RSTs Mk II: Getting More Tale

#614: Believe It Or Not

GETTING MORE TALE #614: Believe It Or Not

Who doesn’t love lists of musical firsts?  I’ve done my own, but here’s a record that I forgot to include.

It wasn’t my first record.  As a kid, I had read-along story recordsStar Wars, E.T., The Black Hole, and more.  The E.T. record was cool because it was read by Drew Barrymore.  I also had John Williams’ music soundtracks, like Indiana Jones.

My first “metal” album was Quiet Riot’s Metal Health.  I had it on cassette.  It changed my life. Going back even further, Styx’s Kilroy Was Here was the first rock album that I ever bought, but technically it wasn’t my first “rock” record.  Technically.  It all depends on how you define “rock”, but for the purposes of this article we’ll include soft rock under the umbrella.

In 1981 there was a new TV show that, by all signs, looked like it was going to be awesome.  It was about a goofy superhero.  He couldn’t fly straight, and he looked silly with his blonde curly hair in a red skintight outfit.  His landings were always crash landings, and what kid doesn’t find a grown man falling down absolutely hilarious?  The premise was that aliens gave the protagonist this super-suit, but he lost the manual and doesn’t know how it’s supposed to work.  Funny, right?

Sadly, the program called The Greatest American Hero never lived up to the premise or the TV ads.  We kids swiftly lost interest in it.  Magnum P.I. occupied our TV time, and The A-Team and Knight Rider were only a couple years away.  The Greatest American Hero was quickly forgotten, except for one minor detail.

The Greatest American Hero had a terrific theme song.  Theme songs are important.  I can hum the themes for the A-Team, Knight Rider and Magnum P.I.  Can you?  The Greatest American Hero had an even more memorable theme song:  “Believe It Or Not”.

I didn’t know the name of the guy who sang it, I just knew I liked the song.  I told everyone it was my favourite song.  So one day, my Aunt from Calgary came for a visit and gave me a copy of the single. I was elated!  The singer was somebody I never heard of called Joey Scarbury, and now I had the record and I could play it any time I wanted!  I did, over and over.

The names meant nothing to me then, but “Believe It Or Not” was written by Mike Post, who also wrote – surprise surprise! – Magnum P.I. and the A-Team!  Though Mike Post is mostly known as a TV composer (The Who have a song called “Mike Post Theme”), he even produced Van Halen III!  “Believe It Or Not” must be one of his most well remembered songs.  It didn’t hurt when it was spoofed on Seinfeld back in the 90s.  Remember George’s answering machine?  “Believe it or not, George isn’t at home…”  Since then, it’s been used and re-used again in TV shows and commercials.

I remember as a kid, flipping over the record to listen to the B-side, which I immediately hated.  The ballad “Little Bit of Us” was not for me.  I tried playing it at different speeds to see if it would make the song any better.  It didn’t and I never played it again.

I don’t actually know what happened to the record.  I know I lost the sleeve (it wasn’t a picture sleeve, just a plain white one) and filed the record in with another 45.  From there, it disappeared.

I may have outgrown “Believe It Or Not” but playing it today still brings a smile to my face.  Not enough to try and re-watch an episode of the Greatest American Hero, and definitely not enough to track down more Joey Scarbury music. Just enough for some nostalgic rememberings.

 

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#613: Writer’s Block

GETTING MORE TALE #613: Writer’s Block

Writer’s block?  I’ve got it.  Can’t tell?  That’s because I have built up a backlog of posts ready to fill the gap when needed.  It’s called planning ahead.  Being prepared for the inevitable.  Writer’s block strikes when it wants to.

Staring at giant piles of CDs…over 3000 of them aching to be listened to, reviewed, discussed, and appreciated.

“I can’t find anything I wanna listen to.”

Collecting music for over 30 years.  Selling it to the public for 12.  Managing a Record Store for 10.

“I can’t think of any good stories to talk about.”

Fuck you, writer’s block!  Can’t be inspired to write about anything?  Then I’ll write about you, writer’s block!  Take that, you asshole.

There are ways around just about anything – especially when the only thing stopping you is you.

It’s absolutely incredible that I can be sitting here with over 3000 of my favourite pieces of music and can’t be arsed to put two thoughts together.  What’s the deal?  Well, I’m distracted.  Distracted by real life, by loved ones who are more important than words, and by sheer exhaustion.

Take a break?  I am on a break!  See above note about backlog and try to keep up!

Writing is one of my great joys.  Music is another.  Combine the two together and I have the most enjoyable, rewarding creative endeavour.  It’s work, but it doesn’t pay very well, so in reality it’s pleasure.

