Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Coworkers: Part 01 - Help Wanted

   "Did you see this ad?" Zelda pitched the newspaper in my lap.
   Circled in red, Classical Manager Position, apply in person, Camp Bowie.
   "That's interesting," I commented. "I wonder what happened to Mike?"
   "That's the store you shop at. You could do that job."
   "I'm hardly a classical expert," I answered.
   "You listen to classical. Your last job was with the symphony."
   "As a phoner. Before I got fired," I grinned.
   "Just visit. You never know. You've certainly spent enough money there over the years," she added.

   "What's going on with Mike?" I stood outside the Manager's Box, spoke with The Boss.
   "I honestly don't know. He's been gone a month now. Hasn't contacted anyone. Not a word."
   "Yeah, I haven't seen his byline in the paper recently. What about the other Mike? Over at Berry."
   "He'll never come back. He's their assistant. I placed an ad in the classifieds."
   "I saw that," I paused. "I was thinking about applying.
   "Really," he replied. He seemed distracted. "Say, do you know who wrote the 1812 Overture?"
   "What?" I made a face. "Tchaikovsky."
   "Ha ha. How about ... oh ... forget it. Look. I already hired someone. But with classical, you never know ... "
   "I know the music, but I'm not an expert," I confessed.
   "That's not what I meant. Classical types are ... ha ha ... never mind." He stopped. "Would you consider part time?"
   Part time was better than no time. If John's and my business picked up ... well, I'd cross that bridge when I came to it.
   "That'll work. I have another job rebuilding player pianos. But business has been dead over a year now."
   "I need someone Tuesday and Thursday, midshift, 2:00 in the afternoon until 6:00. And Friday, 6:00 until close."
   There was the offer. I weighed it for fifteen seconds.
   "I can do that," I accepted. "Do you need an application, or something?"
   "Fill one out Tuesday. Dress casual. Not over dressed, not shabby."
   "Two o'clock. Tuesday. See you then."
   The Boss stood up, extended his hand, "Welcome aboard."

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Coworkers: Part 02 - Them What's Nice‏

   "How'd you find out about this job?" Dan asked. After I clocked in, filled out some paperwork, I was given to Dan, the Assistant Manager.
   "My wife noticed the classified ad. Told me to apply."
   "You always do everything your wife tells you?"
   "Dude, I've learned to respond to ALL women with a yes. Makes them happy. Then I do whatever."
   "Was this for Classical? Are you one of those obsessive compulsive classical geeks?" Dan needled.
   "Ha ha. I'll let you form your own opinion."
   Dan handed me over to Trina. She was sticking 3M tape to the side of cassettes. If thieves walked out with a tape, an alarm would ring.
   Trina seemed friendly. I helped tape and chatted. Security taping was mindless work, but since mine was a new job, I didn't complain.
   "So, have you met Jeri Jo yet?" she smirked.
   "Uh oh. No, I haven't met her. Why?"
   "She's the other, new Classical person. After a week, everyone realized she's completely insane."
   "In what -- Never mind. I don't need to know yet."
   "Wise man. You're on first date behavior," Trina smiled.
   "Got that right. Until I know who's who, I am Mister Agreeable."
   "Most of the people here are nice," she continued. "The Assistants. Dan, Danny, James, John ... mmm ... You might want to avoid Rob."
   "Which one's Rob?" I asked immediately.
   "Not here yet. Don't worry, he'll completely ignore you. You're not female, twenty, and cute."
   I made a mental scorecard. James was a bit of a dreamer, Danny was indifferent, Dan and John middle of the road, Rob difficult.
   The rest of the staff were affable drones. Diana, Dave, two Angela's, Greg, two Todd's, Pepe, Mike, Lisa, Linda, Bert, another Todd (who worked in the back), Amster. There were too many people to sort. Plus, most weren't around so I couldn't affix names to faces. In time, I would realize the store was a collection of free agents.
   A few days later, I worked quietly with Jeri Jo, Trina's comments fresh in my mind. After two hours, I decided Trina was perceptive. At least as far as her observations about the buffalo brained Classical gal.
   Classical types had a murky history. A previous gent punched a hole through a back wall because the drive-thru screwed up his burger order. Sudden rage. The half baked classical soul was gone, the hole remained enshrined.
   Throughout the next two days, that brief cheat sheet of Trina's surfaced with each coworker introduction.
   Trina overlooked a name, however. And that would sting me.

   Friday night. The store was swamped. I worked backup register on and off with Greg. Of all the cashiers in the store, Greg was the fastest. He told me to mind the Floor and listen for two rings of that bellhop bell. Anytime there were more than three customers in line, he would ring.
   "What do you know about this group?" Tall woman, mid twenties, brunette. Holding the latest CD by New Order.
   "Dance music," I said. "Techno." I barely knew a few songs.
   "But ... What about it?"
   About what? Hell. I didn't know the group. There was no one nearby to ask. "They ... came from ... Joy Division."
   "I didn't like the last album. Is this one any better?"
   "Oh. Let me see," I checked the store playstack. Luck smiled. The CD was in the daily assortment. I handed her headphones to the spare CD unit.
   Greg rang twice.
   "Could you increase the volume?" my customer requested.
   Greg rang again. Dan strolled up and ran backup.
   "Say," a short man tapped my shoulder. "when you're done with her, can you help me?"
   "This New Order is great,"
my woman smiled. "I'll take it. Good sale."
   Greg rang three times for a manager. The Boss answered.
   More than once, both managers shot me a look.
   My male customer gestured toward the Sound Check headphones. "This one quit playing."
   The CD players were locked in cabinets. I didn't possess keys. Dan and The Boss were surrounded. I looked across the Floor, mystified, for another manager.
   "I'll be right back," I reassured the customer, then bolted for the Video section.
   Marched into Video and went to the nearest coworker. Stunning blonde.
   "New guy," she looked me up and down, coolly.
   "The Sound Check quit. I don't have keys. Told the customer I'd be back. I'm supposed to run backup. Is there a manager around?"
   "Slow down," she paused, "I'm a manager."
   Up front, the bell was rung repeatedly. I was getting deeper and deeper into trouble.
   "Oh, I didn't know. Anyway, the customer is wait -- "
   "Didn't know? Or are you one of those who don't think women can be managers?"
   "No, no. I just -- I did not know you were a manager. I don't even know who you are," I confessed.
   "I'm Carey. I'm the Video manager." She pushed open the swinging doors to the back. "Robert!"
   The manager I had heard to avoid came out.
   "Now what? This guy hit on you already? Want me to write him up?"
   "No. He has some crisis up front. I'm going to rescue him. Could you watch Video a second?"
   "Well, thanks for screwing up my plans, loser,"
he scowled to me.
   Damn. Maybe he was kidding. Maybe they were both kidding. I couldn't tell, I assumed the worst.
   I'd made a bad impression with Carey and Rob. Up front, The Boss was annoyed, Dan regarded me as an infant, especially after I returned to register and promptly locked it up. I stayed on register until midnight, closing. My cash drawer totals, which a half dozen employees had used, were accurate.
   If the cash was short, I figured I would have been fired.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Shoplifting: Case 01 - A Small Church In The Country

