Wednesday, November 10, 2004

Coworkers: Part 85 - Parade Begins

   Our new owners were Wherehouse, an established chain. I had shopped several locations in the 70's when I lived in Los Angeles. That was years ago. Since then, Wherehouse had survived lean times, including a stint in Bankruptcy. What had saved them during the file sharing era was USED. Used CD's and Used DVD's, an approach favored by indie stores.
   Fully half our store would be allotted to USED inventory. After months of spreading out product to make our racks appear fully stocked, we now had to shift and condense the entire layout. "We" as in Mandy, Sarah, Angela, Stacey, Pat. Chick Shift. Guys bore the grunt work of breaking down and shifting bins and racks. Professor suffered a meltdown. The Classical oasis was being shifted to the main floor. The room would become 100% Latino music. I had shipments. Mountains upon mountains of boxes.
   USED CD's.
   And ...
   Not talking artistic Playboy videos, featuring naked models splashing in a swimming pool while a saxophone moaned in the background.
   No. XXX. Hardcore. Explicit covers. Anal, multiple jousters, usually a lively hour of unplotted, freestyle bangin'.
   The Parade Began.
* *

   Word got around. Business increased. USED was a massive hit. Selling and buying. As customers converted their collections into mp3 format, they sold off their discs. This struck employees as shortsighted, since the mp3 audio quality was a fraction of the CD. Still, one didn't argue with customers, even Regulars, like Rodney, who was liquidating a decade of discs.
   We quickly got the hang of what we needed, what we had too many of, and what would sell in our particular store.
   USED Porn, we never received. Not from the DC, not from customers. Did these guys watch the same scenes over and over? Or were they collectors, building a library of priceless memories? Impress first-time girlfriends with a wall of fleshy romps? Or grow a legacy they could bequeath to grateful grandchildren decades from now?
   Straight away, we realized Porn shoppers were completely single. Secretive, almost furtive. Never asked for employee assistance. And of all the employees in the store, the one they tried to avoid, the one they were terrified of, or simply hated, was Sarah.
   Sarah was a sadist.
   Most Porn guys stood silently in line, then slid their choices across the counter. Upside down, no exposed bush, pink, or title like Nannies With Whips.
   Sarah always flipped the cases back over and gushed brightly, "Oh, no date this evening?" or "Just break up with your girlfriend?" or "I can tell you're going to be busy tonight!"
   Guys visibly wilted under this upbeat attack. If there were shoppers behind them, especially families or females, their faces would cringe in pain. Sarah was merciless.
   After several months, Porn boys memorized Sarah's schedule. They'd either visit on her day off, or when she worked Listening Center, away from that damned front register. Even then, they weren't completely safe. They'd be in their hallowed skin section, absorbed with Muffin Warriors From Mars, or Vixen Businesswoman Part 27, or Saving Ryan's Privates, gems all, and some employee would ease up behind them.
   "Finding what you need, sir!"
   Scared the hell out of them.

Wednesday, November 3, 2004

Customers: Part 18 - Crow Mystery‏

   This cat was shrouded in dense fog. Updates or clarification should be helpful.
   Danny Raven Crow.
   Fixture in the store for two solid years. Came in weekly. Purchased heavy and focused.
   Uriah Heep. The Godz. A few other groups, more obscure.
   Crow bought any edition, paid cash. I chased down imports and remasters for him. He would buy ten to twenty Uriah Heep CD's at a crack.
   Back in the day, he had been a member of the band. Anytime there was an edition released in Germany, Sweden, wherever, he wanted a copy to send to the lawyers to keep those royalty checks flowing.
   Crow was a compadre of Buddy Miles, who had retired to Cowtown for reasons unknown. Crow also produced albums for local artists, chief among them, blues guitarist J B Wynn. I personally saw at least two releases. Wynn's X-Mas Blues and Big Train. Crow's name was in the production credits, as were various store employees. Crow and Wynn bypassed distributors South West and Crystal Clear, and sold direct. Wherehouse on Camp Bowie was one of the locations, aside from club venues, that carried their discs. Store personnel were credited on one album. As a thank you? Maybe. I never knew for sure.
   See ... things were weird.
   We liked Crow, he bought steady and hard. He was a Regular who bought over $100 per week. Again, cash. He also shared the wealth. Handed out restaurant coupons to employees. Aside from label reps, no one ever did stuff like that. With reps, we knew the game. Good will supposedly translated into store play. We played what we wanted.
   With Crow ... well ... what? What was he doing? What was the deal?
   John was suspicious and began prowling Internet sites.
   Uriah Heep never had a member by the name of Crow.
   Brad later studied a Heep CD in front of Crow, looking for his name.
   "You won't see me," Crow explained. "I had to use an alias for tax purposes. I hadn't cleared immigration to work in England."
   "Oh, what alias?"
Brad looked closer at the back cover.
   "I can't tell you that. Legal restrictions, you know."
   There were two bands called The Godz. Punk pioneers from the 60's and a biker band from the late 70's. There was no Crow in either band.
   Another alias?
   We had plenty of customers who claimed membership in major groups. Some were genuine. Charles, original Toadies lead guitarist, still shopped Camp Bowie during his lunch break. Other souls were like the white gent who sang in the Temptations. None bought albums in the sheer quantities like Crow, however. Most just yakked their fantasies aloud. Crow paid. There had to be some strategy, a design. We just could not work out what it was.
   Believe me, we speculated.
   Most of all, why was he dropping thousands of dollars for a charade?
   Crow offered to manage J D's rap career. J was agreeable, but wary. He had already learned, bitterly, how expensive an entourage of "new friends" could be. Moochers and leeches, draining green. Crow had plans,contacts, publicity ideas, tour packages. Recording dates. Studio time always involved expensive costs. It was never resolved who would be responsible for production fees. J never signed, though Crow courted him steadily. Often, J B Wynn accompanied him. Both reminded J he was blowing his big showbiz chance. J eventually got national exposure on Texas Hood Connections, screwed and chopped.
   Back to Crow.
   Mid-Winter, he complained about feeling sick. There was an operation (his leg was bad), but he bounced back.
   Then ... Crow disappeared.
   Checked the obituaries. Phoned our newspaper contacts.
   Scoured that repository of all useless knowledge, the Internet.



Wednesday, October 27, 2004

Coworkers: Part 86 - Walking In LA

   I was more familiar with our new owners, Wherehouse Music, than anyone else.
   Once upon a time, they'd been my record store.

   In the 70's I drove cross country and enrolled at Cal State. Los Angeles was about as far from the Appalachia Mountains as I could stretch. For over four years, I attended CSUN, clubbed, and worked in a skateboard factory. The first adjustment was especially difficult. I suffered naive misconceptions about California based on 1960's beach movies and psychedelic hippie history. What an idiot. Worse, I wasn't accustomed to motorcycle cops. I received enough citations so that I couldn't drive for almost a year. Hitch hiking became my commute method. Or I walked. L-O-S-E-R.
   I was suspended from Cal State. Later, placed on probation. Drugs were free or cheap, most of my friends were generous stoners, which probably accounted for my sorry finances, infantile existence on Sunset, and dicey academics.
   I barely held onto an apartment because my landlords pitied idiots. The nearest record shop within walking distance was The Wherehouse, a Southern California mainstay. The staff was helpful, wax was affordable.
   I had good memories shopping the Ventura Blvd location.
   After a year, I was permitted to drive again. I abandoned the old car, or gave it away, don't remember. Bought a sports car and switched record loyalties from The Wherehouse to Tower Records to Adam's Apples, an import specialist tucked in an industrial park. I never shopped The Wherehouse again.
   I met Zelda, struggled through yet another probation at CSUN, graduated. Then we drifted on.

   Years later, I followed reports of the old chain, renamed Wherehouse Music, in Billboard, Variety, Ice, and other music journals. Wherehouse doubled in size during the 80's, and beat off a hostile takeover from Shamrock, the Disney group that would purchase Sound Warehouse, later resell it to Blockbuster. The Wherehouse chain suffered hard times in the 90's, filing for bankruptcy protection, then being acquired by a group of Merrill Lynch brokers. During much of that period, they could not compete in the rental arena, where rival Blockbuster destroyed their video margins.
   Wherehouse shifted gears and went into the USED business. Big Time. Music labels fought this plan, but the strategy ultimately prevailed.
   Fast forward to the late 90's. Viacom wanted to shed the music division, Wherehouse had emerged from Chapter 11. Viacom asked for $200 million, accepted $115 million. At store level, employees couldn't care less. Just other distant bosses. Because that chain had already mismanaged their affairs into bankruptcy, our expectations were low.
   One of the first changes by Wherehouse, and what set the tone, was the purging of the North Richland Hills location. Hurst was a solid performer in a prime location, but new owners wanted Assistant Managers replaced. AM's had played a bit of a dodge with personal checks to tide them over till payday. Nothing illegal, more of a cash float. The new Wherehouse management team didn't warn or counsel. No. Termination. Old colleague Danny was among the discharged. This was a catastrophe for their store. Our Assistants, Stacey, Pat, John, and Joe, pitched in and staffed their team until everything was sorted. Ironically enough, many years later the North Richland Hills store would return the grim favor.
   Our store, which was as neglected as all the other acquisitions, began to reinvent itself. More because of Joe and JD, their passion and interest in the hot underground, we shifted focus into Rap. Coworkers like that were contagious. We caught trends early on, and were always onto emerging labels. NO LIMIT, then CA$H MONEY, finally SWISHA HOUSE.
   Camp Bowie grew into Rapland. Nights, the store was a club scene. We increased the size of the section several times, as we purchased direct from Houston, Louisiana, and Memphis one stop distributors. Whatever problems plagued the chain itself, or Region, or District, our financial numbers weren't as distressed.
   Overall, store morale improved. Coworkers deeply committed to music now outweighed the drones who worked for paychecks.
   We were beginning to surge past all the other stores in our area.
   It was a fun place again.
   We never worked with so little budget or for a sorrier group of owners. As The Boss summarized, management declined with every corporate shift. From Bromo, to Disney, to Blockbuster, to Wherehouse. Every change was a change for the worse.
   One singular example. Wherehouse Music rarely spent ad dollars (provided by labels, mind you). When they did ...
   An infamous commercial. Yanked almost immediately:

Pause SOUND CHECK, hit the play button below.


