Sometimes when I’m standing behind the counter of Value Video, my eyes glued on the screen of one of the televisions suspended over the store, the mute faces talking on and on, I think about what I’d say if an alien ever decided to make first contact with me. Not that I think that’s likely. I’m not a weirdo, or an idiot; it’s just that I have a lot of time on my hands then and it seems more productive than imagining that the characters on screen are about to make out, which is what Sandi does almost all the time. She just stands behind her counter watching and rewatching the same movies, blushing. I can hear her chuckle to herself occasionally, as some particularly tense moment is twisted to be Thor getting ready to kiss Loki, or Neo leaning closer to lock lips with Morpheus. Disgusting.
For me it’s aliens, because I figure if an alien really was going to make first contact with me, I should have something prepared, like if I just went off the cuff I might say something embarrassing like how any alien now makes me secretly aroused because of the Species movies. So whenever I’m watching the faces I imagine that one character is revealing to the other that he or she has secretly been an alien all along. And, based on the reactions I see on the screen, I try to judge what would be the best way to proceed.
I didn’t always do this. There was a time early on that I actually watched the movies thinking it would be a way to stay entertained, to save myself the trouble of actually having to rent them, like I was getting paid to just stand and have fun. None of the televisions have sound, though. The manager actually went around and removed the volume buttons. It was effective, too, because you can’t watch a movie you’ve never seen without sound. It’s just images then, sequences without meaning, without context. It’s like having some sort of brain disorder where your mind can’t process the relevance of the actions on screen. People die or have sex or race around Paris but there’s no point.
After a while I just started avoiding looking at the movies I wanted to see, watched the kids crap or the foreign films instead because those at least I didn’t care about. Sandi is the opposite, tells me that she watches all her movies on mute now, that if she ever turns on the sound that the voices, the plot, can never rival what she created in her mind. But she’s weird. For me the thing with the aliens is to pass the time, to make the end of the shift come a little sooner. And, I guess, in case an alien ever does come through my line, slap down a copy of Species II to rent, and ask me for a good reason why it shouldn’t destroy the Earth.
It’s Tuesday in the middle of the day, and I’m standing behind my counter watching some Christmas movie from the Nineties. I recognize Arnold Schwarzenegger and decide that whoever the mailman is he’s talking to just told him he’s an alien. Arnold freaks, anger and vengeance in his features, and the bell of the door rings, distracting me from measuring how effective that approach would be. I chime the standard greeting and turn back. The two are running now, some sort of race maybe, but the moment’s kind of lost. I glance over at Sandi and see that she’s watching the same thing, her face a soft shade of red.
This job is just a stepping stone for me. My parents are on me to move out, to get into college, but I don’t know what I want to do. If I wait, I know, something will happen. Someday a movie producer will walk into the store and I’ll overhear him on the phone talking about how they’re looking for a hot screenplay and when he gets to the front of the line I’ll make sure I have my notebook out and open, will make sure he asks about it, will explain that I might be just what he’s looking for. Or maybe it will be a casting director who will see me standing here and decide I’d be perfect for a commercial or a short film. Something classy.
But you never know. You can’t tell just by looking at a person that they might change your life. In the silent movies that surround me the characters never really suspect they’re talking to an alien until the dramatic reveal, and then everything tends to change. Things explode, or guns are drawn, or people embrace. There are tears and blood. So I guess I’m waiting for that moment, not that it has to be aliens, but that moment when something will happen.
The man in the store has circled around and appears in front of me. He’s short and bald with a large head and a strange smile on his face. And I know that this man is going to change my life, can just tell by the way he’s looking at me. I’m standing, mouth open, not sure exactly what to say. He puts the movie down on the counter in front of me, and I see that it’s Species III. Close enough. I scramble for something to say, but realize that he hasn’t spoken, that I always waited for that, so I wait. He leans forward, his hand reaching toward his pocket, and I find myself leaning forward a little as well, wanting to hear the next words, wanting to be sure of whatever they are. And from behind the counter across from mine, I hear Sandi chuckle.
Charles Payseur was born in the sprawl of the Chicago suburbs and now resides with his wife and cat in Eau Claire, WI, in the land of cheese and beer.