Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Coworkers: Part 01 - Help Wanted

   "Did you see this ad?" Zelda pitched the newspaper in my lap.
   Circled in red, Classical Manager Position, apply in person, Camp Bowie.
   "That's interesting," I commented. "I wonder what happened to Mike?"
   "That's the store you shop at. You could do that job."
   "I'm hardly a classical expert," I answered.
   "You listen to classical. Your last job was with the symphony."
   "As a phoner. Before I got fired," I grinned.
   "Just visit. You never know. You've certainly spent enough money there over the years," she added.

   "What's going on with Mike?" I stood outside the Manager's Box, spoke with The Boss.
   "I honestly don't know. He's been gone a month now. Hasn't contacted anyone. Not a word."
   "Yeah, I haven't seen his byline in the paper recently. What about the other Mike? Over at Berry."
   "He'll never come back. He's their assistant. I placed an ad in the classifieds."
   "I saw that," I paused. "I was thinking about applying.
   "Really," he replied. He seemed distracted. "Say, do you know who wrote the 1812 Overture?"
   "What?" I made a face. "Tchaikovsky."
   "Ha ha. How about ... oh ... forget it. Look. I already hired someone. But with classical, you never know ... "
   "I know the music, but I'm not an expert," I confessed.
   "That's not what I meant. Classical types are ... ha ha ... never mind." He stopped. "Would you consider part time?"
   Part time was better than no time. If John's and my business picked up ... well, I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.
   "That'll work. I have another job rebuilding player pianos. But business has been dead over a year now."
   "I need someone Tuesday and Thursday, midshift, 2:00 in the afternoon until 6:00. And Friday, 6:00 until close."
   There was the offer. I weighed it for fifteen seconds.
   "I can do that," I accepted. "Do you need an application, or something?"
   "Fill one out Tuesday. Dress casual. Not over dressed, not shabby."
   "Two o'clock. Tuesday. See you then."
   The Boss stood up, extended his hand, "Welcome aboard."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coworkers: Part 02 - Them What's Nice‏

   "How'd you find out about this job?" Dan asked. After I clocked in, filled out some paperwork, I was given to Dan, the Assistant Manager.
   "My wife noticed the classified ad. Told me to apply."
   "You always do everything your wife tells you?"
   "Dude, I've learned to respond to ALL women with a yes. Makes them happy. Then I do whatever."
   "Was this for Classical? Are you one of those obsessive compulsive classical geeks?" Dan needled.
   "Ha ha. I'll let you form your own opinion."
   Dan handed me over to Trina. She was sticking 3M tape to the side of cassettes. If thieves walked out with a tape, an alarm would ring.
   Trina seemed friendly. I helped tape and chatted. Security taping was mindless work, but since mine was a new job, I didn't complain.
   "So, have you met Jeri Jo yet?" she smirked.
   "Uh oh. No, I haven't met her. Why?"
   "She's the other, new Classical person. After a week, everyone realized she's completely insane."
   "In what -- Never mind. I don't need to know yet."
   "Wise man. You're on first date behavior," Trina smiled.
   "Got that right. Until I know who's who, I am Mister Agreeable."
   "Most of the people here are nice," she continued. "The Assistants. Dan, Danny, James, John ... mmm ... You might want to avoid Rob."
   "Which one's Rob?" I asked immediately.
   "Not here yet. Don't worry, he'll completely ignore you. You're not female, twenty, and cute."
   I made a mental scorecard. James was a bit of a dreamer, Danny was indifferent, Dan and John middle of the road, Rob difficult.
   The rest of the staff were affable drones. Diana, Dave, two Angela's, Greg, two Todd's, Pepe, Mike, Lisa, Linda, Bert, another Todd (who worked in the back), Amster. There were too many people to sort. Plus, most weren't around so I couldn't affix names to faces. In time, I would realize the store was a collection of free agents.
   A few days later, I worked quietly with Jeri Jo, Trina's comments fresh in my mind. After two hours, I decided Trina was perceptive. At least as far as her observations about the buffalo brained Classical gal.
   Classical types had a murky history. A previous gent punched a hole through a back wall because the drive-thru screwed up his burger order. Sudden rage. The half baked classical soul was gone, the hole remained enshrined.
   Throughout the next two days, that brief cheat sheet of Trina's surfaced with each coworker introduction.
   Trina overlooked a name, however. And that would sting me.