It’s a pain in the ass when my brain refuses to be inspired.  That’s life.  It could get worse before it gets better.  Sometimes, the heart lies elsewhere.  Family comes first, as it should.  Life happens whether you like it or not.

I love putting an article or review together.  The process of polishing and finishing one is actually even more enjoyable than the writing.  Coming up with accompanying photos, replacing old tired words with better ones – it’s all fun and invigorating.  Seeing the finished published product and reading the comments are all things that bring me great happiness.

Even though I currently “can’t find anything to listen to,” I have no intention of stopping.  I’ve slowed down in the past – 2016 had fewer posts than 2017 – but this is far too much fun.

Fuck you, writer’s block.  Writing about music isn’t a chore, it’s just the opposite.  I won’t let you stop me.

 


Bon Jovi wrote “While My Guitar Lies Bleeding in My Arms” about writer’s block

#612: Remembering Their Sacrifices

At the the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month in 1918, the Armistice was signed, ending the fighting in the Great War. At least, they called it the Great War, or “The War to End All Wars”. Today we just call it World War I, because even greater horrors followed.

My grandfather “Sam” (Crawford) fought in World War II, helping bring an end to the evil of Hitler and Nazi Germany. I think my grandfather would be disgusted today to see Nazis being referred to as “very fine people”. What did he fight for, if we are to casually welcome that evil back to the streets?

“Gar” and “Sam” Winter

We can never forget the sacrifices those soldiers made. My grandfather survived and came home to raise a family with my grandmother. His brother wasn’t so lucky. He lived, but was injured in the trenches and he never walked right again.

I tend to think of the veterans and the soldiers of the present year round. My wife goes out of her way to thank veterans any time she sees one in uniform.  I think of them every time I am free to write whatever I want to, in this great land of Canada. Had the Nazis won, there would be no freedom here. On November 11, at 11am, we have a moment of silence to honour all the soldiers from every war in which they fought and died for our freedom. That is an important tradition to keep. But I think we should think of them more often.

“Sam”

My grandfather rarely told war stories around the kids, but I do remember one night when he told my dad about looking up and seeing a Panzer tank coming. “I shit my pants,” he said and I think he was being truthful. Imagine those young guys — kids, really — in a country far from home, running from a tank. The bravery is awesome. I can’t even imagine.

My grandfather died (cancer) when I was too young to appreciate what he did. I knew he fought, and I got to watch him lay a wreath at the cenotaph every November 11. I didn’t understand the significance of what it means to be a soldier until I was older. If I were a little older, I would have tried to get him to tell me about it.

Bryan Adams’ 1987 album Into the Fire has the best song about Remembrance Day that I know.  This very special track was made into an emotional music video.   In 2014, The Trews came out with something almost as good:  a song called “Highway of Heroes”.  The Highway of Heroes is an actual highway (the 401), given this nickname for the stretch of road on which the bodies of fallen soldiers are brought home.  The Trews’ song is a touching tribute.

Check out these two songs and remember why you’re even able to listen to them.  Because of the Heroes.

 

 

 

#610: 25 Years Ago – Digital Compact Cassettes

GETTING MORE TALE #610:  25 Years Ago – Digital Compact Cassettes

Every once in a while, you stumble upon some old obsolete media format that you never knew existed in the first place.  25 years ago, the Digital Compact Cassette was announced by Philips and Matsushita.  Philips and Sony launched the CD together, but this time Philips sought a new partner for its Digital Compact Cassettes.  It was designed to replace the standard audio cassette in a way that CD hadn’t yet:  it was recordable.  It was a direct rival to the Minidisc and DAT tape, neither of which caught traction.

The 1992 Digital Compact Cassette player had one benefit that the other formats lacked.  Players were backwards compatible.  You could play all your old tapes on them as well as the new DCC tapes.  The tapes themselves looked much like cassettes but with spool holes on one side only.  An added feature was a sliding metal guard, similar to those on floppy discs, to protect the tape inside.  Different players were marketed, including components for your home system, portable Walkman-like devices, and car tape decks.  Signalling the shape of things to come, there was even one player that could connect to a desktop PC.

Another benefit to the new format was that players used fixed magneto-resistive heads, which didn’t require any demagnetizing.  They were more resistant to wear and tear.  Cleaning was something you still needed to do with these players, and more frequently.  Unfortunately for DCC, there was already a lot of competition on the market, and the Sony Minidisc appeared to be winning.

The new Digital Compact Cassettes were not a huge technological step ahead.  The cassettes ran at the exact same speed as a standard audio tape, and were the same width.  The tape used was the same grade as VHS tapes.  They could hold a maximum of 120 minutes, about the same as the max for an audio cassette tape, though no 120 minute DCC tapes were ever made.  By comparison, a DAT tape could hold three hours, and a Minidisc 80 minutes (same as an audio CD).

