Talking to Strangers: Morgantown, WV

Nerve asks deeply personal questions to people we just met.

by Elissa Gross

Donna, 21

So, you're from Morgantown originally. What's your love life been like here?
Well, I've always dated people kind of by accident. I've had I think four legitimate boyfriends in my lifetime. The first one, I met just in the mall. Then I dated a guy I went to high school with. Then I dated a guy I went to college with. And then my current boyfriend, I met working at a Halloween store. I had a boyfriend at the time, but a year later, I wasn't working at the store anymore and I was single and I went to visit. I remembered this really hot guy who I had worked with and I was wondering if he still worked there. I opened the front door, and he was standing right there. And I decided, "I'm making this happen by the end of my trip here." So, I started talking to him and very coyly got his phone number. He's a tattoo artist in Morgantown now, and I told him I was going to contact him about tattoos, and immediately texted him like some weird freaky obsessed girl, and now we've been together for about a year.

So, now you work in a porn shop while going to school. What do most people come in here looking for?
Whippits. The whipped-cream cartridges. Or the "incense." That's it. Otherwise, people come in to jerk off downstairs, in the DVD viewing booths. The majority of people that come in here are older people that go to the booths. I'm pretty sure most of our customers are married men.

Do you have any weird stories from working here?
I have so many weird stories. One time I had to kick out this sixty- or seventy-year-old couple 'cause they were having sex really really loudly downstairs in the booths. It was an awkward intervention. I had a guy come in one time, covered in blood, stumbling around the store, drunk as can be. And he kept saying, "Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you! You look so scared right now, but I won't hurt you." And I was like, "I really hope you don't hurt me, but I'm going to get you an ambulance. Just stay fucking far away from me, please!" I was so scared.

Was he okay? Were you okay?
I guess so. Sometimes, I get terrified working here. Whenever I close late at night, I'm tired anyway so I start freaking out and thinking somebody is still downstairs. I always yell, "All right guys, we're closed! It's time to go!" And no one ever answers, but sometimes people come up. And sometimes I get the courage to go downstairs with my taser out in front of me, like in Silence of the Lambs or some shit, busting down doors and screaming, "All right, is there anybody in here?" If I still think someone's down there, I have to call a cop. And a cop will come and just give me an awful look, like, "Why are you making me come to a porn store right now?" And little me has to get him to go check, and sometimes there are people still downstairs! Sometimes people pass out drunk in the booths! I don't want to go downstairs and have to find them there, or have them jump out at me. I'm waiting for the day that I'll stumble upon someone with their dick in hand. We all get pepper spray when we work here, and then I have a taser too, because — oh, here's another good porn-store story — I used to get letters in the mail to the store that were addressed to me, and they would make absolutely no sense at all. There were weird little drawings and phrases and words, and they'd be three pages long! I ended up finding up who it was after I got the cops involved. They explained to me that he's this homeless guy who sends letters to people randomly. I was terrified. But he ended up getting arrested for something else. I actually was given a link to the jail website so I could see his mugshot, so if he ever gets out I can recognize him.

Wow. I thought about working at a place like this, but I don't think I could handle all of that. So, what do you think there is in Morgantown for people who aren't already in relationships?
I think a lot of people don't really date anymore. I've tried out the "Well, let's hook up and not date but we can screw around on the side" thing. There are a lot of people who are totally cool with situations like that. I can't do it. I'm a very romantic person, and I can't have any kind of relationship without having emotional attachment in some way. I know so many people who are bummed out because they're single for a long time, but really, if you just wait until the right person comes along, you'll be so much happier than if you go out there and just date the first person you can. My current boyfriend, who I've been with the longest, just kind of came into my life by accident. I think good love just kind of happens.

I think some of the best advice I've been given was, "Don't date someone just because they like you."
That's true. I think that was my problem. All the guys I ever dated were guys that liked me first. And then my current boyfriend, I was the one who pursued him. Being single is kind of rough. I don't do well being single. I just remember periods of time, whenever I was single, how much I wanted to be in a relationship. And it's so backwards, because every time I hear people say that, I'm always like, "You should enjoy being single!" But I can't take my own advice.

