Two work time incidences of masturbation, one (*several*) in the stock room at Blockbuster Video, and another not by me at all

Simon Pinkerton is a nebulous concept who lives with his wife and two sweet boys in London, England. He has the craziest expression!! Please read his stories and show him some love on Twitter @simonpinkerton

There are two jobs I’ve enjoyed in my life so far: delivering electronics for a department store (John Lewis), and working in a video-rental shop (Blockbuster Video).

At John Lewis, there were a couple of noteworthy adventures: I was chased out of an apartment block by a voodoo priest — almost naked, arcanely-painted, hair covered in a white powder, crazed eyes, spewing nonsense. When the customer called to ask why his TV hadn’t been delivered and I told him, he apologized and rescheduled for “a time when Rodney isn’t in the building.”

During another delivery, I was invited in by a thirty-something lady in a robe who had placed an order for a stereo. She had placed a sex toy on the dresser and eyed it, and me, suggestively when I asked her where she wanted me to stick it. She said, “to the side of the mirror please,” and promptly started masturbating on her couch as I knocked the vibrator (enormous) to one side and wired up her new stereo (eyes flicking to a reverse image of her reclined form, mind strangely transfixed on whether she was going at it clockwise or counter clockwise and how the mirror affected my perception of this). I wired it up incorrectly, or so I found out after I got back to the shop (she had called). But, fuck if I was going back there to fix it. I sent my friend Wayne, having told him the buyer was really friendly. He asked me how I managed to mess up such a routine installation, and I told him there had been something on my mind. I was confident he would be fine, as it was rumored he had been compelled to pay a Berlin prostitute double her usual price for a blow job at a bachelor party, such was his lack of romantic appeal. He never refuted the claim.

With regards to the latter job, proximity and laziness pulled and languidly pushed me to apply for and get a job at the Blockbuster Video right next to my home. I’m maybe writing about this as a nostalgia-piece for myself and my contemporaries because such a job doesn’t really exist anymore -- or if it does, I haven’t seen it for a long time anywhere near where I live in London.

For the benefit of younger readers, Blockbuster Video was a franchise of physical Netflix stores. Instead of scrolling through selections, you would enter the store and walk about looking. Upon making your selection, you would take an empty box representing your chosen tape or DVD or game cartridge to the desk where you would have a social encounter with a member of staff, who would take your box and swap it with a box of a videotape or DVD or game and then make a sarcastic comment about your choice before half-heartedly trying to upsell you M&Ms and bags of popcorn. Netflix doesn’t represent the old experience of video stores in a number of ways, but the main one for me is that there are no digital homeless people wandering around on your screen. Perhaps a future patch will rectify this omission?

Before too long I naturally excelled at stacking boxes, chatting with customers, selling M&Ms, and masturbating in the stock room, so I was functionally made the number three guy in my small store (a sort of manager’s assistant without either the concomitant extra wages or the badge with the star on it). I even impressed the big corporate bosses one time with my winning smile and attentive customer service -- this despite having lost my voice the previous night screaming at friends to be heard over 90s pop in a tawdry nightclub, and having an intermittent bass-baritone lower than Barry White. Extra responsibilities were layered onto my role until I was in charge of opening the shop most mornings and taking care of the necessary marketing and sales tasks that were beamed to me via what felt like magic (imagine the World Wide Web without a browser to view it on) and swathes of paper on a dot-matrixprinter (an old printer with shitty resolution).

Due to living next door, I was able to set my alarm for five minutes before opening-time (a generous 9 am), roll out of bed and into my uniform, and open the doors and start the printout. When there were no customers I would go back to my house and make breakfast, shower, and watch from the front window in case anybody arrived. At 9:30 I would go back in and settle myself behind the counter, steal and eat a chocolate bar, and then get up again and look for any new soft-core pornography DVDs that had arrived. Blockbuster didn’t carry the hard stuff because it was a family store, but it did carry some very odd, very loose parodies of popular films but with boobs, and occasionally what my co-worker Ben used to call biff hair.

