Wednesday, September 15, 2004

Coworkers: Part 89 - One Week Less

   By this stage, every store employee realized our new owners were glorified shoe salesmen. The souls who had built Wherehouse, back in the day, had long ago abandoned a sinking music ship. Current owners were steerage or new denizens, clueless about music, about retail. One commonality ruled. The chain was poor.
   Product flow had been intermittent for months. Corporate masterminds issued vague theories from afar: Perhaps the DC was out of a few particular titles?
   We were supposed to believe "particular titles" included the entire Top 100?
   Fact was, the chain was broke. Wherehouse had barely emerged from bankruptcy protection when they bought Blockbuster Music. The chain had been cheap, yet Wherehouse had piled on debt for the acquisition. If profits were robust, that decision would prove wise. The market was in freefall, however. That Wherehouse expansion revealed itself as a blunder.
   End of fiscal quarter was especially trying. Our shelves emptied as shipments dried up because there was no cash flow. Distant Overlords hopped up and down, wondering how that happened. And it began to happen quarter after quarter. Those guys were back row pupils who still fastened their shoes with velco.
   Our generals and admirals.
   We steered our ship knowing what type of support marshaled behind us.
   Scant and wet.
   The week began promising.
   Stacey returned after a prolonged stint helping Hulen. Hulen lost their complement of managers all at once.. Variety of reasons. Without being too specific, Stacey had made some new herbal contacts at that store.
   Several months earlier, I had hooked up J D with the sunburned newspaper columnist. That resulted in a nice article, and J sold Aggravated Foe CDs by the bagful. Now, I introduced him to ex coworker Ken, who penned a column for a competing rag. This time J had a VHS called Da Killa. Customers were quickly moving away from tape, but VHS was the only way they could watch the genius of voodoo weed and zombies terrorizing Como. Sales were brisk.
   J D had two posses. One group were fellow weed heads. Lolled around, sniffed for scraps, mooched, bathed in reflected light. The other group were kids. Ten - twelve year olds. Boys on bikes. These kids hustled their asses off for J. If J D was shooting film, and forgot an item, one would tear back on his bicycle to his apartment and retrieve it. They were primed to buy soft drinks, bag of chips. Or to shift camera angles, act as stand-in's, holler voice-over for crowd noise. Go-fers or riggers. Quality kids, though sometimes they thought too much.
   "You know, I been thinking about time," one of the boys swiveled on a Listening stool.
   "You mean like four o'clock?" I asked. "Or Time with a Capital T?"
   "Yeah. That second one. I got to thinking, I'm going to be old one day. I don't like that."
   Rather philosophical for a ten year old.
   "No stopping it, Dude," I shrugged. "I'm in my forties. By the time you hit my age, most likely I'll be dead."
   He shuddered. "That's it! I wanna stay ten forever. I don't like this Time thing pushing me along."
   I gestured emptily, and he went back to brooding.
   I returned to orders. We weren't getting replenished from our Distribution Center or from labels. We barely received New Releases. That cash flow problem that Corporate completely denied. Electronic superstores had kicked Blockbuster's financial keister, but music file sharing was killing us. Plus, the great era of Boomer buying had ended. Geezers had, for the most part, replaced their vinyl collections. They weren't buying new groups. Our foot traffic dropped. Loyal customers who still shopped noticed the thin shelves. The girls could spread CDs only so far.
   The vaunted ordering system was a joke. Nothing The Boss requested for the store shipped.
   There was a loophole. Special orders. One-stops, Valley, Southwest and Abbey Road, were also hurting. I asked one of the reps about our limits. We had a 5 piece per title limit, but not an expense limit. I conferred with The Boss, he began to hand me large orders in addition to customer requests. We told none of the other stores. The more stores who barged through that secret back door, the more likely Corporate would close it.
   Anyway, J D's other posse, the pack I called the entourage, were prime suspects. Someone had stolen J's equipment from his apartment. Computers, stereo systems, video equipment, cameras, microphones. The works. J knew the guilty was a friend or friend of a friend. Didn't matter. He was financially crippled. His life savings ... his life ... had been tied up in making music, making movies. Now he'd been mugged.
   He and Stacey commiserated on the back lift. Enjoying the perfumed smoke courtesy that new Hulen contact.
   A witless employee from the store below, Tuesday Morning, noticed them, then squealed.
   "I smell marijuana!"
   Fifty feet away, two stories down. What was she, bloodhound?
   Also a born stool pigeon. Didn't phone us, called District. District Manager. Damn. Luckily, the cranky DM was on his way to greener pastures of Media Communications. He couldn't care less. Phoned us and spoke with John.
   The Boss was never appraised.
   Up at the front counter, I caught Sharon pulling some severe shit. Switching tags on VHS tapes. VHS was on the way out, our prices ranged from $4.99 - 99¢. I knew Sharon was fucking up when I pointed at her stack of 99¢ videos.
   "What the hell is that?"
   She could have placed these titles in a stash pile until prices fell. That's what everyone did. Swear to God, Stacey sat on a Denon ceramic cassette for seven years until the price fell from ten bucks to one buck.
   I mentioned Sharon's activity to John and Stacey, they immediately walked to the front. The video pile had vanished. Next, they examined the surveillance tapes. Saw me point toward the stack, walk off, Sharon relocate them ... to ... gone. For years, John and Stacey had tried, and failed, to catch Sharon "doing things." Today was one more failure. Yet, from then on, half the store watched Sharon. For her, the vibe became awful.
   The week had been sorry. It couldn't end too soon.
   J's robbery. The bust on the lift. Sorry business. Sharon.
   Saturday came, Saturday went.
   So did John.
   Saturday was John's final day at Camp Bowie. He transferred to his own store. Six Flags Mall location.
   When I first hired on, John had been someone I could always turn to. He had been a constant support for everyone for years.
   Camp Bowie wouldn't be the same,
   John was Pat's favorite person, a flame she never damped.
   Pat was heartbroken.
   Next week could only be better.

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