   Someone tapped my shoulder.
   "New Guy, come with me."
   It was Carey, the store blonde. She walked and I trailed after her. I had been "floating," tidying the Rock bins and approaching customers to see if they wanted assistance. Earlier, a girl had asked me about New Order, a group I barely knew, yet I had successfully sold her the latest CD. I wondered if she had been a test, to see if I would actually help people or blow them off.
   Carey, I already knew, one did not blow off.
   I had gotten on her bad side the first time I worked with her.
   "I'm looking for a Manager."
   "I'm one of the Managers. There are female managers."
   "No, it's not that. Other than Dan or The Boss, I don't know who all the Managers are."
   "I'm the Video Manager," she sighed, exasperated. "What do you need?"
   I told her. She helped me. But I kept away from her for a week.
   After a month, Carey no longer regarded me as an unfastened button.
   We walked through Video and into the Back Room. An older man sat on the nasty vinyl couch. Todd, the Back Room guy, stood nearby, as did Danny and Rob.
   "You need to stay back here with Todd," Carey instructed. "Danny has an order deadline, and Rob is supposed to take me to lunch."
   "Yes, ma'am. I can do that, but what do you -- "
   "Stay here until the police show up. Make sure he doesn't leave," she nodded at the guest. One eyebrow arched, "He was caught shoplifting."
   Carey, Danny, and Rob departed. Todd looked at me, then he and the gentleman continued their discussion.
   The man was older. Gray hair, gray beard. Stocky. Wore a white shirt. I assumed he swiped Country. Wrong. LL Cool Jay, Two Live Crew, and Ice-T. Hard core rap cassettes, stuffed in his back britches.
   The guy was a preacher.
   "Got us a small church out in the country. And I wanted to investigate the temptations some of my younger parishioners face."
   "Only you didn't feel like paying?"
Todd countered.
   "Would be a sin to fund the Devil's business."
   "Stealing is a sin, man."
   "I was doing God's work. Besides, what would someone like you know about sin?"
He was polite, but sanctimonious.
   "Plenty. My father is a minister."
   Their dialogue reminded me of old church arguments about how many angels could dance on the head of a pin. One of the many reasons I declined to enroll in seminary school. Back in the day, many assumed I would follow the path of The Word, but I knew my limitations better.
   The thief was full of shit, defending his transgression by pleading God's mission. What a crock. The clichéd "good intentions" excuse. I didn't participate. I stood quietly. Turned a proverb over in my mind. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. Maybe he thought Todd would release him. Doubtless, he never thought a fellow minister's offspring would work in a record joint.
   Police appeared, Todd waved me off. The Boss and Trina came back to give witness statements.
   The theft was minor, but the cops took him downtown.
   That was the first shoplifter I saw. Man Of God.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Customers: Part 01 - The Italian Car

  Friday night. I trained on register. Simple enough. Punch in the price tag amount, hit the product code on the register key. #1 for LP, #2 for CD, #3 for VHS, #4 for CS, #6 for Single, #13 for Boutique stuff. There were other product numbers, but I couldn't keep them straight. Luckily, every register had a cheat sheet.
  Anyway, Trina (the same girl who had trained me on security taping cassettes and CDs) explained the register to me. Helped with five or six transactions before she disappeared into the store. There was a counter bell. Ring once if you needed some kind of assistance, twice for register backup, three times for a manager.
  Friday night, it was busy, I was new. I didn't dare ring for a manager unless I wanted to appear completely stupid.
  Wanted to make that good impression.
  But I was stupid. Ignorant, actually.
  "Where's the bathroom, mister?"
  Uhhh ... One bell.
  "Can you break this five dollar bill?"
  Three bells.
  "Do you stock laserdiscs?"
  What's a laserdisc? One bell.
  I fell behind and rang for backup, meaning someone would have to run a second register. Usually one of the managers up in the booth. One of the Dan's. Danny or Dan. Danny had big hair, Dan a coffee cup glued to his hand.
  Danny got this great woman customer. Actually, I suspected she had milled about, waiting for him.
  She was bombed drunk.
  He had finished the transaction, then waited for her to shove off.
  Instead, she said, "I gotta itchy pussy."
  That got my attention. Danny, on the other hand, totally ignored her. Looked bored beyond belief.
  So she repeated her line, louder, "I gotta itchy pussy."
  Brown hair. Looked 30's, skin baked dry from years of tans. Crimson slash of lipstick, could have used a mirror, bit clownlike. Cigarette dangled from her lower lip, bounced up and down when she spoke.
  "Hey, boy, ya hear me?"
  "Yes, ma'am," Danny replied wearily.
  Black top, very low cut. Cigarette ash had fallen onto her left breast and sprayed downwards. Several times. She didn't notice or didn't care.
  "So wha you wanna do about it?" she slurred.
  "Do about what?" Danny asked.
  "Itchy pussy," she leered. "I gotta itchy pussy."
  "Ma'am," Danny leaned forward, "I don't know anything about Italian cars." Then he walked off.
  She paused. Tried to reboot her brain. Looked over at me. Scowled. Shambled outside.

  Link to Danny's Site = http://www.dannyhaslettart.com/

Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coworkers: Part 03 - Pink And Clean

   I had been hired, tentatively, to work the Classical section. One week earlier, however, The Boss had hired someone else. Jeri Jo. To me, she had seniority, and was in charge.
   The Boss thought we would complement each other.
   Jeri Jo approached classical music from a performing standpoint. She was a musician. I, on the other hand, was a collector. For years, I had gabbed and shopped classical from the Mike's. For rock music, I sought out Linda. Linda was dreamy ... spacey, actually ... but I liked her.
   Linda was gone, however. My Classical colleague was Jeri.
   After a week, I realized Jeri Jo had the personality of a constipated rock. Social skills, such as they were, had been pureed through a food blender. She didn't like customers, didn't like coworkers, didn't like retail. She didn't LIKE anything. She whined often and loudly.
   Great agony derived from cassettes. Jeri fussed for hours over cassettes. Classical cassettes. Dust magnets that no one bought. Classical customers were affluent, and early adopters. They were among the first to hop onto the Compact Disc steamship. Most weren't remotely interested in tape.
   I mentioned this to Jeri. She rolled her eyes at me, made a fist in front of her and stroked to and fro. "Why don't you go someplace and distract yourself for the next hour," she suggested.
   She could be, ahem, crude. Like Herr Beethoven. Most likely, she preferred the floor, sitting on her ass for two hours every day. Rearranging. Busywork? Or a trap? Kid-trap.
   Cassettes were all within reach of young children. Many were born redecorators. I'd arrive mornings, tapes stacked neatly off to one side, or piled into houses, castles, rocket ships. Or they'd been resorted by color. Reds here, yellows there.
   Jeri Jo kicked cassettes across the floor, swore, complained, then eased down to the floor like a basking sea lion.
   Whenever a family strolled into Classical, she swooped over.
   "Don't - even - touch - the - cassettes."
   This was addressed to an infant in a stroller. Cheap thug in a baby blanket.
   I needed to share.
   I walked over to Pepe, told her about this headcase.
   "Ha!" she retorted. "That is nothing. Nothing! I was in the back office earlier, on that ratty brown sofa, trying to enjoy lunch."
   "What'd you have?" I interrupted.
   "Jeri Jo waltzes her big ole ass in, and announces she just got back from the doctor's."
   "Psychiatrist type of doctor?" I asked, hopefully.
   "Nooooo, grasshopper. The gynecologist type of doctor."
   "I don't think I wanna go there."
   "Too late! I had a forkful of food heading towards my mouth when Jeri Jo says, 'Now I'm all pink and clean on the inside.'"
   "What the fuck? Excuse me."
   "I about threw up then and there. Then she starts describing the boyfriend's sausage. Mentions baby oil and rubber sheet in the same damn sentence. You wanna hear the Kama Sutra position she likes best? I can tell you. Cause she told me."
   "Stop! Stop!" My lurid imagination was on fire.
   "First ... picture her with none of them baggy tops and droopy shorts she wears here. Jeri Jo, buck ass naked, pink and clean, open for business."
   I left.
   I fled, actually.
   Couldn't eat anything for lunch.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Coworkers: Part 04 - French Videos‏

   The videos were expensive.
   Damn expensive.
   I had "special ordered" two videos for a friend of Zelda's.
   Diana looked them up for me, then advised, "These are older films, but they are still rental priced."
   "What do you mean? Like, 99¢?"
   "Ha ha," she laughed. "No, start thinking $95.00 each."
   "Jesus! What the hell - - How can ... Jesus."
   Diana continued laughing. "When movies come out on video, most are stickered sky high so only rental stores buy them. After six months, they get re released to the sell through market. $19 or $14. Most stores derive their profit on each rental title during that six month span."
   "I see."
   Truth was, I was still digesting that information.
   "Do you still want to order two $95 films?" she smiled.
   "I need to ponder this," I answered. "Would I still get my discount?"
   "Of course."
   Passed this information on to Zelda. Her reaction mimicked mine. Six months, sixteen months, she could wait.
   When Zelda relayed the story to her friend, however, her friend's attitude was different.
   "I'm not about to wait six months. Or six weeks. I want them now."
   "Even with his discount, they're going to be $75.00 apiece."
   "Oh, that's not too bad. Especially for two films I really want. Yes. Go ahead and order them."

