Wednesday, March 31, 2004

Customers: Part 27 - Thad's Magic Moment

   Friday the 13th, I'm heading to the backroom for lunch, when I noticed a ghost lurking in the R 'n B section. I drifted back to Eric and warned him. "That guy back in R 'n B, with the green shirt. He's going to come up here and attempt some sort of bullshit. You do not have to treat him like he's the secret shopper. In fact, everyone always hated him."
  "Gee, thanks ..."
   Fifteen minutes later, Eric marched into the backroom.
  "What an asshole!! Comes up to me, throws his drivers license at me, and tells me he's taking some USED CDs out to his car to listen to. I say, no you're not. He argues that he's done this before; I say you didn't with me. Then he demands to see the manager. You're looking at him. So I can't take these to my car? No! Calls me a jerk, says I'm the reason this country and this company has done gone to Hell. I smiled and said that's what wakes me up each morning. Told him he could shop elsewhere if he didn't like it. He pitches some more bullshit at me then storms out. Fucker."
   "Yeah ... that was Thad. Always pulling shit. Used to come to the Listening Bar with a stack of CDs. Never bought anything. Never said thank you, never said hello, just pitched CDs at the clerk with that pissed off sullen expression on his face. No one liked him. We eventually banned him from the store."
   "Few years ago, a couple of Mexicans were making a purchase and they laid their wallet on the counter. Thad casually appropriated it, then sauntered out the door."
  "No fucking way!"
   "It gets better. Joe realized what happened, saw Thad waddling across the parking lot, he and the Mexicans ripped out after him. Now Thad had not planned this caper very well since his getaway vehicle was the city bus, on the corner across from the Chevron station. The Mexicans caught him and gave him a royal ass whippin'."
  "Shit, you're making this up!" Eric laughed.
   "I kid you not. Joe was midway in the parking lot, laughing his ass off. From then on we banned Thad from the store. I guess he assumed, since tomorrow's our final day, he could come in here one last time."
  "Well, I just tossed his ass out again!"
   "Eric, you did good. In fact I'm going to e-mail to half the old staff. All of them knew Thad. They can picture him strutting back into the store again. The notion that you just thunked his head like whack-a-mole will make all of them proud."

Wednesday, March 24, 2004

Coworkers: Part 103 - Last Dance

There wasn't much to accomplish during the last weeks at the store. After all, we hadn't had shipments or new releases for eight weeks. Mandy condensed sections because she needed to stay busy. Ryzer vamped the rear kiosk into a hot-rod DSL because he could. I dead-ended aisles to harass thieves. JD sold dozens of copies of THE KILLA, finally available on DVD.

Colby & Eric made comparisons. Our store, especially our customers, were not the middle class suburbanites they were familiar with. Uniformed schoolgirls next to strip-club lap dancers. Bikers, Bloods, and illegals. Cowboys and gays, fighting over Shania. Brokers, burnouts, and truly insane street people. They were surprised how blase the crew was to the clash and daily confrontations.

What took the prize, however, were the traveler kids.

All of you enjoy warm memories every time the floor was besieged by 15-20 traveler kids. Yelling, fighting, flashing, stealing. Lucky Cowtown, being a traveler "safe city". Colby confessed that two weeks earlier he hadn't even noticed them until JD said, "Uh oh, we being hit by gypsy dizzles." Luckily there was an experienced staff that night. So while Eric played Asteroids on the kiosk, JD, John, Molly, and Ry fanned out across the store.

JD later laughed that it had been whack-episode for the gypsies. 3/4 of the store roped off, all stock in the front four rows. Aisles of Rap, Latin, Metal, and Punk dead-ended. The smiling crew took bags immediately, and took coats the second they were removed. They ignored the decoys, the stupid questions, and the pretend fights, sticking with the quiet mules. After ten minutes, the pack shuffled out ... silently.


One type Colby and Eric were familiar with was Dalton. Dalton had been a weekly regular at Sound Warehouse, even Blockbuster. The minute Best Buy went up, Dalton deserted. He still surfaced for a big sale, for obscure catalog product, or for freebies.

A professional type, Dalton wore tailored suits, drove a Mercedes, but was fucking cheap! Worse, he always whined that he was a "Regular". Trust me, regulars shop every other week; we know their names and tastes. I can toss out names and you remember faces: Jimmy, Patsy, Mr Duncan, James, Donnel, Buckethead, Doughboy, David from the paint store, Hotmom, the Squishy Man, the Exchange Lady, Poopdeck, Moe, Gouly, and Ken (probably still outside the empty store Saturday mornings, looking for the newest punk albums).

Dalton had returned cause he wanted memorabilia: posters, flats, the store CD equipment, most of all, the round, neon TEXAS MUSIC light. He didn't want to buy it, he wanted it for free, or a nickel. He felt entitled, as a "Regular." No one would sell it to him, we all refused.

Damned if he wasn't persistent, however. He eventually realized his neighborhood kid next door worked at the store and badgered him until he bought the neon sign for $20.00. It hung in place until the last business day when Dalton waltzed in and demanded his purchase. I, luckily enough, was in the back with Ben & Jerry's, and I refused to walk out. Eric and Colby had never met him before but loathed him for the polecat he was.

Eric handed Dalton a screwdriver, pointed to the ladder, and said, "There it is!"

