I’m facing two doors. Behind the right, a theater screens pornos that are heterosexual. It’s empty; I already checked. It’s now my job to check behind the door on the left.
Mom, stop reading. You will not be proud of what your son is doing this week. As a clerk for Dejá Vu Adult Emporium at 4335 W. Tropicana Ave., one of my responsibilities is to enforce the laws spelled out by a sign outside: no minors, public exposure or sexual activity.
"It’s not legal to do the things that they try and do in there," says manager Megan Swartz, my boss for the night, "but most people go in there to try and do them."
Inside each screening room, eight seats face two wall-mounted TV monitors. According to Swartz, if two men are sitting in adjacent seats, "they’re most likely gonna fool around — or try to."
Earlier, I saw one customer dart from the straight theater to the gay one.
"Some men come in here to watch a gay movie because they’re married, with kids, and their wife doesn’t know they’re gay," Swartz explained.
We enter the room on the left, interrupting the simultaneous double-feature of "Transsexual Prostitutes" and "Sharp Shooters." As my eyes adjust, the silhouettes of three figures materialize. Two are seated together.
"You can turn the lights on if you want," Swartz tells me.
What I really want to do is speed home and scrub my eye sockets with a toilet brush.
Swartz shines a flashlight and all three figures begin rifling through their pants.
"Which one vibrates the hardest?" asks a woman who identifies herself only as Joanne.
I’ll get back to the most potentially traumatizing moment of my life later. Right now I’m at the front counter a few minutes earlier, where Joanne has just plopped down eight sex toys. Another part of a clerk’s job at Dejá Vu is to test all battery-operated merchandise before purchasing.
"This is only the third store we’ve been to," Joanne says.
Women are way more comfortable with this stuff. In fact, most males I observed tonight were reluctant to touch anything without checking over each shoulder to make sure their high-school gym teacher wasn’t looking.
Here’s the typical pattern: A man enters the store. He’s carded to make sure he’s older than 18. (The fine for admitting minors is $50,000.) Then he checks out candles, books, gag gifts and many other things he’s not really here for — much as he might buy cigarettes and gum at a magazine rack to create the impression that the Penthouse Forum he traveled across town for is really an afterthought.
And forget about wanting help. "No, thanks, I’m just looking" is the only response I got when I asked. (This was especially true in the Bi-Tranny video section, where it was almost always accompanied by contact-avoiding eyes.)
"Some people aren’t comfortable shopping for this stuff," Swartz said, "and they’re even less comfortable talking about it."
Count me among them. Earlier, Swartz gave me a merchandise tour that started at excruciatingly awkward and got less printable from there.
"This is an anal G-spot toy for a man," she said in the toys and more section. "These are all of our (expletive) pumps right here, and these are our (expletive) (expletive)."
Swartz also introduced me to something called a dilator.
"You see that right there?" she asked, pointing to a large steel rod. "It goes down your urethra and you hit it with a tuning fork and it vibrates."
This was the point in the tour that I began walking with a slight limp.
Although the merchandise at Dejá Vu is undeniably sleazy, the presentation is a classy surprise.
"We like to think of ourselves as Neiman Marcus," Swartz said. "People don’t feel like they need to get in and get out right away. And their wives don’t wait in the car while they shop."
(I haven’t checked every inch of Neiman Marcus at the Fashion Show mall, so I can’t say for sure, but I don’t remember a gay porn movie theater behind housewares.)
Swartz said her job tempts her to laugh "all the time"; for instance, "when men who look completely normal ask to try on a size 10 pair of heels."
"But you can’t laugh, and you can’t act freaked out," she said, "because somebody might be into that and you might offend them."
She paused, eyed me over, and then added, "It could also be your hat making them uncomfortable." (I borrowed it from the Fetish section.)
After Swartz graduated Bonanza High School, she became a waitress at Little Darlings, the strip club at the Love Boutique. (It’s owned by the same national chain, Dejá Vu.)
Swartz was transferred and promoted to management when this store opened in 2005. The 23-year-old, who attends the College of Southern Nevada, said she once wanted to be a lawyer.
"But now that I see lawyers are a little crooked, I’m not sure," she said. "Right now, I’ve just been taking a lot of math courses."
Figuring out which sex toy vibrates hardest sounds like an easy — and fun — task. I cut open Joanne’s packages and lay the devices out, then load them with the proper batteries.
Unfortunately, all the devices feel alike to me — like my hand is asleep — even the huge one that resembles a sigmoidoscope.
The line behind Joanne grows from two impatient customers to four.
The solution occurs to me: battery letters. I know that D is the strongest and AAA the puniest.
Unfortunately, these batteries all fall in-between, and are required in different amounts. (OK, smarty-pants, so maybe you know which is stronger, two C’s or four AA’s.) And what battery letter does 9-volt count as?
Maybe I could stand some math courses, too.
I invent another theory — the blurrier the device is when you stare at it, the stronger it is.
This is my worst theory yet, and there are now six impatient customers waiting.
Joanne takes a wild guess and pays for her device as backup cashiers arrive to open the register next to mine.
Back at the gay porn movie theater (a phrase I hope never to type again), there is a perfectly good explanation for three men rifling through their pants in the glow of Swartz’s flashlight: She has quietly asked to check their tickets. (Customers pay a clerk $10 for eight hours.)
"Oops, you’re almost done," she tells one.
She’s referring, thank goodness, to the time remaining on his ticket.
Watch video of Levitan as an adult bookstore clerk at www.reviewjournal.com/video/fearandloafing.html. Fear and Loafing runs on Mondays in the Living section. Levitan’s previous adventures are posted at fearandloafing.com.
COREY LEVITANFEAR AND LOAFING
Watch the video