   Friday night. The store was swamped. I worked backup register on and off with Greg. Of all the cashiers in the store, Greg was the fastest. He told me to mind the Floor and listen for two rings of that bellhop bell. Anytime there were more than three customers in line, he would ring.
   "What do you know about this group?" Tall woman, mid twenties, brunette. Holding the latest CD by New Order.
   "Dance music," I said. "Techno." I barely knew a few songs.
   "But ... What about it?"
   About what? Hell. I didn't know the group. There was no one nearby to ask. "They ... came from ... Joy Division."
   "I didn't like the last album. Is this one any better?"
   "Oh. Let me see," I checked the store playstack. Luck smiled. The CD was in the daily assortment. I handed her headphones to the spare CD unit.
   Greg rang twice.
   "Could you increase the volume?" my customer requested.
   Greg rang again. Dan strolled up and ran backup.
   "Say," a short man tapped my shoulder. "when you're done with her, can you help me?"
   "This New Order is great,"
my woman smiled. "I'll take it. Good sale."
   Greg rang three times for a manager. The Boss answered.
   More than once, both managers shot me a look.
   My male customer gestured toward the Sound Check headphones. "This one quit playing."
   The CD players were locked in cabinets. I didn't possess keys. Dan and The Boss were surrounded. I looked across the Floor, mystified, for another manager.
   "I'll be right back," I reassured the customer, then bolted for the Video section.
   Marched into Video and went to the nearest coworker. Stunning blonde.
   "New guy," she looked me up and down, coolly.
   "The Sound Check quit. I don't have keys. Told the customer I'd be back. I'm supposed to run backup. Is there a manager around?"
   "Slow down," she paused, "I'm a manager."
   Up front, the bell was rung repeatedly. I was getting deeper and deeper into trouble.
   "Oh, I didn't know. Anyway, the customer is wait -- "
   "Didn't know? Or are you one of those who don't think women can be managers?"
   "No, no. I just -- I did not know you were a manager. I don't even know who you are," I confessed.
   "I'm Carey. I'm the Video manager." She pushed open the swinging doors to the back. "Robert!"
   The manager I had heard to avoid came out.
   "Now what? This guy hit on you already? Want me to write him up?"
   "No. He has some crisis up front. I'm going to rescue him. Could you watch Video a second?"
   "Well, thanks for screwing up my plans, loser,"
he scowled to me.
   Damn. Maybe he was kidding. Maybe they were both kidding. I couldn't tell, I assumed the worst.
   I'd made a bad impression with Carey and Rob. Up front, The Boss was annoyed, Dan regarded me as an infant, especially after I returned to register and promptly locked it up. I stayed on register until midnight, closing. My cash drawer totals, which a half dozen employees had used, were accurate.
   If the cash was short, I figured I would have been fired.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Shoplifting: Case 01 - A Small Church In The Country

   Someone tapped my shoulder.
   "New Guy, come with me."
   It was Carey, the store blonde. She walked and I trailed after her. I had been "floating," tidying the Rock bins and approaching customers to see if they wanted assistance. Earlier, a girl had asked me about New Order, a group I barely knew, yet I had successfully sold her the latest CD. I wondered if she had been a test, to see if I would actually help people or blow them off.
   Carey, I already knew, one did not blow off.
   I had gotten on her bad side the first time I worked with her.
   "I'm looking for a Manager."
   "I'm one of the Managers. There are female managers."
   "No, it's not that. Other than Dan or The Boss, I don't know who all the Managers are."
   "I'm the Video Manager," she sighed, exasperated. "What do you need?"
   I told her. She helped me. But I kept away from her for a week.
   After a month, Carey no longer regarded me as an unfastened button.
   We walked through Video and into the Back Room. An older man sat on the nasty vinyl couch. Todd, the Back Room guy, stood nearby, as did Danny and Rob.
   "You need to stay back here with Todd," Carey instructed. "Danny has an order deadline, and Rob is supposed to take me to lunch."
   "Yes, ma'am. I can do that, but what do you -- "
   "Stay here until the police show up. Make sure he doesn't leave," she nodded at the guest. One eyebrow arched, "He was caught shoplifting."
   Carey, Danny, and Rob departed. Todd looked at me, then he and the gentleman continued their discussion.
   The man was older. Gray hair, gray beard. Stocky. Wore a white shirt. I assumed he swiped Country. Wrong. LL Cool Jay, Two Live Crew, and Ice-T. Hard core rap cassettes, stuffed in his back britches.
   The guy was a preacher.
   "Got us a small church out in the country. And I wanted to investigate the temptations some of my younger parishioners face."
   "Only you didn't feel like paying?"
Todd countered.
   "Would be a sin to fund the Devil's business."
   "Stealing is a sin, man."
   "I was doing God's work. Besides, what would someone like you know about sin?"
He was polite, but sanctimonious.
   "Plenty. My father is a minister."
   Their dialogue reminded me of old church arguments about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. One of the many reasons I declined to enroll in seminary school. Back in the day, many assumed I would follow the path of The Word, but I knew my limitations better.
   The thief was full of shit, defending his transgression by pleading God's mission. What a crock. The clich├ęd "good intentions" excuse. I didn't participate. I stood quietly. Turned a proverb over in my mind. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Maybe he thought Todd would release him. Doubtless, he never thought a fellow minister's offspring would work in a record joint.
   Police appeared, Todd waved me off. The Boss and Trina came back to give witness statements.
   The theft was minor, but the cops took him downtown.
   That was the first shoplifter I saw. Man Of God.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Customers: Part 01 - The Italian Car