Each DCC tape had 18 tracks, or nine per side.  The main eight tracks held the audio information, while the ninth could be encoded with the metadata:  track names, numbers, lengths and so on.  This allowed the player to be able to find any spot on the tape that you wish.  There was even copy protection available.  If a tape was encoded as a “protected original”, in theory you couldn’t make a copy.

Ultimately, the desire for a digital but recordable audio format was fulfilled by CD itself.  A DCC player could range from $600 to $1700, and with so many people still buying CD players, that wasn’t a viable price.  Recordable CDs fit the bill, once they came down in price in the late 1990s (formerly about $200 per single CD-R).  The cassette format died its well-deserved death.  Digital Compact Cassettes are barely a footnote, but the magneto-resistive heads have since become a crucial component of PC hard disc drives.  Even rejected tech can often lead to another.

There’s one final footnote to the story of the Digital Compact Cassette.  The film covering of those new innovative tape heads found usage in an unlikely place:  brewery filters.  The microscopic holes in the material turned out to be perfect for nice clean and clear beer.  And you have old obsolete cassette tech to thank!

 

 

#609: Movember

GETTING MORE TALE #609: Movember

My first real job at age 17 was packing groceries.  I worked at Zehrs, the big grocery store in town.  It was hard work, but a good job to have.  They paid well and you could make a career there if you wanted to.  Several people had been there 10 years or more, had security, and were making decent money.  The neat thing for me was the Zehrs store was in the same mall that I later worked in at the first Record Store!  My dad worked there at the bank.  Best friend Bob worked in the Zehrs bakery.  The mall was like a second home.

The grocery store had a dress code.  No running shoes, just plain black shoes.  No jeans, just brown pants and white shirts.  A brown clip-on tie and apron with box cutter in the pocket was issued to us upon hiring.

Facial hair grooming was strict.  I was there when one guy showed up looking unsatisfactory, was written up and sent home to shave.  No stubble allowed.  No beards, no sideburns.

The only facial hair we were allowed to have was…

A moustache.

So many guys there had moustaches.  The guy who trained me had one.  One of the managers, and even a few of the guys my age had moustaches.  I am not a fan of moustaches, but given the lack of options, one day I showed up with a stupid little blonde growth on my upper lip.

“Is that…are you…growing a moustache?” asked the girl I liked.  Her name was Kathleen.  Kathleen Fitzpatrick.  She was really nice, but every guy there liked her.  Guys with higher seniority would work on her lane, kicking me off.  They’d stick me with one of the older ladies.  Everybody preferred to pack for Kathleen and I was low man on the totem pole.

I wore that moustache once.  One day.  Truth be told, I never felt comfortable in a moustache, but imagine this scenario:  what would have happened if Kathleen liked my moustache?  How history could have turned out differently.  I could have been a moustache guy all this time!  I’d probably drive a Camero and listen to a lot of April Wine.

I’m glad it didn’t go that way.  Wherever you are Kathleen, I think I owe you a debt of gratitude.  Maybe.

#608: Hot in the Shade

GETTING MORE TALE #608: Hot in the Shade

November of 1989 was an historic moment in time.  Three events collided in one day that I distinctly remember unusually well.  Based on historical records, I almost can nail down the exact time I first heard Kiss’ then-new Hot in the Shade album that year.  I can remember being on a bus for a school trip, sitting next to a German kid, as the news of the Berlin Wall coming down became the top story of the day.  It was probably the 10th of November, a Friday.

It was huge news.  I grew up in the tail end of the Cold War, and hope was finally on the horizon.  I can remember in 1983, kids in the school yard talking about the Korean passenger liner that the Soviets shot down.  “There’s gonna be a war,” one kid said, and it sure did seem like it.  Every other year, it seemed like it.  November of 1989 was a different kind of time, when fears suddenly melted away albeit briefly.  Sitting next to that German kid on the bus, Mark, was the best place for me to absorb the greater meaning of it.

What were we doing sitting on that bus?  We were on the way to Pickering, to visit the nuclear plant.  Our names had to be submitted weeks in advance to get the clearances, but we were inside an operational nuclear facility!  It wasn’t even my first tour of a nuclear plant, though it was the first time being inside one.  When I was a youngster, the family took a tour of Bruce Nuclear’s grounds and visitor center on summer vacation one year.  I remember being really small, and asked to try and lift some depleted rods of uranium.  I couldn’t; it was far too heavy!  This demonstration indicated the density of the nuclear fuel.  “Did you have your Wheaties today?” asked the tour guide to the chuckles of the group.  But in Pickering, we got to look right inside.