Wednesday, October 20, 2004

Customers: Part 19 - Calling Doctor Elvis

   "I like Elvis. Do you like Elvis?"
   "I'm a Beatle person."
   "Well, can't you be fans of both?"
   "Not normally," I said. "You're either a fan of Elvis or a fan of the Beatles."
   I was mowing through DVD inventory, my thoughts preoccupied. A month earlier, after I had inventoried the section, I almost lost my mind. DVD's had suffered 10% shrink. Not dozens, hundreds of discs missing. When I reported my numbers to The Boss, he simply shrugged.
   "Welcome to my world," he said.
   10% didn't strike him as outrageous for a high theft section. To me that was too much. I decided to re-inventory and pinpoint the biggest problems. Though The Boss predicted, "New Releases. New Action. Porn."
   My mind was busy tallying printout titles with hard copies, when the Presley fan base started firing questions.
   "That girl likes Elvis and the Beatles," he persisted.
   "That Girl?" I replied absently, "Marlo Thomas?"
   "What? Who's Mar -- "
   "That's a joke, Biff. Look, no one gets to claim both Elvis and Beatles. Doesn't work that way. The mop-tops displaced the King. Likewise, you can't be an Elvis and Sinatra fan, since Elvis displaced Frank. A person who rallies for both is faithless. Wishy washy or greedy, definitely not loyal. Same rule applies for Beatle fans. Everyone gets one favorite. Not two. If you said you had two, then you really don't have a favorite. Person like that probably doesn't even have a favorite ice cream flavor."
   "You're so smart," the guy gushed at me. He looked early thirties, wore black rimmed glasses. Blue flannel shirt. It was July, temps were 102 outside. He either had an unpleasant skin fungus, or he was nuts.
   "Thanks. You're looking at the by-product of a quality Appalachia education."
   "I like Elvis," he cranked up again. "And I like Elvis movies. I really like Elvis movies."
   I stopped checking DVD's.
   "Dude, nobody likes Elvis movies. They're bad. They're not stupid bad, or trashy bad, or kitschy bad. They're boring bad."
   "When I watch my Elvis movies ... I put on my Elvis costume."
   Ding dong. Completely nuts. I realized I was in the E section. Mister Shopper was hunting for more priceless Presley celluloid. I should have walked. Moved my ass to the T's or elsewhere. Yet, I was the methodical type ... and ... I was intrigued by wacky people.
   I gazed about for Pat. I wanted to share this gentleman with her.
   "You wear black leather Elvis, or that flashy gold lamé, or the white spacesuit?" I prodded.
   "I got a poster of Change Of Habit," he continued. "That's my favorite."
   Late 60's flick with Mary Tyler Moore. I momentarily confused it with another 60's film she made with George Peppard. "Is that the one where Elvis is a doctor?" I asked. "Isn't the main female a nun? Was he trying to bang a nun?" Obviously, I suffered faulty recall for this classic.
   "Elvis is Doctor Carpenter," my client informed me. "He treats patients in the ghetto."
   I quickly searched through the store E's, then the C's. I scanned my printouts. "I don't think we stock this any more."
   "When we watch Change Of Habit I have a white lab coat I put on."
   Shit. I'd screwed up.
   "I dress as Doctor Carpenter, I even have a stethoscope. My girlfriend wears a nun outfit. She's Sister Michelle."
   Damn, damn, damn.
   "Then when Let Us Pray comes on, and I start singing along ... "
   Yeah, he told me. The guy was borderline retarded and had no check switch.
   Me? I don't have an excuse.
   So now I have this really ill image of beer budget Elvis fans spawning in special outfits on their trailer sofa.
   That I can't shake.
   But I'm sharing.


Wednesday, October 13, 2004

Coworkers: Part 87 - Well Placed Friends

   Porn Regulars soon had new concerns.
   Customer complaints.
   Our store received several comments per day. This was repeated across Wherehouse's newly acquired landscape, especially in Dixie and Texas. Not surprisingly, the wheeler dealers who snapped up Blockbuster's music division had more of an eye on bargain and inventory, and didn't bother understanding regional differences . To paraphrase their reactions in the vernacular -
   "Everybody enjoys fucking. Everyone enjoys watching."
   With that mindset entrenched, Wherehouse honchos visited locations to ensure USED sections were brimming, the Floor was tidy, and Porn was prominently displayed in its own DVD aisle.
   "When customers see it, customers buy it! No arguments, comply."
   Who were we to argue with Overlords?
   Our aisle of glossy, off-Hollywood art flicks were churned out from my college neighborhood, the San Fernando Valley. Doubtless, many Porno thespians honed their acting chops in that West Coast Theater mecca, Cal State Northridge. CSUN, my alma mater. I had so mismanaged my career. Had I been more perspicacious, I might have parlayed my valuable English degree into a successful screen writing résumé. To whit, I might be earning royalties for Star Whores or Raiders Of The Lost Part.
   Alas, no, I was ever the bungler. I was only selling porn romps, rather than creating them, let alone starring in them.
   The films we offered were terrible. An hour and a half of banging and moaning, kicking & licking, spanking and wanking. Subdued mood music enhanced the six, count 'em, six positions known to Kama Sutra explorers. Of course, more positions lurked out there, but those films cost more. Advanced maneuvers were trickier for dropout thespians to remember. Ours were budget blasts.
   The crap we shelved had no detectives, no gunfights, no chases, no scientists, no livestock.
   In short, no plot.
   Groping without purpose, the same fare one could view in front of the living room mirror. Comment: At least one scene per porn film ought to boast a mirror. Double your money. I once lived in an apartment where one entire wall was mirrored. Also had an artsy montage of Winter dressed sportsmen blasting away at ducks. Put female guests right in the mood, let me tell you.
   Maybe this was just me. I preferred movies with narrative, exotic locale, inventive cinematography. A customer once asked me what sort of films I watched. Before I could reference Film Noir, Silent Era, Foreign ...
   Sarah blurted out, "Asian films! With girls!"
  "With whips and swords!"
Pat laughed.
  Mmm ... coworkers.
   So, family visitors complained bitterly. They might be browsing the Family Horror section, when their impulsive offspring toddled up grasping Anal Antics or 69 Girlz, 69 Stylez. Parents were alarmed their two year old had just caught a disease. They threatened to contact the police. Then they did just that.
   Wasn't limited to families, either. Men griped. No, not because our titles were repetitive and dull. We didn't offer any "gay porn."
   Alright, some men.
   "You're completely dismissing our category, and we are a financial force," the man with blue sunglasses advised me.
   "I'll pass this upstairs," I responded.
   "I'm sure I'm not alone in this. Just as men enjoy two females engaged in contact, I'm sure women would appreciate watching the guys in action."
   I wasn't too sure about that, but I didn't argue. Instead, I wrote a cheery suggestion for alternative mano a mano and forwarded to our ever complaining District Manager. Within two months, gay porn arrived. Throughout the District. I don't think it was my request. This had to have been in the pipeline. I mean ...
   Defective porn proved bonanza time for The Professor. DVD's were rarely faulty. Before morning opening, The Professor would "test" Water Nymphs, or whatever title was handy, and load it into the machine. Then he would stand, transfixed, before the TV throne glowing with wholesome, milk fed goodness. Mandy and I unlocked front doors stealthily. Customers caught The Professor more than once. Quality moment.
   Didn't break his greedy habit, however. Neither did comments from Mandy, Pat, Sarah, Sonya, Stacey or Angela. The Professor didn't give a damn about what womenfolk thought about him.
   For awhile, John and I tried hiding defective porn, but The Boss warned us that might be misconstrued as a loss prevention issue. Believe it or not, Donut Bear was still in the District. Worried about losing his position, he had roused from his hibernating cave at Berry and was now terminating associates.
   What to do?
   Mandy unplugged the unit. Told The Professor it was broken. Advised him the unit in the Office worked, he could sit next to The Boss and share the sleaze.
   When we opened, she "fixed" it. Repeated this for weeks, he never caught on.

