Monday, August 30, 2004

Every week I have to review a new CD for our newspaper ad. Today it took me half and hour to write the sentence "This new album, however, is truly unexpected."


- "I have books to sell. Where do you want them?"
- "The used book guy's not here right now." He'd wandered off as usual, so I called the front counter, then the back counter, but nobody had seen him. Just as I was about to give up and tear the last of my hair out, he came sauntering in with a coffee. Great.


A doddering old fellow with socks pulled up practically to his thighs came in and murmured something about movies. "What?" I asked. He murmured it again. Finally I was leaning over in his face to hear him gasp, "Do you have movies? I want The Dreamers." I pointed out our tiny collection of music DVDs in the corner but explained that we don't have that particular title. It didn't matter though, as he wasn't even looking where I was pointing. "Don't you have any more over there?" he mumbled, pointing a thumb over his head at the ceiling. I couldn't understand how our DVD collection's location in the room was going to help his movie magically appear, but I explained that in point of fact, no we do not have any more DVDs on the ceiling or elsewhere. Nice enough ol' codger but I have to confess, the only movies I could find called "The Dreamers" from our distributor were a straight-to-video titty flick and Bernardo Bertolucci's NC-17 screw-fest from last year. The elderly may be hornier than I'd previously imagined.


Just as I'd settled in and typed the third word in the sentence, a shrieking noise from the listening station by the soundtracks. Two little tykes and their mother were checking out some world music, and apparently the sound of musical notes recorded digitally onto an aluminum-coated plastic disc and played through headphones was too much for the kids. They squealed with delight, shouted boisterously, cried out in ecstatic jubilation, and danced a foot-stomping jig while laughing uproariously and kicking the CD shelves until the displays came crashing down around them. The mother brought a CD up to buy and shouted over them, "They certainly are enjoying themselves!" I looked at her for a second and said flatly, "That is abundantly apparent, madam." After a few more minutes of their antics she gathered them up and led them away so I could repair the damage to the room. I settled in to type another word...


- "Al Jolson."
- "What'd you call me?" I joked. The humor was lost on him.
- "Where'sAlJolson?" he sputtered.
- "I'm pretty sure he passed away sir, but I can get you his next of kin's address if you'd like to write them a letter."
- "IWannaAlJolsonCD."
- "We have one over here in vocals." I lead him to it and placed the 'best of' in his hand. "There it is."
- "IAlreadyGotThisDoYouHaveAnyOthers?"


BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. We have security tags and posts to walk through, installed as a CD theft deterrent, but a few months back they adopted the system in the book store as well because our hardcovers have been going missing. The catch is, they bought a different frequency of sticker from the CD tags, so anytime someone brings a book through the gates from the book rooms to the CD room, I get to hear an ear-splitting beep. This time it was a kid with a Star Wars book. "Did I do that?" he asked, stepping back through the gate. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. "Hey, it was me!" he said, coming in again. BEEP BEEP BEEP BEEP. I ground my teeth to powder but managed to keep my mouth shut.


This five-letter word may have taken the longest type, as each letter was followed by another sale to another vacationing couple wearing pleated khaki shorts, leather belts, and shortsleeve polo shirts tucked into their waistbands. Three of the five sales included a variation on the comment, "Bet you wish you were outside on such a nice day, huh?"


A little ringing noise came from the computer and a message from my boss popped up on my screen. "Tim, do you have that CD review finished yet?"


Thursday, August 26, 2004

A guy came in today and won the gold in Speed Annoyance. In about 45 seconds – a world record I believe -- he managed to annoy me more than anyone else has in the last six months. I suppose it was the potency of his performance, in which he was able to cram in all of the required technical elements and grab a few style points as well.

I first became aware of the gent when he walked into the music room and spotted his sons browsing the racks. He proceeded to stand at a spot next to my register and blow out my eardrums by yelling at the top of his lungs for his kids to leave with him. He was a graying man in his late 50s with a ratty, unkempt ponytail and the bushiest beard I've ever seen attached to a guy who isn’t homeless.

The kids (who were ten feet away) pointed out the CD sale rack and screamed back: “Dad, check it out, dey got jazz here!” Pappy speed-walked over and grabbed one randomly without looking. “Great, fine, good, let’s go,” he said, striding back to the register. Fifteen seconds had elapsed since his entrance.

He arrived at the counter still talking up a storm with his kids at full volume. It seemed he was a man who enjoyed a chat, but when I give a cheerful "Hi how's it going?" he glanced my way and said nothing in reply, tossing the CD on the counter. The judges were mightily impressed so far. The CD Throw was followed up by the classic Credit Card Toss. The card skimmed across the counter and right off the edge, landing at my feet so I had to pick it up. Bonus rage points awarded there at the thirty second mark.

