Wednesday, February 18, 2009

A Night At The Video Store, Part One

Okay. So I wrote this short story, "A Night at the Video Store," eight years ago. I recently came back to it out of curiosity. What you see below is the first part of the story as written back then, with only minor editing done on my part. Depending on the feedback, I'll post the next part, and the next part, etc.

The story is basically about three college kids that go to the video store one summer night and...well, hope you enjoy it. Oh, it does contain some bad language, so consider this your warning. And please bear in mind I wrote this when I was twenty-two. Not that I've gotten much smarter over the years, but every little bit I hope has helped.

The Ride

“What’re you in the mood for?” I asked Ralph. He barely shrugged, like he was too tired to think about it.

We rolled down the Boulevard in my black Toyota, windows down in the summer heat, radio blasting Springsteen—the only way to listen to the Boss—Ralph riding shotgun like always.

Jenn sat behind Ralph. She was no stranger to the backseat, as I liked to quip.

We were heading to the local video store to rent a flick.

Me and Ralph hadn’t hung in a week. I’d called him a couple times to see if he wanted to shoot some stick or hit the bar now that he was (finally) twenty-one, but he’d declined each time, citing excuses that sounded made-up to me. I knew he was still hurting from his break-up with Michelle, even though it had been two months ago. It was a shame because the girl was a tramp. She wasn’t worth the brooding, I wanted to tell him. But, you couldn’t say things like that to your buddy. And I was trying to be delicate because I understood how he was feeling: I’d been there not so long ago myself.

It was then I remembered that the Girl Scouts would be selling their wares outside the store. So, I said, “Shit.”

“Dude,” Ralph said. Many people think the word “fuck” is the most versatile in the English language—I’ll take “dude” any day.

I gave him my best Shatner impression to add drama to the really drama-less situation: “The Girl Scouts...will be there.”

“You got money?” he asked a question that should have been rhetorical. The Sahara gets rain more frequently than I have money. It was a strange inquiry too, because I was pretty sure it was his turn to pick up the movie, so he should have had money on him.

“No…only enough...for a movie.”

“Cut the Shatner crap. Jenn?” Ralph asked, twisting his head around.

Jenn was staring out her window. I checked her in the rearview. She’d been tanning down the shore last weekend, so her skin was even more a golden-brown than usual. Highlights streaked her dirty blond hair. She seemed pissed off. Maybe she was mad because none of the life guards had noticed her. Or maybe she was mad because one of them had noticed her. So far, she hadn’t gone into much detail about the weekend’s exploits. Not that I cared.

“I didn’t bring my purse, remember?” she said.

Me and her were supposed to hang out last night, but she had cancelled nearly last minute.

The three of us were in different places. I’d graduated, Ralph had another year to go, and Jenn was studying abroad her first semester of senior year. We’d entered the lazy days of early summer. I was still waiting to hear back from a couple of grad schools.

“We have to buy cookies this time,” Jenn said.

I was ready to go into my T.E. Lawrence spiel about how nothing is written, but instead I said, “How you figure?”

“Last time Ralph and I were here, we said we’d buy some the next time,” Jenn said. “This is the next time.”

Legally, I didn’t think Ralph and Jenn’s promise would hold up as binding in a court of law, and even if it did, there was no way a court would force me, an unwitting third-party, to be bound by their quasi-contract with the Girl Scouts.

“Guess they don’t take a card,” Ralph said.

I didn’t feel the need to address that one. “If we turn them down tonight, maybe they’ll take the hint.”

But I said it in vain. Everyone knows you can’t not buy cookies from the Girl Scouts.

“I’m not telling them no. I was the bearer last time,” Ralph said.

That was the second reference to a “last time” I hadn’t been a part of. Were Ralph and Jenn tired of hanging with me? Now that I was a graduate, I didn’t have anything in common with them, or something?

