Hipsters: Chapter 6

Part II: Kim's Video

Part Two


A.I.G. PLANNING HUGE BONUSES AFTER $170 BILLION BAILOUT. WASHINGTON — The American International Group, which has received more than $170 billion in taxpayer bailout money from the Treasury and Federal Reserve, plans to pay about $165 million in bonuses by Sunday to executives in the same business unit that brought the company to the brink of collapse last year.  [Edmund L. Andrews, Peter Baker. The New York Times, March 14, 2009: Print.]

“I’m so glad this place is still around,” said Helen, as we walked into Kim’s Video.

I knew what she meant. It was different than saying one “liked” a store, or was a fervent patron of it. In fact I doubted if Helen had ever had a membership at Kim’s, since she’d moved to New York just a year ago. But her being a recent transplant from San Francisco, I accepted the tendency of Bay Area migrants for being achingly sentimental about useless stuff, and the useless stores that struggled to stay solvent. This was what I called the experience of having been to Drive-in theaters—to actually see movies, and not in the context of an off-hours flea market. Anyone who hadn’t experienced it thought it was cool but all I remembered from when I went was that they scared the shit out of me.

I actually liked Helen a lot. We were introduced by a mutual acquaintance who thought that aside from us looking vaguely alike, which was to say not wearing our hair long, sporting regrettable tattoos in too-visible parts of our throats, our elbows, Helen would appreciate making new friends in a new city, and that as a so-called survivor of a lover’s suicide, I would find much needed empathy from someone whose father had died the exact same way five years previous. I imagined what it would be like if Peter and I had a daughter. Helen was biracial and it was easy to think of her as the proxy survivor of my love affair with him.

Aside from our being able to share morbid suicide jokes that weren’t jokes, we learned we both had unreasonably high tolerance for alcohol. Helen was my best drinking buddy.

“Yeah, long live shitty condescending store clerks and overpriced late return policies,” I said humorlessly. “Let’s just find Aaron and get out of here.”

Aaron was almost certainly in the back office, pretending to his throne as store manager and refusing to work the floor; at best, perusing DVD catalogs, but more likely playing Words With Friends. I didn’t want to come off as cavalier, but kindly, if condescendingly, asked the front cashier to see if he could tell his boss “that Alice’s here.”

As we waited and wandered through the store acting like patrons, Helen perused the DVDs in the French Horror section, pausing to read a back jacket once in a while, but too quickly to possibly gain real information. 

I don’t know why I was being so hostile about Helen’s affectations at Kim’s today. I knew she’d studied film, knew more about movie-making than I did, would ever, and had therefore all rights to affect any kind of affection for any format of film. She had even a taste for obscure kitsch filmography—the stuff no one would ever distribute except ironically, however earnest those initial intentions of the director might be. She was so goddamn San Francisco.

I was likely about to start my period. As loathe as I was to admit to PMS, it did always make me super cunty. I would be harshest to the people closest to me and I blame this on distaste for my own self. Something about not wanting to be part of any club that would take me as a member. I should ask her where that reference came from. But then why would a hormone imbalance subject my friends and lovers to my patronizing insufferability. Where was the logic in my physiognomy there?

I focused my attention to the mental list I must have somewhere behind the endocrine charade of feelings, for films I’d meant to watch that would have been difficult to find online. Old-fashioned erotica? Korean new wave cinema? Did they just make this up or was that a real genre? I wandered toward the used DVD section and saw an inordinately long row of copies of The Shining. Why would so many people sell used copies of The Shining in 2009? I must have missed something in the news in the fog of grief. It wasn’t like the seasonal surplus of Mariah Carey’s Christmas album in January. Remainders of The Shining was more like seeing a surplus of “Last Christmas” by Wham.

Its wonderful cover was practically site-specific fine art when in a gross row like this. The real secret to The Shining’s charm for me though, was Shelly Duvall, who I’d first seen as a narrator in the “Tall Tales & Legends” series.

I was so invested in Duvall as a fairy introducing us to her fairytale world, and so had no idea she was most famous for playing a horrified wife of a Batman Joker until much later, as an adult. As children, Aaron and I loved going to the local video store to look for the latest version of the Tall Tales, no matter how strange the sequence of stories was, or white-washed the film would be, with the weird studio lighting of daytime soap operas.

