Friday, July 28, 2006

Customers: Part 15 - Babushka‏

   "You Dachshund eater!"
   I looked over at the exit door and bowed my head slightly.
   "Nazi lover," she spat out angrily.
   "Thank you," I replied with a smile.
   "Jew lover."
   I disregarded the slight contradiction between being called a Nazi lover and a Jew lover.
   The customer, an elderly woman in a heavy black skirt, dark sweater, and floral shawl, was completely batty.
   I had helped this old bird for years. For awhile, I thought I had successfully off loaded her to The Professor. No chance. One, she bought cassettes, which he was even more dismissive of than I. Two, The Professor's attempts to educate her on composers or conductors never leached into her brain since her hearing aid was always switched to low volume. When customers wouldn't make the step to pupils, he became scornful. Three, she was off her rocker. Ooh, I already mentioned that.
   The woman looked ninety, was more likely in her seventies. Gray and white hair knotted in a tight bun. Stereotyped Babushka. No cane, no glasses. Just layers of clothing even though it was 80 outside. Always bought Classical, budget cassettes, basic repertoire. Beethoven, Chopin, Tchaikovsky. If we spoke, the conversation was minimal. Grandchildren, the weather, bus schedules, whatever floated to the surface in that rattling brain of hers.
   I could be patient with Babushka, I would undoubtedly wind up like her. I didn't care for most senior citizens. Most were sorry survivors of poor planning. Improper diet, budget mismanagement, dreadful choices. The opportunity of a lifetime, squandered. There were glorious exceptions, but most of humanity mucked about until expiration time. We had no clue what our purpose was. We flailed in darkness.
   Babushka had bought a Brahms Piano Concerto and a Rachmaninoff Symphony. I gave her the 3 for $5.00 price, even though she only bought two tapes. The store could swallow a 50¢ loss and this might dodge any potential arguments. The concept of buying three to achieve a discount was beyond many people. I rang her up, gave her her change, her bag.
   And she stood there.
   Mind frying away.
   Another quality moment brought to you by the Alzheimer's League. No telling, either, what her pharmaceutical dosage was. Better living through chemistry was the old slogan. When my generation shuffles out of nursing homes, unfortunate observers will dismiss most of us as suffering LSD flashbacks, or spilling bong water on ourselves again. I ignored Babushka and continued receiving New Releases for tomorrow.
   That deadline loomed and I didn't know if either Kristi or Matt would show up for their shift. The week previous, he had asked her out, she agreed, then stood him up. The woman's perogative, magnified in blondes. Now they weren't playing nice. I worked to ram as much product into the database while I manned front register. Odds were high that Kristi or Matt or both would phone in "sick" and the store would be short handed for the afternoon.
   Don't date coworkers.
   "What did you say to me?"
   "Pardon?" I looked up. Babushka stood just past the counter, teeth clenched, glaring at me.
   "I heard you," she snapped. "You said I ought to be sale priced!"
   "No, no, no," I gestured in the air. "I have fifty CD's of this title coming out tomorrow. It's not sale priced and it should be. I was talking to myself, not you. Can I help you with anything?"
   "I'm not some fifty cent piece!"
   Shit. Granny imploded at the exit door. Confused and furious.
   "You're a Jew hater, you are!"
   Hell, that could so easily be misinterpreted.
   "Ma'am ... "
   "You Dachshund eater!"
   I looked over at the exit door and bowed my head slightly.
   "Nazi lover," she spat out angrily.
   "Thank you," I replied with a smile.
   "Jew lover."
   I disregarded the slight contradiction between being called a Nazi lover and a Jew lover.
   "Thank you," I answered loudly, and tossed the Queen's wave.
   John walked past, then slowed to a crawl to more appreciate the merriment of a bonkers old lady giving me an ass kicking.
   "German Jew Nazi dog eater!"
   "Thank you!" I echoed with my fake disc jockey voice I answered the phone with. John moved to the far counter and trembled with suppressed laughter.
   "Burning dogs and fifty cents and camps and whores ... and ... and ... "
   "Thank you!"
   Babushka stood silently for a minute or two. Staring outside, fixing me with the evil eye, gazing around the store. Wild fury spent. She was still angry, but she had forgotten what she was upset over.
   Shoot me now, before I get old.
   Seconds later, her brain successfully sent a message to her feet and she tottered out the door.
   "What was that all about?" John asked, wiping tears from his eyes.
   "Oh, she was trying to get a threesome going with The Professor and me. I declined."
   Shouldn't have said that. John went into convulsions.

