I can tell this story because it was long enough ago and I think we can all agree that curiosity, wine and a debit card make for dubious decisions. Besides, you were all thinking about it at the time, I’m just the sucker who did it.
It was a simpler time, circa 1999, I was young and impressionable. The twenties are a confusing age-or so I keep explaining to people armed with photographic evidence. Cell phones were flippy and the Internet was adolescent and still mostly for geeks (and me, but my geekiness is undisputed). DVDs were quickly making VCRs obsolete but not without a fight. Television was usual, though one man named, Joe F, had the flashiest commercials around in the midnight to 4 am timeslot. His sitcom-long, late night commercials were ubiquitous, disgusting and impossible to turn away from.
Those commercials were a train wreck; one where you want to but can’t look away, hating yourself for trying to catch a glimpse of a body part. A gory, pathetic, sexy, my-father-never-hugged-me-and-I-need-validation-from-anyone-who-will-give-it train wreck.
One late, late night, after some arm-twisting, begging, and promises of more wine (it may have only been the wine), I was convinced to call and order a tape, just one, one little teacup from the ocean of money this guy was already pulling in. It wouldn’t be contributing to the delinquency of deluded, rum-soaked Spring Breakers. It wouldn’t even make a dent. No one would know. But we had to know what all the hype was about. Had to, right? It would be doing a disservice to pop-culture and my hip twenty-something identity. It was important to our very own relevance! So, I called. I called that number and slapped down my debit card number like a boss. I was clear and calm and not at all creeped out by ordering smut from a real person over the phone. I was precise and stubborn against the ‘exciting new offers’. I hung up that phone with confidence… and then washed my hands, a lot.
A few days later, the VHS tape arrived and, as one would imagine, it inspired more feelings of nausea than sexiness. And wonder. Wonder about where they hell I’d been spending my spring breaks all these years. I didn’t know parties like these existed and why wasn’t I invited? My moment of regret about my ignorant regular Spring Breaks passed quickly and was replaced by indignant self-righteousness. At least MY foolishness wasn’t videotaped and sold for fun and profit. I was way above that. Any photographic evidence of my foolishness, shown to me so readily by my friends to invalidate any argument, I was always clothed. So there! You can keep your gross bacchanalia to yourselves, meanies! I was a respectful, young lady. So, add in feelings of congratulatory pride in hindsight, too.
When the tape arrived, I ripped it open and threw out the packaging as one would do. We watched. Shamefully I admit it was fun to watch, in the same disgusted, can’t-look-away-in-case-we-miss-a-body-part kind of way. Fun, sad, whatever. We giggled a lot and I gasped often in shock then it was put away and that was that.
A few days and many hand-scrubbings later, I got some more mail. Another package arrived. Another tape. The EXTREME version, apparently. The UNCENSORED, AFTER HOURS version. I was confused since I had only ordered one but maybe it was just promotional or a mistake. Despite what it claimed, it wasn’t “extreme” or any other superlative they could have come up with but the same crap re-edited and it too was quickly put away.
A few days later…. can you guess where I’m going with this? A few days later, another package arrived with two tapes inside. EXTREME ON THE BEACH!! And EXTREME ON THE BEACH UNCENSORED!! Getting it through my head that there is no way this is a mistake, I tore through the packaging to find a way to return it and snip whatever hook they have me on. There was nothing. Not one inkling of how or where to return it. There should have been something. I vaguely remembered that there was a note on the first one that said something about ‘call this number to cancel the series….’
Series. Oh no.
I checked my bank account. I was getting charged with every video, and not at the original price, a much, much, much more inflated sucker price. Adding insult to injury, they didn’t even try to cutesy the name of the company on my statement to throw off the scent. It was all there in black and white and tears.
I went online to try to find some way to return the now 4 tapes I had and cancel the series of shame that was parading through my door. The websites were there, as tasteful as the commercials, offering videos with more interesting adjectives than Webster could have imagined, but there wasn’t one darn thing to suggest how to stop this party. There wasn’t even a phone number to call to order on the website, only the message, in flashing gold and red Gill Sans Ultra Bold a la 13 year-old boy’s MySpace page, threatening viewers not to miss their latest TV ad to order. Apart from the random late night that sparked this whole fiasco, I’m really not a night person and poop out pretty early. I didn’t hold out a lot of hope I was going to be up to catch one of their commercials between midnight and four. Remember, this is 1999 and DVR’s hadn’t been invented and not knowing when they’d show the commercials, I couldn’t have set my timer on my VCR. Like anyone could anyway. I think I successfully recorded something with the VCR timer once in 15 years. I was probably around age 12. I quit trying after that.
I tried to stay up, though, a few times. I always fell asleep only to wake up confused and achy from the couch. So…plan B.
Plan B spells, “Plan to B really uncomfortable in public”.
My only option? Go to the bank and close my account. I put on my most respectable, yet casual, oh-this-old-thing? outfit and drove up to the bank. The town where I lived at the time is very small and very snooty. There are many banks there but usually only one branch of each institution so the odds of being familiar and friendly with the bank personnel are quite high. The town is so small, chances are the bank teller you’re speaking with holds said photographic evidence of you that your friends gleefully remind you of. Thankfully, that didn’t happen this time. I didn’t run into anyone I knew and there weren’t any crowds to overhear what promised to be a really awkward conversation.
There was a small line and while waiting, as I did in the car, I practiced all the excuses I was going to use regarding the errant charges and close my account. “My ex-boyfriend stole my debit card and bought smut! The nerve! I’m pressing charges.”, “Thieves stole my debit card and they’re trying to embarrass me by sending porn to my house.”, “I don’t know what this charge is-DON’T LOOK IT UP!-but it’s obviously from some sick, sick individual with my name and address.”, “It’s medicinal.”
The line was moving and time was up. I finally got to the teller and looked squarely at the counter and said, “I need to close my account. I was hijacked by Girls Gone Wild.”
Her look was priceless. She knew. It wasn’t the first time she’d heard that story. She smiled and said, “Sign here.”
…and in case you’re wondering, I don’t have the videos anymore so don’t ask.