All further attempts at human communication – asking him if he wanted a bag, wishing him a good journey – were rebuffed by the competitor. He was one of those type-A, perpetual-motion machines, a guy who's constantly talking, moving, acting without thinking. He was so "on" it freaked me out. And I don’t mean “on” in the friendly sense, the way some people do a stand-up comedy act when they meet you. At least you can laugh at them. This guy was a scowling Hate Black Hole, pulling all of my ill will in his direction.

To top off the performance, he walked away with the CD at top speed and I had to yell at him to get him to come back and sign the credit card receipt. I love it when they stick the landing.


Sunday, August 22, 2004

The summer of 1998 was a strange time for me. Oh hell, every day is a strange time for me. In summer '98 though, I'd just graduated from college with my useless film degree and I was looking for work. I was bound and determined that with college finished, I would never, ever work retail again. The only ad in the local newspaper was in a small technology business called EIM, Electronic Imaging Materials. They print bar codes and other profoundly dull things of that nature. They already had a four-person squad handling the telephones and getting orders; the job I was applying for was in the factory area producing the barcodes and boxing them for shipping. The test to get the job consisted of about twenty-five high school level math questions and a half-hour time limit. I handed in the paper after five minutes, shoved my pencil in my pocket and left. A few hours later the phone rang and I was hired.

Working at EIM was the worst few months of my working life. That might be why I'm back in retail, but let's leave that alone for now. My job at EIM was actually sort of complicated. First I had to grab an order sheet from the waiting list. Some had earlier shipdates than others, some required skills I hadn't learned yet, etc. Once I had an appropriate job, say, 50,000 blue barcode stickers for a candy company in Nebraska, I had to get the appropriate sized roll of paper for the job. I'd go across the hall, find the roll I needed, and lug the hundred pound thing back to the grease room. The roll was attached to a huge printing machine and had to be threaded just right through the works. Anything less than perfection and the whole thing would screw up. It would print crooked, or too light, or too dark, or it would come unthreaded and paper would grind up inside the machine, and the list goes on. I had all sorts of annoying little tools that had to turn parts of the machine to exact specifications, so that took time to master.

Order finished, the many small rolls of completed stickers had to be boxed and set aside with proper address labels, ready for FedEx or UPS to grab later in the day. They started teaching me the shipping stuff and that was a hell in itself. If you accidentally sent the wrong stickers to a the wrong place (it's easier than you'd think with several hundred boxes going out rapidly each day), the receiving guy at both places would call and scream at us. Aside from the excruciating back pain I started experiencing from the huge rolls of paper, which ultimately led to my resignation, the atmosphere itself was bizarre there. It felt like me on one side with my book at the lunch table and all four of the other guys in the other room swapping spark plug stories.

My coworkers were the sort of Nascar-loving shop guys that had sucker-punched me in high school bathrooms years before, now they were smacking my back with oily black palms going, "Whaddya git up to this weekend, man? Do any muddin' after that rain? Or were ya too busy drinkin' Bud an' screwin' chicks?"

"Muddin' " was a big, big deal to the guys. They all had Jeeps or Chevy Blazers with tires higher than a human being, and they were always splattered brown from a weekend spent off-road. Nice enough guys I guess, but our conversations were never much to write home about. My lack of experience in the automotive arts was a hindrance, as was my taste in music. They guarded the CD/cassette player closely, making sure I never put in anything that "didn't rock." They needn't have worried, I wouldn't have risked my discs in the grease-streaked confines of the workshop anyway. Occasionally nobody had anything to listen to, or the tape player ate somebody's Pantera album, so we'd listen to the radio.

One day the DJ at WEQX, southern Vermont's formerly cool Alternative station, cued up a new track called "Closing Time." It was by a relatively new band called Semisonic, and I took an immediate disliking to the song. That initial irritation turned to full blown madness when the song went to number one and started getting played twice an hour. The group and their runaway hit were absolutely everywhere that summer. You couldn't go to a bar without hearing it as the final song of the evening. You couldn't turn on your car radio without it assailing your ears. Weddings, funerals, TV shows...that @#*king song was everywhere. As my back went south and the factory job turned to shit, I started to realize that school was truly over and real life was starting to intrude on my waning youth. Dreams were dying like flies amongst my friends as they settled into careers and began looking towards marriage, childbirth and ultimately the grave. I needed money to pay my rent. Retail beckoned once more. And the song "Closing Time" became the soundtrack of my defeat.

