That’s Entertainment!

The former White House Communications Director, Anthony Scaramucci reminds me of home.  I’m from Long Island which is oftentimes jokingly pronounced Lawn Guyland.  Some purposely say it like that in a derogatory way, while with others it’s just their natural speak.   I began reminiscing about my days growing up on Long Island.  It brought me back to the straight forward, in your face, matter-of-fact way many Islanders speak.  I’m not in any way defending The Mooch, because the way he spoke was completely out of line for someone working in and representing The White House.  It is however, the way many people speak on Long Island and harkens me back to the days working at one of my part time jobs.

Ever since I could remember, I’ve loved movies and television.  When my dad would walk into the den, as I sat transfixed watching whatever show was on TV, he would come over to me and twist my nose while saying he was changing the channels.  I was hooked on TV and was a walking TV Guide.  Then as a teenager, on Saturdays I’d cut out the movie listings for the UA Sunrise Mall theatre and spend the day with a friend theatre hopping.  We were good at it, coming prepared with a hair tie or sweater to make us look different in between shows.  We’d also loiter a bit in the ladies room until the next showing.  Periodically we’d be asked to leave, but we’d be back the next weekend.  As I watched the movies, I dreamt of one day working in entertainment.

I began my after school, part-time job career in ice cream working at Baskin Robbins.  But the itchy polyester dress along with cleaning up after slobs turned me off completely to working in the food industry.  After that, I was a “Brooksy” at Brooks Fashions in the Sunrise Mall, but when neon came into vogue, I practically went blind searching for shirt sizes.  My dream of working in entertainment finally came true, closer to home and in a slightly less glamorous place.

I landed a job at South Shore Video.  My family had been members of this store for about three years shortly after Dad bought our first VHS machine.  There was a one time membership fee of $100 plus $10 for each family member.  That was for a lifetime membership!

Tony owned South Shore Video, along with co-owning three other sister stores in nearby towns.  He was a short, stocky Italian American born and raised in Brooklyn.  With slicked back chestnut colored hair, a pot marked face and donning a gold Italian horn necklace, Tony was the King of Video.

I remember there wasn’t much of an interview process except asking what days I could work.  I was hired on the spot.  The store was in a shopping center and ran from busy Merrick Rd. all the way to the back parking lot.  The long counter spanned almost half the store from the front door.  Opposite the counter was a one hour photo booth which some folks rented from Tony.  The main part of the store held all of the empty video boxes on shelves that were divided into categories.  There were two rooms that split off from the main one — the sci-fi section which led into porn.  Tony’s office was attached to the porn room.  The process was easy, you grabbed the box for the movie you wanted and brought it to the counter and I’d fill out a slip, you would sign it and I’d take the box and cash and give you the video.

The only weird thing was when a man would bring five or six porn boxes to the counter.  They were twice as large as regular videotape sleeves and included lots of explicit movie scenes.  Movies like On Golden Blonde, Flesh Gordon or Ms. Twin Towers were popular.  A year or so later, Tony had plastic numbers attached to the porn boxes so a customer would only have to take that tag up to the counter to get the corresponding movie.  It made it less awkward for everybody.

It was 1986 and the video store was the place to be on a Saturday.  The line would span from the front counter to the back door and oftentimes spill into the parking lot.  The place was always jammed — he had a huge selection of movies and multiple copies of the most in demand titles.  I remember when Rocky 2 came out on VHS — Tony had about 30 copies — that was more than any other store around!  Considering that VHS tapes could cost between $80-$100 back then, it was amazing he had so many.   The rental price was great too.  Regular movies were $1 each and new releases were $2 bucks – CASH ONLY.  Tony only hired girls, mainly for the eye candy.  So the front counter had at least eight girls working at a time to move the line along quickly.

I was about to leave for a pre planned vacation just a few weeks after I started working  when Tony came over to me and palmed me $40 — wishing me a good trip.   That’s $90 in today’s money!  I was psyched to say the least.  He was very generous and always appreciated hard workers.  Every Friday was payday.  We were all paid in cash, provided in a plain manila money envelope.

A few months into the job, Tony was over by the photo booth area developing some film.   He turned and asked a couple of us if we knew anyone interested in photography.  I jumped at the chance and told him I was.  Right away he summoned me over to the booth.  I asked him what happened to the people who were renting the space.  He said “I dunno, they just up ’n left in da middle of da night and left me wit all dis equipment.”

He showed me how to open a film container inside the box where my hands did all the work without exposing the film to light.  I then looped it onto a small wheel which would then dip into the chemicals, ending in the final water bath.  I would take the negative off the wheel carefully, squeegee it and hang it dry.  After drying, I’d feed the film strip into the other machine where the prints came out.  I was so excited about this!  I was in charge of my own little area, and register.  Tony never showed me how to match the receipts to the cash, so every once in a while he’d just come over and pop open the register.  Once his eyes bugged out when he saw how much cash was in there.  “Wow, Alison, your makin a lotta money here!”  He then turned around and handed me $60 bucks.

