Friday, December 29, 2006

"You don't have to go home but you can't stay here..."

It had been a busy Saturday evening at the record store and I was, as usual, working with Reynolds. It was nearly closing time and we were scrambling around, trying to finish up our allotted chores so that we could get the hell out on time.

Reynolds had already unplugged the OPEN sign and I’d jumped the gun a little by cashing out the back register, so we busied ourselves with wiping down the showcases and straightening up the racks to run out the final minutes of our shift.

I asked Reynolds if he had already locked the door, and he shook his head and said that he’d gotten sidetracked by a phone call just after he’d helped that final customer, so I volunteered to go back up to the front and lock up while the last strands of Pink Floyd’s “Outside the Wall” drifted from the speakers.

As I passed the front register the door opened and a couple of young guys in olive drab jackets walked in.
“Hey guys, we’re getting ready to close,” I said, but they ignored me. They brushed past and my eyes followed as they walked straight to the back of the store and began to browse. Reynolds, who was still straightening up the racks in the back, looked up at me and spread his hands in an exasperated display of “What the fuck?!” I gave an exaggerated shrug that he would be sure to see, and then turned to lock the door.

Which is when another group of people—a much larger group this time--came through the door. I tried to stop them, tried to block their way, but they continued to surge forward and I found myself walking backwards, telling them that the store was closing up for the night. They acted as if I wasn’t even there! I heaved my way through them, like a salmon swimming upstream, to get to the door, but just as my hands reached the handle the door jerked open again and still more people piled in. It was like a stampede, and I pressed my back against the singles wall to keep from getting overrun.

By this time Reynolds had fought his way to the front and with a steady stream of obscenities we locked the door—me fumbling with the deadbolt while he struggled to hold the door closed, as those on the outside tugged with all their might to get it open.

Having locked the door, we turned to face the heaving throng—it was like being on the floor of a sold out rock concert. People where everywhere, elbow to elbow. Reynolds and I looked at each other, eyes wide with wonder and terror.
“How are we gonna get rid of all these people?!” he exclaimed.
“I know,” I said, “Grab the Yoko Ono single.”
“Shit, it’s not here!” he cried as he flipped through the O’s, then the N’s and the P’s, in the fleeting hope that it has been misfiled. It wasn’t there. We were royally fucked.

I climbed onto the front checkout counter and stood up so that I could be seen, taking care not to bump my head into the heavy wooden sign bearing the words “Check-Out” hanging overhead.
“Hey! Hey! Can I have your attention!” I bellowed through cupped hands. The crowd paused to look up at me.
“Please bring your purchases to the front counter RIGHT NOW! We are closing!”

They continued to stare, momentarily, and then simply went back to flipping through the racks and yacking away with nary a care in the world.

I climbed back down and tried to convince Reynolds to give it a go, but he wasn’t very eager. Said he didn’t want to look like an ass. I set my jaw and shot him a look, then took another quick look at the mob. Folding my arms, I leaned back against one of the t-shirt showcases, trying to figure out our next plan of attack. Reynolds seemed to be out of ideas and pulled out the little yellow sticker-covered stepstool and plopped down, chin in hand.

I glanced at the digital LED display on the credit card machine and did a double take. It read 1:18 a.m.! Holy hell, I began to panic. It was two hours past closing time and the store was still swimming with people. I turned around to give Reynolds the news, and saw that he was zipping up his black wool jacket.

“I don’t know about you, but I’m outie” he proclaimed, and walked over to the door.
‘Dude! You CANNOT leave me here alone!” I spat at him, dread filling every pore of my being. “Just look at them!” I flailed my arms, gesturing toward the back of the store, where towering piles of albums and CDs teetered precariously in their hands. Reynolds didn’t care. He turned on his heel and walked out, giving ten more people time to slip through the door before I managed to race around the counter, pull it shut and flip the deadbolt.

I woke up gasping for breath.

This was my recurring nightmare, suffered at least once a month for as long as I worked there. Sometimes I was with TC, or Shelly, or Tom instead of Reynolds, but it always started out the same, and ended the same, and my panic always hit its zenith when I glanced at the digital clock and saw the teal blue 1:18 a.m. winking at me.

Thursday, December 28, 2006

"From a starship over Venus to the sun..."

Larry was another of our mentally challenged regulars. I’m not sure how much of his disability was inborn and how much of it was foisted upon him by his overbearing, stiflingly repressive, weird mother, but he definitely had some issues.

Larry always had a happily dazed look about him, as if he was watching a fireworks display for the first time, and since he was only 4’9” he was forever looking upward anyway. Skyrockets in flight.

As with most of our mentally challenged regulars, Larry was very malleable when it came to parting with the money he made as a trash man, or as he liked to call it, a “waste manage corn ater.” He’d come shooting through the door at top speed, already halfway through a scrambled sentence by the time he screeched to a halt in front of the tape counter. Larry always bought tapes. He never seemed to care what he bought as long as he was assured that it was “a Hot One.” He was very concerned that his taste reflected those of the masses. He’d ask us what our top sellers were, then he’d ask us to read off the top ten Billboard albums of that week. If something we were selling jived with the Billboard chart, he wanted it. No matter what the genre—although it has to be said that he didn’t really care much for rap and metal—he’d still buy it, because it was “a Hot One.”

Sometimes he’d barrel into the store and rush to the tape counter, slap his palm onto the glass showcase and proclaim, “Metallica. It’s a Hot One!” And yes, we’d agree, Metallica was a Hot One. “Whitney Hoosen! She’s a Hot One!” Again, we’d agree that Whitney was indeed a Hot One. He’d be so excited to be on a roll that he’d start to laugh, and Larry’s laugh sounded to a certain extent like Peter Lorre’s. He’d nod his head in abject excitement, his pointy teeth protruding from a gigantic grin as he chanted “yeah, yeah, it’s a Hot One!” Even funnier was when he missed the mark and called out the name of something that was definitely not a Hot One. “Huey Lewis! He’s a Hot One!” and we would shake our heads, to which Larry’s head would automatically swivel from a nod to a shake and he’d mutter “no, no, no, that’s not a hot one.” Then his face would light back up and he’d proclaim, “But he used to be hot!” and we’d agree.

As his reading level was that of your average seven year old, his mispronunciation of artists was legendary around the store. Paula Abdul was Paula Bull. The Fine Young Cannibals were Five’n’Pineapples. A Tribe Called Quest was Time Q. (no, I have no idea what brought that one on) Milli Vanilli was, of course Milli Vanilla. Primal Scream was Pride and Stream. And to this day, I still refer to a certain country singer as Billy Ray Cypress. (as an aside, we also had a customer who referred to Whitesnake as Wotsnok, but that’s another kettle of fish entirely)

Although Larry enjoyed talking with us and reveled in his pseudo-celebrity status at the store (there were times we all applauded when he burst in, and he’d wave like Queen Elizabeth), he felt we’d led him astray once or twice. For instance, I had persuaded him to buy Psychocandy, which he hated, and Reynolds talked him into a Jellyfish tape once, which he might have actually enjoyed had it truly been a Hot One, but it wasn’t—so usually he was keen to let Billboard mandate his choices.

Regardless of his intellectual failings, he could occasionally come up with nuggets of abject brilliance. He once combined chart topping singles by Kylie Minogue and The Beach Boys when he requested the song “Kokomotion.” Another time he was standing at the tape counter when someone walked in and asked for Anita Baker, Milli Vanilli and Neneh Cherry. Larry turned to me without missing a beat and said, “Vanilla, cherries, baker. Someone wants a pie!” And then he’d laugh like Peter Lorre.

Now behind his back the staff referred to him as “Shorty.” Mainly this was because we couldn’t bring ourselves to refer to him as Hot One Larry, and we needed to differentiate between our other Larry regulars, one of which we referred to as Leisure Suit Larry, not because he wore a leisure suit, nor because of the video game of the same name, but because he only ever bought remixed 12” dance singles, which reminded us of Saturday Night Fever, which equated with 70’s polyester threads. Hell, it turned out later that Leisure Suit Larry wasn’t even called Larry, but the name seemed to fit and we continued to refer to him as such, even after we found out his real name was Felix.

For a few weeks each year, Shorty attended some sort of camp for the challenged. He always came in a day or two prior to leaving so he could stock up on the Hot Ones and impress his campmates. During one summer camp he managed to get himself a girlfriend, and he brought her into the store one evening on a date and introduced her. She had the same diminutive stature as him, had the same moon-faced dazed expression, and was something of a shrinking violet—the perfect foil for Shorty’s overblown excitability. It was clear they were made for each other. Despite our cynical nature, we all found it irresistibly sweet to see them wandering around the store, holding hands, as he pointed out the hot ones to her.

Somehow he managed to keep the relationship secret for a few months, but eventually his domineering old cow of a mother found out and put the brakes on the relationship. Although he was obviously quite broken-hearted he made it clear to us that he didn’t wish to tangle with his mom, so we quietly dropped the issue and stopped asking about Violet.

We all truly enjoyed seeing Shorty, and genuinely liked him, even if he could sometimes overstay his welcome. I think the longest he ever hung around asking about Hot Ones was 4 ½ hours. It wasn’t like we were working on commission, so we didn’t really mind that he hung around, but sometimes he got in the way when we were busy. Unlike some of the other regulars who didn’t know when to leave, with Shorty we could simply tap an imaginary watch and say, “Larry, it’s getting late.” He’d snap a Hot One from the perusable pile, peel off the cash and off he’d go on his merry way, out the door with a wave and a grin.

