Thursday, November 30, 2006

Coworkers: Part 50 - Listening Center

   The Listening Center blew. Time - money - patience. My God, it was popular, though. And it brought in customers.
   Fresh faces plopped their asses daily and shoved a stack of CD's toward the hapless employee assigned to that post. There had to have been secret guidelines attached for Store Managers only, or The Boss displayed genius, because only the more agreeable, friendly employees were scheduled to work that area. He rarely worked it, neither did Stacey or myself. Others groused, but they were stuck. João, in particular, took personal offense.
   Everyone could relate.
   Blockbuster's slick television commercial showed happy, smiling customers bobbing their heads, grooving to the latest, greatest tunes. Energetic clerks bounced around on mini trampolines. The slogan was, The Power To Hear It All, which the marketing herd assumed translated as, You Hear It Here, You Gonna Buy It Here.
   Reality check.
   Folks sat down, dropped a CD onto the counter in front of the clerk. No word, no smile. Hey, monkey, serve me. Correction, if you were helping another customer, then Ole Stoneface would start rapping the CD on the counter. Louder and louder till the case cracked. We'd walk down to them ...
   "I don't like it. Only one good song." Then they clammed up and plunked another CD down, that they would never, ever purchase.
   The Power To Hear It All translated into Thank God, I Heard This Suckfest Before I Bought It. We were encouraged (ahem, ordered) to place discs in people's hands. Most shoppers redeposited them on the counter and moseyed away. Sometimes they lied, "I'll be back later." Think, next century. Usually, they hurried to a cheaper competitor. Or they simply consigned that "one rockin' tune" album to the "don't buy" garbage can.
   All the redesigned Sound Warehouse locations shared similar stories.
   Managers noted increased foot traffic, lots of foot traffic, only the new customers weren't buying.
   This was hour after hour, day after day, money losing, blood drain. We began to label Regulars who came in weekly, listened to the same CD, and never bought. It was their lunch break. Or they had a tough day behind their desk. Or their wife wouldn't let him buy music anymore. Waaaa.
   Maybe Blockbuster understood those Listening Centers would be Loss Centers. We doubted it. Visiting Block-Heads (Did I say that? How terrible.) corporate flunkies all scrolled dollar signs in their eyes. Their studies were solid, Loss Centers ... er ... Listening Centers would generate big time profits ... eventually.
   Why would any store level associates want to work the LC area? Two main reasons.
   One: A lot of coworkers despised cash register. They got bored, they feared they'd get shortchanged and get fired, they worried some thief was gonna shoot 'em dead. Whatever. They just didn't like it. Pat - Mandy, in particular, both would sooner set their hair on fire.
   Two: Playstack. Whoever was closest to the CD player got to reload a new disc when one finished. Previously, it was whoever was nearby or whoever was quickest. Lately, it seemed to be Mandy. Her taste in music was nursery school level. Mandy was a workhorse with product, yet she simply didn't know the underground, club raves, cool oldies, cult bands. She knew "radio." Stale radio, overplayed hits. Worst of all, she loaded the carousel unit with six discs and punched SPIRAL.
   SPIRAL meant Track 01 of CD One, Track 01 of CD Two, Track 01 of CD Three, etc ... SPIRAL was lazy, they wouldn't get sniped on for airing lame tunes. No one got the feel for an album. Customers made comments, employees complained. Half the crew wanted her fired. Inside a week, SPIRAL was banned.
   Except one stubborn employee didn't get the message. Again. A week of accidents and "sorry" went by. Then The Boss warned officially. SPIRAL meant losing work hours for the offender.
   Then and there, the practice was snuffed out permanently at our location. Praise the Lord.

