Porn Shop Chronicles (John)

It was the going out of business “Blow Out Sale” at Mom & Pop’s Sex Shop. People had come from all over the Greater Los Angeles area to see what they could get their hands on. I sat in the back room watching the security camera feed and wondered if I’d ever find another job I liked as much as this one.

Mom & Pop’s was the perfect place for an aspiring writer. Nowhere in the Universe is human behavior more idiosyncratic than when you’re wedged between butt plugs and penis pumps. And although every person who entered the store creeped around like a thief, I’d never seen anyone steal anything.

The store itself was nothing spectacular. In the late 90s, Bev and Bob O’Bannon had purchased an old Hollywood Video store and converted it into what you see today. The carpet was an uncomfortably dark shade of purple with jagged neon lines cutting through it. Shelves that once held VHS tapes were painted black and reinforced to hold up shackles and handcuffs and vibrators. Bev almost always had incense burning. But, even still, there was the ever-present smell of gasoline just underneath. My “eyes” were on the ceiling. Bob spared no expense installing the security system. Apparently he thought the crowd Mom & Pop’s attracted would be a little more abject. He was wrong. Maybe it was the name of the store that warded off the weirdos, but the people I saw come through that door looked a hell of a lot like you and me; real people living real lives with real problems, real heartache and real joy.

One of my favorite things to do while scanning the security feed was to pick out an unknowing patron and see if I could figure out their life. Most times I’d give them a back story, a reason for being there, and a place they needed to go, then serve as narrator while the scene unfolded. I was bummed that this was going to be my last chance to do it, but wasn’t going to waste the opportunity.

The first guy who walked in the door was almost indistinguishable from every other first guy. He was a pasty shade of white and wore horn-rimmed glasses that looked even nerdier when coupled with his gray Dockers and Dwight Schrute-yellow button-up shirt. He was the type of guy who neighbors would say was “quiet” and “polite” while the police excavated the dead bodies from under his swing set. Either that or he worked in IT. I’d come to realize the two looks were pretty much identical, the one exception being the murderers preference to wear his fingernails long. This guy’s were short, and although he’d removed his nametag, I was 96 percent certain his name was John.

Everything about John whispered, “Don’t notice me.” From the way he combed his hair to cover the barren landscape on the top of his head to the way he’d strategically avert his gaze exactly 45 degrees from everyone he passed. To the rest of the world, John was invisible. To me, he was fascinating.

John stood in front of Mom & Pop’s massive dildo collection. Double-sided, strap-ons, glow in the dark; whatever you could think of in every size imaginable. He looked as overwhelmed as someone like John could look. All that meant was he didn’t move. If I hadn’t seen him sneak in the store I may have thought he was a mannequin. But, then, why would a sex shop dress a mannequin like it was on display at Eddie Bauer? No, John was very much alive and I knew there was a hurricane of activity swirling about in that world-wide-webbed brain of his.

He reached up to the top row of the shelf and pulled down the crown jewel of Mom & Pop’s dildo collection, Goliath, a big, black behemoth that made you question the physics behind it and how the hell it would fit inside another person.

As he was marveling at the magnitude of the beast, a young girl, no more than six years old, came running into the store. She stopped in front of John and the massive club in his hands.

“What’s that?” she said startling John out of his daydream. It was the first time a stranger had addressed him in nearly two weeks and would have been terrifying even if he’d been holding a carton of skim milk at the grocery store. He lost his hold on Goliath and it fumbled to the floor. The “on” switch must have been triggered because, once it hit the ground, the beast started shaking about violently across the floor.

John ran to pick it up, making sure to keep his gaze 45 degrees away from the little girl. As he searched for an “off” switch, he heard a man’s voice on the other side of him.

“Come on, Jenny.”

John looked straight ahead. He clutched the convulsing faux cock in his hands praying that might make the vibrating stop.

“Dad, what’s that?”

That is the last time I ever go out in public, John thought.

“It’s uh– It’s a back massager.”

“Like the one mom has in her drawer?”

“Sweety, we need to go.”

The man passed in front of John and grabbed his daughter’s hand. As they left he whispered, “You should be ashamed of yourself.”

John was, but not for the reason the girl’s father thought he should be, but rather, for his inability to satisfy his wife.

John and Margaret met in college. She was on the equestrian team and he was assigned as her tutor. He never got the hint that she was into him. In his mind, girls who looked like Margaret didn’t go for guys who looked like John. So when she pulled him in for a kiss on their last study session before finals, he was more than a little surprised. From that day on a part of him was waiting for the day when Margaret realized her mistake.

In John’s mind, that day came six weeks ago at the Smoke House in Burbank as they sat in the corner celebrating their ten-year wedding anniversary. It was on this evening that Margaret mentioned to John that she was no longer happy with their sex life and wanted to spice things up. She’d even thrown out the term “open marriage.” John asked for a while to think about it. It made him sick to his core, but he knew if things stayed the same he’d eventually agree to it. If he didn’t, she’d probably leave him and he was terrified of the prospect of living life without her.

Since then they’d only had sex once and John feared his marriage was slipping away. Before that day, he’d never in a million years have found himself in a sex store staring at a stack of dildos. But desperate times called for desperate measures.

John found the “off” switch at the base of Goliath. He straightened his shirt and glasses and walked over to the checkout counter. On the way over he must have remembered his reasons for being at Mom & Pop’s because every ounce of nervousness had drained from his body as he handed the mammoth merchandise to the clerk.

Just the thought of losing her eradicates my fear, John thought.

“That’ll be $47.65,” the clerk said.

John handed over his credit card.

“Would you like it wrapped?”

“You guys do that?”

“Oh, yes. We’ll even include a custom message too.”

“That’d be swell,” John said.

The clerk typed something into the computer in front of him.

“What would you like the card to say?”

John wasn’t sure. He was never great with words. His mind was better with zeroes and ones than X’s and O’s.

He thought for a minute longer, then said, “For ten years you’ve probably known I haven’t had a clue. For the rest of my life I promise I’ll try to make it up to you.”

The clerk smiled, “That’s really good.” He typed the message on his computer, then printed out a small sticker with the words written in Old English text.

A classy touch, John thought as the clerk slapped the sticker on the side of the store’s biggest dildo.

The camera footage of customers leaving the store was particularly sharp, and I couldn’t be certain, but I think I saw something flash across John’s face as he walked out the door.

Hope.

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