Every now and then Shorty, who was nothing if not a victim of instant gratification, would decide that he wanted to special order something. Mainly I think he did it because he saw other customers doing it, and therefore it was the hot thing to do. But there was the odd time or two when he was very sure that the Hot One he wanted was worth waiting for. In his mind I think he reckoned the item was so hot we couldn’t keep it in stock, which meant that he HAD TO HAVE IT. He’d stop in every day thereafter until the coveted Hot One had arrived. Which was fine by us, because none of us wanted to risk having to phone his house to let him know the cassette was ready for pick up. This was because he wasn’t allowed to answer the phone, so we had to deal with his scary mother, who would screech and snarl and accuse us of paving a path to hell for her little boy. Larry was, at the time, in his mid-30’s. Sometimes she’d ring up the store looking for him, and if he was there she’d cut loose as soon as the receiver was passed to him, or she’d feign some urgent illness that needed his immediate attention, and if he wasn’t there when she rang she’d cut loose on us, just for good measure.

Although he couldn’t read above a second-grade level and had a relatively child-like outlook on life, Shorty held a driving license, which just goes to show that anyone can get a driving license in America, because he seriously shouldn’t have had one. He could barely reach the pedals for a start.

And it was the combination of that license and his tyrannical mother that caused the accident. Shorty was doing his garbage round when dispatch radioed in that his mom was having yet another of her many episodes. Apparently this one sounded serious enough that dispatch had gone ahead and radioed the information to the truck, instructing the driver to swing back and drop Larry off at the yard so he could go home and tend to her. By the time Larry reached his car he had worked himself into a hyperventilating frenzy. He raced toward home, never even noticing the stop lights along State Route 725. The car he t-boned was carrying a young newlywed couple, both of whom were pronounced dead at the scene. Larry suffered severe injuries and was out of commission for nearly a year. Philbert tried once to visit him in the hospital, but Larry’s mother chased him away.

Once recovered, we saw very little of him. His driving privileges having been revoked, he resorted to walking everywhere, and because our store wasn’t convenient to get to from his house, and because his mother had frightened him into believing that riding a bus would send his soul to the devil, he stopped his weekly visits. When he did stop by, he told us he could no longer buy his beloved Hot Ones, because his wages were being garnished toward the settlement of the dead couple’s estate.

But on a snowy cold December evening last year, Larry was one of the regulars who proudly showed up at the funeral home to pay his respects to The Sav. It was a six mile round trip, on foot, in the snow.

Now that’s a loyal customer.

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

"All is quiet on New Year's Day..."

It’s been seven years since I left the record store, but I still find myself shuddering involuntarily at least once during the week leading up to New Year’s Day. It’s only after I’ve had a good shudder that I remember that I no longer have to curtail my New Year’s Eve celebrations, because I no longer have to be at the store at 5 a.m. on New Year’s Day to do inventory.

Yep. 5 a.m.

For twelve years I dragged my sorry arse into the store on New Year’s Day at some ungodly hour for our year-end inventory stock-taking. There were times I went in hung over, and there were times I went in having had the barest minimum of sleep, but I always made it in. It was the one day of the year The Sav treated us to free doughnuts, as if that would somehow make it all better.

Inventory usually took all day. The Sav would divide the staff into teams and give us a section of the vinyl and CD alphabet to inventory. Usually Reynolds and I were paired up together, partly because we were quick and efficient, partly because The Sav knew we worked well together, and partly because our banter made everyone laugh and kept spirits high.

There were also the usual bets. Before inventory began, we’d place our bets as to which artists had the most product left over from the holiday, which artists had sold the most during the holiday, which artists had sold the most all year, and which titles hadn’t moved at all, all year. There were a few titles that hadn’t moved in YEARS. Why The Sav kept them in stock is anyone’s guess, but we suspected it was because he harbored a soft spot for the artist in question. Crystal Gayle’s “Nobody Wants to Be Alone,” for example. We knew The Sav had a thing for Crystal Gayle, but that album was a real stinker, and it languished in the bin for Christ only knows how long. I’m willing to bet it was still there when the store closed permanently earlier this year.

Likewise The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards “Amazing Grace.” Oh sometimes we were lucky and had sold a copy of it during the year (usually to some poor schmuck looking for something with bagpipes), but sometimes it gathered dust for a year or two before we could unload it onto some unfortunate soul. And The Sav always reordered it. It was a given that the store would never be Dragoon-less, be it tape or CD. Crystal Gayle we could understand, because she was a looker, but why in the world The Royal Scots Dragoon Guards?! It was one mystery we never solved.

Another item that never sold was the 7” single of Yoko Ono’s “Touch Me” (flipside “Don’t Worry Kyoko (Mummy’s Only Looking For Her Hand in The Snow)”). It’s a damn good thing that single never sold—and honestly, what self-respecting music fan was ever going to buy that piece of shit?! But it was a good thing nonetheless, because it was our secret weapon. Whenever we found ourselves with a store full of customers at closing time, we simply walked over to the singles bin, rummaged to “O” and slapped that baby on the turntable. It was guaranteed to clear the store in under 30 seconds. Occasionally one of us got carried along in the stampede toward the door, but it was our own fault for being in the way of the exit.

Then there were the Orion albums. The Sav had long since stopped keeping an inventory card for “Reborn” and “Sunrise,” but we still knew they were there, and would always be there. I remember when I first started working at the store and The Sav pulled those two albums out of the rack and told me the “legend” that Orion was supposedly Elvis. It was quite obvious that he believed the hype, or at least had believed it at one time and liked perpetuating the myth.

The Sav liked his myths. He also kept a copy of Klaatu’s first album in the racks, murmuring in hushed tones that it was really an anonymous effort by The Beatles. He also tried to convince us that The Dukes of Stratosphear’s “Psonic Psunspot” was a long-lost Brian Wilson effort, but I set him straight by immediately recognizing Andy Partridge’s voice and clueing him in that it was actually an XTC effort. He didn’t like the album nearly as much after that.

Another album that we always seemed to keep in stock was an import 12” Samantha Fox picture disc. Yes, she had her tits out. I have no idea how many of those The Sav actually had, because the inventory card always indicated we had one in stock, but sometimes we sold it and then the next day it would be back in the rack again. I know The Sav had a large storage locker somewhere, and I can only assume he had an unlimited quantity of the Sam Fox-gets-her-tits-out picture disc.

I’m sure that picture disc aided quite a few young men over the years, but none so much as the chubby, pimply faced Asian kid who used to come into the store to browse while waiting for his mom to come and pick him up after his bi-weekly visit to the Rec Center across the road. I happened to be inventorying the albums--this wasn’t the big year-end inventory, but the twice-weekly stock taking of the Billboard 200, which we did every Thursday and Sunday evening—and the kid was idly flipping through the “F’s” when he hit the jackpot. He stopped in mid-flick and stood stock still for a full 90 seconds. He turned to look toward the register to make sure the staff hadn’t noticed—never bothering to check behind him, which is where I was standing—and then slowly leaned closer to the disc for a good, nudie ogle. After a few minutes it was obvious that he wasn’t going anywhere for awhile, because he had his junk pressed up against the wooden rack in a vain effort to disguise his raging boner. Naturally, at the height of stiffydom, his mom decided to show up.

Poor kid never stood a chance.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

"It's Christmas in prison. There'll be music tonight..."

I really loathed working retail during the holidays. The store became overrun with clueless fuckwits who laboured under the delusion that we were like the music stores at the mall. You know, the kind that would take back anything without a receipt, even if it had been opened and obviously played.

Fingerprints mate, easy to see on vinyl and CDs, and don’t even THINK about trying to clean them off. We’ll know. Trust me.

Our store policy was simple:
*If it’s been opened, it’s yours.
*If it’s defective, it will be exchanged for exactly the same item, which will be opened and checked while you wait. If we are out of the defective item, we will order another copy, call you when it arrives, and it will be opened and checked while you wait.
*If the item is still sealed and you have a receipt, we will happily issue a refund.
*If the item is still sealed and you do not have a receipt, we will issue a gift certificate in the amount of the item.

The policy was posted at each cash register, on the wall at the back of the store, on the wall near the front door, and written on placards which were interspersed through the racks of vinyl and CDs. Our ass was covered.

Oh the number of people who tried to worm their way around it, especially at Christmas. We heard every excuse, every dilemma, every sob story and every conceivable string of abuse you can imagine. Once I had a guy break a CD right in front of my face, and shards flew everywhere. He was angry about the content of a gangsta rap CD that he’d purchased for his kid—which had the “explicit lyrics” stamp right on the cover. I even offered to exchange it for the censored version of the disc, but the guy was irate and didn’t want to give the gangsta any money. All well and good, dude, but a policy is a policy. And so splinters of sharp, shiny plastic burst all over the counter, floor and my face. I called the cops.

Even worse than the yuppies who’d decided that our policy didn’t apply to them were the scammers who tried (and occasionally managed) to buy loads of stuff with stolen credit cards. Those were a blast. At Christmas, every time I swiped a credit card through the terminal, I held my breath, silently praying that I got an “APPROVED” message rather than a “DECLINE” or, even worse, a “PICK UP.”

