One of the primary elements of working in public retail is that you don’t know what is going to brighten, or darken, your day next. The public are exceptionally skilled at keeping you on your toes. And it doesn’t matter who you are dealing with: a posh, well-to-do lady may shock you with flirtation; a labourer with a tough exterior can startle with congeniality. You know this already, of course. Think of the taxi driver who chatted to you about the performance of Wagner’s complete Ring Cycle that he saw at Glyndebourne, or the young-looking waiter who advised you what wine you should take with your starter in a Beefeater restaurant. We cannot judge by countenance – well, we definitely can, but we perhaps shouldn’t; and even when we do, we don’t always get it right.
In the record shop we don’t just sell music, we also sell DVDs, able to order titles that we don’t keep in stock. In comparison to many of the other high street shops we are a throwback to the times preceding the invent of the internet, and the secretive and impersonal world of online shopping. How many other shops, I wonder, still receive orders by letter, with a crossed cheque specifying an upper-limit enclosed? We all wonder how we ever functioned without mobile phones; some of the enquirers, we find, do not even have phones, as in phone phones! Imagine: their mobility decreases as the source of their requirements – or desires, but we’ll come to that – seemingly drift further away, so what do you do? Enter the slightly less secretive and a bit more personal world of mail order shopping . . .
INTERIOR. THE RECORD SHOP. DAY.
I finish making a coffee and put it on the desk. Then pick up a box set and begin to package it for posting. A browsing customer – a window-shopper – leaves the shop. The phone rings.
Me: Good morning.
Me: Hello. Good morning.
Voice: Is this the VD shop?
*This is quite a regular occurrence. Those of a certain age often refer to DVDs as VDs. It always makes me smile. Here, I immediately know that I am indeed dealing with someone of a certain age. It’s probably a good thing that there is no one else in the shop, as these usually take a while. At least it means that I can use my regular joke . . .
Me: No, this is _____. The clinic’s up the road.
Me: Never mind.
Me: How may I help you?
Voice: Is this the VD shop?
Me: Yes, this is the VD shop. You need VD? We’ve got it. How may I help you?
Voice: I’m eighty-three.
Me: Really? Well you sound great. You don’t sound eighty-three. I’d say more like . . . (Hmm, irony seemed to be lost on him. I think I’ll leave it.) Not eighty-three.
Voice: I am. Eighty-three.
Me: That’s great. How may I help you?
Voice: I want pornography.
*That moment that I mentioned, when you’re shocked, or your day brightens? This is both of them rolled in to one. What a start to a call! I’m glad that he has a phone. You can’t put this in a letter. Well, you can. I’m sure that the Royals do it all the time. Maybe this is Prince Philip! Pretending to be . . . a younger man. It’s nice to put a face to a voice.
Me: Uh. I’m here. Yeah. Yes. Of course we can help you. What were you after?
Philip: Pornography. (That word again, spoken by an octogenarian. It shouldn’t, but it takes a while to register properly. I’ve got it. I’m composed. It’s not fair to laugh down the line just because an old boy is after a bit of . . . light entertainment.) I want adult VDs.
Me: Hur-hur. Well, VD’s not for kids. (I can be a real berk, I know this; that instant when joviality becomes trying to entertain myself. See, here I could quip that it’s this old boy who wants to entertain himself, but that would be being a berk. If you know the true etymology of the word berk, maybe this is being hard on myself. Still . . .)
Philip: Eh? Ay? (Well, at least I got away with it.) I don’t want kids involved. (Philip’s a little incisive now. A little quick there in thinking that I’d got away with it.)
Me: No! Goodness no. I wasn’t for one second implying that you would! I want to help you to . . . (Hur-hur.) I’m here to help. So . . . Ahem . . . Porn – ography! (Sounds much better than the abbreviated version, doesn’t it? I mean, I’m not going to talk to an old boy about porn! No thanks.) Adult entertainment. (Even better. I can deal with that.)
Philip: Yes. I’m eighty-three years old.
Phillip: And I want to buy some pornography.
Me: Yes. I understand.
*There is now a silence on the other end of the line. Let’s take a moment here: I don’t want to be seen as some kind of expert on pornography. I know some people who are, however, if ever you need one. Or five . . . If only I had one of those experts with me right now. Question: How would you now advance the enquiry?
Me: Is there any particular title that you were looking for?
Philip: No. I don’t know anything much about it.
Me: Well you’ve come to the right place! (Berk.) Did you have any particular kind of . . . thing that you were looking for?
