Archived Opinion

A fine line between heaven and hell

A fine line between heaven and hell

“Dad, this may be the greatest job of all-time.” 

Kayden has sent me a video of her new work environment, the game room in the Student Union on the campus of Appalachian State University, where she is a junior/nearly senior.  

She is speaking in a hushed tone, although she is the only breathing soul in the room, as she scans for us the row of pool tables and the pool sticks aligned in neat rows on a wall rack before showing us her station behind the desk. There’s the phone, a controller for playing music, her laptop (for watching Netflix), and a good, thick novel she borrowed the last time she was home. Some light piano jazz — Keith Jarrett, sounds like — is tinkling in the background. It’s about 10 am. 

“All I have to do is check people in when they want to play a game, and then check them out when they are finished. But no one is scheduled to come until two o’clock, so I can just sit here and catch up on my reading or watch this new show on Netflix and get paid for it. Pretty great, right?” 

I have to admit, it does sound pretty great. When I was about her age, I had a similar job working in a home video store renting out VHS movies to people. We would get busy from 4-6 pm, when everyone was getting off work and wanted to come by and pick up “Rambo II” or “Mister Mom” to watch that evening after having their meatloaf and angel food cake. 

Other than that rush, I just sat there by myself watching the new releases on a little 19-inch Zenith television behind the counter. Or I would read a couple more chapters from “Helter Skelter: The True Story of the Manson Murders,” until one of the unemployed regulars dropped by to gossip or ask if I knew anyone who might want to buy a deer rifle for a good price. 

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Kayden’s new job sounded pretty familiar. 

“Read that book,” I told her. “It’s a good one.” 

“I will,” she said, holding it up to show me that she had already read quite a few pages. “But I have a little bit of a headache, so I might watch Netflix for a while. Not a bad job, right?” 

Several hours later, we got another video update on her first day alone in the game room was going. 

“Oh my God, dad, I am losing my mind,” she said. “I was just alone for 10 hours, and that was not for the faint of heart. I have never been so bored in my life. It was so hot in there. Like, no air conditioning at all.” 

“Well, that doesn’t sound so good. What happened to the Netflix?” 

“I watched like eight episodes — maybe ten — until I was about to lose it. I was bored out of my mind.” 

“Yeah, that’s probably too much of a good thing.” 

“I know, right? And then this guy comes in. Oh my God, this guy! He works in another part of the building, and he came in and played pool for about four hours because he didn’t have anything else to do. He was just a different kind of guy. He’s minoring in Risk Management and Insurance, if that tells you anything. He just started talking to me and telling me everything, so many things. And then he wanted to show me his camera roll, which had a ton of pictures of salamanders on it. Do you understand what this was like?” 

She really didn’t need me to say much, and while I can’t say I ever knew anyone minoring in Risk Management and Insurance, I did feel I had some understanding of her dilemma as a captive employee dealing with the unpredictable assortment of characters one encounters in such jobs. 

I wanted to tell her about Joan, who came into the video store every single day demanding that we tell her what she had not already seen, which was impossible, because she had seen everything except for those movies she could not possibly watch, which we would be soundly rebuked for recommending. 

I wanted to tell her about Terry, who was obsessed with professional wrestling and was hoping to break into the sport as the manager of a villain, which was probably for the best, since he was about as muscular as a plate of cottage cheese. We both knew that professional wrestling managers did not need to be athletic, just lowdown and unscrupulous. Terry felt he could be those things. 

But I didn’t tell her about the characters in my story. I just listened to hers. Because sometimes, that’s just what people need the most.

(Chris Cox is a writer and teacher who lives in Haywood County. This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..)

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