Thursday, November 27, 2008

Coworkers: Part 03 - Pink And Clean

   I had been hired, tentatively, to work the Classical section. One week earlier, however, The Boss had hired someone else. Jeri Jo. To me, she had seniority, and was in charge.
   The Boss thought we would complement each other.
   Jeri Jo approached classical music from a performing standpoint. She was a musician. I, on the other hand, was a collector. For years, I had gabbed and shopped classical from the Mike's. For rock music, I sought out Linda. Linda was dreamy ... spacey, actually ... but I liked her.
   Linda was gone, however. My Classical colleague was Jeri.
   After a week, I realized Jeri Jo had the personality of a constipated rock. Social skills, such as they were, had been pureed through a food blender. She didn't like customers, didn't like coworkers, didn't like retail. She didn't LIKE anything. She whined often and loudly.
   Great agony derived from cassettes. Jeri fussed for hours over cassettes. Classical cassettes. Dust magnets that no one bought. Classical customers were affluent, and early adopters. They were among the first to hop onto the Compact Disc steamship. Most weren't remotely interested in tape.
   I mentioned this to Jeri. She rolled her eyes at me, made a fist in front of her and stroked to and fro. "Why don't you go someplace and distract yourself for the next hour," she suggested.
   She could be, ahem, crude. Like Herr Beethoven. Most likely, she preferred the floor, sitting on her ass for two hours every day. Rearranging. Busywork? Or a trap? Kid-trap.
   Cassettes were all within reach of young children. Many were born redecorators. I'd arrive mornings, tapes stacked neatly off to one side, or piled into houses, castles, rocket ships. Or they'd been resorted by color. Reds here, yellows there.
   Jeri Jo kicked cassettes across the floor, swore, complained, then eased down to the floor like a basking sea lion.
   Whenever a family strolled into Classical, she swooped over.
   "Don't - even - touch - the - cassettes."
   This was addressed to an infant in a stroller. Cheap thug in a baby blanket.
   I needed to share.
   I walked over to Pepe, told her about this headcase.
   "Ha!" she retorted. "That is nothing. Nothing! I was in the back office earlier, on that ratty brown sofa, trying to enjoy lunch."
   "What'd you have?" I interrupted.
   "Jeri Jo waltzes her big ole ass in, and announces she just got back from the doctor's."
   "Psychiatrist type of doctor?" I asked, hopefully.
   "Nooooo, grasshopper. The gynecologist type of doctor."
   "I don't think I wanna go there."
   "Too late! I had a forkful of food heading towards my mouth when Jeri Jo says, 'Now I'm all pink and clean on the inside.'"
   "What the fuck? Excuse me."
   "I about threw up then and there. Then she starts describing the boyfriend's sausage. Mentions baby oil and rubber sheet in the same damn sentence. You wanna hear the Kama Sutra position she likes best? I can tell you. Cause she told me."
   "Stop! Stop!" My lurid imagination was on fire.
   "First ... picture her with none of them baggy tops and droopy shorts she wears here. Jeri Jo, buck ass naked, pink and clean, open for business."
   I left.
   I fled, actually.
   Couldn't eat anything for lunch.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Coworkers: Part 04 - French Videos‏

   The videos were expensive.
   Damn expensive.
   I had "special ordered" two videos for a friend of Zelda's.
   Diana looked them up for me, then advised, "These are older films, but they are still rental priced."
   "What do you mean? Like, 99¢?"
   "Ha ha," she laughed. "No, start thinking $95.00 each."
   "Jesus! What the hell - - How can ... Jesus."
   Diana continued laughing. "When movies come out on video, most are stickered sky high so only rental stores buy them. After six months, they get re released to the sell through market. $19 or $14. Most stores derive their profit on each rental title during that six month span."
   "I see."
   Truth was, I was still digesting that information.
   "Do you still want to order two $95 films?" she smiled.
   "I need to ponder this," I answered. "Would I still get my discount?"
   "Of course."
   Passed this information on to Zelda. Her reaction mimicked mine. Six months, sixteen months, she could wait.
   When Zelda relayed the story to her friend, however, her friend's attitude was different.
   "I'm not about to wait six months. Or six weeks. I want them now."
   "Even with his discount, they're going to be $75.00 apiece."
   "Oh, that's not too bad. Especially for two films I really want. Yes. Go ahead and order them."

