Wednesday, June 30, 2004

Coworkers: Part 96 - The Kiosk‏

   Corporate coffers cracked open and Wherehouse Overlords finally plunked some nickels. Stores received brand new Internet kiosks. There was one catch. Kiosks only went to one website. The Wherehouse site. Customers could shop for New and Used CD's and DVD's. Place their orders, type in their shipping information, type in their credit cards, and a Used copy of Pat Boone's In A Metal Mood (deleted, the cosmic injustice of it all) would be speeding their way.
   Question. Why would someone want to type their credit card info in a public place? Where they might be observed? Why not use their home computer? I had no answers. That's why I wasn't executive material.
   The kiosk instantly became a doorstop.
   Customers shunned this flashy box of wires. Chain wide, kiosk became a buzzword for failure. Only employees used it. Useful to determine if a title was available or deleted. Employees could also order CD's, and we didn't have to enter credit card data. I found Used J-Pop and fadistas, cheaply priced, and ordered accordingly. I was the only drone who reeled items in, however. Joe merely hunted around for obscure Rap discs. J D kept checking to see if Aggravated Foe was listed.
   For all that, the kiosk was an Internet device. Coworkers pondered the implications mightily. Ryzer and John were especially intrigued. Early on, after rebooting the unit, they discovered the Pinball game. An icon was swiftly created so employees could waste time playing. If The Boss caught a minion messing, there was screaming. If I caught them I simply unplugged the damn thing. "Not during business hours," I rasped.
   From time to time someone would attempt to activate the Internet browser, which was switched off. Like frat boys attempting a convent of nuns, failure was assured. We lacked an Administrator's name and Password. We were defeated.

   One morning, two gents strolled in and flashed ID's. A roving I T crew going from store to store, uploading new firmware and programs for our file server.
   And the kiosk.
   One guy was completely nondescript. The other was dressed in bib overalls, sported a billy goat beard down to his stomach, and wore a stovetop hat. Envision Abraham Lincoln.
   They toiled at our location all day. Something out of the ordinary occurred while they were there ... actually ... while they were at lunch. A briefcase had been left wide open on a counter. The usual stack of papers were scattered inside. On the top sheet, in REALLY BIG PRINT were the words: KIOSK - ADMINISTRATOR - PASSWORD. There must have been Lonestar Leprechauns nearby playing tricks, because copies were magically created.

   The next week, a second Administrator (Sound Warehouse) was authorized, with the Password of "Peaches." Both were then buried in an innocuous, yet specific, sub folder. The corporate website remained on screen. Always.
   Yet the Internet was now available to all crew members, which proved useful.
   Because it was used.

Wednesday, June 23, 2004

Customers: Part 23 - Gamma Lad

   Bucket was a Regular. I never had a problem with him, no one did. Bucket was low maintenance.
   He came in every afternoon, late, seated himself down at the Listening Bar and put on whatever was preloaded at that station. Never asked us to open anything, or suggest anything. Never bought, either. Bucket was short for Bucket-Head, he always rolled in swinging a five gallon white plastic pail. That pail was always full of groceries. 10 packs of hotdog buns or 8 heads of cabbage or 127 peppers. There was no rhyme or reason, and we never asked. Bucket worked down Camp Bowie at the car wash, our store was midway on his walk home.
   This went on for several years. Sit, listen, chill, say thanks and goodbye.
   He always said thanks. Can't tell you how much tiny manners help out in this life.
   After awhile we learned his real name and called him that.