   The Wherehouse solution to all those complaints was to place black plastic cards in front of all adult titles. These weren't affixed. They were cards. Customers, both passive aggressive and malcontents, routinely pulled skin back to the fore.
   We roamed Porn Land every hour, dropping the curtain.
   One afternoon, we received a tip from an old colleague. Now in law enforcement. Jesse, Curtis, Damon, Leroy, so many ex coworkers became cops. Can't remember who phoned with the warning that a member of the District Attorney's staff and two squad cars were heading to our store with a seizure warrant. Hardcore pornography was, and always had been, illegal in our family friendly burg. Any XXX flicks found on the shelves would be confiscated.
  The anonymous contact was thanked, then Sharon and I emptied Porn City into three shopping carts and wheeled all those gems to the back. When the task force arrived, the manager on duty simply said, "Porn? What porn?"
   And that was that.
   We never sold hard core pornography again. Everything was boxed up and shipped back to California where it was better appreciated.

Wednesday, October 6, 2004

Shoplifting: Case #09 - The Silent Companion

   Looked out the plate glass and saw ZZ Roadie wheel into the parking lot. He was, I hated to admit, a Regular. Usually bounded in, plopped his ass on a Listening Bar stool, then wasted an hour singing along to mindless Techno.
   He and his companion.
   Temps outside were 105 degrees. ZZ Roadie wore a corduroy sport coat. Sported a full beard as well. Companion wore a vest; also a full beard. Both could have been ZZ Top crew members. Transportation was Ole Reliable.
   Blue bicycle. Girls blue bicycle.
   Anyway, Mandy or Molly tended him while he jammed to D.J. Irene, or Club Boy Roy, or that Doyen of Dance, Carter The Unstoppable Sex Machine. While Trainin' Wheels twitched and bobbed like he'd suffered an accident at the saw mill, his silent, brown eyed companion sat passively and ignored the beats orgy.
   After an hour, a full hour, mind you, Bobble Head pushed away from the counter. "Thank you kindly," he said, "I'll have to consider this purchase carefully for several days." He was invariably polite. Never bought a damn thing, yet he was always courteous and a gentleman. Good manners from Bum School.
   As for Silent Ted ... well ...
   Front door theft alarms triggered - JD and Worley pounced immediately. Merchandise had been concealed. Under the vest. Silent Ted, who would've thunk it. Bobble Noggin read him the riot act while JD and Worley looked on in baffled amazement.
   "I told you to quit taking these things! Didn't I warn you? Do you know what prison's like? Don't you argue with me! I've been in jail. Is that what you want? Is it?"
   Beady eyed companion said nothing. No surprise there, Silent Ted was a foot high, battered brown Teddy Bear with glass eyes.
   We kicked ZZ Roadie and Mister Bear from the store and banned them. Didn't care that the bear was the one caught, we figured both of them worked as a team. Didn't summon the cops, either. They'd never arrest a stuffed bear. Look too bad on Action News At Six. Viewers would sympathize with the bear. Blame the cops, blame us, blame the bear's mother.
   Still see 'em both a couple times a week in the parking lot. Playing chicken with parked cars. Bear sits perched on the handlebars. Stays put even when there's a slight accident now and then.
   Again, they were Regulars.

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

Coworkers: Part 88 - Football, Fool

   After screaming and complaints, the football had been confiscated and stuffed in the backroom office. The football had been another cheap Wherehouse inspiration to improve morale.
     "Have fun among yourselves! Pass this football back and forth, like you share great work moments and tips to improve customer loyalty."
   Here, as everywhere, morale would be better improved with additional hours and a $500 bonus in the paycheck. Instead, we received the football. All stores received the foam football. Now, The Boss had fresh ammo to lob at employees, in addition to his crumpled sheets of paper.
   We also got Rube.
   A K A - Hey, Fool!
   I understood, hiring was part evaluation, part instinct, part luck. There were good candidates and poor. Rube interviewed well, hired on, spent two months flushing out.
   First warning sign: He couldn't spell. He couldn't look artists up on our database because he couldn't spell "artists."
   "Uhh, my home computer has spell check."
   "Dude, we file The Beastie Boys under B. And The? Whether it's The Beatles or the girlfriend or the candy bar, always has an E at the end of TH."
   "See, Fool, my computer has spell check. It fixes things, and completes words for me. It's great, Fool. Sometimes it even finishes words different on the internet, and I meet a new place. I never have to think. You outta get this."
   Angela was walking past. She rolled her eyes and shook her head. Most of the females had a gutter opinion of Rube.
   Another warning sign: One had to work with men and women in the retail environment. Rube had been raised by his mother --
Wait! Quick break for clarity. Rube was short for Rubert. He had been christened for two different males, Robert and Rupert. Aspiring or accidental parents, please, please, please, don't do this to some helpless infant. They have to live with post childbirth decisions forever.
   -- his mother. Divorced woman, low view of men in general. Except for her son, the Golden Boy (without spell check, th goden boi). Protective, indulgent, and blind to short comings. Females, he treated like skanks. Called them all Fool, called everyone Fool. Never hesitated to let females understand, however, they were second tier ... at best.
   Most of the women I've worked with have owned tempers. Oh, moody, that sounded better. They've busted their ass for me, they've bailed me out when I've screwed up, and they haven't hesitated to kick me. Rube dismissed half the store as girlies, who then couldn't be bothered to help him. With anything. He received no assistance, feedback, training from half the crew.
   They also detested that football.
   I'm back to that again. The only workers pitching the football with any regularity were the guys. Girls couldn't be bothered. Most, Sarah, Angela, Pat, Mandy, Stacey, were trying to work. After a week, even the guys lost interest in the football.
   Except Rube.
   He still liked pitching it at colleagues. Especially at their heads. When they were balancing a stack of discs. Or drinking a can of soda. There would be the usual screaming, cursing and threats. Rube would laugh and laugh. No one could mess with him. He wath th goden boi.
   Of course, with all that passing practice, he wasn't getting a lot accomplished. I could mention the time he worked register. There was a line. Rube ran off ... to retrieve his football. The Boss eventually stuffed the 100 Yard Morale Booster in his desk.
   The Boss cut his hours to 16, then 6, then ... gone!
   Rube's mom came in, her precious child in tow, demanding reinstatement, apology, and paycheck.
   While negotiations escalated, Joe went to the back, dug around in a drawer.
   Farewell gift. Football.
   "Hey, Rube, check it out."
   "Cool! Thanks, Fool."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Customers: Part 20 - Oscar's Scam‏

   Oscar became a Regular several years ago. Shopped once a month, shifting to weekly once we became Wherehouse Music. Because, at that point, we were buying USED. And Oscar always had CD's to sell.
   Oscar always had a small pile of CD's, usually four or five. These invariably totaled enough to buy one New CD or two USED. It was uncanny.
   Most sellers either brought in a huge stack, generally for cash, or a handful, for exchange value. Oscar fell into the latter category. All sellers visited for a year or less. Time to download their music collections to the computer hard drive, and eliminate all the CD's from their abode. If the computer crashed or was stolen ... well ... easy come, easy go. I gave up trying to explain the audio difference between 1100 kbps wav files versus 96 kbps mp3 files. These were all men, and had stubbornly fixed their minds.
   Oscar had been selling discs for years. Oscar was scruffy, blue collar, drove an older car. I'm not judging, but it was extremely unlikely he had built a monster collection, and now he was unloading it.
   No way. Had to be a scam.
   One afternoon, I asked him. Oscar had just sold me $20 worth of CD's. The discs and booklets were immaculate. The cases were scuffed and beat up to hell. Still, our system valued each SKU at $5.00.
   "Oscar, do you work for the data entry crew? Your CD's always bring high dollar. What's the con, Dude?"
   Oscar glanced from side to side, then shot me a sly look.
   "I always grab your flyers, man. The Wanted List," he pulled out several of our glossies from his shirt pocket. "Check out swap meets and pawnshops every week."
   "Most of these are New Releases," I commented on what he sold me.
   "I know. I always ... always ... look for the top wanted ... in really shitty cases. Most places only charge 25¢ or 50¢ for those."
   "That's great! So you pay a dollar, maybe two dollars, and swap for twenty dollars worth of music? That's genius!" I laughed.
   "Yeah," Oscar grinned. "Pawnshops are best cause they're always getting stuff that's jacked. Straight outta cars is my guess. Usually new stuff."
   That was the dark underbelly of USED. For every legit customer purging their collection, there was a crook or druggie using us as a fence. Sometimes we identified them and booted them from the store. Then they'd send the girlfriend, or their kid. Life sucked. Other times, we treated them like scum. The database might offer $5.00 for a title, yet we would reduce the bid to 50¢. Complaints got them nowhere. Thereafter, they went elsewhere.
   Oscar had technically bought the CD's, but he was in effect, laundering them. Another employee might have suffered qualms. Not this soul. What Oscar had devised wasn't too far from radio announcers, columnists, or music store employees selling promos. Or even The Exchange Lady, who'd been switching CD's for ten years already.
   Plus, I was always one to appreciate a clever dodge. Oscar had confided in me, and I never told anyone else his strategy. Not that I bought his explanation completely. Now and then the jewel case didn't pass close inspection. The interior insert that the disc resided on would be black, when it ought to have been clear because of artwork underneath. As if someone had swapped disc and packaging from a nice jewel case to a ... ahem ... a shitty case. A case that might have been marked ... 25¢.
   Like I said, Oscar had been straight with me. Besides, I got a kick out of him. Pat, Joe, John, most of the crew knew him and thought well of him.
   Ryzer, on the other hand, did not appreciate Oscar. Scoped him like a cat watching a lizard high up on a window ledge.
   I've mentioned my sorry ass skills in catching thieves before. Probably a character defect of trusting people and ingrained cynicism. I also worked days, most thieves preferred darkness.
   Ry had a deeply righteous streak. He was idealistic. His was a black & white, right or wrong, moral code. None of that gray, shadowy twilight that I maneuvered so quietly in.
   Ry caught Oscar.
   Pawnshops had wised up to Oscar's game, or nabbed him switching cases. Don't know. He'd been banned from them all. In our store, he was cutting a $4.99 USED CD from a soft keeper. Ry crept along the far wall, kept low, rounded the endcap ... and ... "Gotcha!"
   One cheap item. Not even a misdemeanor. Not worth calling the cops. Ry had been justified, he made the bust. Yet I didn't pull the trigger.
   I kicked Oscar out, banned him. Ry remained silent, though I knew he wanted Oscar to enjoy that courtesy police ride downtown. I doubted the cops would bother with a $4.99 theft. Cops had better things to do. Oscar was so insignificant.
   Still, I guess Ryzer made a face as Oscar slinked out the alcove one final time.
   Oscar shot us the finger.
   "Dude, I think that was for you," I told Ry.
   "It was worth it!" he laughed.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Coworkers: Part 89 - One Week Less