   The American Dream. No one liked deferring gratification any more.
   I ordered both films. French art house fare, directed by Claude Berri.
   Films arrived a few weeks later. These were set aside, and I contacted Zelda to make money arrangements.
   Friday evening, I came to work armed with two $100 notes.
   "Where's the videos?"
   Three days after they'd arrived, both films had vanished.
   No one knew.
   Dan did most of the checking.
   Todd had received them. Carey checked them in, made a note. Diana contacted me, locked them in the Stash Room.
  End of the trail.
   Dan's investigations were inconclusive.
   Someone was fired, however. One of the girls. No evidence, no proof. She'd actually done something else, but managers used the heist as an excuse to terminate her.
   Todd was infuriated.
   I felt uncomfortable, like I'd set something in motion. If I hadn't ordered those damn videos maybe she'd still be working there.
   Diana reordered the flicks. Week later I bought them.
   Tried to keep my profile low afterward.


Saturday, November 15, 2008

Coworkers: Part 05 - Into The Back

   "What's going on with that other job of yours?" The Boss asked.
   I was still relatively new. My shift was Tuesday and Thursday, 2 - 6, and Friday 6 - midnight. Fourteen hours. My other job, rebuilding player pianos and pump organs, clocks during overflow, was at a standstill. A mini Recession, focused on the Texas corridor, had slammed business. Dick was long gone. John found employment as a high end mechanic. He worked a bit on Saturdays. No projects were coming in for either of us. I still went to the shop daily, but mostly cleaned, organized, watered the plants, worked on my retirement home play.
   "I don't know," I answered. "Business is slow. Real slow."
   "How would you like more hours?" The Boss asked.
   Did I want more hours?
   "Sure, what do you need?"
   "I was reviewing your application. You've run back rooms ... inventory ... before."
   "New Hampshire, inventory prep, primarily cycle counts. In Los Angeles, I had complete control of the back. Inventory control, shipping and receiving, production schedules, fronting the line. Whatever was needed."
   "We're not that detailed here," he studied my application. "OK. Here's the deal. Danny is leaving. He's going to be Assistant Manager at Hurst. I'm moving Todd up to Floor Manager. I need a new Backroom guy ... " He paused.
   "Receiving Agent? Verify packing slips and contents match?"
   "More or less ... " He paused again.
   "That's day shift. Monday through Friday. And you're wondering about my other job?"
   I looked at the Floor, the parking lot, Video. I'd worked with John ... seven, eight years ... only we weren't working.
   "I'll be good to go next Monday."
   "Excellent. Todd will train you Monday. You should pick this up quickly. Thursday, Truck Day, you'll work with Todd and Rob. They haven't killed you yet, so I'm hopeful. Oh, and I prefer speed and accuracy," he gave me a look.
   "In that order? Don't get bogged down with details?"

   I still had Classical duty. When Jeri was off, I was on call. Most of the crew didn't want to deal with fussy clients. Beethoven was Beethoven. Bernstein, Von Karajan, what's the difference? Advising between the '63 versus the '77 versus the new, digital version, was too much.
   Tuesdays were New Release day. New titles rolled in Fridays, Mondays, and Tuesdays. Cross reference titles with slips, hit 'em with the price gun, stack them in a cart. Note: If there was a stray shopping cart within a quarter mile, it vanished into the Backroom. "May not need it now, man," Todd advised. "But we will for Christmas." We had 20 grocery carts in the back.
   "Packing slip? I never touched that."
   Todd warned me about Dan. Dan was notorious for opening New Release boxes to see what was coming out. For taking packing slips and wandering off with them, laying them down, forgetting.
   I wanted to get along, I tolerated this for awhile. Then, fuck it. I hid boxes or buried slips. Threatened dismemberment.
   Thursday was Truck. Replenishment from the Distribution Center. Accessories, videos, CD's, cassettes, boutique crap, vinyl. Several pallets worth of product.
   Todd and I broke down the shipment, then resorted everything by chart. A-Chart (biggest sellers, highest volume), B-Chart, C-Chart. Also NR-Chart (New Releases). Sometimes NR titles were for the following Tuesday, other times they were already out. The Backroom guy had to simply know, and not break, street date.
   Todd and I worked different charts. He took A, he was quicker. Half the titles were sale priced. Sometimes set by Bromo, other times The Boss let a hot album ride. By noon, half the shipment would be on the Floor, getting security taped.
   "Outta my way, fuckers."
   Rob clocked in at noon and worked Accessories. Blank tape, carrying cases, deck cleaners, stuff like that. Sometimes he was hungover, sometimes not. He was usually cranky.
   Especially if Todd hid a box or packing slip.
   Or his coffee mug.
   Coworkers drifted back constantly. A customer wanted a specific title. It was on-order. Did it come in? Could we find it? Everything stopped and we began digging.
   Carey frequently entered. Not a word. There was a full length mirror on one of the swinging doors. She stared, transfixed.
   "I don't see how you guys can work back here. I'd be in front of this mirror all day."
   We laughed. Carey was difficult, she had a short fuse, but she was stunning. She had no need of a looking glass.

