Thursday, June 17, 2004

It's not a bad day, but it's one of those days when you think there might be a message you aren't getting. It started when my alarm clock didn’t go off and I awoke at 9:35 and had to rush to get ready for work at 10. Fed, showered and shaved, I rushed to my room to grab some clothes, only to realize that it wasn’t 10 a.m., it was only 9. My alarm hadn’t gone off because I was supposed to be asleep. Brilliant.

One hour and some aimless web-surfing later, I was on my way to work. Got there just before 10 and had time to grab coffee at the food court downstairs. My boss showed up and I bought him a coffee too, why the hell not? Consider it an investment in my future, not that there’s any room for advancement where I work. Hustled my way upstairs and rushed to the music counter, only to realize that I work at noon on Thursdays. Yes folks, I really am this stupid.

Went home wired on caffeine and proceeded to waste one more hour on the internet. At least I finished a mix CD for some friends out West, but other than that the day has been less than thrilling. Call of the day: Ed (the guy I mentioned who sounds like Elmer Fudd) phoned in to order his thousandth country disc. Having accomplished that, Ed proceeded to gnaw my ear off about how much he doesn’t like the new Loretta Lynn album. “I bought that disc and it wasn’t Woretta Wynn at all. I mean, it was Woretta Wynn, but it wasn’t. You know what I mean? It’s wike a heavy metal wock ‘n’ woll album!”

Loretta’s great new album, while a bit more electric than I’d expect from a woman in her 70s, is not heavy metal by a long shot. But Ed was adamant that he’d mistakenly purchased the devil’s music. Ten minutes later he was finished at last and, to be honest, I feel a bit finished myself. Call it the Caffeine Comedown or just a day gone wrong from the beginning. All I know is, quitting time can’t come too soon.


Sunday, June 13, 2004

A few pet peeves:

1.) Would you like a bag with that? Now, that phrase is so ingrained in my psyche I
could've used it for the name of the blog. But that's not my point. I just want to
point out that it's a very easy question. A simple "yes please" or "no thank you" will
suffice. But for some reason unknown to me, half the time someone will give a terse "no
I would not!" then five seconds later they back peddle and stammer, "oh, er, wait. Yes,
gimme one." Did they think I was asking if they'd like to sleep with me? Or I get the
opposite reaction to the question: they request a bag, I pull one out and put their item
inside it, then they suddenly decide they don't need it after all and I get to try and
stuff the bag back into its dispenser beneath the counter. Not especially difficult, it's
just the bizarre change of heart that gets me.

2.) People who insist on using their own pen to sign things. What, my black ballpoint isn't
good enough for you? Oh, well excuse me Mr. Purple Ink Whalebone Upside Down-writing
Calligraphy Professor. I wouldn't want to soil your gorgeous hands with my common writing
implement. Damn.

3.) The Credit Card Drop. I ring up their purchases, they pull out a credit card and I
put my hand out, palm up, inches from their own hand. Do they place the card into my
hand? No, they drop it unceremoniously onto the counter so I have to pick it
up. Common courtesy, jackass. Ever heard of it? Besides, it's your magnetic strip
that's getting scratched as I drag it over to the edge of the counter to pick it
up. And speaking of the magnetic strip on credit cards, this little card dropping
maneuver used to really piss off my coworker Ethan at Strawberries
when I was an indentured servant there a few years back. If someone threw their card
at him during a transaction, chances were extremely good he would secretly pass their
card over the CD security deactivation pad behind the counter. The strip was useless
after that, ensuring that from then on anywhere they shopped, the store wouldn't be
able to swipe the card. That means extra time spent waiting for them to key in the card
number, or worse yet, calling the company for card number verification. Nice begets
nice. Think about it.

Sunday, June 06, 2004

In my old bookstore job, way back in the long-forgotten 1990s, the shop was located in the strippiest strip mall that ever stripped a strip. Flanked on one side by a CVS pharmacy and on the other side by a discount shoe store, it was quite a depressing place to do business. The view from the front windows looked out on a parking lot filled with cars as far as the eye could see. Warm summer days would pass in sunny silence, nibbling a sandwich or some chocolate Riesen chews, occasionally throwing in the soundtrack to "Muppet Christmas Carol" just to see the look on the lone customer's face. Business was slow there.