   Gamma Lad started as a Regular as well.
   Over three summers, his sanity went away.
  Tall male, liked metal, rap, preferably a fusion of the two styles. Usually he'd stand at one of the wall listening stations. There he would stand. He would stand for hours. Hands in pockets, legs spread wide.
   Of course he never bought a thing. Always came in with a duffel bag, though. So we had to keep an eye on him. Fucking duffel bag.
   The Boss developed a dislike of this guy. He couldn't kick him out or warn him off because he hadn't done anything wrong. Or we hadn't caught him doing anything.
   The guy, like Bucket, didn't have a car. He walked. As Summer intensified, his clothing went black. Black boots, black bib overalls, black t-shirt, black jacket. Texas heat broiled past 110. He'd walk in, staff would alert everyone, "Matrix!"
   He didn't use sunblock. He used gel. An entire jar for his head alone, glistening and dripping. His forehead was shiny thick with the goo. Doffed his jacket, and his arms were equally creamy thick. Protecting himself from sunspots. Gamma Lad was born.
   After awhile, he must have found a pair of wraparound sunglasses on the sidewalk. Gamma Lad glued them to his head. They never came off. Even late at night. Sunglasses, vampire clothes, exposed body covered in jelly. The package was complete.
   We think he baked his brain, marinating his skull with petroleum sauce under the scorching sun.
   Everywhere he visited, a disgusting residue of glop remained. Headphones should have been burned, but we had to clean them. Where his hands or arms touched, a slathering silicone army began to spread. There wasn't enough cleaner in the metroplex.
   We had to rid ourselves of this pest.
   While Gamma Lad headed to a wall station, we raced to the back office. Ejected the disc and substituted Barney Sings Joy. We monitored from surveillance cameras. If Gamma Lad relocated, so did Barney. That worked ... sorta.
   He shifted to the Listening Bar proper. I haven't actually detailed some of Gamma Lad's personal hygiene shortcomings. I didn't have a sense of smell so it would be unfair of me to comment on the rotting, stinking, death cloud that accompanied him. I do remember one of the girls almost threw up. Customers objected to his existence. Stools and counters were slimed with grease. Difficult to remove.
   As with most Regulars, Gamma Lad grew comfortable. As with Bad Regulars, too comfortable. He never bought anything ... but ... he tried to pilfer a CD one afternoon.
   Caught him in a flash.
   Didn't bother with the police. Simply banned Gamma Lad for life.
   After a month, the store had cleared up most of his residue.

Wednesday, June 16, 2004

Coworkers: Part 97 - Da Killa

   J D's career had been on a tear. Couldn't tell you how many copies of the zombies in Como masterpiece, Da Killa, he'd sold, but they roared out the store weekly. The Star Telegram profiled him, as did Ken with the Weekly later on. Sales stoked red hot. Especially after a public access cable station aired this hard R rated flick in its entirety. And yes, the scene with the hooker was intact.
   His CD's, Bustin' Out, Solja Deep, and Comin' Dead Serious provided funds to pay for filming, editing, and copying the voodoo weed and zombie nonsense of Da Killa. Appearing on Texas Hood Connections only increased the fame.
   For all this, this was still the record store, and he was still just J D. No one enjoyed immunity from pranks or jokes.

   I was returning from the morning bank run via back route past Mott's, Hedary's, Italian Inn. Noticed J D crouched beside that bike. Looked like the chain was loose or busted. His back was to me. I put on sunglasses, rolled down the car window, and crawled the car up behind him.
   'Whatcha be doing boyfriend?" I twisted my voice high and effeminate. I sounded like a space-elf, hunting earthman globes.
   J D jumped back, totally alarmed.
   "You broke your bicycle, little boy?" I continued. "You wanna go with Papa for a ride?"
   "Mister - - you just better move your - - Worth-Dogg!"
   I grinned. "What's the matter? Don't you like older white guys with big ass cars?"
   "Shit, man. You got me good," he slapped his leg and laughed.
   "You need a ride to the store, J?" I asked.
   "Naw. Chain just popped loose. I'll be at work soon."
   I rolled on.

   Compared to Joe, however, I was pure bush league.