That said, you can imagine my surprise recently when I found out that my coworker Bridget here at the bookshop is a cousin of Jake Slichter, drummer for Semisonic. Furthermore, he's just had a book published, So You Wanna Be a Rock & Roll Star: How I Machine-Gunned a Roomful of Record Executives and Other True Tales from a Drummer's Life. To add insult to injury, I discovered he was on a book tour and his cousin here had gotten him to do a signing in our shop. Being the store's musical representative, I was basically drafted into attending the event, which meant I had to read the thing first.

Well, I must say this crow tastes delicious. Yes, the book turned out to be good after all, a fun reminiscence of how Jake went from thirtysomething basement musician to drummer for the chart-topping one-hit-juggernaut known as Semisonic. By the time I finished reading it I was actually sort of looking forward to his appearance here. It went down last Thursday night and everybody seemed pretty happy with it.

Despite having drummed on one of the songs I hated most from the 1990s, Jake is actually a good guy, a good writer, and even a decent reader. You'd be surprised how many authors stumble over their own words and deliver the lines in a monotonal mutter. Not so our Jake; he read with panache the chapter on the group's first appearance on late night television and then answered questions like a champ. Would I buy their music now? a word, no. It's well-crafted pop with a brain, but not really my style. Still, it's always good to have your old prejudices and hatreds challenged and blasted away. Now I no longer have to hate "Closing Time" or Semisonic, or the summer of 1998. It's time to make peace, if not with retail, then at least with myself. Time waits for no one. But it ain't closing time for me just yet.


Thursday, August 19, 2004

Book sale of the day: Jesuit Soupmaking For Beginners (can we assume there are more in the series?)

Customer Question Of the Day: “Do you have any albums about hemp?”

Actual comment overheard recently in the shop:

"Even a cop, if he's on your property without a search warrant, he's a trespasser. You can shoot 'im."

A random moment that happened last week:

- Customer: Hi.
- Me: Hello.
- Customer: Good, thanks.

Random cliché phrase that I am sick of hearing:

“I gotta get outta here before I spend anymore money!”

Funniest damn name I’ve ever seen on someone’s credit card:

Manspeter Gerber (he caught my grin and said the company misspelled “Hanspeter,” but it still floored me)


Monday, August 16, 2004

I was at my counter as usual yesterday, helping a sweet little old lady find some music for a gift. We chatted a bit, I got the range of her friend's tastes and managed to come up with something that fit the bill. Things were going swimmingly and I was in high spirits as I brought the purchase to the register and started going through the motions. I asked the granny a question and halfway through her answer she was interrupted by a trio of late middle-aged harpies that came bursting through the door.

They were dressed expensively in Matron Couture, that kind of unadventurous fashion that rich women go for in their sixties. You know the type, gauzy purple scarves that serve no purpose, massive gold earrings pulling their lobes down to the shoulder blades, and those shoes that come to a point so sharp they could poke a hole in the door of a bank vault. The same vault that houses their husbands' illicit gains from years of insider trading, most likely. They had their grey hair done up in the First Lady coif that's so popular with affluent ladies of a certain age. It's the modern equivalent of a beehive hairdo: too much hair looking not enough special. Clearly they were at that age in large families when women transcend mere motherhood and become the Family Matriarch, the hub around which all information, dinner reservations, and permissions must flow. It's that age where their own mothers have passed the pain-in-the-ass baton because they're either deceased or too old to care.

"The Notebook. Where is it?"

They fired the question at me before they'd even cleared the doorway, braying from across the room. Instantly I knew they wanted the novel by one Nicholas Sparks, but I'm deadset against giving over-privileged people what they demand. I put on the innocent, "Who? What? Where?" face. It indicated (I thought) that they'd interrupted me in the middle of helping someone much nicer than they were, and that perhaps they'd be better off heading back to Connecticut in their Lincoln Towncar to buy the book at their local Barnes & Noble, where they could purchase a complicated coffee beverage and sit around reading the book for free, or arguing with their friends about which drapes were better for a lakeside summer home. They didn't quite interpret the look in that way, however. They just shoved aside my poor little wizened customer and barked in my face: "The novel, Sparks, The Notebook. Where?"

I stopped looking at them, afraid I couldn't control myself if I had to look at their botox-injected faces any longer. I jerked a thumb over my right shoulder towards the inner sanctum of the bookshop proper. "That way, take a right," I growled. "I don't do books. Ask at the main counter."

That was a lie, I can and do look up books on the computer for people and send them in the right direction. But why would I help these former trophy wives when they're rude enough to interrupt an elderly woman's transaction? The poor thing was practically shaking from the force of their assault already. I can't stand it when people feel entitled for no reason. My mom's a Baby Boomer and she manages to think about other people all day, every day. What is it about having millions that turns human beings into anuses? As they huffed away, chattering loudly about my lack of grovelling, I smiled at the poor old woman with the twenty in her hand. We both looked back towards the Retirement Army and shrugged. "They weren't very nice, were they dear?" she said.


