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.