Betty Ann – Part 1 – Home Video Center

Winter 1984 – Wildwood, NJ

Upon my return from California after failing to become a metal god, I took a job as a sales clerk at Home Video Center in Northfield, NJ. The last job I had in Los Angeles was at a video store called Videon. It was a new idea back when VHS & Beta were in their infancy. The owner of a chain of stores in LA called Music + decided that home video was going to take off and wanted to create a new line of stores that catered only to video. So I had a little experience in a new industry.

I was 22 years old.

It was a fun job, and I liked the people I worked with. We had 500 titles in both formats, VHS and Beta. We carried, all kinds of titles. Drama, comedy, horror, thrillers, kids movies, and also adult titles. (The adult titles were all stashed on the very top of the shelves so kids couldn’t see them.) It was funny how people rented pornography back then. There was no internet, and the only place you could view porn back then was in magazines, or some sleazy adult theater or peep show in a rough part of the city. Now video brought pornographic movies right into the homes of America for the first time. It was funny when people would rent porn. They would get a few legitimate titles and the porn box was always at the bottom of their stack or sandwiched in the middle. They had to hide their desires. But we were trained to be professionals and after a while you ring up the titles like anything else you do in a job. It’s simply another transaction. Like when I worked in a bank. The money loses it’s meaning because it’s just part of the job. You might as well be handling lettuce. The companies that made porn videos back then must have made billions of dollars. They already made their films on the cheap. (Every movie is about the same thing) and they already had all of the films, so they just attached themselves to a new delivery system to get their products into the hands and pants of America. But surprisingly, adult titles were a very small part of what we rented. People wanted quality films they could enjoy at home with their family and friends. It was a good job. We were selling entertainment. That’s a good thing. (But, please, be kind, and rewind the tape when you’re finished watching it!)

They had more movies in one place than I had ever seen. It was amazing, because we could rent up to three movies at a time for free. I saw so many films I had been dying to see for so many years and this was a huge win for a film guy like me. Home video changed the way people got their entertainment. We were no longer chained to local programming and cable TV. We could watch what we wanted when we wanted for a fee. This was the beginning of the way we get our entertainment today.

Here’s a post I wrote a while ago about how wonderful that experience could be when shared between family members.

My Father’s Chair

I worked the rental counter with a few other people, and they had one or two sales guys that sold VCRs, TVs and video cameras. When I think about that technology now and how groundbreaking it was, it all seems so ancient now that I can do all of the things that all of those machines did with my cell phone.

There were five owners, and they banked at First Fidelity bank where my dad was a regional manager. He got me the gig at Home Video Centers. Again, my father helping me find gainful employment. He told me to go apply and they naturally hired me. It’s funny how history repeats itself. My dad got me the job at Hunt’s Pier, Home Video, and later Circle Liquors. I got my daughter the hostess job at The Continental when she first moved to Philly in high school, then the gig at Bar Bom Bon, and later a part-time position at a local smoke shop during the pandemic. So it goes full circle. My father led by example, and he taught me to walk where he walked… not where he pointed. I’ve tried to do the same for my daughter.

The other four owners were silent partners. Brad ran the operation for the stores. (We also had a site in Vineland, NJ.) They had a manager that was in charge of the staff, named John. A cool ex marine that had a humorous intensity about him. I really liked him. I’m pretty sure he was married to Brad’s daughter and that’s how he got the job. Speaking of family, one of the partner’s daughter’s worked there too. Her name was Valerie and we used to call her Video Val. (I think because her monogrammed  license plates said that.) She was a sweet girl who loved all things Madonna. I mean, LOVED Madonna like I loved Aerosmith. So I got her passion. For those of you who didn’t grow up in the 80s, Madonna was the Britney Spears of the music scene back then.  I remember taking Val out for some gin and tonics and then we wet to see the film, Suddenly Seeking Susan, a movie that Madonna had a small part in. Val always liked me and we were good friends back then.

It was a good crew of people. The one owner Brad was in and out, or up in his office. John managed the place and there were a few guys who worked in the repair shop in the back. Can you imagine that now? There was a whole workshop back there where a few tech guys would repair and clean ppeople’sVCRs. I remember some guy brought in his front loading betamax and said it  something was wrong with it because he couldn’t put a tape in it. When the guys opened it up, they found a little toy car inside that his son had put inside it thinking it was a garage for his matchbox cars.

