Monday, June 30, 2008

Coworkers: Part 23 - Call Matt‏

   Pepe stood in Video, barking into the telephone.  Sounded like she caught a liar.  Probably a customer saying the dog ate the rental tape.
   "No, that is not an acceptable excuse.  You might try breezing that past one of the managers.  John is nearby.  Do you want to talk to him?"
   I slowed down to listen.
   "I didn't think so.  You better just march your ass down here as -- "
   Couldn't be a customer.  Pepe wouldn't talk to a client like that, much as we all wanted to sometimes.
   "That's so much better!  Your feet hurt.  Your precious, dainty feet.  Who are you, the Queen of Sheba?"
   I knew.  It was one of the new hires.  Calling in with some cockamamie excuse why they couldn't work.  We accepted 50-100 employment applications weekly.  If newbie couldn't work because their pups were tired ...
   "Oh, a pre-existing medical condition.  We didn't know.  Play that reason, honey, then you'll have to bring in a doctor's note."
   High schoolers told the stupidest lies.
   "I am serious.  If you made date plans, or you wanna stay home and watch cartoons, fine.  Mind you, this is the third time you called in past your clock in time."
   New girl everyone already called Wendy Won't Work.
   I started leafing through the employee phone list, pulled out the card, then searched for John.
   John agreed in two seconds.  He wrote another note to The Boss, detailing Wendy's third and final call-in.
   Meanwhile, I dialed the phone and called Matt.

   Matt was Diana's oldest son.  He had been a fixture at the store since she started years earlier.
   Matt was never scheduled.  In baseball, Matt would be the fireman, the closer.  When someone couldn't work their shift, we called Matt straight away.  He always showed.  Didn't matter that he was 15, or that there was calculus homework, or that Diana would have to drive him.  He disliked school, calculus was as pointless as algebra, and his mom ... well ... that's what moms did.
   We felt guilty phoning him sometimes, but he was dependable.  Matt was more reliable than everyone else.  Fortunately, we couldn't phone him during the day or we would have.  For night relief, he was Iron Matt.
   Larry once was out for weeks because a tooth infection went into his jaw.  Only when the agony was searing did he make a dentist appointment.  During that period, Matt covered for him, night after night.  One girl phoned in one evening from jail.  On a sorority dare, she tried to walk out of the mall store wearing shoes she hadn't bought.  Yet she meant to!  Really.  Matt rolled in.
   Absences were as constant and varied as the reasons:
  Car Accident.  Car Won't Run.  Waiting For The Plumber.  Apartment Burglary.  Eviction.
  It's Raining.  It's Snowing.  It's Too Hot.  Food Poisoning.  Our Power Went Out.  Concert Tickets!  Monday Night Football.  Broke My Arm, But I Won't Need A Cast.  My Goldfish Looks Sick.  The Drive-Thru Spilled Coffee All Over Me.  My Cat's Having Kittens!  Grandma Died ... No, The Other One.  I'm Not Hungover, Honest.  I Think I'm In Oklahoma.  Jury Duty (One of my personal favorites.  For when?  Night court?).  The Police Sealed The Complex.  My Roommate Stole My Shoes.  We Broke Up, But He's Waiting Outside.  My Best Friend's In Emergency.  My Girlfriend Smacked My Face, I Can't See.  I Thought It Was Tuesday, So I Just Washed My Hair.  I've Got Major Diarrhea.  Big Test Tomorrow.  I Think I'm Pregnant, But I Can't Pee On The Stick.  I Forgot To Register For Classes.  Key Broke In The Door And It's Unlocked.  I'm Having Female Problems (Ladies, men never question further).  The Dog Threw Up On My Clothes - Hello?
   Time and again, who got called?
   Matt  -  Matt  -  Matt.

   City fathers modified the employment age after a pair of high profile crimes in which the victims were young, inexperienced teens.  One of the robberies occurred three blocks down Camp Bowie.  After that time, we informed all youthful applicants they had to be 18 to get robbed in Cowtown.  Matt was 16, but he was grandfathered in.
   My favorite Matt incident happened during a Promo pull, when he hadn't bothered to create a wish list.  On the Stash Room floor, Greg found a previous list of Matt's and added it to the pulls.  Matt won half his requests and was thrilled.  That never would have happened to anyone else.  The crew credited good karma.