Friday, July 21, 2006

Coworkers: Part 69 - Recker

   Recker floated into the store after 2:00. He looked a mess. I acknowledged him with a basic, "Recker."
   Recker worked day shift - - as in mornings. Time was 2:17 PM.
   "Don't talk to me, man! I gotta concentrate."
   With that, he tried repeatedly to clock in. For any other employee, this would have been second nature, especially since his name and password were identical.
   Still, no one else was on Recker's level.
   The stratosphere.
   Eventually, he figured out how to spell his name twice in a row, and moseyed to the back, arms swinging limply at his sides.
   The daily schedule was posted up front, but for whatever reason, Recker decided to check the one in the back.
   Where The Boss was working.
   "Hey, man, sorry I'm a couple of minutes late ... "
   "Go home, Recker."
   "Aww, man, it's only a couple of minutes -- "
   "One, it's five hours, Recker. And two, it's your day off."

   Wasn't the first time Recker had tottered into work on his day off.
   His physical appearance was the pits. Refugee from a fire in a rainforest. Clothes damp and rumpled, like he'd mowed the lawn with the sprinkler going. Face covered in soot. Spring cleaning? Chimney sweeping?
   After he clocked back out I asked him.
   "Dude, what's with the look? You toasting marshmallows on the coffee table again?"
   "What?" he rubbed his face, looked at his filthy hands, "Aww, man ... "
   Disappeared into the bathroom for about twenty minutes. Doubtless shooting the breeze with that stranger across the sink, in that shiny, square looking glass.
   Recker, the complete pothead. Later ...
   "So, like, I got some really killer weed, man. And there was this - - no, like I couldn't - - Someone stole my pipe, man."
   Recker owned 237 pipes, bongs, hookahs. Except, if they weren't sitting clearly on the table beside the sofa, they were considered stolen. Usually, they'd be piled on the floor, strewn on the kitchen table, in the refrigerator, scattered beside the bed, in the bathtub, next to the telephone, in his car. Or buried in the sofa, under his backside, while he looked at the empty table, muttering, "Aww, man."
   "I was at this party once, you know? And Belinda tossed the pipes in the pool, so we couldn't use them cause they were wet. But Donny made a pipe out of an empty paper towel tube. Which worked great, man. We got so fucked up."
   I listened patiently. I used to be Recker.
   "I didn't have any paper towels, so ... I got this killer weed, you know? Oh, toilet paper! I didn't have an empty roll, see? And it took me a long time to figure out where to store the paper when I pulled it off the roll. Have I told you this before? So, I put it - - and it was a full roll, man ... "
   Recker droned on. He'd wasted twenty minutes in the bathroom, he still looked like sirloin, charred. Stacey walked from the customer's bathroom, spread her arms wide, and shot me the W-T-F look. I could only imagine the state he left the room in.
   " ... anyway, I put some grass in the cardboard tube."
   "What about foil?"
   "Foil, Dude. Otherwise the tube will burn." I made a quick sketch. "You got your tube, see. Cut a hole near the end. Wrap the tube in aluminum foil, make a depression where the cut is, pack the reefer in there. Fire up."
   Once a stoner, always a stoner.
   Recker's eyes were red, watery, and glassy. I might have been explaining rocket science.
   "I filled the tube, OK? Not too heavy, you know, cause I wanted it to catch. Next, the whole fucking tube is in flames! I was by the faucet, only I didn't want to ruin the weed - - this was bad ass shit, man - - by getting water, so I huffed it hard, smoke and all."
   Maybe I was never that stoned.
   "Smoke detector went off - - After I got the - - Killed my ears - - I decided - - Ceiling fan, you know? - - Walked to Fantasy Imports to buy a new pipe. But - - then I remembered it was time to come to work, you know? The store's only a block away. So here I am. Except the day was wrong. Not my fault, man."
   "Tomorrow morning, Hoss," I pointed to the schedule. "9:00 AM. You, me, Mandy."
   I knew, absolutely knew, tomorrow would only be Mandy and me.