When Ben would come in for the morning shift at around 10 or 11 am, I would demonstrate the new haul of erotica and we would play the most incredible-looking one on the store’s screens, fast-forwarding to the parts most likely to show boobs and biff hair. We’d watch it while we tidied and sorted the DVDs and merchandise and other miscellany. After this I would mostly be in the backroom doing the money stuff and he would be shop-side: he had the remote control in hand to stop the DVD when a customer came in, unless it was a homeless person in which case he just let it roll.

On many occasions we were nearly caught out by mothers who would come in early with their kids looking for cartoons on tape. Some were suspicious so I would tell them that when a tape or DVD was returned faulty it was our duty to check them on our equipment, but because some of the movies were unsuitable for children, we were obliged to stop them when children came into the store. This believable tale was all my own work, and Ben thought I was a genius.

On one occasion however, he hit pause instead of stop, and the three or four screens positioned strategically throughout the store framed a gigantic close-up of a vagina. I distinctly remember the lady who was in there at the time with three noisy children: she had jodhpurs and riding boots on, and she smelled vaguely of manure. I caught her eye as I popped my head out from the backroom, and I saw a fire in it — the kind of fire you see ignite in the eye of somebody sequacious who stumbles upon a situation in which they can be the centre of attention: the fire that shows a realization of control, of added power (especially bureaucratic/legal).

There are few situations as humbling and sleazy as getting berated in front of the whole staff by a manager the same age as you but much stupider, for watching really bad soft-porn while there were children in the store. At least I had Ben next to me to share my dry-mouthed, red-faced shame. We didn’t get fired, which was a bonus, but I was functionally demoted to number four in the hierarchy. A bearded man named Chris was now tasked with opening-up, and I was switched to evening shifts so I could be supervised at all times.

I never masturbated in the stock room again. I could barely look at the soft-core video boxes without feeling nauseated. When a man I knew who owned the toy store down the street returned a DVD of a pornographic Buffy the Vampire Slayer and apologetically said to me, “I thought it was the actual Buffy the Vampire Slayer” I didn’t sarcastically ask him why he would want to watch Buffy in his mid-40s, but instead took the DVD in hand, placed it behind me, and wistfully said, ”I understand. There’s no biff hair in that one is there?”

It was still a great job though. I got to rent up to seven movies or games a week, free-of- charge! Which in this age of streaming (stealing?) anything you want at any time and mostly anywhere gives my story a farcical bent to the modern Millennial.

But let me assure you, teens and young-twenties: back then, that many free rentals made me a king among men, and my witty disdain of your choice of movie was the talk of the local franchise.




It’s November. It has to be November, because I am going to Disneyland with my family (if we go to Disneyland, we go in November). We are stopping to visit my parents’ friends on the way. I am nine or ten years old. Their son is older than me. He has Downs Syndrome. I run up with him to his room, and we sing into a karaoke machine his parents bought him. It’s not much of a karaoke machine. It’s just a tape player with a cheap plastic microphone and a shitty speaker. He has way too many toys, the sort of stuff you find in the pediatrician’s office. We hop around the room like kangaroos. We slither on the carpet like snakes. I jump up on his bed and start hooting like an ape.

He grabs me and pins me down.

I try to wrestle my way out of it, but he’s incredibly strong. He pins me down again and plants some blunt, weird kisses on my forehead, then he starts squirming all over me, really worked up. His face scrunches. He wiggles for a while, then gets extremely tired. He lays there panting on me. It looks like he’s going to pass out. I writhe out from under him and walk downstairs, angry because of—I can’t tell? What just happened?

I tell on him, and his parents freak out. They’re going ballistic. My parents freak out. I don’t understand why everyone is freaking out.