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Coworkers: Part 24 - One For Each

   "They hurt!" she whined. "They really hurt."
   I shot Mary a sideways glance before I rolled my eyes and walked off.
   "They hurt!" She held herself tighter and wailed to anyone within earshot.
   Two months earlier, Mary had transferred to Camp Bowie from the Six Flags Mall location. Mary had been the resident "hotstuff." The prettiest, partiest, wildest girl at Six Flags.
   How'd we know?
   She told us her first day.
   Trina, Gilda, Pat, Amy, Stephanie, none of the current females were going to be second candle to this junior debutante. They beamed sunshine and smiles, yet hated the new transfer immediately.
   Mary had immaculate, fluffy brown hair and blue eyes. She was verbal, she was boastful, but she wasn't blind. The other girls were pretty. Also confident. They attracted plenty of male customers. She wasn't receiving her share, because stupid managers kept parking her on register.
   Maybe if she applied more eyeliner. Darker lipstick. Rolled her blouse higher, inched her jeans lower. In addition to gangstas, frat boys and rednecks, her stomach reveal attracted our weekly newspaper columnist. He crowded 40, but targeted girls ages 18-20, the golden age he still perceived himself as. He apparently had a life membership at a tanning salon. He always looked sunburned. Our beautiful transfer had successfully lured someone older than her father.
   The strategy had misfired, and she complained bitterly about the creepy reporter.
   Mary already had a steady boyfriend. Often unavailable. Self employed type. She wasn't sure what his business was. His car trunk was crammed with firearms. Something to do with law enforcement. Maybe. Dates were unpredictable. Moreover, she was too beautiful to stay home. Parents' home. When none of the girls suggested dating partners, she pouted to the guys and bored those baby blues into them. Greg, Todd, João, Rob, even Dan, avoided her as rejected goods. And a clinger.
   She needed a gimmick to distance herself from the other girls. The teenage brainstorm birthed two stellar ideas. The first, she bounced off her female coworkers. Ink. She would look incredibly sexy with a tattoo, she laughed. There were the parents, however. How would mommy & daddy react? Disapprove, most definitely. The other girls weren't exactly the best sounding board. Screw the parents, that's what they'd do.
   Besides, if you're going to be such a scaredy cat, you could always place the image someplace ... discreet. Plus, if it was hidden, it could be more ... adult. Boys liked nasty.
   Girls could be extremely cruel to each other.
   Mary discarded the tattoo idea. Three of the girls already had at least one. The whole point was to be special. Different.
   She got herself pierced instead.
   Two piercings.
   One for each nipple.
   Only they got infected.
   And they hurt.
   They really hurt.

Thursday, June 19, 2008

Coworkers: Part 25 - Shaved, Not Shaken

   Don't date coworkers.
   If possible, don't even talk with them. Best path for you. Of course, that was impossible.
   As far as I was concerned, the less I knew about coworkers and their personal lives, the better. That meant TV viewing choices, financial poverty, personal hygiene, new experiences with controlled substances, sexcapades, obsessions with neighbors, cousins. Heard enough?
   Like hell.
   People share. They can't help themselves. Colleagues were a notch below relatives in sharing nightmares.

   He rolled up for their date an hour late. Sloshed.
   Many times, there had been a note taped to the Manager's Booth or in the Office:

I'm never going to drink, ever again. Swear to God.

   There were similar pledges at the store. To be honest, I could relate. In another era, I had woken up many times wondering where I was, who I was with, and why did my head, which was so empty, hurt so bad.
   I never vowed to curb my kamikaze habits, however. That required foresight. Thinking.
   Still, I never arrived an hour late for an arranged date, unless there had been an accident and I could show broken bones or severed arteries to a boiling female. If not, most of the girls I dated would have arranged just that.
   And I sure as hell would never have tried that stunt with Larra.

   Larra was a mishire.
   Her parents were rich. She didn't need the punky record store job. For more money, she could have worked in her father's law office .
   Maybe she wanted to mingle with the other classes. Still, she was brainy and attractive, accustomed to a level of treatment..
   Hardly the type to fall for a repeated pick-up.
   "You can always call on me. I am a manager," was an oft used, surprisingly successful line.
   Larra started dating a colleague within the month. Exposed him to Bukowski, among other literary activities.
   The relationship was rocky. He could be combative and thoughtless. She was intelligent, quick tempered. The "thoughtless" aspect perturbed her the most.
   He rolled up for their date an hour late. Passed out on the sofa.
   Two females glowered disapprovingly, Larra and her roommate. They stewed and vented. They could have shaken the slumbering guest awake. Grab, shake, scream.
   Instead, the roommate brought the razor.
   Girlie razor.
   The kind for shaving legs.
   Which is what they did. Females often laced humor with revenge.
   Being a razor, the instrument held no prejudice against male legs. Bare was its goal.
   Now how did I know all this? How did everyone in the store know all this? How did everyone know the deforestation included the mustang brambles surrounding Dodge City? Next week, why did female coworkers make thumb sucking gestures when Baby Boy walked past?
   Because people, even victims, shared.
   Lucky you.