I used to ride my bike to work during those summer months and there wasn't any bike rack where I could chain it, so I'd always end up dragging the damned thing down an aisle to the back room. Backpack falling off my shoulder, I’d end up over-steering to the right and knock piles of books onto the floor. Finally I’d get the bike into the poorly lit back room, a chilly (even in summer), dank dungeon of a “break room,” complete with rickety homemade book shelves for the porno mag overstock and the obligatory emergency exit that led to the even scarier backside of the strip mall.

At night I was often by myself to close the store and more than once I had to break the tedium by riding the bike in the store. The lights had to be off so shoppers wouldn’t mistakenly think we were open, so I was essentially biking in the dark, skirting the walls. Cranking up the radio to levels that must have aggravated the adjacent stores, I’d pedal down the aisles, faster and faster, trying to see how fast I could go with a minimum of visibility and a few inches of space between the handlebars and the bookshelves. It wasn’t a large shop, so the turns would come up fast. More than once I flew head over heels into the Bestsellers table and had to stay even later cleaning up the mess.

It was worth it though. Sometimes that’s all you have in retail, the freedom to act like an idiot when nobody’s looking. Whether it’s singing along with a song at the top of your lungs after the store is closed, or standing on top of the counter practicing the Karate Kid crane kick, you have to stay sane by acting insane. Sounds odd but believe me, after a decade I know all about this stuff. The people that come in, do their jobs, and leave? They’re the ones who become automatons, their brains putrefying into gray soup inside their skulls. Don’t let it happen to you, my fellow retail peons.

Goofball of the Day: this lady just came in and bought two books entitled “Enhancing Your Psychic Development” and “Handbook To Higher Consciousness,” and a CD called “Singing Bowls of Shangri-La.” Gotta love those new-age crystal squeezers.


Thursday, June 03, 2004

Another immutable law of retail is something I've decided to call the Herd Theory. I first noticed it when I was shopping somewhere and doing it myself, and since then I've seen it again and again in and out of my workplace. Here's how it works:

You're in a store, minding your own business, when suddenly you realize it's filling up. A few minutes before there were two people in there,suddenly it's a dozen. Keep your eyes open. If nothing happens at the register for ten minutes, the Herd Theory is called into play. Simply stated, once a single person heads for the counter to buy their items, I submit that it will start a stampede of sorts. At least one third of the room will head zombie-like for the register, causing a line to form. It happens over and over again at my work. It's almost as if the customers have forgotten the cash register since it's been silent for so long. Once it starts making noises, our brains seem to tell us "You forgot to check out. Let's get a move on." My coworkers have noticed it too, it's not just me. See for yourself.

There's a psychology masters thesis in there somewhere but I'll leave that to you, dear reader. Just send me a copy when you finish it.

Tuesday, June 01, 2004

There is consistent entertainment to be had in retail, you just have to search for it. All you need is to know the rules of the game and you can start twisting them for your own use. It's disconcerting to the customer and immensely satisfying because they never seem to realize I'm messing with them, they just leave with a quizzical expression plastered on their face. I'll give you an example.

Anytime a young heterosexual couple comes in the store and the female buys something, the male will take his "I am her keeper" stance. Tonight a young redheaded college girl came up to the counter with a discounted book of poetry. The whole time she was at the counter her boyfriend stood about three feet behind her and slightly to her left, staring at me. From the time I said "hello" to the time I handed her the bag and wished her a good evening, the guy was watching me like a hawk. What did he think I was going to do exactly? Leap over the counter and stick my tongue down her throat? Buddy, she's all yours. Lose the attitude.

It happens all the time here. Sometimes he's over in the rock CDs, pretending to browse while he glares at me from the corner of his eye. Other times he's right next to her, more in front of me than she is, despite the fact that it's her book and her money. A few times I've had the guy take the money for her book from her and then hand it over to me. It's truly bizarre behavior I would expect on some Discovery Channel show on chimps. Older couples seem to be over the whole thing. Half the time the wife at the counter has to call to the guy three times before he sighs, puts down the Skynyrd disc, and walks over. But the young couples? Man, I thought I was insecure but these dudes are pathetic. The game-playing I was referring to in the first paragraph is where it gets fun.