A “DECLINE” could mean a number of things—usually it meant that the card was over its limit, but could occasionally also mean that there had been a lot of “suspicious activity” on it that day, and in those cases the card holder would usually just ask us to call the issuer, which we always did, and they’d prove they were indeed the card holder by keying in private codes or social security numbers or whatever, then we’d swipe again and it’d be approved. Sighs of relief all around. Oh, we still got our share of abuse from folks who’d maxed their limit but still wanted to shop, but they weren’t keen to speak to their card issuer if we offered to ring them. That usually shut them up in a hurry.

“PICK UP” was alternately the best and worst display on the terminal. It almost always meant the card was stolen, which also meant if we successfully obtained it and sent it back to the issuer, they’d reward us. The base reward was $25.00, anything above that was gravy. When “PICK UP” was displayed our instructions were to detain the customer while we phoned the issuer. Most of the time when this happened the customer would either get antsy or belligerent, or both. Some simply took off running -with one of us after them to jot down their license plate for the police. Things could really get heated, especially if the customer wouldn’t/couldn’t provide proof of identity. They would yell at us, call us every name in the book and generally make a big scene in some lame attempt to make it look like it was somehow our fault that they had a stolen credit card in their possession. They weren’t so hard when the police were called though. They usually legged it out the door before we’d even finished dialing the number. Pussies.

Once at Christmas we encountered an entire family of scammers, and they got us for over grand in merchandise. The card was approved every time, but it was an American Express and the person who signed the receipt was not the same person in whose name the card was issued. The first person to do it was the husband of the card holder. He racked up a couple hundred dollars. The following day the son came in and racked up several more hundred dollars worth of goods. This went on until a few days later when the husband came in and tried it on again, but this time he was unlucky and one of us regular employees waited on him instead of The Sav. When Philbert saw the guy signing a name other than that of the cardholder he told the guy he couldn’t accept it. The guy even showed Phil his driving license-to prove he had the same surname as the cardholder-but Phil wouldn’t budge. Phil also had the sense to copy down the guy’s vitals from the license, just in case. The son tried to sneak in another large purchase sometime that same week, but again was thwarted by one of us.

Just after New Years the store got a notice from American Express, stating that the cardholder was disputing the charges. AmEx asked for copies of the signed receipts, and of course they weren’t signed by the cardholder but by her son and husband, and so American Express refused payment to us, even when Phil produced the guy’s license stats. AmEx was just following policy. It was an expensive lesson for a small business owner to learn.

The crappiest experience I ever had during the Christmas retail season was working with The Sav on Christmas Eve. Reynolds, Abernathy, TC and I were scheduled to close, but at 4 p.m. The Sav showed up, told TC and The Ab they could leave, and stated that he’d work with me and Reynolds for the last two hours. Oh joy.

The crowd had already thinned out from the previous few hours’ chaos, and Reynolds and I were secretly hoping to close up a little early, since we both had places to be by 7 p.m. and wanted to get out retail hell as soon as possible. But with The Sav working alongside us, we knew we were out of luck.

As bad luck with have it, a man and woman wandered into the store at quarter to six. Reynolds and I were eager to find out what they were looking for, get it for them and send them on their merry way, but The Sav stopped us in our tracks and instructed us to “let them browse for a little bit.” That little bit turned into 45 minutes, then an hour! Reynolds and I were fuming. We were scheduled off at 6 p.m., and here it was 7 p.m. and that couple was showing no signs of leaving! I’d polished all the damned jewelry I could, and Reynolds had cleaned the showcases, emptied the trash and we’d both folded every tshirt in the cases at least twice, all the while shooting daggers at The Sav and that yuppie couple.

Finally, around 7:45 p.m. the couple simply turned from the racks and started walking toward the door. The Sav, who was standing at the tape counter next to the front door, asked them if there was something we could help them find.

“Oh no,” said the guy yuppie with the leather bomber jacket as he opened the door, “we were just killing some time. We’ve got someplace to be at eight.”

“Thanks a lot, asshole. We had someplace to be a fucking HOUR ago!” is what I longed to say. But I bit my tongue. Reynolds caught my eye and I could tell he had a similar condemnation running through his mind.

Instead, he slowly shook his head as he locked up behind them, and I switched the register over to cash-out mode and began counting the proceeds.

Monday, December 18, 2006

"I'm saving my ticket for then...."

Shortly after I was hired, the record store became an official Ticketron outlet. Ticketron was the first computerized ticket selling service, which gave fans the option of buying their concert and game tickets in advance without having to stand in line on the day of the event. In the beginning, Ticketron charged a flat one dollar service charge per ticket, and even at the height of their ascent in the mid-80’s their service fees were never much more than a few bucks; a far cry from the evil TicketBastard empire, which effectively swallowed up its happy hippy cousin in 1991 and, with no market competition, commenced a heavy-handed price gouging that persists to this very day.

The system was installed on a slow weekday—probably a Wednesday or Thursday. The Ticketron guy had just finished the installation when Reynolds, Tom, Shelly and I turned up for training. Philbert, Jenny and The Murphdiver were already there, as were The Sav and Bev.

Because our ticket booth was minuscule, we were divided up into two groups, with the group already there getting first crack at the machine. The rest of us stood around refolding t-shirts and polishing jewelry—anything to appear busy while The Sav looked on.

Now The Sav was a bonafide technophobe. He’d already proven to be something of a Luddite when we’d gotten new electronic credit card terminals installed at the cash registers a few weeks previous. He refused to use them, opting instead for the tried and trusted manual imprinter. His rationale was that the dotted line for customer signatures was too small. He was also convinced that compact discs were a flash in the pan, but had changed his tune by 1990 when he recognized the money making potential of the little shiny buggers.

And money was the reason he’d opened the door for Ticketron into his store. The store would receive .25c per ticket, and The Sav’s palms were already itching for that first million. Never mind that the store was already earning a buck a ticket from the pre-printed tickets for shows at McGuffy’s House of Draft and Gilly’s. The Sav was, well, savvy enough to know that those clubs had a fairly limited audience, whereas Ticketron would bring in a wide range of shoppers—sports fans, circus goers, and live theatre aficionados, as well as a much larger assortment of concerts for our customer base. He could hardly contain his greedy excitement.

Not that the lure of easy money instantly warmed him to the intimidating machine. He was absolutely terrified of it, and made a big show of waiting on customers, scurrying about the store in an exaggerated display of overburden, and dashing off to the back office whenever there was a lull in the action so that he wouldn’t have to sit through the training lesson. It was months before he actually sold his first pair of tickets, opting instead to have one of us on the clock at all times so that he wouldn’t have to deal with it. Once, when he had to work by himself because someone had called in sick, he had to turn ticket customers away, telling them that the machine was broken. You just can’t make this shit up.

Even by the computer standards of 1986, the Ticketron terminal was simplistic and easy to learn. (Unless you were The Sav, natch) The monochrome screen displayed a series of boxes, and all the user had to do was key in the event code and the number of tickets needed. One keystroke later and the available seating appeared on screen, listed from best (closest to stage or field) to worst (farthest away and/or obstructed view). The store was given a large three-ring binder filled with laminated venue maps, so that customers could look at the seating charts and decide whether or not they wanted the tickets. Each week the corporate headquarters in Hackensack, New Jersey would mail us a packet with all the upcoming new shows in it, complete with the on-sale date, date of show, venue and event code. It was easy, exciting, and within two months of installation was giving the store an extra few grand a month in revenue.

With the terminal came a few unforeseeable problems, most of which had to do with how to handle the big shows. At first The Sav was content to let fans camp out in the parking lot the night before big shows went on sale, because for the most part the punters were respectful of property, cleaned up after themselves and there was generally a feeling of bonhomie and jovial camaraderie among the fans.

This all changed after the Molly Hatchet incident.

It wasn’t like the show was going to sell out—it was Molly Hatchet, fercrissakes. Plus it was at Hara Arena, a general admission venue. We never thought anyone would be foolish enough to camp out for a general admission show that had no danger of selling out. But then again, we never factored in the stupidity of the average Hatchet fan.

When we closed the shop for the night, the lot was empty. We had no reason to suspect that sometime in the night, the bearded buggers would stagger out of their seedy bars and descend en masse upon our parking lot for a big ole hairy biker party.

Tom and Philbert were scheduled to work the next morning, and when they pulled into the parking lot it was like a real life version of Mad Max, only grimier. The Sav always arrived early to open up, but had wisely waited in his van for reinforcements. The three of them slowly picked their way through the dirty denim, stepping carefully over the red-eyed, drunken fraternity and their stringy-haired ole ladies sprawled out all over the sidewalk. Most were so completely gone that they had forgotten all about the tickets. Broken whiskey bottles glistened in the early morning sunlight, jagged gems among pirates.

Sometime in the night, it was soon discovered, the gang had set fire to one of our trash barrels and the other one had been used as a makeshift toilet. Not that these folks were capable of actually hitting their mark, if you catch my drift. After the ticket fervor died down poor Tom drew the short straw and had to hose away a veritable shit storm. He was not a happy boy.

And thus was invented the Line Number. The glory days of camping out for a concert ticket at our store were over.

Friday, December 08, 2006

"When I am king you will be first against the wall..."

