Every now and then, the peculiar improbabilities of life just make you step back and take stock of your surroundings.
I’m quite used to people, after I say the name of some obscure celebrity, looking at me as if I had strung their cat up by its tail over a goldfish bowl. I’ve even become resigned to the fact that some people don’t know what Gone with the Wind or Citizen Kane is.
Yet, little could prepare me for the strange occurrence that was thrust upon me tonight, a gothic tale which I shall dub:
The Story of How Vincent Price and Bela Lugosi Got Me Carded at Walmart!
The scene opens on that blessed mecca of human intelligence, The Walmart, which will take the place of the old horror movie “haunted house” staple. People are milling about and every now and then I see some poor bastard 300 pounds overweight and struggling to pry a case of nilla wafers off the top shelf without upending the entire lot. I see children throwing stuffed animals on the ground and their parents looking around for the hardware section so they can purchase a noose to end it all.
I make my way through this modern side-show and end up near that singular Walmart staple: the $5 DVD bin. I have seen a great many of these bins in my time. I have seen old men drive in their arms up to their shoulders, trying to get to the bottom of this veritable well-spring of all that is good in the world. I half suspect that old women drop their near-senile husbands off at these things in the hope that it will keep them occupied, like a child in a McDonald’s play-place.
The moment I step up, I see a man who is definitely past 70 talking to a gorgeous blonde of around 30. The way he was drinking her in, I doubt that she was his granddaughter (but, in this era of Trump-sanctioned CreepCest, anything is possible!) He was ogling not only her pear-shaped behind but also the DVDs she held. He was giving her the rundown on the lot she was holding, like a sage Greecian scholar imparting his years to the younger generation. Thankfully, soon after I arrived, she beat a hasty retreat and grandpa became uninterested in his potential conquest, as he shuffled off in the opposite direction with his Scorsese between his legs.
Upon getting closer to the bin, I saw that, behold, this wasn’t a $5 movie bin at all… it was a $3.50 movie bin! How could this be possible? Since the dawn of time, the bins at Walmart have been filled to the brim and the only way to take home the AirBud collection or Scooby-Doo Meets The Harlem Globetrotters would be to pull out a fiver.
I immediately started to hyperventilate and plunge my hands into the beautiful stream of mass media. After pushing aside numerous copies Thumbelina, The (2013) Great Gatsby abortion with Leo DiC, as well as a plethora of badly-rated gems from the near past that have ended up in this graveyard.
Eventually, my eyes beheld a six (count em’) six-movie collection! I would like to dub this collection, since it has no “official” title, George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead and its 5 low-budget horror cousins. Despite housing Romero’s eponymous zombie flick, it also included The Devil Bat and White Zombie (both starring Bela “Dracula” Lugosi) and House on Haunted Hill, The Last Man on Earth, and The Bat (starring Vincent “Thriller” Price.) I happily scooped up my new treasure and rushed, post haste, to the self-checkout lane.
The self-checkout lane at Walmart is another beast unto itself. Here, we have the dregs of society, most of whom shouldn’t be trusted with a nail and a hammer, let alone scanning and bagging their own groceries! I wait as a thin, pocket-eyed man tried to find the easily-visible barcode on a can of Spam and a woman with six children buying an entire aisle’s worth of M&Ms. I sheepishly waiting my turn and pushed my way to a recently-vacated counter.
With relish, I scanned my bargain-basement DVD, imagining a cozy December night in bed with Messrs. Lugosi and Price. The screen flashed, not in confirmation, but in agitation:
“Please wait for assistance. Age-verification needed.”
After wiping the part of my frontal lobe that I suddenly found leaking out of my nostril, I beckoned one of the slack-jawed Walmart drones to help aid me in my quest to get out of this hell-hole as soon as possible. She looked at the screen, back to me, and haughtily sneered through her bad bridge-work and partial mustache:
“I need to see some I.D.”
All of a sudden, it was as if the entire world hit a snag and I couldn’t comprehend what was just asked of me. We live in a country where it is easy as pie to buy a gun that could kill seventy people in one minute, the alcohol is proudly displayed and easily acquired, and yet I was asked to present my I.D. to buy a Bela Lugosi/Vincent price $3.50 DVD collection. Out of insolence, I almost denied her request, simply to make this story seem more dramatic but, when I thought about it, I wasn’t prepared to leave Bela and Vince behind. I pulled out my I.D. in the most incredulous way possible and she okay’ed my purchase.
As I exited with the cool winter air swirling around me, I realized that life, though fickle and unpredictable, is beautiful.
And that, Praise Dracula, I have a sense of humor…
Steven Krage is an award-winning writer, author, blogger, film historian, playwright, podcaster, classical musician (opera singer and pianist), actor, librarian, rare book collector, and professional eccentric who lives and breathes pop culture of the past, present, and future. His recent acting roles include Mr. McQueen (Urinetown), Carmen Ghia (The Producers) and a monologist in the final Chicago cast of the Listen to Your Mother Festival. He is currently writing a book-length biography of infamous Marx Brothers foil, Margaret Dumont: The Marx Sister. “I’m not a stooge, I’m the best straight woman in Hollywood. There’s an art to playing it straight. You must build up your man, but never top him, never steal the laughs from him.” – Margaret Dumont. (For more information, please visit StevenKrage.com!)