   By this stage, every store employee realized our new owners were glorified shoe salesmen. The souls who had built Wherehouse, back in the day, had long ago abandoned a sinking music ship. Current owners were steerage or new denizens, clueless about music, about retail. One commonality ruled. The chain was poor.
   Product flow had been intermittent for months. Corporate masterminds issued vague theories from afar: Perhaps the DC was out of a few particular titles?
   We were supposed to believe "particular titles" included the entire Top 100?
   Fact was, the chain was broke. Wherehouse had barely emerged from bankruptcy protection when they bought Blockbuster Music. The chain had been cheap, yet Wherehouse had piled on debt for the acquisition. If profits were robust, that decision would prove wise. The market was in freefall, however. That Wherehouse expansion revealed itself as a blunder.
   End of fiscal quarter was especially trying. Our shelves emptied as shipments dried up because there was no cash flow. Distant Overlords hopped up and down, wondering how that happened. And it began to happen quarter after quarter. Those guys were back row pupils who still fastened their shoes with velco.
   Our generals and admirals.
   We steered our ship knowing what type of support marshaled behind us.
   Scant and wet.
   The week began promising.
   Stacey returned after a prolonged stint helping Hulen. Hulen lost their complement of managers all at once.. Variety of reasons. Without being too specific, Stacey had made some new herbal contacts at that store.
   Several months earlier, I had hooked up J D with the sunburned newspaper columnist. That resulted in a nice article, and J sold Aggravated Foe CDs by the bagful. Now, I introduced him to ex coworker Ken, who penned a column for a competing rag. This time J had a VHS called Da Killa. Customers were quickly moving away from tape, but VHS was the only way they could watch the genius of voodoo weed and zombies terrorizing Como. Sales were brisk.
   J D had two posses. One group were fellow weed heads. Lolled around, sniffed for scraps, mooched, bathed in reflected light. The other group were kids. Ten - twelve year olds. Boys on bikes. These kids hustled their asses off for J. If J D was shooting film, and forgot an item, one would tear back on his bicycle to his apartment and retrieve it. They were primed to buy soft drinks, bag of chips. Or to shift camera angles, act as stand-in's, holler voice-over for crowd noise. Go-fers or riggers. Quality kids, though sometimes they thought too much.
   "You know, I been thinking about time," one of the boys swiveled on a Listening stool.
   "You mean like four o'clock?" I asked. "Or Time with a Capital T?"
   "Yeah. That second one. I got to thinking, I'm going to be old one day. I don't like that."
   Rather philosophical for a ten year old.
   "No stopping it, Dude," I shrugged. "I'm in my forties. By the time you hit my age, most likely I'll be dead."
   He shuddered. "That's it! I wanna stay ten forever. I don't like this Time thing pushing me along."
   I gestured emptily, and he went back to brooding.
   I returned to orders. We weren't getting replenished from our Distribution Center or from labels. We barely received New Releases. That cash flow problem that Corporate completely denied. Electronic superstores had kicked Blockbuster's financial keister, but music file sharing was killing us. Plus, the great era of Boomer buying had ended. Geezers had, for the most part, replaced their vinyl collections. They weren't buying new groups. Our foot traffic dropped. Loyal customers who still shopped noticed the thin shelves. The girls could spread CDs only so far.
   The vaunted ordering system was a joke. Nothing The Boss requested for the store shipped.
   There was a loophole. Special orders. One-stops, Valley, Southwest and Abbey Road, were also hurting. I asked one of the reps about our limits. We had a 5 piece per title limit, but not an expense limit. I conferred with The Boss, he began to hand me large orders in addition to customer requests. We told none of the other stores. The more stores who barged through that secret back door, the more likely Corporate would close it.
   Anyway, J D's other posse, the pack I called the entourage, were prime suspects. Someone had stolen J's equipment from his apartment. Computers, stereo systems, video equipment, cameras, microphones. The works. J knew the guilty was a friend or friend of a friend. Didn't matter. He was financially crippled. His life savings ... his life ... had been tied up in making music, making movies. Now he'd been mugged.
   He and Stacey commiserated on the back lift. Enjoying the perfumed smoke courtesy that new Hulen contact.
   A witless employee from the store below, Tuesday Morning, noticed them, then squealed.
   "I smell marijuana!"
   Fifty feet away, two stories down. What was she, bloodhound?
   Also a born stool pigeon. Didn't phone us, called District. District Manager. Damn. Luckily, the cranky DM was on his way to greener pastures of Media Communications. He couldn't care less. Phoned us and spoke with John.
   The Boss was never appraised.
   Up at the front counter, I caught Sharon pulling some severe shit. Switching tags on VHS tapes. VHS was on the way out, our prices ranged from $4.99 - 99¢. I knew Sharon was fucking up when I pointed at her stack of 99¢ videos.
   "What the hell is that?"
   She could have placed these titles in a stash pile until prices fell. That's what everyone did. Swear to God, Stacey sat on a Denon ceramic cassette for seven years until the price fell from ten bucks to one buck.
   I mentioned Sharon's activity to John and Stacey, they immediately walked to the front. The video pile had vanished. Next, they examined the surveillance tapes. Saw me point toward the stack, walk off, Sharon relocate them ... to ... gone. For years, John and Stacey had tried, and failed, to catch Sharon "doing things." Today was one more failure. Yet, from then on, half the store watched Sharon. For her, the vibe became awful.
   The week had been sorry. It couldn't end too soon.
   J's robbery. The bust on the lift. Sorry business. Sharon.
   Saturday came, Saturday went.
   So did John.
   Saturday was John's final day at Camp Bowie. He transferred to his own store. Six Flags Mall location.
   When I first hired on, John had been someone I could always turn to. He had been a constant support for everyone for years.
   Camp Bowie wouldn't be the same,
   John was Pat's favorite person, a flame she never damped.
   Pat was heartbroken.
   Next week could only be better.

