Everything the store was running out of.
Ever since Thanksgiving, sales had exploded. There might be a lull on Monday. Tuesdays, New Release day, sales accelerated.
By weekend ... hammer down.
During December, Todd, Rob and I lived in the Backroom. Unless there was a summons for a manager, unless there was a Classical request.
"Sound Warehouse - - Christmas!"
Elf Help #1 - Bert Versus Barry
The Boss hired several applicants for Christmas Help. One was yet another Todd (number three), a very nervous type who flamed out on register after a couple of sessions. Three girls, including a tall blonde James fixated on, and Big Martha. Keith was a rehire who worked Christmas after Christmas, accurate on cash register down to a penny. An intense, highly wound individual.
Then there were Bert and Barry. Two middle class jock / fratboy types.
Bert and Barry were competitive and loud. They ought to have bonded. Instead, they took an immediate dislike to each other. A good impression, and Temp Help status might become permanent. Likely for one, however. They began to have at it.
Played bumper cars with loaded shopping carts. Referred to each other as Spurt Bert or Barry Schmerry.
Barry had tucked a six length of toilet paper in Bert's rear pocket. No one informed Bert, who walked the Floor over an hour trailing an elegant, thin train.
Bert retaliated by taping a thumbtack on the toilet seat just before Barry's predictable post lunch offload.
There was noise.
After that, the guys began pushing each other.
Bert drove a pickup, and that was a definite edge. Anytime we needed replenishment product he volunteered to drive to Bromo DC. By third week of December, that was daily. Even though he didn't mesh with the rest of the crew, by the end of the season, Bert was retained, Barry was released.
What Iz U?
Stacey had a soft spot for the elderly. Part of that was her relationship with her own grandparents which was warm and close. Stacey also had fond memories of several elderly schoolteachers who guided her early on. Then again, I think she simply found old people interesting.
Stacey zeroed in on an immobile gent, squinting at the list. The store was crowded and vast, the music loud and alien. Gramps froze, confused and definitely lost.
"Hi. Can I help you with anything?" Stacey asked.
The man hesitated, then gave Stacey her list.
Stacey went through it quickly, getting items, chatting with the codger. Asking questions about grandchildren, weather outside, traffic, other stores. The man remained taciturn, answered with a word or two.
Within five minutes, Stacey and he walked to the front registers, basket in hand.
"That's all," Stacey smiled. "Unless there was something else?"
"Well ... " the man looked very embarrassed, very perplexed. "If you don't mind. Is you a boy, or is you a girl?"
Stacey told him, "I iz a girl." Laughed, then shared the story with us.
A half dozen newspaper guys were steady customers. Columnists, featured reporters, two film critics. Several were opinionated know-it-all's, one was curious and asked open ended questions. One was banned.
Unless authorized by the label and Bromo, Camp Bowie never broke street date. We did not SELL albums before Tuesday. We received boatloads of titles the Friday before. They'd get checked in, priced, sale priced, security tagged, parked in the Back Room with a scribbled warning: Back Off! - Touch & Die - Leave It - Don't Fuck With This. Brief, cheery, easily understood by harried, distracted coworkers.
Our journalist friends frequently received advance copies from record labels for review purposes. Not always, though.
In that case, we would "give" an advance copy to columnists. They had a weekend to listen, write a review for Tuesday, then pay us later that week.
This was an honor system, and it worked well.
Except for the one columnist who stiffed us. Excuses were complete bullshit, since we knew the paper always reimbursed staff purchases.
The Boss banned him. All managers enforced the ban. This endured for years.
Christmas week, he tried to sneak in. One of the managers asked if wanted to pay his outstanding tab.
Out the door. No sale - no holiday cheer.
The Trash Guy
Dan and Rob started to focus on him. Without exception, Rob was the best at store theft matters. Rob always pressed for the prosecution of shoplifters, arguing released criminals not only returned, but encouraged fellow thieves to strike us. When Rob commented, The Boss listened. Dan was intuitive. The artistic streak, perhaps. Radar flared for both men, and they realized the coworker was probably stealing.