Sunday, August 08, 2004

I'm pretty sure the two most disgusting words in the English language are "home office." I used to work at a Strawberries, pushing CDs for the man instead of selling them here at an independent. Strawberries, in case you're unaware, is owned body and soul by the almighty TransWorld Entertainment Corporation, or TWEC as they like their employees to call them. Maybe they think the abbreviation is cute, but it can't disguise the fact that they're Satan. They own Saturday Matinee, Strawberries, Spec's, Wherehouse Music, Coconuts, and those shitty FYE music & video stores in malls around the country.

Every day we would get at least two or three e-mails from the Home Office, a bunch of desk jockeys hanging out in New York state somewhere, sitting in board meetings deciding which crappy albums they've been paid off by the record labels to advertise in their stores. We had a binder with that month's directions in it: hundreds of pages worth of items that need to be sale-priced with red stickers by a certain date, which posters of Britney Spears and Hoobastank have to be on the south and east walls of the store, how many feet the discount cassette table can be from the registers, etc. It was a neverending assault of idiotic verbiage and pedantic stupidity.

Best of all was The Plan. Oh, they never tired of talking about that. Apparently some morons at the Home Office would sit around looking at pages and pages of mind-numbing sales figures from the previous year. Factoring in some half-baked idea about "maximizing growth potential" that they learned while getting their associate degree in business, they'd tell us how much cash our store should be pulling down this year. On the wall of the cobwebbed office / breakroom there was a whiteboard posted with the month's projected sales figures. Every day the manager had to mark a little tower of red or black ink to indicate how that day's sales stacked up against The Plan. He had to go on a weekly conference call with his boss Sue. We had a lot of names for her, but most often it was just her name followed by gobbling turkey noises to make fun of her poultry-like neck wattle.

Making enough cash to match their projections was called Making Plan. I'd walk into the breakroom to get some more bags and this voice would be coming out of the phone to reprimand the manager: "Oh dear James, your store's not Making Plan this month. What can we do about that? Did you pass out that WINS worksheet to all the employees? My manager would make obscene gestures for my benefit. "Oh yeah," he'd say. "Everyone scored 100 on that one."

Seriously, they would send us homework and lame booklets to fill out. WINS was this idiotically obvious program they made us memorize in order to badger the customers more effectively.

W was for Welcome the customer. Sounds nice, right? Well they weren't trying to be friendly. According to their overpriced research, greeting each customer lets them subconsciously think you're watching them. It was all an attempt to prevent shoplifting, or in corporate-speak, it's a loss prevention tactic.

I was for Inquire. It was something about asking the customers what they're looking for. I tended to ignore this unless they looked lost. I know how much I dislike walking into a store and immediately getting the "what can I help you find today?" treatment. That's the other thing, we weren't allowed to ask "Can I help you find something?" because they could answer Yes or No and it was therefore a "closed question." We had to ask it in such a way that the customer had to actually respond in some way. That was the theory anyway. Screw it, let's move on.

N was for Note other products. In other words, bother the poor person even more with inane crap. "Have you seen the sale table over there in the back? It's chock-a-block full of outdated cassettes were trying to get rid of, like Lawrence Welk and Adam Ant. Just what a teenager in 2001 is looking for!"

S was for Suggest other shit. Yes that's right, you've annoyed them since they walked in the door, now it's time to put on the full court press at the cash register. "Would you like to buy some CD cleaning wipes or blank tapes today? They're only 99 cents." "Would you like to preorder the latest Hollywood turd on DVD so we can Make Plan and keep our lousy jobs?"

The best thing is, they enforced these bullshit policies by sending Secret Shoppers around every month to rate our performance. Then the manager would get chewed out all over again when we failed to harangue the S.S. as they walked around the shop. Note that "secret shpper" has the same initials as the Nazi police squads. I could go on like this for days but I'll spare you, at least for now. All this talk about the Home Orifice is making my blood boil again, two years after the fact.


In other news, I went ahead and started a blog for my mom. What can I say? I think she has some stories to tell, and how else can I pry them out of her? Heh! Uh oh...hang on a sec. Is she actually rapping in the first paragraph of her latest post? Dear lord, what have I done?? Forgive me!


Tuesday, August 03, 2004

Sorry, just had to get in one more shot of the Rod-Man here, in all his wristband glory. As always, the quote is real. He's awesome, I'm telling you!

Appropriately enough, I just found out about The Metal Quiz. Are you a God of Thunder or just a metal poseur? Now is your chance to find out. I think I'm just a roadie with aspirations...


This page is powered by Blogger. Isn't yours?