Wednesday, September 8, 2004

Coworkers: Part 90 - Playing The Chicas

   Joe played a very dangerous game.
   Swaggered the store and the club, bold and reckless.
   All while Angela and he were drifting into "item" status.
   Joe wasn't living ... exclusive.
   Erika had a steady guy. Sometimes. If not, she phoned Joe. He was usually available. The word No was never accepted by her.
   Buffy worked the store. Nights. She was dead pretty, and she flirted. Joking and pushing had a tendency to exceed limits.
   Angela warned him.
   "I catch you messing, I'm going to cut you."
   Me? I'd listen. Angela had a wicked temper. When she was fired up, she couldn't think straight. Camp Bowie had a scarlet history of violent females. They didn't beat up other girls, either. They kicked the men, punched them, smacked them with metal rods, hurled objects. And they didn't miss.
   "You listen to me," I advised him, "I know from sad experience. Women know this shit. They got fucking radar, Dude."
   "Worth-Dogg, they don't know nothing. I graduated Smooth."
   "Slick, be more like it," JD dropped in. "'N when it's slick, you gonna slip."
   "Shoo," Joe waved us off. "I keep all of 'em in separate piles. What they don't know ... they don't know."
   "You gone crazy," J said.
   "Hey, I go home, my wife knows if I've been working with Mandy or Pat or Stacey from their perfume, that ends up on me."
   "Stacey wears cologne."
   "Yeah, Zelda knows that. She knows what each girl wears. Angela is going to -- "
   "Chill, homies. I'm in control. I hold the remote. Besides, I told her I don't see Erika. Buffy, she don't know. What they don't know -- "
   "She find out ... whoooo ... she string you up like a rooster."
   "They always know. They don't know, they find out."
   "You forget to mention Anna Marie?"
   "Shee-it. I got a date tonight. Better make some calls, put some skirts on hold," Joe began punching the speed dial.
   I had forgotten Anna Marie, as well. Angela, Erika, Buffy, Anna Marie. Joe was juggling four girls. They rang him, they showed up at the store without warning.
   "Late news bulletin. Joe sliced up, buried in extra small coffin," J laughed.
   Joe walked off. JD and I were idiots, not worth listening to. He was the playa, the game master.

   Enter Tracey.
   Tracey was blonde, easy on the eyes, lazier than a river slug. She was petite, maybe five foot, but fronted a rack of pure Olympic gold. She was living proof God enjoyed those dark jokes, bestowing Biblical abundance along side a dim brain and feeble spirit. The effect on males was devastating. Full frontal lobotomies. Guys stumbled about her presence like witless chimps. The Professor desperately wanted to pay for a dance. Instead, he knocked himself out to render aid, any aid. And assistance, Tracey profoundly needed. Menfolk had been good deeding her since junior high. She had been coasting ever since.
   As an actual retail worker, she was hopeless.
   There was no explanation why The Boss had hired her. No matter how dazzling the application, how high she scored on the psych test, there would have been an actual interview. He would have realized her main answer to any question was a prolonged, "Uhhhhhhhh ... " while she gently eased forward, or shifted her shoulders from side to side. The lobotomy maneuver. She was a daily example of gravity.
   Tracey couldn't figure out how to stock product. CD's wound up everywhere. She couldn't comprehend security keepers. "These things don't like me." The cash register had too many buttons, and confused her. The Listening Center, wasn't that a place to make phone calls and new friends? She only excelled at two things. Lunch break, and throwing Joe off his game.
   Not only Angela, but the other girls sniffed out Tracey as well. Impromptu visits increased. Girlfriends began bumping into each other, and realized they were Joe's glorified harem bunnies. Anna Marie slapped him around and drove into the sunset. Explaining to Buffy, Joe over compensated and catapaulted the comment from joke to prank to fiasco. When he wrote across her forehead, he used one of the giant felt tips. Permanent black ink. She quit, wailed to her boyfriend, and he began hunting for Joe.
   The juggling collapsed one evening when Erika summoned him to dine at her favorite restaurant. Also Angela's favorite restaurant. The chance of discovery was minimal. Still, he improved his odds by reserving a table one hour before closing.
   Who goes to a chain restaurant so late at night?
   Angela, her sister, and brother-in-law, waltzed in ten minutes later.
   Angela had phoned the store. Tracey didn't know, and she just ... sorta ...
   There was no dessert that night.

   Stacey, the firing manager, terminated Tracey, for being useless.
   Took Stacey a half hour to explain that "being fired" meant Tracey wouldn't have to work the next day.
   The released employee was excited and happy. She had wanted the day off, but was afraid to ask.
   Then she was upset - angry - confused.
   "But, I'm so popular here."
   All rivals trampled, Angela seized the remote in the relationship. The playa, the club kid, the gza, was collared on a short leash.
   Joe started thinking of ways to get even with J.

Wednesday, September 1, 2004

Customers: Part 21 - Ringside


   If we had been selling wrestling tickets for the week, I might have drawn conclusions. Wasn't like that, however. No wrestling tournaments, football games, bull riding championships, no Thunder Warrior rock festivals. The week had simply been an ugly, confrontational one.
   First match, Stacey got into a shouting test with some deadbeat customer. I use the term customer lightly. The man had entered with a friend. He wore a dirty white t-shirt two sizes too small. Arms covered in prison tattoos. I knew they were jailhouse stamps because he and his friend warbled about his recent release during checkout.
   Then, either he and buddy cut Stacey & Shelley off at the door, or vice versa. Next moment, shouting and threatening. Stacey and Mister Convict, who was rolling his shirt up, displaying the manly pot belly. The shopper friend kept trying to calm the parolee down. Shelley looked mildly amused, mildly annoyed. She'd finished several stints in the Navy, she could have beaten this loudmouth into hamburger.
   Nothing escalated beyond shouting, and everyone screeched away.


   Couple of days later - - J D's turn. He had joked to a beefy guy wearing sunglasses. The guy took offense with J's comments about his hair, his billowy cream shirt, or crooked sunglasses. Next thing, both guys steamed outside and squared off on the sidewalk.
   I hurried out, hoping to defuse the situation. One, with boots, J D weighed 120 pounds, Mister Sunglasses looked 220. Two, any fight between employee and customer would probably result in termination. Three, if cops showed up, J D would suffer worse than some chunky white guy. Wasn't fair, but neither was our society.
   Turned out the guy was resentful of J D. J D was selling CD's, J D had a movie out, J D was featured in a newspaper article. The man didn't think that was proper. Who did this kid think he was? He used the word "uppity." Didn't mention the second tag of the cliche, but he did toss uppity. Twice.
   And ... he repeatedly pointed out ... J D wasn't funny. Neither were his stupid comments.
   Then he walked off.
   I shot J a look and shook my head.


   Jefty and Killwater were both Regulars. Jefty came in mornings, twice a week, with his mother and rented New Release DVD's. He was in his mid to late twenties. I'd lately observed more and more young males still clutching Mommy's skirt. The women were always single or divorced, and refused to push Junior into manhood. Hopefully, this wasn't a trend, unweaned men and mama's milk, like in a Mediterranean country.
   Jefty owned a loud, piercing voice, and he took a shine to Mandy. He sought her out, attempted jokes, flirted badly, mentioned that his room at Mom's house had a lock on the door. He ignored comments such as, "I'll ask my husband," or "My daughter liked that movie, too." Jefty didn't hear or didn't care. Mandy was stuck. We tormented her.
   Killwater was an afternoon type. Welder or mechanic. Wore a black tank top which revealed multiple piercings. Bought metal, industrial, goth, heavy metal, thrash. Sing along albums.
   Like me, Killwater carried a knife.
   He also packed a gun.
   Killwater was genial enough, and I enjoyed talking with him, but I never forgot that hip pocket firearm.
   Late afternoon, hot outside. Jefty showed up alone. No Mommy. From the manner he clutched his videos, face to face, I guessed he'd selected adult titles. Spicy. Wouldn't want Ma to find out.
   He shifted back and forth, in an obvious hurry.
   Three customers loitered in front of him. College girls. Sundresses, halters, shorts. Plenty of skin for the Summer breeze.
   Nearby, The Professor lingered, playing with his fingers. Staring at the girls, then glancing away. Replaying some perfect joke in his mind, biding his time to break the ice. He had to be older than their parents, yet he couldn't help himself. Summer was his favorite time.
   "Couldn't you girls hurry up a bit?" Jefty asked.
   The girls looked back, then dismissed him. They were catching up, sharing stories, gossiping, laughing. If it was any other customer, I might have encouraged the girls, but it was Jefty. I let him stew. The later he was, the more likely Mommy would snoop.
   "I really am in a hurry," he repeated, "I don't have time while you and your big butts talk your stupid baby talk."
   What a maroon. I rang for backup.
   "Excuse me! But we were in line first."
   "And we are checking out."

   I exchanged smiles with one of the girls.
   "Sounds like you bitches are just running your mouths instead."
   "Hey! Jefty!" I said loudly. No wonder he still lived with Mommy.
   "What did you call them?"
   Killwater stood at the far end of the counter. His eyes were flat and hard.
   The girls ceased talking and hurried their purchases. The Professor decided to organize the Rap section and backed away. Joe was almost to the front, I waved him away.
   "What's it to you? I called them bitches. They're in my way. Besides, this is none of your business."
   "Jefty, clam up."
   "Since when do you think you can talk to women like that?"
   I processed the third female. Short haired brunette with a diamond stud in her eyebrow. All three were alarmed. Jefty resembled a bully in an ice cream suit, Killwater looked like the biker from hell.
   "I talk to men and women like that. Especially if they're nothing more than useless bumps in the road."
   "You need to learn manners, kid."
   "And you need to learn to shut your fucking mouth."

   "Here you go," I handed the brunette her change. "And thanks for leaving me this mess," I whispered.
   "Sorry," she murmured back. All three were gone in five seconds.
   "Are you in a hurry, too? You want to cut in front of me?" Jefty asked, sarcastic.
   "No. I'll wait till you're done. Then we can go out together."
   "Suits me. Like I worry about some loudmouth wearing dirty, black underwear."

