Wednesday, April 14, 2004

Coworkers: Part 102 - Kicking The Dog‏

   Everything was broken.
   The store was still bleeding, wound gashed open.
   Yet, we were still here. Hanging on.
   The crew that remained was bare bones. The Boss came from the barely remembered Peaches. I was the last of Sound Warehouse. Mandy was the lone Blockbuster Music hire. J D, Molly, John, and Ryzer were all from the Wherehouse era. Seven people.
   Most of the crew was in shock. The Boss was emotionally drained, firing Joe, Pat and Stacey had been traumatic. I had been upset, but recovered. I was cold, I was shallow. With each passing year, I disconnected more and more.
   Three fresh transfers came to Camp Bowie. These were from the Hulen store which had been closed. Vince, Merrilee, and Crayton. A more cynical person would suspect that the firings of Pat, Stacey and Joe had been premeditated, a strategy to replace three long term, full time workers with short term, part time workers. Reason? Decrease unemployment benefits.
   Vince was hard working, street smart, and made efforts to blend in with his new surroundings. Merrilee was lazy, slower than a frozen waffle, who scratched her backside when you tried to talk with her. After two weeks, she found work at a game store, gave notice, and quit. Of Crayton, we knew nothing. Crayton never showed up for work, never phoned. We never missed him.
   New Owners, or new liars, take your pick, reassured The Boss that our location would stay open for the long term. Meanwhile, their mergers and acquisitions department restructured full throttle. Several months earlier, the liars had already dealt their first hand.
   Of the large, free standing, concept stores (think Sound Warehouse), half had been summarily shuttered within a month. Product was fire sale priced and sold off. Whatever was unsold was boxed up, shipped to the nearest Distribution Center. It didn't matter if a location was weak or strong, if earnings were solid. There was more profit to be made as a tax write off for the current year.
   Stores were worth more closed, than open. Accounting 101.
   The chain was being jettisoned.
   Yet our location would be among the lucky survivors. The liars pledged their word.
   The Boss wanted to believe the liars, wanted to believe the monsters who ordered him to gut his own store. He rallied his Sixties idealism one final time, and charged into Christmas. He was an emotional, generous person, a better soul than I would ever become. I loathed the new owners. They were proof that human waste could be recycled.
   I was pragmatic about finding new employment, especially in light of working retail for over a decade. Also, The Boss relied on me, more than ever now. And I worked with a bunch of young individuals who were being treated like sewage by distant masters. So I signed on to sail the ship to the end.
   Christmas was a dreary blur, not one of the better ones. Molly was promoted to Assistant Manager, which boosted evening business. Molly was a knockout who never coasted on her looks. She stepped up during this period and was a tremendous asset. To be fair, everyone from JD to Ryzer, John to Pam, were dependable and conscientious. From out of nowhere, merchandise flowed in and Camp Bowie turned a small profit.
   Our last.
   Mid January, the liars dealt the second hand.
   Across Texas, other than El Paso and North Richland Hills, all concept stores, stores that had been Sound Warehouse once upon a time, would be closed by end of quarter.
   Camp Bowie was on the termination list.
   Another tax write off.
   In six to eight weeks, our doors would be locked forever.
   Then things got worse.