The Pickering plant was impressive.  We had helmets on to go with our visitor badges.  There were checkpoints everywhere, where you had to put your hands and feet in a scanner to make sure you didn’t pick up any radioactive dust.  Once you were cleared, you could go into the next area.  We saw the big rooms where the spent fuel is kept.  Not surprisingly, everything was immaculately clean.  Every surface gleamed, and all the equipment appeared new and in top condition.  We were told that amount of radiation we were exposed to was about the same as an X-ray at the dentist.  The trip was optional, and at least one kid opted out because he didn’t want to get zapped.

There was a more intensive scan at the end of the trip before we were allowed to leave.  You had to pass a full body scan; if not they had to confiscate your clothes and send you home in paper hospital gowns.  I had a brief moment of terror when my scanner refused to give me the green light.  “Come closer” the damn machine kept saying to me.  “I’m as close as I can get!” I retorted to the infernal contraption.  A guide helped me get standing correctly and thankfully I passed the scan!  No hospital gowns for me, which is especially good because the next stop on the trip was Pickering Town Center for lunch.

I ate a sandwich for lunch that my mom packed for me.  She always made sure I had a lunch every day!  We had time to kill at the mall so Mark and I hit up a record store.  It was probably A&A Records and Tapes, though it certainly could have been an HMV.  Either way, they had two new releases that I had my eyeballs on:  Trouble Walkin’ by Ace Frehley, and Hot in the Shade by Kiss.  I only had enough money for one, and Kiss had to take priority of solo Ace.  I remember having a conversation with the guy at the counter about how Anton Fig was back playing drums for Ace.  (And that right there is a lesson about customer service.  That guy made an impression on me that lasted 28 years, just by mentioning Anton Fig on the off chance that I’d know who he was.)

So I walked out of there with Hot in the Shade in my Walkman, and I had a chance to hear the new Kiss album for the first time.  I always enjoyed a first listen.  I’d look at the song titles and try to guess which were Paul’s and which were Gene’s.  I really liked the acoustic slide guitar that opened “Rise to It”.  Bruce Kulick was proving his awesomeness, though I didn’t enjoy his tone on Hot in the Shade.  It was only later that I learned Hot in the Shade was essentially a set of demos that were polished and finished for album release.  That might explain why I felt the tone was so…flat.

Mark also encouraged me to listen to one of his tapes, a group called Trooper.  “I bet you haven’t heard of Trooper,” he said, and I hadn’t, which was odd because they were Canadian.  Trooper didn’t make any lasting impressions other than remembering that Mark was rabid for them.  One thing I remember about Mark:  he hated long songs.  He liked songs in the three to four minute range, and that’s pretty much all of Trooper’s hits.

Our final stop was Lakeview Station, a huge and now defunct coal fire plant in Mississauga.  “Don’t touch anything,” the teacher warned us before going in.  “This place is covered in black coal dust.  If you touch any, you’re going to get it all over the next thing you touch which will probably be your clothes.”  And he was right.  Every surface had coal dust on it.  The tour was noisier and far grimier than the nuclear tour.  This was intended to make an unsubtle point about the differences between the two.

We were all glad to get out of Lakeview and back on the highway home.  I flipped sides on my Kiss tape and tried to get into the album.  I was struggling with it.  Some songs were really good, like the ballad “Forever” which was immediately discernible from the pack.  Others made it seem like putting out an album with 15 new songs might have been a better idea on paper.

I listened to the album on my boombox when I got back home.  I listened intently and tried to figure out what sounded “off”, and the only thing I could figure was the guitarist.  “I don’t think Bruce Kulick’s tone is right,” I said with a twinge in my gut.  Of this, I’m glad he proved me wrong by the next album Revenge.

What a memorable day that was.  I’m just glad I didn’t come home radioactive and hot in the shade!

Check out the album review tomorrow as part of the  KISS RE-REVIEW SERIES.

#606: Why Roger Smith is the Greatest Character on Television

GETTING MORE TALE #606:
Why Roger Smith is the Greatest Character on Television

Roger Smith from American Dad is an alien. He’s grey, squat, with a big bulbous head and no visible nose. He thinks he looks like Lena Dunham. “It’s nice to see someone with my exact body type succeed.” But he has several amazing abilities that allow him to blend in with modern society. Some of these abilities are musical. If you want to know how an alien can impact the world we live in, even musically, then check out some of Roger’s amazing traits and accomplishments below.

Parker Peters

1. Master of Disguise

Roger can disguise himself as anyone.  Even his own family can’t recognise him in certain outfits. A wig and some clothes are all that’s necessary. In disguise as Kevin Bacon, he even successfully framed the actor for a car accident when the real Bacon was 2000 miles away.  “I didn’t think I did it,” said the real Kevin, “but it’s clearly me on the tape!”