It all made me so nostalgic, thinking about the different video stores we used to frequent as our mother’s charge, looking for episodes of Japanese dorama in places with names like Sunshine Video and Yamato Mart. I had a distinct memory of one video vendor paying house calls in a small pickup truck, his truck bed retrofitted for a cabinet of curiosities that fanned open like a food truck. It was brimming with magazines and videos, Japanese condiments, freezer packed oshinko pickles and salted kombu snacks (this I remember most distinctly because I always made my mom buy the kombu for me). It’s any wonder these video stores still did so much business as not to need to close down but actually expand into the larger format supermarket. The Sunshines and Yamatos became Nijiya and Mitsuwa Marketplace, where most people come looking for sushi rice and nori, but in a corner of those stores you will still always find a cadre of Japanese housewives and white otaku looking for VHS home-recordings of everything from One Piece Season 14 to subtitled episodes of Winter’s Sonata.

When Blockbuster Video took over the local video store landscape, nothing changed for us, because they would still never rent out Japanese television shows. Nor did they have a particularly exciting YA section. And yet that Blockbuster membership felt like new access to a world we would not otherwise be privy to: the white suburban middle class.

I didn’t want to take for granted that I was still a visitor in that landscape but at least now I had a fair trade pride in the ellision of racial divides implied by going to a chain store like Blockbuster versus Kim’s—a Korean American owned mini franchise of indie film in New York City.

Aaron finally appeared from the back office with another colleague, laughing about something he wanted to share with us.

“Dude, I am going to show you the funniest thing you’ve ever seen,” he started. “Hey Helen,” he said curtly. Though she was as diplomatic as she could have been about it, when Aaron and her first met he promptly hit on her, not realizing she was married. Since then, their interactions had been forced. Knowing my brother, I knew he’d get over it. Not knowing Helen quite as well, I gave her a knowing look and mouthed, “he’s ok,” and discreetly made an O with my left hand out of sight from Aaron.

He started a video on his phone and paused it to let it load. He explained that it was some Vimeo upload that didn’t clear its content violation parameters for reasons that would be immediately obvious. He awkwardly positioned his phone between so that we could both watch alongside him and his colleague and tapped the screen.

The clip started and appeared to take place on a city sidewalk. A man dressed like a news reporter, in suit and tie and khaki rain jacket, held a mic and faced the camera getting ready to start his segment. The video looked to be directly copied from TV to a VCR, late 1980s. He started introducing himself.

I’m Henry Cavett, here in Falls Oak where behind me is the fateful liquor store where one lucky resident has won a 5 million dollar jackpot, and yet to claim their ticket.

Aaron started laughing.

“Here she is, here she is,” he said.

I have with me Miss Susan…uh, no last name…

Susan No Last Name was in her late 40s, disheveled but not like, scarily so. Her curly hair looked unkempt, but it could have been because of the wind. She was overweight, but carried her weight inside a loose tee shirt and faded sweatpants. He started to ask her how she felt about the lottery jackpot.

You yourself purchased some lottery tickets, no?

But instead of answering Henry Cavett, Susan No Last Name pulled her pants down quickly and pull them back up, like a peekaboo game one plays with a baby. She said:

Jackpot!

The newscaster said:

“Please ma’am, keep your pants on. Ma’am.”

She kept peekabooing her snatch, and then finally took them off altogether, and then her shirt, and backed away and then forward, in a faux salsa to show her full body on camera. She kept saying jackpot! and eventually started juggling her breasts as she continued her in-place salsa with her feet.

The clip ended. Helen was the first to speak up:

“Poor woman. She must be mentally ill!”

Aaron rolled his eyes.

“You guys are missing the point. This is hilarious!” he said. I let out a small laugh and said none of us disagreed. It was hilarious, but it was also kind of sad. I pretended to peekaboo my pants, that is to say, I pulled my skirt up over my face, wearing a modest pair of shorts underneath. Helen simultaneously started juggling her tits, and together we mimicked the woman in the video. I pretended to be the newscaster.

