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.