Do you believe in love at first sight?
I don't know, because when I worked with my current boyfriend, I knew that I really liked him and wanted to date him, but I don't know that I was immediately in love with him. I also think that there a lot of people out here who end up being stuck with someone who isn't good for them, because they don't think they can find anybody better. People are like, "Okay, so my boyfriend has an anger problem. We can get past that!" Well, good luck. I've heard that one a million times. I've heard, "Oh, I can change!" a million times. I think once those words even appear one time in a relationship, it's a sign that the relationship isn't going to work in the long run.

If you had magical superpowers, what would you want to change about men in general?
I think guys get the wrong idea of what you should do to show a lady that you like them and end up with them. Maybe it's just 'cause I work here, but I deal with a lot of guys who are like, "What's up? You a hot lady!" And I'm like, that's wonderful, I totally want to date you now that you just said that. And then I get, "So, what kind of stuff do you like here? You want to show me what you like?" No, I don't, actually. Maybe there are women out there who love guys who stay stuff like that? Yeah, I think there are.

Cole, 26

Where are you from and what do you do?
Originally, I'm from Ripley, West Virginia. But I went to school here and now I work here. I'm a web developer and an artist.

Does that get you laid much?
It used to. I started dating a wonderful girl who I met at art school here.

Before you met her, how did you feel about the dating scene here?
I was in Morgantown for about four years as an engineer, and I was always an extremely artsy person, but had an extremely hard time meeting anyone. But then eventually I got into art school, and that's where Morgantown splits from literally every other town in West Virginia — it's one of the only towns with a legitimate art scene, engineering scene, business scene, or anything. It's the only city where there are peer groups in the entire state.

What's the craziest hook-up you had in Morgantown?
I don't know if it's crazy. Everyone's gone home with someone that they've gotten drunk with. I could try to give you crazy, like Hall & Oates crazy, but it's not like...

Wait, what's "Hall & Oates crazy?"
You get drunk, you hook up in a bar, and you go home. It's the kind of bullshit that Hall and Oates wrote about. It's basically a sleazy hookup that happened in a bar, but the only reason you talk about it openly is 'cause it's been romanticized entirely. You don't call it a sleazy hookup. I'm kind of a really moral guy. I only go home with people I've had a crush on for a while.

Okay, fair enough. One time I saw Hall and Oates live, but that's a story for another day. So, how did you take your crush on your now-girlfriend and make it into a relationship?
It was kind of like a Johnny Cash/June Carter thing. Basically, we were always dating other people the whole time we were friends, and I was always extremely attracted to her. I didn't see her too many times throughout the year, but whenever we did it was always the best part of my life. And we would both feel immensely guilty for enjoying each other's company so much, especially when we were dating other people. But eventually, I was single for about a year, and she was getting ready to move out of town with her then-boyfriend, and I pretty much had to pounce or miss it forever. But he was an asshole and had cheated on her in the past and she really didn't love him and it had gotten to the point where I was like, "I'm really only happy when I'm talking to or around this girl." And I knew I really had to try to get this girl to stay here. It felt terrible, because she was dating this other guy, and I didn't want to hurt what they had. That's a sacred thing — whenever you love somebody, you don't cheat on them. So, I felt terrible about it, but I didn't want to see her leave either. You get to a point where you're debating what your own mind perceives as sacred.

So what did you do? Did you stop traffic on the Brooklyn Bridge like in How To Lose A Guy in 10 Days? What was the epic moment?
There's not really a Sleepless in Seattle scenario here. It was really like a way more lame You've Got Mail situation. We just chatted back and forth on Facebook every night. I would sit there and troll on Facebook for two or three hours until she got on, then we would talk things out. Finally, we went out for a night, and things changed. She got to the realization, "Hey, maybe I don't want to throw everything away." And she did it for herself too. It wasn't for me, it wasn't for love, it was for herself. And that's what love is. That's what I hate — people want to get wrapped up in this bullshit of "I live and die for you!"

