Scenes from my life: Goodbye to the World

After a year of radical change, we face an uncertain world in which our neighborhoods have shifted in ways we can’t fully grasp. Places, stores, shops have closed. Or have they re-opened? I’m not sure.

I had a taste of this sense of deprivation years ago, when I lived in the Village. Two places that were part of my external family closed. First the World of Video, then — a few short months after I wrote this essay — Partners and Crime, the mystery book store, right across the street. It was a double punch in the gut.

At the time I wrote in memoriam of The World of Video. Re-reading it now, I want to cry as I struggle to figure out which f**king streaming service I might next subscribe to because I’ve seen everything on Acorn and BritBox, two or three times. (I love This Farming Life but how many lambings can I watch before I step through my TV screen to assist?)

I’m sort of surprised at how prescient my eulogy is, as I am once again bereft over losing a place which, unlike Netflix, et al., knew what I wanted to see before I knew what I wanted to see.

April, 2012. Just got home from the World of Video “we’re closing in ten days” party. I left a bunch of West Village denizens moseying around in a state of anomie. There are pretzels and some salty crackers, and champagne in plastic cups. One long-time client brought in Orangina and vodka. He’s over there in the corner, a big guy sitting at the little kids’ table, mixing and offering drinks all around.

Balloons filled with helium nestle against the low ceiling. Aimlessly, I pull on a balloon string a couple of times and decide that it’s one of the sadder sounds I’d ever heard – a balloon bouncing into silence against a ceiling. Bap…bap-bap, then bupkis.

The balloons are pink and black. The noir is obvious, but the pink? Somebody tells me that Justin, the World of Video guy who selected the balloon colors, comes from Minnesota and apparently in Minnesota pink is a designated party balloon color. I’m not sure whether “Minnesota” and “pink party balloons” interconnect in any significant way, and I’m too morose to ask.

Don’t bother going over to the storefront on 51 Greenwich Avenue. By the time you read this, the pretzels will be gone, the shelves stripped of movies. There will be no more of the World’s open cookie tins during holidays, or during nothing-special-at-all days.

There were cookies for pups, too, and didn’t the dogs all know it. They yanked their owners into the World and headed directly to the dog cookies, at the end of the counter.

You will no longer lean on that counter, as I just did, asking Sean Gallagher whether Ådalen ‘31, one of the finest films ever made, had ever been released in any subsidiary form whatsoever, and Sean saying, “No,” and how he didn’t believe any Bo Widerberg film had been released on videos, except maybe Elvira Madigan, on tape only, “and dubbed!” And hadn’t Widerberg made a film about Joe Hill? Yes, he had, and I could confirm it because I had been working at Paramount Pictures when we released Joe Hill. To no acclaim whatsoever. No grosses, either.

It has often been my wont to veer into World of Video, restless, without purpose. After glancing at the latest releases, maybe I’d look for a recommendation on the “ten best” lists for which each of the World guys had picked their favorites. Or I’d ask Sean, “What should I get?” and he’d leave the counter to find on a shelf the very film I hadn’t known I wanted to see that night.

Here’s a big bold tragic statement: The World of Video had every single film and TV series ever released on VHS and then DVD and Blu-Ray. Every. Single. One.

The guys who worked the place had intimate knowledge of all the inventory. And more. Once I got into a Great Escape chat with Peter, and learned that Peter’s father, a Canadian airman, had been imprisoned in that stalag, had been part of the true story upon which Great Escape had been based.

World of Video is closing because Linda, who owns it, can’t afford the rent any more. Yeah, it’s the old/new story about “our times,” but don’t give me that rotten cliché. Because I’m likely to slap you.

We who continue to want films on DVDs will now be tossed into the maw of one or another huge corporation. A corporation that has no Peter and no Sean, no Justin, no Tito. No advice, no hot conversation, nobody’s favorite films. No dog biscuits.

I will be chewed up by a cloud corporation that is not physically one-half block from my house. A corporation that may have zillions of films, but not zillions of films contained in two rooms of perfectly organized shelves, where I can wander in contemplative memory, pulling out here, pushing back there, trusting in serendipity.

The Village is one of the special city neighborhoods which traditionally cater to small individual stores that themselves cater to us human individuals. Individuals who occasionally have a few hours to sit at an individually owned Italian coffee house table with a friend, a couple of cups of coffee, and some foamy or dense conversation.

We are individuals who live to explore real life video stores, and bookstores like Three Lives and Partners and Crime, where intrigue and revelation are utterly disconnected from cursor, mouse click, Netflix or PayPal.

Yeah, I know how to buy books on line. But I don’t buy books on line. I find them in my neighborhood. And I will find out how to rent films somehow, other than at the World of Video.

But I will never be happy about the loss of this invaluable shop, about the loss of one of those small businesses politicians are always vocally supporting. About the loss of twelve of those small business jobs politicians are always extolling. About losing the guys.

The neighborhood is desolate. So am I.

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