After my parents divorced in 1989, my siblings and I were with my father every other weekend. He had to keep us entertained on Friday and Saturday night, and if there was anything good on (and sometimes even if there wasn’t) we’d go to the Malco to catch a flick. Regardless of the movie situation, though, we almost always went to Hastings.
For those of you who don’t know, Hastings Entertainment is (soon to be was) a retail enterprise based out of Texas. Right now they have over 100 stores, all undergoing a liquidation sale. Since the Great Recession (I refuse not to capitalize that) we’ve seen the fall of music stores followed by the fall of bookstores. This has caused me no shortness of trepidation as a bookseller, for all my crying over retail life. Chalk it up to the duality of man, Private Joker.
Hastings was a variety store with a bit of everything, which included all the crap you’d find in a GameStop (previously Babbage’s) or a Spencer’s or a Hot Topic. I’m pretty sure that most of them had a coffee shop eventually, although it wasn’t the case when I was a child. They even did buybacks in their later years, which is a process familiar to customers of GameStop. The local Game X Change might be the only remaining place in town to sell a used DVD. I’m not sure how the employees handled the never-ending pawn shop process of fencing what must have been, at least occasionally, stolen merchandise, but they seemed to weather it well. Hastings was a pretty rad amalgam of things, if you ask me, but apparently it was also a beast too strange to survive in these times.
There was another Hastings, years ago, before it took on the atmosphere of Fred Sandford’s yard. It was like Blockbuster and Borders had a baby, on steroids. They rented computer games, if you can imagine that. The games were mostly CD-ROM, but I’m pretty sure DRM wasn’t even a thing then. Most people probably didn’t have the equipment to copy them. We often shopped the shareware endcap and bought cheap versions of things like Hugo’s House of Horrors or Wolfenstein 3D on floppy disk.
The book department was huge and diverse. I still have a copy of Expedition, by Wayne Douglas Barlowe, which Dad bought for me there. I used to stare at it for hours on end. I still own other books from that era, but most of them were purchased by him or myself at Waldenbooks in the Indian Mall. Oh, the Indian Mall. That’s a story for another day.
The walls at Hastings were stacked high with VHS tapes. The music department was a small square in the center of the store with its own information desk. There was still a fairly large section of cassette tapes, although they were being phased out in favor of CDs. The newsstand was full of newspapers! Those dinosaurs were packed in like a university library. In early days they’d have a recent issue from just about every major city in the United States. Dad loved to flip through those. We’d leave him there and scatter to the winds. Oh, the days when parents just set kids loose in stores. Not that people don’t still do it, but then it wasn’t the exception.
I have Dad and Hastings to thank for my early film education. We spent many nights lounging about in his condominium, and later his house, watching whatever he’d picked out. I don’t recall having much of a choice. One time he forced us to watch Raging Bull and he turned it off halfway through while apologizing. I was actually enjoying it but guilt had taken hold of him for some reason.
There were other times when we soldiered on. He rented Glory one night and, well, I don’t want to spoil it for you, but everyone dies. It’s been out for over twenty-five years, okay? Anyway, it might have been the greatest movie I had ever seen at that point in my life, and the 54th had just gotten slaughtered while charging Fort Wagner. I was beside myself with grief. While I sobbed, my old man said, “Don’t you cry for those Yankees.” My father was not a hateful person but he was definitely a product of his upbringing. I do suspect, however, that he was attempting to interject levity into an emotional situation. He was not so comfortable with open displays until his later years, and this was the sort of tension breaker he employed at times.
We always returned our tapes (later, DVDs) in the big green metal return box that still sits outside the store. There used to be one of those swing out mailbox-style handles on the front but it has long since been cut off and replaced with a welded-on chute. Dad used to call it the “idiot test” in reference to the common compulsion to pull the handle again in case the rental hadn’t fallen in properly. I’m not sure, though, if one was an idiot for double checking or for not checking. I have a feeling it was the former. I still do the same thing at the post office. Every single time I smile and think idiot test.
I don’t reckon the metal box will remain, but the building will. Just like the Goodwill, which used to be a Books-A-Million, which used to be a Kroger, right next to the Burlington Coat Factory, which used to be a Kroger, which used to be a Wal-Mart, across from the street from the current Kroger, which sits on the lot of the demolished Indian Mall. My, Jonesboro, how you have changed. I work in a bookstore that sits where cow pasture once was not much over a decade ago. I used to ask Dad when they were going to put something out there. It seemed strange to have such a large empty lot in what was becoming the middle of town. He’d wonder too, at the cost, which he reckoned would be in the millions. As far as I know, it was.
When I was a lad, I always wanted to work at Empire Records. I was a Nineties post-grunge neo-hippie longhair who spent most of my afterschool days hanging out at Spun Doctors. My friends and I were shit silly fuckers, still scared of Marilyn Manson, and we’d stock up on all the psychedelic, hard, and hair rock we’d missed. I guess I couldn’t have known my elementary years spent at the Trumann Public Library, which was not 100 yards out my backdoor from ages five to 18, would have been an experience that would mate and conglomerate with my later interests and give birth to this bald, bespectacled suspender-sporting bookseller. Where I ended up seems obvious in hindsight, but it just as easily could have been Hastings.
We take too many photos now, but I wish we had taken more then. It was cumbersome and expensive, but it is not lost on me that I have 50,000 photos of things I’d rather not remember, and few to none of the things nowhere real, only knocking around dusty and dented in this old brain. Instead I’ll catalogue every place I walked with my father, each blade of grass, each pavement stone. Shitty Internet Sisyphus. This is how I occupy myself until it’s my turn to be remembered.
Hastings, you old heap of knicknacks. Into the great unknown mystery, you go first. Perhaps we’ll meet again, in a parking lot where the pavement doesn’t heat past sweltering, but I do not hold out much hope for that.