Tonight I noticed the guy scoping me out from behind his girl so I put on my best smile and chatted about anything I could think of. She seemed delighted to have such personable service, but her boyfriend was turning purple behind her. I knew he wouldn’t say anything outright though, because it would make him look bad in front of her. I just ignored his glare and sent them on their way. Another stake in the heart of old-fashioned chauvinism. Gents: trust your ladies. 99 out of 100 times, they aren’t flirting with the clerk, they’re being friendly. Thank you.


Sunday, May 30, 2004

Back from London and Scotland. Had a hell of a great time in both places, but this blog's not about holiday snapshots and fond memories. It's about the hellish dungeon known as Retail, so let's clamp on the manacles and get right back to the pain.

Another lovely Sunday at work today, watching the leaves on the trees through the window as they wave silently to and fro as if to say, "We are out here enjoying the sunlight. You are indoors, breathing the colective dust of 100,000 books and a few dozen customers. In your face, meatsack."

I got to face another of retail's finest pains today: the old school acquaintance. It's one of the hazards of staying in your hometown, and it gets worse around the holidays when people come home to see their parents. I can usually count on at least two awkward encounters per December. It usually goes something like this:

Good-looking Stranger: Tim?
Me: (thinking they look familiar but horrible with names) Yeah...?
Jeanette: Jeanette MacGillicuddy from Mr. Wilson's algebra class! Wow, I thought that was you!
Me: Oh, uh...yeah., what have you been up to?
Jeanette: Well, after high school I went to the UCLA and majored in marine biology and Nepalese Veterinary Science. But I decided it wasn't my thing so I got a job lying on the beach in Italy counting money. Then I met my husband and we had two beautiful children who never misbehave. They're out in the Benz, reading Tolstoy to prepare for kindergarten. So what have you been up to?
Me: Ummm...This.
Jeanette: Haha! Oh, you're so funny. Helping out here for the Christmas rush? Really, what was your major?
Me: Film.
Jeanette: Oh, that must be exciting! Do you live in Hollywood?
Me: I still live here in this shitty one-horse town. I hate LA. Wouldn't move there if my life depended on it. I wasted my time getting the degree, it left me in debt up to my scalp, and I never married either, so let me beat you to the punch on that one. Every day is a struggle not to end it all. But hey, good to see you!
Jeanette: (flustered and confused) I...I have to go. Marco and the kids are waiting. Um...bye.
Me: Can I help the next person please?

Today it was Beth, a girl I vaguely remember from school but couldn't pick out of a line-up. She remembered me quite clearly, last name and all. I had to stare blankly back at her until she revealed her identity. I could swear she was in a clique that never gave me the time of day in school. Very strange, life.

Tuesday, May 11, 2004

Well folks, I'm going to the UK for a couple weeks (London and Scotland) so unfortunately things will be slow around here. But when I get back remind me to tell you about...oh screw it, I'll just tell you now.

Last Thursday at work a guy exposed himself to a young lady in the "fiction" section of the bookshop. She got freaked out, and our manager walked all over the place trying to spot the offender. He finally found a guy who matched her description (blue shorts and baseball hat) and walked over to the guy. "I'm sorry sir, but we've had a complaint about your behavior," he said.

"But I just walked in the door!" the guy replied. Another of my coworkers was quick to confirm this and the manager apologized. But sure enough, the accused and his wife-to-be ended up at my counter yelling at me. Picture this: I'm minding my own business, not having heard anything about any of it, and this woman comes in yelling at me: "My fiance was insulted by your manager! I've been coming here for years and I've never been treated this way! Tsk tsk!" etc.

I told my manager about her later and he filled me in on the day's events. "In retrospect, I shouldn't have said anything to the guy," he told me. I could only nod my head in agreement.

And's off to Great Britain for some fish & chips. Cheers.

