“You are one rotten son of a bitch, Marv,” Jerry says.
Jerry is my younger brother, and yes, he’s always this pleasant.
“Jer, there’s literally nothing I can do differently to get this place to be even the least bit profitable,” I say, gesturing to the small monitor on my desk.
The CCTV feed cycles through the various cameras in the store, each shot is as devoid of human life as the last. What I’m saying is the truth, and Jerry knows it. I can tell by the way he’s nervously chewing on that bushel of a mustache.
The writing is on the wall for the Vickers Video Emporium. It has been for some time now. We were able to stay afloat fairly well when Netflix was still primarily shipping out movies on DVDs, but when their streaming service really took off a few years ago, I knew our days were numbered. Whether or not Jerry will accept this fact is another matter altogether.
“What have you even tried? I haven’t seen you do a damn thing except shilling out perfectly good display space for that fake weed crap that all of the kids buy.” He says as he crosses his twig-like arms. “Where’s the pageantry? The appeal to the customer?”
Jerry has plenty of credibility when it comes to movies. He’s been around them almost as long as I have, but the man has never worked the salesfloor a day in his life. He’s about as credible as a Trump lawsuit in Pennsylvania.
“It’s CBD oil, and it’s the one thing that’s actually selling in here. Like literally the only thing. I’ve ran sales, I’ve ran discounts, I waived all past and future late fees! I’ve sold movies almost at cost, and this empty building is the fruit of that labor. I’ve tried my best to save this sinking ship, but nothing is working.”
“Oh, I’m sure,” Jerry says as he rolls his eyes.
I let out a long sigh and sit down on the creaky little computer chair in front of what was once my desk. The back office is filled with more movie posters, adverts and signage than I can shake a stick at; there’s over 30 years' worth of the stuff crammed back here, spewing all over my poor little desk like an overflowing bailer.
Most of the ‘memorabilia’ was stashed back here by our mom before she sold the place to me back in 2010. I guess that’s why I’ve never had the heart to get rid of any of it, even if it smells like a goddamn Goodwill in here.
“What is your deal? You go MIA for years, leaving me and Katie to take care of things here, and now you’ve suddenly developed a vested interest in this place?” I ask.
Jerry winces at the remark like a scalded dog. There’s more than just anger here. There’s hurt. Loss. Regret. The guilt of the son who went off to pursue his dreams, leaving everyone behind in his wake.
“Don’t go acting like it’s so selfish for trying to start my own life.” Jerry says, his voice far less boisterous than before.
“Well then don’t come in here acting like a big ol’ bag of dicks. I’m sick of your shitty attitude and dumbass accusations. Just because you think you’d do a better job running this place than me, that doesn’t somehow magically stop Netflix and Hulu from running us out of business. It doesn’t mean jack. Blockbuster was the king of our industry, but its head went in the basket all the same.”
“Ah, you don’t know what you’re talking about,” Jerry says dismissively.
“There’s a part of me that’s genuinely afraid you actually believe that, Jer. Just ask Katie, for Christ’s sake. I’ve done everything that can be done. Dammit man, I’ve even took out a second mortgage on my house just so I could get the structural damage to the building repaired so we didn’t lose our insurance.”
“What’s the point of asking Katie anything? She’s just going to side with you, like always. We both know who’s the prodigal son, the man who can do no wrong, Jesus Christ himself: Mr. Marvin Vickers!”
Jerry gestures wildly to me as if to call me on some sort of stage and I frown as deeply as my face will allow. I know my brother is still reeling from a painful loss, we all are, but my patience is running thinner than my hairline. How disconnected from reality can one human being be?
I push a floppy-headed cardboard Bruce Campbell out of the way of my computer screen and quickly log into my email. It’s obvious by his posture that Jerry wants to continue the screaming match, but I’m done trying to reason with him. I casually begin to scroll through my new messages while Jerry fumes behind me. Ah, a sale on skillets. Nice.
“Can I just ask you one thing, Marv?” Jerry says.
Ignoring Jerry is easy when the sales are this hot. Oooh, there’s a special on avocados too. Count me in.
“Why can’t you just admit you’re doing this out of spite, eh? You resentful bastard.” Jerry mutters.
I look away from the screen and rest my cheeks on my palms. I’m trying as hard as I can not to punch a hole through the walking, talking stick figure that is Jerry Vickers.
“Jerry, come with me.”
“Where?” he says.
