I just heard about this kids’ song that is popular in certain age groups. It’s catchy, but I can’t say that I like the lead character too much. He’s a duck that keeps pestering the clerk at a lemonade stand with the same question day after day and not buying anything. I swear to God I used to see him at the Record Store.
GETTING MORE TALE #866: Untitled ’94
I didn’t go to the cottage at all in 1994. I was busy with school, then in the summer met a girl, and finally got a job at the Record Store. That was all the distraction I needed to stay home. Girls trumped trees and water. Priorities!
The first summer at the Record Store was a brand new world for me. New faces, new names, new music. Lots and lots of cleaning. “If there’s time to lean, there’s time to clean!” went the saying. A lot of the job was tedious. Wednesday was “tape check day”. From A to Z we had to check every cassette in the store and make sure the magnetic security strip was firmly attached. If it wasn’t, we’d get some scotch tape and secure that sucker. My hands always felt so grungy after a day of tape checking.
There was always filing to do, and new stock to price. When we sold a tape or CD, we had to know to re-order them. How was this accomplished? Tapes had a little clear plastic sticker on the back. It had the artist, title and record label written on it. When we sold a tape, we had to file these stickers in a photo album, sorted by record label. Then when the boss was ready to order more stock, he’d flip through the photo album and read the stickers. When we re-stocked the tapes, we had to put the clear sticker back on. CDs were similar except they were in clear bags with the info written on them. The bags were used to re-order discs.
When something new was released, we had to make the stickers and bags for those items too. I remember when T-Rev was hired, he used to leave special releases for me to do the tags and bags for. Kiss Unplugged he specifically left for me, because it was the first Kiss album released during my tenure at the store. The first of many. I drew the Kiss logo on the tag and smiled. Small things like that meant something to me, though after waiting so long for a new Kiss album, it was quite anti-climactic.
We had also started selling used CDs. Some of the first I acquired with my staff discount were Sven Gali’s debut and Chronicles by Rush. Weirdly, I was still buying a lot of cassettes. Kim Mitchell’s brand new one Itch got the staff discount treatment.
In the early days the boss used to give us weekly homework. We had to come in with a current top 10 list every week. This was to ensure that we were familiar with the current hits that people would be asking for. T-Rev did his homework; I did not. I felt like I already knew it all. Before I started at the store, I used to keep on top of “everything the kids were listening to”. I guess the boss recognized that since he didn’t bug me for my homework every week.
I was glad to have this job at the Record Store when in late ’94 my relationship blew up in my face. I compensated by throwing myself into the store. I came in early every day so I could review all the new stock. Business was fairly slow most nights. We were not in a high-traffic mall. We had our regulars and we had our time-wasters. The drunks from the restaurant next door were interesting. Some of them even spent money! None of them were problems, just time wasters. “Tire kickers” as I call them now. Then there were a couple notable janitors. Trevor Atkinson from highschool was one. I wonder what ever happened to that guy? He was certainly a time waster. It’s my theory that he was the cause of the first customer complaint I ever received.
Working in that Record Store was pretty much my whole social life. I didn’t know anybody at school anymore. Through the store, I reconnected with highschool and neighborhood friends that dropped by to shop. Guys like George Balasz and Scott Peddle. The boss didn’t like his employees to socialize at work, but what could you do? It was the local Record Store and I was working in it. I knew lots of people. He socialized far more than I did, but he was “the boss” so nobody could give him shit for it. When one of his friends was in the store, he’d chat it up and get me to take care of everyone else. “Do as I say, not as I do” was another one of his famous demoralizing sayings.
But it was a good job. The boss used to say he was “firm but fair”. For the first few years that was true. For a retail job it was pretty good. We got to listen to music during the shift and we felt like part of a team. It was a special place during a special time. I’m glad I was there before we grew, because that’s when things changed for the worse, from an employment point of view. But for that brief period in the beginning, the Record Store was a part of my identity. I’m still really proud of everything that we did there as a team. I may be critical of some things, but I’m proud of being there on the ground floor when things were about to take off.
Since starting the Facebook Live streams, I thought maybe doing a reading of some of my own stories would be fun. The reaction was mixed but some of the comments are below.
- “I thought this stream would be about music but it is about poop and toilet paper. Pleasant surprise.” – Buried on Mars
- “Story time with Bum Face?…This is gonna be a long stream.” – Uncle Meat
- “The greatest story ever!!” – Chris
The live stream went down as only live streams could, spontaneously and hilariously. I tried re-recording the reading to get better quality but that was impossible. The only solution is to use the original live stream reading from the night of April 3 2020. Since that was done on live video, you get the video of it as well as a bonus.