Friday, June 13, 2008

Customers: Part 06 - Restroom

   "I don't like old people," I stated.
   The Boss had been chewing my ass out.
   A wobbly old codger had mistaken our store for a public latrine. White headed, 120 lbs bag of bones. He looked about 88. Probably had a pea sized bladder. He tottered inside the store mindlessly for five minutes. Took him that long to mosey from the front entry to Video. Reconnaissance mission. Searching for our restroom. After that ... my guess was the After-Life.
   Diana was still counting in the Money Room, The Boss worked papers in the Office, Pat tended Video, Rob carried inventory charts, I tidied Classical, someone else ran front register.
   Six employees worked that morning. The decrepit fossil could have approached five of those six and gotten a happy face.
   No, I'll go further. There were about 25 names on payroll. The old fart could have sought out 24 sympathetic human beings.
   Instead, he walked up to me.
   "I'm sorry, do ya'll have a bathroom?"
   I looked up. We had restrooms. They weren't public, but nicer employees made exceptions now and then. Pregnant women, infants.
   Old folks.
   Grandpa, however, had chosen unwisely. I jabbed my thumb at the front exit.
   "Tom Thumb's that way," I barked, and walked off.
   No wonder Russian Roulette was popular worldwide. If I'd been a pistol, he'd be bleeding all over the floor.
   Last I saw, he was creeping out the front. Maybe he made it to Tom Thumb's public restroom. Maybe not. Like I cared.
   Next thing I knew, The Boss flung open the swinging doors and stormed my way.
   "Did you refuse to let some senior citizen use our facilities?" he yelled.
   "Sure. We don't have a public restroom. He wasn't buying anything anyway. He just came in to tinkle. He'd only make a mess."
   How did The Boss know? The guy had eyes in the back of his head. Literally. His eyes had rolled up into his skull. Imminent warning signal he was about to erupt. Aww, shit. He'd yell, send me home, put me on probation. Jeez. Because some old man wouldn't wear diapers.
   "What is the matter with you? Have you no shred of human sympathy whatsoever?"
   I shrugged. Big mistake. More gasoline. What an idiot I was.
   "I just hope that someday you find yourself, a bitter, helpless elderly man, and no one lets you use their restrooms!"
   "I don't like old people."
   Screaming worsened.
   I got trash duty all week.
   Damn, it was hot.

Saturday, June 7, 2008

Coworkers: Part 26 - Boy Toy‏

   The guy shambled in slow and choppy.  Walked slightly sideways, dragging one foot behind.  Not a limp.  He was stoned to near paralysis.
   Trina intercepted him while The Boss worked in the Office.  Had he seen this kid, the kid he had tossed out two days earlier, The Boss would have thrown him out again.  Then yelled at a fool underling.
   "Hi,"  Trina grinned.  That Hi could have been a question in itself.
   "Oh ... I'm looking ... I'm looking ... I ... "
   Brain = wet toast, heavy with syrup.  He had forgotten why he was in the store, whom he had come to see.
   "She's back there in Video.  Back where she always is.  Hello.  Anybody home upstairs?"
   Trina laughed aloud and walked away.  The kid drug his feet and snailed towards Video.
   Where Thérèse worked.
   Thérèse's relationship status had blurred murky.
   Separated, sliding into divorce.  Her behavior charted an all too predictable pattern.  Where once she hurried home after work, now she went for drinks with coworkers.  They were a decade younger, and she downshifted to make up for lost time.  Dance in the club while she could still nab the free chick pass.  Ventured to parties.  Sampled the platter - alcohol, smoke, candy colored treats.  Controlled substances, which she was unaccustomed to, left Thérèse a "deer in headlights" zombie.
    Also dulled her rusty dating skills, which translated into rookie blunders.
   Such as telling driftwood where she worked.
   Which was how we figured out she had jumped in the pool.
   And that she preferred her males on "the young side."
   Early twenties, late teens.
   Maybe that's what she dated last.  Maybe she assumed younger males would be easier to manage.  That they were trainable.
   Only thing ... those puppies ... weren't housebroken yet.
   The kid moseyed towards Video.  Thérèse, hands on hips, glared at him.  She understood her workmates would gab about her for the rest of the day.  She was mortified.
   Worst of all, because she had selected a complete loser.  He was parade on display.  Her love bunny.
   Baseball cap, wife beater t-shirt, pants that kept falling off his ass, stripy boxers. Stood tall, in five years he would be handsome.  Today, he looked fourteen.
   He got down to business.  Finance.
   "C'mon, girlfriend, need twenty.  Food, maybe beer, this and that."
   She was very quiet, very animated.  An experienced man would have recognized the NO - LEAVE warning scowl.
   Yet, she hadn't selected experience.  She chose Boy Toy.
   "C'mon, girl.  How bout ten?  You want me lunchtime?  I'll wait."
   Customers began staring.  Free entertainment!  Plus, any second now, The Boss would stroll out.  Then fireworks would ignite.
   "Love what you got.  My lady.  Even five.  No gotta be ten!  C'mon, baby.  Gimme ten."
   Thérèse dug into her purse, eyes raked the Floor.  Everyone studied the stacks with deep intensity.  Then she thrust some greenbacks at him.  Mouthed something we couldn't catch.
   Boy Toy wadded the bills down his back pocket.  Pants dropped to his knees before he caught them.  Reached over and pulled Thérèse into his face.  Slipped his hand against her chest, pressed.  She flinched away and whispered angrily.  He responded with a shrug, and reached again, lower.
   Doubtless, he possessed redeeming qualities.  Younger males boasted legendary recovery powers.  Best appreciated in private.  In public, however, house breaking lessons were invaluable.       
   Boy Toy strolled out the front door.
   Thérèse exhaled loudly, feigned nonchalance.
   We pretended nothing happened.
   Later that night, after a few drinks, coworkers forgot their diplomacy.
   Asked Thérèse where Boy Toy was.  She shrugged she didn't know.
   Dan, as always, spotlit the obvious.  "I guess he's still at Mommy's house.  Studying for some high school test tomorrow."
   Thérèse told everyone to fuck off and stormed out.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Coworkers: Part 27 - Swimming Lessons

