Friday, June 30, 2006

Coworkers: Part 72 - Artists

   "Stupid, stupid mediocrities."
   The Professor grumbled aloud as he swept past in a rage.
   "What happened, guy? Someone screw up your burger order?"
   Years -- years earlier, a drive through window swiped Classical Mike's hamburger with mustard rather than mayo. Instead of phoning or driving three minutes back, he punched a hole in the wall next to the ladies restroom. Coworkers immediately circled the blow with ink, enshrined Hole Courtesy Mike's Manly Fist Of Blubber. The Professor's temper was just as black, his fuse just as short.
   "No! After you showed me how to use the library computers to access the Internet, I've become a regular on Mahler and Bruckner forum pages."
   "Oh. What do you guys write about?"
   "I haven't time to read what others write. Bunch of pompous no-nothings anyway."
   "Junior college professors and pygmy academicians. One of those petty souls challenged the factual authenticity of my previous post."
   "I penned a sharply worded reply, minus foul language, except a moderator blocked my comments, then suspended me for a week. Damned mediocrity."
   "Ah ... How's the book coming?" Perhaps I could distract the venting volcano.
   "That's progressing, albeit slowly. In fact, I can probably weave this horrific incident into the overall narration. Thanks for reminding me."
   The Professor had been working on a novel for years. Decades. A fictional novel about a classical music enthusiast / critic.
   Not remotely autobiographical, he assured us.
   I'll keep you guys appraised on future publishing house bidding wars.

   Camp Bowie received a Hulen cast off.
   To be fair, Sonya wasn't a reject. Sonya was Rob's girlfriend. Unlike previous Robster bang bunnies, she had lasted longer than a few hours, a few days, a few months. The trophy girlfriend sailed waters uncharted. District minions noticed and ordered Rob and Sonya to separate. Rob probably recommended the old Camp Bowie gang, hoping we might be nice.
   As if ...
   With any new drone, part of the staff, the cranky crew, tried to avoid contact, lest that initial impression take root. Still ...
   One of the females asked Sonya if she preferred Rob with alcohol or without.
   "Depends on what I'm in the mood for," she answered.
   "Rob is what I'd term hard-to-handle," I mentioned one afternoon. "Carefree."
   "From what I heard, some of his old coworkers were considered equally hard-to-handle. One of those carefree souls has been married twenty years," she strutted away.
   "Think I'm gonna call you S-Dogg," Joe suggested.
   Next day, Sonya arrived with a nasty cartoon strip of Joe Dogg, captured by the Dogg Po-Leece, tossed into the Dogg Pound. Little Joe Dogg in a kennel with over sized, love starved Bigg Doggs. The next panel was blank, but Sonya could finish the initiation sequence.
   Joe quit calling her S-Dogg.
   Score another win for the brush.
   On the other hand, that alerted me that Sonya was an artist. A sculptor, actually, but her drawing and technique were excellent. I began pestering her.
   Rob certainly warned her about that, about me. Almost from the beginning, I had requested, badgered, hounded coworkers for artwork. For displays, promotions, ad events. Dan, Matt, Layla, Gilda, Pat, João, anyone who could draw, doodle or sketch. In their own way, each was a pain in the ass. They were slow, they didn't like charity work, and they always wanted their work returned. Still, needs must be met. Plus, I was no prize. I was difficult, and operated from an inner agenda.
   For the past year, Mandy's husband, Paul, and Joe had been my art guys. Paul, like Dan, was well trained, skilled, yet slow and too much of a perfectionist. Also, he wasn't in the store, so I couldn't nag and prod him. Joe was a glorified street Picasso. Wizard with a can of spray paint. Graffiti and tagging. He could have gone into graphic design. Meanwhile, he imprinted his urban rubble scene throughout the store.
   Sonya was quite talented. She already had part time employment with a national wax museum. Retail was not in her future, we were a passing moment. Right away I asked her if she might be interested in drawing some Wild West Noir comic thing. I didn't have a clear story in mind, just this concept. I had bounced this past my artsy colleagues for years. Totally ignored me.
   Sonya didn't decline outright, she shot me the "Sure, Lunatic, Whatever" look. She threw me the bone instead, and drew a galloping horseman in electric hues. Placed it in the Western section of DVD's. We needed that image, it looked great. But ... it wasn't ... well ...
   Maybe the next artist ...