  Friday night. I trained on register. Simple enough. Punch in the price tag amount, hit the product code on the register key. #1 for LP, #2 for CD, #3 for VHS, #4 for CS, #6 for Single, #13 for Boutique stuff. There were other product numbers, but I couldn't keep them straight. Luckily, every register had a cheat sheet.
  Anyway, Trina (the same girl who had trained me on security taping cassettes and CDs) explained the register to me. Helped with five or six transactions before she disappeared into the store. There was a counter bell. Ring once if you needed some kind of assistance, twice for register backup, three times for a manager.
  Friday night, it was busy, I was new. I didn't dare ring for a manager unless I wanted to appear completely stupid.
  Wanted to make that good impression.
  But I was stupid. Ignorant, actually.
  "Where's the bathroom, mister?"
  Uhhh ... One bell.
  "Can you break this five dollar bill?"
  Three bells.
  "Do you stock laserdiscs?"
  What's a laserdisc? One bell.
  I fell behind and rang for backup, meaning someone would have to run a second register. Usually one of the managers up in the booth. One of the Dan's. Danny or Dan. Danny had big hair, Dan a coffee cup glued to his hand.
  Danny got this great woman customer. Actually, I suspected she had milled about, waiting for him.
  She was bombed drunk.
  He had finished the transaction, then waited for her to shove off.
  Instead, she said, "I gotta itchy pussy."
  That got my attention. Danny, on the other hand, totally ignored her. Looked bored beyond belief.
  So she repeated her line, louder, "I gotta itchy pussy."
  Brown hair. Looked 30's, skin baked dry from years of tans. Crimson slash of lipstick, could have used a mirror, bit clownlike. Cigarette dangled from her lower lip, bounced up and down when she spoke.
  "Hey, boy, ya hear me?"
  "Yes, ma'am," Danny replied wearily.
  Black top, very low cut. Cigarette ash had fallen onto her left breast and sprayed downwards. Several times. She didn't notice or didn't care.
  "So wha you wanna do about it?" she slurred.
  "Do about what?" Danny asked.
  "Itchy pussy," she leered. "I gotta itchy pussy."
  "Ma'am," Danny leaned forward, "I don't know anything about Italian cars." Then he walked off.
  She paused. Tried to reboot her brain. Looked over at me. Scowled. Shambled outside.

  Link to Danny's Site = http://www.dannyhaslettart.com/

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coworkers: Part 03 - Pink And Clean

