I WONDER WHERE THAT VIDEO IS NOW
by Molly Blumhoefer
Jess, Devin and I had gutter punk boyfriends, dirt covered squatters who travelled through Minneapolis during the warmer months. In the mid-nineties, most of this subculture was comprised of men. Unlike them, we lived there all year round. Only fourteen, I’d often disappear onto the streets for days, but I hadn’t yet worked up the nerve to venture beyond the urban core.
Devin lived with her Dad in a giant house in a wealthy neighborhood in southwest Minneapolis. He drove a car worth more than either of my parent’s houses. He spent a lot of money on Devin: her dogs, a personal fitness trainer, and private school. Their kitchen was stocked with whatever she requested. Jess’s situation was comparable. She lived with her dad in a large cookie-cutter home in a wealthy suburb. Their lawn was perfectly manicured and the interior of the house was clean and quiet. Both of them would receive cars for their birthdays. They both had access to cash on demand. Daddy’s girls.
During the summer I lived on the streets and between two tiny houses on the south side of Minneapolis proper. Dad’s was crawling with hood rats and illicit activities. I didn’t have a room there, so I slept on the floor. Mom’s house was the safe one. She lived a few blocks from Dad’s. She did not allow us to drink or smoke there. She didn’t have drug dealers living in the basement or perverts for friends. She blessed every cranny with holy water and prayer. I shared the attic space with my sister. Dad’s house was where I went when I wanted to get messed up indoors. I stayed at Mom’s when I needed to rest.
Like most teenagers, Jess, Devin and I were foolish. Our main activities were smoking schwag weed and drinking cheap whiskey and beer under bridges with our guys until we could no longer see straight. I was often the supplier of substances since I could get them from my dad’s place.
Smashing bottles against spray-painted cement columns, was a perfect game for people only able to focus with one eye open. The heavy city traffic buzzed overhead, concealing our pandemonium.
When not under bridges, we panhandled for booze or for bean burritos. Sometimes we’d browse music shops where I’d sell the CDs that people had forgotten at my dad’s. This is what we were doing when I noticed a man with a bandana-adorned afro and tailing us. He looked like what Jimi Hendrix might’ve looked like if he’d grown to be as old as one of our fathers. The way he was checking us out reminded me of how my dad checked out the teenaged girls that partied at his house. But by the looks of his denim outfit from the 60s, this guy was bolder; I knew he would make contact.
In a slow, pot-inflected voice he spoke,
“Waaaaow. You three are exactly the ladies I was looking for. I’m making a music video. Yeah. For a rock band. You know, yeah, I’m a producer.”
His head nodded to a groove that flowed through his whole body.
“You with your spiky, rockin’ hair, and you with your tight, black dress. Hot. Perfect. Cooool.”
He was referring to Jess and I. We were all a little grimy, but the two of us looked slightly less ragamuffin than did Devin in her patched-up clothes and dreadlocks. She was monochromatic. Her soiled attire matched her dirty blond hair. I too was monochromatic, but on purpose. I had black everything: long black hair, long black skirt, and black boots. Jess’s liberty spikes were magenta. They complimented her large bright blue-green eyes. She was striking.
“If you wanna be in a video, I’m having auditions on Saturday afternoon at my space.” He took out a business card: CJH Studio Productions. Mr. Clarence J. Harrell. The address was in St. Paul. “Oh, and you’ll get paid. Yeah.”
Jess grabbed the card and in her loud voice, the kind you hear and instantly think that the person can probably sing well, said, “Really Man?”
“Yes, hope to see you there, ladies.” We thought he was the real-deal.
The next Saturday it was sunny, hot and muggy. We were wearing the exact same clothes as we had been when he first met us. Jess in her bright red plaid pants and white wife-beater, me in my long black skirt and tight black tank, and Devin in her dirty, patched dress. We caught the #21 bus into St. Paul. We had determined the best route using paper bus maps. I felt like a tourist in my own Twin Cities. St. Paul was rarely a destination, even though I lived just across the river. The ride took over an hour.
We approached a big brick building, the color of sand. We walked down several long pale green-colored hallways with flickering fluorescent lights. Not finding any door that had his name on it, we started walking up and down flights of steps. I was beginning to feel nervous as we entered one ghostly hall after another. I spoke up, which was out of character, “Um, I’m not sure about this you guys.”
Jess said, “Molly, fuckin chill. Its’s fine.” Devin laughed. I wanted to turn around and leave, but I was not about to wander the warehouse without them. They weren’t as scared as I was. By age fourteen I had already been exposed to danger at my dad’s, to men with guns and bad intentions towards me. I was very cautious. Aside from the risky experiences that they manufactured themselves, they were sheltered, naïve.
After many steps inside grey stairwells, a guy poked his head out of one of the warehouse spaces. We asked him if he knew where we could find “the man that looks like Jimi Hendrix”. I didn’t think he’d know who we were talking about because he was so square: a skinny white guy in his thirties, wearing an untucked button up t-shirt and straight pants.
But his eyes lit up behind his nerd glasses and he took us directly to Clarence J. Harrall’s door.
“Hey man. These girls are here to see you.”
