#403: Bully

This is an incredibly difficult, but very important story to write.  I did a draft back in November…put it in a drawer and didn’t want to see it again.  Even now I don’t want to look at it. 

There’s stuff in here that people don’t know, because I haven’t discussed it.

It’s clear to me now that finishing the original Record Store Tales without this chapter was a big mistake.  It should have been in there, to explain how things went from “point A” to “point B”.  Any questions left lingering after that ending should now be answered.


#403: Bully

Bullying is a huge issue today.  Every week it seems we’re seeing kids kill themselves, because their bullies are everywhere.  They don’t disappear.  They’re online, they’re in the classroom, and they’re on the job.  I tend to think that everybody has been bullied somewhat, so my story is no more important than yours.  I’ve been criticized for talking about some of my experiences publicly.  One or two people might not even believe me that these events happened.


The experiences are mine.  I don’t want them buried.  I want somebody to draw some kind of strength or inspiration from them.  That’s how I have chosen to turn a negative into a positive.  If you don’t like it, I invite you to read something else today.

Grade school was tough.  Teachers turned a blind eye.  One teacher specifically teamed me up with my bully in gym class.  This kid had been picking on me straight from grade 2.  I don’t remember anymore what started it.  I probably tattled on him for talking in class, but who knows now.  He focused on me like a laser beam, right from grade 2 up.  I could not shake this kid.  He was always there, picking on me, through grade school.  My 7th grade teacher, knowing all this, decided to team us up in gym.  God knows what she was thinking.  Did she assume that because we had to throw a ball back and forth, we’d suddenly become friends?  Bonding over ball throwing?   I hated that teacher.   I hated that bully.  That guy was so persistent, that once we hit highschool, he skipped his own gym class and attended mine, just to continue.  My highschool gym teacher was so out of it he didn’t even realize he had an extra student.

What got me through these things?  Music.

I saw a guy like Dee Snider take a stand against his own bullies.  They called him a “sick mother fucker”.  He turned it around and showed them he didn’t care.  “Yes, I am a sick mother fucker.  Thank you very much.”  Later on, Twisted Sister even named their fan club the Sick Mother Fuckin’ Friends of Twisted Sister.  SMF’s for short.  He took something negative, robbed it of its power, and created something positive from it.

Twisted Sister, Motley Crue, and especially Kiss had lyrics about not letting these guys bother you.  I took them to heart, and listened to the music day and night.  The fact that not one kid in my school liked Kiss, Twisted Sister, or Motley Crue only made me that much more fanatic.  “If the others don’t like these groups, and I don’t want to be like them, then this music is meant for me.”

Around grade 9, the bullying finally stopped.  I made it through the rest of my school life without incident.  The bullies had dropped out of school.  Or switched schools.  The truth is I don’t know what happened to them, I was just glad to be rid of them.

My love for my music never died.  It grew stronger as I became more obsessed.  Music eventually lead me to the Record Store where, unfortunately, after time, bullying began again.

It happened again in 2000.  I remember 2000 quite clearly.  There were two or three separate incidents in 2000.  One event is permanently emblazoned in my memory, never fading, always vivid as it was 15 years ago.

One person in the organization, who happened to also be my supervisor, had been working for weeks and months on our master CD pricing catalogue.   [Some of us refer to this person as “She Who Shall Not Be Named”.]  Shortly after the CD master had been completed, I was buying some CDs from a customer.  I will never forget they were Roch Voisine discs.  For some reason Roch was not in our CD master catalogue.  I couldn’t find him under “V” or even “R”.  The owner was in my store that day, so I asked him.

“Hey, I can’t find Roch Voisine in the CD master.  It’s supposed to be done now right?”

“I’m not sure,” he responded.  “Why don’t you phone her [She Who Shall Not Be Named] and find out?”

I called and asked the question to her, my direct supervisor.  She somehow took this as an insult and me trying to undermine her seniority.  “You’re just mad that your precious Steve Vai isn’t in the CD master!” she shouted at me.  I’ll never forget the words, “your precious Steve Vai.”  It underlined things that were wrong about this person being in authority:  she was making it personal.

During this rant, I was told that I was trying to sabotage her position in front of the big owner.  When this person eventually arrived at my store, she walked past me at the counter, scowled and told me that I was “so dead for this.”

What?  So dead for what?  What did I do?  I noticed Roch Voisine was not in our master list.  My boss asked me to find out why.  So I did.  I was accused of this “sabotage”, and had the Steve Vai comment thrown at me, and then told I was “so dead”?  I was absolutely floored.