Friday, June 23, 2006

Coworkers: Part 73 - Southpark!

   Tarryton, newest shift manager, had become obsessed with the South Park cartoon series. He had grown incoherent in many regards.
   "Hey, Dude. Did Stacey go on break or just pop over to Eckerd's for a bag of chips?"
   "Tarryton, could you help line 4?"
   "Shut the hell up and just tell me where you saw my clipboard."

   And it was one word, spit out excitedly. Unless he waxed eloquent, boasting how he would soon be working on the South Park lot, writing scripts, becoming a new, wildly popular character.
   Oh yeah ... we so believed that.
   Denizens of construction sites, offices, factories, prisons, all of us must endure the mindless babbling of colleagues on a day by day, hour by hour basis. It's a wonder the murder rate doesn't skyrocket.
   Tarryton was completely full of it. His job performance plummeted, he was forever daydreaming. F A M E, celebrity, red carpet premieres, tanned nymphettes, more money than was imaginable.
   In every other way, Tarryton was normal. Intelligent, funny, charming even, with the usual weaknesses.
   Back story - - he had a connection.
   "One of the creators is my best friend. He personally guarantees me a job. Any day now, any day now. Hollywood here I come."
   This continued for months. We tolerated him as well as we could.
   Eventually, Tarryton departed under less than stellar circumstances.
   Relinquished his keys, departed never to be seen again.
   He did ... however ... wind up on South Park. Character once. Voice work a couple more times.
   So, there is hope for all you big plans / big mouth types.
   What did we know?
   We knew none of us ever received any South Park stage invites.
   Go figure.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Shoplifting: Case 07 - Takedown

   Trina had gone Rambo and chased a shoplifter outside. We were not supposed to do that.
   We could catch thieves in store aisles, but that made prosecution difficult. Best place was the checkout lanes. When detectors triggered, most sticky fingers froze. Or were nailed just outside the doors. Weren't supposed to ride their ass down like a Wild West posse, however. That was exactly what Trina had done.
   Or attempted to do.
   The crook had ignored the beeping, strolled outside, then quickened his pace once he passed Eckerd's. He must have heard footsteps behind him. Without warning, he spun around and dropped to a crouch, hands spread at either side. Flashed the razor. If Trina sought sidewalk fistfight, didn't mind getting cut up, he would oblige. She paused.
   Trina slunk back into the store, embarrassed and a little frightened. Dan and John reassured her. Her reaction was proper. New suits in Dallas would never back her up if there was an injury, as in if she got injured. More likely than not Trina would have been placed on probation or fired. Over and over, we instructed employees, especially new employees, that a handful of discs weren't worth the potential hassle.
   Still ...
   All employees dashed after petty shoplifters.
   I was just as guilty.
   An unwashed redneck in a baseball cap once pitched his stolen CD's in his truck bed and took off. I trotted along side, reaching into the bed, yanking our CD's back. Deadbeat. Had I used my intelligence I might have realized his truck could have run me into the curb, or I could have been smashed by oncoming traffic. I got hospitalized, who would praise me with, "Helluva job, Biscuit!" District suits? Of course not.
   Yet, human instinct urged one to protect their stuff. Defenseless creatures or societies got robbed into extinction.