Sony Betamax ARABIA SL-T20ME RED PAL & SECAM Beta auto voltage *free shipping*

I have to admit, it does look like a little garage door on the front. You could jam a whole fleet of Hot Wheels in that thing. I’m sure the man wasn’t pleased.

It was a good group of people working together in a relatively new industry. I remember when I was back in California I went to a party at some rich dude’s house and he had a VCR. Nobody I knew had one of those back in 1982. It cost him around $1500 back then. It was new desirable technology back then and they could charge what they wanted for it.

We also sold some of the old big screen rear projection TV sets. That was an amazing yet primitive hunk of furniture and technology. They made them 36 inches up to around 40 inchesscreen-wisee back then. They were thousands of dollars but we sold a lot of them. Back then it was the best way to watch a movie at home or a sporting event. Some of them weren’t that bad, (Sony, and Mitsubishi made the best ones of course) but most of them really didn’t have much clarity as classic tube sets of the day. Little did we know that one day you could have a 50 inch flat screen that you could hang on the wall for around $300 from Walmart!

I remember one day this guy came in and there were a couple of us guys hanging out on the sales floor. The conversation went like this:

Guy: “Do you guys sell anything that I can use to get stains off abig-screenn TV?”

John: “Hmm… I could check in the back.”

Guy: “Okay.”

Me: “Actually, we have a product like that. It’s called, “Cums Off.”

We all burst into laughter, including the guy, who got the ‘big screen, you’ve been watching too much porn reference.’

Me: “I’m sorry sir, I just couldn’t resist. I would just turn off the set, unplug it, and use a little light soap and water on a cloth. Wipe the screen down vertically.”

It was a riot.

Working at Home Video Venters was a cool job. I watched all of LIVE AID while at work. It was on every TV all day and a magical day for a musician and music lover like me. It was amazing to watch all of the music stars of the day rock out in an all day live concert up in Philly.

I saw the whole MOVE thing happen in Philly as well at Home Video Centers. I watched as they burned down Osage Avenue on 30 TVs around the store.

I learned everything there was to know about VCRs, VHS, Beta, and wiring up audio and video systems to work together. I once rewired an entire media room including all the HIFI aspects of the system to make it all sing together in one room.

I saw my first Pioneer laser disc. I saw my first compact disc at that job. I remember putting the demo disc in a CD player in a 100100-wattstem and hearing the band Rush’s song, Tom Sawyer for the first time digitally. I was blown away by the power and clarity and sound of this new technology.

Plus, I’m surrounded every day by bunch of people who love film and watching movies. I remember going to see Hitchcock’s, The Man Who Knew Too Much with a buddy of mine at a small revival theater. It was amazing. I had never seen any older films in the theater in my life. Only new stuff. Just brilliant!

Oh, Betty? I’ll get to her in the next installment. Tune in next Tuesday. I’ve had too much fun writing about the video store!

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Wildwood Daze – The Button Master

Wildwood, New Jersey – 1979-1980

There was a little unique shop on the boardwalk called The Button Master. My friend, Wolfie who was in a band with me at the time used to call the place, The Button Bastard. (I don’t know why, but why not?)

The shop was nothing but buttons. This was a trend in the mid to late 70s. They had all kinds of cool phrases on them and they could even make custom buttons for you if you brought them an image.

I always had a few buttons stuck to my green army jacket, which had the logo of my band on the back, The Union Jacks. I also had several buttons on the black guitar strap for my guitar. They were one of Alex from A Clockwork Orange, (Read the book by Anthony Burgess in 12th grade in American Lit class and loved it but hadn’t seen the Kubrick movie yet because it was no longer out in theaters and they would never show something like that on TV back then!) I had a button that said; I Want It All, Total Control, and a custom button I had made of Farrah Fawcett. (Because I LOVED her back then)

The owner was never there and I only met him once. But there was a guy who was in his 20s from New York named Tom Duke who worked there. He was a nice guy and would always let me hang out there and talk about rock music. Which I loved. I would sometimes just go up there on my day off and just browse the buttons and chat with him. They were all super cheap. Maybe a buck apiece.

