You can't find work. It's the summer and bills are due. You've given blood, you applied for barista and food server jobs, and you even volunteered for a study you saw in the local weekly at a university health lab that involves your kidneys. Your cash is running low and you're starting to wonder where you're going to get your next meal. You're driving East Hollywood Blvd. when you see the Lions Den. It's a porno store that is painted all black except for the white letters of its name strung out across the front. You've never been in there but you assume it has the usual items associated with a porn store. Out front of the building, there is a sign that says "Help Wanted."
You park your car and sit in it for a few minutes, wondering if you've fallen this far, if you should go in or not. Reaching down, you start you car again but turn it off and eventually slide out. You cross the dirty parking lot and enter the building, leaving the sunny day to enter a world of semi-darkness.
Neon bulbs light up the store. From the back of the store, you can hear the moaning of women, which, you assume, is where they have the movies. You have second thoughts again because this is really fucking grim until the unsmiling guy behind the counter, overweight and in his 40s with a graying goatee and wearing a shirt printed with "Eat Me," says in a New Jersey accent, Whaddya want?
You're snapped back to your reality of poverty and you tell him that you're looking for a job.
You? he says, surprised.
You don't know what it is about you that's surprising him, maybe because you're much younger than he is but, anyway, you say, Yeah me.
So he leans on the counter and says, Yeah okay, it's full-time. You gotta work a register.
You assure him that you know how to work a register. You gotta restock the shelves. He points to porn magazines and the sex toys: dildos, vibrators, anal plugs, the works.
Yeah, you say, you can do that. You don't want to fucking do that but, hey, no one else is knocking on the door with a check so you say, Okay.
He passes you a faded photocopied job application to fill out. Then he hands you a box that contains the "Lovin' It!" multi-speed vibrator. You look at him confused until he says, It's to write on so you can do the application.
You write on the lines of the form as he reads what looks to be the latest issue of "The Economist." Some young thin guy comes in and goes to the dirty magazine section, looking at you a little too long until you catch him and then he looks away. You hand back the application to the counter guy and he looks it over.
You really went to school this long? he asks, surprised.
You tell him that you need a job and he tells you that you are too smart to work here.
Too smart? you ask. You just need to make some fucking money.
He moves around the counter and over to a door next to a line of bondage masks. From behind the door, he wheels out a bucket and a mop.
What's that for? you ask.
You wanna work here, you gotta mop out the video booths if you know what I mean, he adds. He crosses his arms and waits.
And you look in his eyes and you get it. He doesn't want you here. He knows how it will go, how this will be temporary for you at the start but then get more and more permanent, taking you, as it probably snatched him, away from other important things, better jobs, unashamed jobs, better futures. You see it in him now as he stands there, the mop firmly clenched in his hand, not wanting to let it go. Don't do it, his face says to you, turn around and walk.
But you don't. You take the mop from him because need the job and, worse, you know what will happen, you know what's at stake because you will have to look at him every day and wonder if that will be you in twenty years, begging someone younger to walk away too.
Ron Burch's fiction has been published in numerous literary journals including Mississippi Review, Eleven Eleven, PANK, and been nominated for the Pushcart Prize. His novel, Bliss Inc., was published by BlazeVOX Books. He lives in Los Angeles.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.