Saturday, April 26, 2008

Shoplifting: Case #03 - Peggy

   Saturday afternoon, late. Busiest day of the week, but it was lunch time.
   Trina spotted Peggy swinging across the sidewalk, towards the doors. The store went into alert. Employees shared either grudging respect for, or complete hatred of, Peggy.
   Peggy was male. Blatant shoplifter. He'd case what he wanted, patiently wait until the moment the crew was most engaged elsewhere, then strike. An opportunistic crow, he'd pick your eyes out if you glanced the other way.
   Stacey and Rob caught more thieves than the rest of the store combined. One of them had once murmured, " ... an ex thief is better at ID'ing and catching an amateur or wannabee."   Peggy was no amateur. He was one of the best, simply because we knew he was stealing, and we had never been able to catch the bastard. For Stacey, he had become a personal mission.
   Our crook lurched into Rock and swayed in front of the "N's," pretending he'd never seen those Nazareth CD's in his life. Three pockets over, Stacey tidied The Pretenders. Neither glanced at each other. Dan stood in the Manager Booth, drinking coffee, but paying attention. New girl ran register, rubbing her feet, oblivious to the chess match. I was in Cassettes. Trina was trapped in Vinyl with a geek. Angela and Dave were submerged in Video. Rest of the crew was at lunch. As always, Peggy boosted when the store was short staffed.
   I was called to Classical, Dan paged to Video for an override or crisis. A sleek woman in long jeans and sheer, ripped top asked Stacey for attention in Dance.
   When Stacey next looked, Peggy had moved up front, next to Abba. New girl perched on a stool, skirt hitched high, blowing on one foot. Peggy grinned at Stacey, then bolted off in that bounding gait of his.
   That afternoon, three legs. Other times, four. Four when he wore the prosthetic. He always used crutches. Once underway, he had racehorse speed. Impressive for a one legged thief.
   Peggy - - Peg-Leg - - escaped that afternoon with a handful of CD's.
   Maybe next time we'd catch him.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Coworkers: Part 32 - SXSW Fiasco

   Seemed like half the crew was journeying to Austin.
   Annual South By South West Festival had begun. An increasingly important showcase for emerging bands.
   Employees like John, Dan and Rob had attended for years. Hear new sounds, drink until they were comatose, party, get outta Dodge.
   This year an extra half dozen coworkers were riding along.
   The Toadies were playing.
   Friends and coworkers, as always, would be there to provide support.
   The band was hitting a stride. As Todd had commented once, they were in a good place. They had jumped, sidestepped, or smashed through obstacles. Personnel wise, Matt was gone, Mark was in. Tracy had been released, replaced by Darrel. Charles left unexpectedly, leaving Todd to pick up the guitar. Todd, Lisa, Mark, Darrel. This was now a stable, four member gang. They were definitely going places. I had written friends, from the east coast to the west coast, about this band poised to take off.
   My predictions aside, The Toadies were still unknown outside of Fort Worth and Dallas.
   Store members who traveled were a mixed group of antagonists and agonized.
   Stephanie hooked up with Rob enroute and they made arrangements to share expenses. James was also going. He and Rob never got along especially well. Major personality clash. Plus, Robster enjoyed success among the female staff, whereas James' flame out with one in particular was irritating. James was going through a "chivalrous" phase, acting protective of the girls. That included ex coworkers. Like Stephanie.
   Events would soon go south.
   João had hooked some babe at a local concert and invited her as his date. She was an unknown factor. To João. Everyone else knew her. She was not a guy sort of girl. João had misread or misunderstood signals. Or he had just been too high to care. Anyway, the couple spent most of the trip in the backseat, improving their jousting skills. For her, João was an amusing lark, a free ticket to SXSW. For João, a mortifying revelation lurked in his immediate future.
   One should never linger with coworkers once they begin imbibing.
   And initiate confessions with, " ... I know I shouldn't tell you this, but ... "
   Dan and Layla ... No one knew what was going on between those two. She was definitely upset about something, upset with him. Dan was an artist, a painter, creative types often possessed more cachet than those whom Shakespeare termed "base, common and popular." He needed models. Pat once asked him to sketch her. He declined. Maybe. Pat could be very persuasive, and she was secretive. Maybe not. Dan couldn't hold secrets. Still, something had transpired between Dan and Layla, and the car atmosphere resembled Winter on Pluto.
   Trina was no longer with Greg, but with Todd.
   Pat wound up in "Friend Zone" with John, which was the last place she wanted to be. FUN battled constraint in that little car.
   The store had always been incestuous. Even The Boss had hired and dated the future Lady Boss.
   Still, when folks were bottled tight for six hours in rolling vehicles, with hormones, raw nerves, alcohol, frustrations, simmering lust, then eruptions, large and small, were to be expected..
   Rob and Stephanie shared a motel room to save expenses. When James found out the next morning, he tried to break the door down. Pounding, kicking, screaming, using language less than high speech. Arguably not the chivalrous way to behave, but coworkers staring from waiting cars were highly entertained. As were a growing crowd of fellow guests and the motel cleaning staff.
   João, wiser, depressed, gloomy, kept trying to make himself throw up. Inquired if there was a chemical peel for lips. Or an exorcism. Or an erase button. His date had already flown away after stray fragments, " ... you're what? And we ... why didn't you ... Did I ... I have to throw up ... " Coworkers wore sympathetic faces in his presence. When he was gone, however, knives emerged.
   Dan and Layla no longer rode in the same car.
   Pat was still lodged firmly in Friend Zone, but she would try to slide out of that folder for years. Persistence of the blind.
   The Toadies put on a great show. Music industry reps took note.
   For Todd and the gang, SXSW had been a great success.
   Everyone else ...

