Pablo D’Stair is one of the hardest working men in the literary world today. Besides being a prolific author, he is also the man behind the now defunct Brown Paper Publishing. I’ll always have a soft spot for Pablo if for nothing else, because he originally published one of the best micro-fiction collections I’ve ever read, Cienfuegos, by Chris Deal. But Pablo always has SOMETHING going on. Right now, it’s VHS.
“VHS is a literary novel, primarily concerned with a clerk named Desmond Argyle, who works in a medium-sized, chain video rental store. The novel takes places during the last three weeks his store will still be receiving VHS shipments of movies as its primary rental and retail product before, all at once, restocking with DVDs.
While linear in nature, it will quickly be revealed that the writing is as impressionistic as it is concrete–therefore, I want to point out that VHS is set in the tangible world, that the action is localized to the banal life of this clerk at work and at home etc. However, while set in the specific period of general transition from VHS to DVD, the novel is not meant to evoke with a specific accuracy any exact year or the general events of the world during the period of time when the aforementioned transition would have literally been taking place.”
The following is an excerpt from VHS, a literary novel by Pablo D’Stair being released in various e-formats, absolutely free-of-charge (and in limited edition print-editions-by-part through giveaways). Information on the project, including links to what is currently available, can be found at www.vhsbook.wordpress.com.
“nothing about the police”
Two customers were browsing the spined movies, just there, two bays down, not looking for anything, nothing, standing there, idly turning down this box or that, chatting. One of them was explaining they’d made a big mistake in doing a policeman a favor, other one wondering what did they mean? First one explained that a policeman had approached him and asked him to let himself be arrested with regard to a death that was being treated as suspicious—according to this customer, the policeman had emphasized many times it was just a “suspicious death” and not an out-and-out “homicide”—the policeman promising to let him go when it became clear that he wasn’t the one responsible.
“So I asked the policeman why he’d tell people he’d thought I was responsible to begin with and the policeman told me he’d claim it had been an anonymous tip. But I’d said how that didn’t really make sense, what had the tip been?”
The second customer nodded his head and took a breath like he had been just about to say the same thing.
“So the policeman said the tip had been about someone fitting my description, that all I really had to do was at first say that I’d been on some street—Clive Street or something, Chive Street—on Thursday, then act like I remembered ‘No no it had been Wednesday’.”
“Why not just remember you hadn’t been on Chive Street, at all?”
“Because then it wouldn’t have made sense him bringing me in—the way we played it was I pretended I’d said ‘Yes’ when he’d first approached and asked me had I been on Chive Street on Thursday, hence he’d brought me down for questioning.”
“Yeah, so then I’d just say that I suddenly remembered where I’d been on Thursday—which I could bring in alibi witnesses about, you know?—and then I’d be cut loose.”
They both went quiet, like that was the end of the story, but it couldn’t have been, it didn’t finish the initial thought—the guy’s whole point had been saying he’d made a mistake in going along with this, but so far no mistake at all had come to light in the dialogue.
They wandered over to the Comedy section, then into the Family section, reminiscing about various cartoons they’d grown up on—Watership Down, probably, Wind in the Willows, which I’d never seen—and generally continuing their conversation where I was helpless to hear it.
Sprayed some more cleaner on the shelves, looked at a box for Tromeo and Juliet and remembered about the Toxic Avenger cartoon, tried to remember the jingle for the toys.
“Toxic Avenger, Toxic Avenger, he’s gross but he still gets girls.”
It just came to me and I felt great about it.
But had that jingle been in the movies, or just the cartoons, or just the advertisements for the toys?
Didn’t really care, and soon an odd flood of memories about the show washed over me and then I remembered the cartoon Exo-Squad and then the more grown up show Space: Above and Beyond, but couldn’t remember had I thought it was any good.
When the customers left, I went up to a kid named Dover Reeves who was now on shift, asked him had he overheard what they’d been talking about.
“One of them had never seen Labyrinth.”
He was emptying the trash bags, replacing them, not really looking to notice from my face that I kind of expected more of an answer than that.
Dover shrugged, started putting some returns in the rewinder.
“Hey, did you check those in, yet?”
He shook his head, immediately scanned the barcodes, so I spared him the lecture about how it could lead to trouble not scanning everything in before rewinding.
“But they didn’t say anything about the police?” I asked, then right away asked him if he wanted a candy bar, because I was getting a candy bar and it was almost just as cheap to buy two. He didn’t want a candy bar, but if I was dead set on getting him something, he pointed to the Big League Chew and said he’d always wanted to try some of that.
“You’ve never had it?”
I nodded, threw it on the counter.
“Where’s your candy bar?”
Shook my head, getting some money out, but he gave the Big League Chew a few taps back in my direction, said if I wasn’t getting anything not to worry, or if it was too expensive to get both.
“It’s not too expensive, Reeves, now let me buy it and what did those guy’s say about the police?”
“They didn’t say anything about the police. Just one of them didn’t like Labyrinth.”
I clamped down on this discrepancy, told him hadn’t he not even two seconds earlier said that one of them said that they’d only never “seen” Labyrinth, but he was quick enough to turn this around on me, explaining that, yes, one of them had never “seen” Labyrinth, but the other one—who he noted was “the one who had seen it”—just hadn’t “liked” it.
“And they didn’t say anything else?”
“The one who hadn’t seen it said he didn’t want to see it, then.”
I nodded, waiting for more.
“And then the one who hadn’t liked it said it had traumatized him because one can so clearly see David Bowies joint boinging around in the tights he wears.”
True, you can see that, but nothing so disturbing about it.
“But nothing about the police?”
He opened his gum, took a pinch, chewed.
I gave it up, waited for Dover to move away so I could pull up the account, but he didn’t. He stood there chewing, noncommittally, putting more and more into his mouth at a time—no way it could be pleasant, that much in his mouth, and soon I just couldn’t look anymore.
Decided to buy myself a candy bar after all and Dover said something while he chewed, slobber sounds, suction sounds, but when I asked him later what it’d been he said “When?” then right away waved me off, shook his head, said it really hadn’t been anything.
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