   I could have sold tickets.
   The two gentlemen went outside. The conversation was harsh and brief. If I had actually sold tickets, buyers would demand a refund.
   "Where'd I set my drink?"
   Killwater strolled over to his Coke.
   "What happened to those women?"
   "Out the door. Probably joining a convent right now, Dude."
   "Just my luck," Killwater chuckled, and headed towards Rock.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

Coworkers: Part 91 - In-Store / Three 6 Mafia‏

   Competition intensified. Too many stores peddled tunes. Mall stores, free standing concept locations, electronic marts, bookstores. Hustling for nickels. Despite the record labels' legal efforts, filesharing drained profits. Mp3 quality was inferior, but most downloaders listened off crappy computer speakers. Back in the day, the pursuit was for fidelity and decibels. Watts. Tower speakers and amplifiers that radiated more heat than an oven.
   Yesterday, however, couldn't compete with FREE.
   Wherehouse couldn't or wouldn't play cards they held. Such as in-store events.
   Labels usually set up events, paid ad dollars for promotion, shuttled artists into the stores. With our chain, however, labels were wary. Advertising dollars rarely tinkled into actual ads. Our District never saw slicks in the local rags, let alone TV or radio spots. Labels hurled promotional CDs to Corporate to scatter shoot through stores. Generate buzz, in-store airplay. Instead, Corporate slapped USED price stickers on promos, dumped them in Distribution Centers, and sold 'em.
   Wherehouse never arranged in-store shows. Probably because they did not want to pay for security.
   So we did it ourselves.
   Rather, the evening crew did that.
   The lot that morning shift (Mandy, me, The Boss, The Professor) always grumbled, "What the fuck do they do all night?"
   Actually, Mandy never cursed. To be honest, I was the last Sound Warehouse potty mouth. I digress.
   Things began small.
   Jacob did a solo show one night. Singing an Usher tribute with his ukulele.
   Wasn't a monster crowd, but there was a crowd. There was applause. If Jacob had made CDs, he could have earned a couple of bucks.
   J D did have merchandise to sell.
   J began a series of monthly rap fests. Brought in some playback equipment, couple of speakers, backbeat city.
   J sold CDs and took orders for his upcoming DVD, titled Da Killa, due any day now. Zombies in Como, if you can believe that.
   Anyway, evening crew got good creating and controlling events. Stacey, Pat, Angela and Joe handled the crowd (Yes, there were crowds. J D had fans.) while GG Licious and John prowled the front and back of the Floor.
   Then, Joe began phoning his contacts.

   Joe worked an indie gig for Relativity Records as a field rep. Relativity had reinvented itself from a Heavy Metal label to a Rap one, especially Southern Rap. Southern Rap was what Camp Bowie focused on.
   Joe toured area stores, tacked up ad slicks, posters, banners, handed out promos. No pay involved. Did this because he received free CDs, free admission to shows, backstage passes, chance to meet Rap stars. Hell, Joe was in showbiz.
   He arranged a small afternoon event.
   Gangsta Boo.
   Simple meet 'n greet. She chilled at the Listening Center for two hours. Turnout was steady. J D's entourage was already there. Fans from Como swung by, then Poly. Two radio stations aired announcements. It was afternoon, however, so many fans hurried in on a quick break just to say "Hello," get an autograph, buy a CD. Joe acted as host and A&R guy. He reminded Boo he was available, that he took requests. She smiled diplomatically.
   This was a big deal. She was, after all, Gangsta Boo. Had this been evening, the place would have been bedlam.
   Gangsta Boo must have put in a good word. Relativity gave us the green light for their main sluggers.
   Three 6 Mafia.

   Crowd control was tricky. Joe lived in Northside, as did Angela, Mark The Shark, and I. Northside was "red," Blood country. J D and his posse were Como "blue." Crips neighborhood. There were other gangs, notably East Side Homeboys, Latin Kings, and MS-13, but they weren't expected.
   For events like concerts, reunions, birthdays, parties, an undeclared truce ruled. Camp Bowie, though, was blocks away from Como. If gang members got territorial or into a pissing contest, the event would be slammed.
   Our riot concerns proved groundless.
   The crowd was large, noisy, but chillin'. Everyone wanted to meet Triple 6.
   DJ Paul and Juicy J held sway at the front table, along with Crunchy Black and Gangsta Boo. Autographs and chat, members must've sat through hundreds of those, but the group was still carving their way through the Rap arena. They weren't West Coast or East Coast, they were Memphis based. Even a record shop party was exposure. So here they were, sipping Coke mixers, and shining bright.
   Music pounded. Joe chopped down a mix from Mystic Stylez to Choices. He tried to edit out language, but gave up. It wasn't exactly a Disney crowd, anyway.
   The Professor got stuck working that night, much to his disgust. He didn't like Rap in general, and complained loudly when the counter in the Classical Room proved a perfect bar top. Not that anyone brought Hennessy into the store! That would be inappropriate. Shocking, even. Be like ... I don't know ... smoking reefer. Not that --
   The Professor complained, but everyone ignored him. We had worked with him a decade, while guests recognized his model. Guy who assumed all Rap shoppers were thieves, guy didn't like crowds, didn't like ghetto, didn't like teenagers, didn't like women.
   Maybe ... maybe not.
   Like I said, we'd worked with him ten years.
   Near the end, an impromptu booty shake off was organized. Half dozen girls peeled down to thongs or strings. Beats were set and asses shook in rhythm. First one who broke rhythm was eliminated. The Professor, who knew more stripper and pole dance asses than the store combined, succumbed to the force of gravity. He edged closer and closer, till he stood front row. Breathing heavily.
   Three 6 sat in front of the front window, so there was a rambunctious, hollering mob just outside. Cheering the ladies on. Falling in love and falling down. Everyone took videos from cameras and phones. A couple of shots caught The Professor, jaw opened wide, eyes mesmerized. We're still chasing down a copy for the photo albums.
   And then it was all over.
   Group members said goodbye. Went to concert, party, after-party, film studio, hotel rooms. None of us knew. Gangsta Boo recognized Joe and blew him a kiss.
   Then, Three 6 Mafia was gone.
   Good times.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

Coworkers: Part 92 - GG-Licious

   The store didn't offer email, Internet, anything like that. Wherehouse featured Wee Mail, and no, that's not infant diaper writing. As always, honchos in charge confused stupid cute with intelligence. Wee Mail was Intra-Net. We received decrees from Overlords (replying was tantamount to suicide), and we could also type messages to each other. Instead of scribbling pieces of paper.
   Wee Mail was barely useful. Any employee could send a note to any other "non manager" employee. This could lead to mischief.
   Several months earlier I hopped onto a computer that The Professor marched away from and sent a Wee Mail to Angela,

Hello. I suppose you think this is a minor issue, but I feel compelled to lodge a complaint. Tuesday was Aaron Copland's 100th birthday, and there was no Copland playing in the Classical Room. I discovered, painfully, this oversight when I ventured in - on my day off, I might add - to distribute some celebratory poems I composed for the occasion. Playing inside was godawful Abba drivel. Correct me if I'm wrong, but Mister Copland never wrote for the Swedes, now did he? These birth milestones are important, please do better!
While I'm at it, I am writing fresh verses about current coworkers. I'd appreciate some photos to inspire me. I borrowed several from the albums, but I need more suggestive poses? The sort men like. How about it?
Thinking of you.    Professor

   I laughed silently and deemed myself pretty clever. Angela would completely freak out. Yet, two days later ...

Worthy Man! I received that so-called Wee Mail from The Professor. That was gross!! At first it scared the shit out of me, but then I realized The Professor would never dare to write such a thing to me. You had me going for a while ... but that was it. I thought that was gross. YOU are the only one who mails people crazy stuff like this. Very funny!!
See ya later!    Angela, "The Angel"

   Alas, Angela was wise to me.
   Wee Mail suffered another huge flaw.
   Notes sent to one manager, however, dropped to all managers.
   Got that?
   For reasons unexplained, The Boss had hired GG-Licious. GG as in Gangsta Girl, Licious as in Delicious-Bootylicious-Stupendilicious. Work with that. Her actual named was a Biblical reference, yet she wanted to sound ghetto. She was a home school pupil, whiter than me, with no tolerance for actual ghetto residents, or as she termed them, those "so-called minorities." Diversity was absent from the home school curriculum. Yet poverty aspirations 101 was. Go figure.
   GG-Licious worked well but was notoriously argumentative. Pat and Stacey struggled with her. Chalked her shortcomings up to youth and lack of socialization. Joe, a so-called minority, dealt little with her. I slotted GG into the category I termed "forceps birth." Everyone understood The Boss hired and tolerated her. She was his stone.
   After a couple of months, GG kinda despised everyone. She didn't want the job in the first place, as she repeatedly reminded everyone. Here she was, in a record store job most students would kill for, hating it. GG started sending Wee Mail snitch sheets to The Boss, prefaced with, "I hate to be a little tattle tale, but ... "
   Allow me to repeat - - Notes sent to one manager, however, dropped to all managers.
   After a shift manager clocked in, mails launched automatically, followed by, "What the fuck!" or "If she thinks I am a bitch, I'll show her what a bitch really is." or "How could she write that about me? I just bought her lunch last night!"
   Things went downhill after that. Daily bathroom maintenance. Trash duty. Cleaning the refrigerator. Mopping discharges in the customer's restroom. GG-Licious ... never showed up one day ... and The Boss hired Molly.