“Ma’am keep your pants on.”

Helen juggled her tits and said “jackpot!”

Aaron watched us, mouth agape, as we pranced around the empty store in the same samba style as the video nudist, flipping our skirts up, juggling our boobs. The clerks were laughing but looked cautiously at Aaron for signs of disapproval.

We finally calmed down. I was in phase two of my PMS—the manic swing to humor. I hooked my arm in Helen’s elbow and faced Aaron again, taking a calming breath.

“So let’s talk about your video fest,” I said. Aaron had in fact asked us to come by his work to talk about an idea he’d been fomenting to pitch his employer, Mr. Kim himself. I was excited for Aaron as if to create psychic momentum. I wanted my excitement to render him active, because Aaron rarely acted on his ideas. He let himself become handicapped by his own observational criticism of other actualizations of ideas, by other men in positions very similar to his own. He hated the manager of Kim’s Video on the Upper West Side, for example, who went on to Harvard Business School somehow, and was now producing short crowd-sourced films in partnership with a Dawson’s Creek alumna. If Aaron were handed the same opportunity on a platter, we all knew he would relish in taking it, but his beef with “that fuck nut Gary from Yonkers” was that Gary was a “showboat opportunist riding the coattails of a C list actor.” The trouble was that Aaron knew deep down inside that could have been him if he’d just been motivated enough to take a risk. Today was a risk, and I wondered if he would run away from it.

“Yeah. Let’s go back to the office.”

Once there, Aaron opened a folding chair for Helen and had me sink in an old velour club chair. He situated himself behind his desk and with an air of confidence started his pitch.

“It’s called the Real Reels Festival. I’m open to changing the name, but the idea is like…we all know about found art. Well this is Real Reels. I, along with a handful of other curators, would present a series of found video in our own Kim’s archives, along with stuff from YouTube and Vimeo, and present them in a weekly or monthly series at the basement screening room at Kim’s on Second Avenue, where all they do right now is host the occasional book reading with Two Boots. If it does really well I think I can convince Parson’s to let me use their new auditorium for like, official screenings.”

“Is it like the Disposable Film Festival, then?” Helen asked. Aaron hadn’t heard of it, and she explained that it was a San Francisco thing but sounded not unlike what he was describing: a series of short films shot in a disposable format, mostly things like home videos or video diaries, obscure pieces on the Internet.

“OK so it’s different from that fundamentally because we’re actually going to be screening actual movies, too. It’ll include a whole sequence of films that are chosen that have only been rented out once or never. Anyway, whatever. It’s just an idea.”

“Yeah, DFF doesn’t have access to the kind of archives and catalogs that Aaron has here. You know what else? You could have a Video Art component—I know NYU is doing a lot of that research for the Grey Gallery these days,” I added, trying to encourage him.

“Oh no, sure. I don’t think you shouldn’t do this. I just wasn’t sure if maybe you didn’t know about DFF,” Helen said.

I was so mad at her now, and finally understood why my hormones would predispose me to extreme scrutiny of my friends. It must be a survival mechanism to protect my interests.

Of course, I also understood that Helen wasn’t wrong. There were big risks in following through even a great idea if it were already being executed successfully elsewhere. Why did Microsoft even attempt to make the Zune happen, for example. But Aaron needed a rudder, and I was sure that an ambitious project could provide it. Aaron wrapped his presentation and looked up the Disposable Film Festival. I watched as the color left his morale, and got even  more mad at Helen.

Aaron sighed. I looked at Helen and she grimaced. It wasn’t really her fault. I was still just PMS-ing and Aaron was still just a half-assed slacker.

“So I guess White Paper probably won’t want to invest in this if there’s already an identical film festival out there,” Aaron said to me.

“Dude, if Aretha Franklin’s hat has a million Twitter followers, you can start a second disposable film festival.”

“Aretha Franklin’s Hat is the best thing to happen in 2009 and we’re only just three months in,” said Helen.

“Well, aside from my having literally just started working there a month ago, I can try mentioning your festival to White Paper. Just you know…make it not suck,” I said.

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