   The American Dream. No one liked deferring gratification any more.
   I ordered both films. French art house fare, directed by Claude Berri.
   Films arrived a few weeks later. These were set aside, and I contacted Zelda to make money arrangements.
   Friday evening, I came to work armed with two $100 notes.
   "Where's the videos?"
   Three days after they'd arrived, both films had vanished.
   No one knew.
   Dan did most of the checking.
   Todd had received them. Carey checked them in, made a note. Diana contacted me, locked them in the Stash Room.
  End of the trail.
   Dan's investigations were inconclusive.
   Someone was fired, however. One of the girls. No evidence, no proof. She'd actually done something else, but managers used the heist as an excuse to terminate her.
   Todd was infuriated.
   I felt uncomfortable, like I'd set something in motion. If I hadn't ordered those damn videos maybe she'd still be working there.
   Diana reordered the flicks. Week later I bought them.
   Tried to keep my profile low afterward.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Coworkers: Part 05 - Into The Back

   "What's going on with that other job of yours?" The Boss asked.
   I was still relatively new. My shift was Tuesday and Thursday, 2 - 6, and Friday 6 - midnight. Fourteen hours. My other job, rebuilding player pianos and pump organs, clocks during overflow, was at a standstill. A mini Recession, focused on the Texas corridor, had slammed business. Dick was long gone. John found employment as a high end mechanic. He worked a bit on Saturdays. No projects were coming in for either of us. I still went to the shop daily, but mostly cleaned, organized, watered the plants, worked on my retirement home play.
   "I don't know," I answered. "Business is slow. Real slow."
   "How would you like more hours?" The Boss asked.
   Did I want more hours?
   "Sure, what do you need?"
   "I was reviewing your application. You've run back rooms ... inventory ... before."
   "New Hampshire, inventory prep, primarily cycle counts. In Los Angeles, I had complete control of the back. Inventory control, shipping and receiving, production schedules, fronting the line. Whatever was needed."
   "We're not that detailed here," he studied my application. "OK. Here's the deal. Danny is leaving. He's going to be Assistant Manager at Hurst. I'm moving Todd up to Floor Manager. I need a new Backroom guy ... " He paused.
   "Receiving Agent? Verify packing slips and contents match?"
   "More or less ... " He paused again.
   "That's day shift. Monday through Friday. And you're wondering about my other job?"
   I looked at the Floor, the parking lot, Video. I'd worked with John ... seven, eight years ... only we weren't working.
   "I'll be good to go next Monday."
   "Excellent. Todd will train you Monday. You should pick this up quickly. Thursday, Truck Day, you'll work with Todd and Rob. They haven't killed you yet, so I'm hopeful. Oh, and I prefer speed and accuracy," he gave me a look.
   "In that order? Don't get bogged down with details?"

   I still had Classical duty. When Jeri was off, I was on call. Most of the crew didn't want to deal with fussy clients. Beethoven was Beethoven. Bernstein, Von Karajan, what's the difference? Advising between the '63 versus the '77 versus the new, digital version, was too much.
   Tuesdays were New Release day. New titles rolled in Fridays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. Cross reference titles with slips, hit 'em with the price gun, stack them in a cart. Note: If there was a stray shopping cart within a quarter mile, it vanished into the Backroom. "May not need it now, man," Todd advised. "But we will for Christmas." We had 20 grocery carts in the back.
   "Packing slip? I never touched that."
   Todd warned me about Dan. Dan was notorious for opening New Release boxes to see what was coming out. For taking packing slips and wandering off with them, laying them down, forgetting.
   I wanted to get along, I tolerated this for awhile. Then, fuck it. I hid boxes or buried slips. Threatened dismemberment.
   Thursday was Truck. Replenishment from the Distribution Center. Accessories, videos, CD's, cassettes, boutique crap, vinyl. Several pallets worth of product.
   Todd and I broke down the shipment, then resorted everything by chart. A-Chart (biggest sellers, highest volume), B-Chart, C-Chart. Also NR-Chart (New Releases). Sometimes NR titles were for the following Tuesday, other times they were already out. The Backroom guy had to simply know, and not break, street date.
   Todd and I worked different charts. He took A, he was quicker. Half the titles were sale priced. Sometimes set by Bromo, other times The Boss let a hot album ride. By noon, half the shipment would be on the Floor, getting security taped.
   "Outta my way, fuckers."
   Rob clocked in at noon and worked Accessories. Blank tape, carrying cases, deck cleaners, stuff like that. Sometimes he was hungover, sometimes not. He was usually cranky.
   Especially if Todd hid a box or packing slip.
   Or his coffee mug.
   Coworkers drifted back constantly. A customer wanted a specific title. It was on-order. Did it come in? Could we find it? Everything stopped and we began digging.
   Carey frequently entered. Not a word. There was a full length mirror on one of the swinging doors. She stared, transfixed.
   "I don't see how you guys can work back here. I'd be in front of this mirror all day."
   We laughed. Carey was difficult, she had a short fuse, but she was stunning. She had no need of a looking glass.

   After two weeks, I had the Backroom nailed. I had done Inventory for years. I was an ex-stoner. I could concentrate and organize endless names, dates, and numbers in that rat's maze in my skull. Merchandise got checked in swiftly. The crew accepted me.
   I was "in."
   There was only one teeny problem. D-Chart.
   All the back catalog ordered by James.
   Big State, House, and all the majors. WEA, Sony, UNI, Poly, CEMA. Especially CEMA.
   Those packing slips had NO PRICES. Just meaningless codes. Meaningless because there was no legend or description of the codes, because there were dozens of codes.
   I had gotten stumped. Bogged down with details.
   Exactly what The Boss warned me to avoid.
   Paged James, no idea. He placed orders. Period. I could leaf through all his D-Books. Like hell.
   Todd came back, then Dan, finally The Boss.
   No one knew. In the end, Dan advised me to use the "Danny Method."
   Best guess. If customers only knew.
   "If it looks full priced to you, price it that way. Mid-line. Budget."
   "What I always did, man."

   "What if I screw up?"
   "We'll catch mistakes. Tell you. You'll get the hang of it."
   "Or else we'll come back and throw you off the lift."
   "All of us, taking turns, cause you're one of us."

   Nothing like being accepted.
   I thought of an ancient Browning film. The chanting sequence.
   "One of us! One of us! One of us!"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Customers: Part 02 - Alphabet Lessons

   "You're not the motocross guy."
   "Nooo," I stalled, "I'm not."
   "No matter. I had a classical question. Well, a couple, actually."
   She had light brown hair and wire rim glasses. As she spoke, she crept into my personal space.
   "Is the motocross guy working tonight?"
   "Who's the motocross guy?" I asked, stumped.
   "The cute guy with the blonde hair. On his neck," she tapped.
   "You mean Greg? I didn't know he raced motocross."
   "Well, I don't know that," she stressed. "But he has the face of a motocross racer, don't you think? Freestyle motocross."
   There was no proper answer for that. I couldn't edge back any further. I was cornered between the cassette wall and the opera box sets.
   "Oh, my name's Natalie." And she stepped back into my space.

   "I always seem to get lost in this section. Could you show me how it's organized?"
   "Of course," I slid past her, putting some distance between us. "Everything is alphabetical -- "
   "I don't understand."
   "From A to Z. By composer. Then you have compilations. Various composers or samplers. Then individual artists. Again, alphabetical. Ashkenazy, Heifitz, Williams," I gestured. "Finally vocalists. Arranged alphabetically."
   "I don't understand," she repeated, and moved in again. Natalie now stood eight inches from me.
   "What don"t you understand?" I asked.
   "That alphabet thing."
   I turned away and rolled my eyes. A colleague, listening over in Video, began to giggle.
   "Alphabet," I said. "As in A ... B ... C."
   "Pardon me?"
   "First comes Albinoni, then Bach, then Chopin, then Debussy, then Elgar."
   "This seems so terribly complicated," she sighed.
   "It's called spelling. What you learned in the first grade. Hopefully." I tried to sound polite. Honest.
   She sighed again and gazed down at the floor. Natalie was a pretty girl, but I felt like I was talking with one of my cats. Her logical patterns were different from mine, from humanity. Plus, she kept inching forward. Was she nearsighted? She couldn't be interested in me. I looked about. Over in Country, there was the Motocross King himself. Greg.
   "Oh, the motocross guy is -- "
   "And I need music to compliment my power animal."
   "Power? You need -- What?"
   "Power animal. Our spirit guide through Life. Everyone has one. Mine is the Bear." Natalie reached up and placed her palm on my chest. "Yours is ... a Tiger."
   "I don't ... Is this like ... Sorry, we don't have a Power Animal section."
   Brilliant, I thought to myself.
   "What would you recommend for a bear?"
   I was getting dizzy. This was sheer nonsense. The Tiger wasn't even my astrological sign, to reference a question from the Disco era. It wasn't even specific to astrology. On the other hand, my girl, Zelda, was a Leo. Moreover, she was a Tiger in Chinese years. I certainly wasn't revealing this to Natalie, however.
   Worst of all, she was in my space. In My Space. I was increasingly uncomfortable.
   The Bear didn't like heavy music. None of those loud Germans or melodramatic Russians. Also didn't like "noodling" music that never went anywhere or made no sense. Modern music was out. Baroque music deemed too shallow. Eventually, we selected Debussy and Mozart.
   Choices made, I successfully launched Natalie towards Greg.
   A minute later, they were in Dance, and she was moving closer and closer.
   Greg finally bumped into the bin.
   I felt his pain
   I walked into Video, popped in a cassette by the rewind unit, and fast forwarded to the episode of Violent Is The Word For Curly. Then I watched Moe, Larry and Curly teach "Swinging The Alphabet."
   Don't understand A-B-C's, indeed.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Coworkers: Part 06 - The Tim