Thursday, May 06, 2004

Today we complete our triumvirate of CD Shop Regulars with Accompanying Sketches. I regret to say that this one isn't truly a regular. He's a one-timer who never appeared again. I love a good freak though, and this one's in my all-time top five shoppers.

It all went down last year in late 2003. I was doing my usual, hanging out behind the counter, using my "don't bother me" glare, when this cat walks in. He had to be in his late twenties, but he looked like he just got back from ransacking Jimi Hendrix's tour bus at Woodstock. Head to toe he was every bit the flower child. From the shoulder-length Easy Rider haircut to the rose-tinted glasses and crushed velvet overcoat, it was like stepping into a time machine to the late 1960s. "Wow," I thought, "nice Halloween costume." Except it was December and the guy was dead serious. He sauntered over to the racks in his tight leggings and started browsing and all of a sudden it became apparent that the random middle-aged woman behind him was his mother.

He started reading off every psychedelic sixties album he could find on the shelves, goading her to respond. Despite the fact that she was of prime age to recall the Summer of Love in '69, she invariably answered him with a sour "Never heard of it," at which point he would launch into a detailed summary of the album's pluses and minuses. He kept referring to her as "Mother" which was giving me an Anthony Perkins Psycho vibe but in a good way. He felt vintage and unlike most poseurs who cop their look from a bygone era, this guy was so committed to the persona that he completely won me over. I wanted to applaud him when he walked out, maybe ask for an interview ("Who are you? What could have possibly triggered this in you?") but he was gone too soon, presumably to Haight-Ashbury for a paisley scarf. Go in peace, little hippy. May your time come again…preferably after I’m gone.

Here's the sketch:


Tuesday, May 04, 2004

Another great regular we used to have here was Bill. I don't even remember his last name, this was almost two years ago. He'd show up like clockwork every week to order the worst 1970s crap imaginable. Now, I'm not the biggest lover of classic rock, but even I can appreciate a good Zeppelin, Creedence, or Clapton riff. This guy Bill was ordering Sonny & Cher best ofs, Captain & Tennille rarities discs, and in most cases horrible compilations of Billboard 1970s bubblegum hits for one song. "Oh, I gotta have that song 'Summertime' by Mungo Jerry!" I'd locate it on five different collections and he would invariably pick the absolute worst one. And he always ordered two copies of the same CD "in case something happens to one."

Bill was about mid-30s and had a big gut that always spilled out from under his grimy sweatshirt. A large utility Mag-Lite brand flashlight hung from his belt, clanking against his keychain as he walked. And his beady little eyes peered out at the world over a lame moustache that would embarass a 16-year-old. His head was shaved to the point of being military and he swore with no thought to circumstance or timing. "I love youse guys! This is the best goddamn store in the whole fuckin' state!" he'd announce cheerfully as the woman behind him covered her five-year-old's ears, clucking fretfully. Bill was one of those guys (like the gent named Ed I mentioned in the last post) whom I couldn't believe had a wife. I'd call Bill's house every week to say that his Starland Vocal Band anthology was at the store and his wife would always be the one answering. Unlike Ed's wife however (a very sweet woman who takes messages for her "Eddie"), Bill's wife would hiss in exasperation: "Oh Christ, another one? He's out buyin' CDs again after I told him not to, damnit!"

Sadly, it couldn't last. Eventually the CDs began to pile up. Three copies of "Super Hits of the '70s: Have a Nice Day, Vol. 18" (he really loved the song "Fooled Around and Fell in Love" by Elvin Bishop) next to two copies of the Eric Carmen Encore Collection, etc. I fnally had to call him on it. "Bill, I'm sorry but I can't order anything new until you pick up the 13 CDs you have back here. It's been two months, man." He flew into a rage and demanded to see my manager, who came out and told him the same thing. "Oh yeah?! You know what you can do wit those CDs? You can shove 'em up your ass!" he screamed. Then he stomped out of the store, never to be seen again. To this day, we still haven't sold any of the discs he left behind.

