The year is 2005.
George W. Bush is just starting his second term in the White House.
The hottest game in cell phone technology is the Motorola Razr V3 and the PalmOne Treo 650.
The iPhone is still a few years away.
The Rise of Skywalker isn’t even a twinkle in Disney’s eye—an eye that’s currently preoccupied with an overly optimistic Narnia Franchise Wet Dream.
In fact, Disney wouldn’t even buy Star Wars for another seven years.
It’s summer in 2005 and millions of marketing dollars can still pull the wool over the eyes of a naive movie-going public, dictating box office success regardless of audience consensus or even general quality of filmmaking.
All hail the grand illusion of capitalism.
It’s a warm evening in the summer of 2005 and video rental stores are still a thing.
One particular, independently-run store--freestanding, double glass doors on the left side of the brick facade, small parking lot--was just turning its sign on as dusk settled.
Videorama was open for business.
Tobey blinked incredulously at the three teenagers standing on the other side of the counter. His brain hurt as he attempted to summon the endurance needed to fathom the sheer stupidity of their question.
To buy himself some time, Tobey blinked again.
“… well?” asked the one with the long greasy hair. “Do you have it?”
There was no way these kids were serious.
Tobey shook his head in disbelief. “You’re not serious.”
The one with a bad case of acne threw his hands up in exasperation. “Dude, for fuck’s sake!”
Tobey looked over at the other man behind the video store counter, feet up, sketch pad in lap. “I think these guys are serious.”
The third teenager was pale and wore a lot of heavy black eyeliner. He spoke in a flat monotone: “Catwoman. Do you have it or not?”
Tobey broke into a lopsided grin. “Oh, I get it. This is like a prank, right? Where’s the hidden camera?” Tobey propped his elbows on the counter and leaned forward. “Am I gonna be on the internet?!”
Long Hair was reaching his limit. “C’mon, man, we just wanna rent the movie.”
Tobey’s grin dropped. “No joke?”
They were practically pleading. “Do you have it or not?”
Tobey stood back, somber. This was worse than he thought. “Holy fucking shit.” He turned again to the other guy behind the counter. “Kurt, these guys are actually serious.”
Kurt didn’t look up from his sketch pad. “Hm.”
Zits backhanded Long Hair’s chest. “This is ridiculous, man. Let’s get outta here.”
Almost through this, Tobe.
Eyeliner started for the exit. “Fuck these asswipes.”
“Alright, you fucking hormone-addled, gene-pool rejects. Listen.” Tobey leaned forward. “I can appreciate the fact that the three of you otherwise fine young gentlemen are undoubtedly blinded by your adolescent throes of puberty--to saying nothing of the ungodly amount of jizz sprayed in your eyes from the nonstop circle jerk that is your formative years--so it stands to reason that the mere notion of Halle Berry sporting a whip and a leather catsuit is enough to make you pop your collective nut--which, again, I do understand. Halle Berry is a fine specimen of the female gender and I myself have spent many a lonely night pondering Ms. Berry’s lithe and supple … skills.”
Tobey lost himself for a moment and the three teenagers stared at him in confusion. Tobey nodded absently and then returned to the conversation.
“Fellas,” he implored. “All that being said, you cannot tell me that simple, unabashed horniness is just cause for what will amount to the severe rapage of your individual minds--a tragic and unavoidable fate that you will all most assuredly fall victim to should you proceed to rent the motion picture that is Catwoman.”
To buy themselves a moment to process Tobey’s rant, the three teenagers blinked at him.
“… yes?” Zits said, lacking any sense of surety of himself.
Tobey sighed. Definitely worse than he thought. With a sad shake of his head: “Look, let me make a suggestion. Go with Monster’s Ball instead. It’s got our girl in it, bare titties and all. Lots of sex plus it’s a flick that won’t rot your brain. It’s a goddamned win-win for everybody. Especially you.”
Tobey pointed at Eyeliner before changing his mind. “Well, maybe not everybody.”
Eyeliner’s face was as a neutral as his voice. “Isn’t she fucking Billy Bob Thornton in that one?”
Zits scowled. “Dude, that is so fucking nasty! He’s all old and wrinkly and shit.”
Tobey wanted to ram an ice pick in his own ear. “What the actual fuck, my man? We’ve already established that you’re watching the flick for Halle Berry’s tits, not Billy Bob’s ball sack! What the fuck do you care what he looks like?!”
“We don’t!” Long Hair cried. “We just care about Catwoman!”
Tobey threw his hands in the air. There was no reasoning with these kids. “Okay, fine. I see how it is. Get out.”
