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.