A Life Amid Cans And Cannes

by longformphilly

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David Lee Preston | Philadelphia Inquirer | June 1994

A true-life Jersey scene: Behind the counter at the only convenience store in town, Kevin Smith, the 23-year-old clerk, snatches mouthfuls of Frosted Flakes in skim milk from a styrofoam cup, while Vincent Pereira, 21, thumbs through July issues of Stacked, Juggs and Biker Parties.

Pereira, a clerk at the video store next door, prefers to while away his workday hanging here at the Quick Stop. But Smith, who has been out of town for two eventful months, has chosen the worst possible day to return – New Jersey Lottery day – and from the start of his 4 p.m. shift comes a steady parade of customers needing mainly cigarettes or tickets to fortune, or both.

Look who’s back! Kevin! Congratulations! . . . How’s movie life treating you? . . . I need five Quick-Sixes, and my wife wants your autograph. . . . I saw you on the news. You gonna do more films? That’s your purpose in life? . . . Movies started in New Jersey, right? Thomas Edison!

It was on the news a few days ago: The kid jockeying the cash register at the Quick Stop has hit the big time. On May 21, Clerks, a raunchy, low-budget, semiautobiographical movie that Smith filmed at the Quick Stop and video store in three weeks in the middle of the night between shifts – the video store’s stained red carpet serving as the cutting-room floor – captured two international awards at the Cannes Film Festival.

Now, after four years behind this counter, Smith, a postal worker’s son who had never made a movie, has a “Jersey guy’s trilogy” in the works and a huge advance from Universal for his next project.

So why is he back here in Leonardo, working at the Quick Stop?

“To stay grounded,” he says, carving out a scoop of Entenmann’s Golden Chocolatey Chip Loaf cake with a plastic spoon.

“‘Cause it’s easy to believe your own press after a while. And then you forget all the important stuff. Writers buy into that lifestyle, and their writing loses that freshness. They wind up going back to that place where they did their best work.

“So,” he adds, “I just figured I’d skip the middle man.”

Writer bio: David Lee Preston is an assistant city editor for the Philadelphia Daily News. He wrote for the Philadelphia Inquirer for 17 years before leaving for CNN in January 2000. He was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize for Feature Writing in 1986.

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