Incredulous offense from Zits. “What?!”
Ineffable deadpan from Eyeliner. “You’re throwing us out?”
“No. Right now I’m asking you to leave in a gentle yet firm manner, as to assert a polite yet authoritative dominance over this conversation,” Tobey said. “In about twenty seconds I’ll be throwing you out.”
“We just want to rent a movie!” Zits said through gritted teeth and mounting frustration.
“Incorrect,” Tobey responded, raising an index finger. “You want to rent shit. There is a difference, although I can see that the lack of immediate release has caused the cum to bubble up and disorient your brain cells, inhibiting logical cognition. Regardless, I don’t even carry Catwoman since I have a very strict policy on stocking crappy movies.”
Long Hair tilted his head, waiting. “What’s your policy on stocking crappy movies?”
Eyeliner with the deadpan punchline: “He doesn’t.”
“--I don’t,” Tobey said at the same time. He shot Eyeliner an exasperated glare. “C’mon, dude!”
Eyeliner shrugged a shoulder.
Tobey leaned forward. “Now why don’t you three numb-nuts find yourselves a tittie mag, have a circle jerk, and just be done with it already, okay?”
Eyeliner scoffed indifferently. “This is bullshit. Let’s bounce, boys.”
Tobey nodded. “That’s right. But be sure to use plenty of lube. Too much bouncing chafes the shaft.”
Zits lunged across the counter but Long Hair pulled him back. “Fuck you, asshole.”
Tobey glanced down and flipped a page in his Indie Film magazine. “Mm. Clever.”
Zits straightened. He had one card left to play and he was entirely too confident in the move. “Hey. I wanna speak to the manager. Dick.”
Tobey looked up from his magazine. “I am the manager, you dipshit. Now get the hell out of my store before I call the fucking cops and have them throw you out.”
The three teenagers exchanged looks before stumbling to the exit, muttering various expletives under their breaths as they went.
“Yeah, I heard all of that!” Tobey called after them as the bell on the door jingled.
“You handled that well,” Kurt said from behind Tobey.
“You could have jumped in at any time there, buddy.”
“Seemed like you had it handled,” Kurt shrugged.
A young woman stepped up to the counter. Straight blonde hair to her shoulders and curves that Tobey drank in with an instant glance, imperceptible to the casual observer.
She perceived it. She always did.
“He didn’t have it handled,” the young woman said flatly, placing three DVDs and a member card on the counter.
“I had it handled,” Tobey insisted while he scanned her card. “Sure, I could have used some backup from behind the counter but that’s not to dismiss the overall nature of the situation behind, generally, handled.”
Kurt set his sketch pad aside and fiddled with a television set on the counter. A low-quality video continued playing--it looked like someone had used a cheap video camera to record a movie theater screen.
The girl’s eyebrow went up. “Is that Star Wars?”
Tobey didn’t look. He didn’t have to since they’d been watching the bootleg on a loop for three days. “Yep.”
“The new one?”
“That just came out in theaters?”
Tobey looked up from scanning the DVDs. “Wow. You’re a regular Veronica Mars. Can’t slip anything past you.”
She all but rolled her eyes and he decided to dial back the sarcasm.
“Yes, Kurt downloaded it a few days ago,” Tobey explained. “I mean, yeah, I paid to see the first two prequels but there was no way in hell I was gonna be stupid enough to let George Fucking Lucas screw me out of another eight bucks for yet another pile of shit he so fondly refers to as epic Star Wars lore.”
“Isn’t that illegal?”
“It fucking should be.”
“I meant the downloading.”
Tobey held up the three DVDs. “I’m sorry, did you want to rent these movies--” he glanced at the computer screen, “--Alyssa Tanner of 9000 East Westmore Drive, apartment 263? Or is harassing me over my moral obligation to protest the misguided artistic values of a corrupt media empire entertainment enough for you?”
Kurt shot a sideways glance and muttered: “Misguided artistic values?!”
Alyssa shrugged indifferently. “I just thought that in light of your current career path, you might have a better appreciation for the damage caused by downloading movies illegally.”
Kurt put his feet back up on the counter as he turned his attention back to the sketch pad. “Here we go …”
“The damage I cause?!” The mock in Tobey’s outrage was mild at best. “What about the damage George Lucas caused with these blatant cash grabs? Have you seen all the advertisements for this one? He’s spending millions of dollars convincing the world that it’s the greatest film ever!”
“And you’re saying it’s not?”
“If it’s possible, this one is even worse than the last two combined,” Tobey said gravely.