   After two weeks, I had the Backroom nailed. I had done Inventory for years. I was an ex-stoner. I could concentrate and organize endless names, dates, and numbers in that rat's maze in my skull. Merchandise got checked in swiftly. The crew accepted me.
   I was "in."
   There was only one teeny problem. D-Chart.
   All the back catalog ordered by James.
   Big State, House, and all the majors. WEA, Sony, UNI, Poly, CEMA. Especially CEMA.
   Those packing slips had NO PRICES. Just meaningless codes. Meaningless because there was no legend or description of the codes, because there were dozens of codes.
   I had gotten stumped. Bogged down with details.
   Exactly what The Boss warned me to avoid.
   Paged James, no idea. He placed orders. Period. I could leaf through all his D-Books. Like hell.
   Todd came back, then Dan, finally The Boss.
   No one knew. In the end, Dan advised me to use the "Danny Method."
   Best guess. If customers only knew.
   "If it looks full priced to you, price it that way. Mid-line. Budget."
   "What I always did, man."

   "What if I screw up?"
   "We'll catch mistakes. Tell you. You'll get the hang of it."
   "Or else we'll come back and throw you off the lift."
   "All of us, taking turns, cause you're one of us."

   Nothing like being accepted.
   I thought of an ancient Browning film. The chanting sequence.
   "One of us! One of us! One of us!"

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Customers: Part 02 - Alphabet Lessons

   "You're not the motocross guy."
   "Nooo," I stalled, "I'm not."
   "No matter. I had a classical question. Well, a couple, actually."
   She had light brown hair and wire rim glasses. As she spoke, she crept into my personal space.
   "Is the motocross guy working tonight?"
   "Who's the motocross guy?" I asked, stumped.
   "The cute guy with the blonde hair. On his neck," she tapped.
   "You mean Greg? I didn't know he raced motocross."
   "Well, I don't know that," she stressed. "But he has the face of a motocross racer, don't you think? Freestyle motocross."
   There was no proper answer for that. I couldn't edge back any further. I was cornered between the cassette wall and the opera box sets.
   "Oh, my name's Natalie." And she stepped back into my space.