Some of Roger’s most incredible disguises include “alien hunter” Parker Peters, and his mentally handicapped bodybuilder persona, Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Max Jets

2. Incredible Speed

Using his ability to move really fast when he wants to, Roger can appear to be in multiple places simultaneously. This has allowed him to live multiple lives under different personas. As wedding planner Jeanie Gold, he raised a family. As Roslyn Jenkins, he has been married for eight years to business mogul Ax Jenkins, in a long running plot to trick Ax into breaking his pre-nup agreement. It is revealed that even though he lives “full time” with the Smith family, he also seemingly lives with dozens of other families all at the same time. Meanwhile, his old man millionaire persona Max Jets languishes away in jail. Roger’s ability to manage these multiple lives simultaneously is unparalleled in television.

Kripsy Kreme McDonalds

3. Musical Ability

Roger is also drummer Krispy Kream McDonalds, percussionist for Steve and the Ass-Tones. Because he has no bones, his drumming ability is unparalleled. That’s not all.  As hipster guitar player Donald, he acquired his great skill due to a deal with a devil. When he makes a bet with another guitarist, the stakes being “the cost of his lessons”, Donald wins and passes the soul debt on to the loser.  He is also known as country singer Cuss Mustard, and even seduced Ricky Martin and stole his shirt.

Roger can be heard singing a number of original songs on the show. His best include “The Confi-dance” and “You’ve Got a Kink”. Roger is naturally drawn to artists such as Barbra Streisand and Celine Dion. In order to watch the Barbra Does Celine pay-per-view TV special, Roger disguises himself as a Viet Cong and kidnaps Stan in a makeshift POW camp, all for the pay-per-view password.

Roger even “invented” Disco music. In a time travel snafu, Stan Smith left a Best of Disco cassette in the 1970s. The tape is found by Roger, who strikes it mega-rich, until Disco is declared dead in 1981.

The Prophecy

4. He is Somehow Connected to the End of Days

Early in season one, Roger reveals he can poop out jewel-encrusted golden turds. As the series unfolds, one of his turds inspires great evil and murderous cover-ups over the years, moving all the way up to the White House. In the season 14 opener, it is revealed that Pope Francis and all the world’s religious leaders are aware of a secret prophecy involving the discovery of the golden turd. Ancient Egyptian hieroglyphics show that the only way to destroy the golden turd is to return it to its source – Roger’s anus.

Chex LeMeneux

5. He Impacted History in Remarkable and Unexpected Ways

Roger the Alien is responsible for many historical events that you didn’t know about. Yes, he “invented” Disco. How about Jar Jar Binks? Also invented by Roger. The killing of the Notorious B.I.G.? Caused by his driver Roger aka MC Raw G, when he went all road-rage on another vehicle. “No one cuts off Biggie Smalls!” Whoops. He also got a sober George W. Bush back on the booze, and helped the US hockey team win the gold in the 1980 “Miracle on Ice”. He did this on steroids as his hockey player persona, Chex LeMeneux.

As if all this wasn’t enough, he can fart toxic gas! Just feed him okra. He is fireproof and can float. Stan Smith used him as a floatation device when stranded on a desert island.

If these reasons are not enough to convince you that Roger Smith is the greatest television character of the modern era, then nothing will. My advice is to just watch American Dad and see for yourself.

#605: “Hey, you got a message, use Western Union!” 

GETTING MORE TALE #605: “Hey, you got a message, use Western Union!”

Featuring guest essay by John Hubner

“A lot of bands mature, which means they get square; they start delivering messages. Hey, you got a message, use Western Union.” – David Lee Roth

When David Lee Roth made that legendary statement, he was talking about rock and roll bands who take things too seriously.  Might as well jump?  This is course is a matter of taste.  I enjoy Van Halen and ZZ Top, but I also enjoy the more cerebral works of Marillion and Dream Theater.  In music there truly is room for all tastes and styles.  Few genres are as diverse as rock and roll, even lyrically.  If a writer is a strong enough to embed personal messages in their words that might go undetected by the listener, then this kind of lyric should be celebrated.  On the other hand, fans are sometimes turned off when the messages are too overt.  U2 have faced some backlash over this.

So, rock bands:  by all means, feel free to tell us all about climate change, globalism, big pharma and Wall Street.  If you do it well, the fans won’t mind.  On the other hand, there is no shame in rock and rolling all nite and partying every day.  As Paul Stanley once said in one of his many stage raps, “We all came here tonight to escape from the world! Tomorrow morning when we get up it’ll be just as screwed up as it is today. We might as well have a little fun!” And that is certainly one very valid reason to rock.