Philip: I’m eighty-three years old. (Ye-es . . .) And I’ve been by myself now for four years, since my wife died. I just feel that this is my last chance to –’
Me (interrupting): I understand. (Although I sort of wish I hadn’t been so discerning. His last chance to . . . ? What? Conjures all kinds of images that you and I aren’t sure we want to envisage. Please fill in the blank (in-)appropriately.)
Philip: I’m not too old to, you know?
Me: I’m certain. I don’t think anyone’s ever too old to. (Again, I’m not quite certain of what I’m agreeing to here. Not only is this not an area of my expertise, but I have precious little knowledge of what the older, much older, generations . . . you know . . . are . . . capable of. A usual enquiry for an octogenarian searching for DVDs is asking after Lauren Bacall or Bette Davis films. Or MGM musicals. I don’t know if they ever produced an adult series.) By the sound of your voice, you are very capable.
Philip: I just want to try, one last time.
Me: Ahhh. (This came out more as a long expulsion of air than an actual expression. Blank filled.)
*In the meantime, I’ve been searching through the database under the various synonyms, hoping that I might be able to . . . recommend a title or two. I will explain the search history to the boss at a later juncture. I don’t want to be seen as some kind of a Prince Philip myself.
Me: So would you like actual adult films: as in, stories with a plot? Like Tinto Brass films. Or perhaps even adult comedies, like Confessions of a Window Cleaner or perhaps Carry On films. (Carry On films? Slapstick and bawdy, yes, but adult? I always have enjoyed enquiries that I can learn from . . .) Or perhaps some MGM musicals?
Philip: No (definitely terse now), you don’t seem to understand. (Philip’s right: I don’t. Yet.) I want pornography. Young people having sex.
Philip: And I don’t want girl on girl. Or not only girl on girl. I want men involved.
Me: Don’t we all? (?) Sorry. I mean, as in –’
Philip: I want to see it all. I want erotica (that beautiful old-fashioned word; I tap it into the database).I want breasts and –
Me: There’s one called Triple-X here.
*Silence on the phone. In a feisty sports match this would be called a ‘having a breather’. Yes, I find myself on Thursday afternoon in a bout with a VOAP over pornography. And he’s beating me on points. But I’ve just landed one. I’ll never throw in the towel. Perhaps I would in a combat over the stage performances of Donizetti’s operas. But not over pornography . . .
Philip: That sounds good.
Me: Or how about Triple-X Hardcore? It’s three disc set of, I quote, “dirty sex films.”
Philip: Go on.
Me: Well, what’s your budget here?
Philip: It doesn’t matter, really.
Me: How many films are you looking for?
Philip: How about those two? . . . And one more. (Good man. We’re fighting on the same side, after all.)
Me: Well, there’s one that’s come up here called Horny Housewives.
Philip: Sounds good. (And he sounds thirty years younger. And I’m striding through the sloshy world of pornography like a middle-class Dirk Diggler and it’s not even slopping over the sides of my Wellingtons.)
Me: But (I say conspiratorially, in full flow like an extra from Caligula; this is how Bob Guccioni Jr. must have felt.) there’s one here called Hot Erotik and Real Sex.
Philip: That one. That’s it. That’s the one.
Me: Erotik is spelled wrong. Without the c, so to speak. Hur-hur.
Philip: Hur-hur. Don’t mind. I want that one.
Me: I’ll just need to take a few details. I didn’t catch your name?
Philip: It’s Philip.
Me: Ha. Me too. Two els or one el?
Me: Ah, me I have two.
Philip: Takes one to know one, correct?
Me: Mmm, not so sure about that, Philip.
Philip: Maybe when you’re eighty-three you’ll –
Me: Thanks for your order. When your Triple-X, Triple-X Hardcore box set and Hot and Erotik Real Sex VDs arrive I’ll get them straight in the post to you. If you need any more, don’t ever hesitate to give us a call. All the best.
*I put the phone down in the cradle, only to find that there is a little old lady waiting at the counter to be served.
Me: Sorry to keep you waiting. (Did she hear mine and Philip’s conversation? Yeeks!) How may I help you?
Little old lady: Do you have any Donizetti operas on DVD?
Me: We might well do. Is there a particular one that you’re looking for?
Little old lady: Not really. I hoped that you might be able to advise me.
Me: Well, it’s not really my area of expertise . . .
This is not the only time that a VOAP has asked me for pornography. The other time was actually in the shop itself. And the shop was full. And he was deaf. And therefore had a very loud voice. And he was unabashed. Thanks to Philip – and that was his real name – I was much better equipped to deal with the enquiry. I even asked him, discreetly, if he was looking for girl on girl or whether he wanted men involved. (FYI: he didn’t want a man anywhere near it, he yelled. And he looked at me rather queerly.)