I remember once while I was squeegeeing a negative I was wondering what the hell the pictures were — I saw people but then bright stripes all over their bodies.  It was weird looking.  Then when the prints came out of the machine I realized they were beach nudists with colored zinc oxide on all of their appendages.  And I mean ALL of their appendages.  I thought, wouldn’t these people want to mail their photos away instead of having me develop them.  Most of my regular customers were home appraisers though, so the pictures were pretty innocuous.

Once a year Tony would host an MS fundraiser at a nearby catering hall.  He asked all the girls to work the event and wear nice dresses.  I remember going to JC Penney where I bought a pretty red dress.  It was $90 and I really couldn’t afford it so I did what my immoral friend Pam suggested and bought it, left the tags on inside the dress, then returned it a few days later after airing out the smoke.  As I walked into the party, the theme to the Godfather was playing. Several men were dead ringers for Marlon Brando.  There was even a crooner who performed and sounded exactly like Sinatra.  At certain times during the evening, all of us girls would carry silken bags and walk around to tables asking for donations.  The wads of cash flashed in front of me were astounding.  Tony raised a lot of money for a very good cause that night.

When the photo booth wasn’t busy, I would help at the video counter.  Tony was getting a bit irritated with how slow some of the girls were working so he called for a staff meeting on a Sunday morning at 10AM.  There were about twelve girls and Tony had us all sit on the floor in front of the counter.  He was gesticulating wildly and pacing around as he spoke.  “Youz girls don’t know how easy you got it here.  Back on the docks in Brooklyn if a guy wasn’t pullin’ his weight you’d just throw ‘em up against da wall and tell ‘em to just FUCKIN do your job! But I can’t do dat wit you girls.”  He sounded a bit disappointed.

After a few minutes of telling us how he wanted us to work, he looked at me and pointed “But Alison, I’m not talkin about you here.”  I didn’t look around or smile or move at all.  I just sat there staring straight ahead.  I hoped that the other girls wouldn’t give me any shit.  Fortunately no one did, or at least not to my face.  Tony trusted me and knew I was a hard worker.

He called the store one day and asked me to go into his office to get some paperwork he needed.  I put the call on hold and walked through sci-fi and porn to unlock the office door.   He had told me the papers where in the top drawer of his desk.   I found it pretty quickly laying underneath his .38 caliber pistol.  It was the first time I’d seen or touched a real gun. I moved it very carefully then picked up the phone giving him the info he needed.  I had a reoccurring nightmare for a while after that where I went through the drawer and the gun went off shooting me in the leg.

With his four video stores doing extremely well, what does Tony do?  He decides to open an Italian restaurant.  Now Italian restaurants on Long Island are like Chinese restaurants in Chinatown…they’re a dime a dozen and you have to be the best of the best in order to succeed.  The restaurant was only open about six months when a kitchen fire burnt the place to the ground.

I worked at the video store while I went to junior college.  After transferring to a four year school, I’d toiled there during summers and holidays.  When I graduated from college, I picked up hours at the store until I found a full time job in Manhattan.  Tony let me manage the store on Sunday’s from 11-5, and that cash helped pay for my subway and railroad costs during the week.  He’d gotten rid of the one hour photo booth by then, so I was strictly in video.

It was 1990 and Blockbuster and Hollywood Video stores were popping up everywhere.  South Shore Video wasn’t as busy as in its heyday and many mom and pop video stores began closing up.  Tony hung on though.   Then South Shore 3, the store he co-owned with his brother Joey, burnt down.

I applied to graduate school in California and left in the summer of 1992.  When I came home for Christmas, South Shore Video had shuttered.  I ran into Rita, a former coworker, who told me that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) had raided the store.  Apparently most of the videos, especially those with multiple copies, were bootlegged.  Tony had a guy in Brooklyn that would make the dupes along with their boxes for a fraction of the cost of buying the originals, hence the reason why he had such a large selection of tapes.  Looking back, I realized that after multiple viewings the pirated videos were distorted and the color was pretty bad.  During the raid, agents pulled the fakes off the wall and piled them high in front of the counter.  Rita said it was just awful especially when Tony was arrested.  He ended up doing six months at Riker’s Island.

I never heard much about Tony after that.  From what I understand, he owned an auto body shop then later a construction company.  Periodically I fondly think back about him and that job, especially when I get my Social Security update.  Once a year I’m sent a document indicating how much money I’ve contributed to social security since I began working.  I smile as I see zero dollars listed for 1987.

As for me, I remained in California and have been working in TV and movies for the last twenty-five years.

If you enjoyed this post, please check out my book, Think Before You Ink and Other Cautionary Tales on Amazon!


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