“Just shut it and come on,” I say, rising from my chair.
I lead Jerry through a series of unmarked doors as we head further into the bowels of the sizable building. Before he’s able to start whining again, I push open a matte-black metal door and just like that we’re in the alley just behind the store. There’s not much back here besides a stack of plastic crates and a small green dumpster beside the back door. The asphalt mirrors that of the front parking lot. The once-black surface is grey and cracking, slivers of grass and various other weeds have begun emerging from the fissures.
“What are we doing out here?” Jerry asks nervously.
“I’m here to show you something,” I say.
I go over to the dumpster and kick the lock on its heavy rubber wheel, disengaging it. Thankfully the alley way is level, so I don’t have to worry about it rolling off down main street or anything.
“What the hell are you doing, Marv?” Jerry says.
I walk over to where the dumpster sat and brush away some of the dirt and grit from off of that particular spot. When I’m done, a series of three initials, carved into the beige face of the cinderblock is visible; JV, MV, and KV.
“Remember when we did that?” I ask as I point at the carvings.
“Yeah,” Jerry says. “Katie snatched Gramps’ old army bayonet from his trunk and smuggled it over in her Lisa Frank fanny pack. How the old man missed it is beyond me.”
I feel a grin forming on my face as I recall the day. It hadn’t been long since Mom had bought the building. Dad was inside working on something, one of the ceiling fixtures maybe, while she started building the display shelves for all of the tapes.
“I still can’t believe how good of a job we did,” I say, tracing the lines of the letters with my forefinger.
“Especially if you consider we just wacked a knife with a big rock,” Jerry says.
We stand staring at the initials in silence for a good minute before Jerry pipes up again.
“It’s all I have left of her,” Jerry says, his voice barely higher than a whisper.
“What do you mean?” I ask.
“When she needed you two, you were there for her. When she had those strokes and couldn’t run the store, what did you do? You took it over for her and kept it going. When Dad passed away out of the blue and Mom had no idea how to deal with everything, who was there for her? You and Katie, without fail. All the while, I’m over in New York, galivanting around with the other guys at the firm like some sort of big shot. I should have been here for them and for you," Jerry says.
I bite my lip as I look away from his watery gaze, I didn’t want to slip up and shed a tear.
“This store, this stupid, outdated store is the last piece of her that feels alive, tangible. You know? I thought if somehow I could help save the Emporium, then it would make up for all the times I wasn’t here.” Jerry says, his voice breaking.
Tears are running down my cheeks as I turn back to face Jerry. I’m relieved to see that he’s in a similar state.
“We never blamed you for going out and living your life, Jer. Neither did Mom. She was so proud of you, every day she bragged about you to anyone who would listen. We just missed you, that’s all.” I say between sniffles.
We embrace one another tightly, something that hasn’t happened in what feels like ages.
As the awkward hug in the alleyway behind and old video store starts to garner some unwanted attention from nosey folks walking by, we cease the embrace. We may be two crying, middle-aged shlubs, but we still have our dignity. Well, Jerry does. I gave mine up when I flew in Tommy Wiseau to the store for a customer meet and greet session back when that James Franco movie came out. I thought he was just a character from the movie and I’d somehow landed James himself, but I was wrong. So very, very wrong.
“Okay, so honestly, do you have any ideas how to save the store, Jerry? I really need your help.”
“Marv, I have the perfect idea.”
“Lay it on me,” I say.
“We don’t save it,” Jerry says.
“I--wait...what?” I say.
“You’ve done all you can for this iteration of the Emporium, brother. I wouldn’t call it giving up though, just changing up. Have a grand-reopening, get some press, the full-nine. Does that make help at all?” Jerry says.
It doesn’t take a full second before I realize that this could be the solution we are looking for. A total rebranding, a fresh start. It’s exactly what we need.
“That’s really smart, Jer. I mean, if we do this right, it could change our fortunes for sure. I just...I want to make sure this gets done right. Why don’t me you and Katie get together over drinks tonight? We can go over everything together and figure out the best way forward.”
Jerry looks surprised, then smiles.
“That sounds great, Marv. Count me in.”
I grin and give Jerry a respectable handshake before leading him back into the building.
Yes, the Vickers Video Emporium may be going the way of the dodo, but that’s okay. Along the way, I think we found something far more important, something you can’t buy or replace like a business or a building. I found my brother again, and in the end, I think that’s what really would’ve made our Mom happy.