I first met Stan during the morning porn rush at the video store I manage. Every weekday morning, for the first hour we are open, old men (ages 40-75) rush the adult room to raid our porn selection. The rentals show back up in the drop box an hour or two later before their wives return home from the hair salon.
The thing that sets Stan apart from the other morning porn enthusiasts is that Stan always stops to chitchat. The other men rush in, pick out the first title they can find, avoid eye contact at the counter, and hustle out the door. Stan lingers, hoping for one-on-one time, which is truly unfortunate for me. Stan is my father’s age, rents porn twice a week, and without fail brings up three topics of conversation every time he rents: his brother’s recent suicide, his ensuing depression, and his sex-life with his long-distance girlfriend. He is a veteran of the U.S. Navy. He has a military haircut and a beer gut, and sweats an inordinate amount. He is exactly the demographic of men who hit on me at work.
Stan first asked me out to coffee after confessing to me the details surrounding his brother’s suicide:
Me: Hey, Stan. How’s it going?
Stan: Not so good. I just can’t shake this depression. You know, my brother killed himself.
Me: Oh, I’m sorry.
Stan: And, my girlfriend is frustrated with me, because I’m taking anti-depressants and it affects my, you know, performance.
Me: Oh, God.
Stan: So what’s your name? Are you new? I haven’t seen you in here before.
He once brought his aforementioned long-distance girlfriend to the store. (They rented porn.) When he returned the movie, he asked me if I wanted to “hang out.” In the following months, it didn’t matter what, when, or how he asked, I was always either working or going to be out of town, conveniently unavailable. Eventually, I lied that I was in a relationship to get him off my back. He responded, “I want to be the first person you call when your boyfriend breaks up with you.” Classy. No matter how many times I have turned him down, he continues to ask.
So, I knew I was in trouble this weekend when Stan came in to rent – the one weekend I wore a skirt and heels to work. The video store chain requires the staff to dress up on the weekend. While “dressing up” for me on these shifts usually means slacks, a button down dress shirt, and black Chuck Taylor sneakers, this Friday, on a whim, I wore a skirt and heels. When Stan came into the store, we were swamped, leaving me no time to talk. But I saw the look on his face when he spotted me, and the ensuing wink, and knew this did not bode well.
It is now Sunday and I am paying for my foolishness in more ways than one. I woke up, my feet aching, calves burning, exhausted from spending a twelve-hour shift on my feet, ringing up customers, running movies to the shelves, vacuuming and mopping, all in heels. Sunday means manual labor, inventory, and housecleaning. I am at the store by 7 a.m., in my usual Sunday attire: khakis, a white button-down dress shirt with the sleeves rolled up to my elbows, and sneakers. I prefer to think of this particular fashion statement as “rakishly disheveled,” when it is in actuality “lazy and loose-fitting.” I inventory the 5,000 movies on the New Release wall, change the filters in the furnace, fill the gumball machine, do payroll, and make the schedule for next week – and I do it all in the three hours before we open. I am sweating, with smears of dust on my formerly clean white shirt and khaki pants, my hair is flat, damp, and nasty from the sweat, and I don’t particularly care to talk to anyone. Unfortunately, it is raining outside, which means everyone in town is in the store to rent movies.
My next employee, John, comes in at noon. I have a line seven customers deep. He hops on the register next to me and we work our way through it. I spot Stan as he enters the store, head bowed, shuffling his feet. I keep tabs on him as he hits the porn room and takes his spot in line. I alter my pace at the register, manipulating the situation so John will have to deal with Stan. Unfortunately, I get saddled with a problem customer, who throws off my rhythm, and thus end up with Stan at the front of my line.
I force a haggard smile and brace myself, “Hey, Stan.” I carefully avoid my standard greeting, “How are you?” to cut back on the chances Stan will bring up his depression or impotence.
He puts his porn token on the counter and I turn around to fish the corresponding title out of the drawers behind me. Customers bring up florescent orange tokens the size of a DVD case with the name of titles from the adult room. The actual movies are stored in the bottom two drawers behind the counter, so that I have to turn my back to the customers and bend over by my feet to retrieve the required films. There I am, ass in the air, confident Stan is ogling me as I pull the title Ghetto Booty 38 out of the drawer.
“I gotta tell you, Colleen,” Stan says, a sleazy grin across his face as I return from flashing him my ass. “You looked really nice on Friday.”
“Thank you, Stan,” I say. I knew wearing that skirt was a mistake.
“I mean it. That skirt. Wow. You looked fantastic.” Stan whistles and cocks his head to the side, recalling the visual of me in the skirt. “Fantastic. I’d say you were an eight.”
I know he means it as a compliment, and I suppose I should be satisfied with an eight. That’s respectable. But here is a man my father’s age, hitting on me during a porn rental transaction, and he doesn’t even fudge the numbers to improve his chances? I look damn good in that skirt. I have nice legs, killer calves. I wore heels. I wore a tight shirt that shows off my boobs. I smelled softly of perfume.
“That better be on a scale of eight,” I tell him without a trace of a smile.
He senses he has insulted me. “No, no. An eight is – that’s good. I mean an eight, I fantasize about eights.”
Handing a man the adult film he is renting, while he tells you that he fantasizes about you, is something no young woman, let alone a young lesbian, should have to endure. At this point, John glances at me unsure whether to laugh or step in to bail me out. John is six foot and then some, a bulky and cocky 19-year-old with a buzz cut. He wouldn’t let Stan kidnap me and make me his child bride.
“That’s enough, Stan,” I say. I try for defiant, but sound more defeated.
“Friday you looked great – definitely an eight. Today, you’re more of a three. But Friday, you were an eight, a solid eight.”
John cracks, unable to hold back the smile that spreads across his face, and angles his head to keep Stan and me from seeing it. I am too insulted to come up with a proper retort. If it were a movie I would have the perfect biting comeback to shame Stan. As it is, I simply hand over Ghetto Booty 38 and tell him what I tell all the porn renters. “Enjoy your day.”
Logically, rationally, I understand that what Stan thinks of my looks is immaterial. He is a 50-year-old man whom I find repulsive, and would never consider dating. On my scale of ten, he’d rank around negative two. But, standing under the fluorescent lights of retail, in front of a line of people who just witnessed the insult, I can’t help but feel exposed. It is as if Stan reached inside me and flipped the switch that powers my insecurities. I am lost for a moment in the memory of my first girl crush from high school, who told me years later, “I never fall for girls who are particularly attractive, just ones with great personalities.” It was the first time it ever occurred to me that I might not be pretty. It pissed me off then for the same reason Stan’s straight male evaluation of my beauty pisses me off now. Because, sweaty and disheveled as I may be on any particular day, at least I’m not a douche bag. That’s gotta count for something.
John doesn’t permit himself to laugh, sensing my foul mood, but he cannot deny the satisfied grin plastered on his face at the drop box.
“Did he just call me a three?” I ask.
We laugh, loudly and for a long time.
“That’s your new nickname,” John says, nodding his head. And that is how John referred to me – as Number Three – until the day I fired him.