   I learned from Danny, I learned from Rob, I learned from Todd - Don't even deal with trainees the first two weeks. Never even learn their names. What was the point? Faces eager, confused, upset, stunned, gone. Likely, I'd never see them after a week.
   Still, for every twenty crash 'n burn weevils, one might ... just might ... make an impression. Get remembered long after the door whacked their ass on their way out.
   Such as The Tim.
   Where to begin?
   Hell, his application form, of course.
   Usual two sided application printout. Front Side = Name, Address, Phone, and kindergarten work questions including my all time favorite: Has alcohol use or substance use ever interfered with your employment performance? Back Side = References, Work History. Beside each job, where it asked what your title had been (eg: supervisor, foreman, CPA, whatever), he scratched Tim.
   "And what were you at the White House?"
   "I was The Tim."

   The Tim was blonde, stocky, and built like a beach outhouse. He was hired because he was a bass head. Fluent with Nemesis to Two Live Crew, LL Cool J to Techmaster PEB. Shit we couldn't play during opening hours. More than other temps, this was a dream come true job for the guy because he was gonna be DJ. He'd expose Cowtown to da noize of da Tim.
   Register Training: Managed to piss off easy going Dan and whistling James. By ringing the bell for a manager alert. They'd show up. "Just testing. Ha ha ha." Only did that once on Rob, who advised him to, "Test it up your ass next time." Didn't test the bell with The Boss.
   The Boutique section featured a very popular toy. Fart Bears. Squeeze Fart Bear and from his backside came a disquieting eruption. Sharp and violent or low and slow, depending on one's massage technique. The Tim fell in love with the Fart Bear, and squeezed them at coworkers, outside the girl's restroom, over the store PA system, and, when he worked Register, at departing customers. Stellar moment when he activated Fart Bear in the face of a startled priest.
   Then again, there was one time a colleague was chatting up a female client, and The Tim started squeezing his furry friend. How happy he made them!
   Jeri Jo, from Classical, expressed her opinion to me by standing behind The Tim, making a circle with her hand, and stroking several times at crotch level. He caught her. Thought she was moist for him. Told her he preferred a quicker tempo. "And you'll need a bigger hand. Ha ha ha."
   He was pretty fast when the tape deck or CD player finished. I'll grant him that. And he did find some gems to air. There was a definite shopper response to Me So Horny. Jingling Baby was another winner. And N.W.A? What a bunch of surprised white folks that evening.
   There were other shenanigans. Once he popped a VHS with lots of skin in Video. As usual, Angela and Dave were swamped, they didn't notice until ... well, it was Friday night, their section was packed with families.
   I can't remember all his disasters. Irritated coworkers and customers, male and female.
   The Tim lasted about a month.
   When he was fired, I think I was the only person who mourned.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Coworkers: Part 07 - Dave's New Number

   "Do you know Dave's schedule?" The Boss asked.
   "Mornings, Monday thru Friday, he's at Blandy," I said. "Evenings or weekends, he's here or at that third job."
   Dave, like many of my coworkers, worked three jobs to pay bills. All paid terrible, especially the major international corporation which was legendary for underpaying employees.
   "I phoned his Blandy number twice. Another individual now has Dave's extension, and they don't know who Dave is. They are also new so they don't know how to redirect me to the switchboard."
   "Can't you key in a directory search?"
   "Tried that," The Boss sounded frustrated. "Led me back to that new person."
   "Bummer. Get what you pay for in this world," I shrugged. "Dave works here in two days, update the number then."
   "I want him to work tonight, if you don't mind."
   I had an obvious suggestion. Very reluctantly I suggested ...
   "You try phoning his home? Asking his wife?"
   The Boss's eyes disappeared into his skull before he steamed off without a word.
   What was that about?
   During lunch, I approached Diana. She tended Video while Pat lunched with John. For the millionth lunch in a row, Diana had loaded in our completely washed out copy of Roxanne.
   "What's up with The Boss and Dave?" I started.
   "You know he spoke with him recently, confidentially, regarding those prescriptions."
   Prescriptions, my ass.
   "Dave's working three jobs. He dozes off, he's toast."
   "Those pills can be dangerous!"
   I shrugged.
   "You are one of the coldest people I know," Diana shook her head.
   "I have my moments. Look, when I suggested The Boss phone Dave's wife, he sputtered away."
   Diana covered her face and began laughing. "Have you ever spoken with her?" she giggled.
   "Uh ... no," I replied warily.
   "He phoned her first. She confirmed that, yes, his Blandy number had changed. Last week she had to dial #1, this week #2."
   "She had -- What?"
   "She can't remember phone numbers. It's all too stressful. So Dave programmed her home phone. To reach husband, punch #2, and that's all she knows," Diana laughed.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Coworkers: Part 08 - The Dungeon‏

   After several months I simply flat out asked Dan, "Seems like an incredible amount of employee turnover here."
   "Oh," Dan reflected, "we usually lose someone about every six months. Every four or five years, however, it seems like a chunk of the crew turns over. One wave departs and a fresh batch arrives."
   That sounded reasonable. I'd witnessed a high proportion of senior employees check out in the past few months. One of the Todds moved to Alaska, Danny transferred to Hurst, Carey became a stewardess, Charles got a banking job, Lisa slipped away. I'd come in with Jeri to replace Classical Mike #2. We'd hired on with Trina, David, Angela (who had already left), Pepe, and Pat.
   Dan was accurate. It was like a cosmic realignment had reshuffled the colony.
   Another senior person had given notice. Video Mike.
   While Angela and I had been very close, Mike and I barely spoke. I couldn't relate with the guy. Classic headbanger, looked like a audition player for Deep Purple. Long black hair, mustache. Transfixed with metal. Classic metal. The 70's never ended. I hoped he possessed more than one dimension, but I lost interest in him. Call me shallow. My loss.
   Video Mike gave notice and James or Dan or somebody collected "going away" money.
   Most departees bought tunes or videos. Cleaned out their stash, used their employee discount a final time with their modest farewell windfall.
   Not Mike.
   Mike raced his car to Fantasy Ranch, modern version of the sportin' house. Part strip club, part theme park. An interactive West World. Silicone babe attendants. Fantasy Ranch was not a spectator establishment, participation was the main event. For a wallet emptying fee, gents selected from Amazon Warrior Planet, Jungles Of Zanzibar, Lab Experiment, and the very popular Wild West Saloon. Depending on one's imagination, you could envision the elaborate settings, and haze your mind with those words "interactive" and "participation."
   For a half hour.
   Mike knew precisely what he wanted. Metal boy fantasy.
   The Dungeon.
   The dark stone room. Shackles and chains.
   Mike was stripped to skivvies. Wrists manacled high overhead, far apart.
   From concealed speakers, doom metal groaned.
   Two inquisitors entered. Wearing only masks. Questions, impossible questions, followed by punishment.
   He worked the next day, his final shift. Aching sore and gushing gratitude. Thanked everyone. Fantasy Ranch had been one of the greatest experiences of his life. Now, and only now, he flicked my radar. How many more yarns might I have written about this guy? Too late. My loss.
   After Mike's departure, the store still collected funds for exiting select employees now and then. This was never consistent, an aspect of popularity contest tainted the process.
   Still, after Video Mike, lucky recipients were handed gift certificates. No one received cash again.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Coworkers: Part 09 - Love Flowers