   Months earlier, J had posed with some stand-up poster on the back lift. Latin crooner Ricky Martin or Enrique Iglesias or Juanes. Can't remember now. He liked the absurd.
   Then, the Cowtown Ballet shipped us their own stand up. Start thinking Aaron Copland's Rodeo.
   Young man wearing Stetson, chaps, gun-belt. Nothing else. Repeat? Naked dancer - hat, chaps, gun outta the holster - that's all, Pilgrim. Several of you are already shouting, "Well, what more do you need?" or "Here's my phone number!"

   So J D wanted another photo of himself with this cultural ambassador. Asked Joe to snap it.
   Joe was specific with instructions.
   "No, move over. Now you're blocking it. Turn my way. Lean. Move left a bit. Lean more. Wait. Wait. Smile."
   Nice image of J D superimposed over in front of a gay cowboy.

   Late afternoon. J D chilled in the Latin Room, surrounded by a coterie of honey riders. Big rap star, budding Hollywood player. Slow shift, early dinner hour for most people. The girls were pretty, flirty, pushing on J, and flashing skin. He was probably thinking about that next project, Midnight At Nympho Vampire House.
   Gloria wandered into the store, noticed the party. Yet before she headed that way, Joe grabbed her. I could not hear the conversation. Very brief. Next thing, she jutted her chin out and marched straight into the Latin room.
   "J D, what are you doing with these other girls? What about us? You said you loved me!"
   J opened his mouth, dumbfounded, but nothing came out. Conversation died. The girls exchanged glances.
   "You said we were forever! What about last night?" Gloria continued, "After what I let you do to me last night?"
   J D remained speechless as Gloria poured it on. The other hotties backed away from this player-lovin' skeezer like he was crawling with disease. Sex farm disease. Last thing any of them wanted was another bullshit talkin' gamester with a closet full of crazy women. Cooties were a bonus. One by one, the fanbase trickled out the door.
   J D hadn't been able to do a damn thing, because it was Gloria, because Gloria was relentless and loud.
   "I thought we were gonna start a family. Make us some babies. Move to Louisiana."
   Too late he noticed Joe leaning against the counter, bent over and crying. Joe had set him up and whacked him ... again.

Video Bonus - Please pause the Sound Check player. Give the video a minute to load. Good luck.


Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Shoplifting: Case #12 - Moby Dork

  Midweek. Just before lunch, this heavy kid (think Flipper, with pink flesh and a red crewcut) hopped into the store on one leg, yelling incoherently.
  Now what?
  He looked 17 and leaned against the counter like he needed front row Ozzfest tickets immediately. "Call 911, I've been shot!" Pants were soaked in blood.
  Mandy and I worked in the center of the store, building displays. Who shot him? Was the shooter still outside? And was he finished using Big Boy for target practice? These questions tarried our steps.
  "Any idea who shot you?"
  "Shit! I did it myself!" He took a puff from an asthma inhaler. "I forgot I had a gun under my car seat. When I tried to figure out what it was, it capped!"
  What an idiot. I directed him to the hassock behind the file-server where we park shoplifters.
  Besides, he was leaking all over the carpet and floor tiles.
  Lunch had recessed for the school behind McDonalds. It's termed a Starter School or Fresh Start School; it's a Glorified Reform School for punks too disruptive for public school, too "innocent" for jail. Needless to say, pupils are banned from the store. Now they've gathered outside our window, heckling their classmate who's rolling around like a harpooned pink whale.
  Blood trickled through his fingers. Mandy walked up with paper towels and alcohol, then he started yelling at her. Critical error. Mandy pitched the roll at his face and walked. Customer service, never her forte.
  All the lights arrived: two rescue units, three cop cars. Moby Dork now amended his story since: (1) He's attending reform school and was carrying a handgun, and (2) he FORGOT he had a handgun and had shot through the seat and clean through his thigh. So he tells police someone must've planted the gun, this wasn't his fault, he's a victim.
  Stacey rolled in, frustrated that she'd missed the drama. The police hauled the gun, booked the kid, left the open car behind. By evening the blood splattered interior was a sticky lure for onlookers and flies.
  This whole incident disturbed me and I was annoyed the entire day. You see, women automatically think guys are idiots. This confirms all their misgivings. As I've told friends, it's a miracle women even date us. This Bozo makes us males look moronic, not that we need help. I can only hope that the bullet trajectory, while not fatal, at least snipped this particular gene line.
  Anyway, for those of you who used to work here, I know how much you miss these free Springer shows. For those who never dealt with customers, you don't know what you're missing.

