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Retro-Graphic Evidence: High Jinks at the Video Store

Retro-graphic Evidence is a series I used to write based on old family pictures and videos. I always loved rummaging through my old photos, looking for inspiration for new articles. When I started writing for 80sXchange, I knew this subject, above all others, was one I had to revisit. Toys, video games, childish exploits, video stores, horror, and Halloween: it’ll all be here, related back to you in Technicolor and a pure ‘80s sheen. Join me on this exploration of the past in Retro-graphic Evidence.

My brother Mike and I were inseparable as kids. Despite the nearly three-year age gap, we hung around with the same friends, rode bikes together, played video games, went to the park, and loitered in the video rental store across the street from our apartment. That isn’t to say I didn’t occasionally take advantage of my brother’s innocent and trusting nature.

As readers of the 80sXchange are no doubt aware, most mom-and-pop video stores in the ‘80s had an adult section. In the nicer shops, they often squirreled the entire section away behind a curtain or in another room. The place across from my apartment—creatively named The Video Store—was not one of those nicer shops. They left all the adult videos right on the shelf with the spines front-facing (though for pre-teen kids that was often quite an eyeful).

One summer day as my friend Yury fed his last quarter into the Street Fighter II machine, one of us came up with the brilliant idea to attempt renting an adult movie. No doubt the plan was born of boredom, yet as soon as the words were spoken, we knew someone had to make the attempt. Mike may have been the youngest of us, but he was also the bravest. There was no goading. There were no triple dog dares or threats.

Mike simply said, “I’ll do it,” and strutted straight to the adult section of the store, grabbed a tape, and plunked it down on the counter as if he were buying a pack of gum. Meanwhile, Yury and I backed against the wall to await execution, our eyes wide with fear and wonder. Would it actually work? It wasn’t the craziest notion in the world. After all, my dad regularly sent me out to buy packs of cigarettes for him and the owners never batted an eye at the apparent eleven-year-old smoker.

At the front of the video store, the clerk picked up the tape and looked at it with a bemused smile growing on his face. I couldn’t hear what he said, but he shook his head and spirited away the VHS tape behind the counter.

Outside I asked Mike for details. “What did he say? Was he mad? Are we banned from the store? What happened?”

Mike shrugged as if the entire ordeal was of no consequence. “He laughed and said to come back when I’m older.”

Looking back, it’s crazy to think just how much time we spent in the video store. I’m sure part of it had to do with the location being so close to home. Just a short run across the street—within viewing distance of our apartment windows—and we were there. But more than that, the place held magic and mystery.

I’ve no doubt that my love affair with horror started there. I have vivid memories of endlessly browsing the compelling and terrifying cover art for all kinds of horror movies. The movie Phenomena in America at the time was called Creepers, and holy crap did that art stick with me. I’d find myself returning to the movie time and time again, inspecting the insects and the eaten-away face. I wasn’t scared of the image so much as I was fascinated by it.

There were other VHS tapes I treated in the same manner, but that wasn’t the only thing about the store that drew us back so often. They also had two arcade cabinets (usually Street Fighter II and a Neo Geo machine), and a Slush Puppy dispenser behind the counter.

Every kid’s dream? Maybe not, but still pretty darn cool if you ask me, and I miss the old shop every day.


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