He hired on the same month I had. Possessed a passing knowledge of Classical music, and definitely looked like he fit in at a record store. He frequented store parties, was part of the gang at Toadie shows. He was a downer, glass half empty, gloomy future type, but everyone was able to ignore that.
The Boss rarely fired anyone. He cut hours. That was common Sound Warehouse policy to avoid Unemployment claims. He trimmed the guy's hours from 40 to 24. Then 16. Finally, 8. One day a week, Friday night. With few exceptions, those whose hours were truncated gave notice or simply quit. They could not survive. Make rent, pay utilities, buy food.
Our red-flagged coworker was the exception. He hung on for months, and everyone wondered how he survived. He had a girlfriend, she didn't work. One duty he shouldered, week after week, was trash detail. Holiday season, garbage was incredible. We overflowed two large dumpsters, twice again, every week. Since personnel understood he would deal with trash every Friday ... well ... every Friday the trash mound stood ten feet tall or higher.
Time passed, our man finally gave notice one afternoon.
Soon after, managers realized the store had been slammed on portable electronic devices. Headphones, walkmans, speakers. Pricey and pocket sized.
The thefts ceased. Someone had hidden merchandise in the trash, retrieved it from dumpsters later.
Ingenious, cunning, shrewd.
No one was ever the regular trash guy again.
Pat stuck her head in the Backroom, "Classical help!"
I never had so many Classical customers needing help. They must have shared a grapevine. They knew, today, I had done something witlessly stupid.
I came to work wearing my Coca Cola pants.
These were cotton beach pants I had purchased when I was a kid. I hadn't worn them since I was ... fourteen. Like other card carrying, eating disordered types, I could still wear clothes from junior high. Just because I could, didn't mean I should. Still, that's what I had done.
I was an idiot and looked ridiculous.
Assumed I'd be safe in the back. Even though it was Truck Day, Rob and Todd were away. Instead, I worked with Layla and Stacey, who thought the Coke pants were way cool. II think both were way stoned.
Nor was I safe in the back. There was an endless parade of Classical customers wanting help. Like, "How much is that $7.99 Mozart sampler?" quickly followed by, "Where'd you get those pants!" then, "Those pants don't have a zipper. How do you ... "
Whoever was in Video, Pat or Amster, surely encouraged those queries. Just so I could prance outside, and feel a fool.
"Oh, Motorcross King ... " I approached Greg. "You have a caller on line three, sexy female voice, specifically asking for the Motorcross Guy."
Greg quickly corrected me. "That's Free-Style Motocross. Don't forget the Freestyle aspect."
The call took about five minutes. From time to time, I looked over to see if he gradually eased the phone farther and farther away.
He came back, shaking his head.
"Natalie?" I asked.
"Of course," Greg nodded. "Wanting to know if we had Brave Combo's Christmas CD, then getting mad when I told her yes we did."
"Mad at ... the price? Or ... say what?"
"Noooo, she was very put out because she was traipsing around in pajamas, and now she'd have to put on clothes."
"Hello!" I leaned forward. "You could have told her today was Jammie Day. That yours sported motorcycles and helmets."
"What I told her was I placed a copy on reserve for her in the Manager's Booth. She is coming in."
"Aww, Dude. Can't we steer her towards James or João?"
"Nope. She always asks for you or me. And I told her you were working today," Greg chuckled.
Turned out Greg was the superior lookout. Spied Natalie as soon as she entered the store and disappeared into the Office.
She trapped me in a corner in Classical for ten minutes.
Now Greg could have hidden in the Backroom, the Office, or the Bathroom.
The designated Break Area was completely out of the question. Anytime the swinging doors parted, customers in Video could see you. They then walked in.
The Office was usually first choice because one could peer through the wooden louvers and survey the Floor. Determine when the coast was clear. The Office had perils. The Boss could walk in suddenly and throw you out. The last thing anyone wanted was to be in his target sights.
There was the Backroom, but you might get drafted into work, shifting cartons, bins or pallets. You were begging for trash duty. Plus, depending on how buried, how pressured we were, Todd and I could be complete dickheads. Robert was worse than either of us.