   Late afternoon.
   The guy looked 19. Brown hair, curly, yellow t-shirt, denim jeans. Triggered radar across the room. His senses warned him, and he tried to quell suspicion by approaching employees with questions. First Ken, then Stacey. He smiled friendly, was enrolled in the local university, listened to alt rock.
   As Stacey said later, "He smelled like thief."
   Ken ran register. Stacey pretended to be busy with the front file server. Derek pretended to study the TicketMaster screen.
   Didn't even try to mask theft with a purchase. Brazen. Dreaming about getting high or getting laid later on. Sauntered into the detectors.
   Alarms triggered ... and ... he froze.
   Within an instant, Derek and Stacey flanked the bandit. He seemed dazed. Ken dialed 911, summoned the cops. I walked to the Listening Center, loaded Jane's Addiction and aired Been Caught Stealing, one of the two favorite store bust tunes.
   Then frat boy lost it.
   Started making excuses. Offered to pay. Don't phone the cops, Jesus, don't phone the cops. This was a hazing stunt. He had to steal something to be accepted in the fraternity. This couldn't be happening!
   Then he began struggling. Ken, ex military, full time national guard, advised him, "Be cool, man. Settle down, OK?"
   Crime lad bolted from the area. Derek tackled him, Stacey locked his arms. They threw him on the floor.
   "C'mon, man. You'll just rip your clothes."
   Frat house reject was in tears by the time the cops strolled in.
   Rich kid. Had over a hundred dollars in his wallet, three platinum credit cards.
   Also had a history a mile long.
   Daddy was someone with influence at City Hall.
   Police made the bust, junior got off on a technicality.
   Bastard. Next time.

Thursday, June 8, 2006

Coworkers: Part 74 - The Lies We Tell

   We tell each other lies. We listen to each others' lies. We pretend to believe those lies.
   Otherwise, this world could not function.

   After Tarryton was fired there was a manager gap. Moreover, this vacancy happened during a critical period. Thanksgiving was two weeks away. Afterward, holiday shopping madness would explode.
   Ours was a seasoned crew. Nobody wanted that manager slot. Before Tarryton, the last manager who had accepted keys was Joe. He'd received a whopping 25¢ raise. Ten bucks a week for more responsibility, more headaches, angry customers, closer proximity to Blockbuster bobble-heads, and in-house bickering.
   I declined, pleading daily shipments and increasing inventory management. Sarah was buried with classes. Mandy had been manager, gave it up to have her baby, voiced no interest in returning to full time status. Sonya was swamped, sculpting constantly and preparing a wedding.
   That fourth manager was a necessity, especially during Christmas.
   An inter store transfer was suggested and promptly vetoed by all. Other stores had been Blockbuster indoctrinated. Ours, because of so many senior employees, had reverted to the Sound Warehouse style. In all likelihood, any brainwashed newcomer would only question, meddle, squawk, snitch or whine.
   Eventually a council was convened to coerce Tarryton's replacement.
   Pat, Mandy, Sonya, and several other females held a pow wow in the Backroom before issuing a summons. The request was brief.
   "We decided you should be the manager," Sonya said flatly.
   "Not remotely interested," I shook my head.
   "What if this is only temporary?" she suggested.
   "Until Christmas is over," Pat added.
   "I'll be stuck there forever."
   "You could be Greg!" Pat said, cheerfully. "You know, door keys and manager over ride authority."
   I rolled my eyes.
   "Worthy, no one else can do this," Mandy spoke. "I have a baby. Every one else is too busy or they can't work full time."
   "Besides, we know you," Sonya noted. "Someone else will be a stranger. None of us wants to train them or figure them out."
   "Or wait for them to give themselves refunds," Mandy said bluntly.
   Pat giggled. Everyone caught Mandy's reference.
   "Look. I can't close - - "
   "You won't have to."
   "No. You'll only open. Is that fair?"

   I was weakening. They sensed blood.
   "And this is only temporary, correct?" I made another quick proviso.
   Glances swept like cloud lightning.
   "Of course."
   "Trust us."

   Lies. All lies. There was no such thing as temporary. I understood that. I adored all the girls, however, and I did want to help them. So I pretended to believe the half truths, smiles, and self deceptions. And they followed suit.
   I took the keys, became morning opener. My next paycheck was the same as the one before.
   Didn't even get that 25¢ raise.

Thursday, June 1, 2006

Coworkers: Part 75 - Messing With Hulen

   "Good afternoon, Blockbuster Music, Hulen. How can I help you?"
   "Howdy, Pardner. This is Rutherford a callin'. Makin' sure ya'll's bathrooms is working proper."
   "Excuse me."
   "I'm fixin' to shop at yer location, but I'm takin' some powerful medications right now." I spoke thick, with a deep country, Texas drawl. "Them side effects are unpredictable and downright embarrassing."
   "Oh, well, I don't know. We ... " The voice was male, bewildered. I didn't recognize who it was.
   "I shouldn't be a tellin' you this, but ... " Then I grabbed him by his Blockbuster collar and began dragging him aboard the crazy train express.

