x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

Why a man must pay his dues

An overdue DVD led to my first job and an important life lesson.

It's a question that solicits eye rolls and invites answers both clichéd and false.

I should know: I have personally posed it to dozens of artists, musicians, authors, filmmakers and friends.


Which artwork, from paintings to music and film, affected you the most?

Perhaps now it's time to answer that question myself.

I wish I could roll out the old favourites such as Ulysses, Crime and Punishment, Yeats or The White Album (another favourite response I recently encountered was "anything Russian".)

To be honest, my choice is somewhat more lowbrow and modern: it is the 1992 Clint Eastwood Western Unforgiven.

Unfortunately, my answer is more for practical reasons than artistic merit: Unforgiven was the movie that got me my first job. Living in Australia at the time of its video release in 1993, I remembered begging Mum to lend me the AUS$6.50 (Dh25.32) to borrow the film overnight.

Normally my mother would respond to such requests by telling me to wait patiently while the film made its two-year migration from an overnight hire to $4 for 3 days to $3 weekly and before finally arriving in my financial territory at $2 weekly.

However, Mum knew how much I adored Eastwood and she allowed me the honour of proudly walking into the store and saddling up in front of the new release section.

My joy (and believe me it was - I watched the film three times in 24 hours) quickly became a nightmare when I realised I had forgotten to return the movie before a one-week family holiday to the coast.

Upon my return home there was an answering machine message stating that the movie had already racked up $52 worth of fines. My mother naturally refused to pay the fine and simply said it was my problem.

As a 12-year-old with barely five dollars to my name, I was convinced I would face a stint in prison. However, Mum gave me some hope by suggesting I ask Paul, the owner, if I could work off the fine somehow.

Paul, being the business and family man that he was, thankfully agreed. He immediately went to the back of the store and returned with a water bucket and scrubber and asked me to spend two weekends cleaning all the 500 movies and video games in the store.

In the space of eight years I managed to work my way up from (underage) video scrubber, to store clerk and finally night manager before the store closed a decade ago.

Unforgiven (and Mum) taught me the important life lesson - which also happened to be one of the film's central themes: a man must always pay his dues.