Love is actually Facebook creeping for as long as you can until you get the girl!
Well, it's not necessarily that. But, what I'm saying is, she stayed here because she wanted to go to school here. She didn't want to give up everything else for a dude who she didn't even truly love. And now we're together and it will be a year in about a month.

Does she inspire your art?
Well, she inspires everything.

Axelle, 23

What brings you here?
I'm a graduate student in the foreign-language department at WVU.

What's your experience been meeting people and dating in Morgantown?
In Morgantown, none. I've been in a relationship for seven years now. It's a long-distance relationship — he lives in Canada now, so I'm in between Canada and Morgantown many times a year. I'm from Cameroon.

Then what's your general impression of the dating scene in Morgantown, as an unbiased observer?
If I weren't in a serious relationship, I wouldn't mind. It's really fun here, actually. I'm teaching freshmen right now, and they tell me all kinds of things. You see a lot of diversity and matches you wouldn't expect. You'll see someone and say, "Oh, you probably won't be able to get with that person!" and then they say "I'm dating them!" So, it's mixed. You never know. You can't stereotype anyone here in Morgantown.

How is it being in a long-distance relationship?
It's hard, it's really hard. But I'm in Canada a lot, and he's been here many times too. But I'm really busy and so is he, and we're pretty young, so for now it's fine. In like two years, I want to be in the same place as him. I can't be away from him for much longer! But for now, it's okay.

Well, what's the most romantic date you've had here in Morgantown?
In Morgantown? Um...

I mean, what do you do when he comes here?
He's coming here from a bigger city, Montreal, so mostly we like to go out when I visit him. But when he's here, I try to impress him, to show him, "You're not in a village! You're actually coming somewhere." I took him to Texas Roadhouse. He loved the food. I wouldn't say it was romantic, but it was fun.

Did you meet in Cameroon?
Yes, we met when I was in tenth grade and he was in eleventh grade.

What are the differences you've noticed in dating between here and Cameroon?
Back home, it's pretty conservative. He always would come to my place and we would hang out in public. My mom wasn't right there, but she was around. This was in tenth grade, but even now I'm pretty sure she would do the same thing — be watching out, making sure we don't go near the bedroom. So, back home we can't do the kind of stuff that we can do here. When I go to Montreal, he has an apartment and we live together. Same here. But back home, it wouldn't be that way. Here, we're trusted.

Want to talk to strangers in your town? Email submissions@nerve.com. Interested in meeting an attractive stranger for a different kind of interview? Meet them on Nerve.

Commentarium (42 Comments)

May 10 12 - 1:41am
el

All of these people are lovely. They are people that I would like to meet and get to know better. Way to make me believe in the kindness of strangers, Nerve! :)

May 10 12 - 3:20am
orso

Donna is so hot!

May 10 12 - 9:47am
JCF

She totally wants to date you now.

May 10 12 - 4:13am
JCB

Not to be a mom or anything, but Donna should not be closing up a porn shop alone late at night. Not at all!

May 10 12 - 9:19am
so true

When I worked in adult store, we always had at least two people on at night. And the place I worked didn't even have a separate floor for booths! I'm glad she has a taser!

May 10 12 - 10:10am
JCB

I just think it's messed up to have one woman working alone late at night with all those booths downstairs - someone could just pull her inside one. Not to mention I used to work next door to a porn shop and there were some very strange customers hanging around. I would even get accosted by men in the parking lot sometimes, and I didn't even work there. For that reason I never, ever closed alone.

If you need a fucking taser for a low-paying retail job, it might be time to find a new job!

May 10 12 - 1:24pm
LT

Agree, JCB. Her job can't be worth all the (rightful) fear she often feels. The owner should have a security guard or at the very least a large, male employee monitoring those booths. Ridiculous that she'd have to deal with that alone.