Monday, April 14, 2008

Coworkers: Part 33 - Rainman

   Rainman was finally banned from the store a month ago.
   He first surfaced in early Spring, and swiftly became a Regular in the R 'n B section. Jangly white male with a fever passion for Soul. He twitched and shuffled, bobbled and stammered, while voicing his opinions about vocalists and groups to any human within earshot. Hardly an expert, yet definitely opinionated. Under different circumstances, he could have been a music critic. For all I know, those columnists twitched all humbledy peggity like Mister Rainman.
   The film nickname had been tagged by friends and coworkers after release of the Cruise / Hoffman flick. He was flattered, and thereafter introduced himself as Rainman, whether people asked or not. He'd launch unbelievable conversations on the the most absurd topics, whether anyone asked or not.
   "If Sam Cooke wasn't dead, he'd be old by now. Better that he's dead than in some wheelchair, huh?"
   Generally, no one asked him anything.
   "Why'd they keep calling themselves The Four Tops? They keep replacing members. Ought to be called The Eleven Tops."
   As one might imagine, Rainman unsettled people, especially other customers. He weaved and wobbled, jabbered and joked. Interrupted complete strangers. Blurted out whatever sprang to mind. "You're really pretty. Those aren't implants, are they? Cause they look soft, I mean." or "You know, after I threw up this morning, it didn't look at all like what I ate last night. How come?"
   For all that, the guy bought. Cassettes and CD's. Handful of items weekly. He was a Regular, and a steady Regular. Plus, several employees found him highly entertaining. Greg, Dan, myself. There was that balance we tried to maintain, keep him buying, not let him chase other clients off. That could be difficult.
   "Martin Luther King doesn't sing. Yet he's got some CD's in Gospel. Whassup with that?"
   By late Summer, Rainman had gotten too comfortable in our store. His eyeglasses permanently fogged up after he was smitten with Jennifer. He boldly asked her out. Despite some obvious limitations. Jennifer smiled, and politely declined. Rainman began to stalk her. Despite some obvious limitations.
   Rainman neither owned, nor drove, a car. Sole transportation, bicycle.
   Yes, laugh, Sunshine.
   Every day, when Jennifer headed home, Rainman followed. He stationed himself a little bit further on her route, then peddled fast and mighty as long as he could. Next day, he stationed himself at his last stopping point. Some of the other females had been stalked, most notoriously Pat by Double A. Jennifer was younger, less experienced, and totally creeped out.
   The Boss decided.
   Rainman was finally banned from the store a month ago.

   Being Sound Warehouse, the flame of Rainman was kept alive.
   September, Jennifer headed off to Alaska University, some place like that.
   Layla and I got a blank card. She sketched an image of Rainman inside. Big smile, spectacles, striped shirt. Waving. Bicycle lying on the ground behind him. I scrawled a message with my left hand. Still miss you. We're forever, the long run. Closer every day. Halfway, maybe. Rockies are hard. Can't wait to see you. Hold you. Marry you. Love, Rainman.
   I stuffed the envelope into a letter to Katalena, my sister-in-law, who lived in Aspen. Asked her to mail the card and ensure it received a Colorado postmark. Let Jennifer think Rainman was cycling his love gourd towards her.
   Then Layla and I waited to hear distant screams from Alaska.
   Instead, we received the, "Ha ha, aren't you funny?" response from the great northern frontier.
   Caught out.
   Layla and I shared a joke. We couldn't win them all.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Coworkers: Part 34 - Cranking Fran

   Fran was one of the better District Managers, especially coming after the two Ken's. He seemed genuinely concerned about underlings, morale, District performance. During several meetings he reiterated, "My office is always open. I check phone messages, and I will respond." He was way too conscientious, and deserved better.
   Because this was still Sound Warehouse.
   And I was bored one night.