Even here, in these very virtual pages, I’ve taken a few liberties where I’ve veered slightly off course.  I’ve preached a little bit about the plight of the Indigenous Canadian.  Other tangents included mental health, stigma, religion, tolerance, and even the rights of service dog owners, with music as the common thread.  I hope I haven’t offended anyone with these fairly benign notions.  I try to be careful.  As a writer, I founded myself with two projects:  my reviews, and Record Store Tales.  Most of you got here because of the music, and so that’s what I deliver.  I don’t need to bore you with social justice or environmental ideals.  I don’t want to bore myself, either.

Speaking of Record Store Tales, one of its many focuses was to relay lessons I learned from a decade of retail management.  Any time I walk into any record store, I could make mental lists of things they are doing great and others for Continual Improvement.  That goes for a lot of retail in general too.  Back to the subject at hand…and this should be patently obvious to most sensible people…leave your personal politics out of your customer service job.

Mrs. LeBrain and I were up at the cottage a couple years ago, and we stopped at Shoppers Drug Mart to pick up some bathroom essentials and some candy.  There was only one cashier on duty and she was a chatty one.  There was a problem with the person in front of us; something wasn’t scanning right.  It took forever to fix, and this cashier would not stop talking.  I had a feeling we’d be in for some chatting when she finally got to us.

I was right, and it didn’t start well with a “How are you today darlin’?”  Fine…thanks.  “Would you like a bag for this?”  I glanced at Mrs. LeBrain who nodded yes and said, “Yeah a couple bags.”  Her response threw me for a loop.

“Well have you seen the landfill?” she asked me in a condescending tone.

“Ummm…no?” I answered, very puzzled.

“Well,” she began, “There’s no room left in the landfill and the birds are choking on plastic from garbage bags…”

I politely let her finish, and then explained, “OK, but we have dogs here at the cottage, and these bags will be used for them.”  There were in fact three poop factories (Schnauzers) at the cottage that weekend.*  Stoop and scoop, people.  Stoop and scoop.

It’s none of her business why I wanted those bags, I didn’t need to explain myself and I certainly didn’t need to be lectured about reusing and recycling.  I went through highschool at the start of the green revolution.  I do my best to be a responsible inhabitant of Mother Earth.  Rest assured, I am not some littering jackass who doesn’t give a shit.  Sometimes you just need a couple plastic bags, goddammit!

I thought about being “that customer” and complaining about the talky cashier, but decided to live and let live, and instead save it for this story.  Consider my wisdom, young padawans.  You don’t know your customers as well as you think you might.  Say too much, and you just might lose your customer, or find them complaining about you to your boss, as happened to me once when I made a snarky comment about Radiohead!**

So ends today’s lesson, friends.  Do you agree with this experience and advice?

We asked Schnauzer expert John Hubner for a “message” about how awesome Schnauzers are.  He sent us the following treatise:


Klaus. Dieter. Helmut. Otto.

No, these are not the names of former members of Kraftwerk. Nor are they the names off the guest list to Angela Merkel’s surprise birthday party. Those four names are the miniature schnauzers that have had a profound effect on my life. “Miniature schnauzers? What?” Yes, those sometimes salt and pepper, sometimes gray, sometimes black, and occasionally blonde yippy terriers that bark bloody murder at you every time you pass by their house(the bark is usually followed up with a crazed “KNOCK IT OFF!” from the same house.) Those dogs with the short stature, manly beard, and a nub for a tail. They have personality for miles and loyalty till the end. They’re the go-to pooch for old ladies and your great aunt that doesn’t like men all that much.
How did I end up miniature schnauzer poster boy? I was a sick kid who suffered from allergies. When I asked my mom why we couldn’t get a Boxer she said it was because of my allergies. But not long after that a book on miniature schnauzers showed up at our house and I was told if we ever got a dog it would be a schnauzer. When I asked why my mom said “Well, schnauzers have hair like your dad’s hair, while a Boxer has hair like your uncle Chuck.” “We never see uncle Chuck” I said. “Exactly, because we’re allergic to him” my mom replied.
Regardless of that bizarre exchange, a miniature schnauzer ended up at our house when I was 8 years old and the rest is history. Growing up with a mini schnauzer I grew to love their loyalty but need for personal space. They weren’t goofy and sloppy like bigger breeds; but they weren’t standoffish like poodles and cats. What I came to realize is that miniature schnauzers are a lot like me. They can laugh and joke and rub elbows for awhile, but eventually they need to retreat from the crowds and the chit chat. Every mini schnauzer I’ve ever known mingle for a bit, then they say “See ya” and head for the comfort of their favorite spot on the couch. I love that about ’em. I respect that.
Miniature schnauzers are better than your dog. Sorry, it’s true. They’re like grumpy little people that don’t take crap from nobody and they’ve got an awesome beard to prove it. They’re loyal, temperamental, prone to anxiety, and do NOT like people knocking on the front door. They like to nap and will tell you what they want when you’re in the kitchen. They howl when left alone in the house and they keep the couch from floating away for a greater part of the day.
I think I’m part schnauzer.