   Tuesday afternoon, The Boss's day off.
   The latest District Manager marched in, barreled towards the Backroom / Office. I assumed she was launching a meaningless inspection, so I instructed Mandy, John and Molly to straighten the store as needed. Hell. We were still recovering from Christmas. Plus, we were closing. Damn.
   Except I assumed wrong.
   The District Manager From Hell swept into the back and promptly began tidying. Initial targets, the walls. Framed certificates, award plaques, photos, posters. All were yanked down and stuffed into boxes to be trashed. John noted her activity and reported to me.
   I walked into the Office. Didn't utter a word. Just shot this creature the what the fuck look, arms stretched wide, jaw dropped.
   "I'm sorry, but the new company is very strict about appearance and procedures. Examine their Brown Book Protocols. This store is beyond parameters."
   Complete bullshit.
   Every office, doctor - accountant - mechanic - even the lowliest flunkie for the new liars, boasted pictures and certificates. Our signs included Store Of The Year, Best Of Fort Worth, District Winner. Miss Satan wasn't enforcing compliance, she was being malicious and spiteful. And I had a pretty good idea why.
   The woman waited for me to respond. I didn't argue or complain. Instead, I sifted through her selected discards, separating the junk (Fire Inspector's report) from the precious (Manager Of The Year plaque). My prized Britney Spears poster was safe because it hung high near the ceiling. If Miss Satan thought I would rise to the bait, she had the wrong guy. I carried the cargo to my car.
   By the time I returned, she was rummaging through The Boss's desk. Despoiling everything she touched. Letters from customers, label reps, retired company presidents, old employees ... dumped. Crayon drawings by his children when they were young - - into the garbage. Souvenirs, toys, mementos, confiscated paraphernalia, a candy bar, his bottle of aspirin. Clutched and tossed. Finally ... the photo albums. The initial Sound Warehouse album, created and arranged by James, and two smaller albums from the Blockbuster and Wherehouse years. The picture history of all the staff, current and long gone, who passed through. Laughing, crying, screaming. Good times and bad. The memory of the store. Priceless beyond measure.
   Pitched into the trash.
   These were the actions of a coward and a bully. A human cockroach who no longer possessed any humanity.
   I rescued everything and carried cartons to my car.
   By now, the entire shift knew the carnage the District Manager From Hell was inflicting on our store. They were furious beyond belief. Undoubtedly her intention.
   "I just want to walk back there and smack her!" Mandy threatened.
   I held her. "No, you can't do that. You will be fired. Then she will try to justify firing The Boss by extension."
   "I know. I just ... I can't ... " she turned away to hide the tears.
   Molly was extremely upset. She pleaded we phone The Boss. Report the situation. Maybe he would come down.
   That was exactly what I wanted to avoid. Any confrontation. The Boss, if appraised, would undoubtedly hurry to the store. He would be justifiably outraged, get vocal, get fired on the spot. Molly meant well. She was still young, wise to cruelty, yet innocent of corruption. I adamantly refused. I also knew more than Molly. I knew Miss Satan's agenda.
   For weeks, The Boss confided that he and all old school Sound Warehouse and Blockbuster Music store managers were being pressured and intimidated to resign. Those who hung on were entitled to separation packages. New owners did not want to pay.
   Lately, Loss Prevention goons and District Manager stooges had been following orders. And they were successfully giving veterans the boot.
   The District Manager From Hell had simply chosen the wrong day to ambush Camp Bowie. The coldest, most calculating individual was in charge, and I didn't object, provoke or give her a scrap of flesh to gnaw on.
   I protected The Boss's treasures, and silently hoped that woman smashed into a paralyzing car accident.
   The Boss was annoyed with me that evening ... and grateful. He confessed he didn't know how he would have reacted. I knew his nature, though, as did many of you. For better or for worse, I acted in the manner I thought would best protect him.