   Late August. Summer scorch was ending, so was the current crew. Within weeks, Summer temp help and two long timers were moving on. Michaela, Stephanie, Little E, Panama, Gilda. Most, we would never see again. We knew that. Life's Parade was introductions and farewells. A farewell bash was suggested. Little E offered her parents' house. That one weekend when they were out of town seemed particularly promising.
   Best of all, there was a swimming pool.
   Private home, private swimming pool.
   No one ever mentioned the Playboy Mansion. And yet ... The siren song of the iconic pool soiree. Lush swimming pond, waterfalls, bamboo thickets. Cocktails, hors d'oeuvres, lounge music. Sophisticated ... with the Texas twist. Special guests, Dallas Cowboys and Cowboy Cheerleaders.
   Too bad. Could have been. If only. Too late now.

   Fools who organized this should have been certified. Greatest idea, my ass.
   Everyone had fun. At least those who didn't throw up.
   Or those who didn't go blind, or those who wished they had.
   Oh, silly me, that left everyone out.
   Still, it was educational. A tutorial on what NOT to do next time.
   Because there would always be a next time.

   OK. What should NOT have been done.
   1) Volleyball. Water volleyball.
   Volleyball turned into water fight. Not just the guys, either. Girls got insanely competitive, old grudges surfaced. Underwater pushing, and slapping water into open mouths proved irresistible.
   2) Cannonball. Never appropriate. The biggest guy (ahem, Bert) launched himself after the ubiquitous, "Hey, watch this." With each six pack, he surfaced slower and slower. He had already pissed everyone off. If he thought friends would rescue his whiny, "Hep ... glug, glug ... hep," he was profoundly mistaken.
   Cannonballers, jump at your own risk. You get in trouble, friends will place bets.
   Special tip, that jump doesn't attract the babes.
   3) Booze. Don't drink near pools. Say what? Don't drink, period. Huh? Stupid rule. Skip Rule #3.
   4) Booze, Part 2. Getting girls drunk.
   Trina brought the new girl, Missy. Dallas transfer. Robster cruised over with drinks. Usually after a handful of shots, Rob would be steady while females tumbled down the rabbit hole. That night, he would discover Missy possessed hollow legs. Alcohol had no impact on her. The following morning, Rob would swear off booze ... for the umpteenth time.
   5) Toupee. Guys, don't jump in the pool and assume the rug will stay in place. Too many buddies, male and female, will ensure it doesn't.
   6) Food. Do you eat in your own bathtub? How about when you take a shower? Nice beefy burrito? Of course not. Still, guys waded across the shallow end, biting that hotdog or burger. Bits of bun or wiener plopped into the water, then bobbed up and down. Chips floated, candy bars sank.
   The amount of debris in the pool increased through the night, exacerbated by Rule #3. Behavior also ... well ...
   7) Chewing tobacco. Two guys had a serious problem with nicotine addiction. A future of jaw cancer beckoned, and youthful handsome looks would vanish with that lower mandible. Bozos were know-it-alls, and immortal. Anyway, they splashed about, innocuous beer bottle in their hand, slurping into it every 30 seconds. Filling the bottle with brown spit. When they played volleyball, they set the bottle adrift, bobbing up and down, listing side to side. Brown spit. Message in the bottle to The Boss. Please, quit hiring chewers.
   Ah, yes, the bottles did capsize.
   Brown in the pool. Luckily it was dark already.
   With darkness, bad behavior intensified.
   8) Pool pole. You know, the surface skimmer? Shoulda been hidden in the attic. Two of the gents took turns placing the net end over a paddler's head and shoving them under. Lot of frantic excitement below the surface. Gee, couldn't swimmers take a joke? For crissakes.