May 10 12 - 3:15pm
Joe

Tattoos, funky glasses, retro clothes, menial job with exciting stories. She's there because she wants to be. I did the same thing when I was her age and took a dangerous job because it helped me be quirky.

May 11 12 - 10:17am
jb1

Yes, but her boss shouldn't indulge her quirks. I worked at a porn shop for a year and a half while in college. My boss stopped hiring women after the girl he hired was constantly harassed/threatened (plus we always had at least two employees on duty, a silent alarm...and a bat). Too much cash+too many weirdos is a bad equation.

May 11 12 - 10:31am
jb1

Also, I don't like that cops are doing the store owner's job. I don't blame her for calling the cops, but the taxpayers shouldn't be picking up the tab for that. That's one cheap owner.

May 12 12 - 7:11pm
JCB

At another porn shop near my house, somebody went in with a gun after hours and sexually assaulted the employees. A place where you need to periodically call the cops to help you do your job is not a place for a young woman to work alone - "quirky" or not.

May 13 12 - 8:32pm
Nope

Have to agree with those saying she should seek employment elsewhere. I also agree with Joe that she's there for coolness brownie points, however, youngsters often put themselves at risk to be cool, doesn't mean she isn't being foolish.

So to Donna: You seem like a great young woman, pls try to find a more safe job! I know, I know, nothing can be completely safe, but let's face it, some things are more safe than others.

May 17 12 - 12:56pm
@JCB

"A place where you need to periodically call the cops to help you do your job is not a place for a young woman to work alone"

Why young woman, and not young person? Men can get sexually assaulted and murdered too.

May 17 12 - 3:26pm
JCB

The person above is a young woman. My statement was directed to her. If a young man was talking about working an unnecessarily dangerous job, I would direct it to him.

But thanks - next time I'll run my statement through the PC-o-meter and say "non-age-specific non-gender-specific human", and then someone will get offended because animals, lizard people and space aliens can be assaulted and murdered too.

May 17 12 - 4:42pm
@JCB

I'll ask you for an honest reply to this question: would you have posted protective "mom" comments in the first place if Donna were Don?

May 17 12 - 4:56pm
JCB

Yes, if I thought "Don" was putting himself in harms way for the sake of some "really weird stories." Just ask my little brother.

And beyond that, are you trying to tell me a large, burly, armed man would have the same risk of being sexually assaulted on the job as an unarmed woman? Let me refer you to...oh, every single sexual assault statistic ever published.

But yeah, keep concern trolling, it's a good look for you.

May 17 12 - 5:04pm
@JCB

She is armed, actually (with a taser). My point is that most people think women should be protected and men should be expected to protect themselves. You and everyone else have made a point of emphasizing that she's a woman, and so it's foolish for her to work in a job like this. The risk of sexual assault is undoubtedly higher, but not the risk of getting shot. Somebody has to work these jobs, and it's not a bigger tragedy if a pretty, white, affluent 20something woman gets blown away. But most people think it is ("Women and children first!"), even if they won't admit it.

May 17 12 - 5:10pm
JCB

And let me point out that everyone else above you seemed to "get" my point - that a low-paying job where you have to go clear out underground booths *with a motherfucking taser* after hours, alone, is maybe not such a good idea.

You're the only one who seemed to take such offense to my not-gender-neutral-enough-for-your-delicate-sensibilities phrasing that you missed the common fucking sense part of it. Bye troll.

May 17 12 - 5:33pm
@JCB

I understand perfectly that the job is dangerous. I just don't think you, or anyone, would give much of a fuck if it were a guy at risk; certainly you wouldn't fawn over him the way y'all have. The language reveals the underlying mindset.

May 17 12 - 5:43pm
JCB

Yeah - what's your point? People give plenty of a fuck if a guy is at risk - nobody wants to think about someone working a menial, low paying job with such an insane risk level.