Clarence had a giant space, a few thousand square feet. It was dark and draped with different colors of velour and leopard print fabric. There was soft lighting in select spots around the studio, but everything else went into blackness. HVAC ducts reflected the light, giving a sense of how enormous the space was. Brighter lights pointed towards a clearing in the middle of the room, framed by fabrics. There were large pedestals and a bed at which cameras aimed.
One of the lights was on a table that had several bottles of liquor and other colorful liquids. He mixed us a few strong drinks and told us to relax on a couch. We sat. I took a few sips. Mine tasted like fruit but also pop—maybe grenadine cherried coke with rum. I looked at Jess and Devin to again show my concern. Jess just smiled and Devin laughed. I knew there was no turning back. I sat quietly, unmoving except for the glass to my mouth.
After a few sweet drinks, he grabbed a remote and turned on a television that was on a tall wheeled cart, the kind that would roll into a classroom on video day. It was off to the side of the stage.
“Look at these beautiful girls. This is how their auditions went. This is what I want you to do. You’re much prettier than them.”
On the screens girls a little older than us danced around naked, making out with one another on the pedestals and on the bed. I didn’t see any talent whatsoever.
“Can you do this?”
Of course we could.
He got up from the couch, walked to the stereo a few feet away, and turned on Prince. I was intoxicated, more at ease, but felt powerless. Even if we are “safe” right now, what could happen to us or this video? I thought.
He was producing soft core porn, not music videos. I was familiar with it from my dad’s house; the Spice Channel was always on the television and Dad had porn tapes stacked up to the ceiling. But this was illicit. We were underage. I knew that. The irony was nonetheless biting. Savages, perverts. Thoughts about the thoughts that men like them had, climbed my spine.
A song that Jess liked came on. She immediately ran to one of the pedestals, ascended to the top, and started dancing. Devin and I walked to the center of the stage and danced near each other. He directed us to take off our top layer of clothes and to kiss one another, which we did. Devin’s tongue was mushier than I had imagined it would be. He directed Jess to show her “titties”, which she did. He commented “Look at those little cherries. Those are perfect.” Devin and I then showed our breasts, as if in competition. We did not get the same reaction. I was humiliated and jealous that he did not like mine as much. At one point Jess, loaded with extreme excitement yelled “Are we going to be on The Box?” The Box was a less popular version of MTV; viewers called in and paid with their credit cards to have the station play their requested music videos.
I couldn’t believe she was enjoying herself, that she actually thought this guy was a real producer. I imagined Clarence J. Harrell hanging out with the guy who directed us to his door watching us on video, drinking nasty mixed drinks and smoking weed.
We danced and laid around for at least 30 minutes, kissing and petting one another. I waited for it to be over. Every imaginable way to die crossed my mind. Did he drug our drinks? Does he have a gun? Will he rape us first? Are there dead women in the warehouse? I couldn’t breathe.
Clarence stood up from the couch and took off his pants. He wore a shiny brownish-purple leopard print briefs. I looked over at Jess and Devin again. I felt a little relieved by their expressions of surprise. But thought that we were done for. He was going to try to rape us. We’d have to fight.
“Hey, Jess, any one of you ladies, come over here and measure my dick”.
It was large and barely fit inside his underwear. I was sickened with emotion, but before fear consumed me, Jess finally snapped.
“NO WAY! Fuck you!” She shouted. “We’re out of here!”
Finally. Devin and I followed Jess’s lead. We grabbed blankets from the bed and floor and wrapped the fabric around our almost naked bodies. Hurriedly, we gathered our shoes and clothes and clutched them against the blankets. The whole time, Clarence never said a word to us, and I never looked up to see how he was reacting. In less than 30 seconds we were running down the hall towards a stairwell. Nobody followed us.
Almost at the end of the hall, Jess said: “Wait! We didn’t get paid!”
I said: “Who fucking cares!?”
Devin was screaming like she was in her backyard, playing tag.
But before I had time to argue, we were already following her back to his space, moving just as quickly as we had when we first exited.
He knew what we had come back for. He was already standing in the doorway, in his underwear, gut hanging out into the hall.
“I wish you ladies would stay and work some more. Here.” He put out his hand and showed a single $5 bill. Jess snatched it. “What the fuck?”
Was she about to argue for more pay? I thought.
“Let’s go.” I demanded.
Devin too: “Let’s go!”
We ran back down the hall and got dressed inside the stairwell. We left the satiny blankets on the steps.
In the front parking lot, we lit cigarettes. After one puff, I was elated. I looked at Jess and said sarcastically, “Are we going to be on The Box?”
We all started laughing.
Jess responded, still laughing: “Well, we got five bucks. Let’s get curly fries.”
There was an Arby’s across the street. We shared an order of fries and used the rest of the money to bus back to Minneapolis. We were tired and barely spoke as the bus rolled through St. Paul and across the river. Devin went back to her dad’s house. There, she would eat her favorite food, while cuddling her dogs on the couch in her big bedroom. Jess’s dad picked her up in Uptown and drove to their house in the suburbs where she would listen to loud punk music in the basement. I went to my mom’s house and fell asleep on my mattress on the attic floor.
Author’s note: Names have been changed to protect identities
About the Author:
Molly Blumhoefer is a native Minnesotan but currently lives in Albuquerque, New Mexico, with her husband. She is a part-time natural sciences instructor and a full-time sustainability project manager at Central New Mexico Community College.