“Dude,” Kurt said, pointing at the television. “It’s the Vader scene.”
Tobey’s hands went up. “Perfect!” To Alyssa: “This is what I’m talking about. This shit is fucking hilarious.”
Alyssa looked at the television as the bootleg copy of Revenge of the Sith played. Darth Vader found out that he killed his girlfriend, clomped around like Frankenstein and then cried out, ‘Nooooo!’
Tobey clicked the television off.
“The only good thing about this movie is that it’s so bad it’s funny,” he said. “We’ve been watching it for days and that Vader scene just keeps getting funnier.”
“You don’t think Lucas deserves a little credit for closing the loop on A New Hope?”
“Does Adolf Hitler deserve credit for closing the loop on World War II?”
“First of all, Hitler lost--”
“Which effectively closed the loop--”
“--and secondly, you’re comparing a movie to a war that literally killed tens of millions of people?!” Alyssa balked.
“I’m comparing three movies to a war that killed tens of millions--”
“Dude!” Kurt cut in.
Tobey sighed. “Fine. Okay. Maybe the prequels aren’t, like, genocide bad--”
“The fuck is wrong with you?”
“But they’re still pretty bad.”
At one point, not so long ago, Alyssa had been amused and slightly intrigued by Tobey’s acerbic banter.
That moment had passed.
An awkward silence clung to the air inside the video store. Alyssa glanced at the exit. Kurt’s pencil scratched at his sketch pad.
Tobey held up Alyssa’s rentals. “… you want your movies?”
She took them from Tobey. “Yeah. Thanks.”
She turned for the door and then stopped. “Um …”
“Three day rentals. Due back on Thursday.”
Alyssa turned back to the counter. She grimaced. “Actually, uh, that bootleg--”
Tobey held up a hand. “Wait. Are you saying--”
Alyssa shrugged half-heartedly.
“You wanna borrow my illegally downloaded copy of Revenge of the Sith?”
“I mean, if it’s so bad, you wouldn’t mind letting go of it for a few days,” Alyssa suggested. “Right?”
Tobey studied her grey eyes. There was something about this girl. He chewed his lip, thinking.
Tobey nodded slowly. “Okay, uh, lemme think of a creative way of saying this …” Tobey rubbed his chin and then raised an index finger to the sky. “Oh, I know!”
Tobey threw his hands in the air. “Nooooo!”
A VHS rewinder ground on old tape and Kurt cursed as he mashed the eject button, popping the machine open.
“Goddammit,” Kurt seethed. “Why the hell are we still stocking VHS?”
“Same reason we don’t open until four in the afternoon,” Tobey replied as he gathered an armful of DVDs to re-shelve.
“Because you’re too lazy to wake up in the morning?”
“No, because despite appearances, we’re here to serve our customers, Kurt,” Tobey said, strolling the aisles. “Working class Americans. The nine-to-fivers. People rent videos on their way home from work.” Tobey placed a DVD on the shelf. “Or in the middle of the night. There’s been studies. Or something.”
Kurt finished untangling the botched tape and tossed it into the trash. “So what you’re saying is that you’ve got a firm grasp on psychological makeup of our clientele.”
“I’m a savante that way.”
“An idiot savante, sure,” Kurt said with an eye roll.
Tobey placed another DVD. “People mock what they don’t understand.”
“So what about that girl, Alyssa?”
“Pretty sure nobody mocks her,” Tobey replied, scanning a shelf. “Fear her, maybe. Beauty is intimidating. Intelligence doubly so. Beauty and intelligence--”
“I meant her psychological makeup.”
Tobey shrugged absently. “If it’s anything like her physical makeup--”
Kurt sighed. “I mean: why does she come in so often? She was just here yesterday.”
Tobey glanced over at his long-time friend. “She had a two-day rental, Kurt,” he said flatly.
“And that explains why she was here for the past five days in a row, how exactly?” Kurt asked patiently.
Tobey pondered this half-heartedly. “She likes movies?”
Kurt went back to his sketch pad. “You’re an idiot.”
“I’m an idiot with a stalker, according to you,” Tobey said, shelving the last DVD and returning to his spot behind the counter.
“She’s not a stalker. She’s a nice girl.”
Naughty thoughts ran through Tobey’s head and his eyes went wide. “I bet she is.”
Kurt put his pencil down. “You know, people might actually like you if you weren’t so sarcastic all the time.”
“What are you talking about? People like me. You’re the one who pointed out that I have a stalker,” Tobey said. “Plus, you’re a person, too. You like me.”
