We were pretty slow most evenings. You could study for exams at work most nights. Fridays got busy, but Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday nights were dead. That didn’t mean we doing nothing. Rule #1: “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean.” We had scheduled to do something every night. Mondays was cleaning the mirrors which lined the store walls. Tuesday was putting away new stock, which always came Tuesdays. Wednesday was checking the security tags on every cassette in the store. Every fucking cassette.
For the first 2 months or so, it was just me and the owner. Once September hit, he hired this other guy, Trevor. I didn’t like him at first, he was the “other guy”. He was the same age as me, also finishing school at the same time as me. We shared similar musical interests. Influences we shared: Guns N’ Roses, Van Halen, The Four Horsemen, Kim Mitchell, Rush, and any bands with amazing drummers. Over the course of the years, he introduced me to: Steve Earle, Oasis, Metallica, Megadeth, Max Webster, anb Buddy Rich. I give him a lot of credit for expanding my horizons during those days.
A lot of memorable releases came out that first year. Superunknown and Purple were already out, but I was on board for some major ones. Nirvana Unplugged was the biggest release of the fall 1994 schedule. There was an Aerosmith hits disc, a Bon Jovi hits disc, and the Eagles reunion album which was absolutely massive.
The new Tragically Hip, Day For Night, came out on a Saturday. We sold out by Sunday. The boss drove down to Scarborough to get more on Monday. Pearl Jam’s Vitalogy came out on vinyl the week before the CD was released. We got just five in. He didn’t expect it to sell, but we sold out before my shift even started. Interestingly, none of the customers planned on playing it. They either a) didn’t even have something to play it on, or b) were keeping it sealed as a collector’s item. It definitely was a cool package.
Some poeople have a “swear jar”. We had an alarm jar. If you forgot to de-tag a customer’s purchase and thusly set off the alarm, you had to put a dollar in the jar. We would use the spoils on our annual Christmas dinner. It created some friendly competition between us. That first Christmas is when I started working directly with Trevor, and I started to like him due to his excellent musical taste. But in the alarm jar game, we were always about equal. Sometimes you just forgot!
One lady may well have stolen something and set off the alarm, and I’ll never know, because, well…. As she was walking out the alarm went off. I asked her to come back in the store and check to see if she had something from another store that may had set it off. She was so upset at the alarm, she really wanted to show me she had nothing on her person. So, she removed her top. “See I’m not hiding anything in here!” Covering my eyes, I told her it was quite alright, I believed her, and she could go. First time I’d been flashed on the job. Not the last.
She wasn’t even drunk. They actually used to serve alcohol at this mall. There was a licensed restaurant right next door to the store. The regulars would start in the morning and keep going. You’d see them in there every day, and they’d wander in completely plastered.
We had a few regular psychos at that mall. There was Johnny Walker, who would just walk around the mall talking to himself, all day. Literally, all day. The story goes that he was quite rich. He didn’t need to work, wasn’t capable of work, and just came to the mall and walked around all day, talking to himself. Sometimes he would argue with himself and he had been ejected from the mall a couple times. He came into the store a couple times but never caused any problems on my shifts. One time, he even bought a cassette. It was like the madness turned off. He spoke to me, bought the tape, and walked out. Madness set back in, and he’s off arguing with himself. I wonder what happened to Johnny Walker? He’d been walking the malls since grade school, sometimes changing malls when he got permanently ejected from one.
Then, there was Sue. Sue had been in an accident years before, and had a walker. She moved very very slow. She had a bit of a crush on the owner. She stalked him relentlessly and gave him Christmas gifts. She’d park her walker right there in front of the counter and talk his ear off for hours. Hours!
One day, a large Japanese woman was shopping. The owner said, “Go ask that lady if she needs help. Then he stood back and waited. I didn’t know it, but he had just given me my first challenge.
“Hi, can I help you find anything today?”
“No thank you though,” she answered, then almost immediately, “Do you have Soundgarden?”
I showed her what Soundgarden we had both new and used. We also had the latest copy of M.E.A.T Magazine, and Chris Cornell was on the cover. I’ll never forget that detail.
“Do you like Chris Cornell?” she asks.
“Yes, he’s actually one of my favourite singers.”
“Oh! Really! I love Chris Cornell. He’s sexy.”
It was too late now. I had opened Pandora’s box. She opened the magazine to his picture inside. She went on: “I like when he wears his sexy black boots. Chris Cornell wears black Doc Marten boots. Do you know the boots? Chris Cornell wears black Doctor Martens boots. Do you like Doc Marten boots?”
I was on my own. The boss just stood back. I couldn’t even figure out a way to improvise my way out. I was a rookie I decided that this woman was most likely a lil’ crazy and I played the polite card.