   I relaxed in the back office, and had been "caught out" twice. Once by the new girl Todd simply called FPH. Five minutes later by Dan, who was more perceptive, and more dangerous.
   "You're awfully industrious. What are you writing about? Stories about this place, and all our lovely coworkers?"
   I was writing about the store. Making notes about the creepy, aging newspaper columnist, who gravitated towards store hotties. I couldn't tell Dan that, however. It would be public knowledge within fifteen minutes. I launched my stock lie.
   "Writing my Mom, Dude."
   Couldn't tell if Dan believed me, but he refilled his coffee mug and departed. I packed away my notes. I was superstitious, and assumed if a third person walked back, that would be third strike. Luck out.
   Went to the phone to check the time.
   Found myself on the metro line ... and phoned Dallas.
   Phoned District HQ. Followed the prompts to Fran's voice box.
   I decided to leave an anonymous voice mail.
   "Hello, Fran speaking."
   Damn! I wasn't expecting that!
   "Oh, hello? Are you - - are you that guy?" I adopted the slurred speech of an alcoholic loser.
   "You've reached a wrong number, I'm afraid," Fran said politely.
   "Better not be. This is - - Is this - - Aren't - - You're Sound Warehouse, right?"
   "Sorry, yes. This is District, however. And offices are closed. You probably want to phone -- "
   "Don't you hang up on me! Before I - - you sold me that - - I'm going to have you fired!"
   "Were you trying to reach the Greenville store? Would you like -- "
   "Don't deny - - Pile of no good crap - - think it's funny - - you sold me that fake Fab thing."
   "I am sorry," Fran apologized, "I really don't know -- "
   "You were the guy who sold me that Milli Vanilli disc! Now you think it's a big joke. Ha ha, me."
   "We haven't ... " Fran paused, "we haven't stocked Milli Vanilli in three years."
   "Pair of faking, lip syncing, dancing queens. You owe me - - I wanna refund!"
   "But no stores have -- "
   "Or else I'm gonna phone the police," I ranted. "Hold a press conference. You will be so fired."
   "Sir, if you'll only listen for two seconds, I can explain -- "
   "Sure," I continued interrupting, mashing words together, "think you can hide in some penthouse suite. Cheating all us - - I'm just a little person - - but I have rights! You know - - Congress made inquiries - - I vote."
   "How about, you bring the Milli Vanilli CD into Greenville or Knight & Lemmon, and -- "
   "Right! You already knew, didn't you? That I lost my copy. Big shot. Is there - - who's in charge there?"
   "Listen, why don't you jot down this phone number?" Fran spoke persuasively.
   I couldn't believe how patient Fran was. Anyone else would have slammed the phone ages ago. Still, what if he was analyzing, trying to figure out who the caller was.
   "You guys! I just - - Sometimes I wanna - - I get so mad - - I wanna grind you up and use you for fire ant bait!"
   Plopped the phone back on the receiver. Clocked back in from lunch. Headed onto the floor.
   Tried not to answer the phone that night.

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Customers: Part 08 - In-Store / Petra

