The last video store

The Pyramid Video Store is closing down. I was very sorry to discover that, and not only because I still have so many credits left on my contract.

The Pyramid has been around for twenty years. A very annoying old lady worked there – I never knew her name but I imagine it was Peggy or Ruby or Marge. She had the sort of soggy, whiny Brit accent you could use to wrap an order of chips, and she smoked 300 menthols a day. I tried not to make eye-contact with her when I came in because she liked to corner her customers with tales of her trick knee or how her lumbago was acting up, and she called everyone “luvvie”. But slipping past while she was distracted by another customer did no good. The moment she noticed you lurking at the New Arrivals wall she’d bellow like Flo Capp over a fence: “Can I help you, luvvie? Would you like me to recommend something?”

This was infuriating. Why would I want her to recommend something? Didn’t she notice that every time she did recommend something – which was every single time, no matter how many times I said “No, thank you” – I never, ever took it? She was fond of punting films involving life-and-death situations on mountains, and also films involving Ethan Hawke. (“Ooh, that’s a good one. You’ll like that one.”) I don’t know whence she had conceived such a fondness for Ethan Hawke, but it was hard going to convince her that this was an enthusiasm I did not share.

The other annoying thing she did was check on the computer to see if I’d taken it out before. This irked me to distraction. “I know if I’ve taken out a film or not,” I told her. “I remember films once I’ve seen them.”

“A lot of people don’t, luvvie,” she replied placidly. “I don’t want you to get home and have nothing to watch.”

“I assure you,” I replied haughtily, “that will not be the case.”

“Ooh,” she said, peering at the computer in wrinkly pleasure, “you’ve taken this one out before.”

“Yes, but I never had the chance to watch it,” I said, blushing furiously.

“That’s all right, luvvie,” she said with a wink. “It happens to all of us. No crime in forgetting.”

Oh, I hated her, and all the more because whenever I walked past her outside on the pavement smoking one of her filthy Craven As, she never recognised me.

Then one day I went in and there was her photo prestiked to the wall and an invitation to her funeral. She’d been struck low by some niggling illness, had been admitted to hospital and never came out. It shook me considerably. I didn’t like her at all, she was frankly a pest, but life isn’t intended to be pest-free, and she was a part of my mental landscape. She was an irritating, overflowing ashtray of local colour, she was woven into the fabric of my neighbourhood and my life, and I felt the loss of her. I felt the loss so much that I was determined to attend her funeral, until I learnt it was in Milnerton. But I think of her often, and right now I can remember her face and voice more clearly than some people with whom I’ve been far more intimate.

She is gone and increasingly now video stores will go too, killed by PVR and streaming and downloading, the way they killed off the grand movie palaces and projector rental shops. I will miss something of their griminess and their plastic tactility and their inconvenience, the way they funneled you into an over-lit space with other strangers and sad cases on a Friday night – the lonely office workers picking out old Meg Ryan movies, the guy on the cellphone reading out the back of the box to someone back home to get their go-ahead for his choice, the ten-year-old kids getting ready for a sleepover, karate-chopping each other with their choice of martial arts movie.

I suppose I’ll miss, more in rosy nostalgia than something actual, the experience of coming upon a title I’d never heard of, then taking a chance and taking it home and discovering something splendid, although to be honest this occurred approximately never.

I won’t miss my indignant fury at the guy who took out Season 2, disc 3 of The Sopranos last week and still hasn’t brought it back, or the sound of my voice saying, “What’s the point of booking it if it’s not going to be here?”

I’ll miss video stores because they were a part of me, but as an idea more than reality. I’ll miss them the way we miss our childhoods, no matter how rubbish they were.


24 May 2015