All I could think about was pawning him off onto someone else. Someone else far, far away. I was no longer concentrating on what he was saying, and I’d stopped caring months previous. I found myself standing before the PhonoLog with clenched teeth, trying not to press down quite so hard on the pen as I wrote up another Special Order form. I’d already gouged grooves clean through three squares of paper, the pen digging through the layers on the pad while I silently cursed his very being.

I guess every store has at least one of them. They hide behind the anonymity of the telephone, trying to make the shop employee’s life as miserable as theirs obviously is. They believe they are all-powerful when they have the buffer of a telephone distancing them the object of their abuse.

Reginald Pennington was the bane of our existence. We didn’t hear from him very often, but when we did we could guarantee that he wouldn’t let up until he had infuriated us with his incessant needling, questioning and pestering, and then when he FINALLY got a rise out of us, he’d call us abusive names and slam down the phone in our ears.

He was a Prince fan, so whenever the petite purple one was slated for a new release, Pennington would reappear into our lives like a festering boil, but much less welcome. He’d ring the store to inquire about the release date, and would argue with us that the date we had was wrong. He’d insist that only he knew the “real” date and claimed to know Prince personally, yet got extremely huffy when asked why he needed to place an order for the LP with us, when surely Prince would be happy to send him one, since they were so tight like that.

Pennington had some serious social issues, the least of which was delusions of grandeur. He fancied himself secretive and mysterious too, when in reality he was just a paranoid little creep. He’d special order all kinds of Prince and protégé 12” singles and imports, but would never leave his phone number for us to ring him when they were in. He’d insist we tell him a projected arrival date so that he could call us, rather than the normal way around. This would have worked out just fine, except that he would “forget” to ring us for months at a time and the singles would eventually find their way back into our regular stock and be sold almost immediately to any number of club kids that came in on Saturday nights before hitting the dance floor at 1470 West. And naturally, whenever Pennington remembered to phone for his singles, they’d be long gone and he’d be furious.

On this occasion, he had me on the line, insisting that I read off all the PhonoLog entries for Prince, Wendy & Lisa, Sheena Easton, and Sheila E. so that he could decide what he wanted to order. I can’t remember the exact conversation anymore, but somewhere along the exchange he insinuated that he was our best customer. I couldn’t help myself. The derisive snort slipped out and echoed down the phone line before I could reel it back in. He then demanded that I “show some respect because,” he sneered, “I can take my business elsewhere!”
“We don’t need business like yours!” I spat back at him, and he slammed the phone down in my ear.
Later that evening I got a call from The Sav, wondering who the hell Reginald Pennington was, and why was he ringing him at home—especially when Cheers was on.
“He’s the Prince fan who never picks up his special orders,” I offered.
“That guy?” The Sav was incredulous. “He calls my house, frightens my daughter half to death with a litany of threats, and then when I get on the phone he calls me motherf*cking c*nt and slams the phone down!”
“Wow. Yeah, he’s pretty much an asshole. Every one of us has had a go-round with him, Greg. Welcome to the club.”

Then The Sav goes and does the impossible. He managed to wheedle Pennington’s phone number out of him the next time he rang the store. If there was ever a man who could use reverse logic on an already reversed logic, The Sav was that man. He gave Pennington a phone number for the Paisley Park division of WEA in exchange for Pennington’s phone number. And once he had that phone number, we ALL had that phone number.

For the next year, whenever any of us were out and about we’d dial the number from a pay phone. Sometimes we’d reverse the charges. Sometimes we’d call and make snorting pig noises in the receiver. Sometimes we’d just say nothing at all, listening to his strangled cries of “Hello? Hello?”

Then came the evening I took a call from a girl named Jacquelyn at Warner Brothers. She was at the end of her rope because some freaky guy kept calling and harassing her. Her assistant had managed to chat civilly with the guy long enough to find out two things: he was from Dayton Ohio, and he shopped at our store.

At first it didn’t register that it might be our wee Reggie. I listened sympathetically to her and made all the right, soothing noises. She complained that he usually rang on the 800 number, which rendered the call untraceable. She had already spoken to her superiors at WEA, to the phone company, and to the police, because the guy not only drove her nuts, he’d threatened her on several occasions and asserted that he’d never be caught. She even saved some of the threatening voice mail messages he’d left, and did I want to hear his voice in case it jogged my memory? By then I’d put two and two together and told her to hold on while I dashed to the office to grab my purse. Triumphantly I reeled off his phone number to her.

I wish I knew the outcome. I hope Jacquelyn from Paisley Park managed to get him. All I know is that after the night I gave Jacquelyn his number, Pennington never called our store again.

Friday, November 24, 2006

"Don't be surprised when a crack in the ice appears under your feet"

I knew our relationship was over when he wanted to leave halfway through the movie.

The cinema manager had severely underestimated the film’s popularity, and our queue wrapped around an entire section of the Dayton Mall’s upper deck. I fretted that the show would sell out before we reached the ticket window—back then there was no such thing as buying movie tickets in advance—and Bill had seemed anxious that it would sell out too. He acted like he had really wanted to see it. What had happened in the span of an hour?

As we waited in line, I recognized classmates Kim and Jenny among the steady stream of dazed and blinking cinemagoers exiting Cinema 3’s previous showing. I waved and they rushed over, their words spilling out in rapid-fire praise for the film. We spoke only for a few minutes before our queue began to move, but their synopsis had made me even more eager to see The Wall.

Bill began fidgeting after only ten minutes, and seemed to grow more upset as the film progressed. His outward display of displeasure mimicked an obsessive compulsive: huff, shift, cross arms, snort, uncross arms, huff, shift, cross arms, snort, uncross arms, ad nauseam.

I, on the other hand, could hardly blink for fear of missing something. When he leaned over and whispered, “Hey, are you ready to leave or what?” I could hardly believe my ears. I shook my head without tearing myself away from the unfolding scene on screen, which just seemed to add to his annoyance.

He continued huffing and squirming for the remainder of the film, crossing and uncrossing his arms in a display of exaggerated exasperation.

As we walked back to his car after the movie, any attempts I made at conversation were met with stony silence. I puzzled over what could have pissed him off this time, the scenes still flickering brightly in my mind. Was it the movie itself? Disapproval for Pink’s drug use? Did the sexual animation make him uncomfortable? Or was it that he identified a bit too closely with Pink: a child adrift without a father, the claustrophobia of an overbearing mother, suffering abuse by relatives at a tender age. It was all there, minus the rock-star drug habit. Of course, deep down I knew it wasn’t the movie. It was me.

We drove home in sullen silence, and I mentally prepared myself for what was to come. We’d been dating for about six months, and I was getting used to the routine: go out, get yelled at. What would it be this time? Raging jealousy that some guy might have looked my way? Was it yet another bout of Puritanical righteousness and he’d decided my clothing was somehow inappropriate? Had I perhaps not laughed hard enough at one of his jokes? Really, it could be anything, and as the car pulled into the driveway, I braced myself for the onslaught.

The fights always began the same. Bill would give me the silent treatment while he ruminated and fumed over some infraction, then he’d begin by saying “we need to talk,” which really meant “I’m going to yell at you again.”

And then he’d drop whatever bomb he’d built up in his head.

The barrage that followed The Wall can basically be summed up in one word: insecurity. Apparently when Kim and Jenny saw us standing in line, I had let go of his hand to wave at them. In accordance with the elaborate set of rules Bill kept in his head, I was not allowed to let go of his hand for any reason. To do so meant I didn’t love him. Oh, he could let go of MY hand if the need arose, but not vice versa.

And according to Bill, I’d not only let go of his hand while in line at the cinema, I’d also done it earlier as we were walking through the mall to get to the cinema! He’d been holding my right hand, and I let go of it to cover a sneeze.

Surely, I rationalized, covering a sneeze was grounds for freeing up a hand, but he shot back that I could have used my left hand for that. The more I tried to reason with him, the more illogical his argument became. I was accused of “pretending to sneeze” so that I could “purposefully let go of” his hand because there was “a better looking guy passing us” and I “didn’t want him to know I was with” Bill.

A derisive snort from me was all it took. He smacked me across the face. Hard. Stunned, I looked at him, completely bewildered, and despite the rage I felt rising inside, my eyes welled with tears.

Immediately he was all apologies and sorrow. He’d never do it again. He’d only done it because I’d pushed his buttons. He loved me so very, very much, and why couldn’t I just behave and love him like he loved me? Why did I have to keep screwing everything up?

I fumbled with the door handle and managed to get it open, and ran, The Wall still resounding in my head:

Did you see the frightened ones?
Did you hear the falling bombs?
Did you ever wonder why we had to run for shelter when the promise of a brave new world unfurled beneath a clear blue sky?

Did you see the frightened ones?
Did you hear the falling bombs?
The flames are all gone, but the pain lingers on.

Goodbye, blue sky

Goodbye, blue sky.

Monday, November 13, 2006

"Am I too old? Is it too late?"

One of the best perks of working in the Record Store was getting to listen to music all day, every day. Not everything we had to listen to could be considered "good," as The Sav's taste in music was mystifyingly bad, but he didn't hang around the shop any longer than he absolutely HAD to, so his selections were suffered until he had left the store and we could see his rusty brown van putting its way up the street.

I listened to a lot of music back then--we all did--and each workday brought with it the chance to hear new stuff, and to turn on fellow co-workers and the punting public to new, great sounds.

