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.
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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.
   Discipline.
   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.
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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.
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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?"
   "Ah."
   "Hello, Beauty School Trainee, could you please cut my hair like this French croissant?"
   "Ah."
   "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."
   "Ah."
   "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)
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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.
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