Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Customers: Part 08 - In-Store / Petra

   Friday afternoon. Every available employee had been marshaled into the cleaning brigade.
   Petra was due for an in-store appearance at 4:00. (Note: If you didn't know, Petra was a Christian metal group.)
   There were always frayed nerves and agitation before meet & greet events. The Boss's system flew off the scale. Soirees meant visitors. Label reps, District flunkies, media types.
   Petra would be lodged in the Manager's Booth, which had to be purged and disinfected to be suitable for ordinary humans. The booth was an elevated platform; the fan base could enjoy a view of band members before shaking hands, begging autographs, telling them how meaningful Computer Brains had been in their lives, or exposing overzealous fan lunacy.
   We had no idea how large a turnout to expect. A couple of months earlier, Alan Jackson had been wall to wall, folks packed like sardines. Shake and bake, literally. Handshakes and homemade cakes. Country fans. Weeks before I hired on, the crowd for the Metallica appearance extended a block out the door.
   Jackson and Metallica were chart toppers. Petra, on the other hand, received scant airplay. Besides, the band was no longer fresh. Petra had been performing since the 70's. We planned for a moderate to large crowd. Better to be over prepared, especially if District bosses sauntered in.
   Two hours before the event, Karn entered the store. Karn was District Manager.
   He was also known as Karn Evil.
   Karn Evil wanted a store inspection. This was a sneak attack, hitting the store while staff hurriedly tidied chaos. The Boss and Karn Evil had a history of mistrust and mutual suspicion. The Boss thought he hassled managers, wisemen and goatheads, in order to bolster his sagging reputation. Karn argued he was merely doing his job.
   I once unwisely voiced that I thought Karn Evil was a clever DM. The guy visited every three weeks, plopped his briefcase in the Manager's Booth, sorted paperwork for three hours, then departed. No interference. Just observed the mood and operation of the staff. Inferior managers might disguise a sloppy store now and then, but not week after week.
   The Boss regarded him as a snake, waiting for any tiny blunder or infraction.
   Anyway, Petra was enroute, the store was in a tizzy, and Karn was living down to his Evil name.
   Karn walked his inspection with Dan, James, The Boss, whomever he collared.
   Todd and I worked leftover Truck and vendor shipments. Took turns playing different noise on the jambox. Neither of us played Petra.
   Noise from the Floor had grown noticeably louder.
   Todd wheeled a cart toward the swinging doors, and took a look outside.
   "Outside looks pretty intense, man." He went for his shirt.
   I went to see. Who knew Petra still had so many listeners? The store was bursting. Shipment would wait, we prepared to go out and help Rob and the crew.
   "Wait a minute," The Boss emerged from the Office, "Karn, in his serpent wisdom, wants to interview all employees one on one while we're hosting a major in-store event."
   Damnit. Today was not the day for that shit. That's why he was Karn Evil.
   "Todd, the band is one block away. They'll park behind the building. Bring them up by lift or stairs. Ask them to please wait. Chat. Make important contacts," he joked. "Who knows? Two bands, the Heaven and Hell Tour."
   Todd's face was expressionless.
   "Worthy, Karn finished interrogating Diana, now he's with Trina. You interview after her, then watch register for Gilda and send her back."
   Pain in the ass.
   The Boss hit the Floor, I waited for Trina, Todd opened the lift doors.
   Dan and I later commented on the irony of the minister's child, turned fallen angel, acting liaison with the Christian rockers.
   Band members were polite, good humored, diplomatic. If they noticed graffiti on a nearby Barenaked Ladies poster that read Stupider Than Fuck, they didn't let on.
   "Your turn to see Karn." Trina tapped my shoulder.
   "What's he want?" I asked.
   "With me, it was all about sexual harassment. Have any of the managers hit on me?"
   I laughed. "Coworkers? Sleep with each other?"
   Trina made a joke which I couldn't catch. Outside, I Love The Lord roared on, full blast. Todd ferried the band into the screaming mob. The store was jammed. I went to chat with Karn Evil.
   The District Manager asked if I enjoyed working there, if I noticed any borderline criminal activity, if I'd ever witnessed anything suspicious. Theft, especially by a manager, especially the store manager. I shook my head.
   "How about sexual harassment?" he inquired, staring at some notes. Karn Evil avoided eye contact.
   "Well, nobody's hit on me," I mocked.
   "So you have witnessed harassment, or intimidation?" he looked up, eager.
   "Of course," I shrugged. "All the girls have to fend off customers who ask them out, flirt, pitch innuendo."
   "No, I mean managers. Shift managers or the store managers."
   "Oh, I guess the managers get propositioned, as well. Not that I've asked. To be honest, I have some old bird, probably in her sixties, white hair, glasses, who's always telling me what pretty blue eyes I have."
   Karn Evil wasn't remotely interested in prowling clients. I knew that. Maybe he knew I knew. I didn't care. My loyalties were with The Boss, the man who hired me, rather than the viper and his stealthy witch hunt.
   I replaced Gilda on front register.
   A stream of customers filed past the Petra members. Many bought CD's from the shelves, or brought in posters or vinyl. One guy carried a grocery sack of 8-Tracks. Did he even have working playback equipment? More than one person offered hymnals to be autographed. That seemed strange to me.
   The members were very patient, gracious. How many of these events had they attended over the years? How many thousands ... hundreds of thousands ... of fans had they met over the decades? Fan questions had to be repetitive. I would jump off a cliff.
   Meanwhile, The Boss's Heaven & Hell quip echoed in the back as Karn Evil continued his dark quest. Gilda came out and sent Rob to the Office. I would have given a nickel to gauge Rob's expression when asked about employee co-mingling. Dan followed, then Pat and Kathy, Todd, the whole crew.
   What was Karn looking for? Confessions? Video tapes?
   My opinion of his "clever factor" plummeted. There was no subtlety in his method. This was an amateurish, grade school inquisition. I decided he was barely competent to be District Manager.
   On the Floor was Petra, a group - - to be honest - - I never knew, and likely never would. My ignorance of them was my loss. Yet my opinion of them contrasted sharply with that of Karn Evil. Petra was a class act, quality guys. The crowd had been huge, but they met and listened to every person.
   Karn slithered away. Headed towards Hulen or Berry. We phoned both stores with fair warning.
   The Petra fans had been high caliber. Most purchased CD's to be autographed. Store profit was excellent. Face it, this was why we bothered with these happenings.
   Surprisingly enough, this was one of the better in-store events.
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