We'd hide the vinyl in our cars, waiting for the moment when The Sav's van turned the corner onto Burgville Road, headed for home, when we would dash in turn outside and grab up our armfuls, gleefully hauling them inside the store for the perusal of our co-workers. Later the vinyl switched to CD's, but the ritual was the same.

We always tried to bring in stuff we knew the others might like, rather than what we ourselves liked. And in the spirit of comeraderie we always pulled our selections from another co-workers pile, rather than our own. So when it was Reynolds' turn to choose, he might pull something from my list, or from TC's, or Philberts--but never from his own. It was just an unspoken agreement, and served us well.

One album that was never in dispute was Pink Floyd's The Wall. It was the soundtrack to every Saturday night that I can remember working at the record store. We played the store's battered white label test pressing until the turntable went to the great gig in the sky, and then we switched to my Mobile Fidelity CD copy. Every Saturday night at 9 p.m. we put it on, and for the next two hours were transported through the fertile, tormented minefield of Roger Waters imagination, riding the pure ringing tones of Gilmore's floating fretwork.

It has to be the most listened to CD in my collection. Give or take the rare Saturday night off, my calculations tally 576 times The Wall was played while I worked there.

At this point in my life, I doubt that record will be surpassed.

Friday, November 10, 2006

"See the way the shadows come together?"

Long autumn shadows made me loom large on the freshly mown lawn, and I would stand transfixed, my elongated shadow-self reaching from the sidewalk all the way to the covered swimming pool, my shadow-head bent at an angle upon the corrugated, round metal wall. Lifting my foot, I made note that shadow-self was wearing platforms. The higher I raised my foot, the bigger the shoe became, and soon I could see Elton John with little bird legs, stepping from the sidewalk onto a yellow brick road, via a poster tacked to crumbling concrete. But my yellow brick road was a green lawn, the concrete an invisible wall separating sidewalk from grass.

Dad called to me, broke the spell, and I ran to him and climbed into the back seat of the car. He always smelled so good after he’d gotten home and had a shower. Clean and spicy. Mom opened the passenger door and with the push of a button moved the seat magically forward, giving my little brother the room to wiggle in next to me. Another press and the seat moved back to its former position.

There was a lot of magic in Dad’s car—windows that raised and lowered with a button instead of an old chrome crank like we’d had in our old blue car--the car Dad had given Aunt Jewel when we got the new one; seat belts that recoiled when unclasped; wire in the rear window that warmed to melt ice and clear fog; and a thread-thin antenna encased in the front windshield that brought music into the car, except when we drove beneath highway overpasses or sailed through a city with tall buildings, or when we passed the the Land of Giant Radio Masts that Dad informed us belonged to The Voice of America. The name filled me with awe, and I stared at the tangle of towers intently whenever they grew near, hoping to hear snippets of what America sounded like. Usually, it sounded like static, interspersed with Merle Haggard or George Jones or Ronnie Milsap.

Friday, November 03, 2006

"Shop as usual. And avoid panic buying."

Last night I finally got to see my media splice'n'dice heros: Negativland.

Negativland are difficult to categorize. They have been putting out records for over 25 years, but they can't be classified as a "band." They have a long-running radio show (now online and downloadable) called Over The Edge, but they're not DJs.

They are, I suppose, multi-media geeks. Studio producers extraordinaire. The kings of cultural cut'n'paste.

Picture if you will a stage. On the stage are three radio production mainstays:
stage right=turntables'n'mixing board
front center=special effects board and microphone
stage left=three cart machines and dozens of carts. (A cart is is an endless loop cartridge that looks like an 8-track tape and is/was heavily used in radio to air advertising, promos and station jingles.)
Behind them loomed a large "On Air" light.

These are the weapons of Negativland.

Our three media manipulators came on stage looking very much like the info techies they are, wearing slacks, dress shirts and ties, with photo IDs bearing the Universal Media Netweb logo clipped to their breast pockets. We had been handed blindfolds upon entering the show to enhance the aural experience of "radio listening," but few bothered to use them, myself included. I was too interested in seeing them recreate their radio show live, and besides, I could always close my eyes if needed.

The show, a scathing look at Christianity in America, was called "It's All In Your Head." I thought they were brilliant. Having worked in a production studio in college, I know just how difficult it is to get things right on a first take. Negativland did it flawlessly, and seamlessly, for two hours. They plundered everything from Baptist children's songs to the 700 Club to right-wing conservative Christian radio call-in shows, all manipulated to reversal of context, with delightfully wicked results.

Our boys certainly know how to push buttons, figuratively and literally.

Thursday, June 29, 2006

"All this talk of getting old is getting me down..."

Today’s bus ride into work transported me back in time 21 years.

The guy who embarked at Sixth and Monmouth wore camouflage slam-dance pants laden with straps and zippers, black 10-eye steel-toe Doc Martins, a 5” Mohawk and a black leather jacket covered in steel rivets and a huge Dead Kennedys logo hand painted on the back.

Everyone on the bus stared-some openly, some stealing sidelong glances. Everyone stared but me. I was too busy waiting in line at The Jockey Club, one block to the west. I was standing once again on the grimy tiled floor; trying to steer clear of the mosh pit; attempting to stay cool despite the humid press of sweaty flesh surrounding me; chugging Foster’s Lager in oilcans. I was consumed with watching Jello Biafra pose and preen on stage, his green rubber surgeon gloves slick with sweat.

Snapping back to 2006 as the bus pulled up to my stop, I told the guy I’d seen the Dead Kennedys in Newport back in 1985. “Wow,” he mused, “I wasn’t even born yet!”

Sunday, April 16, 2006

"It's time to face what you most fear, Right Guard will not help you here..."

So Friday evening I rang Rodney to thank him for the huge parcel of FunMail, and as usually happens when the two of us get to gabbing, the evening ran well into the night--over four hours of non-stop laughter! We reminisced about our time together in college, and caught each other up on what we'd heard our peers had been up to since we all graduated.

And we reminisced about all the shows we saw together: Dementia Precox, The Highwaymen, Guided by Voices, True Believers, The Rainmakers, Skinny Puppy at Bogarts when the band was arrested and a cop hit Rodney with a billy club as we tried to exit the building...

But the one that stands out in our minds as the best, craziest show we ever saw together was the first one we went to together: The Dead Kennedys at The Jockey Club.

Rodney didn't know a lot about the band, other than what he heard being blasted in my car whenever we were buzzing around Dayton, but he was game for anything that might prove a spectacle. The pair of us coerced fellow art student Tom into riding along with us to the show. Tom was new to the area, having spent the past several years living in California, and we reckoned that if the concert got out of hand he'd be able to "protect us," since he was a veteran of the Cali metal scene and had attended countless Venom, Motorhead, Metallica and Slayer shows unscathed.

It's always good to bounce remembrances around with an old friend, because time lessens the vividity of memory after twenty years. Together however, we talked about the show as if it had only happened last week:

The glass-strewn parking lot near the club
the frightening array of humanity surging into the derelict building
the Nazi punks in the corner, trying unsuccessfully to burn an American flag
Tom fretting that he was going to get a shitkicking for wearing a Motorhead t-shirt
Rodney lamenting the fact that he wasn't the biggest freak there ("I've lost my Glow!" he kept telling us)
Jello emerging from stage left wearing a bright orange three-piece suit and rubber surgeon gloves
Jello stripping down to next to nothing within five minutes--and he had shaved his chest hair into stripes, which we all thought was really cool
the astonishment that the rest of the band looked really normal (I thought Klaus Flouride was HOT!)
Fosters lager in oilcans being lobbed all over the place
part of the ceiling crumbling onto a very stoned chick slumped against a wall
me in my black Chucks and thrift store army green, the right side of my head shaved into a checkerboard of hot pink and orange
the grimy tiled floor
the standoff between some white supremist skinheads and the crowd because of black drummer DH Peligro
a very violent moshpit that even Tom wasn't keen on venturing into, after seeing several battered and bloodied punks staggering out with broken noses, their clothing in shreds
the rumble of the bassline kicking off "Holiday In Cambodia"
the sea of bodies swirling as East Bay Ray's guitar screeched out wicked surf-punk...

By the time we exited the building that hot May night, we looked as though we'd been swimming with our clothes on.

My god, how could we ever forget?

Friday, April 14, 2006

"Can't wait to hear the sound of your laughter, time and distance never matter..."

When we were in college together, Rodney and I used to cram each other’s campus mailboxes full of FunMail. FunMail could be anything we found that amused us, anything we made that amused us, or anything that we thought would amuse the other. As long as it was amusing and could be shoved into the small campus box, it was game.

It was not surprising for me to find things like glitter-filled pantyhose, handmade buttons, oddly shaped twigs, hand-drawn cartoons and poetry scribbled on torn bits of colored paper and safety-pinned together, nearly deflated balloons filled with paint, humorous stories written in his distinctive scrawl, a small box of hair, Barbie Doll arms, a bottle-cap lined in cork with a tiny picture of a kitten stamped inside, and even comic books with all the “talk bubbles” whited out and new, Rod-approved phrases penned in.

One year, unbeknownst to me, he signed us up for the Big Boy Birthday Club. I was delighted to receive a Big Boy Decoder Card, and for some time afterwards all of the notes we stuffed into each other’s campus boxes was written in Secret Big Boy Code.