   About this time, Ken and Tim hired on. No, this wasn't the glorious return of "The Tim."
   Ken was an old friend of The Boss. Hard core music collector, freelance music critic, jammed around in garage bands. Blockbuster was a night job for extra money. He worked days for a cheapskate company, and the Reserves. Ken slotted into the crew nicely. Quality moment one night when the store grabbed a shoplifter, Ken automatically launched Queen's Another One Bites The Dust.
   Tim was also a musician, more dedicated. Tim was busy chasing the music dream. His previous band, Cream Of Mushroom, had recently folded, and he still hadn't formed Grand Street Cryers. We were a pit stop.
   Onstage, Tim was a passionate, inspired, front man. In the store, however, whether he meant to or not, he swerved out of his way to piss off the girls. Maybe he was going through relationship difficulties.
   When a customer requested a title, he'd shove past Kristi or Missy with, "I'll get it for you, I know where it is." Which the girls interpreted as "You helpless, little women could go back to knitting and diaper ironing."
   To his annoyance, them womenfolk would play Cream Of Mushroom, then cut it off mid-song. They'd place dark metal in rotation, he'd follow that with Carpenters or madman William Shatner.
   Tim was a guy after my own heart. Yet I didn't have a lot of dealings with him. In many ways, he was another version of Todd. Hell, both guys were similar to me. Like peering into a slightly distorted mirror. Skinny, cynical, self absorbed, hard surfaced. I was older, I was worse; maybe they would mature beyond where I was.
   So we're debating in the Listening Center. Mocking vintage heavy metal bands. What constituted the lowest common denominator. We honed in on popularity combined with buffoonery. Tim was well versed in all the cliches.
   "Uriah Heep," he suggested.
   I began singing Stealin', then bridged into Easy Livin'. "I had friends who loved those guys. Band never knew who they were. Prog, heavy metal, or dragon bait," I joked. "Grand Funk. From Flint, Michigan. Lead singer always affected a fake peckerwood drawl like he oozed up from the Mississippi swamp."
   "Good one. How about Bachman-Turner Overdrive?"
   "Ha ha ha. Fattest band of all time." I thought a second. "Autograph," I replied quietly.
   "Oh, God," he laughed. "That band had the ugliest members on the planet." He paused. "Rainbow."
   "Hell, yeah," I laughed. "Man On The Silver Mountain. Sounded like a howling rat on fire."
   "One of the stupidest songs ever!"
   "Hey!"
An older man interrupted us. "You fellers too busy to help an old timer like myself?"
   "Hello, Chuck,"
Tim smiled. "You want to hear the usual?"
   "If you don't object."

   The man was old, wrinkled and overweight. I'd seen him from time to time. Never knew his name was Chuck. Never cared. It was enough that I knew he was delusional.
   Tim accepted his CD, opened it, popped it in the unit. Handed the case and booklet back, "There you go, Chuck."
   Mister Chuck was in an exclusive group of crazy Regulars. He swore on a stack of Bibles he'd been lead singer in the Sons Of The Pioneers, Country 'N Western vocalists popular from the 30's - 50's.
   There were always weirdos like this.
   "I was lead singer in Bloodrock, you know?"
   "Let me tell you what it like drumming in Three Dog Night."
   "I was with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Mick Jagger."
(That came from a female.)
   Every big music store had characters who reminded you they once were, and still were, big shots.
   It was especially enjoyable when the artist they impersonated was long dead.
   Like claiming to be Napoleon.
   Sons Of The Pioneers was founded in 1933 by Roy Rogers. Nineteen thirty-three. Original members had gone over the mountain long ago.
   Our customer finished his listening siesta, and returned the case to Tim. Tim never bothered to ask him if he wanted to buy the CD. Why would he? The man, as an original member, surely had all the recordings. He just didn't have a set of headphones.
   "Any word on a new album, Chuck?" Tim prodded.
   "Roy's still in talks with the record moguls," the man frowned. "Timing is crucial, you understand. Charts and airplay."
   "How about any upcoming tours?"
Tim persisted.
   "Opportunities seem inclined to favorable," Mister Chuck mused. "Looks like we might tour with this George Strait cowboy, that Jones guy, and Hank Williams."
   "Hank? Junior or senior?" I asked.
   "Oh, senior, of course. Boy of his is too wild. Be like being in a circus rodeo. None of us wants that."
   Tim nodded sympathetically.
   "Well, guess I better roll on," Chuck stood up. "See if my little woman is done at that drug store."
   "See you, Mister Wagon,"
Tim waved.
   "Adios, pardners," and he wobbled away.
   God keep me safe. Don't let me get crazier than I am.
   I was about to resume our discussion by referencing Quiet Riot -- then -- Wagon?
   I turned to Tim.
   "Chuck ... Wagon?" I shot him a look.
   "I thought you'd notice that."
   Then both of us broke down laughing.
.

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