   "I always seem to get lost in this section. Could you show me how it's organized?"
   "Of course," I slid past her, putting some distance between us. "Everything is alphabetical -- "
   "I don't understand."
   "From A to Z. By composer. Then you have compilations. Various composers or samplers. Then individual artists. Again, alphabetical. Ashkenazy, Heifitz, Williams," I gestured. "Finally vocalists. Arranged alphabetically."
   "I don't understand," she repeated, and moved in again. Natalie now stood eight inches from me.
   "What don"t you understand?" I asked.
   "That alphabet thing."
   I turned away and rolled my eyes. A colleague, listening over in Video, began to giggle.
   "Alphabet," I said. "As in A ... B ... C."
   "Pardon me?"
   "First comes Albinoni, then Bach, then Chopin, then Debussy, then Elgar."
   "This seems so terribly complicated," she sighed.
   "It's called spelling. What you learned in the first grade. Hopefully." I tried to sound polite. Honest.
   She sighed again and gazed down at the floor. Natalie was a pretty girl, but I felt like I was talking with one of my cats. Her logical patterns were different from mine, from humanity. Plus, she kept inching forward. Was she nearsighted? She couldn't be interested in me. I looked about. Over in Country, there was the Motocross King himself. Greg.
   "Oh, the motocross guy is -- "
   "And I need music to compliment my power animal."
   "Power? You need -- What?"
   "Power animal. Our spirit guide through Life. Everyone has one. Mine is the Bear." Natalie reached up and placed her palm on my chest. "Yours is ... a Tiger."
   "I don't ... Is this like ... Sorry, we don't have a Power Animal section."
   Brilliant, I thought to myself.
   "What would you recommend for a bear?"
   I was getting dizzy. This was sheer nonsense. The Tiger wasn't even my astrological sign, to reference a question from the Disco era. It wasn't even specific to astrology. On the other hand, my girl, Zelda, was a Leo. Moreover, she was a Tiger in Chinese years. I certainly wasn't revealing this to Natalie, however.
   Worst of all, she was in my space. In My Space. I was increasingly uncomfortable.
   The Bear didn't like heavy music. None of those loud Germans or melodramatic Russians. Also didn't like "noodling" music that never went anywhere or made no sense. Modern music was out. Baroque music deemed too shallow. Eventually, we selected Debussy and Mozart.
   Choices made, I successfully launched Natalie towards Greg.
   A minute later, they were in Dance, and she was moving closer and closer.
   Greg finally bumped into the bin.
   I felt his pain
   I walked into Video, popped in a cassette by the rewind unit, and fast forwarded to the episode of Violent Is The Word For Curly. Then I watched Moe, Larry and Curly teach "Swinging The Alphabet."
   Don't understand A-B-C's, indeed.


Monday, November 3, 2008

Coworkers: Part 06 - The Tim

   I learned from Danny, I learned from Rob, I learned from Todd - Don't even deal with trainees the first two weeks. Never even learn their names. What was the point? Faces eager, confused, upset, stunned, gone. Likely, I'd never see them after a week.
   Still, for every twenty crash 'n burn weevils, one might ... just might ... make an impression. Get remembered long after the door whacked their ass on their way out.
   Such as The Tim.
   Where to begin?
   Hell, his application form, of course.
   Usual two sided application printout. Front Side = Name, Address, Phone, and kindergarten work questions including my all time favorite: Has alcohol use or substance use ever interfered with your employment performance? Back Side = References, Work History. Beside each job, where it asked what your title had been (eg: supervisor, foreman, CPA, whatever), he scratched Tim.
   "And what were you at the White House?"
   "I was The Tim."

   The Tim was blonde, stocky, and built like a beach outhouse. He was hired because he was a bass head. Fluent with Nemesis to Two Live Crew, LL Cool J to Techmaster PEB. Shit we couldn't play during opening hours. More than other temps, this was a dream come true job for the guy because he was gonna be DJ. He'd expose Cowtown to da noize of da Tim.
   Register Training: Managed to piss off easy going Dan and whistling James. By ringing the bell for a manager alert. They'd show up. "Just testing. Ha ha ha." Only did that once on Rob, who advised him to, "Test it up your ass next time." Didn't test the bell with The Boss.
   The Boutique section featured a very popular toy. Fart Bears. Squeeze Fart Bear and from his backside came a disquieting eruption. Sharp and violent or low and slow, depending on one's massage technique. The Tim fell in love with the Fart Bear, and squeezed them at coworkers, outside the girl's restroom, over the store PA system, and, when he worked Register, at departing customers. Stellar moment when he activated Fart Bear in the face of a startled priest.
   Then again, there was one time a colleague was chatting up a female client, and The Tim started squeezing his furry friend. How happy he made them!
   Jeri Jo, from Classical, expressed her opinion to me by standing behind The Tim, making a circle with her hand, and stroking several times at crotch level. He caught her. Thought she was moist for him. Told her he preferred a quicker tempo. "And you'll need a bigger hand. Ha ha ha."
   He was pretty fast when the tape deck or CD player finished. I'll grant him that. And he did find some gems to air. There was a definite shopper response to Me So Horny. Jingling Baby was another winner. And N.W.A? What a bunch of surprised white folks that evening.
   There were other shenanigans. Once he popped a VHS with lots of skin in Video. As usual, Angela and Dave were swamped, they didn't notice until ... well, it was Friday night, their section was packed with families.
   I can't remember all his disasters. Irritated coworkers and customers, male and female.
   The Tim lasted about a month.
   When he was fired, I think I was the only person who mourned.