After graduation he moved to San Francisco and became something of a starving artist. Not deterred by a lack of funds for postage, he set about signing me up for all sorts of free, wacky magazines and brochures. I always knew he was behind my getting things like “The Chickenboy Catalog for a Perfect World” and “Ruby Montana’s Pinto Pony” because my Secret Big Boy Name was on the label.

It’s unfortunate that I do not have access to my camera this week (as hubby has it with him) because I have just received the largest FunMail parcel ever! The bulging priority envelope was decorated with loads of hand-drawn characters, Barbie tape, action hero glitter stickers and wacky poetry. Inside were alternative newspapers, loads of vegetarian menus from around SanFran, art happenings, and several CDs wrapped in eye-blinding vivid paper, including one of his own band, Minnie Pearl Necklace.

He wrote across the parcel in small pen “This is to entice you to visit me, my dear….”

Maybe this will be the year I make it out there to see him. It’s been 15 years since we last hugged.

Saturday, April 08, 2006

"Bottle of wine, fruit of the vine, when you gonna let me get sober?"

The bacchanalia began next door with a variety of organic grapes and cheeses, accompanied by beaujolais and gewurztraminer. I had been the last to arrive and nearly missed out on the delicious Roquefort. We stood in a circle in the kitchen, wineglasses in hand, nibbling our way through the cheese board, listening to Mingus and laughing as their fluffy black labradore (the evil Mooch) scoured the floor for stray crumbs.

By the time we sat down for the soup course we'd already polished off a couple of bottles, which in turn mottled the stimulating conversation with glimmers of hilarity.

The menu: Mushroom Soup -- Cotes-du-Rhone and Australian Shiraz
Salad -- Reisling Spatlese
Eggplant and Potato Curry/Tarragon Chicken -- Chateneauf-de-Pape, gewurztraminer, whatever was left on the table
Little Cheesecakes -- late harvest zinfandel and muscadet
After dessert wine -- Preston Zinfandel

Hubby was sorely missed, but that didn't stop us from laughing mightily at his expense--memories of last year's Derby Day still fresh enough to provide a mountain of mirth. There were eight of us, and over the course of five hours we polished off 13 bottles of wine.

Surprisingly, I was not hung over this morning, although emails from the neighbors confirmed that they were quietly suffering, and The Purcells admitted that "things were fuzzy all morning."

Tuesday, February 14, 2006

"Goodbye...lay the blame on luck..."

I can’t remember the last time I laughed so hard, so much and for so long.

It could have been a sad, solemn experience—it was the end of an era, after all. Instead, the gathering Saturday evening at the record store was filled with music, fun, friends, good food and life-affirming laughter of the type I haven’t experienced since leaving the store for Corporate America.

Memorabilia covered the walls: photos and apparel spanning the 32 year history; posters from the days when The Sav booked concerts; tapestries with the smiling sun logo. Photo albums seemed to multiply on every counter space. Some of the hanging mobiles were missing, as customers eager for a piece of history had placed bids that were too silly to be turned down.

Candles flickered on and around the antique showcases, still brimming with ornate silver jewelry and handmade, one-of-a-kind necklaces. Marcum had dug out all the old award-winning reel-to-reel commercials, which he duped onto CD and blasted through the powerhouse vintage Marantz amplifier. We roared at the risqué radio ads and lamented the conservative voice of today’s milquetoast airwaves. The signature incense burned all around.

The smell has always been the same, and we laughed assuredly that no matter what sort of shop may open in the space in the future, it will still smell like the Record Store. The smell has permeated its being, and will live on infinitely.

We gathered around the Artists Showcase in the back of the store, peering at photos of our much younger selves smiling with Ace Frehley, Queensryche, Poison, Winger, Badlands, Pantera, The Cranberries. We howled at our haircuts, our clothing, our youth. We reminisced about our missing fellow employees and wished them there. And because they weren’t there, we were merciless in our remembrances and laughed heartily at their expense.

The stories spilled out. Confidences were breeched--it no longer mattered. We pulled the widow aside and admitted the secret hi-jinks we got up to while on the clock. What was the harm? We could no longer be fired, after all.

Oh and there were some really juicy bits too. Two employees lived “rough” in the store when they were evicted from their apartment. They kept sleeping bags in the car, slept in front of the showcases, and left just before The Sav turned up to open the store at 8 a.m each morning. He never knew. Another employee took an informal poll on how many staff got jiggy in the back office—with customers, with boy/girlfriends, with each other. There were admittances of getting high in the back hallway, getting hammered on the clock, sending customers to pick up food orders, and having a local band play a concert in the store after closing. There were over 100 people in attendance, and The Sav never even knew the event took place.

We tried to remember the rules of the elaborate game of hacky-sack we used to play, which involved trying to knock as many country artist cassette tapes from the shelving as possible. Reynolds remembered that we got points deducted for knocking off artists we liked, like Soundgarden.

Another “game” was the friendly competition between all the guys, which consisted of amassing as many “hot chicks” phone numbers as possible. There were extra points for the “hotness” of the girl, and there were bonus points if she visited the store more than once in a week’s time after giving said phone number out. Even more points were added if she returned with a mix tape for the guy—double bonus points if the mix was a good one. Each had his own hiding place for his “stash” of numbers: underneath the turntable; tacked to the wall behind the special orders; in an envelope beneath the amp. Since most of the guys had girlfriends, the competition was simply an ego booster—proof that the guy “still had it.”

There were times it backfired on them, with entertaining results. One guy was stalked by a Michael Jackson fan after he turned down her repeated requests to go to Prom. She used to follow him when he went on dates with his girlfriend, and would sit outside his house in her car. His girlfriend, rather than being angry, felt sorry for the girl and went to sit with her, bringing her tea and coddling the sobbing girl. Another employee had to deal with a hippie chick who, after being rebuffed several times, sat on the curb outside the store and cried every single day for three weeks. Only when the guy was working, of course.

Tears of laughter streamed down our faces as we remembered the dreaded Things List. Each morning The Sav wrote out a list of tasks for us to perform during the day, to keep us busy and keep us out of trouble. As if! And woe be unto any employee who managed to somehow piss off The Sav. Between guffaws and chortles, we reeled off the tasks that verified “shit list” status: blowing up the deflated Led Zeppelin blimp; polishing the brass poles; changing the bin liner in the outside trash barrel. Webber even coughed up a tidbit of unprecedented shit list material: having to put three coats of varnish on every wooden LP bin in the store! “I don’t know what I did, but it must have been a whopper!” he mused. Reynolds shot an eye up to the deflated Zeppelin and reckoned it hadn’t been inflated once since he left in 1997. It certainly didn’t look as though it had.

The Zeppelin brought the musings upward, and we began to point out all the crafty cut’n’paste sessions we had, mostly at the expense of the hanging mobiles. Rather than do actual busywork whilst on the clock, we’d spend hours devising intricate cut’n’paste masterpieces. My handiwork was still there: Macaulay Caulkin and Ice-Cube masquerading as members of The Crusaders. Janet Jackson still sports a Darth Maul mask. Reynolds face still smiles merrily on the body of Billy Duffy, as The Cult’s Sonic Temple mobile dangles from the ceiling, gathering dust.

PJ will always be the Cut’n’Paste King. He and TC did cut’n’paste battle every day for several years, commencing with TC defacing a copy of Rolling Stone with PJ as the middle Hanson brother. PJ, however, emerged the victor with a craftily placed series of TC’s face over every usable surface available. PJ snapped a photo of TC at a Dingle-Jam concert, and then spirited it off to the copy center across the road for an evening of fun. It took several weeks for TC to locate and destroy all the incriminating evidence, the last of which was his stoned mug plastered on the body of Jimi Hendrix, holding court high above the album racks in the middle of the store.

The subject turned to the regulars, each name or description bringing with it a flood of laughter and yet more stories. We missed them, we admitted, even the ones who drove us crazy and grossed us out. We regaled tales of sightings outside of the shop. Hilarity ensued.

We posed for photos, stood behind the showcases once more, hugged for eternities. We were the fortunate few—former employees of one of the best, most renowned independent record stores in the country. The final closing of the store could have been maudlin. Instead we celebrated that it had existed at all.

If good things lasted forever, would we appreciate how precious they are?

Monday, January 30, 2006

Concerts 1984

Gomez/ The Libertines The Jockey Club
Van Halen Cincinnati Gardens
The Romantics Timberwolf Amphitheatre
Dez Dickerson&The Modernaires/Billy Idol Hara Arena, Dayton
Honeymoon Suite The U-Turn, Middletown
Saccarine Trust/Black Flag The Jockey Club
Yes Riverbend Amphitheatre
The Replacements The Jockey Club
Yes Riverfront Coliseum

I’d heard The Libertines on Robin Plan’s “Planet X” late night show on 97X, and she mentioned they were playing some place called The Jockey Club. It was the middle of my senior year and I felt isolated and alienated. The crazy things Dakni and I had worn to school (glitter-splattered trash bags, multi-colored hair, face paint) and the crazy things we discussed (mostly punk and new wave music) labeled us as “weirdos.” She graduated in 1983, moved to Florida that autumn and I had no one. I was relegated to eating lunch by myself, or occasionally with some other misfits. The only thing any of us had in common was that we were all friend-less. Our lunch table was known as the “freak zone.”