   Recker showed up five days later. Tuesday. He'd completely blown the weekend.
   The Boss was ... it was not a happy place.
   "Hey, man, so you got my check, man?"
   "Today's Tuesday, not Friday, Recker."
   "Really? No! So no paycheck? C'mon, m -- "
   "Where were you all weekend?"
The Boss demanded.
   "Was this that Daylight Savings Thing going on?"
   The Boss's eyes disappeared into his head, "Are you telling me, you missed an entire weekend because you forgot to change your clock? Is that the best excuse you have?"
   "Man, I don't even have a clock,"
he started chuckling.
   "Recker ... you're fired."
   "Aww, man, can't we talk this over? Let's be reasonable, alright?"
   "Goodbye, Recker."

   With that final exchange, Recker, the heaviest stoner I ever attempted to work with, was history.

Friday, July 14, 2006

Coworkers: Part 70 - Revamping The Layout

   The Boss and Stacey quarreled and bickered like an old married couple. For the hundredth time, they were altering the store floor plan. Joe alone tossed in his two cents worth of advice. Other employees interfered at their own peril.
   Blockbuster's original design was but dimly remembered, it had been modified so many times. Visiting Overlords or new District Managers commented or sputtered helplessly. Those neat rows of aisles breathed ordered elegance. They were also exploited by thieves for maximum concealment. Unless staff patrolled constantly, shady characters tucked themselves away in the far corner and determinedly massaged security keepers.
   There had been a Manager's Booth in the Sound Warehouse era, two feet off the Floor and centrally located. CD bins were also lower. Lines of sight were straight and clear. Even from the front door registers, a cashier could scan across the store, into Cassettes, into Video. Now, there was the Classical Room, with its outer walls. Moreover, new CD bins were easily a foot higher. With header cards, some of the bins were over five feet tall. Too tall.
   Shoving CD bins so that more lanes could be viewed from the Listening Center was a huge undertaking. Bins had to be emptied into shopping carts. After racks were shoved into the new layout, a new problem was often revealed. Reset. Employees got dirty, tired, and grumpy, especially The Boss. Invariably, whenever we rearranged, one customer would demand a title buried deep in a cart. If they approached Mandy or Sharon, arguments arose.
   The Professor was a big man, who steadfastly shirked grunt work. He was much too important for physical labor. Besides, Ludwig never busted rocks, Johann never cut toothpicks from logs.
   Winston was the largest male, but lately he was rolling in pain. Throbbing cavities. An object lesson in improper oral hygiene.
   New hire, Tarryton, had been drafted into duty. He was funny, a nonstop motormouth. Yet working with him, one felt trapped in Hell's audition chamber while he rehearsed some stand-up comedy routine.
   "If I rip my groin, it'll be a hernia. Shouldn't it be a himea?
   "Ever notice one group is The Rolling Stones, the other is not The Yes's.
   "For my girlfriend, that time of the month is always four weeks long.
   "I dub this bin - - a has bin.
   "How have you bin, by the way?
   "If we shift this one more time, I'm gonna seek a sex change.
   "Oops. Just put the axe and the dent into accident.
   "Last time I bent over like this, my doctor showed me Mister Hand."

   There were like 147 more. Hell ... 447 more. All lame. We really tried to tune the guy out. During lunch, Tarryton drained two cups of coffee. Verbage worsened. Winston, clamping his jaw, threatened to hurl him off the back door lift.
   "Lift? Lift yourself up, neighbor. Neigh and boar, reminds me of that horse pig stag film I watched in the Dew Drop Inn."
   Even The Boss wearied and advised he'd heard enough already.
   "Enough already? That's my girlfriend's favorite line. Not two hours later, but the minute I take off a sock.
   "How about we sock it to this bin?
   "Knuckle down, Bin-Socki, knuckle down.
   "Sorry, that's bin a long time comin'."

