Why All Small Town Jobs Are Obscene

Karen J. Weyant

     
   

At the local newsstand, I sold cigarettes, candy bars, and papers from behind a cash register smudged with crumbs from my coworker, who always ate breakfast muffins over the keys.

I was sixteen. Except for the months I spent babysitting the Hanes boys, this was my first summer job.

In between sales, I organized the magazines in back of the store, carefully placing Penthouse, Playboy and Hustler, in brown paper bags, out of the reach of school boys and church ladies, who tsked, tsked, when they saw the covers, when one magazine fell out of place, and landed between Good Housekeeping and Woman’s Day.

Once a month, a regular, all tailored suit and tie, bought his paper-bagged copies. With dark hair graying around his temples, and laugh lines that crinkled at the corner of his mouth, he reminded me of my eighth grade history teacher, a man who drew Civil War battle strategies on the chalkboard, with lines and crosses so thick that the classroom filled with chalk dust.

The regular always paid with a crisp twenty dollar bill. One time, his fingers brushed against mine, and I imagined he was a lawyer. I imagined he was a doctor. I even imagined he was a preacher.

I imagined he was anyone except the kind of man who was supposed to buy these types of magazines. These men, I was sure, never shaved and wore beads of sweat above their eyebrows. They dressed in sweat stained T-shirts and, with damp hands, left the pages of magazines crinkled and ripped.

***

At the only store in town that rented movies, I spent my summer evenings watching the locals paw through a three-ring binder full of X-rated titles. With no descriptions, they felt they needed to ask me questions about such titles as Debbie Does Dallas or Angel and Her Food Cake.

I was seventeen. I could rent customers these movies, but couldn’t rent them myself.

I spent most of my hours recommending The Mighty Ducks for families wanting “a good kid’s movie” or looking for movies starring Arnold Schwarzenegger, Rutger Hauer, or Bruce Willis.

When one group of young men came in asking for the binder, they opened the pages, their fingers trailing down through the titles. Clean-shaven and neat, I recognized one man as a guest speaker who came to Careers Day at my high school and talked about jobs in accounting.


That evening, when they asked about Tina and Her Wet Dreams, I shrugged. I told them to use their imaginations.

***

Even that innocent library job had its secrets.

For days, I sifted through boxes of donated books for the annual sale. “Take what you want,” said the head librarian, young and hurried, sorting through mismatched encyclopedia sets and Readers Digest condensed books, “We’ll sell the rest.”

So I sorted and priced paperbacks and slid favorite copies into my bag. I found Pride and Prejudice and A Tale of Two Cities. I found To the Lighthouse and Ulysses. I found Slaughterhouse Five. I found a copy of the Kama Sutra.

I was eighteen. I would go away to college in the fall. I was sure this stack of books would tell me what I needed to know.

     
   
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Karen J. Weyant's poetry and prose has appeared in The Briar Cliff Review, Chautauqua, Copper Nickel, Harpur Palate, Punctuate, Spillway, Tahoma Literary Review, River Styx, Whiskey Island and Waccamaw. She is the author of two poetry chapbooks. She teaches at Jamestown Community College in Jamestown, New York. In her spare time, she explores the Rust Belt regions of Western New York and Northern Pennsylvania. Her website is www.karenjweyant.com.