   I had phoned Hulen a year, maybe two years earlier. Simple question. I don't know what happened. No, it was me. All me.
   "Hello, Blockbuster, Hulen."
   "Ohhh, hello, man ... Uhhh ... Is Robbb there." I worked my voice high and shaky, so I sounded like I was high and shaky.
   "Hmmm ... Rob ... I'm not sure if he's here today." I knew that voice, it was Lisa. Rob's right hand.
   "Ohhh, man, could you look to be sure? Tell him Jimmy's calling."
   Stacey, sitting next to me, began laughing. "You bastard."
   I covered the phone. "I know. It's Lisa, and I bet a nickel Rob's sitting next to her."
   "Uh, Jimmy? Rob's not here. He ... uh -- "
   "Yeah! There's a new Doors set out. I was gonna swing by. Talk to Rob. I already went to Camp Bowie. Charles wasn't there, Worthy wasn't there. Nobody to talk to. I'm at Borders right now, looking for Dan, but he's off. I'm just a couple of blocks away. I'll be right there."
   "You fucker!"
   Long silence.
   "Uh, Jimmy? Rob's ... His mother is ill! He's out for ... Indefinitely," Lisa lied. I knew she was lying.
   Lisa had worked at our store for a period. Actually, Stacey and I had gotten her hired. We liked her look and attitude. She took too many college credits or partied too much, however. The Boss let her go because she was always lethargic or hungover during her shift. Rob hired her, and for him she worked like a freight train.
   Hulen was already Rob's second or third store as manager. He was becoming the District Axe. He was shipped to troubled locations. Fired assistants, fired non-working workers, reorganized inventory systems, made loser stores profitable. Never bothered to turn people around, much easier to hire new employees. For slackers, Rob's arrival meant terror.
   Like I cared.
   Rob could be a bastard, but so could I. We'd worked together four years. I knew some of his weaknesses.
   Jimmy was a classic 60's burnout. Obsessed over the Byrds, Doors, Airplane, Steppenwolf, on into 70's heavy metal. Some 80's, nothing beyond that. He could ramble endlessly, burning down memory lane. Drugs, drinks, groups he saw. Jimmy was my age, maybe younger. I was in Appalachia, in junior high, when the 60's - and most of those groups - ended. How had Jimmy, a Texas farmboy, managed to attend all those clubs and concerts on the west coast? Magic? Magic weed, maybe?
   The absolute last thing Rob wanted was Jimmy dropping in, shooting the breeze for an hour. Worse, becoming a Regular at his store.
   "Okaaaaay," I jittered. "I'm leaving. See you guys in about a minute. I got ... oh, yeah ... see ya."
   "Uh, Jimmy? Rob -- "
   I hung up. I could hear Rob now, swearing. Scrambling to take a quick lunch somewhere.

   That was, what did I say, two years ago. Rob since wandered all over the District, righting sinking ships, giving malcontents the plank. Lisa went with him from store to store. His right hand.
   I couldn't call and impersonate Jimmy again. Rob's current assignment was too far for Jimmy to drive. Plus, Rob was wise to me. He figured the call out, phoned me, cursed and laughed. So I went back to messing with some faceless person at Hulen.
   "See, Pilgrim, I sorta got this here explosive problem with my digestive tract."
   The other line was silent. Their imagination was now tugging them places they did not want to go.
   "I need a functioning restroom. I got no warning. When I gotta go, there's like seconds."
   A throat cleared. Michael Jackson played in the background.
   "I mean, there's been times I was too slow. Didn't get seated properly. Felt mighty bad for those folks who had to clean up afterward."
   "Wouldn't it be better -- "
   "Takes me half an hour to get there from Joshua," I cut him off. "By the time I hurry in, I most likely will be primed for bear."
   "All I'm suggesting -- "
   "Reckon I'm comin'. Watch for me, fella. And thanks for keepin' that outhouse door open. I'm gonna need it."
   I hung up.
   Can't imagine how the guy prepared his coworkers.