But there is an added risk with women in jobs like this because they compromise 90% of people who are sexually assaulted, if statistics are to be believed. Your need to police other people's language is unfortunately incommensurate with cold, harsh reality...which is why you're the sole nitpicker here.

May 17 12 - 5:52pm
JCB

And just to be clear, I am a young woman. I work in a high-risk job (one that is unfortunately necessary, unlike clearing out porn booths with no backup.) I'm acutely aware that I am far more likely to be harassed, victimized, and/or raped on the job than my male coworkers. I am reminded of this FACT every day, and I would probably be dead by now if I didn't keep that awareness in my mind. So yes, I am more likely to be "protective" of young women, because they are statistically FAR more likely to be victims of sexual violence. Once these statistics change, I'll be happy (actually, thrilled) to revert to gender neutral language.

May 17 12 - 6:03pm
@JCB

Yeah, but as a society we still think that it's a guy's responsibility to take care of himself, and that if he doesn't protect himself then he deserves what he gets. I'll go a step further and say that we equate risk with manliness, at least up to a point. Men in my family have worked dangerous, low-paying jobs, and no one queued up to fawn over them about how unsafe it was and how they deserved better. It's simply reality for men of a certain background and social class. So no, I don't think people give much of a fuck, at least not compared to how they feel about women.

I have no problem with Donna, BTW, but to be blunt I find all the "poor you" posts above kinda sickening. She's an adult, she's made her own choices, she's armed and informed. If she's a more desirable target for sexual assault because she's female, young, and pretty, then that's unfortunate, but it doesn't add one iota to the tragedy -- she's there because she wants to be. There are people far, far more deserving of sympathy, and while compassion isn't a zero-sum game, it usually plays out that way.

May 17 12 - 6:12pm
@JCB

Hadn't seen your other post. I guess our disagreement comes down to whether the possibility of sexual assault means that people should be more concerned for Donna than a theoretical "Don". In the immigrant/migrant worker communities with which I've come into contact through my own job, the women are the ones far more likely to get raped, it's true. But the men are far more likely to get killed on the job, via dangerous working conditions etc. You'd be surprised how much people's reactions differ to those two events, and how consistent they are; the rape is a tragedy, the on-the-job deaths are...an unfortunate event. Perhaps you can understand why I find fawning over a white girl who voluntarily works in a porn shop to be vaguely distasteful.

May 17 12 - 6:15pm
JCB

Well to be fair, I wasn't exactly saying "poor you", it was more like "stupid you." I think you're misinterpreting frustration for sympathy, at least in my comments (can't speak for anyone else's.) Like I said, I work a high risk job as well, and I take extreme safety precautions. It's hard to imagine a young woman putting herself in a position where sexual assault is SO likely, and then bragging about it.

Apart from that, I agree with you that society equates risk with manliness. I notice and point out when men take stupid, unnecessary risks as well - it's just that the particular risk situations tend to be different, and I'm not going to pretend occupational hazards are gender neutral. I would be equally annoyed to see, say, a young man bragging about working in a coal mine that is at imminent risk for collapse. In this case her gender WAS pertinent because of the increased sexual assault risk in clearing out porn booths.

May 17 12 - 6:18pm
@JCB

BTW since you brought in statistics: men are more than twice as likely to be murder victims, and twice as likely to die on the job.

May 17 12 - 6:20pm
@JCB

Mistaking frustration for sympathy: it's certainly possible. Holy crap, are we about to turn this into an equitably resolved conversation? :)

May 17 12 - 6:23pm
JCB

And I still don't see why "fawning over a white girl who voluntarily works in a porn shop (is) vaguely distasteful." "Fawning" is a loaded term - I pointed out the intrinsic danger of her job, and suggested it was a bad idea to be doing something like that for 'weird stories'. I'd say that's common sense and basic human compassion. You have no idea how I'd react to a man being killed on the job, and to suggest I have some kind of racial/gender preference for one demographic over another is pure projection. I've worked with migrant labour communities overseas, and I have actually seen men killed on the job (twice). I guarantee you my reaction was far stronger than anything I've ever posted on Nerve. Again, stop projecting.