And the Bathroom? The Male Bastion? You risked your life. No two ways about it. One of our male companions was lethal. Silent but deadly.
The major compensating grace of the Gents was the art work. All the politically incorrect posters. Tanya Roberts, Cindy Crawford, Anna Nicole Smith. But mostly the two Shannons. Shannon Whirry and Shannon Tweed. In their day, expressive thespians.
Male customers who exited the room usually muttered, "Nice."
So, that very un-merry afternoon, one of the guys shuffled in and noticed the beloved Shannon Tweed defaced with a black marker. You Guys are Pigs! - Crap - Porn. Other expressions. The gallery had been trashed. Vandalized.
Obviously, one of the girls. Maybe two. Chief suspects were Stacey, Trina, maybe Missy. Then again, Layla, Kathy, Diana, Amy were all quiet types, and those were often more dangerous. One never really knew what went on with them.
Dan might have asked around. That would be his way. Besides, the ladies would have only replied, "I didn't have anything to do with it ."
Clean Your Act
"I'm resting on the couch, watching the Cowboys tank another third quarter, when Todd starts yelling at me. Wanting to know what I'm going to do with the beer in the fridge."
Rob and Todd shared an apartment, the realities of retail wages, busted girlfriend relationships, and convenience.
"I'm going to fucking drink it, is what I'm going to do."
Between work and home, they were often together too much. They were close friends, but the daily proximity got on each others' nerves.
"Well, can you drink it now, man?"
They seemed a mismatched pair. Todd, A-type personality, intense. Rob, carpe diem worshipper.
"Fucking interception. Then a fumble inside the ten. Thank God I didn't buy tickets for that suckfest."
Todd was furiously tidying and straightening the apartment. His father was coming to visit. Rob kicked back, enjoying the day off.
"Strides in, Mister Cleaning Whirlwind, plunks the sixpack on my lap. Says it can't stay in the fridge."
Todd's father was a minister. Straight laced, from the sound of it.
"You gotta be kidding me! I told him. Shit, he's a rock singer, right? Bad-ass, rebellion, all that."
Parents remained parents. No matter if you were 34 or 14. Todd and Rob were 24.
"Anyway, I downed three cans. Stashed the rest in my room. Dad showed up - - Kinda funny, actually. He got a Coke from the fridge."
Cowboys rallied in the fourth and won.
'N I Know Where You Live
" ... don't think you can hang up on me kid. I can find you, like I found your number."
With that, Dan replaced the phone back on the cradle. People in the Office laughed wickedly. Crank call. To one of our own.
Months earlier, Todd had gotten embroiled in a clash with a neighbor. Music too loud, using all the hot water, rowdy guests, TV viewing, cooking choices, garbage, parking space. The reasons for apartment battles were as endless as they were mindless.
Todd's angry neighbor was redneck, rural, and stupid. In all likelihood, the guy didn't own a telephone. Even accurately dialing a handful of numbers would be beyond him.
Todd was going through personal strife at the time. He and Rob went halfs on an apartment elsewhere. Dipshit neighbor was history.
Until Dan began impersonating Bumpkis the Buttload.
Crank calling Todd at his new number had Todd concerned. Last thing he wanted was an ignorant tackle hunting him down for a grudge.
Dan dialed again.
"Hey! 'N I know where you live, junior!" His voice carried a high, Western twang. "You and yer little dawg!"
Todd did have a small dog. That alarmed him. The psycho knew where he lived! And his dog. What if the fucker did something to his dog?
Next day, Diana told him. Said everyone was acting immature and irresponsible.
She was probably correct.
Sometimes, no matter how busy, how overloaded we were in the Backroom, it was all hands on deck. Over a hundred shoppers had invaded the store. Every cash register was backed up. Sound system quiet because no one was able to press the PLAY button again. The Backroom crew threw on nicer shirts and sallied into the chaos.
Video had three registers. Lines ran ten deep. Over in Cassettes, both registers were swamped. If we actually made it to the Front, all three registers were buried. Lines there were the worst, twenty shoppers or more. Each.