“Maybe they won’t be here tonight.” Literally as I said it, I saw the little she-devils standing in front of the store. There was a parking space open right in front of them, but I opted for one in the back of the lot, as far away from the Girl Scouts as possible. I could feel their eyes burning holes in my car though. They knew.

We needed a plan.

“It’s like they’re just waiting for us,” Ralph said.

I pulled out my wallet. After I got through the cobwebs, I found three singles. I fingered my ash tray for some change, found a few quarters. “This should cover us.”

But inside I was seething because I had to give my not-so-hard-earned money away. Because in a civilized society, you just had to buy Girl Scout cookies. It was noble or something. Or maybe it was the fact that a man couldn’t say no to a woman, no matter her age.

“What about the movie?” Ralph asked.

That was too much. Societal duty or not. “We came here to rent a movie, not buy cookies. It’s the principle,” I said.

“You’ve got principles?” Jenn asked. What was up her ass?

“Only easy ones I can stick to.” Which was more than I could say for her.

In the rearview, I saw Jenn lean back and stare blankly out the window, crossing her arms. A silence blossomed.

“It’s getting late,” Ralph said.

“It’s just eight now,” I said, wondering why he was in such a hurry.

“I mean, maybe we can wait them out.”

“That’s true,” Jenn said, leaning forward again. “Maybe we could.”

The idea seemed preposterous, three people waiting for the Girl Scouts to close up shop so they didn’t have to buy cookies. But I considered it. I’d reached a new stage of depravity.

“We’re always in here awhile too. We could tell them that maybe we’ll buy on the way out, if we have any change. Then we hole up till they go,” Ralph said.

“Just like John Wayne, Dean Martin, and Ricky Nelson in Rio Bravo,” I said, trying to make it sound more adventurous than it was.

“If we tell them we’ll buy on the way out, they’ll wait for us,” Jenn said. As always, she was full of solutions.

I threw my hands up in the air because our conversation had reached a new level of absurdity even I couldn’t stomach. “Look, just don’t make eye contact. They’ll understand. Nobody has to feel bad.”

I got out of the car, not waiting for another criticism from the backseat or another dumb idea from the passenger seat. I loved my friends.

I turned and waited for them to get out. They took their time. Then they gave each other a look and shuffled past me fast. Ralph said, half under his breath, “You’re heading up the rear, pal. Just in case.”

I agreed, not knowing why the one in the rear would have to do the talking if all went awry.

Once more into the breach, dear friends.

11 comments:

Nathanael Green said...

Nice start, Brian. Keep it coming.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Nate,

Just remember if/when you read the rest: you asked for it.

Rita Vetere said...

I'm definitely curious as to what those evil little girl scouts have planned. :-)

adrian mckinty said...

Digging it Bri, esp the LOA ref, of course in the movie the Arabs were right and TE was wrong.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Adrian -

Thanks, bud. By the way, 50G was waiting on our doorstep when I came home from work. There ensued a fierce argument over the dinner table about who would read it first. I still stand by my position that the package was addressed to me, but the wife argues that she's entitled because she turned me on to DIWMB in the first place.

Curious here--Did you mean the Arabs were right politically-speaking, i.e. get out of our country, or philosophically-speaking, i.e. "it is written"? Or both?

adrian mckinty said...

Bri

No nothing as grandiose as that only that the guy the Lawrence saved did in fact die later just as they had predicted.

Brian O'Rourke said...

Adrian -

He certainly did. And Lawrence turned out to be just as "petty, barbarous, and cruel" didn't he.

Jenna said...

It is anyone's guess who won the fight to read 50G first....

marco said...

Nice story Brian, but you should be ashamed. Trying to sneak the copy from your wife.

v-word: staxes

Brian O'Rourke said...

Dear,

It's because I'm such a wonderful, thoughtful husband that I let you read 50G first ;) Or because I was tired of sleeping on the couch.

Brian O'Rourke said...

marco -

I regret nothing!