Please enjoy the slightly edited reading below!
RECORD STORE TALES Part 7: A Shitty Story
* Pardon the mirrored video. Still trying to fix that.
** The Starfleet captain’s uniform is me trying to come with different shirts each week.
GETTING MORE TALE #825: Klassic Kwote – Carnival of Souls
We were encouraged to put stickers on CDs to draw attention to them at the Record Store. When Kiss’ Carnival of Souls was released in 1997, I put a sticker on there that read “FINAL ALBUM WITH BRUCE & ERIC”. Because why not. Other stores did things like that. Stickers are fun. Bosses didn’t like my stickers, but I was the store manager and I wanted to make stickers.
A dude picked up the CD and asked me, “What does this mean? Final album with Bruce and Eric?”
I didn’t know how to respond so I simply answered, “It’s the final album with Bruce & Eric.”
“Oh OK,” he said and put it down.
Ask a stupid question?
GETTING MORE TALE #824: “I’m Outta Here!”
A sequel to Part 287: Closing Time
Name one person who doesn’t love closing down for the day. Work completed, clock ticks 9:00 pm, and the doors are locked. Time to go eat some dinner and unwind. At the Record Store, we got paid until 9:15 pm, the approximate amount of time it would take to cash out and close. Sometimes we could do it in 10 minutes, sometimes far longer. It was always considered a victory if you could completely close out in 10 minutes, and get paid for 15. Small triumphs.
My favourite location to close was the original mall store at Stanley Park. It was probably my favourite for closing because I was working alone. Closing a store by yourself gives you a greater sense of responsibility. Plus you could listen to whatever (metal) you wanted.
Listen, I don’t care where you work, everybody wants to go home and get refueled. It’s a basic right. Once you stop getting paid, you’re a free human being again.
There was one occasion at the mall I’ll never forget. I was closing up normally and had just returned from the bank to drop off the night deposit. I shut down the lights, packed up my stuff and locked the door. As I was heading to the parking lot to meet my dad who was picking me up, I spied a group of three or four kids down the hall heading to the store, arms loaded with CDs to sell. Just loaded — the group must have had 100 discs altogether. I stealthily sneaked out of the mall via a seldom-used side entrance, hopefully unseen.
Close call! The last thing I wanted was to have my dinner delayed by a group of kids needing last minute (booze) money after closing time.
This kind of thing still bugs me. When I’m out shopping I’m very conscious of closing time. I’m not going to get some sales rep to perform handstands just before closing, and definitely not after! Some kids don’t know any better, but they should. Didn’t they have their own part time jobs that they didn’t like to stay late for? Did they get paid extra if they had to stay late? We didn’t.
I was glad to say “I’m outta here!” at closing time even if there were still people wanting to come in. Maybe we could have made more money if we did stay open, but none of it would be coming my way.
You can imagine how hard it is finding music for people who have no idea what they’re looking for.
“Yeah, the guy wears a cowboy hat in the video.”
Can I get a little more information?
“Yeah, it was a white hat.”
Alan Jackson? I don’t fucking know!
One day a customer walked in to T-Rev’s store and asked for a new band. They had a new song out called “MMMBop”.
His description, which Trevor had to somehow use to figure out what band he wanted, was as follows:
“It’s a new band. They sound like Michael Jackson. But white.”
Hanson, ladies and gentlemen! The white Michael Jacksons!
GETTING MORE TALE #797: Don’t Be Afraid to Ask For It!
In the early 90s, we got our first Costco store in Kitchener. My parents raved about how much I’d love it. In those early years, I enjoyed going with them. I’d throw a 20 pack of Hot Rods into the cart and see if they’d notice (they always did). They didn’t have much of a music selection, but what they did have was priced to go. So I picked up a few current releases:
- Queen – Classic Queen
- Skid Row – Slave to the Grind
- Van Halen – LIVE: Right here, right now.
- Guns N’ Roses – Use Your Illusion World Tour – 1992 in Tokyo I & II (VHS)
The Guns was a nice score. The full Tokyo show, split onto two VHS tapes (sold separately). At Costco prices they were affordable. The show later made up a large portion of their album Live Era. Costco was great for buying new releases, junk food in bulk, and the occasional electronics. We enjoyed getting free food samples and checking out the latest in TVs and videos games. I stocked up on blank tapes. But there was one thing Costco didn’t have.
To be clear, it wasn’t that I was looking to buy this. I was just being a shit. I have a juvenile sense of humour, and always have. Costco should have known that if they were going to leave pads of paper for “suggestions” at the end of every aisle, someone was going to write silly things on it.