Wednesday, June 2, 2004

Coworkers: Part 98 - Busted

   "Worthy, come to the front."
   I was poised to rescue Molly from the newspaper columnist. The guy had been a store fixture for years, buying tunes, prowling after the girls. From Carey to Trina to Mary to Missy to Kristi to Sarah to Molly. Aged nineteen to twenty one. He was definitely old guy at the club, but like many males, he never recognized time's sorry effects.
   Molly smiled while he blabbered on about an underground group. He valiantly tried to appear current, trendy even, but he was middle aged. And aging. I was about to assign her a task when Mandy's request was announced. I shot Molly an apology, she winked back. The geezer posed no challenge, she was being charitable to him.
   Joe and Mandy were staring out the front windows. Next to them was Jamel, the WEA rep.
   "Thought you'd want to see this," Joe advised. "Case we need to call a replacement in tonight."
   "Is that what I think it is?"
Mandy asked softly.
   Across the parking lot, a police cruiser had parked directly in front of a pack of employee cars. Two uniformed officers were outside. As was the second evening manager, spread-eagled against her white Honda. Busted.
   "Damnit," I muttered. I started walking.
   "Where you going?" asked Joe.
   "I'm heading out, Dude," I shrugged and went towards the drama.
   I hurried outside, not to argue or intervene, just to make sure this didn't escalate into ugliness. And I didn't want her to be alone.
   One cop frisked Stacey, while the other rummaged through her trunk.
   I identified myself, then donned my laid back, Southern California drawl. "Hey, man, what's going on?"
   "Looks like I'm going to jail."
   "Aww, Dude ... bummer ... What happened?"
   "Caught smoking a joint."
   Stacey had been toking in her car, floating up before clocking in. The patrol car had been searching for a car thief. For Stacey, this was bad luck, wrong place - wrong time.
   "Really?" I sounded disappointed. "Reefer? That was all?"
   She nodded. Very calm, no argument, no confrontation. Meanwhile, she jotted down phone numbers for me: Her Mom, lawyer, roommates, friends, anyone who might be able to help her.
   Nothing was said for 2 - 4 minutes. The officers were all business, and spoke quietly with each other. They'd confiscated a pipe and small baggie of buds.
   Then I smiled at the older cop. "Can't we ... just ... let this slide?"
   "Not my call, sir. It's his collar," he nodded to the younger cop.
   "Understand me," the younger guy said, "we have a problem here."
   He continued to rifle through the back seat.
   "Not so much the possession, which is an infraction, at best ... "
   No one spoke.
   "There's a problem, when someone has to get high before they go to work."
   The older cop and I exchanged looks.
   "Alright. Tell you what. I want this pot dispersed. And I don't want to ever catch you out here smoking. Understand?"
   He placed the baggie in her hands. She dumped the waddy clump onto the pavement. "Like that?"
   "Dispersed," he said flatly.
   "I don't understand."
   She stared at the ground. Did she think she'd be able to come back two hours later. Where was her brain? Four minutes earlier, she was heading downtown. The officer showed leniency, only she was bungling it. More likely than not, she was numb. She'd shut down emotionally.
   "Like this." I stepped on four fingers of buds, dragged my foot across the asphalt and turned it into oregano. One more swipe, green dust.
   "Guys ... thank you so much," I said.
   "Yeah, thanks," she finally said.
   The cops said nothing. The senior man finally gestured me away.
   "C'mon, let's go." I touched her shoulder and we walked towards the store.