   I had been hired, tentatively, to work the Classical section. One week earlier, however, The Boss had hired someone else. Jeri Jo. To me, she had seniority, and was in charge.
   The Boss thought we would complement each other.
   Jeri Jo approached classical music from a performing standpoint. She was a musician. I, on the other hand, was a collector. For years, I had gabbed and shopped classical from the Mike's. For rock music, I sought out Linda. Linda was dreamy ... spacey, actually ... but I liked her.
   Linda was gone, however. My Classical colleague was Jeri.
   After a week, I realized Jeri Jo had the personality of a constipated rock. Social skills, such as they were, had been pureed through a food blender. She didn't like customers, didn't like coworkers, didn't like retail. She didn't LIKE anything. She whined often and loudly.
   Great agony derived from cassettes. Jeri fussed for hours over cassettes. Classical cassettes. Dust magnets that no one bought. Classical customers were affluent, and early adopters. They were among the first to hop onto the Compact Disc steamship. Most weren't remotely interested in tape.
   I mentioned this to Jeri. She rolled her eyes at me, made a fist in front of her and stroked to and fro. "Why don't you go someplace and distract yourself for the next hour," she suggested.
   She could be, ahem, crude. Like Herr Beethoven. Most likely, she preferred the floor, sitting on her ass for two hours every day. Rearranging. Busywork? Or a trap? Kid-trap.
   Cassettes were all within reach of young children. Many were born redecorators. I'd arrive mornings, tapes stacked neatly off to one side, or piled into houses, castles, rocket ships. Or they'd been resorted by color. Reds here, yellows there.
   Jeri Jo kicked cassettes across the floor, swore, complained, then eased down to the floor like a basking sea lion.
   Whenever a family strolled into Classical, she swooped over.
   "Don't - even - touch - the - cassettes."
   This was addressed to an infant in a stroller. Cheap thug in a baby blanket.
   I needed to share.
   I walked over to Pepe, told her about this headcase.
   "Ha!" she retorted. "That is nothing. Nothing! I was in the back office earlier, on that ratty brown sofa, trying to enjoy lunch."
   "What'd you have?" I interrupted.
   "Jeri Jo waltzes her big ole ass in, and announces she just got back from the doctor's."
   "Psychiatrist type of doctor?" I asked, hopefully.
   "Nooooo, grasshopper. The gynecologist type of doctor."
   "I don't think I wanna go there."
   "Too late! I had a forkful of food heading towards my mouth when Jeri Jo says, 'Now I'm all pink and clean on the inside.'"
   "What the fuck? Excuse me."
   "I about threw up then and there. Then she starts describing the boyfriend's sausage. Mentions baby oil and rubber sheet in the same damn sentence. You wanna hear the Kama Sutra position she likes best? I can tell you. Cause she told me."
   "Stop! Stop!" My lurid imagination was on fire.
   "First ... picture her with none of them baggy tops and droopy shorts she wears here. Jeri Jo, buck ass naked, pink and clean, open for business."
   I left.
   I fled, actually.
   Couldn't eat anything for lunch.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Coworkers: Part 04 - French Videos‏

   The videos were expensive.
   Damn expensive.
   I had "special ordered" two videos for a friend of Zelda's.
   Diana looked them up for me, then advised, "These are older films, but they are still rental priced."
   "What do you mean? Like, 99¢?"
   "Ha ha," she laughed. "No, start thinking $95.00 each."
   "Jesus! What the hell - - How can ... Jesus."
   Diana continued laughing. "When movies come out on video, most are stickered sky high so only rental stores buy them. After six months, they get re released to the sell through market. $19 or $14. Most stores derive their profit on each rental title during that six month span."
   "I see."
   Truth was, I was still digesting that information.
   "Do you still want to order two $95 films?" she smiled.
   "I need to ponder this," I answered. "Would I still get my discount?"
   "Of course."
   Passed this information on to Zelda. Her reaction mimicked mine. Six months, sixteen months, she could wait.
   When Zelda relayed the story to her friend, however, her friend's attitude was different.
   "I'm not about to wait six months. Or six weeks. I want them now."
   "Even with his discount, they're going to be $75.00 apiece."
   "Oh, that's not too bad. Especially for two films I really want. Yes. Go ahead and order them."

   The American Dream. No one liked deferring gratification any more.
   I ordered both films. French art house fare, directed by Claude Berri.
   Films arrived a few weeks later. These were set aside, and I contacted Zelda to make money arrangements.
   Friday evening, I came to work armed with two $100 notes.
   "Where's the videos?"
   Three days after they'd arrived, both films had vanished.
   No one knew.
   Dan did most of the checking.
   Todd had received them. Carey checked them in, made a note. Diana contacted me, locked them in the Stash Room.
  End of the trail.
   Dan's investigations were inconclusive.
   Someone was fired, however. One of the girls. No evidence, no proof. She'd actually done something else, but managers used the heist as an excuse to terminate her.
   Todd was infuriated.
   I felt uncomfortable, like I'd set something in motion. If I hadn't ordered those damn videos maybe she'd still be working there.
   Diana reordered the flicks. Week later I bought them.
   Tried to keep my profile low afterward.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Coworkers: Part 05 - Into The Back

