(From the draft archives; RIP, Rocket.)
Towards the end of high school I developed a sort of funny half-crush on one of my closest friends, a boy, E, who I’d only recently become friends with at all. He had this on-again, off-again long distance girlfriend who was already a sophomore at Yale; she didn’t prevent him from hooking up with all of our female friends, myself included, and a smattering of other girls, too, but she loomed large and precluded the possibility of dating him, at least in my mind. (There is also the strong possibility that he didn’t want to date me regardless, but.)
I don’t even know that I really wanted to date him, actually; I’ve never quite been able to put a name to whatever it was that I felt, though I am fairly certain now that I was mistaking the familiarity and bond of intimacy for attraction. I am basically incapable of doing or feeling things by halves, and with him for the first time my intensity was matched; I got to spend all of the time I wanted with this person, just the two of us, and to talk and talk and talk. I got to learn just how much time I was capable of spending with one person; the endlessness of it surprised even me. When I think of this period, when I think of E, I remember two things in particular: waking up the morning after a party at his house and driving his old, blind dog out to the dog park in the family’s minivan to play catch in weak spring sunshine, both of us hungover in last night’s clothes. And I think of Rocket Video, which is where, when we hung out just the two of us, we pretty inevitably ended up.
E was unlike most of the boys I’d known to that point: he played piano seriously and well, he spoke two languages (his parents were Israeli; he’d grown up bilingual), he read seriously and passionately, and he wrote, and he took me on adventures to parts of the city I’d never seen before, notably a downtown venue/converted alleyway called The Smell. And he liked movies: old, obscure, foreign, whatever, stuff I would never have touched on my own. Many nights we’d set out for something— a show, an underage dance club, swing night, etc.— only to end up driving around for a while and then heading to Rocket to pick up a DVD and watch it on my couch, one or both of us inevitably asleep by film’s end. This, too, was new to me: being comfortable enough with someone that you could drift off in front of them and emerge, blinking, to make them catch you up on the plot.
Anyway, Rocket was the perfect place to be a young cinephile with a maybe-crush: it was ramshackle and poorly organized, films sorted by genre but also director or country or star or writer, depending. It rewarded repeat customers but even still you could rarely find what you were looking for without help; sometimes it wasn’t there at all, and then you had to choose from scratch. We would circle the aisles for half an hour at minimum, going back and forth. We ended up watching a truly bizarre assortment of movies, most of them half-remembered through the fuzz of sleep and chatter, but it was all an education.
In the year after college graduation, when H and I were both living in LA and spending a truly prolific amount of time together, we picked up the same Rocket ritual; usually we came for the next installment of The Wire but sometimes he’d insist on an actual movie and then we would be at it: speaking personal shorthand across the tops of the racks, scouting something in Comedies that would end up being found in Cult or Classics. “I saw Rocket Video closed,” he texted me earlier today. “Squabbling about what movie to get in the aisles— kids these days won’t have that anymore.”
Which, you know, I know it’s silly to worry about what kids these days will or won’t have; I’m sure they’ll just as easily fall in love somewhere else, playing with the computers in Mac stores or scrolling through Netflix together. But there is a certain romance to being a regular at a place, to knowing its quirks and its staff, to returning to the same physical location as your own life shifts around you. I’ve written about this before, when Rocket moved out of its first home just over a year ago. Then, though, I was thinking about the place; I had just moved, Rudy’s had just closed, and I lacked for a stable landscape. Now I think about the hours spent, the person I was becoming, the things I was learning I could want, and have.