This really happened. I wish it didn’t.
It takes place in a magical, faraway land called 1993 (don’t look for it, it’s not there anymore), when I was studying history at Hull University and living in a shared house with three friends and a 6 foot tall mechanical bear (I’ll explain the mechanical bear some other time). We were all fans of David Lynch’s cult TV series Twin Peaks, except for the mechanical bear who seemed to prefer Northern Exposure.
Twin Peaks was more than just a surreal soap-opera about a Washington state homecoming queen murdered by a supernatural Status Quo roadie – it captured the early-90s zeitgeist by popularising things like owls, coffee and the term ‘zeitgeist’. The show was all the rage during the first term of my fresher year, but was cancelled just before the summer break and spawned a follow-up film that clashed with my finals. That film was called Twin Peaks: Fire Walk with Me and focused on doomed teen Laura Palmer’s final days in the Deep-Six Holiday Departure Lounge. Freed from the prudish whims of TV bosses, Lynch was free to explore the weird underbelly of his fictional small-town in a far more uncompromising manner (translation: more nudity).
I’d rented the movie from what used to be the Ritz Video Store on Newland Avenue. I expect it’s a Netflix now. Being connoisseurs of Weird Cinema, my housemates and I wolfed down this banquet of brainwrong, but – just as the film was about to reach it’s shocking climax – the screen erupted in a wild cacophony of white noise and static, and a subsequent autopsy of the tape revealed that the film’s finale had been gobbled up by a previous renter’s VCR. This discovery was made after we’d sat through ten minutes or so of white noise and static thinking it was some kind of ‘mad David Lynch thing’.
The next evening, I slipped into an early version of my long brown coat and set off, on foot, to the video shop to return the film and get a refund. As I reached the halfway point, though, storm clouds overhead took a turn for the burst and I got caught in a Yorkshire Monsoon. In those days I refused to carry an umbrella believing them to be symbols of oppression, so when I finally reached the Ritz Video Store on Newland Avenue I looked like something that had been dumped in a river by a supernatural Status Quo roadie.
There was queue at the counter and, as I waited in line and dripped on the carpet, I gazed vacantly at a wall of TV screens that were showing trailers for straight-to-video action flicks starring Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme. My mind began to wander, as I imagined a grim future dystopia where every home would be fitted with a wall-to-wall TV showing straight-to-video action flicks starring Dolph Lundgren, Chuck Norris and Jean-Claude Van Damme (this was long before the invention of plasma TVs, or The Expendibles).
By the time I got to the front of the queue the place was full of customers, all carrying umbrellas and looking smug. The guy behind the counter was a skinny teenager with lank black hair and a face that looked like it was no stranger to Clearasil. His sad, sunken eyes seemed to hint at a life beset with anger and alienation. Nowadays we’d call him an Emo Kid, but it’d be years before that phrase would reach Hull, which only made him more angry and alienated. I plonked the videotape on the counter and tried to sound polite-but-firm: ‘I rented this last night and the tape’s faulty. Can I have my money back, please?’
‘I’ll have to check the tape,’ said the video shop attendant, ominously.
He put the VHS in the VCR, hit fast forward, stop and play. On the wall of TV screens, doomed Laura Palmer and her secret lover James Hurley were playing a vigorous game of tonsil-tennis. Someone tutted behind me, and I felt mildly embarrassed. ‘It’s not here,’ I said. ‘It’s further on.’
Again, he hit fast forward. As the tape whirred and I waited, more people were coming into the shop. There was a young mum with her kids, an elderly couple, possibly even a nun. They had umbrellas, too. I was beginning to feel increasingly self-conscious, not helped by the steady trickle of water running down my back.
Video Shop Kid stopped the film and hit play. On the wall of TV screens, Laura Palmer was sitting at a table in a sleazy bar. She was naked. Underneath the table was a guy who seemed to be engaged in a lewd act. I think it’s called ‘Yodelling in the valley’
The mother covered her children’s eyes, the elderly couple looked at me with disgust and the nun presumably blessed herself. Video Shop Kid smiled knowingly: ‘The tape seems fine to me, sir.’
‘It’s further on,’ I growled. ‘Towards the end.’
Once again, he hit fast forward. The queue behind me was growing, and a strange mix of disgust and impatience seemed to fill the air. Someone called me a pervert.
‘It’s not what it looks like,’ I mumbled, weakly. ‘It’s a David Lynch film. It’s art.’
Video Shop Kid was clearly enjoying this. As the tape continued to whir in the machine, he shot me a look that seemed to say: Do you want to go through with this? Is it really worth £2.50? I can make it stop, you know.
But before I had a chance to answer a question I’d only imagined him asking, he reached out, hit stop – paused – then hit play. On the wall TV screens, Laura Palmer was in a secluded log cabin with two men and a woman. They were having an orgy.
‘Just keep the money,’ I cried, then stumbled out of the shop to face the rain alone.