She stopped speaking to me for two weeks straight.  My direct supervisor, working almost daily in the same location as me, completely ignoring me, for two weeks.   The tension could be cut with a knife.  One customer, witnessing the tension and action of my supervisor one day, said “I can’t believe they treat you like that at work.”  I developed a nervous twitch in my left eye that would not go away for months.  My sleep was disturbed nightly.  I was a tense, stressed out disaster on a daily basis at work.  Then two weeks later it blew over, as if nothing had happened.   The supervisor was once again friendly as pie.  I think that is one reason why some don’t believe me that these events happened.  Not everybody got to see that side of her.  Some did.  I remember them.  Lyne, who couldn’t hack it anymore and bailed to work at HMV.  They knew what I was going through, because they went through something similar with the same person.

Another thing about being bullied – victims sometimes protect their bullies.  Sometimes they don’t tattle.  They pretend everything is fine.  They do this to avoid more retribution, to regain favour of the bully, and to hide embarrassment at being bullied in the first place.  I know because that’s what I did.  I did bring it up to the owner once, and he asked me if I wanted him to speak to her about it.  I reacted in terror.  “No!  Then I’m afraid it will get worse!”  So nothing happened.

Then it happened again…and again.  Repeating  the same pattern of bullying at work.  The worst was not being spoken to for weeks on end by my supervisor.  The next time it happened, it lasted three weeks.  I’d be asked by the owner, “Mike, why didn’t you get this done?”  Because nobody told me to do it.

The second time was worse because it was personal.  It had nothing at all to do with work.  This supervisor had an acrimonious split with her fiancé, who also worked within the company.  I knew them both.  I won’t go into any details on this, because the people involved probably don’t want to be reminded of this epic shitstorm.  In fact one of my bully’s friends emailed me three years ago when I first started publishing Record Store Tales, hoping I had no plans for writing about that very shitstorm.  He said he was losing sleep over the thought.  I told him I was not going to talk about it, because it had nothing to do with me, and I still have respect for some of the people involved.  Suffice to say – there was a relationship that ended within the store, and even though it shouldn’t have, it affected the store.  And me.

There was a show in town that I had attended one Saturday night.  My supervisor also attended it, along with several staff members.  After the gig, I said goodnight and told everyone that I was heading home, see you all Monday.

On the way home, I realized that it was her ex-fiance’s birthday, and that he was celebrating at a bar that was on my way.  So I stopped in to wish him a happy birthday, and resumed my trek home.

On Monday, my supervisor confronted me about it!  “You told me you were going home, but you lied to me!  I found out you went to see him after the show!  I don’t care if you see him!   Don’t ever lie to me!  If you ever lie to me again you are dead!”

I denied having lied to anyone, but she was on a roll.  I was in tears when she was done.  I knew that I was going to be treated to more weeks of silence and bullying, and it had nothing to do with work at all.  It had to do with someone who was in a position of power, who was not able to keep her work and personal lives separate.   Although the first bullying incident nearly destroyed me, the second one was worse, and I knew that there was no way I was ever going to shake this person as long as we both worked for the same company.   I tried to out-last her, but she out-lasted me and I quit first.  I broke the cycle by removing myself from it.

Someone once asked me, “Was it bullying, or just somebody being an asshole repeatedly?”  It sure felt like bullying to me, although it took me years to admit it to myself.  The pattern of protecting the bully and pretending everything was normal continued for six years, out of fear.   It was like grade school all over again.  It felt exactly the same.  I consider myself a survivor.  I made it through.  I had to quit the store to do it, but I did it.

After leaving, I began to put the pieces together.  That what I had experienced wasn’t “normal” like some seemed to think it was.  Calling it something else didn’t change the fact that this person was a total bully.  My bully.  And like most bullies, she was good at wearing two faces.  That’s why, I guess, some of her friends today choose not to believe me that it sucked as bad as it did.  Just because she was nice 50% of the time didn’t negate the stuff they didn’t see.  A bully can still be mean to you part of the time, even if they bring chocolates to work and act nice the rest of the time.  It was an experience that drove me close to the point of nervous breakdown (or beyond), and nobody is going to tell me that it didn’t happen, or that it wasn’t as bad as it was.

It did happen.  It made me a stronger person today.

I’m grateful that artists such as Paul Stanley and Dee Snider went through something like what I went through, and survived to sing about it.  Now it’s my turn to tell you about it.  Somewhere out there, I hope there’s a kid who decides not to take any more shit from their bully.  Break the cycle.

I have disabled comments for this chapter. I want the story to stand on its own, and I don’t want to talk about “She Who Shall Not Be Named” any more.  Thank you.