   We hired this new girl. Kiki. Stuck her in video. Had a kid or two. Slept alone. Divorced or separated, I don't know. Every time she saw husky boy, Bert, she left a dribble puddle. Bert, big, friendly, muscle bound, capable of 200 fingertip push-ups. Well-behaved, clean cut. Does his best to fit in, but, well, he's middle class. Around females, awkward, a novice. Especially females who've bitten the apple.
   And the worm.
   Kiki wanted some stuffin' for her muffin.
   Bert stuffin'.
   Anyway, she started working on dropping that zipper. Likely, he thought she was flirting. Took her a week or two to pick his combination.
   Chi Chi's Bar. After hours with crew drones. Kiki pushed shot glasses, swayed her orbs, drank Bert into stupidity. Drove him to her apartment. There were some temporary technical difficulties, but Kiki was adept at piping the snake resurrection. Like most pretty girls, Kiki eventually got what she wanted. Bert got something, too.
   Alas, it was an ill fated romp. Whiskey dick was rarely compatible with the pink sticky. Kiki never glanced in Bert's direction again. She returned to waitressing, returned to her husband. Popped out another young'un in about nine months. Bert wasn't so good at math, or the obvious, and no one at the store aired their suspicions.
   Bert's bonus? Crimson rash blossomed, then encircled his mouth. Love flowers. Told everyone it was cold sores. Pepe laughed outright in his face.
   Diana vamped a little ditty, "Poison Pink Petals," then sighed, " ... poor thing ... "
   Later, Todd caught him in the Gents, scoping around his pubes, examining love blisters.
   "I'd go to a doctor for that, dude."
   "What? Oh, it's nothing."

   Pat reminded everyone Kiki had said much the same.

Friday, October 10, 2008

Customers: Part 03 - Exchange Lady

   "I need to make an exchange," she flashed two CDs in front of me. "I don't have the receipt. Sorry. These were gifts. From a gentleman admirer of mine. Don't know why he gives me these discs. But I need to exchange them for something else. If that's all right with you?"
   That last sentence was not a request, it was a statement. The woman had already deposited the CDs on the checkout counter and walked away.
   The Exchange Lady.
   Arguably the customer most detested by the entire staff.
   James told me she had been a Regular for years. Entered monthly, almost like clockwork. Always with brand new, unopened, still-in-shrink-wrap CDs. And they weren't Record Club editions. These were bonafide, direct from the factory, recordings. Always Classical music.
   Never. Never, had the Exchange Lady actually purchased a single item.
   Oh, she wasn't doing anything illegal. She simply requested a favor month after month. Year after year. Long ago, courtesy had become entitlement. That's what chapped the staff. The Exchange Lady may have been a Regular, but she was not a "customer." She shamelessly took advantage of store good will.
   Eventually, a customer or new hire identified the Exchange Lady.
   She worked in the school system. Alas, I have conveniently forgotten which school.
   A school that a stream of CDs flowed into.
   NOT that any of those CDs were diverted into someone's purse. That would be pure speculation.
   Speculation was what most of us excelled at.
   Mooch, leech, time waster. Call her what you would. Stephanie also added the definition of "cheater" to the Exchange Lady.
   No one despised the Exchange Lady more than Stephanie. Stephanie resented that special treatment the woman expected every month. The Exchange Lady had not bought the CDs from us, had not bought them to begin with.
   Most of the staff, however, had surrendered. The Boss, Dan, John, even Rob. They gave the Exchange Lady her switcheroo without comment. Not worth the headache. Stephanie, on the other hand, dug in her heels. She lost every encounter yet she persisted. Requested the receipt every time. Methodically cross referenced the CD stock number off the Phonolog. Stalled and stalled and stalled. Even when Stephanie smiled sadly, "Sorry, no." The Exchange Lady demanded a Manager (who buckled).
   I walked up after Stephanie had lost another skirmish. Still seething.
   "She's not playing fair. She's cheating. I don't march into the mall and trade my old tops every month."
   "Remember, these were gifts," I argued.
   "That woman doesn't have one boyfriend," she complained. "Probably swap them for a jelly sandwich anyway."
   "She always describes them as admirers."
   "Oh, excuse me, admirers. What time does drinking start? Admirers. She's built like a telephone pole."
   Stephanie was blonde, and she frequently tied her hair back with a bright yellow Sound Warehouse shopping bag. Bags were convenient and didn't break her hair. For 98% of the population, that bag, flared out in a yellow bow, would look childish, stupid or trashy. Stephanie was young and cute, though, with a voice of soft sandpaper. Purring rasp. As she got older, her words would burrow into a man's system and linger.
   "Hmm, some guys prefer girls on the lean side," I commented.
   "Most guys I know prefer something they can hold onto," she retorted. "Not a human ironing board. And what's up with that hairstyle of hers?"
   "Hello, Beauty School Trainee, could you please cut my hair like this French croissant?"
   "Then after you've weed whacked it into a pancake sandwich, spray on six coats of varnish and bake it until it's harder than a football helmet."
   "It's not for me, you know. My 126 admirers like it hard."
   I strolled away. As predicted, Stephanie's barbs lingered.

(all thanks to joseph for character reenactment)

Saturday, October 4, 2008

Coworkers: Part 10 - Promos‏

   "When the pile is big enough," Diana explained, "and it looks pretty big to me, then everything will be divvied up between all employees."
   I pretended she had alerted me to a sale on clothes pins over at Mott's. Meanwhile, my breathing had completely stopped.
   Free CDs.
   Promos, or promotional CDs, arrived weekly. Boxes of them. Record shops, radio stations, and music columnists were major recipients. Labels hoped stores would place them in rotation and generate sales. Most albums were advance copies, which placed us well ahead of the radio curve.
   Some chains, usually mall fronts, exercised complete control over store airplay. Tunes were chosen, sequenced, and piped from corporate offices. This was why mall stores were so often sterile, soulless places. And why their employees were dead.
   At Sound Warehouse, managers had complete control. The playstack was maintained and rotated by senior employees. Most titles lingered 3 - 6 months, though Charlie Brown's Christmas endured year after year, silent until November.
   Most record shops, managers appropriated all promos. Promos were used as incentives or rewards or gifted to favored employees. Many managers were petty martinets, and promos were cashed out at pawn shops to buy booze, drugs, corn chips, comic books.
   The Boss, a Berserkely refugee, was an enlightened spirit. Promos were shared with all employees. He was extraordinarily generous for instituting this policy. He was also very savvy. Employees who received a periodic windfall of CDs were less likely to steal. In-house theft was a rare event at Camp Bowie.
   The day I saw the first Promo Pull announcement, I asked Dan for particulars. As usual, he was patient with me.
   "Write down what you want," he said. "Arrange by priority. We'll draw lots for the picking order, and arrange lists. Then we'll go through everyone's number ones. Then number twos, and so on. Whenever a title is taken, we'll strike that line and move to the next one."
   Strategy was involved. I desperately wanted Khachaturian's Gayne. Few coworkers would want that, however. I could place it lower on my list. A half dozen people wanted the newest k d lang. Luck of the draw. I'd look at a Rock release, and ponder Rob, Todd, Trina. How high would Diana or James place some neo folkie album?
   Some promos caused free for alls. 90% of employees placed a This Mortal Coil box set as number one. Don't remember who won it -- it wasn't me.
   Labels also sent stores and columnists one-of-a-kind recordings. Advance copies, samplers, unreleased material. Few customers knew those existed.
   Jeri Jo had tired of the music business after four months. She never anticipated actual work. Effort. Like the hibernating sloth, she assumed her duties were listening to music all day (nice choral music, not Rock or Country or Soul) and gracefully promenading up and down the stately aisles of retail. She only stayed for promos. The day after the pull, she departed. I won Gayne.
   Usually two colleagues did the pull. This was done off the clock. Names were written on bags, then slips of paper were drawn to create the order. One individual read off picks, checked or struck off choices, while the other ferried choices to bags. Usually took two to three hours. Often more team members showed with six packs, snacks and smokes. More helpers meant more chaos.
   There were usually 800+ CDs for any given Promo Pull. Of that, 150 might be desirable. The remaining were grab bag. Unknown albums by unknown groups. Most would remain unknown. A few were overlooked jewels. The bulk were derivative, bad, or worst of all, boring. Come what may, the pile was to be annihilated. Coworkers jotted massive wish lists and trusted in luck. Duds were plenty.
   When my unknown gambles proved to be misfires, I gave them away. One Halloween, I plopped over 50 unwanted cassettes into Trick Or Treat sacks in my neighborhood. Kids were thrilled! Later, they would realize those treats were tricks. Sorry life lessons, learned early.
   I never sold off crap. Neither did Pat or John or Diana. Others did, however.
   Usually for booze, drugs, corn chips, comic books.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Coworkers: Part 11 - Moving Day‏