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

Customers: Part 22 - Canned Heat

  Mister Canned Heat showed up the other day, wearing a suit, if you can believe that. Hadn't seen this guy in two or three years. I bet that was a prison suit he was wearing. Do they still give those things? I mean, where else could he have been?
  He didn't have his free coffee, but of course Fran's went kaput a couple of years ago.
  For you non Blockbuster Music alum, this guy showed up Saturday mornings. Short sleeves, plaid, and shorts. Sandy brown hair, mustache, gold wire glasses. He was a Saturday Regular, like Ken. Except Ken always asked about new Punk recordings, wanted that bit of personalized help, then bought two or three New Releases. Mister Heat never asked for nothin'. Parked his ass at the Listening Station, plopped down an unopened copy of Canned Heat, and chilled out to 1968 for fifteen minutes.
  Then walked out the door. No, Goodbye. No, Thank You. No, I'm Done.
  Next week, he had another ... unopened ... Canned Heat to listen to.
  Now, we had about 7 already opened copies of this group. Opened by whom? Give yourself a gold star!
  This drove everyone crazy, especially Missy and Trina. Trina saw him once in the parking lot, raced to the stacks, removed all copies of Canned Heat, and hid them under the Listening Counter.
  "Let's see how long the bastard stays in the store," she said, confidently.
  Well ... he stayed a long time. Dug through the Various Rock section until he unearthed a Monterey Pop sampler, featuring, Canned Heat.
  Trina walked to the back, opened the lift doors, and screamed.

  So, he wandered in. Went to Rock, selected a CD, carried it to the Listening Center, plunked it down.
  "I'm sorry, sir," Molly smiled, "we can only play USED CDs."
  Mister Heat looked completely baffled. The world had changed, so had the rules.
  And ... of course ... we didn't have any already opened, USED Canned Heat.
  He trudged out the front doors, a sad, broken man.
  Never saw him again.

Wednesday, August 4, 2004

Coworkers: Part 93 - Ex Employee Discount

   I busted both J D and Joe. Giving discounts. Their employee discount.
   "Guys, don't do this shit."
   "It was my cousin, man."
   "I don't care if it was the Pope. If I can spot these discounts on morning paperwork, I guarantee they red flag some program somewhere."
   "Ahhhh," Joe rolled his eyes and looked annoyed. "Worth-Dogg -- "
   "No! Their policy specifies immediate family. That doesn't mean cousins," I looked at Joe. "And it don't mean da entourage, or Da Killa costars," I focused on J.
   The Rap Pack gazed about absently. Felt like I was talking to cats.
   "Listen, I give discounts to people. Regulars like Patsy, Jimmy, Hotmom. Or anyone who ever worked here. Ex employee discounts. I give them the Sale price. That doesn't light up a beacon. But don't overdo that. Don't sale price every girl who giggles and jiggles at you."
   Lecturing was not my way. People fucked up in life, I usually let them. I liked J D and Joe, however, and I didn't want them fired. I had no doubt Wherehouse tracked transactions. Their computer programs were sophisticated, a bit invasive, too.
   Still, I gave discounts, which you knew. Regulars who remained loyal customers. Ex-colleagues, and I fudged that label.
   Lisa shopped sporadically. Ours was probably the one place where she was recognized, and was left alone. I never asked about the road, recording delays, Interscope. We talked movies. She bought laserdiscs and DVD's. I sale priced the lot. If Randy was with her, I sale priced him, too. Randy worked at Crystal Clear and he'd helped the store plenty.
   Madison visited frequently. Less people recognized him. The lot of the drummer, I suspect. Pat still referred to him as Matt. The rest of the females avoided him and bided their time. Madison rarely bought anything. He usually wanted to hang posters of the band. I agreed, no matter how much kicking I would receive later.
   Being Pimpadelic, the flyers were completely sexist and salacious.
   All crotch and cleavage.
   Madison climbed the short ladder, stapled a few up high near Rock and Rap, gave me a handful more for the fanbase. The girls waited. We shared small talk. I never asked about the Pimpsters or their legal problems. Theirs had been a hard fall since the heady days and wasted opportunity of Southern Devils. Never asked about his rationale for leaving the Toadsters, either.
   Madison departed, drove away, the girls swung into action. Ripped down every single poster and tore them to shreds.
   Stacey was the most aggressive, but if she wasn't around, Pat, Mandy or Molly were all quick and nimble. Especially when it came to Pimpadelic, a group they disdained, and ad slicks they despised.
   If Madison bought anything, I gave him the sale price. I know, but what the hey. He wasn't family, but he'd been associated with Todd, Lisa, and Charles in the beginning. And Madison was always agreeable. I must confess, I liked him.
   Jordo ... however ... what a dick.
   When Berry was scheduled to close we tried very hard to transfer Kerrie. Everyone in the store knew her, and wanted her. Kerrie would be a perfect fit. She went to Borders, however, and took Trina's old post there. Community relations thing.
   Jordo, on the other hand, nobody wanted. Not us, not Hulen, not Hurst, not Arlington. We'd all dealt with him over the phone, he'd been completely useless. His old co-workers related horror stories. Even label reps complained, saying he phoned relentlessly for promos, concert tickets, posters, freebies. Anything and everything. Which he sold.
   Berry closed. No one picked Jordo up. He did find employment. He visited us.
   "I'm here to tell all of you. You work for shit. I earn so much more than you now."
   "Great, Jordo," The Boss simply walked off.
   "I can't believe how little you make, and how much I'm now making."
   "Jordo -- "
   "I gotta company car, perks -- "
   "Company car? You mean that yellow pickup you deliver auto parts in?"
   "A decent wage. A living wage."
   Fucker. This jerk never worked a day at our store.
   "I've worked here over a decade, Jordo. Most of my coworkers moved on to greener pastures. You're the only individual who ever came in the store bragging. Gloating. Makes you unique."
   I'd seen cats cover disagreeable residue, I wanted to do likewise.
   "My employee discount still good here?"
   "See you, Jordo."
   No one gave him that discount. Sale or employee discount.
   Like I said, we couldn't overdo it.

Wednesday, July 28, 2004

Shoplifting: Case #10 - The Brawl‏

   The front alarms fired off. John had already stepped from behind the counter and was questioning the suspect.
   Male, about sixteen. Short sleeved, button shirt, untucked and unbuttoned. Blue jeans. By the time I walked up there, the guy had his arms outstretched, shirt wide open.
   "I don't know what it is. These burglar alarms always go off on me."
   "Maybe something accidentally fell into your pants?" I asked, while I accidentally swatted his sides with my clipboard.
   "Could be you stepped on a tag," John suggested.
   A common explanation. Rarely happened, though. I'd worked there a decade. In all that time, I'd stepped on one tag that triggered security.
   John was relatively new. Word was, he was either related to The Boss or related to a bygone colleague of The Boss. He wasn't what I would call a music buff, in that he admitted he had never purchased an album or CD in his life. All his tunes, he downloaded. File sharing sites were killing us.
   The alarm kept going off. The guy's shirt flapped open. Nothing. With permission, we felt his jeans. Nothing.
   "It's me, man! I got this strange magnetic field that shorts out frequencies, stuff like that."
   What a crock.
   Yet I could not find any product or tag. I didn't buy the alibi, but I had no evidence.
   Stacey moved in.
   "Alright, hand it over."
   "Like I told these guys, every time I walk -- "
   "Don't bullshit me. Hand it over."
   "I don't -- "

   He stuck his hand down his crotch and withdrew two discs. Admittedly, John and I hadn't probed that personally.
   "Now, get the fuck out before I phone the cops. And don't you ever come in here again, Jerkoff."
   Dilemma: Should we restock those CDs "as is"? Disinfect them first? Or burn them?
   How long did crotch sweat residue linger?
   Stacey turned to John and me. "Nothing to it, guys." Then headed toward the rear of the store.
   "Emulate Stacey, Grasshopper," I addressed John. "She should be your enforcement role model. Not me."
   That was sound advice.
   Stacey caught more thieves than the rest of the store combined. Part instinct, part personality. She thrived on confrontation, aggression, conflict.
   Yet she didn't win them all.
   When thieves recoiled, the results were often painful. Stacey was, after all, a short, small built female.

