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.