Compounding everything was tickets. Popular concerts or Cowboy playoff tickets went on sale during the busiest times. Who came up with that plan? Sadists?
Half the shoppers in the store were strangers. We tried to identify and assist, make their experience as positive as possible. We never had to venture far before a panic struck shopper exclaimed, "Do you work here?"
Bromeroids dumped tickets onto our laps as a stupid ass loss leader. Brain bolt theory held ticket buyers would waltz in for Ice Capades or Feebles In Concert seats, then be so smitten with our store, they would saunter up and down our beautiful aisles, and purchase armloads of music.
Never - ever - happened.
Ticket buyers were like Marines allotted 10 brothel minutes.
Bought their seats - - walked.
They were also high maintenance. The more ticket levels available, the more predictable the pattern.
"Gimme the cheapest seats you got, just so long as I'm close to the band. Got something next to the drummer?"
Champagne taste, beer budget. Those types needed 20-30 minutes. We could only blow them off if there was a big line.
Oh, yeah, I forgot our profit in all this. Not merely all that nonexistent impulse buying traffic.
No, there was more.
One dollar per transaction.
Turn That Crap Off !
Massive line snaked down the middle of the store, and out the door. Ticket buyers, waiting for the noon sale launch. They clogged Floor, were impatient, and ugly.
This was one of the uglier crowds we'd encountered.
Predicting mob behavior was not a science. Most were OK. Sport fans, folks wanting Prince, George Strait, U2, L o l l a p a l o o z a. Everyone wanted as good seats as possible, and they understood speed was the key. The seats you were offered would be snatched up by another soul at another TicketMonster outlet within seconds.
Most shoppers had cash in their hands, and were ready to say how many tickets they needed, and at what price points.
Especially after The Boss finished screaming instructions at all of them.
Anyway, this rabble were loud, deaf, logic challenged Neanderthals.
Pushing and shoving, demanding prime seats for Garth Brooks.
Now, we could have accommodated those fans, fired up Ole Garth on the speakers.
Instead, we played Garth's opening act, the then unknown, Alison Krauss.
Bluegrass wasn't received so well.
"Turn that crap off!" one weekend wrangler hollered.
"Them fiddles and banjo noise ain't Country!" yelled a fat man in starched bib overalls.
We cranked the volume up.
Elf Help #2 - Big Martha
Hiring preference was often granted to genuine Country music applicants.
In-store, there were specific Country faves. Current leaders included Dwight Yoakam and k d lang. Several employees followed specific artists. Pat was big on George Strait, John enjoyed George Jones. Rob, on the other hand ... Shit. Rob began dating this rural buckle bunny. He deluded himself that he liked Country chart makers. While we waited for him to wake up, and return to Club Noise, Metal, Industrial, we endured him pointing at some peckerwood warbler, saying, "That guy has talent."
Still, when Nashville fans applied, they received help.
I ensured Sissy got hired, but six months afterward she roamed down the boulevard.
Dan or Greg put in a word for Sherri, though she was actually more into Lilith Fair. She knew enough, however, and she was a rustler's dream. Drove a one ton pickup, with tool kit, ten spare gallons of fuel, 12 gauge, and a .38 Smith & Wesson. The commute to Camp Bowie was 60 miles, each way. After awhile, she couldn't do it. Sherri and I had been close, at the end I treated her shabbily.
Christmas, The Boss hired Martha.
" ... I'm from Weatherford."
What did Martha know about Country?
"I know that I hate it!"
"I'm either going to stab my boyfriend or shoot everyone here!"
Snarled that one while she kicked one of the metal filing cabinets and whacked a dent in it.
"Find a new boyfriend," I suggested, to temper tantrum baby.
"I love him!" she wailed. "He's just stubborn and won't do what I tell him to do."
My mind leapt from one rude comment to another, but I held my tongue. I didn't know this girl.
Stacey was the one who began calling her Big Martha, though there was no corresponding Little Martha in the store. Or any other Martha for that matter. Soon everyone referred to Big Martha. Yet not to her face. I sure as hell didn't. She was twice my size, had been on the Weatherford High Wrestling Team, and engaged in weekly slugfests with her love weevil. And she won those fistfights.
