Saturday, January 26, 2008

Coworkers: Part 43 - Gimme A Hug

   Camp Bowie could be a vicious environment.
   Weekly, we were indifferent, cold, or brutal with coworkers. From new hires to seasoned veterans. Blameless innocents, brainless morons, or fuckers who deserved it.
   Everyone got slashed.
   Sometimes it was ugly.

   The Boss had asked me to select someone to train for receiving. Most of the crew realized Todd's Sound Warehouse days were numbered. He and The Toadies were on the road constantly. They had inked a deal with indie label Grass, but the majors were seriously interested. Big contract and national release was a matter of time. Todd rarely worked Truck Day and I couldn't process a half dozen skids of CD's and accessories on my own.
   Dane had been hired specifically to learn the Back Room. To paraphrase a bygone colleague, he proved to be a suppository bomb. Dane was a quintessential blonde and fancied himself a bassist in some cheese metal group. Long, very long, yellow hair. When he spoke, he tilted his head sideways so his hair would drape like Rapunzel. The girls disdained him because he tossed his locks and gazed off in the sunset during conversation. He was forever posing for his imaginary Vogue photographer. Dane wasted more time preening in front of the mirror than the entire crew combined.
   For receiving, Dane was hopeless. I could not train him. Every fourth CD he selected was a revelation; he'd have to ponder song titles, cover art, band photos. Wanted to open every CD and give it a listen.
   "Dude, we got Truck! I'm barely keeping ahead of the Floor. I've hit A-Chart, and New Releases. I gave you C-Chart because there was nothing Sale Priced. You've only done half a box."
   "Check this out, Flying Burrito Brothers. Name like that has to be great. Let's open it."
   "No. Look, Dan's been back here five times already. Missy and Trina, too. Everyone's counting on us."
   "Yeah, man, those girls are cute and obviously interested. I'm so available," he shook his tresses and envisioned the threesome.
   I complained. The Boss assumed I was being paranoid and territorial. He scheduled himself to work Back Room the following Truck.
   "Dane, what is your problem?"
   "Aswad, isn't this awesome?"
   "Sure, whatever. It's English Reggae, OK? Let's go."
   "I mean, ass and wad, get it? Ass wad."

   The Boss's eyes rolled into his skull. I pounded down another box. I hadn't said two words, and I didn't intend to.
   "Whoa! Big Black, I never heard of this group. Songs About Fucking. This sounds awesome!"
   "Have you been listening to me?"
   "We have to open this."

   The Boss was now quivering.
   "I'm going to visit Derotha at Eckerd's," I announced. "Anyone want anything?"
   "Songs ... about ... fucking. Hello, love life."
   I waltzed back ten minutes later, Dane was toast.
   The Boss told me to pick whomever I wanted. I requested Layla.

   Layla caught on immediately. Stayed focused, didn't get distracted. Could work alone or work with jerks. The only problem she had was with one of the assistants. There was tension between the two, but I didn't ask. Most souls spilled their stories. Layla did not.
   Friday evening, we were still processing a huge shipment. Truck had arrived late Thursday. We were behind and business was massive. Stacked behind Truck were several catalog drops. A huge PolyGram classical shipment I'd ordered. Three monsters James had placed. All D-Chart:: UNI, CEMA, and Big State. James and his orders. Big State and CEMA were both maddening.
   James, moreover, had wrecked havoc in the fabric of the crew. He was one of the mildest humans I knew, but he could be impulsive and reckless. His temporary obsession with Pat was mindlessly self destructive. Gifts and dinners were lavished on someone who never reciprocated. James was not wealthy, he was quite poor. He had no money to waste. Half the crew mocked him, others felt badly. Most of us swung both ways. Sympathetic bastards. Mind you, Pat never made promises, never led him on. Never put her foot down, either. Flowers and gifts were, after all, flowers and gifts. Married or single, sharp dressed or scuzz, she offered all males her coy smile, soft laugh, innocent denial.
   The situation was excruciating for Big Jim. Pat dated other guys in the store, while fresh boyfriends came and went. She never gave James the time of day, which killed him. Store affairs and infatuations were common and messy. "We've all slept with each other over and over," an unnamed female muttered once. The Boss hadn't, I hadn't. Still, The Boss had married an earlier coworker, and my friendships with Angela, and then later Sheri, had drawn barbed comments. I digress.
   James lost his temper one evening with one of the oldest hold-ons at Camp Bowie. She had worked with crews long forgotten. For years, she had declared, "Ireland, here I come." once she had $300K saved up. Such resources were beyond the entire store combined. There was no reason for her to share her financial situation, especially when half the crew bought Ramen noodles by the case. She was not popular.
   One evening per week, she clocked in and worked one shift.
   Why was she still holding this record shop job? To keep her hand in music business? Because Rob made the tastiest coffee on the planet? (She did drain half a pot every time she worked, doubtless wired awake for days afterward.) For that 20% employee discount? Or ... because she still nursed the flame for James? In whose life, she meddled.
   James vented all his frustration out on her. Told her nobody enjoyed working with her, the entire crew begrudged her presence. Her musical knowledge was outdated and out of the loop. There was more, a lot more. This was cruel behavior, more associated with Rob or myself. This was an exceptional moment for James.
   She confronted other employees, demanding feedback. Reassurance was subdued.
   She gave notice on the spot. That evening would be her last shift. I suppose ... someone ... could have persuaded her to change her mind. No one made the effort. Maybe it was the wrong shift that night. Jerk shift.
   Layla and I finished Truck and shifted to catalog. D-Chart. I gave her the confusion of Big State which vexed her mightily. Layla frowned, sighed, but plugged away.
   Miss I Quit marched into the Back Room. Told us she was leaving, went on and on about how wonderful the job was, how she loved everybody, but it was just time. Layla and I replied, but kept our backs to her. Shipment, you know. Miss I Quit edged closer, repeated her comments. We maintained our positions.
   Eventually, Miss I Quit marched out of the room.
   "What was that about?" Layla whispered.
   "I had the feeling she was fishing for a goodbye hug."
   "I had the same feeling," Layla shook, as if someone stepped on her grave. "No!"
   No, indeed. No hug from anyone that night.
   What'd I say? Cruel.

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