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.