I think Tom lived there, because there was a mattress on the floor in the back room, and I assumed he crashed there all summer. He was skinny and sort of gaunt, so he may have been a random drug user who didn’t seem like a person of means. But he had vast musical knowledge and I loved talking about rock with anybody who knew what they were talking about back then.

He was a big, YES and Genesis fan, and told me he knew some of the guys in those bands which I thought was super cool. (Could have been a lie, but who’s checking?) He liked that the latest Genesis album was entitled, Duke, because that was his last name. Just a weird coincidence I suppose.

Sometimes he had beer and we’d drink and chat and make it a fun night laughing it up in the store. Alcohol was new to me back then and I could get a nice buzz from 2 bottles of Bud. I remember Tom going out the back door of the store once and peeing right off the edge of the boardwalk into the parking lot below. Somebody yelled at him to stop, but he just laughed and shouted, “What? It’s my F*cking parking spot!”

I thought that was hilarious.

One night I was hanging out in the store and it was getting late. I knew he’d be closing soon and I’d be going home. I was just hanging in the store and talking rock with him, and helping customers find different buttons. I had spent so much time in that store I sort of knew where everything was. Just sheets hung up around the room and thousands of colorful buttons pinned all over them. Pretty simple setup and cheap inventory with low overhead.

This couple came in and they sort of looked like hybrid hippies. In their late 30s or early 40s. Like, maybe they used to be hippies but cut their hair but still had that hippie vibe to them.

I noticed the guy had an iron-on of Wile E Coyote on his yellow T-shirt. But I’m pretty sure this wasn’t an image licensed by Warner Brothers. It was Wile E, in a diving position with his mouth open and the message said: Muff Diver.

I’d seen that image before, but it just seemed kind of creepy even back then. We only wore fun images and rock band names on our shirts, and here was this old guy with this weird awkward shirt on.

I pointed to the wall of buttons and asked him if there was anything he was interested in. His response was:

“Other than f*cking?”

Okay, that’s weird.

So then, what I’m assuming was wife starts flirting with me right in the store. I’m getting nervous because her husband is right there on the other side of the store. She’s touching me and rubbing my back and stuff. I’m 17 years old and still pretty naive. I’ve been dating girls since I was 14 years old, but this was some new adult ground for me back in 1980. But I have a couple of beers in me, so I’m not having an anxiety attack.

She says she wants me to come back to their motel room for some fun. She was kind of hot and I was debating whether I should do it, but something was telling me I shouldn’t. I was experiencing some classic stranger danger. I didn’t know these people. What if they took me back to their room and killed me? I liked horror movies and my mind went right to that image.

Her husband was sort of just standing off in the distance watching all of this. He was smiling and nodding his head. I’m thinking, is this something these people do? Hunt young teen guys for their kinky debauchery? I wasn’t stupid and I’d heard of people who were swingers but I hadn’t encountered anything like this before.

So, Tom Duke says, “Why don’t you two just go into the back room and have at it. I felt a little better about that idea because he was there and if anything weird went down he could come and save me.

But, here’s the thing, they were in agreeance only if her husband could join in. I was like… No way. No three-way with an old dude. His wife continued to stay close to me and rub my back like I was some sort of pet.

I told them I appreciated their offer, but I just wasn’t into that sort of thing. They were nice about it and just laughed. She turns to her husband and says: “I think it’s just a lack of experience.”

I protested that I was hip to all things like that but just wasn’t into that particular thing. But they knew. I did lack experience. But in all honesty, there was no way I was fooling around with a lady and a man in some sort of sexy tryst.

They smiled, said goodbye, and left the store to go hunt down some other hapless teen. I hope they didn’t find anybody.

The next day I went and told my boss Louie on the Golden Nugget the whole lurid story. He told me I did the right thing by declining their offer. I’ll never forget what Louie yelled to me over the noise of the ride.

“You could have been screwing the lady and then all of a sudden, you feel some guy getting you from behind!” (add expletives and profanity from your imagination)

Just another crazy summer night in Wildwood.

Thank you for reading my blog. Please read, like, comment, and most of all follow Phicklephilly.

Here’s my latest book. There will be a book about my summers in Wildwood coming Memorial Day 2023!

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