Most people wrote sensible suggestions. “Too much packaging on products” was a good one. It’s true, Costco would use far too much cardboard and plastic to package together three things of deodorant. But I noticed they didn’t carry something; something important that could easily be sold in bulk. My mom gave me shit for it, but I always wrote “CONDOMS” on the suggestion pads.
I didn’t need condoms, believe me. Definitely not in bulk. But something about the idea tickled my funnybone, and so every time, I wrote it down.
“MICHAEL!” my mother would scold. I’d grin and laugh. It went on and on like this, visit after visit.
But you know something? It was a good idea. So good that a few years later, they were stocked. I couldn’t believe it.
“Kathryn!” I shouted at my sister. “Get over here, you won’t believe this.” I proudly pointed at the condoms. “Do you think that’s because of me?” I mean, I wrote it down enough times.
I think I had something to do with it. At least, that’s the way I tell the story, and I’ll be damned if I’m changing it now. Costco carries condoms because of me.
There was one guy I knew back in the day who would have appreciated it. He was a friend of a friend. We were at an age when you’d be expected to be “embarrassed” to be buying condoms. Not this guy. He went up to the counter at the drug store and said, “See that? That’s a five pack. That means I’m getting it five times.” Then when the transaction was done, he’d conclude by saying “See you tomorrow!” No embarrassment for that guy. I like to think that I got Costco to carry condoms in bulk, and I did it for that guy. You’re welcome!
A sequel to #424: How to Stop a Thief
GETTING MORE TALE #795: A Case for Security
Back when people used to actually steal physical CDs instead of just stealing a download, extravagant measures were taken to secure our precious inventory.
We had a magnetic tag security system. At the entrance stood an electronic gate that would go into alarm mode any time one of those magnetic tags was near. Every item we had in-store was tagged. The system was not cheap. I believe the tags cost 5 cents each (in 1994 dollars). They were the cheapest ones available and they quickly added up. The tags were not re-usable. Once they were de-magnetized they were done. Also, because they were sticky tags, if you ripped one off you wouldn’t be able to re-apply it very well as the sticky side got less sticky. You could put it back on with tape, but no matter what you did, over time the tags would always start to peel off on their own. We did a “tape check” every week to make sure every cassette still had a security tag firmly attached.
There was a different method for securing CDs. To cut down on the use of the magnetic tags, we used plastic CD long boxes. The magnetic tags were fitted inside, didn’t peel off, and could be re-used time and time again. You couldn’t get the CD out of the long boxes without a key, or you’d destroy what was inside. The key was kept behind the counter.
Like anything at the Record Store, this security measure had its pros and cons. Storing those long boxes when not in use was a constant struggle. We always seemed to be bursting at the seams with them. We had cabinets underneath the CD shelving that were usually packed full.
The biggest “pro” was reducing the cost of the magnetic tags. Since you could use the same case over and over again with the magnetic strip intact, you didn’t have to keep buying new ones. The long boxes were also an added deterrent. If you wanted to steal a CD you had to hide the long box under your jacket.
This didn’t stop people from trying. One day, somebody from the mall came into the Record Store and told me that they found half a dozen broken long boxes in the trash outside.
“I think someone has been stealing from you,” she said.
I was immediately worried that someone managed to rip us off on my shift. Fortunately that wasn’t the case, though Zellers were not as lucky. Upon seeing the broken long boxes, I could tell they didn’t belong to us. They came from Zellers, who used a similar system. Someone managed to beat it. How?
If nobody was looking, you could lift the CDs right over the magnetic gate. That was the easiest way, and at Zellers, chances are nobody was looking. Another method (supposedly anyway) involved lining the inside of your jacket with aluminum foil. Apparently this would allow you to shoplift anything with a magnetic tag. The urban legend, which may have been true, is that a local gang of CD thieves used this method.
The gang were known locally as “Pizza Guys”. The cops were always two steps behind them. The main detective on the case gave us pretty clear instructions. We were to buy everything the “Pizza Guys” brought in, record it, and get their ID. We were to flag any “shady” purchases but otherwise they told us it was business as usual. I don’t know if the detective ever caught the “Pizza Guys”, but years later their leader Aristotles (real name!) went to jail for selling ecstasy, meth and heroin. Quite a large step from stealing CDs! According to the news, he got just six years in jail.
I don’t think the “Pizza Guys” were shoplifting CDs normally. I think they were getting them from someone on the inside. We’ll never really know. We used to joke that one day we’d be in an HMV store minding our own business, when Aristotles would pop his head out of the stock room. “We’re out of Big Shiny Tunes again!”