   Then Bert seized hold of the pool pole and began playing shark attack. Bert was royally drunk, and, without his glasses, legally blind. He wielded the pole underwater, like Aquaman with a lance. Shark attack was defined as ramming the pole up someone's ass. Bert, as always, was too strong. Humans blasted from the water like porpoises. Girls turned from Flipper to savage.
   Little E finally confiscated the pool pole. Bert tried to apologize to everyone. No one told him where his glasses were.
   Stellar moment when he cried to the Golden Retriever.
   In case you assumed only boys misbehaved, then you assumed wrong, grasshopper.
   9) Sunburned Alert. Hot Summer night. Reefer and all that water diminished inhibitions and expectations. The everyday, workplace, no-contact rule was suspended just this once. The unnamed male was recovering from a sunburn, however. And all that water had loosened ... the layer of dead skin. Cannabis often led to compulsive, then obsessive, behavior. The just this once female partner began peeling off strips of skin. Her thighs locked his waist. Because she was stoned, because it was too funny, because she couldn't stop herself, because she didn't realize several bystanders had aimed camcorders.
   10) No means NO! Booze or no booze. No matter how beautiful she looked tonight.
  There had been inappropriate contact in the pool. The basic rule of don't grab me when I say no had been violated. Repeatedly. One of the guys, of course. A bit hammered and not one of the best swimmers. Several girls were part seal, part water polo star. They out maneuvered and out wrestled the stuttering buffoon, dunking him and upending him easily. Then they swiped his trunks, climbed out of the pool, and pitched them in the fire.
   Plaintive cries of, "Help me," or "C'mon, it's not funny anymore," or "Hey, I'm freezing in here." were ignored by all.
   11) Nudity clause. I should say no more. Everyone knew the equation. Naked + coworkers = blindness or nausea.
   There was duct tape in the house. There was rope, there was electrical wire. Someone should have noticed Dan and screamed warning. He could have been restrained. If necessary, hog tied. Reference duct tape.
   Instead, Dan took off his clothes.
   Other communities have laws. Enacted for good reason. To protect everyone from seeing Dan naked.
   From seeing everyone else who joined him.
   12) Fights. All things pass away, and even fun times have their endings.
   Near the grass, an argument between Pepe and Lisa had escalated. Lisa kept trying to coerce Pepe into the pool. Pepe could not swim. Finally, Lisa simply grabbed hold of her and pitched her in.
   Pepe sank like a stone.
   After being rescued, Pepe was ready to fight, even while she coughed and spat out water. Even though Lisa was twice her size. Pepe was drunk and furious, and rushed her. Coworkers had to pry them apart.
   Pepe tore away in her car, sopping wet. She was still wet by the time she returned home. Her mother went ballistic after hearing the story and phoned the cops.
   Two prowl cars investigated, party goers dispersed or staggered away into the dark.
   Not before one or two heaved into the pool. Party vomit became a running gag for weeks.

   Confession, I dodged that gala. In my youth, I had an embarrassing, sorry history of party stupidity. Ever since leaving Los Angeles, I shunned revelry.
   Consequently, I was one of the few coherent employees the next morning when a CEMA contest was posted in the store. The store that played the new Blur album the most, and phoned in with it playing in the background, would win the contest.
   Huge cash prize attached. $300.00 to the winning store.
   We could win this. Three of us devised and implemented the perfect strategy before sobriety returned to colleagues, and they voiced objections or their own notions.
   The Blur CD was permanently placed in the combo player.
   Every time an album finished, Blur fired up. And we phoned.
   And phoned, and phoned, and phoned.
   And won.
   By a landslide.
   Three hundred dollars.
   For what?
   Another party, you fool.
   The Blur Party.
   At Pat's Shack.
   Details, next week.