Ruth Carter sat at the old desk in the back room of All Star Video. The last of her employees had gone home a half hour before and the fifty-one year old felt justified in having a cold beer as she worked. It was an indulgence she would've fired anyone on her staff for taking.
Part of that attitude was, of course, due to the fact that the average age of employees at All Star was eighteen. From the day she and her now ex-husband had opened the store fifteen years before, there had been two ironclad rules she had gone by.
The first was to always hire the cheapest help possible. Experience had taught her that usually consisted of high school and college students who didn't have much of a problem with either minimum wage or the lack of benefits as long as the hours were flexible enough. If any of them grew tired of the job, there were always others ready to take their place. After all, how hard was it to keep the shelves stocked and check tapes in and out.
The other tenet, which she considered even more important than the first, was to always make sure that the inventory reflected what customers wanted. In keeping with that belief, Ruth made it a point to review rental records every week to see just what was renting and what wasn't. That was one reason customers kept coming back to All Star, despite the larger variety available at most chain stores.
When they had first opened the store, the weekly review used to take the better part of a night. Then, about three years ago, Ruth had the good fortune to have hired a kid really good with computers. Bored with the repetitious work the job called for, he had offered to write a program to make it easier to keep track of inventory. Now it took less than an hour. Ruth had been so impressed by the program, she'd actually given him a bonus for the work, the first and last she had ever given.
The program broke the rentals down by category and Ruth took note of a few tapes that hadn't been rented in a while. If there was no activity on them soon, she'd move them to the for sale bin and order something new to take their place. It was a funny thing but the same people who wouldn't rent a particular video, would buy that same title if they thought they were getting a good deal on it.
Finishing most of the review, Ruth turned her attention to the adult videos. People would've been surprised to discover that, despite public pronouncements against such movies by prominent individuals, they accounted for almost a third of all rentals. It was also a category that required a lot of attention, as customer taste in these types of films was very inconsistent. A distributor might swear that the video in which a big boobed blond does ten black guys was the biggest seller on the East Coast, but if it sat on her shelves it wasn't worth the tape it was copied on.
In reviewing the rentals, Ruth only saw account numbers and normally had no idea of which of her several hundred customers was personally renting what. One exception was the free account she gave to her employees to help offset the low salaries. These accounts had distinctive id numbers. Each of them was able to rent five movies a week without charge. The only restriction was that they couldn't take any new arrivals. The last thing she wanted was the staff taking them home and have paying customers take their business elsewhere.
When she first started the practice, Ruth noticed early on that many of them used their freebies on adult films. In some cases, this was done by teens not old enough to rent them. Since they were doing the transactions themselves, Ruth usually looked the other way. After all, she'd hardly been an angel at that age herself. Of course if it were ever brought to her attention officially, she'd have to do something about it.
Personally, Ruth never had much interest in adult films, preferring her sexual encounters to be more real. Still, she knew they served a purpose for some people. One thing she did find interesting was the insight some of the rentals gave into the sexual tastes of her employees.
One employee, for example, seemed to be very partial to videos dealing with anal sex. Something she wondered if his girlfriend, whom Ruth had met, had any inkling of. Another had a strong passion for films dealing with women of color. Last summer, she was even mildly shocked to discover that one of the girls, now gone on to college, was taking home tapes that dealt exclusively with lesbian sex. Yet for the most part, most of the adult rentals tended to be of the garden variety. What the salt and pepper haired woman tended to think of as man meets woman, man fucks woman, and then the women fucks someone else.
Ruth was just about finished with both her beer and the review, bringing up the list of films she had previously marked as to be pulled for the discount bin. She was surprised to see that not only had five of them been rented in the last week, but that they had all been taken out by one of the boys who worked for her.
She remembered marking these tapes last month, thinking at the time that ordering them in the first place had been a waste of money. It was only the fact that they were part of a package deal that she took them in the first place. Her reasoning being that all the films featured women in their forties and fifties. It was her belief that most of the men who rented adult films preferred to watch girls in their twenties, or in some cases even younger.
And yet, here was an eighteen-year old taking them all out. Was it just curiosity on his part, she wondered? But if that was the case, why take out all five? Wouldn't one or two have done it?
Her own curiosity now sparked, Ruth brought up the full record for the account. Sure enough, the record showed three other adult tapes in the inventory that featured older women, as well as a few regular films that featured older/younger affairs. Evidently the young man had quite a thing for mature women.
"Who'd have thought it?" Ruth said to herself as she shut down the computer and got ready to head home.
Ruth stepped back into the outer store to check everything before she left for the night. After double-checking the front door and the alarm, she walked over to the panel where the light switches where and was about to turn them off when her eyes glanced into the small room off to the side where the adult videos were kept. She thought about it a moment, then left the light switch untouched, stepping into the adjacent room instead.
Quickly locating the films the young man had rented, she picked them up and looked at the boxes. Intrigued, she took two of them back into the main room. Turning on the VCR and television behind the counter, Ruth pushed one of the tapes into the recorder. Then she picked up the remote control and began to fast forward through the tape, stopping at anything that looked interesting.
The first thing she noticed was that the woman actually in the film bore little resemblance to those depicted on the box. If anything, the women performing sex acts on the screen looked like the average woman you'd see in the supermarket or the laundry. In fact, the fifty-something redhead on the screen at the moment sort of reminded Ruth of Mrs. Kirkland over at the drug store. Although Ruth couldn't imagine Bridget Kirkland down on all fours, sucking off one teenage boy while another fucked her from behind.
Jumping through the second tape, she found it to be more of the same. In fact, the age difference between the participants seemed to be even greater. This time, Ruth found it amusing to picture the actresses as people she knew, even if there wasn't any resemblance at all. Having had her laugh, she rewound both and put back the boxes, returning them to their places on the shelves.
When she exited the small room, this time, the lights did go off and Ruth walked out the back door to her car.
Driving the six miles to her apartment, Ruth found that she hardly noticed the cool breeze that was coming off the Florida coastline. Her mind was still on the tapes and the young man who had rented them.
George Bell was a nice kid, she thought, a few inches taller than her own five foot five and at least twenty pounds lighter at one thirty-six. He had a slim build and light sandy brown hair. At first, she had thought to herself, he didn't seem the type to have a thing for older women. But then had to ask herself, what did someone like that look like? After all, she never considered that Mark Taylor didn't seem the type that lusted after black women, or that Connie Avallon wasn't the sort who liked girls.
It also occurred to her that it was the type of women who had been in the films that had really intrigued her. In the case of the regular movies George had rented, the women in question had been stars like Anne Bancroft, Jacqueline Bisset and Cybill Shepherd. All actresses who hardly looked the age of the women they were portraying. Or if they did, they were in a shape that few women looked like at that point in their lives.
In the adult movies, on the other hand, the women had indeed looked their age, with bodies to match. Some were overweight, or had imperfect bodies and faces that reflected a life actually lived. The type of women you saw on a daily basis wherever you looked, even if it was just in the mirror.
That was the key to it all, Ruth suddenly realized as she pulled into the small parking lot in front of the four-story apartment building where she lived. They were exactly the kind of woman she saw when she stepped out of the shower in the morning and looked at herself in the full-length mirror that was on the wall of her bathroom. Of course she could never imagine herself doing anything like that, not even in her wildest dreams.
.... There is more of this story ...