His name was Vince. He worked at the Blockbuster nearest my parent’s house–middle-aged and round all over, he was one of the store managers, along with a really tall man whose name I can’t recall. I didn’t need to remember anyone else’s name. Vince, you see, was my nemesis.
Let me be clear: Vince never knew, necessarily, that he was my nemesis. (I think he must have sensed it somehow, that words were gratuitous and our rivalry was timeless, but the fact remains that we never talked about it.) But Vince had an intensity behind the cash register that underscored his vocation: he loved movies. In line behind someone renting Pride and Prejudice for the umpteenth time, I would watch Vince roll his eyes and tell the person that if they really wanted a love story, they should check out the Ingmar Bergman film, It Rains On Our Love.
“We don’t have much Bergman here, of course” he scoffed. Blockbuster was beneath him; we both knew it. He should have been at an independent video store in San Francisco, the kind that served espresso and had a whole wall devoted to employee favorites. Instead, he was stuck at a Blockbuster in Menlo Park, just a few miles away from Netflix headquarters–the place that would make his workplace obsolete in short order.
I remember going to Blockbuster one night to pick out a movie for my sister and I to watch. This was, mind you, maybe six or seven years ago. I was a woman in her twenties at the time, not a teenager, and should have been able to rent Wet Hot American Summer without explaining my choice to anyone. But I couldn’t bring myself to face Vince with just this schlocky comedy in my hands. So I ambled over to the drama section, picked up a copy of Scarface, and made my way to the checkout counter.
Vince narrowed his eyes at my selection, but didn’t say anything. He never spoke first–he forced your hand, like a good nemesis. In his presence, I found myself with sweaty palms and a compulsion toward blurting things out.
“It’s my sister’s favorite movie,” I offered apologetically. Nothing. “She loves Paul Rudd, and Bradley Cooper is in it! It’s funny.”
I was in full panic mode, and things I would normally never say were coming out of my mouth in the hopes that something, anything, would catch Vince and impress him. For some reason, I needed him to think well of me, to recognize my film savvy. I said something about Sundance, I think, and he nodded when he picked up Scarface. His approval was palpable. My stomach churned.
“Your first time?” he asked, holding the plastic case right-side-up, so it looked like Al Pacino was staring into my eyes. Even the DVD cover was artfully done. I looked at Wet Hot American Summer, characters stuffed clown-like into a truck on the front. I had never seen Scarface. But Vince didn’t have to know that.
“No, no. I love this movie. It’s one of my favorites.” I kicked myself for lying, but I didn’t stop. “I’ve seen it a bunch of times.”
He looked at me. There was something behind his eyes, something mysterious and all-knowing. The Oracle of Blockbuster. He could tell I was lying, I was sure of it. But he didn’t give me up. He slid the DVD case across the counter, receipt on top. “Due back next Wednesday by midnight.”
I was breathing heavily when I left. Vince had won the battle–he kept his cool, and I blathered on about Paul Rudd like a teenager. I would make sure to correct that the next time around.
We had years of this back-and-forth. Only one time did Vince ever start the conversation to compliment me on my film choice, for Scent of a Woman. The man loved Al Pacino.
A few years ago, before Blockbuster began closing down its franchises left and right, I made a series of visits to Vince’s store only to find no Vince. The tall guy was there, as was a new, younger woman, about my age. Both were reasonably pleasant, both started chatting with me while I checked out Clueless or Chariots of Fire. I stopped adding to my pile, because there was no one to impress.
Not long after Vince left, Blockbuster imploded. I don’t mean the chain, I mean the store. It literally imploded. (Okay, no it didn’t, but it felt like that to me. It actually became a physical therapy spot called BAK.) I’ve since enjoyed a long and unchallenged run of ordering movies on iTunes or Netflix. And while I certainly enjoy the convenience of being able to get exactly what I want at home, I’m also off my game. Vince kept me sharp. So Vince, wherever you are, thank you. I never liked you, but I admired you. You were a true nemesis.