Confessions of a porn clerk

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Photo by Alex Hernandez

James Willig worked as a porn clerk for nearly three years. He’s out of the business now, but it was a part of his life he’ll never forget. I sat down with Willig and we chatted about the crazies, how taboo becomes commonplace and some of the misconceptions about porn clerks.

vg: I think a lot of people consider working in a porn shop to be one of those jobs where you just naturally accrue weird stories. Do you find that to be true?

jw: Ab-so-lutely.

There was this one particular night when this guy opens the door, and as soon as the door opens up you can smell booze on him from, like, ten feet away. This guy was well-and-truly drunk. And he had a pair of pants on that had written all over them: STATE OF OREGON DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS.

So I assume this guy had been in jail recently, you know, that day. And so he comes over to me and he’s carrying a bindle—a handkerchief that has something in it that’s all tied up.

And he’s like, “Hey, man. My girlfriend works at Nordstrom. And she’s got a bunch of these. I was wondering if I could sell you a couple?”

He opens up the bindle and it’s filled with used thongs.

I don’t know if he had got them from the laundromat, but these clearly were not brand new. You know, they were well worn and he was selling them for $3 each, or two for $5.

And I’m like, “Nah, dude, we have an entire rack behind you.” And he looks over his shoulder at the rack and then drunkenly looks back at me and says, “Oh, I see how it is.” You know, as if it was this personable affront to him.
So he goes to leave, and just as he’s about to go out, he turns back and he looks at me and says, “But you gotta admit: I’m a player.”

And then he just left.

vg: Does the weirdness of working in a porn shop ever become an everyday thing? Does it lose its bite after a while?

jw: A lot of those things that you sort of hold as taboos are commonplace there. And so, you know, there would be people that come in and rent what I call “nightmare porn,” which is just some of the more graphic and really just disturbing stuff. And they would look like just any other person out and about, going to the Redbox or whatever.

At first I was just taken aback very, very much. It’s hard to not look at the DVD they just handed you. But after that second year you just go find the code and pull the movie. You aren’t gonna look at it after a while.

vg: What’s one misconception about working in a porn shop that you would like to see cleared up?

jw: That a lot of us are skeevy or sexual deviants in some way. A lot of the people I worked with were just younger people, in their late-teens to early-20s. For a lot of people it was their first job, their first introduction to the workforce. They were just young people with open minds and healthy attitudes towards sex.

vg: Do you think working in a porn shop has changed your perspective on anything?

jw: Yeah, actually. I’ve joked that there should be a reprogramming of all porn clerks trying to re-enter normal society, because you get so accustomed to these, you know, bizarre and taboo things on the regular.

It took a while to get out of that mindset and, kind of reenter a world where that stuff isn’t just constantly hitting you over the head.

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