   "What's going on with that other job of yours?" The Boss asked.
   I was still relatively new. My shift was Tuesday and Thursday, 2 - 6, and Friday 6 - midnight. Fourteen hours. My other job, rebuilding player pianos and pump organs, clocks during overflow, was at a standstill. A mini Recession, focused on the Texas corridor, had slammed business. Dick was long gone. John found employment as a high end mechanic. He worked a bit on Saturdays. No projects were coming in for either of us. I still went to the shop daily, but mostly cleaned, organized, watered the plants, worked on my retirement home play.
   "I don't know," I answered. "Business is slow. Real slow."
   "How would you like more hours?" The Boss asked.
   Did I want more hours?
   "Sure, what do you need?"
   "I was reviewing your application. You've run back rooms ... inventory ... before."
   "New Hampshire, inventory prep, primarily cycle counts. In Los Angeles, I had complete control of the back. Inventory control, shipping and receiving, production schedules, fronting the line. Whatever was needed."
   "We're not that detailed here," he studied my application. "OK. Here's the deal. Danny is leaving. He's going to be Assistant Manager at Hurst. I'm moving Todd up to Floor Manager. I need a new Backroom guy ... " He paused.
   "Receiving Agent? Verify packing slips and contents match?"
   "More or less ... " He paused again.
   "That's day shift. Monday through Friday. And you're wondering about my other job?"
   I looked at the Floor, the parking lot, Video. I'd worked with John ... seven, eight years ... only we weren't working.
   "I'll be good to go next Monday."
   "Excellent. Todd will train you Monday. You should pick this up quickly. Thursday, Truck Day, you'll work with Todd and Rob. They haven't killed you yet, so I'm hopeful. Oh, and I prefer speed and accuracy," he gave me a look.
   "In that order? Don't get bogged down with details?"

   I still had Classical duty. When Jeri was off, I was on call. Most of the crew didn't want to deal with fussy clients. Beethoven was Beethoven. Bernstein, Von Karajan, what's the difference? Advising between the '63 versus the '77 versus the new, digital version, was too much.
   Tuesdays were New Release day. New titles rolled in Fridays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. Cross reference titles with slips, hit 'em with the price gun, stack them in a cart. Note: If there was a stray shopping cart within a quarter mile, it vanished into the Backroom. "May not need it now, man," Todd advised. "But we will for Christmas." We had 20 grocery carts in the back.
   "Packing slip? I never touched that."
   Todd warned me about Dan. Dan was notorious for opening New Release boxes to see what was coming out. For taking packing slips and wandering off with them, laying them down, forgetting.
   I wanted to get along, I tolerated this for awhile. Then, fuck it. I hid boxes or buried slips. Threatened dismemberment.
   Thursday was Truck. Replenishment from the Distribution Center. Accessories, videos, CD's, cassettes, boutique crap, vinyl. Several pallets worth of product.
   Todd and I broke down the shipment, then resorted everything by chart. A-Chart (biggest sellers, highest volume), B-Chart, C-Chart. Also NR-Chart (New Releases). Sometimes NR titles were for the following Tuesday, other times they were already out. The Backroom guy had to simply know, and not break, street date.
   Todd and I worked different charts. He took A, he was quicker. Half the titles were sale priced. Sometimes set by Bromo, other times The Boss let a hot album ride. By noon, half the shipment would be on the Floor, getting security taped.
   "Outta my way, fuckers."
   Rob clocked in at noon and worked Accessories. Blank tape, carrying cases, deck cleaners, stuff like that. Sometimes he was hungover, sometimes not. He was usually cranky.
   Especially if Todd hid a box or packing slip.
   Or his coffee mug.
   Coworkers drifted back constantly. A customer wanted a specific title. It was on-order. Did it come in? Could we find it? Everything stopped and we began digging.
   Carey frequently entered. Not a word. There was a full length mirror on one of the swinging doors. She stared, transfixed.
   "I don't see how you guys can work back here. I'd be in front of this mirror all day."
   We laughed. Carey was difficult, she had a short fuse, but she was stunning. She had no need of a looking glass.

   After two weeks, I had the Backroom nailed. I had done Inventory for years. I was an ex-stoner. I could concentrate and organize endless names, dates, and numbers in that rat's maze in my skull. Merchandise got checked in swiftly. The crew accepted me.
   I was "in."
   There was only one teeny problem. D-Chart.
   All the back catalog ordered by James.
   Big State, House, and all the majors. WEA, Sony, UNI, Poly, CEMA. Especially CEMA.
   Those packing slips had NO PRICES. Just meaningless codes. Meaningless because there was no legend or description of the codes, because there were dozens of codes.
   I had gotten stumped. Bogged down with details.
   Exactly what The Boss warned me to avoid.
   Paged James, no idea. He placed orders. Period. I could leaf through all his D-Books. Like hell.
   Todd came back, then Dan, finally The Boss.
   No one knew. In the end, Dan advised me to use the "Danny Method."
   Best guess. If customers only knew.
   "If it looks full priced to you, price it that way. Mid-line. Budget."
   "What I always did, man."

   "What if I screw up?"
   "We'll catch mistakes. Tell you. You'll get the hang of it."
   "Or else we'll come back and throw you off the lift."
   "All of us, taking turns, cause you're one of us."

   Nothing like being accepted.
   I thought of an ancient Browning film. The chanting sequence.
   "One of us! One of us! One of us!"