May 17 12 - 6:26pm
JCB

Haha, I think if I keep procrastinating on writing my thesis by arguing with you, it's likely to end in virtual hugs and wine drinking. :-)

And sorry in advance for my harsh responses, I've been reading labour abuse case studies for the past two days so my internet commenting is likely to be snarkier than usual.

May 17 12 - 6:35pm
@JCB

Heh, fair enough. BTW none of my above comments were directed against you personally, or even necessarily specifically. It's more about the tone of the overall discourse.

Here's my final comment for now: when someone says they're troubled by something, we can generally react in one of two basic ways. One is to conceive of them as whiners, making up problems out of whole cloth; the other is to assume that what they're saying has some basis in reality, even if we don't like it.

In this case, I'm saying that I think gender plays into why people are so protective of this girl, and that troubles me. I think that in mainstream Euro-American culture, we expect men to take the risks and make the money. If they get hurt or killed, that's just how it goes. If they're too frightened, then they're pussies. We devalue men as living beings, and value them only for their power -- for what they can do, not for who they are.

So take that as you will. But if I've encouraged you or anyone to ask themselves "Would I say the same thing about a guy in the same situation?" in the future, then I'll feel good about that. If not, that's life. Now back to the coal mine!

May 17 12 - 6:47pm
JCB

"I think that in mainstream Euro-American culture..."

Do not assume I come from a mainstream Euro-American cultural perspective. Again, you are projecting your own cultural frustrations on someone you know nothing about. I have lived in cultures where men are devalued, and I have lived in cultures where women are devalued. They're equally shitty. Rather than using your voice to attack people who express *too much* compassion (in your estimation) about a "white girl" in a dangerous job, you should be working to promote compassion for the hard-working men you believe to be devalued. Your energy, while admirable, is misdirected. The solution is (always) more compassion rather than less.

And now, back to work.

May 17 12 - 6:50pm
@JCB

Well, once again, this isn't about you personally, and the fact that you have a different set of experiences doesn't really undermine my point. But I'm all for compassion. Cheers.

May 17 12 - 7:01pm
JCB

"Well, once again, this isn't about you personally, and the fact that you have a different set of experiences doesn't really undermine my point."

That's funny, your handle has been "@JCB" throughout this whole conversation. Next time try "@TheWorldAtLarge". Not that I mind the ego boost. Cheers.

May 10 12 - 8:14am
works. zedral

Donna is a cutie, and Cole has clearly never listened to a single Hall & Oates song or album, ever.

(Oh, and there's some Arabic shit in the Captcha. How am I supposed to type that? Nerve, get your shit together please? Still can't use the "reply" button on an iPhone, hello shitty web developers...!)

May 10 12 - 11:38am
As a pro techie...

...I find your complaints charmingly persuasive and undoubtedly likely to result in the prompt addressing of your concerns.

May 11 12 - 4:06am
h4x

You only have to correctly type the warped-looking word in captcha. Any random letter will do for the other.

May 18 12 - 10:59am
lala

yeah but cole is totally cute too...they all are!

May 10 12 - 11:04am
ZZ

I love Donna's "whatever" attitude about most of her customers coming in to jerk off.

May 10 12 - 7:52pm
Number 10 fight

WHERE do I get a shirt like Axelle's?

May 11 12 - 12:09am
helena

fabulous bunch. i'm lovin that west virginia was represented on nerve.

May 11 12 - 8:15am
grievousangeline

As a person from wild, wonderful WV, it's nice to see the shout out.

May 12 12 - 12:00pm
Mizzle

So cool to see a T2S from somewhere besides NY, LA, Boston or Chicago. I had no idea people like this existed in West Virginia. I thought it was all Winter's Bone like.

May 14 12 - 12:59pm
EL

Yeah, this was so good and they were all so sweet that I've almost forgiven Nerve for scrapping the 6-person TTS format from days of yore...