Always reassuring to work with an angry soul who mentions shooting and stabbing every other day.
One of the other ladies suggested we overload her with her designated Country clientele. Of course, she knew zip-nothing about twang, but she understood that was the only reason she kept her job. We piled every single query her way. Even things like, what was Johnny Cash's first name? (laugh, she thought that was a trick question) The Boss assigned her Trash Duty. There were other tasks. There were always ways.
Two weeks before Christmas - - Adios, Big Martha.
k d lang Concert
Friday night, we were short staffed. Half the crew was at a k d lang concert. I hadn't scored tickets, so I never requested. I didn't have money for tickets, and I lacked WEA contacts for freebies.
Another reason I hadn't attempted to go was because, from early on, I heard horror stories of employees requesting Christmas time off.
Nobody got time off.
We were trapped in one ship together. The Boss didn't allow hands to jump ship in the midst of battle season, Thanksgiving to January 5th. Every employee was essential and indispensable. Newbies or temp hires who insisted on a long ski weekend were released. Permanently.
The Boss wasn't heartless. He worked with staff who needed specific nights off. For family.
Or the k d lang show.
Angela assumed she was going with the gang. As always, she assumed wrong. They left her and her friend behind, accidentally on purpose. They wheezed to Dallas in a rattly death trap car held together with piano wire and duct tape. She and friend made it to the show, but never found any coworkers.
Well ... not exactly.
Three carloads of Camp Bowie sprayed into the theater. Todd went to the Rest Room only to find dozens of women inside. The Ladies was jammed, the overflow annexed the Gents. As Todd confessed later, "I was this minister's kid and I wasn't unrolling the firehose in a room full of women." He went outside along with other males.
Rob had been way up front with Stacey, both of them toking away next to the stage. They were hammered. Stacey danced and sang along. Rob saw Angela and her friend. In true fashion, he cruised over and appropriated the friend. Rob and friend celebrated the season elsewhere. Angela drove home alone, incensed.
Next day, many were hung over, bitter, jealous, sore, ecstatic.
Sounded like a good show.
Eight of us crammed into a vehicle for lunch. Greg, John, Dan, João, the Orb, Matt, me, some new guy. Went to the Mexican place down the street. Family chain, didn't feature beverage options. No alcohol to wash down those greasy chimichangas. One of the perks of working Backroom, I suppose. Other members relied on breath mints.
We just wanted to escape the noise, the pressed crowd. This time of year, the store was overloaded with food.
Dan always brought in cookies his mother baked. This was a longstanding tradition.
Missy brought in banana bread, pound cake, things like that.
Pat baked cakes, cookies, brownies.
The Boss's wife and Diana both baked cookies.
One of the guys made fudge.
João brought tamales, homemade by his family.
Rob's specialty was fajitas.
Record labels sent candy assortments, nut samplers, tins of popcorn.
Corporate Overlords at Bromo ordered a platter from the deli down the street.
You could gain ten pounds every year.
Who's In Charge?
The man entered the store with a sour attitude. Yelled as soon as he walked in, "Can a man get some damn shopping help here or not?"
Perhaps he'd had inferior service at other stores. One of the new hires went to assist. Diana walked over. John tried. Pepe.
Some folks were born unhappy. Or with a chip on their shoulder.
Stomped from employee to employee, working his way up the hierarchy. Past me in Classical, into Video, past Dave and Pat, then vented towards Dan.
"Damnit," he cursed, "are you the mother fucker in charge of this shit house?"
"No, sir," Dan replied, "that would be The Boss, and he's off tonight."
"Then who the hell would you be?"
"I would be the assistant mother fucker ... sir."
Middle of December. Gray skies, no sun, cold. Winter, OK?
Santa's mocha elf, Princess Pat, giggled in. Tanned like she been lolling on a Nassau beach for a month.
Tan sprayed from a can, combined with sprawling every spare moment in a tanning booth.
The Boss and Diana chastised her on how dangerous that was. Long term consequences. Skin damage. Wrinkling.