“Yes, I do…”
“Chris Cornell is sexy. Did you know that Soundgarden had an original bass player who was Asian?”
I did know that. “Yes, his name was Hiro Yamamoto…”
“Yes Hiro Yamamoto. He is Asian. There are not many Asians in rock bands did you know that?”
This went on for a good 20 minutes. After she left (not without asking my name, fuck!) my boss came to speak to me.
“That’s your first lesson. Don’t get into conversations with customers.”
And of course we had the drunks. I remember one jolly drunk came in that first Christmas Eve. We all wore ties Christmas Eve, that was the tradition. It was a tradition I kept every year to my last year at the store, even when I was the only one left who still did it. This drunk came in, a big Grizzly Adams dude just reeking of alcohol. He was definitely in great spirits though. First he asked us why the ties? The quick-witting Trevor answered, “I’m wearing mine because it makes me feel important.” We laughed. I then went over to see if he needed help finding anything.
“Hi there!” I began.
“Not yet, but I will be when I get home. Hahahaha!” he answered.
Ultimately the jolly drunk guy couldn’t remember what to buy, so he bought $100 in gift certificates for his grand kids. That was a great sale, and the best part was that it turned out to be $100 of pure profit for the store. The bearded drunk guy probably lost it, because all my years with the store, they were never redeemed!
After Christmas, the owner confided in Trevor and I that he was going to be opening a second location. This location would be in Waterloo. It would be easily accessible by one high school, two universities, and one college. He would be splitting his time between our store and setting up the new one. Ultimately this meant he’d be in much less and we’d be getting more hours, and also bhe was bringing a new guy in.
I walked in one Tuesday to see this black-bearded behemoth behind the counter. It was kind of awkward because the owner didn’t introduce us at first. I looked around for an hour, stealing glances at this big grizzly bear of a man with the thickest blackest beard you can picture. Finally he introduced me to Thomas, later to become Tom, the legendary founder of Sausagefest. Ahh, but that comes much later.
Tom was a wicked cool guy who expanded my musical tastes even further than Trevor had. Tom and I had many influences in common. I had met another kindred spirit. Influences: Black Sabbath, Dio, Rainbow, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Van Halan (not Van Hagar!) and Johnny Cash. Music he would introduce me to: Miles Davis, Willie Nelson, Fu Manchu, and the whole stoner rock scene in general. His place was plastered with rare Marillion posters. Tom was serious about music.
Tom was so serious about music that it was actually hilarious. Kids, this is the difference between liking music and loving music. Nobody loves music as much as Tom. Dare I say it, Tom loves music even more than me.
One night in Toronto, we visited the big HMV on Yonge St. Tom was methodically working his way through every decent section of the store. Long after Trevor and I had finished shopping, Tom was just finishing browsing rock. With a handful of discs by Rainbow and Saga, Tom would then announce, “OK…I just have to check country.”
20 minutes would pass. “Alright…on to jazz.”
20 more minutes.
“I just have to check blues.”
10 more minutes.
“Oohh…I wonder if they have the soundtrack to the Godfather.”
Checkout. Trev, Tom and I usually checked out of that store $200 lighter. Each.
Then, repeat. We walked down the street to Sam’s, and finally to Virgin. Rock, country, jazz, blues. Every store. That was Tom, three stores, one night.
Seriously those early days at the store were the best times I ever had working. Working hard or hardly working? No, we worked hard. If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean. We ran that store with the owner making guest appearances, adding to it with our own creative ideas.
I graduated school in the summer of 1995, and hadn’t decided on my next move. After that I was putting in increasingly more hours at the store. It gradually built up from a part time job to full time. When the new store opened, Tom split hours between the two of them so there were plenty of day and night shifts available, usually alone, which were the best times because you could play whatever you wanted!
I remember Tom walked in one night when I was playing Dio. Back in 1995 you could not play Dio in a mainstream record store. That would be like the equivalent of playing Michael Bolton in one today. He was so far removed from what was selling at the time. But I was rocking out to Holy Diver and Tom appreciated that I had the balls to do it.
Tom went to a lot of concerts. After we had bonded over the mutual love of metal, I joined him and many of my future Sausagefest friends at a Black Sabbath concert. It was Motorhead opening on the Sacrifice tour, and Black Sabbath headining, supporting their final studio album (17 years and counting!) Forbidden. They played at Lulu’s Roadhouse just down the street. A few weeks later we saw Queensryche in Toronto on the Promised Land tour.
Trev, Tom and I would have many adventures. Such as that time seeing Kiss in…ahh, but that’s another story. Before I talk about Tom and Trev again, I need to tell you a really shitty story.