Here’s a picture of him:


Sunday, May 02, 2004

Ed came in this week. He’s a little man who sounds exactly like Elmer Fudd and only orders country CDs. Nice enough fella but nigh incomprehensible at times. He called one day when I was at lunch and had one of my coworkers searching 10 minutes for his “Judge June” CD. When I got back I was able to translate that he wanted his George Jones special order. This morning it was another regular named Justin, a kid who seems to have Asperger’s syndrome, which manifests itself in the person fixating on one topic. His fixation is all things Jewish. He orders DVDs and CDs by the boatload and they all have the word “Klezmer” in the titles. Hey, no anti-semitism here, seriously. I just think he and his speech impediments (lisp and stutter, a classic combo) are annoying. Am I an evil jerk? Hey, like Calvin says, why ask a question I already know the answer to? Yes I am. But he’s still annoying. Just ask any of my coworkers who's dealt with him. Then there's Sally, the ancient battle axe who comes in every couple of weeks to demand that I order the latest album or concert DVD she saw on PBS (public television). I have to explain to her that you can only get these things by giving PBS a donation of one hundred dollars or more. She expresses shock at hearing this for the millionth time and proceeds to make me get on Google and look for the item, which only shows up on PBS sites which offer it for the aforementioned donation. She then settles for ordering a disc by Celtic crooner Daniel O’Donnell and leaves. Here’s a pic:

Regulars are often the glue that holds a shop together, but ask any retail employee their thoughts and they’ll tell you: sometimes you dread their appearance every day. Their entrance can mean an hour-long conversation if you aren’t careful. That’s when you have to use a bit of diplomacy. I like most of our regulars here…many of them are intelligent people with some fascinating stories to tell. You just have to learn to tell the cool regulars from the completely insane people. In some cases, that’s a very blurry line indeed.

Friday, April 30, 2004

Well, here I am on my day off, still working retail. My friend owns a pizzeria and a video game store (and barely breaks even) and since he recently lost the game store manager, I'm running things today while he's doing the pizza thing 45 minutes away. The game store's pretty cool, actually. Since it opened a year ago, our little town has seen an Electronics Boutique AND Game Stop open up. Needless to say, given the choice between huge chain stores and the little guy, most folks opt for the chains. Two or three people wander in here all day, and it's usually just to buy a Snapple. I've got games to play, a book to read, snacks to chuck in my gob, DVDs to watch, and of course the internet. It's sort of like a 10-hour plane ride without the annoying stranger sitting next to me telling me about her nephew's hilarious toddler antics.

Don't get me wrong, we have our share of unemployed, 400-lb. mongoloids wandering in off the street to chew my ear off about the sports team of their choice. But mainly I'm on my own, adrift in a sea of multimedia entertainment, free to dream my little dreams and sing along loudly with whatever mp3 I'm blasting at the moment ("Disconnect the Dots" by Of Montreal if you must know). Soon the schools will open up, spilling their seeds to the wind. The junior high kids will be in here to buy their Rolo and Snickers bars and the stars will align in the firmament. I'm in a very easygoing, all-is-right-with-the-world mood today, not at all like my regular stance of offering a bucket of hate for every man, woman and child who bug me at the CD shop.

Video games just remind me of simpler times. I grew up in the heyday of the arcades, before home systems started to compete graphically with arcade machines. The reason you see so few arcades now is because the games don't cost a quarter anymore, they're two freakin' dollars a game! I have vivid 1980s memories of days like this, a warm breeze at my back on the way to the local arcade to slip some quarters into the Tempest or Frogger machine. I still love games, still buy them, still play just ain't the same. There's nothing like that buzz and insanity of four dozen arcade games in a darkened room, all competing for your attention. Dragon's Lair extolls the virtues of its hero Dirk, as the Punch-Out game to your right screams its muffled, computerized samples: "Body blow! Body blow! Upper cut! Knock out!" Here I go getting all misty. Anyway, this is a one-time gig, I promise. Sunday it's back to the CD shop and more well-fed baby boomers making daytrips from Connecticut, looking for James Taylor albums to play in the Mercedes SUV. I vomit just thinking about it.

Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Well then. Looks like I've got this goofy blog thing up and running. Had it already on my site but it took forever to format each post by hand, blah blah blah. So I'm on this "Blogger" thing now and it does all the work. I rant, rave, and wave my arms around for awhile and they post it here all nice and formatted. For those of you unfamiliar with my deal, it's this: I work in retail. Have done so for over a decade now, on and off (mostly on unfortunately). You'd think a college graduate with mild to medium spicy levels of English ability could get a better gig, but when you live in the middle of a grease stain on the atlas, there's not much to choose from. I did manage to escape for a year to teach in Japan, but here I am back again for the foreseeable future. In an effort to stave of boredom and outright insanity, I've created this little blog here to discuss retail jobs past and present. It's full of stories and anecdotes about coworkers and customers alike, and there's a fair amount of bitter sarcasm, so if you don't enjoy that type of thing then I suggest you get back on your Vespa and scoot back to whichever Thomas Kinkade "Painter of Light" fansite you came from. Anyone still here? Cool, thanks for coming! Whether you're one of my brothers and sisters in retail, or just someone who appreciates a good sob story, hopefully this won't be too dull for you. First things first, I've gotta go add the old posts.

Thursday, February 26, 2004

As our bookshop has grown to the point where it appears to be some many-tentacled retail behemoth, we have developed an “upstairs” area which is really only a half-floor above the main one. It’s where we have a few computers and work areas for various employees (the Greeting Card & Calendar mistress, the Sale Books dominatrix, and a couple other desks) and it is viewable and reachable from the sales floor via two little staircases. It isn’t posted as an “employees only” location, but that seems fairly obvious from the fact that remainder of the large store is on a lower level, and there are no shelves of books up there either.

One afternoon not long ago, I was up in that workspace completing some mindless ape task on one of the computers. I heard an old man approach the music counter (my usual haunt) at the base of one of the staircases. He asked a question and was directed around to the main desk and so I heard him as he stomped his way around several corners and got himself lost. Forging ahead with his plan despite indicators to the contrary, he marched up the second set of stairs with his book question. I shrunk down in my seat as low as a vertebrate possibly can and he zeroed in on my coworker who sat staring at him as a gazelle stares at a missile-tracking defense satellite. That is to say, with some incomprehension. It rapidly became clear to me that this exchange (one-sided as it was) needed to be documented, so I opened up a text program and transcribed the following gems:

”I'm lookin' for books by Alistair MacLean. Now he was the conductor of the biggest train ever built, The Orient Express. It was over 13 miles long. I want train books by ‘im.”

(My coworker looks it up in her electronic catalog of books: "nothing seems to be available except these adventure novels...")

”That's just the problem. Some other guy keeps stealing his name and writing books under his name. That other stuff there, that ain’t the right guy. Those ain’t train books…”

”…I been on the Orient Express, y’know. I been all over the world, with those stupid drunks in Ireland, and those stones, ya know the big ones you can walk through? An' I seen them pyramids and everything…”

”…I been looking for these MacLean books for ages now. I been to every bookshop between here an’ the moon. This other guy, half-Russian, half-everything else, came down to Fitchburg and bought up every book he could find. He stores 'em all up in boxes and never lets nobody see ‘em. He got a bar down there an’ he opens the bar whenever he feels like it…”

There was more said that day but this is as much as I was able to catch from my cowardly vantage point. I leave you now with a benediction from the man himself, and may it fill you with calm when all about you is the maelstrom:

Well, we done everything we could and there's nothing else to say about that.

Thursday, February 05, 2004

We all have good days and bad days. I'm sure even Mother Teresa had moments when she wanted to strangle somebody with their own intestines and run naked through the streets of Calcutta screaming, "Ice cream hats! Ice cream hats!" She never gave in of course, that's why she's a saint and I'm a caucasian paperweight. But I digress. My latest moment of near-insanity came recently when several disparate factors came into play at work, causing what I like to think of as...The Cacophany.