   It was late evening.
   Stacey hounded two females through the store. Both were blatantly stealing. Then angrily replacing items from their purses back on the nearest shelf every time they noticed her. With every moment they got more frustrated and more mad.
   "You can't treat me like some animal," one snapped. "I'm a customer, and I have rights!"
   "Yeah. You have the right to check out whenever you're ready,"
Stacey replied innocently.
   "Don't you give me no smart ass mouth."
   "Sorry. I didn't know you could understand smart."
   "I don't shop here for some punk bitch to diss me like street trash."
   "I didn't say nothing about your JC Penney's wardrobe,"
Stacey mocked.
   "Fuck you, bitch!"
   "What'd you spend? About eight bucks for that ensemble? Eight bucks more than you intended to spend here?"

   Joe and JD stood at opposite corners of the aisle, doing their best not to burst out laughing.
   "Fuck this," the other woman threw up her hands. "Let's just leave."
   On their way past Stacey, the more belligerent of the pair deliberately bumped into her.
   Stacey pushed back.
   Events quickly escalated. A third woman hurried up, and the three suggested they settle their problems outside.
   Stacey hit the doors and waited.
   Within a minute, there was an ugly fistfight out on the parking lot.
   The three shoplifters were stocky and built like football linebackers. They were grossly fat, furious, kicking and throwing punches. There were three of them.
   Stacey was outnumbered and getting the shit beat out of her.
   Meanwhile, where were the guys? Joe and JD? Stacey's backup.
   Both coworkers were out there. They weren't fighting, they kept trying to break up the brawl. Smacking a female in Texas meant criminal record. And grabbing one was equally dangerous.
   No sooner would JD reach around one of the girls, then she'd squirm out of his grip and rumble back into the fray.
   Later, J described it. "I was grabbing one, pulling them by their waist, you know? Except they bucked around, next thing I'm holding tits 'n asses. So I had to let go. Damn, man."
   Joe voiced the same concerns. "Cops roll up, man, they won't see catfight. They'll see two males groping and fondling."
   "Yeah, sexual harassment shit. Damn."

   The brawl finished more from exhaustion. Stacey had been pounded, and had to be treated at the clinic.
   Next day, she gave notice and quit. Became a security guard, spent a month mindlessly watching a bank of surveillance monitors. Finally, couldn't stand it, and came back to Camp Bowie.
   Was her behavior towards shoplifters affected?
   Hell, no.

   Front counter spotted Len as soon as he entered.
   "Gym bag!"
   Usually we'd yell, "Backpack" or "Matrix," depending on the accessory or trench coat. Amateur thieves were predictable.
   Len marched in carrying a gym bag. Yellow t-shirt, brown shorts.
   Len was a sophomore at the local university. Majored in computer science. Had been accepted into one of the fraternities off Seminary Street. Worked part time at the McDonald's on Camp Bowie and Montgomery. He was trying to break up with either a girlfriend or guy. Liked Skittles candy. If he wasn't running for the track squad, he should have. Len could have been scholarship material.
   Yeah, you must think we were psychic.
   Of course he set off the alarms. Naturally, Joe was positioned beside the file server and JD next to the Ticket Master computer.
   Len bolted down the sidewalk, heading west. He was fast, but JD was amazing. Oh ... I forgot to mention ... Len was running in rubber flip flops.
   Next thing, he dumped the gym bag, grabbed the flip flops, and ran barefoot.
   Len out ran his pursuers.
   Very embarrassing to JD and Joe that they lost that barefoot, short short wearing fratboy in the residential neighborhood.
   Because he dropped the gym bag, Len didn't successfully steal six DVDs. That's what we counted when person unnamed retrieved the bag.
   We never contacted the police.
   The approved course of action would have been to restock our merchandise, and ... maybe ... try to return Len's belongings to him.
   Like that cellphone. Box of Skittles. His revealing journal. Computer science books. Lab homework. Plus, that breakup note, written and rewritten several times.
   Someone could have phoned and left a voice mail. Courtesy, because we care.
   The wrong course of action would have been to phone his employer, McDonald's, and describe the attempted theft and subsequent chase. Or to phone the fraternity and relate the incident. Or to leave messages to every number on his cellphone contact list.
   That would be insensitive. Feelings might get hurt.
   I would never do those dreadful things.
   This story wasn't about me, though.

Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Coworkers: Part 95 - Wedding Porn‏

   "Worth-Dogg, did you give us that porn?"
   I looked over at Joe, said nothing, but smiled wickedly.
   "I knew that was you! I told Angela that was you. Slipping that porno DVD into the wedding gifts."
   I chuckled softly. "I thought maybe you'd blame Pat or J D."
   "That was like the best ever. You killed everyone. Let me tell you what happened ... "

   Angela and Joe got hitched last week. That ceremony was, far away, one of the most entertaining weddings I'd ever attended.
   This occurred in a meeting hall, near Joe T's, in Northside. So close, Zelda and I could have walked from our home. We cruised in, saw Pat, Sharon, Kim, and hooked up with them. Our group sat near the front as the beatings commenced.
   There was no priest involved, since Joe was a confirmed sinner. Divorced man. Angela suffered her own anxieties. No one knew that, except everyone in the rented meeting hall. Several hundred attendees.
   Anyway, no idea who that official was. Elder, deacon, justice of the peace, parole officer. Whoever. He started breaking balls immediately.
   "Marriage vows are serious. The marriage covenant is not to be entered into lightly. This is not something silly, this is not a joke, this is not a trial period. Marriage-Is-A-Serious-Undertaking."
   Joe stood there, nodding his head at a weary angle. Shaking his hand. Mildly bored. Stern lecture, all those admonishments, blah blah blah, bounced off his Teflon facade. He had flash backed to the school principal's office ... waiting ... Let's get this over with, man.
   Angela, on the other hand, was slowly dying. Her head was bowed, she looked completely crestfallen. The message had been directed towards Joe, but she was the one who suffered. Highly unusual to see Angela behave so. If I was ever marching into a gunfight, I would definitely want Angela with me. She had that temper, and she could get excitable, but she was fearless and tough.
   That afternoon, however, she was mortified.
   Sharon was not helping.
   Not surprisingly, Sharon's commentary was neither discreet nor whispered. Plus, we were near the front.
   " ... just saying, any second that elastic's going to -- "
   Pat elbowed her, shushing, "Stop! They'll hear you."
   "I don't care. Can't dodge the truth."
   "Be quiet!"
   "What? Ain't like the room's filled with white canes and sunglasses. Folks got eyes, don't they?"
   "I'm just saying."
   " ... now pronounce you, Man and Wife."

   Like Angela would ever be simply "and wife."
   The ordeal concluded. The couple relaxed. The music DJ woke up and pounding cumbias throbbed from the speakers. At tables everywhere, hootch appeared, flasks and king size bottles. Zelda and I hugged Angela and congratulated the new pair. Then, as so often, we drifted away.

   " ... so I had kinda passed out, you know? Angela and all the bridesmaids were tearing through the gifts. One of them screamed, 'Oh, look! Porn.' and they put it on."
   "All these girls ... uh ... drinking?" I asked.
   "Angela wasn't. Everyone else, champagne and wedding cake. Chick stuff."
   "Yeah. Who was the one passing out again?"
   "Anyway, they must've watched that video for half an hour before my cousin shook me awake, complaining."
   "Took them long enough to get offended."
   "What kind of porn is this?" Joe asked in a falsetto voice. "Who gave you this? And where are the women!"
   The gift had been wrapped in red tissue paper. No name was written on it.
   "So I glanced at the TV. I knew what that stupid video was immediately. Couldn't believe they'd been watching it all that time. Told 'em that was a backroom holdover. Told 'em there were no women cause it was gay porn."
   I couldn't help it, I started laughing.
   "Right away, Angela knew it was either you or J D. She's looking for you now."
   Bummer. She'll get over it.
   I hope.

Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Shoplifting: Case #11 - Getaway Bus

  The wallet was AWOL. They searched pockets, floor, under the counter shelf. Asked Joe, he shrugged. Then Joe remembered moody Thad had shifted behind them. Thad was now in the parking lot, walking swiftly. Joe mentioned this and "Mario" yelled out the door.
  Thad chugged off. Unused to physical activity, Thad's gait resembled an exhausted water buffalo. Mario kicked after him, Javier streaked out the door, Joe walked. Despite a healthy lead, Thad dumped the "borrowed" wallet and puffed his sack-o-shit ass to the far corner and waited for his escape bus.
  Yes, public transport, the affordable getaway.
   Perhaps Thad assumed two Mexicans would be satisfied with simple recovery of their money. Maybe he felt secure in daylight. Probably he realized both of them combined weighed less than his double-cheese baby fat.
  Sadly, Javier and Mario were neither appeased nor forgiving. Fifty feet and closing. Thad hopped up and down, a criminal Baby Huey urging his bus to speed, barely a block away.
  They gave him a royal ass whipping. The bus raced past. Cars slowed to look, women and children covered their eyes. Trucks honked. Drivers lowered air-conditioned windows to yell approval. Joe hurt himself laughing. Police from the substation sirened up and ordered Javier and Mario away.
  Thad got his ride. Squad car, downtown. Excuse enough for the store to ban his sullen, hateful attitude permanently.