There was once a time in my life when I had the duty of working as a store clerk at a local small town video store. I spent three years working in that store and I had actually grown to detest my job by the end of my tenure. One of the good things about the experience, however, is all of the various stories that I have to tell of it. If you’ve ever seen the movie Clerks, you’ll know what I mean when I say that I can really relate to Randall’s character and if you haven’t, then you should, it’s hilarious.
At this local video store, I encountered many characters, some of which seemed to come from a proverbial peanut gallery of twilight-zone-esque creations. One character that I would like to introduce you to, I shall refer to as Mr. Grunt. He was an interesting character indeed, an older black man with a scruffy beard. He was relatively tall, perhaps 6’ 2”, and his hair was, well, it was in the shape of a triangle. Not an equilateral either, it was an obtuse triangle, and on top of this triangle, he wore a small hat, which sat crooked on top as you can probably imagine. He had a distinctive smell about him too. After discussing it with some of my co-workers, we decided we could only describe it as being akin to moldy marijuana. His most prominent characteristic however, was that he did not speak per se. At least, he did not speak to me. His form of communication came in grunts. I’m sure I don’t have to tell you how annoying or difficult it is to try to communicate with someone who chooses to speak in various tones of “Mmm” and “Errr”. No, I probably don’t have to tell you how it drove me ape shit.
Mr. Grunt would never rent movies at the video store; this was because his account was locked. Apparently he had once rented a movie and had never returned it. As such, he owed the video store a ridiculous amount of money. I believe my boss, Bill, would have settled the account for some odd forty dollars. Yes, forty dollars for one movie. Bill always had a saying about the Grunts, “They ain’t nothin’ but a bunch ah liars and thieves!” he would say. Mr. Grunt I believe was just a cousin to the other family members who frequented the store but Bill liked to lump them all together since they all had late fees. We had a bin of older movies that didn’t rent well enough to keep, oh I don’t know, twelve of them on the shelf, so we would sell them in the bin. Mr. Grunt would come in and browse through this bin, pick out eight or ten asinine titles (‘Samurai Nuns Escape Mars’, ‘Snake Eater’, ‘Gumbo Takes a Nap’, you know the kind of shit I’m talking about), buy them, and leave. He was always accompanied by his friend, (another odd character) who we all referred to as ‘The Bitch’. He followed Mr. Grunt around everywhere he went, it seemed. They must have been the best of friends because they were always together.
On Friday and Saturday nights, we ran a popcorn machine and everyone who made a purchase or rental would get one free bag of popcorn. The rule was only one free bag per customer, Bill was very adamant about this, though he himself would gladly hand out more if he really liked a customer. Mr. Grunt and The Bitch would come in to buy some movies. The Bitch loved our popcorn, It was like a drug to him, and he would say “Gimme some ah that chronic!” as if I were some drug dealer set up in a shadowy section of the small market center. On one particular night, we were very busy and I was the only one there. Everyone and their brother had come in to rent ‘Cradle 2 the Grave’, ‘Boat Trip’, and *shudder* ‘Agent Cody Banks’. Mr. Grunt and The Bitch had come in to the store to buy some movies. They were actually some of the first customers in the line. Mr. Grunt makes his way to the counter and piles his eight movies down like so many coins. I ring him up and tell him the amount, $24.50. “Mmm” he grunts with a rasp as he shoves a $20 bill at me. To the best of my ability, I try to politely remind him of the full amount though I would have liked to have told him that I didn’t know how they did counting in grunt school, but we do it the big boy way here. “Errrrrm!” he quickly retorts, shuffling five extra one dollar bills into my hand. I’m onto you Mr. Grunt, I’m onto you. I ring him up, hand him his change, and set the bags containing his movies on the other side of the counter, next to the door. The Bitch quickly snatches up the free bag of popcorn that I hand him and squeals with joy. “Ooo boy! I gots me that chronic!” he exclaimed, and then they left, or at least I thought.
The line was long, and there were probably fifteen or so more people after Mr. Grunt. As I was checking movies out for them, time passed quickly in the hustle of it all. I went through that portion of customers when the line began to fill up again. Twenty or so minutes had probably passed since I had rung up Mr. Grunt. Then I noticed something out of the corner of my eye. He was still standing by the popcorn machine. He had been there the whole time, and said nary a word (or groan). His arm was protruding out, hand held open, waiting for something, and he wasn’t even looking at me. He was in his own little world. He must have been having some major grunt thoughts, and I felt like I was at the zoo. Like some toucan was awaiting me to throw it peanuts. It was fucking odd I tell you. I assumed that perhaps he was waiting on a bag of popcorn. Though The Bitch had already taken the one bag I was supposed to give them, I wasn’t about to attempt to argue with him about it, I didn’t even speak his language. I filled up another bag of popcorn and inserted it into the slot that his hand was formed in, and like a coin operated kiddy ride, he began to move again. He turned to me and let out a loud grunt, “Mrrrrrm Hrrrrrrrmph!”, and he left a satisfied customer.
Alas, it was just another night working at the video store.