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.