Saturday, July 26, 2014

Video Paradise

Summers in late high school-early college, we grubbed away at minimum-wage jobs, me at McDonald’s and Record Town, Jay at D’Angelo’s and Sharon Cinemas. But our lifestyle required cash -- Floyd tickets were like, 50 tacos. So Jay did random jobs. Sometimes they were solo, like when he spent a day at the mall dressed as the Quit Smoking! guy. Sometimes he needed help, which is where I come in.

One horrible day, we helped clean out Video Paradise in Walpole. It had once stood as a VHS palace, the first local video store in an era when a tape with a movie on it was revolutionary. As a kid, I’d study the typewritten catalog, fantasizing about the movies that one day, God willing, I would watch. So many Police Academys. Yoda! To my pre-teen joy, they even listed their XXX titles, like one called Alice in Wonderland Rated R. Rentals were just a dollar. Video Paradise’s name was no hyperbole.

But that was a better time, a simpler time, when Betamax cartridges roamed the land. Eventually, Video Paradise was Blockbustered out of business, and Jay and I were called in to bury the remains. Sorting through tapes would have been fasincating (Jay once told me about a buddy cop flick starring Jay Leno and Mr. Miyagi) but those were likely sold off to cover Mr. Paradise’s rent. We headed to the basement.

The task that faced us was daunting. In addition to moving out the expected boxes and furniture, we had to tackle two items that clearly predated Video Paradise’s lease: a large wooden bureau and a gigantic, unmoveable iron press. We started schlepping boxes upstairs, trudging back down. Up and down, up and down. This was the era before I did breakfast, so after a few trips, I got woozy. And instead of taking five, I decided to power through. More boxes. More woozy. I stopped. I bent over. I threw up. Or I would have thrown up if I there was anything in my stomach. So, I dry heaved outside Video Paradise. An excellent start. I had some water. We went back to work.

We were supposed to destroy the cabinet before bringing it up. This had actually been a selling point of the job: getting to smash the crap out of furniture. My dad had loaned me a sledge hammer, and Jay grabbed it. I had assumed swinging a sledge hammer would be like swinging a baseball bat, but the sledge is wildly heavy. It takes huge effort and major strength, plus a good amount of balance. Not to mention that early-century wooden cabinets are fairly solidly built. So it only took Jay a few whacks to throw out his back. We were quite a pair.

After a rest and a few sips of coffee and a lot less moving than the new Video Paradise owners thought they were paying for, they directed our attention to the white whale: the iron press. It was massive, nearly a yard wide, with a huge wheel on top. I have no idea what it might have been used to press. Dozens of apples?  Folks who were unkind and did not rewind? It was a behemoth, and my mind flashed to Jay, dead, crushed beneath hundreds of pounds of iron, me dry heaving nearby in grief. We got to work.

I’m not sure where he came from, but our pseudo-savior was a compact and muscled middle-aged man with a patchy beard and blonde pompadour. In my memory, he never even took the cigarette out of his mouth as he took the other end of the press. Jay and I put our whole drama-club-conditioned bodies into it, dying as we each struggled with a corner. Meanwhile, the heroic fireplug lifted his half with one hand, anchor tattoo on his forearm rippling, forehead barely breaking a sweat, cigarette bouncing as he growled at us to grow a pair. 

I have no memory of reaching the top, so I wonder if they decided to dismiss us knuckleheads halfway -- me half-barfing, Jay breaking his back, neither qualified to call ourselves movers. I took my money and headed home, rested for an hour or two, then headed to the mall for a shift at my real job, the overpriced record store. At break-time, I fused my two summer jobs and blew my entire Video Paradise payment on Aerosmith’s Pandora’s Box. Listening to it became an ever-more taste of Paradise.

1 comment: