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.

Monday, August 11, 2008

Customers: Part 04 - Christian Thing

   "Some of these prices don't seem at all reasonable, don't you think?"
   The chain charged the MSRP. Manufacturers Suggested Retail Price. Price established by record labels, and yes, it was too high. Nothing anyone could do about that. I'd also complained about the price of music ever since I moved to Cowtown. Prices were expensive because there was no competition in the area. Handful of Mom 'n Pops, couple of punky mall stores. Otherwise, nothing. You wanted tunes, you had to shop the Sound Warehouse chain. We had a lock on music retail.
   When I lived in Los Angeles, I shopped at Tower Records, Licorice Pizza, Wherehouse, Peaches, but I bought at Adam's Apples, a massive music import warehouse in an industrial park. Los Angeles prices were a fraction of other markets. I got spoiled. After I moved around the country a bit, I readjusted. Nothing prepared me for Texas stickers. The stores didn't even attempt to compete.
   Ironic, then, that I ended up working for the big store.
   Customers grumbled now and then. Wasn't a whole lot we could do. The Boss might shave a couple of bucks, generally not. Depended on the customer and their attitude.
   "I mean, I should hope you can do something for me."
   I never approved of whining. Especially from guys.
   This man wore a black fedora. He shopped every other week. I didn't know his name, but I acknowledged him as a Regular. He bought expensive music. Back catalog items, easy listening canaries, opera, art house videos, and blank tapes. In addition to the fedora, his clothes fit nicely and were of quality. Outside, his Mercedes was parked. He also wore the priest's collar. Poverty was not his specialty.
   "Mmm ... Peggy Lee set, Kiri te Kanawa, where did you find this Chris Connor?"
   "She was in Close-Outs, but I find this particular collection overpriced."
   I turned the CD over. ""Two CD set, man."
   "Surely, you can do something -- "
   I hit the register and knocked $3.00 off the price.
   "I mean it's - - Oh, thank you - - it's the Christian thing to do."
   Discount. Christian thing. The words tumbled after Man O God paid and I bagged his items.
   "No problem," I said. "Maybe you can put in a good word with the Big Guy for me."
   "Our Savior? I don't know about that," he demurred.
   "It'd be the Christian thing to do," I commented, with a slight edge.
   The priest tossed me a look, and I tossed it right back.
   Left without a word.
   Think he prayed for me that night?

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Coworkers: Part 18 - Label Reps

   "I wouldn't mess with that if I were you."
   From the bottom of a ladder, Dan gazed up at a rep, tearing down a display.
   "Why? Cause this is a Warners display? One of Ronnie's? I ain't afraid of Ronnie."
   "I just wouldn't mess with that,"
Dan repeated. "And you are right. That is one of Ronnie's."
   "I ain't afraid of no Big Bad Ronnie."

   The guy blowing was a CEMA / EMI / Capitol field rep. We'd never seen him before. Likely, we'd never see him again. CEMA suffered huge staff turnover. Must have paid terrible and offered zero incentives. No matter, he was ripping down one of Ronnie's layouts. One that Ronnie had stapled up only an hour earlier.
   Just before Ronnie went out for lunch.
   And said he'd be back in about an hour.

   Reps were our main links to the record labels. Promos (promotional CDs), concert tickets. Generally, one got into their good graces by attending meet 'n greets, New Release parties, other alcohol soaked publicity functions. Unless you were new.
   For new hires, in-house probation period lasted from a couple of weeks to several months. Depended on ability, intelligence, social skills, attractiveness. Creatures, human and nonhuman, were shallow. Popular models fared better than flawed wamprats.
   Best advice for newbies in approaching reps? Bide your time.
   Katia perched on a ladder high above the Manager's booth. Major display of rolled flats and ad-slicks, splashed at an angle to make the layout pop. Katia was a BMG (RCA) field rep. Twenty feet beneath her, a hypnotized coworker stared.
   "Say, are you one of those music label people?" he asked.
   "No, I practice ladder aerobics," Katia answered wryly.
   "Ha ha. Yeah, you got legs."
   That particular clerk was still on probation. In fact, he would never survive the evaluation period without antagonizing almost every one of his coworkers.
   The Tim.
   Katia ignored the "legs" comment, returned to the advertisement. She still had four other stores to visit.
   "So ... are you going to offer me tickets or what?"
   "Excuse me."
   "Ha ha. You don't need to ask me to be your date this time - - unless you really want to - - but what kind of tickets do you have in that bag of yours?"
   "I have some passes for the Drop Dead Show."
   "Ha ha. Good one."

   The Tim bobbled away from his register and dropped anchor beside her ladder. Katia worked quite high.
   "Not afraid of heights are you?" The Tim grinned, then began to shake her ladder.
   "Stop!" Katia screamed. "Stop right now! You miserable fucker."
   Employees across the floor heard Katia's gasp and rushed to her.
   "Ha ha. Just kidding," The Tim chortled and waddled back to his register.
   Our mindless colleague never scored those tickets from Katia, the rep who got legs. She never forgot him, either. A few years later, arranging a spread over Boutique, she warned all of us to keep that "damn Tim" away from her.
   The Tim, we corrected her.

   For the average music clerk, Ronnie was the promo source. He visited stores every other month. While most field reps were friendly, chatty, gregarious sorts, Ronnie was a cactus. Taciturn, prickly. Then again, other reps gabbed, handed us a CD or two. Ronnie spoke little, arranged multiple layouts, dropped off a brick of CDs - - thirty discs - - saying, "Give these to The Boss."
   Ronnie was CD Santa.
   Was this bonanza simply WEA largess? Was Ronnie simply scrupulously honest? Was it a chain thing? The longer I worked, the more I believed the answer was "D," all of the above.
   Still, Ronnie was moody. Difficult. He spoke with senior crew members, ignored newbies.
   As for other label reps, they avoided Ronnie. There were a dozen ways Ronnie could wreck them. Their assigned display areas might be relocated, marginalized. Buried in Video or Classical, low traffic zones. Ronnie was the most generous to us. Believe me, that carried weight.
   Other reps didn't mess with Ronnie's layouts.
   Except for that fool who had just torn down a display.
   Just before he noticed Ronnie's car roll into the parking lot.

   After awhile, I made my own contacts and learned to hunt down reps who never visited stores. Out of state, office bound. Tracy with Republic, Lonnie with PGD, Rich with Academy. They sent screeners. Advance movie releases.
   Pat was best friends with Christina at UNI, who spotted her tickets to George Strait for years, and Sylvia at WEA, who slipped her backstage to meet Lenny Kravitz, or added her to the Prince ticket guest list.
   Dan and Rob paddled the liquid route. Alcohol. They went to New Release parties, meet 'n greets, drank with reps at clubs, bars, and events. They called Alan, Patrick, Frank, Marshall, Susannah, you name it. They went to shows at arenas, halls, dumps and dives, met artists famous and forgettable, one-shots and future icons.
   I called WEA reps more than others. Ronnie sometimes, Jamel others. Both were great. My main guy was Gus. "Worthy, how the hell are you doing?"
   Gus rocked. He was higher placed, closer to the executive strata. If there was an album out that I wanted, but hadn't seen a promotional copy of, Gus could usually find it. As in box set. I suspected Gus raided Ronnie's closet.
   I spoke with Gus monthly. Sometimes he wanted to know how an artist was selling, how numbers trended. There were professional charts available, but these could be manipulated. I told Gus what was honestly going on in our store with the acts he represented. For all the years I spoke and dealt with Gus, he and I never met.

   Ronnie spotted the vandalism immediately.
   The beauty of Ronnie's reaction was that there was none. He didn't explode, fume, anger. He simply walked slowly toward the offending rep. Much as I would have loved to have stood nearby, I was busy inventorying Classical. Plus, I didn't want to appear completely obvious. Dan was there, however.
   "Sorry, man, I thought that was put up several months ago."
   Ronnie said nothing.
   "I never would have torn it down to begin with if I thought it was one of yours."
   Again, no response. Ronnie simply folded his arms.
   "I could rebuild that, if you like."
   Ronnie pitched him a fat roll of cellophane tape.
   "I'll be done here in an hour," he declared. "I want that tape back."
   Ronnie walked away, and the CEMA rep, ever the brave one, restored the WEA layout. Ronnie departed after an hour, as did the CEMA rep. He never created that Capitol display.