Blah blah blah.
Pat planned to visit family. Her sisters. She had to look better than her sisters. Plus, her son had a new girlfriend. Pat needed to look young.
"Who cares about tomorrow? I need to look good next weekend."
What Pat got was unexpected attention.
Robert Eayley, a local blues musician, began hitting on her in Video.
Asked her how she liked Black Magic.
She didn't know if that was a song, a potion, a cocktail, a magic wand, or the usual male bullshit.
Pat declined. Coyly.
Pat's NO's, however, could often be misread as I DON'T KNOW or MAYBE. Pat was an incorrigible flirt. Some times she was keenly interested, but acted shy. Other times, she was merely polite. Mister Eayley was a local celebrity, and about 137 years old. An aneurysm might strike if Pat outright refused his lovin'. Or he could suffer a heart attack if she accepted.
Decisions - decisions.
Local publicity would have been harsh. Pat was private and understood the dire consequences of acceptance or rejection. There would have been headlines.
Blues Legend Killed By Video Vixen !
Pat cringed ... and stalled ... and stalled. Smiled and stalled.
Eventually, Mister Eayley quit visiting.
The Ice Storm
Pepe was dating one of The Toadies. Hell, it was Mark, the drummer. Which meant she had to attend as many local concerts as humanly possible, and had to endure impromptu In-A-Gadda-Da-Vida drum solos tapped across the playground. This is what drummers did. On the upside, should any visitor point out peculiar, homemade cigarettes in her living room ashtray, she had a ready alibi. "Ain't mine, babe!"
The Toadies played a late show at Mad Hatters. There was a good crowd, despite an ice storm that night. In fact, by the time the show ended, streets were covered in slick sheets. Typical Texas Winter. Snow was a rare event. Sleet and ice were more common, and hail. My God, hail the size of grapefruits pummeled cars and homes from late Winter to early Spring. That night, Cowtown had become an ice rink.
Mad Hatters closed. The gang decided to spend the night at Todd & Rob's, their apartment being the closest.
Everyone took off. The storm was blinding. Pepe lost Mark in her rearview mirror, so wheeled her car around to search for him. Crawled all the way back to the club. No sign of him. She assumed Mark had chosen the guy favorite, the short cut, and she proceeded to Rob & Todd's.
Mark wasn't there.
Hours later, Mark arrived. His car was totaled.
A car had struck him. Slid across the intersection, smashed the passenger side. Then he got rear-ended. A third crunch, and that was that.
Everyone listened sympathetically ... for a while. Then he kept yammering on and on. He was high, everyone was tired. One by one, they drifted away.
Practiced drum solos on his stomach for a bit. Searched out Pepe.
"Dude, don't even think about it" she growled.
Pepe came to her senses soon thereafter and broke off the relationship.
We waited by the doors while Dan keyed in the security code. Five of us. Dan, Rob, James, me, and some Christmas Temp. Once the alarm was activated, we'd step outside, lock the front doors, and head home. It was late, it was cold, we were tired. Past midnight, Friday night. Three of us were scheduled the next morning for 9:00. The Boss, ever the sadist.
Several of us eyed James' large gym bag throughout, mostly because of Rob's sarcastic warnings.
"Telling you guys, tonight's the night. James has finally flipped out. Bet he has a pump action shotgun in that green sack."
Of course Robster was full of crap.
James was unpredictable. Moody. All of us knew he had not stuffed his desired holiday stocking. Despite showering Christmas bonbons over his favorite elf-ette, James had been stymied. Ho-ho-ho was simply No-no-no.
Tonight James was whistling - - and humming. A creepy melody in a minor key.
Outside the doors, the guys began shooting the breeze.
Fuck that. I had my own holiday bunny waiting at home. I strolled.
The shopping cart was in the middle of the parking lot. Easy enough to avoid.
I gunned my car and popped it. Most satisfying.
Maybe not for the cart, but everyone else appreciated it.
And if Big Jim carried that shooting iron, no one experienced it that night.
Next morning, more of the same. The holidays pounded on.
It would be a good year.