   Friday afternoon. Every available employee had been marshaled into the cleaning brigade.
   Petra was due for an in-store appearance at 4:00. (Note: If you didn't know, Petra was a Christian metal group.)
   There were always frayed nerves and agitation before meet & greet events. The Boss's system flew off the scale. Soirees meant visitors. Label reps, District flunkies, media types.
   Petra would be lodged in the Manager's Booth, which had to be purged and disinfected to be suitable for ordinary humans. The booth was an elevated platform; the fan base could enjoy a view of band members before shaking hands, begging autographs, telling them how meaningful Computer Brains had been in their lives, or exposing overzealous fan lunacy.
   We had no idea how large a turnout to expect. A couple of months earlier, Alan Jackson had been wall to wall, folks packed like sardines. Shake and bake, literally. Handshakes and homemade cakes. Country fans. Weeks before I hired on, the crowd for the Metallica appearance extended a block out the door.
   Jackson and Metallica were chart toppers. Petra, on the other hand, received scant airplay. Besides, the band was no longer fresh. Petra had been performing since the 70's. We planned for a moderate to large crowd. Better to be over prepared, especially if District bosses sauntered in.
   Two hours before the event, Karn entered the store. Karn was District Manager.
   He was also known as Karn Evil.
   Karn Evil wanted a store inspection. This was a sneak attack, hitting the store while staff hurriedly tidied chaos. The Boss and Karn Evil had a history of mistrust and mutual suspicion. The Boss thought he hassled managers, wisemen and goatheads, in order to bolster his sagging reputation. Karn argued he was merely doing his job.
   I once unwisely voiced that I thought Karn Evil was a clever DM. The guy visited every three weeks, plopped his briefcase in the Manager's Booth, sorted paperwork for three hours, then departed. No interference. Just observed the mood and operation of the staff. Inferior managers might disguise a sloppy store now and then, but not week after week.
   The Boss regarded him as a snake, waiting for any tiny blunder or infraction.
   Anyway, Petra was enroute, the store was in a tizzy, and Karn was living down to his Evil name.
   Karn walked his inspection with Dan, James, The Boss, whomever he collared.
   Todd and I worked leftover Truck and vendor shipments. Took turns playing different noise on the jambox. Neither of us played Petra.
   Noise from the Floor had grown noticeably louder.
   Todd wheeled a cart toward the swinging doors, and took a look outside.
   "Outside looks pretty intense, man." He went for his shirt.
   I went to see. Who knew Petra still had so many listeners? The store was bursting. Shipment would wait, we prepared to go out and help Rob and the crew.
   "Wait a minute," The Boss emerged from the Office, "Karn, in his serpent wisdom, wants to interview all employees one on one while we're hosting a major in-store event."
   Damnit. Today was not the day for that shit. That's why he was Karn Evil.
   "Todd, the band is one block away. They'll park behind the building. Bring them up by lift or stairs. Ask them to please wait. Chat. Make important contacts," he joked. "Who knows? Two bands, the Heaven and Hell Tour."
   Todd's face was expressionless.
   "Worthy, Karn finished interrogating Diana, now he's with Trina. You interview after her, then watch register for Gilda and send her back."
   Pain in the ass.
   The Boss hit the Floor, I waited for Trina, Todd opened the lift doors.
   Dan and I later commented on the irony of the minister's child, turned fallen angel, acting liaison with the Christian rockers.
   Band members were polite, good humored, diplomatic. If they noticed graffiti on a nearby Barenaked Ladies poster that read Stupider Than Fuck, they didn't let on.
   "Your turn to see Karn." Trina tapped my shoulder.
   "What's he want?" I asked.
   "With me, it was all about sexual harassment. Have any of the managers hit on me?"
   I laughed. "Coworkers? Sleep with each other?"
   Trina made a joke which I couldn't catch. Outside, I Love The Lord roared on, full blast. Todd ferried the band into the screaming mob. The store was jammed. I went to chat with Karn Evil.
   The District Manager asked if I enjoyed working there, if I noticed any borderline criminal activity, if I'd ever witnessed anything suspicious. Theft, especially by a manager, especially the store manager. I shook my head.
   "How about sexual harassment?" he inquired, staring at some notes. Karn Evil avoided eye contact.
   "Well, nobody's hit on me," I mocked.
   "So you have witnessed harassment, or intimidation?" he looked up, eager.
   "Of course," I shrugged. "All the girls have to fend off customers who ask them out, flirt, pitch innuendo."
   "No, I mean managers. Shift managers or the store managers."
   "Oh, I guess the managers get propositioned, as well. Not that I've asked. To be honest, I have some old bird, probably in her sixties, white hair, glasses, who's always telling me what pretty blue eyes I have."
   Karn Evil wasn't remotely interested in prowling clients. I knew that. Maybe he knew I knew. I didn't care. My loyalties were with The Boss, the man who hired me, rather than the viper and his stealthy witch hunt.
   I replaced Gilda on front register.
   A stream of customers filed past the Petra members. Many bought CD's from the shelves, or brought in posters or vinyl. One guy carried a grocery sack of 8-Tracks. Did he even have working playback equipment? More than one person offered hymnals to be autographed. That seemed strange to me.
   The members were very patient, gracious. How many of these events had they attended over the years? How many thousands ... hundreds of thousands ... of fans had they met over the decades? Fan questions had to be repetitive. I would jump off a cliff.
   Meanwhile, The Boss's Heaven & Hell quip echoed in the back as Karn Evil continued his dark quest. Gilda came out and sent Rob to the Office. I would have given a nickel to gauge Rob's expression when asked about employee co-mingling. Dan followed, then Pat and Kathy, Todd, the whole crew.
   What was Karn looking for? Confessions? Video tapes?
   My opinion of his "clever factor" plummeted. There was no subtlety in his method. This was an amateurish, grade school inquisition. I decided he was barely competent to be District Manager.
   On the Floor was Petra, a group - - to be honest - - I never knew, and likely never would. My ignorance of them was my loss. Yet my opinion of them contrasted sharply with that of Karn Evil. Petra was a class act, quality guys. The crowd had been huge, but they met and listened to every person.
   Karn slithered away. Headed towards Hulen or Berry. We phoned both stores with fair warning.
   The Petra fans had been high caliber. Most purchased CD's to be autographed. Store profit was excellent. Face it, this was why we bothered with these happenings.
   Surprisingly enough, this was one of the better in-store events.