Sex was presented to me as a system of predator and prey. There was danger lurking around every corner. Girls had to guard themselves because, given the chance, teenage boys would fuck anything that moved. If you were a man, you were a walking, talking erection. You were supposed to be thinking about sex twenty times a minute. Women were supposed to tolerate sex for the emotional benefits, but if they actually liked sex, they were disease-ridden sluts. Gay men were even hornier than the straight ones, and gay women were ugly combative man-haters.

I learned all this before I’d ever had an orgasm, when I still thought women got pregnant by men pissing inside them.


I am in sixth grade, and Kaiser Permanente is putting on a play called Nightmare on Puberty Street. We sit cross-legged on the floor of the gym. The set is blank except for a spraypainted backdrop of silver geometric shapes and neon squiggles. A fog machine fills the stage with blue haze. Then a dozen or so teen actors emerge from behind the backdrop, pushing each other around in a typical playground name-calling scene. They clear out for some reason, but a single kid remains center stage. The spotlight hits him, and he bursts into song: “Noooor-mal!! Am I noooor-mal? What is noooor-mal?” The rest of the play doesn’t matter much. A conversation about moms buying kids jock straps. Something about a suicide scare. “There’s not actually a bone in there,” someone explains, “it’s just called a boner.” The actors stick around after the performance to counsel students. My friends and I joke about boners.


When we were young, health class told us sexual feelings were normal, nothing to be ashamed of. We watched grainy videos from the ’70s of dudes in bell-bottoms watching girls play soccer and feeling something funny going on, of guys prepping their younger brothers for a first date, of girls talking their younger sisters through their first period. Cartoons shimmying beneath bedsheets, then, nine months later, a baby.

But as we got older, health class became sinister. The teachers read lists of STD symptoms: shaking, spots on the legs, parasites, warts. Dementia, heart failure, impotence. We saw photographs of everything. If you had HIV, you wouldn’t know until it was too late. It invaded your bloodstream, turning your white blood cells into virus-ridden bio-bombs, and as soon as the symptoms surfaced, it would be over for you. You’d get a cold, which would turn into a bronchial infection, then pneumonia, and without any white blood cells to fight the infection, you’d be dead. That’s how it was described to me. Another acting troupe dramatized the quick spread of HIV through a group of strangers. I think the play ended with a funeral, but I may be wrong. Don’t have sex, kids.


I kept a laminated business-card-sized abstinence pledge in my wallet. Something like “I commit to save myself for marriage.” I received the card from my church, after a youth group sex talk. “You see,” the youth pastor explained, “all forms of intimacy lead to sex. There is a lot of gray area, like, you know, uh, heavy petting, and, uh, other forms of intimacy, but these are all designed to get you ready for sex. So you need to draw the line at a safe spot and stick to it.”

I went to the youth group with my girlfriend. We never really talked about sex, but we were having plenty of it. We didn’t think it counted, because back then everyone said penetration was the only thing that really mattered, and the rest was all part of an ever-shifting baseball system. Was oral sex was “third base?” I’m not really sure.


I worried that I didn’t think about sex as often as men were supposed to. Was there something wrong with me?

I did have a scar on my penis from a clumsy circumcision. Was that it? Deeply submerged psychosexual terror from a traumatic infant experience?


Sometimes I wondered if I was gay. Maybe that explained why I wasn’t thinking about sex all the time. In health class, they said it was okay to be gay. It didn’t seem like the adults believed it. Most of the adults I knew were Christians. I’d hear fragments of their conversations when the AIDS crisis was blooming: “. . . bathhouses . . . what did they think . . . judgment . . .”


My J.V. high school football coach sees a bunch of guys bent over, hands on knees, after running laps. “Keep standing like that," he says, "now look behind you and spell ‘run.’ R-U-N, get it? are-you-in?”

“Ha ha ha,” we laugh.

“Now stand up straight, bitches. Robertson over here gets it. He used to be a tight end, but now he’s a wide receiver, right? Tight end, wide receiver. Don’t let that faggot get on top of you. He’ll fuck you like the pussies you are!”