It all started innocently enough. One of my coworkers was ill for the umpteenth day and his phlegmatic throat-clearing and coughing was already getting on everyone's nerves. Next thing I know there's something else, some other drawn-out grunting noise. Turns out it was a young mentally handicapped gentleman. He'd wandered into the store with his parents and he had a slight tic which consisted of short, severe grunts at loud volume. Hey, no big deal, right? I'm a sensitive guy, I know we're all different. And I kept telling myself that for the first 15 minutes. As time crept on, his grunting got steadily louder and I began to pick out a rhythm to his noises and the snot-hocking noises of my sick coworker. They began to sound like voices, far off and plaintive, in a language only my anguished soul could decipher. The CD room swam before my eyes. Then I heard another sound.

Yes, that's right, another handicapped youngster, this time a cute little girl with a very distinctive, clipped, high-pitched hyena bark: "HEH!" Again I must stress, I'm not trying to belittle those less fortunate than myself. I understand that they can not help themselves. I'm simply pointing out that between my coworker's incessant liquid-lunged antics, the *grunts* of the young man, the "HEH!" of the girl, and now her mother's Fleetwood Mac discussion, I was starting to lose it. A full twenty minutes went by. "Y'know, I had 'Rumours' on record, way back when..." "HEH!" *GRUNT* *HAACCKKK* ... "Yup, I had dat othuh album they done put out too. Y'know, the one with the blue covuh." *PHLEGM SPIT* *GRUNT* "HEH!" ... "What's dis one? Do I have dis? Oh yeah, lookee dat. Dis IS da one wit da blue covuh." "HEH!" *GRUNT* *CCTTHHHHGGHHPPBTT*

It was like that scene in the film Boogie Nights, where they go to the drug dealer's place to rob him and there's a mega-high Asian kid in the corner, lighting fireworks at regular intervals. At first you think it's weird, then it becomes creepy, then you're totally freaked out and you want to jump into the movie and make the kid stop. Except I couldn't make anyone stop because as I pointed out, none of them (except that mom) could help themselves. It all became a twisted, maddening symphony of tics akin to a deranged version of the bedsprings sequence in the French film Delicatessen. Luckily I was somehow able to zone out at some point. Perhaps it was around the time stars began filling the sides of my vision and the universe collapsed into itself. I'm not sure. All I know is, you can't be a weakling and survive in this business. It WILL crush you mentally and devour your soul if you don't keep your wits about you. To those involved, I apologize for using you all in this example of the perils of the retail trade. I'll see you on the flip side...

Wednesday, January 14, 2004

Well, made it through Christmas alright, thanks for asking. Man, another holiday season in retail. Every year I say "that's the last one!" then I turn around and do another. That, my friends, is what is known as unfounded optimism. Oh well, at least the first part of the year has been quiet. I help people out as best I can. Today though I got a phone call from a guy who wanted CDs shipped to him. Hey no problem, that's something we do all the time for customers. They pay shipping, we do the deal, everyone's happy. This guy, however, wants a couple CDs he saw on our Sale Table. Dear...lord. You gotta understand folks, our CD sale table is a sprawling monstrosity, a gigantic and very ugly wooden table laden with all manner of musical ephemera, any and every disc we get from budget distributors and cut-rate jazz and classical manufacturers. It's bloody huge and there is absolutely NO order to it. None. Not only that, we toss new stuff into the table on an almost daily basis, further destroying any hope of finding the same disc in the same spot twice.

My first thought was to laugh into the mouthpiece and hang the phone up. But with my boss around there is no chance that I can escape my fate, so I explain the deal with the table to the guy and reluctantly tell him that I'll try to find his esoteric, out-of-print jazz discs in there. I'll call you back, I say. He replies, "That's okay, I'll wait." I manage to keep my cool and explain to him that it may take me some time, as I have to help people on the sales floor as well as searching the entire bin for his requests. He repeats his willingness to wait. I then explain that it may take me close to an hour to fulfill his request. He expresses shock and finally agrees to let me call him back once the CDs have been located. Click. In the end of course, two of the three discs had been sold or something and he didn't want the one I found after all. Such is life in retail. "Suck it up and deal, pink boy!" I hear you scream. And you are right. I know my place in the Machine of Corporate Progress. This squeaky wheel shall now fall silent once more. But I would repeat one maxim here, some small nugget of wisdom learned in the print advertising for Kevin Smith's movie Clerks: "Just because they serve you doesn't mean they like you."

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