Film Logan Polk's Film Reviews Moving Pictures Ongoing Series

Moving Pictures Vol. 37: In a Row

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Logan’s Moving Pictures returns – if you read the title you already know if you’re a Kevin Smith fan – with one of the films that started the Indie Boom of the 1990s… Clerks!

I don’t know if there’s a cinematic character I’ve ever related to more than Dante Hicks.

Portrayed by Brian O’Halloran in Kevin Smith’s debut film Clerks, Dante is a man-child who is completely put upon by the world around him. He works the register at the convenience store down the road from his house, where he’s forced to deal with the annoyances of the day-to-day customers as well as the antics of his best friend and co-worker Randal Graves. Randal, who should be running the video rental place next door, routinely pops in to irritate Dante as well as any other customer within earshot, often with vulgar anecdotes. And then there’s his love life…While his girlfriend Caitlin is pretty smitten with him and encourages him at every turn, Dante is still hung up on the girl who left him behind, Veronica, who regularly betrayed his trust.

Okay, so that wasn’t my EXACT situation for my early twenties to mid-thirties, but I’d worked retail for a few years and eventually started delivering pizza full-time and did that for almost a decade. I was a clerk, for all intents and purposes, and I understood the frustrations that came along with that. The service industry, whether you’re behind a counter, a register, a stack of pizzas, a bar, or on the other side of a table, means having to deal with every manner of idiot that exists in this country, and occasionally people with a heart of gold. It’s the playground everyone comes to, and the nice kids don’t overstay their welcome, don’t leave a mess, and are usually so quiet that you tend to forget they’re there. It’s the jerks who run their mouths, treat you with condescension, and make an absolute mess of your day that you remember so vividly. Dante’s plight with his job (and his inability or refusal to change his circumstances) was one I felt in my bones.

Two of my coworkers back then. Kelly is on the left, who also happens to be my sister, and long-time friend and fellow writer Bric Barker on the right.

Watching his conversations with the various patrons brought back so many memories from my pizza delivery days. The time I brought about thirty pizzas to the customer service desk at our local Target (where the delivery instructions said to go) and the woman looked at me point plank and asked “Is this a return?” Or the time I delivered to a kid (maybe 13 or 14) at their house playing sick from school and tried for fifteen minutes to explain to her that the coupon she kept trying to give me as payment was not in fact legal tender, it was just a coupon that discounted the price of the pizza to make it $11. The various people that would yell at you because it took so long to get their food…because it was raining or because there was a major sporting event happening. They always thought they were geniuses; the only people going to do the smart thing and stay out of the weather or traffic on a Saturday and order in. Then there was the time a lady called the store to accuse me of theft because I didn’t give her the change back on her order. It was two cents, and because the store only provided ones and fives to carry and make change (never over $20 worth for security reasons), I didn’t HAVE any coins.

Kelly also happened to be my boss for most of my time delivering pizzas, and here she is with a beloved, departed coworker, Beverly.

The fact that it’s supposed to be Dante’s day off adds insult to injury, resulting in the infamous “I’m not even supposed to be here today!” whine throughout the film. Having worked more than my fair share of those shifts, only to also be rewarded with a metaphorical slap in the face from the universe, I could only nod my head in empathy while I watched this time around. People who don’t believe the folks in those jobs deserve to make a living wage are people that have never had to deal with anyone like themselves.

Beyond dealing with the doldrums and frustrations of working in retail, Clerks also takes on romantic entanglements and friendships in a way that only movies of the mid-‘90s ever really have. As mentioned earlier, Dante is torn between his unresolved feelings for his high school girlfriend and his budding ones for his current girlfriend. All of it comes to a head when he finds out, through the morning newspaper no less, that Caitlin (the former girlfriend) is now engaged. He goes to some really great lengths to delude himself, thinking the paper misprinted the name, or that it was reported falsely by someone with a vendetta, and decides he wants to win her back. Meanwhile, Veronica (current girlfriend) is bringing him lunch, encouraging him to take charge of his life, and overall just putting up with his nonsense. In short, Dante is an idiot.

Like I said, I was never quite in a situation like his, but just as the stuff with his job had me remembering my own experiences, the relationship angles set me along the same path. I won’t get into any of the details, but mainly because, just like Dante, I was an idiot. I’m sure most of us probably look back on our early romances and just shake our heads at some of the stupid choices we made. Either in a partner or in how we treated said partner. There’s the few folks we come across in life that seem to have gotten it right the first time around, maybe because they had a solid example to follow, or maybe they truly were lucky. I envied those people. But, like Dante, I was an idiot when I was in my twenties.

There’s me in the back, of course, and the aforementioned boss/sister Kelly, and a coworker, Josh, at an after-work function.

Rewatching Clerks now not only brings those memories back to the forefront of my mind, it helps me to appreciate them in a way I don’t think I was able to back then. Horrible work stories and a mess of a personal life were just things to grouse about with my coworkers at the time. But, what I learned in the aftermath of it was the kind of person I not only DIDN’T want to be but the kind of people I didn’t want to be around.

It’s also easier to recognize the people who, at that time, just wanted me to dream a little bigger with my life. Now I can appreciate the encouragement, even if it was unwanted at the time. But, those last few years delivering pizzas I was also doing something I truly, genuinely loved; writing for the now-defunct Filmdispenser. It’s where I met buddy and EiC of this here site, Adam, along with a dozen other people who have ultimately changed my life. Saved my life in one very specific case, but we don’t need to go down that road again. And that wouldn’t have happened if I’d followed some corporate path out of high school (I was never going to college).

Of course, there were also the people who resented you for even wanting to get out and would do their best, intentional or not, to hold you back. I remember walking into my delivery job in my last week of work and having someone I’d known for years look at me and say “You know, everyone says you’re never going to go anywhere.” By that point in time I’d already interviewed for a new job hundreds of miles away and gotten it. I was in the midst of planning my move to Chattanooga, and if there were any doubts about leaving that world, that very brief conversation erased all of them.

I see myself in Clerks. The music. The angst. The animosity. The sarcasm. The Star Wars discussions. It’s hard not to. It might not have been in New Jersey, but that was more or less the world I lived in, and on any given day it’s one I kind of miss. It was certainly an easier, though not always a happier time, and I think we all underestimate the value of a simpler life.

Moving Pictures will return in two weeks…

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