   All merchandise was placed on sale.
   50% Off.
   Two jackals arrived in a van from across the state line. Personal friends of the District Manager From Hell. The van advertised a ratty record shop from the DM's hometown. Probably why the Wherehouse Music in her own neighborhood folded two years earlier.
   It was suggested we extend special courtesy to them. Why? Had they paid her a kickback? Had they serviced particular needs? That first Monday, The Boss opened a half hour early to accommodate them. Thereafter, I opened the store.
   I did not open an hour early.
   Both jackals were pasty skinned and sullen, oozing the air of entitlement. They repeatedly reminded us they were buddies with Miss Satan, and intimated they would receive an additional discount beyond the 50%. Maybe they thought that would impress us.
   Within an hour, the staff collectively decided to start hating them.
   The first day, the jackals began culling the DVDs, setting aside massive quantities behind the front counter to sort at their convenience. If they caught any employee examining their Fort Knox loot, they sputtered and wailed like speared wild pigs.
   Pat and Stacey phoned.
   Asked if they might be allowed to shop the clearance sale.
   Of course they could. Pat and Stacey were still family, they were just victims in a filthy game.
   Both slipped in one afternoon and browsed quietly. Subdued. Strangers in their old home.
   "Hey, don't I know you?" Vince asked Pat. He had never worked with either girl, but had called often from Hulen. He recognized her voice, and now he a made a mistake.
   "Yes," Pat answered bitterly. "You stole our jobs."
   Vince looked away, feeling terrible.
   Pat was still in pain, and she had lashed out.
   I caught up with her. "Listen, Vince is alright. A good guy. You would have liked him if ..." I gestured emptily. "Vince ... did not ... fire you."
   Pat apologized before leaving. She and Stacey never entered the store again. Vince departed two weeks later.
   For all you Hulen types, Vince did well by us, he stood tall and was not forgotten.
   The jackals piled more and more product behind the counter. Call us biased, but the staff was resentful that outsiders were cherry picking CDs and DVDs that we felt Fort Worth residents should have had first dibs on. We contacted Regulars, told them to bring friends, neighbors, coworkers, everyone, phoned the Friends Of The Library, college radio station KTCU. Word spread around.
   Day by day, Camp Bowie grew emptier, more areas fell dark.
   The store was a dying soul.
   We barely noticed. The death became routine.
   Around this time, an old debt was repaid, and unexpected reinforcements arrived.
   Colby, Rebel and Eric arrived from North Richland Hills and replenished our ranks.
   Years earlier, when Wherehouse purchased the Blockbuster music division, all the Assistant Managers at the North Richland Hills location were fired. Our Assistants temporarily staffed their management team until the situation calmed, and new managers were trained. It was grim irony that they now rode in to return the favor.
   These were quality people, working in a terrible environment, through a nightmare situation. When the closing was over, they would return to their own store, to jobs, while we became unemployed. Still, all three worked well with the crew. Didn't step on toes, were sensitive to our turmoil. In another time, we might have formed friendships.
   The jackals requested help. Could we loan them one of our employees to help pick through merchandise? Or to shuttle their selections from the Floor to the heaps behind the register counter? They wanted a piss ant. We ignored them. Eric, in particular, advised them to shove their CDs up their ass. Eric was accepted as one of us from that point on.
   We despised the jackals and sabotaged them repeatedly. If crazy street people staggered in, we directed them to the jackals, just like we used to do with The Professor. Before the store opened (and the jackals pilfered our location a full week), Mandy restocked plum items back into sections previously browsed. Whenever customers spied some nugget in their trove, we dug it out and sold it to them. During their lunch breaks, we reorganized their inventory. In order to hide noticeable dents, we added surprise classics. Mello P, for instance, was going to a new home. I'm certain the jackals would also appreciate those Macarena and Line Dancing instructional DVDs that JD so considerately found.
   When the hour for checkout finally came, the duo demanded we open two cash registers to speed things along. They were so terribly busy and important.
   We refused.
   They angrily phoned booty buddy, District Manager From Hell, and vented. She strongly advised us to open that second drawer.
   We reminded her that would be a direct violation of the new company's Brown Book Protocols. One customer - one transaction - one register - one cashier. Transgressions would be considered a Loss Prevention issue. We couldn't risk getting fired. And we certainly couldn't risk getting our District Manager fired.
   Fuck the jackals. Fuck Miss Satan.
   Checkout took two and a half hours.
   Never, never, had I seen Molly work so slow.
   After they drove away, she and I laughed our heads off.
   The District Manager From Hell was terminated three weeks later. Most likely, the new company never intended to retain her
   Still, maybe we factored into the decision. Tarnished her credentials.
   It was shake 'n bake, and we helped.

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