   Coworkers were prolific relocaters. Reasons were endless. Trivial. Major. Who cared?
   They had gotten evicted.  New place was $5.00 a month cheaper.  Neighbors were loud  --  stalkers  --  creepy  --   naked.  New place had a pool, yay!  Old place had a pool, yuk!  Damn dogs.  Place was freezing / burning up.  Owe the landlord / landlady back rent or "favors."  Cockroaches won war.  Rats ate the dog.  Waterbed flooded bedroom.  Ex just got released.  Druggies upstairs.  Shootings.  Neighbors have brats.  Kinfolk moved in.  What is that smell?  Plumbing disaster.  Neighbor bought new home theater unit.  Parking issues.  Burglars.  Neighbors dance  --  pray  --  fight  --  breed.  Overhead light showers sparks, fun!  Next door barbeque smoked my unit.  Idiot next door only plays ONE album!  Neighbor is musician / artist / writer (whatever, they're all fucking deadbeats).
   The crew moved so much, nobody took much notice. I didn't move, but I could relate. I bought a condemned house and was forever repairing something. My neighborhood wasn't quiet, either.
   The notice above had been posted by Dave. Moving from the Near Southside to Mid Cities. Coincided with my day off. I said I'd join the gang.
   Three days later, just Dave and me. Everyone else, well, they didn't take much notice. Even his girlfriend and sister dodged the grunt work.
   Soon as we loaded the truck and arrived at the new unit, I began to have doubts.
   The place was much smaller.
   Wait a second.
   The complex itself was gigantic. One of those faceless, depressing megalo-monoliths. Resembled a brick cliff, from where any reasonable soul would hurl themselves off within six months. Probably slapped together ten years ago or earlier. The rooms were prison cell sized. Sheetrock thin as a saltine, one lick of paint, and carpet with bare patches already. The next door neighbor was watching television. Loud TV. Dave was moving in with two females. Sister and girlfriend. There would be zero privacy. No way that was going to work. This apartment screamed confinement. Knifing. Murder.
   I feared for Dave. Oblivious with his computers and audio gear. Missing those feminine signals that two women were going completely insane.
   Still, I said nothing. Carried boxes into the truck, shoved them in place, drove. Heaved cartons into the new dump. Sigh. Repeat.
   Pizza for lunch. Three or four whole ones. Either Dave had expected an army or he didn't realize I had eating issues.
   We're sitting there, too tired to make much conversation aside from cult movies, when this slip of paper was shoved under the front door, danced in the air, then settled down. The first mail! Dave walks over to examine the what might be a welcome party.

Two more rapes were reported last night. In the 100 and 300 sections.
Apartments had been forced open .... blah blah blah ...
There have now been seven reported rapes during the past six months.
Any information leading to the arrest or conviction will ...

   "What the hell?" I muttered. "This is fucking Rape City. You wanna start reloading the truck?"
   Dave just stared at the note.
   "No woman on the planet is going to stay here," I continued.
   "We already paid first and last," he muttered. "Plus the cleaning fee. And someone's moving into our old place in three days."
   You are so screwed, I thought.
   "Just deciding what I ought to do about this note," he said softly.
   "Dude, they see that notice, they'll never be able to sleep here. Might want to throw it away."
   Terrible advice, if I do say so myself.
   "Yeah, I was kinda thinking that."
   "Of course, if they find out about the alert, then find out you hid the note ... you are dead meat."
   "Yeah ... " Dave's voice trailed away.
   Couple of months later, Todd was moving. I said I'd help, then something came up and I couldn't.
   Dave still resided at Sex-Pound Apartments.
   Don't know whether he advised the ladies or not. He had given notice from Camp Bowie and begun the ladder climb.

Monday, September 22, 2008

Coworkers: Part 12 - Hiding D-Pages

   One of the premier aspects of any job was tormenting coworkers. When I rebuilt pianos, there was only John and myself, we couldn't annoy each other too much, that would lead to knives or shooting irons. The symphony was a pressurized boiler room, cold calling, trying to hit that commission break point before you were released. Prissy was my counterpart and she needled me endlessly.
   "You just make a sale, Sweetie? Buy me lunch." or "Let's celebrate. Sneak into the next room and get busy." or "Why don't you leave Zelda? You'll be too weak to walk after I'm done with you."
   Prissy was never going to stray from her husband. She just liked flirting and teasing the cranky white guy. Mess up his focus while he was trying to persuade Doctor Pompous a $1000 donation would not only enhance his community prestige, but would, by implication, attract more wealthy patients and fewer Medicaid types.
   I never got even with Prissy. No one else in the room interested her, but she had my number cold. That was life, I imagine.
   At Sound Warehouse, however, sadistic opportunities abounded.
   Danny hung a monster sized Hendrix poster in the Backroom. Todd or Rob repeatedly stuck giant red, rubber lips over Jimi's mouth, simply to annoy Danny.
   Coffee addicts, Anne, James, Dan, The Boss, constantly mislaid their mugs and wasted time in futile searches. Mugs weren't mislaid, thoughtful coworkers hid them. Cups shuffled from the Manager's Booth, to the Office, to the Backroom, only to surface in plain sight in Cassettes.
   Uneaten food was fair game for maids and buzzards. Diana would often throw refrigerated leftovers away, arguing she had saved an imbecile from food poisoning. Chips, cookies, bag of M&M's, were relocated from the Booth to the Register or trash can. Or they were perceived as unwanted. And free! No safe hiding place existed for fresh snacks. Two of the guys had bloodhound DNA.
   João got angry at Dan for some triviality, drew a cow face and marked it - This Is Dan. Within a shift, Dan penciled hair on top of the bovine and retitled the sketch - This Is João. The cartoon war escalated. The Booth was littered with offensive doodles, human - livestock encounters, and quasi pornographic caricatures, until someone had enough and the cartoon war simply disappeared.
   One morning, Pat asked Rob about some video. Cats, cartoon cats. Was it funny? Absolutely. John overheard the exchange and hurried off before he burst out laughing. So Pat popped in the videotape of Fritz The Cat.
   Several weeks earlier, Greg had failed to alert her when she strolled past with Flash Gordon. Classic serial. Except it was Flesh Gordon.
   Whistling Jim was a favorite target because his reactions were fairly predictable.
   Half the music inventory was D-Chart. Back catalog, music no longer stocked at the DC, but which still sold reasonably well at 6393. Maybe 4-6 turns yearly. These albums had to be inventoried manually. 90% of the crew performed inventory. Saturday was A-Chart and NR during the morning, B-Chart or C-Chart in the afternoon. D-Chart was as needed, which was constantly. Every label had their own black binder for back stock. WEA, Capitol, Poly, Sony, Big State, House, etc ... Inside were crammed the white pages for every album carried at our store.
   Everyone inventoried, but James oversaw D-Chart. What was stocked, quantity, what was dropped. Key pages would frequently disappear, however. Perhaps an entire section, say a folk section. No telling how that happened. It was magic! Bad magic.
   James would tear the store apart, hunting for those damn pages. The whistling would cease, and he'd begin humming. Loudly. He'd spill out his desk drawers completely, wondering where mischievous Gremlins stashed those papers. Continual coffee transfusions only worsened his agitation. Coworkers would sneak glances, then scurry off to laugh.
   One assumed he suspected a colleague pranked him. If this was done elsewhere - - Trina's Boutique stuff, Rob's Accessories, Todd's Video, my Classical, there'd be a sharp, "Alright, fucker, where are they?" Not James, however.
   The anxiety, the caffeine, the frustration, the intensifying rage ... those demons ... James did what he always did.
   Sauntered past the front doors for a cigarette.
   Whistled to the gods, dreamed of gardening, thought of the beach.
   While he recouped outside, pages would be reinserted, not in folk, but funk. Where James would eventually find them. And blame himself, or those incompetent new hires. Or he'd study a few of his male compadres.
   And wonder ...