Even though the “Pizza Guys” usually brought in what you would call good titles (usually new releases), we all hated dealing with them. As time went on without getting caught, they got more and more cocky and difficult to deal with. It was good to know the cops were on our side, but I’m not a detective. My job was not to fight crime in the city of Kitchener. My job was to sell music, and these guys didn’t make it a pleasant experience for us.
GETTING MORE TALE #774: The Original Mustard Tiger
Gary was a customer of mine after I was transferred to a store on the shittier side of town. It’s not like where I worked before was high class. The new store was in a part of town that, frankly, I never went to when I wasn’t working. There was nothing in that part of town, just the same fast food joints as everywhere else. Not a lot of people with disposable income. The store recently came to an end, to no-one’s surprise. But that was the store that Gary frequented.
I inherited Gary from the previous manager. Since we started carrying DVDs, we acquired a brand new niche clientele: movie and TV fans. They rarely, if ever, bought music. It was a whole new market, and Gary was one of the guys who bought DVDs pretty much exclusively. In particular, he liked TV show season box sets. M*A*S*H*, Gilligan’s Island, the classics. He bought a lot — and returned a lot. He was high maintenance, so not the kind of guy I was really excited to see walk in at any given time. But that’s retail.
What was most memorable to me about Gary was his appearance. Large, bald, and…shall we say, unkempt. The shirt that disgusted me the most was the one that had mustard stains all over the front. Dried mustard on cloth isn’t my thing when it comes to fashion, I guess. And when he talked to me, trapped behind the counter, I could barely take my eyes off it. It was like a car accident — some people can’t help but look. That was me with Gary’s shirt, which didn’t seem to completely cover his skin, by the way. The easiest and most accurate comparison would be the character of Phil Collins on Trailer Park Boys. Gary was taller, but Phil was bald, had a protruding gut, and wore a shirt covered with mustard stains. Phil’s shirt had a picture of a tiger on it, hence his nickname: the Mustard Tiger. Well Gary was the original Mustard Tiger.
I quit the store a couple years later, but life is circular, and that was not the last of the Mustard Tiger. About a decade ago, Jen and I were obligated to go to a wedding. It was one of her bridesmaids tying the knot, the one we referred to as “bridesmaidzilla”. (You can read that story in #559: Hotel Hobbies.) I wasn’t thrilled to be going, and for Jen this was kind of a final obligation before she was able to put some distance between them. They were having a “Hillbilly Wedding”, I believe they billed it. And guess who the best man was?
It was Gary. He traded in the mustard shirt for something clean, with buttons. Adorned atop his bald pate was a 10 gallon cowboy hat. Upon his ample belly, a giant golden country & western belt buckle. It looked like the WCW Championship belt, so huge it seemed.
I’m sure that some of you, if you were in similar circumstances, would walk up to Gary and ask him how he’s been doing. If he even remembered you. I did not do that. When I quit the store, I was bitter and wanted to move on with my life. I didn’t want to talk to Gary and remember all the times he returned some shitty TV show box set. We all make choices, and I chose to pretend that I didn’t remember the Mustard Tiger.
GETTING MORE TALE #759: Talk, Talk
I was browsing local news stories, and one came up that had me choking on my coffee a little bit.
It was an interview with the owner of the old Record Store, who had opened up a new location. In the interests of keeping everyone anonymous, I’ll paraphrase instead of quoting the portion that had me shocked and annoyed.
“We want to appeal to the hardcore music fan, the kind that just want to come in and talk about and listen to music. Hopefully one day we can have chairs and make it a hangout atmosphere.”
Sounds good. Sounds a bit like Sonic Boom in Toronto. Nothing wrong with that. Except it contradicts the very first lesson he taught me at the Record Store! In Getting More Tale #575, I described a scenario where he set me up, in order to teach me something valuable about customer service.
He knowingly asked me to go help an annoying, very talky lady. After a chat that lasted longer than I care to remember, he said to me “That’s your first lesson. Don’t get into conversations with customers.”
I realise that times change, and with them so do business strategies. I’m sure somebody will say, “Well that was different.” I can’t help but think of all the times I got scolded or received dirty looks for talking “too much” about music with customers. The impression I got was they would have preferred an impersonal assembly line. Serve the customer, plug the CD wipes for $5.99, get the sale, and move on to the next one. Don’t encourage extended conversation. The handful of customers I created relationships with ended up being long-termers, however. My dad tells me I have the gift of gab like my grandfather. My regulars enjoyed our chats, though the bosses didn’t.
Now he’s talking about making conversation a main feature of the store. Does that mean he was wrong and I was right all along?