So on a cold weekend in February, I drove down by myself and caught local bands Gomez and The Libertines at The Jockey Club in Newport, Ky. The place was an absolute dive, the neighborhood blighted, the crowd rough, and I was scared shitless. By the end of the show, however, I was over the moon to discover likeminded souls out there that dug the same music as me. Even though I was by myself I felt less “alone” than I did at school. Suddenly I “belonged” and it was a great feeling.

I caught the Dez Dickerson/Billy Idol show a few months later with another blind date—this time a true punk rocker named Marc who wore thick eyeliner and had a safety pin through his cheek! He was a distant relative of someone I knew, who thought we would hit off well because we were both “weird.” Marc was sweet and I learned within twenty minutes that he was gay. I ended up hooking up at the show with a suburban punk from Enon named Scott, and Marc ended up hooking up with some leather biker mate of Scott’s.

I told Scott about The Jockey Club, and we drove down together in July to catch the Saccarine Trust/Black Flag show. We didn’t know what to think about that show because Henry Rollins looked like a metal head with his long hair and bell-bottoms, but he and the band were a whirlwind of seething energy! Mostly I remember drinking Foster’s Lager in oil cans, trying to stand clear of the mosh pit churning out of control on the tiled floor. I was eighteen, which back then was the legal age for beer, so I was the one going to the “bar” to buy the booze, since Scott was still seventeen for another month. We were surprised and relieved that no one seemed to care that Scott was an underage drinker. And the “bar” wasn’t really even a bar at all! There were no barstools, no taps, no liquor. It looked more like an abandoned luncheonette with two chill cabinets against the grimy wall and a scary skinhead taking orders. Although you couldn’t really order anything, because the only thing they served was Foster’s in the oilcan. No glass was allowed because it could be broken and used as a weapon—but holy fuck those Foster’s cans were the perfect projectile missiles. They weighed a ton and were cheap as chips.

In October Scott and I went to back to the Club and caught The Replacements. Bobby Stinson wore a dress, Westerberg was drunk, and they rocked our asses off. I loved them. They were raw and so alive—the real deal—and they looked just like us: torn jeans, Chuck Taylor’s, t-shirts. It was a bittersweet show, however, because Scott’s military parents had pressured him into the service. I was shattered when he told me, and a few days after the ‘Mats show he was shipped out to Biloxi, Miss., his spiked hair shorn.

We wrote a few letters to each other—him mostly bitching about getting into more and more trouble—but I had started university and wasn’t about to sit home alone on the weekends and pine for him.

There were other shows I saw in 1984:

Van Halen: two freshman girls in my typing class paid me to drive them there, and bought my ticket. I ran into an old girlfriend, LA, at the show and we vowed to stay in touch.

The Romantics: They played Kings Island’s Grad Nite and I caught a couple of songs. They sucked.

Honeymoon Suite: The friend I’d reconnected with called me up for an evening of fun. Our plans to get drunk at the drive-in were thwarted by the sight of a huge tour bus pulling into the bar across the street from the Star*Glo. Curiosity got the best of us and we pulled up beside the bus to find out who the band was. We didn’t know them but chatted with them, and ended up cruising around Middletown with the guitarist and drummer in the bitchin’ Camaro. They bought us dinner, helped drink our 24-case of cheap Busch beer, and put us on the guest list. How could we refuse?

Yes: A month after the Honeymoon Suite gig, LA and I had plans to see the re-formed Yes, who were riding high on their 90125 album. Two days before the show, LA’s favorite cousin Kevin was killed in an auto accident in rural Kentucky. After much soul searching, she decided that she couldn’t handle seeing Kevin in a coffin, and she came to stay with me for a week while the rest of her family made the trip down south. Yes put on a great show, with lasers galore, but neither of us could properly enjoy the show with Kevin’s untimely death hanging over us. I still have the concert shirt I bought that night. It’s raspberry red, sleeveless, glows in the dark (which I didn’t know when I bought it) and because I love all things luminous, I have thus far refused to hawk it on eBay.

Ratt/Billy Squier: I had seen LA staggering around at the Nazareth/Billy Squier show the previous year, and she convinced me that we needed to go see him again. So we did. I can’t remember a single thing about the show. I might have been very drunk. I’m pretty sure I was.

Yes (again): Can't remember who accompanied me to this show and I don't remember much about it, but I have the concert stub so I must have gone. I also must have BEEN GONE at the show.

Thursday, January 26, 2006

Concerts 1983

Molly Hatchet Cincinnati Gardens 1983
Triumph Cincinnati Gardens 1983
Kansas Hara Arena, Dayton 1983
Jethro Tull Hara Arena, Dayton 1983
Phil Collins Cincinnati Gardens 1983
Joe Walsh Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati 1983
Stevie Nicks Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati 1983
The Raisins Timberwolf Amphitheatre 1983
INXS Timberwolf Amphitheatre 1983
Men at Work Timberwolf Amphitheatre 1983
Loverboy Timberwolf Amphitheatre 1983
Chicago Timberwolf Amphitheatre 1983
Girls School Hara Arena, Dayton 1983
Twisted Sister Hara Arena, Dayton 1983
Quiet Riot Hara Arena, Dayton 1983

Briefly.I saw Molly Hatchet/Triumph together at the Gardens in the early spring with the guy I was dating. Abiding memory? Being on the floor in the 2nd row when Triumph’s flashpots erupted with such fury that we were blasted back several feet, landing on the poor fools in the 5th and 6th rows. I am fairly certain I lost at least 20% of my hearing that night. Bastards.

Kansas/Jethro Tull: The boyfriend insisted I attend this show with him. Didn’t want to be there, didn’t enjoy it, thought it was crap. Plus some asshole spilled an entire bucket of beer down my back. Over 20 years later, whenever I hear “Dust in the Wind” on that Subaru commercial, I cringe.

Phil Collins: The boyfriend again. Didn’t want to be there, didn’t enjoy it, thought it was crap. Plus Phil Collins came out in a suit & tie. I felt old.

Joe Walsh/Stevie Nicks: At last! A concert I wanted to see—and I made the boyfriend attend the show as penance for the trifecta of tripe he’d forced on me. Stevie was gorgeous, witchy, throaty, had nine costume changes and I’m fairly sure was drunk off her tits. She actually fell down on the stage twice. I didn’t care. I loved her with Fleetwood Mac, and I loved her solo stuff. This was The Wild Heart Tour, and she did everything from the album, plus everything from Bella Donna, plus several of her Mac songs like “Dreams” and “Gold Dust Woman.” I took a few pages from her dress manual, and to this day still have a penchant for capes, long skirts and silver jewelry.

The Raisins/INXS/Men at Work: By the summer I’d ditched the boyfriend and his bad taste in music and reconnected with Dakni for a bit of fun at the INXS show. We took the bitchin’ Camaro to Kings Island Amusement Park for the day, her thirteen year old sister tagging along because she was “in love with” Colin Hay.

Yes, you read that correctly, and no, she hasn’t lived that one down to this day.

Dakni and I loved The Raisins and INXS. We owned all their albums (one in the case of The Raisins, and 3 at the time for INXS—this was the Shaboo Shoobah Tour) and knew all their songs, which we sang along to with gleeful, tuneless abandon. After INXS left the stage but before Men at Work came on, we ditched Livia and lit out into the parking lot to try to scope out the INXS tour bus. By the time we found it the band had already boarded and the bus was pulling out. We jumped in the bitchin’ Camaro and followed the bus all the way to Lexington, some two hours away. Which is when we realized that Livia was still at the park! We quickly turned around and rushed back, arriving sometime after midnight to find poor Livia sitting forlornly on the curb in front of the park entrance.

Chicago: The ex-boyfriend wanted a second chance, and said he had a surprise for me. Whoop-dee-doo, the “surprise” was taking me to see Chicago. I should have wheedled out of him what the surprise was before agreeing to go on a date with him. My bad.

Girls School/Twisted Sister/Quiet Riot: I accompanied some dude named Whick. That’s right—his name was Whick, and it was a blind date. He looked way too clean cut to be a metal head. There is a very convoluted story about how I came to accompany Whick to the show, and how I ended up losing a friendship with Melissa because of it, but it’s not worth repeating. The show was decent, the crowd entertaining, and Whick the consummate gentleman. We never went out again.

Wednesday, January 25, 2006

Concerts 1982

Greg Kihn Band ATP Tennis Ampitheatre 1982
Rick Springfield ATP Tennis Ampitheatre 1982
Nazareth Hara Arena, Dayton 1982
Billy Squier Hara Arena, Dayton 1982

In the summer of 1982 I got my driver’s license and a brand new bitchin’ Camaro--red with grey pin-striping—and christened it several weeks later by hauling some girlfriends to the Greg Kihn/Rick Springfield show. There was Dawn, who had procured the tickets, Alicia, Cyndi and myself, and although I can no longer remember what we wore (although day-glo micro-mini’s spring to mind) I remember that we thought we looked, like, totally bitchin’ to the max. Fer sure!

Springfield was riding high on the success of the “Working Class Dog” album, in particular the tunes “Jessie’s Girl” and “I’ve Done Everything For You.” The added bonus, according to Alicia, was that he starred in some daytime soap (was it General Hospital?) and was, like, OHMYGAWD dreamy, totally!