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Shoplifting: Case #02 - Special Orders‏

   Greg and Trina had busted a punk months earlier.
    Pocketed two cassettes.
    Then pleaded disability.
    "I'm on medication.  I have short term memory problems."
    That was a new line, which neither Greg nor Trina bought.
    Police were summoned, perp written up, escorted away.  One of the arresting officers advised the coworkers before departing.
    "This will take forever.  This kid's daddy is an attorney.  Probably where he clipped that excuse about medication and mental challenges."
    "Oh, he was a slick one,"
  Greg concurred.
    "Daddy will string the case out as long as he can.  Hoping I relocate elsewhere, or you guys move to new jobs."
    "We're both in school,"
  Trina said.
    That was awhile ago.  The case was forgotten.

    "I was looking for something on the shelves but you don't have it."
    I offered to phone another store, then phoned Berry and Hulen.  Neither location stocked the CD in question.
    I was on Register, but business was slow.  Walked over to the Phonolog, flipped through titles, then artists.
    "Here it is,"  I told the man.  "Older title.  On the Bullseye label, though.  I think they're a subsidiary of Rounder."
    "What's that mean?"
    I explained the procedure, we did our business.
    On the way out the door, he triggered the front alarms.  Pretended to pat his pockets, then ran like hell.
    James walked down from the Manager's Booth.
    "Mmm Mmm Mmm,"  humming away,  "You get a good look at him?"  he asked.
    "Mid thirties, brown hair, brown mustache.  Five foot seven, a hundred fifty pounds.  Blue jeans, green plaid shirt.  Ran down the sidewalk.  Didn't see a vehicle."
    "What a jerk,"  James sighed.  "Nothing to be done now."
    I withdrew a folded slip of paper from my shirt pocket.
    "Also got his name, address and phone number.  Mister Nibbles here, placed a Special Order."
    "Ha ha ha,"  James chuckled.  "And you don't believe in Karma."
    James phoned the Cops, they walked in fifteen minutes later.  Took our statements, and took the Special Order slip.
    Unlike physicians, cops make house calls.

    Couple of months later.
    Greg and Trina received a court summons regarding Mister Forgetful.  Almost a year had passed, the trial date could be postponed no longer.
    Outside the courtroom, the punk approached.  Flanked by Daddy and a paralegal.  Noticed Trina waiting on a wooden bench.
    Face registered shock, panic, defeat.  The kid with memory problems remembered her.
    He chickened out.
    By the time Greg arrived, a plea bargain had already been agreed with the judge.
    Neither Greg nor Trina gave testimony.
    Trina's golden comment to Greg,  “He wasn't counting on us being such big losers that we'd still be working here a year later.”

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Coworkers: Part 13 - Classical 101

   Crash course on how to market dead composers in Cowtown.

   After Jeri Jo departed, I became Classical manager. No additional Classical help would be hired, the store needed part time cashiers. The Boss gambled I could run the Classical section and the Backroom.
   Jeri had been very cassette oriented. Tape had a high profit margin, but suffered declining numbers. Call me short sighted or biased, but I couldn't have cared less about tape. The most persistent whine I heard from pitiful cassette buyers was, "I ain't rich enough to buy me no compact disc."
   Right, Hoss, and I ain't stupid enough to wanna talk with you.
   Like other petty characters, I didn't appreciate the snobby wine broker, yet I was equally guilty.
   All customers weren't created equal. So what?
   I inventoried the section and swiftly marginalized cassettes. Nobody noticed. Neither customers nor coworkers. Tapes had been under the neon classical sign and a poster of Van Morrison with my name affixed. Van was an in-store joke. I condensed the area, slammed tapes against the adjoining Cassette room, and refilled the wall with sets. Predominantly opera, and some boxed symphonies. I went on an opera buying spree to fatten shelves. Opera hadn't been a heavy seller in Cowtown, and it never would be. Still, it lent prestige and lifted our cachet with discerning shoppers. Also increased our Regulars.
   Regulars were predictable, they entered on specific days and bought favorites. Most were "deep" buyers, rather than "broad" buyers. Doctor B purchased Bach, Bruckner, Brahms, Beethoven. If a new Bruckner 9th was released he'd buy it, even though he already owned fifteen versions of that symphony. Most Doctors spent freely and spoke sparingly. They probably had to engage with patients all day and feign concern. I seldom pestered those guys.
   College Profs were also Regulars. Ours were affluent misers, studying prices and subtracting the cost of that new Mahler from a yearned for European sabbatical. Usually nit picky souls, disappointed and unhappy, men whose lives revolved around grading busywork they had assigned.
   Every semester brought a new cadre of students who had foolishly registered for music appreciation. I worked with them to buy budget CD's or (gasp) cassettes. The university ought to have provided samplers, but did not.
   The best Regulars were the CPA's. Friendly guys, gregarious, spent like drunken sailors on shore leave. Most were my age, earning more than they ever dreamed. Money bought toys and happiness. For them, life was good ... except around April 14th.
   Any stunt to lure new customers in, I tried. Nimbus sent me glossy posters of an extremely young Conchita Supervia, achingly beautiful. I stapled those next to up and coming Cecilia Bartoli. Call me shallow, I favored young, attractive mezzos over crusty conductors.
   I hounded any coworker who had artistic talent. Layla drew for me, Dan sketched a Wagnerian cowgirl, wearing Stetson, Viking horns, holding a spear, gun belt circling her waist. If not, I improvised. When Sam Ramey came to town, I inked a doodle of the bass singer, upending trees and houses in gales of thunder. PolyGram shipped ad slicks for an upcoming Pavarotti extravaganza in Big-D. In his outstretched hand, someone in our store taped a cardboard pizza slice.
   Didn't boost sales.
   I ordered twenty copies of a disc by Jean Guillou, French organist. Organ repertoire was a very narrow market. Unlikely to move one CD, let alone twenty. Next to the CD's I placed a Fanfare review, describing the frightening low ranges of the recording and warning potential buyers that this particular CD could destroy speakers if played too loudly. As suspected, that caveat proved irresistible. We sold all twenty, I reordered two. The Boss once asked if I bought a copy for myself. I shook my head, he laughed.
   Phillips began to release the complete Mozart catalog. To rev sales, they created a budget sampler with a 200 page booklet. The booklet alone should have cost more than the budget priced disc. During Christmas, I ordered 100 copies and sale priced them. Customers went nuts. Our location sold out. Later, people who had received that sampler as gifts, returned to buy several more CD's.
   Ken termed me The King Of Pulls. Our price tags were dated. If a boxed opera was two years old, I pulled it. Single CD, one year. Imports - six months. Drove Charlie, the head Classical buyer into fits, but our location's Classical turns stood at two. We sold an average of 2 copies per title at Camp Bowie. Corporate bosses were generally thrilled if a Classical SKU turned once a year. Our percentile rivaled those of the flagship stores, and ours lacked their budget and location.
  ~      ~      ~
CODA - The good figures, and heady sales, would last another three years, throughout the Sound Warehouse era. Nothing lasted forever, though.

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Coworkers: Part 14 - Two Live Crew

   Bromo allowed store managers discretion as to whether they would stock Two Live Crew or not. The group had become explosive. As Nasty As They Wanna Be had drawn the wrath of politicians, press, and pulpit. Stalwarts of freedom. National and local.
   The album had been ruled obscene. Authorities threatened to prosecute stores which stocked it.
   The album carried a Parental Advisory sticker, a big one. There was also an As Clean As They Wanna Be version.
   Still, retailers were being arrested. Drivers, playing Nasty in their cars, received tickets.
   A lot of stores pulled their cassettes and CD's of the offensive title until the ruckus cooled. Chainwide, most stores opted for discretion.
   Not Camp Bowie, however. As Nasty As They Wanna Be was an absolute, fucking smash. We could barely keep the sucker in stock. Truck Day, Todd and I searched it out, typically 100 tapes and 50 CD's and rushed them to the floor. This title wasn't even sale priced. Seasoned or older employees manned registers. No newly hired, still living at home, high schoolers. There were potential dangers, and The Boss's neck was exposed, but we were all on board.
   Customers went insane. Everyone bought this thing. Country types, businessmen, head bangers, sorority sisters, and geeks. If asked, we'd truthfully tell folks, "Yeah, it's OK. But there are better rappers, funnier albums, better party records." No matter. Nasty was dangerous, possession might pose criminal implications. Who knew? Aside from the local free press rag, the storm was ignored by our main newspaper. Free speech, censorship, or profits?
   Eventually, the controversy ebbed. Sales slowed as the reality check hit. Nasty was only a porn party album, after all.
   Our store received a lot of lasting good will from this. During the bleakest period, we were one of the few large stores that carried it. Customers remembered that. They remembered employees who gave honest appraisals, or who simply said, "Yeah, we got it. I'll sell it to you."
   Strange, selling that silly title would be such a collective good moment.
   Yet, it was.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Coworkers: Part 15 - They Looked 18