Dalton asked for the Boss. "He doesn't work here anymore."

He asked for me. "Simon's not here right now." He looked forlornly at JD.

Laboring in the back were a crew from North Richland Hills, and the Italian DJs disassembling bins, racks, and wall panels we had sold for $25.00 each. All did their own work, but Dalton couldn't bring himself to climb that ladder.

He asked Eric for the Boss again. "He's history. Quit bringing up his name!"

He tried Colby. "Dude, everyone else is doing their own work."

He reminded Colby what a great customer was, how the Boss had promised him that TEXAS sign.

"Sorry, I heard he refused and you bullied an 18 year old to sell it to you."

Dalton argued that that was bullshit, that no one said that.

"I heard it from everyone, including his son right here."
Ryzer stood nearby and nodded. Colby refunded his $20.00 and pointed. "Door's that way, man."

"Did I do something wrong?" Dalton yelled, as he left. "Why doesn't anyone like me? What do I do wrong? Nobody likes me! Even at my job. Nobody!"

Dalton probably has as many friends as he deserves. But he doesn't have the TEXAS MUSIC sign.

Sounds like customer service was tailored to vultures & thieves. True enough. Regular patrons said goodbye in January. We now entertained new clients, demanding a timeline for 90% discounts. JD & Molly remained cheery, others honed a wary edge. Necessary. Even after you helped Bubba Joe find a cassette, you'd turn around, see him greedily yanking down a display poster. One huge guy showed me his modified shotgun pistol - twice. Sharing? Threatening? I didn't know. This was not my Kodak moment.

The response from ex-coworkers couldn't have been finer. After the Thanksgiving Massacre, a dozen alumni phoned or e-mailed, offering to help. Some now lived in Arlington or Dallas, all worked 40-50 hours at real jobs. Many, I thanked but dissuaded. The Boss was, and remains, deeply grateful for your thoughts, prayers, and good will.

David was one who stepped forward. I told him he was nuts, already working hours, on call 24 / 7. Next day, his bride Pam came in, towing three sons, and asked for an application. I introduced her to the Boss as Dave's wife. He hired her immediately. Pam was family.
Pam represented all of you who had volunteered. She rolled in on time, she worked sick, she learned, she was disgustingly good natured and friendly. Plus, she loved the job. She persevered until the last week, when pneumonia sidelined her. Pam, thank you so much for pitch-hitting for everyone who wanted to.

The last weeks weren't all sad or draped in regret. We still laughed, pulled a final batch of promos, watched out for each other. The Boss quietly moved away and we drifted towards the falls.

Tuesday: Mandy & I made a final bank run, prepped the store for RGIS and rang up a final wave of customers. RGIS Inventory arrived at 7:00 PM, finished within two hours. Goodbye to John W and Molly.

Wednesday: We boxed up CDs, DVDs, tapes. Speakers, amps and racks found their ways to coworkers while District reps sold off fixtures and shelves to the Italian gang (don't ask). I hugged JD and Mandy goodbye -- then they were gone.

Thursday: Colby, Eric, Ry and I waited for the truck. The Loss Prevention agent sauntered in and we exchanged pleasantries. During January, we had each tried, and failed, to get the other fired. Nothing but teeth behind those smiles.

North Richland Hills coveted our DSL kiosk and were racing to intercept it. While I cut and arranged photos, Ryzer repaired all his kiosk modifications, deleted files, changed passwords, reduced it back to a mindless drudge butt.

Then, despite locked front doors, a final customer! Gloria marched in.

Colby lunged to eject her then staggered back, reeling, once her piercing jabberjaw kicked into overdrive. An Biblical flood of talk. Somehow Colby and Eric had never dealt with her, they cringed.

I always found Gloria wonderful. Once, I urged the Boss to hire her, though Pat & Stacey threatened to stab me dead. Admittedly, my interventions have been checkered. Years earlier I had failed to get Angela rehired when Dan & Rob lobbied against her. Fast forward, Dan & I persuaded the Boss to retain Tawnya, before John caught her on Crime TV. I had gotten Kristi hired - and - The Professor. I had shielded Mandy from in-store back stabbings and rescued Stacey from the FWPD. I had pushed Winston and Sharon out the door. I had trusted Tarryton, I had trusted JJ. And, despite all my guile, all my cunning, I could not protect Joe, Pat & Stacey when they were targeted by LP agents. That still troubles me. I digress ...

Gloria had been hiding in Louisiana for a month and hadn't known the store was finished. I doubt she ever spent a dime here, affluence had eluded her. Yet our store was favoritest place in the city. Her distress over the store, and everyone working, was genuine. I hugged her, unlocked the door, waved goodbye. Still don't know how she entered -- some mysteries defy explanation.

While pallets of boxed CD's lumbered out, I was taping photos. Laid my store keys on the front counter and hung the poster I'd been fussing over inside the front door. GOODBYE TEXAS. THANK YOU FOR 30 YEARS OF GOOD TIMES. SOUND WAREHOUSE / PEACHES and all other incarnations. Under the letters, 60 photos of various employees over the years. Ryzer and I hugged, drove our separate ways.

David said it best a week earlier when he looked back one final time. "Goodbye, big store."
It has been my real privilege to know you. Many of us will never meet again. I'll try to keep you in my thoughts. Good luck out there on the Great Parade.