** Freed of the shackles of the Record Store, I can say I like Radiohead enough to own a couple CDs, but still find them so very pretentious. 

#603: Canada Wants to Tax Your Staff Discount

GETTING MORE TALE #603:
Canada Wants to Tax Your Staff Discount

Record store employees! Have you heard? Now the Canada Revenue Agency wants a piece of your staff discount.

According to CTV, “when an employee receives a discount on merchandise because of their employment, the value of the discount is generally included in the employee’s income.”  They will calculate the tax by using the “equal to the fair market value of the merchandise purchased, less the amount paid by the employee.”   That is unless the discount is “available to the public or a segment of the public, at some point during the year.”  Those car deals where you “pay what the employees pay” wouldn’t count as a taxed staff discount, which is good for people who work at dealerships.  CD stores generally don’t have a “staff discount sale”.

Let’s say, just like when I was working in the Record Store, an $11.99 CD gets sold to you at the discount price of $7.99. The government now wants to tax you on the $4 discount that was the only perk of a crappy retail job.

I used to buy several CDs a week.  Let’s say for the sake of conservative estimates that I bought three CDs a week with my discount.  Let’s take the same $4 discount used in the example above, with Ontario’s 13% sales tax.  That’s $0.52 of tax now added.  $0.52 per CD on three CDs a week, multiplied by 52 weeks:  That’s $81.12 a year of brand new taxes, enough to buy several albums instead.

Conservatives are accusing Prime Minister Justin Trudeau of exploiting Canadians who can least afford it. Lisa Raitt, Conservative Deputy Leader, said the government is “picking the pockets of minimum wage earners.” Finance critic Pierre Poilevre says the tax will “target those who can least afford to pay more”. Other commentators have noted that staff discounts will need to be rigorously tracked for taxation.

It is true. At the Record Store, a manager would simply ring in the staff sale with discount. Now, copies of receipts will have to be kept, filed and forwarded to Payroll, with the original price and discount.  This will cost businesses time, but they will have no choice but to comply with whatever law takes shape.  All paperwork would have to be kept in case of audit.

If this goes through on January 1, it will stink to high heaven.

Staff discounts on a CD, or a pair of shoes, or a meal are part of the perks of working a thankless job. It’s something people can look forward to. Celebrate passing your three month probationary period with a discounted purchase.

Who is going to pay this tax, the employee or the employer? It will hurt both regardless. Employees may have to stop taking advantage of discounts and just buy less from their places of work.  Some people only buy non-essential luxury items from work (like CDs), but what about those who get a staff discount on necessities?  That’s a part of their shrinking budget.

Canadians are tired of being nickel and dimed to death with taxes. It’s hard enough making ends meet, and this tax goes after something previously held sacred. It’s not good for Canadians and we certainly hope it does not come to pass.

UPDATE:  Feds are now denying this story and say there’s no such tax coming.   Hmmm.

 

#602: Nepotism

GETTING MORE TALE #602: Nepotism

Small businesses without oversight can sometimes suffer from nepotism. At the Record Store, the senior supervisor who I refer to as “the Bully” seemed to favour her friends over the rest of us.  I say this with complete certainty.  This was not only my observation, but that of others who were questioning what they were seeing at work.  I still have emails from old co-workers about it.

The personal goal for every store manager was to eventually get out from behind the counter. Nobody wants to be there forever.  It wears you down.  We had all been told that hard work would get us out. But it only happened for the select chosen few. One of the first was the Bully’s fiancé. He was promoted to an office job running our website. No one questioned that he was good and qualified. He certainly was. But would he have gotten that promotion if he was me?

Other store managers that were close personal friends with the Bully got off easy when it came to inspections. She would come in to my store and point out every fingerprint or coffee stain that hadn’t been cleaned up yet, throwing down words like “disgusting” and “gross” to make me feel extra bad. Meanwhile, when I was visiting the store in Cambridge managed by one of her close friends, I found a pile of crumbled drywall bits on a window sill that had obviously been there a long time.  It looked like a drywall anthill.  Others also noticed that the Cambridge location was not held to the high cleanliness standards as the rest of us. We would talk and wonder how they got away with this stuff, when we’d been raked over the coals for less. The Bully would even spend every Friday afternoon working with her friend in Cambridge. It was like clockwork. Every Friday afternoon, she was gone from her desk and working in Cambridge with her friend. Cambridge was “really busy” on Fridays and they needed the extra help, it was claimed. It became a joke around the store. “It’s Friday, she must be in Cambridge working with her friend again.” The owner didn’t question this activity, if he was even aware of it. It seemed strange to the rest of us that this one powerful regional manager would have to work every single Friday in the store where her friend worked.  What are the odds?