“Ha ha ha!”

We walk single file  to the field, our spikes clicking the pavement. The other team is lined up in front of the chain-linked fence at the entrance to the football field. They point out the players with the biggest bulges and laugh.

After the pre-game stretching, we huddle up in the end zone, underneath the goalpost. Our breath becomes a cloud in the crisp autumn air. “Okay,” says Brad, the linebacker, “these are the same pussies we destroyed in the preseason. We kicked their asses then, and we’ll fucking do it again!” Yeah! The scattered, emphatic assent is like an amen. “These cocksuckers are coming here, into our fucking house, under our fucking lights, all the way from Danville, just to get their asses handed to them!” Yeah! “Now get in close, here.” Our hot breath gathers over our heads, a misty halo beneath the bright lights. “We’re the best fucking team in the league, and we’re not going to let a bunch of faggots from Danville score a single point against us! (Yeah!) We’re gonna fucking murder them! (Yeah!) Now get your helmets together, in here.” Our silver helmets knock against each other, knock knock thud. Brad starts to chant, quietly. “We’re gonna rape, kill, pillage-and-burn; we’re gonna rape-kill-pillage-and-burn. Eat babies!” We join in, chuckling at first. The chant crescendoes, and we’re all getting into it now, we’re all fucking vikings! “We’re gonna rape, kill, pillage-and-burn! We’re gonna rape-kill-pillage-and-burn! EAT BABIES!”

My imagination goes nuts. Trains crash into each other. I tear some guy’s arm off. I punch a guy so hard that his head swivels. He crumples to the ground. I imagine my fists are smoky blue, glowing with an evil fire, like the final boss in Street Fighter II.

The loudspeakers play “We Will Rock You.” The crowd stomps along with the kick drum. Thump thump CLAP! Thump thump CLAP! Somehow, Freddy Mercury totally fits with our teen aggression ceremony.

So what?

Fucking Danville!

Those fucking faggots!


A kid contracted HIV from a blood transfusion, my mom tells me. He was so brave, she says. His name was Ryan White, and they kicked him out of school, but he fought it, bless him. He lived five years longer than the doctors said he would. He passed away, from complications brought on by bronchial pneumonia, but his hope was in the Lord. He said so, as he lay dying in the hospital bed, to whomever came to visit him. And lots of people were visiting him. Famous people. Michael Jackson bought him a red Mustang convertible. He even wrote a song for Ryan, too. Elton John bought his family a house. The kid met with President Reagan, went on TV, talked about his illness. Raised awareness. He was a hero. He didn’t deserve to get that disease, my mom says, but he was so brave. She shakes her head. The Lord surely used him. He didn’t deserve to get that gay disease.


“You have this wild, intense energy about you—one of the most incredible auras I’ve seen.”

“Thank you,” I reply. I’m at a girl’s birthday party in Laguna Beach. I’m hoping to hook up with her tonight. I’m eighteen or nineteen. I’m upstairs chatting with a twenty-something psychic, who assures me he’s not hitting on me. He can tell by my aura that I am not into him, he says. I like hearing him talk about my aura.

Another guy, the psychic’s ex-boyfriend, picks up a small toy monkey and dangles it in front of my face. He swings it back and forth, as if he was a hypnotist: “Be gay! Be gaaaaa-ay!”

The guy is trashed and is trying to grope me. The psychic tells him to knock it off, and the guy goes outside to smoke. As I watch him leave, I see the birthday girl lead someone else by the hand into her room.

“Whoa,” the psychic says, “your energy just spiked. Everything okay?”

“Yeah,” I say, “yeah, no, I don’t know, fuck it.”

I am almost crying. I don’t know why. It’s all so embarrassing.

I drive to the cliff to watch the ocean. I masturbate in the car and fall asleep. I wake up in the middle of the night, confused, full of fear. I hear the loud sound of waves crashing against the rocks. It takes a long time to remember where I am.