Kurt tilted his hand back and forth. “Eh.”
Tobey shrugged indifferently. “Friends come and go. Porn is forever.”
“That sixty-inch TV in your bedroom working out well for you?”
Tobey turned and leaned against the counter, facing Kurt. “I watch it as I fall asleep so that I have pleasant dreams. Of vaginas.” Tobey spread his hands an arms-length apart. “Ten feet wide.”
“So what you’re saying is that the addition of the big-screen pornocopia has obviated any pressing need to actually be liked by the fairer sex?”
“Who needs to be liked when you have a stalker? Plus, there’s always Horatio.”
Kurt blinked. “Who the hell is Horatio?”
Tobey held up his left hand. “We have a very intimate relationship. He knows how to please me in ways that most women just don’t understand. And yes, the big screen pornocopia helps.”
The bell on the door jangled.
“A vagina ten feet wide?” Kurt asked.
“Ten feet wide.”
“You call your hand Horatio?”
“You spend all day drawing superheroes with their dongs out,” Tobey said.
Kurt nodded. “Point.”
“Good to see you’re being as professional as ever.” The voice came from the other side of the counter. It sounded tired and annoyed.
Tobey frowned and didn’t bother to turn around. He grabbed his film magazine. “You know what? Fuck off, my dude. I don’t have time for your shit right now.”
The man on the other side of the counter glanced around the empty video store. “I can see that,” he said. “These late hours of yours really keep the place hopping.”
Tobey sighed and deliberately turned around to face his older brother. “Fuck you very much, Walt.”
Tobey’s brother was two years older and looked about as tired as he sounded. A dark suit with a loosened tie, coifed hair grown limp, distinct bags under his eyes.
Walt help up his hands in a show of surrender, car keys dangling from his right fingers. “Just here to drop the car off. I’ve got a guy coming first thing in the morning to detail it. Karen’s picking me up in a few minutes.”
Walt tossed the keys to Tobey. They hit him on the chest and bounced on the counter. They stared at each other for an awkward moment.
Kurt focused intently on giving She-Hulk a very large, very veiny cock.
“Uh, last I checked, I’m not your fucking valet, Walt,” Tobey said.
Walt sighed wearily. “I’m not asking you to be--”
“Cause you just up and threw those keys like--”
“Tobey, we need to talk.”
“I really can’t see why.”
“Can we just--”
“Get the fuck out of my store, Walter,” Tobey growled from across the counter.
Walt ran a hand through his hair. “… it’s gonna be five years next month.”
Kurt glanced up and could see Tobey visibly tense, clenching his fists. He promptly looked back down.
“So …” Walt said slowly as he nodded. “… I want you to come visit them with me.”
Walt tried to meet Tobey’s eyes but the anger shooting across from his brother was brutal.
“… I think it’ll be good for you, Tobe,” Walt said softly.
“I haven’t gone yet,” Tobey spat out the words. “I’m not going to go and I’m certainly not ever going to go with you.”
Tobey cut him off. “Just get the fuck out, Walt. You can wait for Karen outside.”
“I want to talk about the store.”
Tobey’s hands went up. “There it is! Jesus fucking Christ. You lasted all of two minutes that time, Walter. When are you gonna give that one up? They left it to me, cut and dry.”
Kurt decided that She-Hulk’s cock wasn’t big enough and needed to be more throbby.
Tobey shot lasers at his brother. “… you don’t have anything to do with Videorama.”
“Yeah. Okay. You’re right,” Walt conceded. “I haven’t had anything to do with the store for a long time. But that’s not how I want it to be.”
“Well boo-fucking-hoo,” Tobey spat. “It’s not like you have a lot of options since, again, they left it to me, cut and dry.”
Walt straightened his shoulders and looked up, meeting his younger brother’s icy gaze. “Tobey,” he said, “I want to buy the store.”
Tobey’s anger kept his mouth moving before the words registered. “Don’t even fucking--wait--no--what?”
Walt swallowed. “I want to buy Videorama from you.”
For once, Tobey had absolutely nothing to say.
In the silence, Kurt’s pencil slipped through his fingers and clattered to the floor.
“Oh, nooooo,” Kurt said through a quiet grimace.
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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Jordan Krumbine is a professional video editor, digital artist, and creative wizard currently quarantined in Kissimmee, Florida. When not producing content for the likes of Visit Orlando, Orlando Sentinel, or AAA National, Jordan is probably yelling at a stubbornly defective Macbook keyboard, tracking creative projects in Trello, and animating quirky videos with LEGO and other various toys.