   Tarryton was still new. We could kill him and tell the police he never showed up for work. Tarryton? Never heard of him.
   End of the day, Rap, Soul, and Country pointed directly into the Listening Center.
   Twenty empty keepers were found in the Classical Room the next morning.

Friday, July 7, 2006

Coworkers: Part 71 - We Take Requests‏

   "Oh - My - God. Don't tell me that man works here."
   My eye followed her gaze.
   Straight into the Classical Room.
   I covered for Mandy in the Listening Center. The female before me was early 20's. Blonde, hair piled high. Blue eyeshadow, heavy lashes, dark red lipstick. Snug top, suede jacket, plush scarf. Black leggings. Hot stuff. Built like a snake.
   I'd never seen this customer, yet I knew the model.
   Within two miles of the store were a half dozen T & A clubs. Illusions, Sinbad's, Rick's Place, New Orleans Nites. We had a steady clientele, from DJ's, to seasoned professionals, to budding amateurs, to giggling coeds. If the girls were fairly predictable, so was their music rotation. 80's metal, electric blues, Southern rock, power country. High decibel, testosterone fueled belters. Girls didn't strut to whispery ballads.
   A solitary individual rattled in the Classical Room.
   The Professor.
   "Yes," I finally answered. "He has worked here two years. Classical Manager."
   "Classical, you said?" she shook her head and laughed. "That's priceless."
   I tilted my head and flashed the charm. "So how do you know The Professor, Sunshine? You attend his afternoon lectures?"
   "Think other way around," she smiled. "I work one of ... I work a couple miles from here."
   "Illusions or Sinbad's?" I guessed.
   "New Orleans Nites," she answered. "Anyway, that guy over there? Afternoon Regular, big time."
   My imagination seized. The Professor killing time at strip clubs. Well, well, well. Our Classical expert had a long, seedy history of peeping at females, tripping as he followed them across the store, babbling incoherently. Apparently, he also had a history of paying hot babes to grind shaved sirloin in his lap. The same gent who pleaded poverty paycheck after paycheck.
   Pack of smokes every day, spangled breasts bouncing in his face every week. No wonder he was broke.
   I had a dozen questions. Unfortunately, my mouth didn't wait to prioritize.
   "Afternoon? Like matinees?"
   "Of course. Guys can't drop by evenings because of wife or girlfriend. Business meeting and they want to make some female associate uncomfortable. Guys who enjoy the food. Dozens of excuses. Best thing, most are in a hurry and can't get drunk. You should visit."
   "Rock and roll. So ... what about The Professor?"
   "Visits every week. Wednesday afternoon, I think. Always suggests we dance to Beethoven or some other dead composer."
   I rolled my eyes.
   "Usually he just lurks. Sits somewhere and watches. Last week he paid for a lap dance. I start my routine, he started talking."
   I shook my head and began laughing.
   "Why can't I dance to Bolero? How long had I been dancing? How did I get into the racket? Racket, like this is a gangster business."
   "Hmm, Bolero's an interesting choice. Plus, you could coast for most of the number."
   "It's too quiet. Club noise would drown it out. Guys have asked before."
   "Then he started asking for my real name, which is a huge No-No. He's asked other girls before, as well. This could get him banned from the club. We always worry about stalkers. Obsessive guys. He seemed harmless ... but ... he's not married, is he?"
   I shook my head.
   "Single lonely guys often turn into stalkers. We're supposed to report him. But he is a steady guest, and he tips," she gestured.
   "The Professor," I leaned forward, "does not drive. Does not even own a car."
   "Yes!" She made a fist. Underneath the glamour makeup, she was a pretty girl. Quick and funny as well. In another life, I might have wanted to know her better.
   "Unless you drive home really, really slow, he's not going to trot after you up Alta Mesa."
   "Thank you for telling me. The guy really is ... I mean, sometimes we all feel sorry for ... Oh, hell, he's weird!" she exhaled.
   "Tell me about it," I said. "We work with him five days a week."
   The girl started laughing.
   Mandy came back to the Listening Center and I went up front to cover the Register. When the customer came up front with two CD's I gave her a 10% discount to compensate her for enduring The Professor week after week. She handed me a pass to enter the club without paying a cover charge.
   Haven't gone yet.
   Don't want to bump into The Professor.