The bright side to this was actually that the Bully would be out of my hair on Fridays. Normally she worked at her desk, right in the back office of my store. She couldn’t harass me so much from Cambridge. I didn’t mind that every Friday was spent with her friend. It worked out well for me, but it smelled fishy.

Nepotism reared its ugly head again in 2003. All the store managers showed up for another late night staff meeting. This time, a bombshell was dropped that didn’t sit right with a couple of us. Yet another closer personal friend of the Bully was getting a promotion. A new position was created for her.

“She’s a helper,” said the store owner. “She is not your boss! She’s not in charge of you. She’s just here to help. If you need someone to cover shifts, she’ll be there. She will be in charge of store displays. If you need help with signage, she can do that.”

The accountant Jonathan told me the next day that he advised against this change. “In retail, you never create a new position that doesn’t make money,” he told me. Others were confused. “How did she get that job and not you?” a few people asked me. I’d been there almost a decade and was stuck behind the counter every day. In fact, in my time at the Record Store, the only people who got away from the counter permanently were friends with the Bully. Nepotism at its finest.

One day the Helper was in St. Catharines working on a display of CD wallets. She made the display, tore it down, started over. She spent an entire shift working on that display and signage. Money well spent?

Something strange happened in the months afterwards. Even though we were all assured “she’s not your boss”, the Helper quickly became another boss. Before too long we were answering to her, as if she was a surrogate of the Bully. Some used to refer to her as the Bully’s “Handmaiden”. It stank to high heaven. We’d all been lied to, right to our faces.  And not one of us said anything about it.

It was very clear that the Bully and the Helper didn’t give a shit about me.  Jonathan caught them having a laugh at my expense.  They thought it was hilarious that I was going to have to work all summer without any full-time backup employees.  One day the Helper was in my store, doing a store inspection. I think she purposely did it before I got in that day. I had been hearing that they liked to stack the deck against certain managers that they didn’t favour. One manager had “garbage was piled to the ceiling” written on an official store inspection document. If that had been written on mine, I wouldn’t have signed off on it. Garbage “piled to the ceiling”? Horse shit! That wasn’t even physically possible. Pictures or it didn’t happen!

I came in for my shift, not knowing a surprise inspection had been done. I started as I often did, by cleaning glass surfaces and counters. The place was spic and span. Then the Helper came out to talk to me about the store inspection. “Fingerprints on glass and counters” was a complaint she wrote down.

“I cleaned that as soon as I got here,” I said. “Have a look yourself. Nothing’s dirty.”

She responded, “It was when I wrote it down.”

“Yeah but as soon as I got here, I cleaned it, without even knowing you’d inspected the store. It’s a non-issue,” I protested.

“Well, it’s too late, I already wrote it down” she said. And so it went on my official report. That seemed very unfair. If they inspected stores before I even got there for the day, of course they would find issues. There was only one person on duty before I got in for the day. If he was busy with customers, he would not be able to do a really solid cleaning. When I got in, there were now two people on duty.  One is free to clean.  They knew this.

It was patently obvious that the one who was “not our boss” was in fact another boss we had to answer to. She even got me to run and do bank deposits, which was her responsibility, not mine. But I did it because I wanted to be “helpful” and maybe one day prove that I deserved a promotion too.  What was I supposed to do, say “no”?  If I had, she’d be on the phone with Bully next.  If I refused, they would have made sure I paid for it.

Lessons learned from this: When you do something once to be “helpful” or as a “favour”, by the second time it becomes expected. The harder lesson to learn was that I was never going to get anywhere. I wasn’t a member of the inner circle. I never was going to be. I had dug my own grave. I didn’t want to hang out at bars with her crew like some of the inner circle did. I’ve always been the kind of person who looks forward to coming home after work, and enjoy a movie or a couple albums. Even going out to a bar once a week is too much for me. It’s not something I enjoy. Whether Bully took this as a snub, or whether it just meant I wasn’t going to work my way into the inner circle, I do not know. All I know is that some were lucky enough to escape the wrath, and enjoy an easier work life. Others were not and quit in frustration, and in some cases, tears. It was pure favouritism and the owner was oblivious. He was too busy out wheeling and dealing, opening new stores and making contacts.

I still have friends who work there.  Bully is long gone from that place now; I hope that means the nepotism is too.