that is an awful place


That is an Awful Place

by Ed Collins/April 19, 1996

In the mail last week we received a couple coupons good for free movie rentals.

So tonight we drive a few blocks to the new Hollywood Video store.

You can hardly miss it. In the parking lot there are two of those revolving spotlights that are used for grand openings. Helium balloons, banners and flags helped draw your attention to the warehouse-sized building.

They don’t need anything to get noticed. The building is painted yellow and there’s a rainbow-colored stripe around it. Plus there’s a huge lighted Hollywood Video sign hanging on the building. In our neighborhood the store sticks out like a sore thumb.  It’s flat-out ugly. Even in an amusement park it would look ugly.

“You’ve got seven minutes,” Judy says as we wait for a car to exit a space in the parking lot in front of the store.

“Is that seven minutes from now or seven minutes after we get in the store?” I ask.

She doesn’t answer.

Inside the store the bright lights, noise and colors are a shock to the senses. Two employees in red jackets welcome us.

The first attraction is a huge sign that advertises a drawing for “Free Videos for Life.”  While I fill out the form a clown puts his face in front of mine and smiles. I smile back.

Thousands of movies hang from walls, counters and stands. Movies for rent, movies for sale. Candy, video games, microwave popcorn. Dozens of TVs showing movies. Movie posters. Neon signs. Multi-colored walls with video boxes popping out from every corner.

“I want out of here,” Judy says.

“Let’s just look around a bit,” I say. But I agree with her: It’s all too much. A sensory overload. A million things to look at, but nothing to see. You can’t focus on anything. It doesn’t help that everything’s the same size. Nothing to start with. Maybe it’s that I’m a little red-green color blind, I dunno. There’s so much color clashing in my eyes. In my brain.

Reminds me of the feeling I get whenever I go shopping, anywhere, practically––and I get overwhelmed by all the merchandise, people and the prices, especially the prices. Have one person too many bump into you, and I want out of there.

Still, I’ve got a free coupon and there must be an expiration date.

People are swirling around looking at video boxes, movies screens and each other.

The clown is tying balloons and people in red jackets are smiling stiffly at everybody.

“One minute,” Judy says.

I notice a video box with Jeff Goldblum’s name on it. He’s one of Judy’s favorite actors. “Look,  Jeff Goldblum,” I tell her.  She grabs the video box out of my hand.

“OK, let’s get out of here,” she says.

After completing the membership application and waiting for the cards to be laminated, we exit into the circus-like parking lot. Cars are coming and going and I feel a little rattled, so I’m careful as I back my van out of the dinky lot. Spotlights and balloons and backup lights swirl in colorful perpetual motion. When we finally get out on Washington Street I start singing,

“America, America,

God shed his light on thee,

and crown thy good

with brotherhood,

from sea to shinning sea.”

A block away Judy finally speaks: “That is an awful place.”

Two blocks away she speaks again: “You forgot to turn on your lights,”