, sometimes for double the refund and sometimes for double the refund while shouting at you for recommending something adults may enjoy.
3. When somebody picks up a video, looks at the back of it and says "I heard this was good", they didn't hear shit and are looking for validation. No, I don't know why. They can rent whatever the hell they want, I know. But no, nobody told them The Other Sister was good, they're lying.
4. Always recommend your customer purchase popcorn, soda and candy, because America.
5. The only movies anybody wants to rent are New Releases. Blockbuster should've gutted the entire middle of the store, instituted an on-demand policy for anything more than two months old and order 200 gross of fucking Enemy Of The State, because yeah, it's the worst movie ever but it JUST CAME OUT and everyone in your town has GOT TO SEE IT.
6. "If you have to see it so bad you'd scream at me, why didn't you come rent it on Tuesday morning" or "why didn't you see it when it was in theaters for four months" are not acceptable responses.
7. "It's called Leprechaun In The Hood, what the hell do you think it's about" is not an acceptable response to the question, "is this any good" and somebody holding up a copy of fucking Leprechaun In The Hood.
8. People do not want to rent anything they didn't walk into the store wanting to rent unless they make that decision, so either leave them alone and wait for them to ask you a question or do that weird Darren Brown thing where you say "Sinbad's First Kid" and tap them on the arm.
9. Your job is 1% helping somebody find movies, 49% trying to walk around the store with a giant stack of tapes without dropping them and looking like an asshole, and 50% standing around wasting your life.
In contrast, here are the nine things I learned from rewatching Buster Sales' 1990 classic.
1. Blockbuster never has New Releases, but check the Honey, I Shrunk The Kids wall. They've got like 40 copies of it.
2. You should try to fuck your customer's son.
3. If somebody's looking for a movie starring a specific actor, they would also like to watch every other movie that actor has ever been in, so make sure you know every actor and everything they've ever been in or nobody will rent tapes. This is worth whatever 1990s minimum wage was ($1.25 an hour).
4. If my VCP breaks, I can rent one from Blockbuster while mine is in the shop. Did anybody do this ever? How long does it take to fix a VCR that doesn't record? I guess those 40 copies of Honey, I Shrunk The Kids aren't going to watch themselves.
5. Don't be pushy, be helpful. And by "helpful" we mean "try to convince everyone who comes in to buy everything we have". Like Sean Connery movies? BUY THIS ENTIRE THING OF GUMBALLS.
6. If you don't know what you want, give us money now anyway and we'll give you gift certificates, because LOL.
7. If you have to babysit, you should rent 15 fucking tapes.
8. Buy VHS tapes from Blockbuster! When I worked there I sold a local lesbian couple a copy of Coal Miner's Daughter on VHS for 119.99. I bet every time they walk through the grocery store now and see a Coal Miner's Daughter blu-ray in the bin next to Sharktopus Vs. Giant Anteater Slash Gila Monster for $3.99 they get pissed right off.
9. Paul Reiser took every role Buster Sales could've ever gotten.
In addition to all of that, the entire conversation at the end about "Star Track" really pisses me off. It's 1990, if your little brother is into Star Trek he's not dressing up as Spock, he's dressing up as Worf. And then our protagonist makes the nerdiest looking guy ever show the babysitter where the Star Track tapes are. I hope she went home with 'Spock’s Brain' and had her gift certificates taken away.
I'm going to keep searching for these training tapes on YouTube and find out where I went wrong. If you've got a particular example of a bad time at the video store you'd like to share, let us know in the comments. I need all the help I can get. /wink /neckfat