A couple of things stand out in my mind about the show: Opener Greg Kihn wore the coolest pair of Chuck Taylor’s and I was FREAKEN GAGGING for them; Rick Springfield wore a linen blazer with a t-shirt— long before Don Johnson copped the look for Miami Vice; the show took place in a tennis stadium with our seats right on the court; and it was a gorgeous evening for a show.

We all bought t-shirts (white with teal three-quarter-length sleeves) and mine sold for a small fortune on eBay a few years ago.

Fast-forward several months:

My girlfriend Dakni produced Nazareth/Billy Squier tickets for my birthday. We’d heard that Hara Arena was a cesspool with a parking lot akin to a smash-up derby, so the bitchin’ Camaro was left at home. Dakni “borrowed” a beat up baby blue pick-up truck from a relative or neighbor or someone and away we went. It had to be started with a screwdriver (or at least that was the story) and was banged up enough that it wouldn’t matter if a few more dents appeared during the course of the evening.

Nazareth was awful. Dakni and I had pushed our way right to the front of the stage, only to find that the lead singer was dogbutt fugly, and was wearing tight white satin slacks with no underwear. We could pretty much see it all, and we didn’t want to.

During the intermission, some BAGYOURFACE drunk guy kept telling Dakni she was wearing the wrong kind of shoes. When someone knocked into us and a bucket of beer spilled all over her pink satin ballerina slippers, we realized he was right.

When Squier hit the stage (wearing grey parachute pants and a ripped white t-shirt) the crowd went nuts. At the time I weighted 90 lbs soaking wet, and as such really got pummeled by the stampeding, heaving mass of humanity. Long before the days of barricades, a line of burly bouncers stood at the edge of the stage with the single purpose of beating the living hell out of anyone they took a dislike to. Dakni and I got separated in the melee, and a bouncer snatched me up, flipped me sideways and began using my body to push back the surging, sweaty swarm.

Finding it increasingly difficult to catch my breath between screams for help, I managed to twist my head around just enough to bite the fucker on the arm. It had to hurt, which was the intention, but instead of simply turning me loose, the bouncer heaved me into the air and I sailed about thirty feet before crashing hard onto the shoulders and heads of fans, who parted just enough for me to slip onto the slimy concrete floor.

Knocked around and stepped on, I felt myself suffocating and panicked that I’d be trampled like those poor fans at The Who show in Cincinnati a few years before.

And then an angel scooped me from the floor and held me aloft, gasping for air. When he set me back down I was shaking so much that my legs wouldn’t hold me, so he did. He asked my name and was amused when I told him. He and his mate dubbed me “Miss_K” for the evening, and evaded my repeated attempts to find out theirs. When told he looked familiar, he asked who he looked like. I said, “I dunno. A little like Mick Jagger. Taller.” His mate roared.

Some drunk chick, reeling like an intoxicated elephant, plowed into us and somehow I managed to momentarily lose a Nike. My hunky savior tracked it down, slipped it on my foot and said, “Hey Miss_K, I ain’t fit to tie your shoes” or something along those lines. His friend chimed in with “she’s sassy, she’s brassy” and then together they sang “but above all she’s classy.” I couldn’t help but giggle.

Finally I glanced up at the stage, and to my surprise Dakni was sitting on the edge of the stage with Billy Squier holding her hand, singing to her. “Holy crap! That’s my friend up there!” I yelled to the guy. “No man, that’s MY friend up there on the stage!” he hollered back. I just grinned and rolled my eyes at him, all the while pulling him toward the stage.

Dakni saw me in the throng and leapt from the stage into my arms, squealing with the type of delight only young teenage girls can. I turned to introduce her to my mysterious savior, but he was gone.

A year later I’d see him again, singing on MTV.

Tuesday, January 24, 2006

Concerts 1980-1981

Black Sabbath Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati 1980
Blue Oyster Cult Riverfront Coliseum, Cincinnati 1980
Air Supply Timberwolf Ampitheatre, Kings Mills 1981

So yeah, total ends of the spectrum in 1980-81.

I caught the Black & Blue tour in the autumn of 1980 with a guy named Wayne. We dated on and off during that school year, and this show was one of the better dates we had. One time we double dated with another couple and went to the Haunted Caves in Lewisburg--only Wayne got lost and we ended up getting to the caves nearly an hour after they had closed for the night.

Wayne was a weird stoner guy, and it didn’t help matters that he looked an awful lot like Powers Boothe in “The Guyana Tragedy: The Story of Jim Jones.” I always half expected Wayne to hand me a Kool-Aid filled paper cup, and was suspicious enough of him to buy my own sodas at the show, and keep them well away from his potentially spiking fingers.

The show itself is a blur to me now. It was Sabbath’s first outing after Ozzy packed it in for a solo career, which sadly meant I had to endure listening to that warbling hobgoblin Ronnie James Dio and watching him lug a giant cross around on the stage. I actually still like a few cuts from Heaven & Hell, but holy crap I can’t stand Dio, so the album (heh, actually it was an 8-track!!) has been long purged from my collection.

BÖC was much better, as I recall, and when they played “Godzilla” a huge paper-maché monster belched smoke into the crowd. The monster and the sheer wall of sound are my abiding memories of the show. For several days afterwards I heard everything as if listening whilst snorkeling underwater. My ears were clogged with guitar solos, crashing drums, and wee little trolls screeching about the world being filled with kings and queens, who blind your eyes and steal your dreams.

Air Supply was rather forgettable, aside from it being the first time I’d ever seen lasers used at a show. The laser lights were green, and the shapes were rather shaky, but we got the gist of what they were trying to show: the shape of Australia, palm trees, kangaroos, koalas. The band sounded good and I already knew some of the songs because Angie had given me one of their albums for Christmas. It was she who convinced me to go to the show. We spent the day at Kings Island and the evening at the show. The entire concert was cheesy—there were lots of couples holding hands, middle-aged women wearing their Sunday best, and a multitude of acne-riddled teens with bad haircuts clutching newly purchased Air Supply t-shirts to their collective bosoms as they wept and sang along to the sappy love songs.

I was horrified by how totally “un-cool” the whole event was—and worst of all, I too had a bad haircut.

Friday, January 20, 2006

Concerts 1980

Maynard Ferguson The Ohio Center, Columbus 1980

I was proud to be a member of the marching band my freshman year of high school. The 1980-1981 school year was magical, and the senior class could seeminly do no wrong. The football team qualified for the state play-offs for the first time ever; the basketball team went all the way to the state semi-finals; amd the marching band received so many accolades at the state marching band competition that we qualified for the national marching competition that spring in Florida.

It was after the marching band competition in November that a bunch of us stayed behind in the state capital to catch Maynard Ferguson at the Ohio Center. Ferguson had been catching a lot of flack for dumping most of his orchestra, and for being seduced by commercialism, but none of that mattered to us. Our group of about 20 students sat agape at the musical gymnastics Ferguson performed with his trumpet. He could hit a double-high C that sent shivers down my spine and made the hair on my neck stand straight up. I never wanted the show to end.

On the ride home, and for weeks afterwards, that show was all we could talk about. I admit to wearing my black Maynard Ferguson concert t-shirt hundreds of times, and after I outgrew it I still kept it neatly folded in the bottom drawer of my dresser.

It was finally sold on eBay a few years ago. Although I could no longer wear it, and although it fetched a good price at auction, I sometimes wish I still had that shirt.

Because whenever I caught a glimpse of it in the drawer, I was transported back to being a gawky, geeky, carefree teenager again, if only for a brief few moments.

"Get a second-hand guitar, chances are you'll go far if you get in with the right kind of fellows"

Crosstown Rhythm Various venues around s/w Ohio 1977-1979
Gary Lewis & The Playboys LeSourdsville Lake, Middletown 1978

I can't even remember how many times I saw CTR back then, but I do remember distinctively the first time I ever saw them.

I was 12 years old and shopping with my Mom at the Mall one Saturday afternoon. The Mall used to hold entertainment events in the middle of the mall on the weekends--one time I remember seeing a Kenny Rogers look-alike contest--and this particular Saturday they had an Elvis impersonator performing. CTR was the backing band for the Elvis impersonator.

Mom and I stood and watched the show, and sometime during the performance I fell in love with the angelic, blond bass player. I fell in love quite frequently back then, but the infatuation I had for this guy lasted for a few years. After the show I went up and chatted with him. His name was Jon, and his older brother Ric was the guitarist. I asked about other shows, and Jon wrote down a list of venues they'd be playing in the near future.

I was hooked.

I went to see them every chance I got, and became friendly with the band and their sound & lights guys. Thankfully, they split with the Elvis impersonator and branched out on their own. Although they were only ever a cover-band, they were a damned good cover band, and I still think of them whenever I hear "Brick House" and "Taking Care of Business."
Already a budding photographer, I began to shoot their shows, and somewhere in my box of photo albums is an entire book devoted to my three years of geekdom as a groupie for CTR. I saw Gary Lewis & The Playboys because CTR opened.

Sometime in high school I lost my infatuation with Jon, and the band (all of whom attended local high schools) went their separate ways upon graduation.

Ric joined various bands after graduation, including a stint as guitarist with a semi-famous band.

I ran into Jon several years ago--a friend's band was playing some divebar and Jon did a surprise, solo acoustic set before they went on. He was still angelic.