   The store received a fair amount of publicity and credibility for selling all those Two Live Crews. Weren't a lot of locations that stuck their neck out by stocking the party rappers during the height of the Congressional notoriety.
   Free speech is celebrated and over estimated in this nation. Doesn't exist, Sunshine. Our local newspaper was conservative and hardly the beacon for tolerance. We never knew if they had launched an actual investigation or merely a sting, designed to take down Camp Bowie a notch.
   Most of us suspected the latter.
   Sound Warehouse rented all sorts of movies. Westerns, Action, Foreign, Comedies, Horror. Our location also had a fair number of titles not offered at other locations. Previous Video ops, Angela and Dave, learned how to tweak stock from Carey. When they received 40 copies of hot title, which was also sell through priced (ie: not $99.99, but $19.99), they loaded 35 units into the section and added 5 unusual titles. Mostly Art House fare, vintage comedies like Marx Brothers or Three Stooges, Musicals, Independent Films, Adult titles.
   Alright, Adult. There was Bromo approved Adult, and there were the titles we slipped into the section. Bromo rentals were predominantly Playboy videos. In-house choices included Betty Blue, Fritz The Cat, Queen Margot, Flesh Gordon, Cook Thief Wife Lover, etc ...
   There were no fresh in-house titles. Carey was gone. Angela was gone. Dave was gone. Pat ran Video and played by company rules. She never slipped unordered titles into the rentals, fearing unknown consequences. Didn't matter. Rob, Todd and Dan bumped the section now and then. We remained a very independent store, killing Mom 'N Pop outlets, kicking the ass out of Blockbuster.
   Saturday morning. Copies of the daily newspaper were in the back office and on Video counters. Our store had been mentioned.
   Seemed a committee of do-gooders wanted to form a local ratings board. They sent children, ages 10 - 16, to over a dozen different video shops in Cowtown. Buying, renting, or simply trying to view R rated content. To check what stores would peddle inappropriate material to minors. They had an agenda, and they must have known most places were staffed by teenagers who weren't going to ID customers.
   Most stores failed the sting. Take It Home, Blockbuster, Tom Thumb, Video Super Center, Osco, were all cited. Yet the store our local newspaper rag chose to focus on, " ... and then there's Sound Warehouse ... "
   Gee, thanks, guys. Hope you appreciated all those advertising dollars we gave you over the years.
   The Boss made sure everyone read the article, then gave the guilty culprit a quiet beating. Someone who played by the rules, fearing unknown consequences.
   Her sole explanation, " ... but ... they looked 18."
   Mistakes happen. The individual involved was deeply embarrassed and sorry.
   There would always be that conflict between free speech vs. censorship.
   None of our titles were pulled.
   Business, by the way, picked up.

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Coworkers: Part 16 - Skinny Witch

   I thought she had it in for me early on. Many expected me to slot in with the older staff. The Boss, Dan, James. Liberal, neo folkies, sensitive, 60's holdouts. A month on, everyone realized I was a throwback to the hedonistic, Me Generation, like I care, worst of the 70's.
   Diana lurked in that lair of hers, the Money Room, crunching payroll and bank deposits. All the while, quietly nibbling on the lettuce sandwich. Sliced bread, leaves of lettuce, hold the mayo. Carbs were not the vice of the Skinny Witch. That title was established long before I worked there.
   After morning accounting, she manned Video during lunch hours, then clocked out. In between, she was quiet, and she was mischievous.
   Repeatedly, she informed me, "You are the most materialistic person I have ever met."
   I countered. "Nonsense. I don't care about things. I don't care, period."
   "That's it exactly!"
   I had been hired for the Classical section, but I was knowledgeable about 60's and 70's music, AM and FM. I was also an old school head banger, though I preferred heavy metal or catchy, hooky metal, rather than thrash or speed. I also hid a guilty taste for girl pop. Songbirds, canaries, girl groups, divas and prima donnas. I didn't tell anyone, however.
   Sabbath carried more credibility than Streisand.
   Within two months Skinny Witch deduced my less than stellar expertise and ratted me out. Customers walked in, singing Lesley Gore, Shelley Fabares, Donna Summer, The Bangles, Pointer Sisters, Swing Out Sister. Increasingly, they were steered my way, and I nailed the tune. First the Skinny Witch pointed me out, soon everyone.
   At the time, Four Non Blondes enjoyed their five minutes of fame, Todd or Stacey asked if I'd rather listen to The Carpenters. Or Rob would hold up a CD and ask, "I was getting ready to play God Bullies, unless you're going to have a meltdown and sob for Abba?" The more hard core rockers booted me from the metal club and pigeonholed me into "gay music." Thank you. Yeah, Skinny Witch (and Dan) apprised the staff I not only knew Disco, but I once habituated those clubs.
   During the Cartoon War between Dan and João, the Skinny Witch added sketches she'd made of me to the lineup. Some were fairly accurate renderings, though she invariably made sure my expression was baffled, and that I wore trendy (materialistic) threads. Since I could only draw stick figures, I didn't retaliate.
   Then there was Van.
   The Skinny Witch brought in a vintage Van Morrison poster and stapled it high over the Classical section. The poster was an immediate distraction. Customers studied the image and asked if I knew that I resembled the Irish singer. Was I a Van Morrison impersonator? Did I own a gold lame suit? (I couldnt' tell them that was Elvis, they wouldn't have known the difference.) Why else had I hung that up there? Was Van my father? My brother? Could I sing Brown Eyed Girl? Or Moondance?
   Skinny Witch giggled the whole time, and I never quite figured how to get even. She did count the money, after all.

   Besides, I didn't remotely look like Van.


Sunday, August 17, 2008

Coworkers: Part 17 - Crow ST

   All week store metal-heads cranked the stereo: Metallica, Nirvana, Motorhead, Nitzer Ebb, Thrill Kill Cult, Soundgarden. After each CD we'd increase the volume a taste. Deaf cripples would dance, the store pounded. Nobody minded.
   Not true. The Boss finally endured enough. His patience burst with his Bambi eardrums. Midsong he killed the Melvins, put in Iris DiMent country schtick. Now everyone's ears hurt. Then he warned -- No more metal overload during daylight hours. Metal, Heavy Metal, Industrial, Bass, all banned until after sunset when Sound Warehouse morphed into Club Warehouse.
   The Boss also had final decree as to what constituted noise. An ever growing roster, apparently. Nitzer Ebb, Lords Of Acid, Ministry, Pixies, Nine Inch Nails, Thrill Kill Cult, quickly plunked into the "sounds of darkness" folder, along with Metallica, Cult, Mötley Crüe, Motorhead, and anything that blared from Seattle. Fully half the playstack.
   While most employees accepted the restrictions, others chafed. Rebellious, stubborn, or stupid. This brought screaming. "Rob!" "Greg!" "Turn that off!" "Worthy!" "Trina!" Todd escaped unscathed because he was in the backroom all day.
   One might argue, but his eyes rolled into his skull. Resistance was futile.

   Crow was a popular favorite, film and soundtrack. Whenever a coworker viewed the flick for the first time, the soundtrack was inserted, volume cranked to 11. Predictable as Summer heat.
   Friday afternoon, late. 4:00 PM. Crow fired up. Loud. Damn loud.
   I shrugged from Classical. I hadn't put that album on. I was too busy making pulls. I liked rotating the stock, not maintaining a museum. Crow wouldn't have been my first choice, I was completely fixated by the Manchester scene music.
   "Rob! Robert!"
   "What?" Rob gestured from where he stood outside cassettes, near the windows. "I didn't play that crap." Then he went back to hustling two college girls.
   Feeling ignored and pissed off, The Boss jumped out of the Manager's Booth, ejected Crow from the CD player, then stomped up and down on it, completely destroying it.
   "Hey, who took off that Crow soundtrack I was playing?"
   Gilda, normally a quiet coworker, though she possessed a legendary temper. She had clocked in minutes earlier.
   The Boss opened his mouth, visibly shook, walked away.
   There were silver shards across the floor.
   Too bad, Crow was a good soundtrack.