I Was a Blockbuster Video Clerk for Halloween

And to anyone who isn't me, that costume must sound incredibly lame. Borderline idiotic, even. But in any case utterly and completely unscary.

But to me, that Blockbuster uniform remains the most frightening costume I can conjure. It represents a low-water mark in my life, a point at which I had fallen so far from where I needed to be that I wasn't sure I was ever going to surface again. And the only reason I still cling to the outfit--the only reason I haven't burned the loud, yellow-and-blue polo shirt, the pleated khaki pants and the ridiculous "My name is KENLEY" name tag--is because I never want to forget the depths I once plumbed.

The calendar had just turned over to 2002, and I had just turned over a new leaf. Several leaves, actually. An entire bag of foliage, if you will. That is to say, I had made several changes and decisions in my life near the end of 2001, the effects of which were all beginning to converge at a horrible nexus as January began. At the time, though, it didn't seem horrible at all. It just seemed like a well-thought-out, three-pronged attack.

First off, my band and I had just completed a demo that I felt was our best work to date. I was excited at the prospect of shopping it around. So excited, in fact, that I was determined to make the rock 'n' roll thing work. Which leads me to the second prong.

I quit my day job, which was a day job during the week, but a night job on weekends. I was working for a newspaper that was in a different area code from my city of residence, and the stress and long hours were doing my young, hard body a great disservice. I remember quite clearly leaving town for a gig in Atlanta 300 miles away, driving 300 miles back, running inside my house to take a shower at 5 in the morning, and then immediately jumping in my car and heading to work at 6:30 a.m. It just wasn't working. So I unceremoniously quit that job, with no backup plan other than a solid demo, and decided to be a touring musician. You can see where this is going already. But I didn't.

The third prong was my girlfriend at the time. After an ill-advised breakup and some soul-searching, I realized the folly of my decision and, for lack of a better phrase, was attempting to renew my vows with her. It was, of course, too late for that. An 8-year-old could've figured it. But I didn't.

It didn't take long for the wheels to start falling off in the course of my three-pronged attack. My music, my real career, my girl, all were about to go the way of the dinosaur, and I never saw any of it coming.

The hits came at me so fast that I can't even remember which bad thing happened first. But in the interest of time, I'll just say that I woke up one day to a life in which my band had been disbanded, I was both unemployed and painfully single, and the only organization that was hiring was the video store. And I had to practically beat down Blockbuster's doors just to fill out an application there.

There is nothing quite so humbling as begging for a job at a video store. This is not to disparage video store workers. One of my fondest memories in high school is the job I had at my own hometown video store. Free rentals, air conditioning, video games, and all manner of nonstrenuous activity. What's not to love?

I'm only saying that as a former valedictorian and Honors College graduate, I wasn't used to begging. And in this case, I was not only begging for the chance to don that grotesque uniform; I was also begging for the opportunity to be insulted and yelled at by people who insist they don't have late fees. And I was begging for a job that forced me to tuck in my shirt. Talk about insult to injury.

The second-most-humbling moment of my tenure at Blockbuster was when I had to duck behind the Previously Viewed Videos section as the dean of the Honors College dropped by the store rather unexpectedly. I mean, what was I supposed to do? I couldn't possibly let him see me like that, scanning bar codes and shelving movies in my pleated khakis. Is this what I had attended his school for?

The without-a-doubt-first-place humbling moment of my tenure at Blockbuster was when I had to man the checkout station as my ex-girlfriend (the one from my long-since-abandoned, three-pronged plan) and her new beau rented a video from me. I don't know what was worse: knowing that they were going home to watch this video together, cuddling and necking and doing all other sorts of things my mind could imagine, or that they both saw me in that stupid fucking uniform. I'm sure it not only confirmed my ex-girlfriend's suspicion that she had done the right thing by leaving me, but it also offered an immeasurable boost to her new boyfriend's ego. Neither of them knew I was working there (why would I openly tell anyone that?), but I knew neither of them would ever forget it.

Oh, the humanity! Oh, the horrors unfolded to me during my time at that store! It was a dark era for me, though you would never have known it from the bright, cheerful, yellow-and-blue costume I was forced to wear. That shirt belies the fact that I had completely hit bottom. There was no place left to go but up.

So I was a Blockbuster Video clerk for Halloween. It sends shivers down my spine in the way no vampire, wolf or monster ever could.

Stupid, tucked-in shirt.

Original MySpace post: 11/6/2006

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