retail

#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. 

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#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.

#601: Can I Get a Witness?

GETTING MORE TALE #601: Can I Get a Witness?

I owe the Jehovah’s Witnesses a debut of gratitude.  I developed my cat-like stealthy ninja skills thanks to them.  I was able to take this talent into the Record Store a decade later.  How?  Read on.

If you’re not familiar, Jehovah’s Witnesses travel the streets of everyday neighborhoods, going door to door to preach the word.  They have a little magazine called the Watchtower that they distribute.  Every kid in my day was taught “don’t answer the door if a Jehovah’s Witness comes knocking.”  You could see them walking down the street, in formal wear, usually in pairs.  I would hide behind furniture and watch them through the window.  You could see them ring a doorbell, get no answer, and move onto the next house.  That’s how you’d know.  Sometimes we’d even phone neighbor friends.  “Jehovahs are coming down the street! Don’t answer the door!”

It’s not that Jehovah’s Witnesses are bad people.  Prince was a Jehovah’s Witness.  It’s just that nobody really likes an uninvited religious sermon in their homes.  As kids it wasn’t a good idea to open the door to strangers anyway.  And I had some good hiding places to watch for them.  Our big front bay window didn’t offer much cover, but I could spy from other strategic places.  I’d sneak downstairs silently, and get a closer look at their faces through the blinds.  Once, I think I was spotted.  If they rang the doorbell more than once, I assumed I’d been noticed and took deeper cover.

This worked like a charm, until one day I let my guard down.  It was my OAC “Grade 13” year.  I was working on a major project and I needed an audio recording.  I called up my buddy Bob to come over for an hour and help.  He said, “Sure no problem.  I’ll be there in an hour or two.”

An hour later the doorbell rang, and I ran down the stairs excitedly.  I was able to leap an entire staircase in one jump.  I loudly hit the main floor and ran to the door.  Opening it, I saw a kindly little old man in a blue suit and hat.  It was not Bob and I instantly regretted my haste.  It was my first Jehovah’s Witness.

I smiled and let the man speak, but after a few minutes I had to stop him.  “I’m sorry but I’m in the middle of a school project.  I really have to go.”

The man was fine with this.  “Education is very important,” he said, “I’ll come back another time.”

“Sure, sure,” I said, “Have a nice day.”

I got back to my project, but the next week, the old guy came back.  This time my dad answered the door.

“Is the young man available?” asked the Jehovah’s Witness.  I don’t know exactly what my dad said to him, but he never came back again.  I actually felt bad.  He was a nice man, and I’m sure my dad let him have it with a few F-bombs!

Clearly, my method of ninja-like avoidance and surveillance was superior.  I never rushed to answer the door in haste again.

Now, how does this all relate to the Record Store?  Well, I’ll tell ya.

Yours Truly

As discussed in Record Store Tales Part 190: The Early Bird Drops the Discs, I hated when people would bang on the door before we were open.  It wasn’t like our hours were a mystery.  There’s one store in town, Orange Monkey Music, that doesn’t really have posted hours.  It was a day to day mystery.  Whenever they showed up, they’d open.  Some days they wouldn’t open at all.  Not us!  It was the same schedule every week, posted on our front door for easy reference.  It was also on our website.

I’m not sure why some people felt entitled to get in the store before we were open.  I’ve never presumed that a store should let me in just because I was there 10 minutes early.  If I’m there 10 minutes early, that’s my 10 minutes to kill.  It’s not some store employee’s responsibility to let me in because I showed up before the posted hours.

Every Record Store employee had to show up 15 minutes before opening.  This allowed us to vacuum and set up for the day.  If I showed up earlier than 15 minutes, it was because I was the manager and had other things I wanted to get done before opening.  I didn’t get paid for being there early so there was no way I was opening early.

Sometimes I’d be in the back room looking at inventory, when I’d hear banging on the door.  Maybe it would be a boss who forgot their keys, or maybe it would be a customer.  Using my Jehovah-honed ninja skills, I’d skulk behind counters and displays so I could get a clear look.  If it was indeed a customer, they’d usually be carrying a bag of crappy CDs to sell.  Early morning booze money!  I’d stay hidden until they fucked off, then I’d get back to work.  Ninja skills:  maxed out!

The owner of course would let people in early, even though it was me who had to serve them and not him.  I remember one time, local weather man Dave MacDonald showed up early.  The boss let him in well before opening; they seemed to know each other.  But because he was in, that meant everybody else was welcome too.  And I wasn’t even supposed to be on duty yet.  Fuck me, right?  I hated when he let people in early.  Another effect of this was, if you do someone a favour once, they expect it next time.  “The owner lets me in early…”

I’d like to thank every Jehovah’s Witness who ever took a stroll down my street.  You taught me skills you didn’t even know!

 

#599: Tagged

GETTING MORE TALE #599: Tagged

 

Let’s say you’re in a store and you need help.  Who do you ask?

There are usually three good answers to this question:

  • Look for the checkout counter and ask the person there.
  • Find a person wearing obvious store uniform/gear.
  • See if someone is wearing a “STAFF” tag.

We had “STAFF” tags in the Record Store days, as well as store shirts and hats.  Fortunately they didn’t have our names on them.  Wearing one of these was compulsory, but lots of people hated wearing the tags.  They were printed on card stock paper, laminated and punched with a hole for a lanyard.  Ugly and cheap.  They were quite large – about 5” x 7”.  They bent, frayed and ripped quite easily.

“See, they look like a backstage pass,” the boss used to say to assuage us.  They did not look like a backstage pass, except maybe for some crappy highschool band.

People hated wearing them because they made us feel like walking billboards.  The boss used to say he’d walk in the store and see the staff immediately put their tags on, because they hadn’t been wearing them.  It was true!  And some stuff refused to wear the T-shirts or hats too.  Presumably for fashion-conscious reasons.  One higher-up in particular always got a free pass on wearing tags and shirts.  I wore mine all the time, because there was nothing wrong with our staff shirts.

In fact I still have one.  My blue store sweatshirt was amazing, and it has come with me on many adventures since.  I slightly modified it after I quit the store.  I sewed on a patch for the Royal Tyrrell Museum of Paleontology (which I visited in Drumheller, Alberta), over where the store logo was embroidered in.  That didn’t fool guys like Tom, who immediately recognized the shirt from the store.  It did fool lots of other people!  “Where did you get the cool Tyrrell sweatshirt?”  I donated the rest of my old staff shirts and hats to Goodwill, but I will always keep my old “Tyrell” sweater from the Record Store.  It has a hole in it and I do not care.  I have always loved that shirt.

Regardless of comfort or style, I think there was one overwhelming reason why staff hated wearing those tags.  It’s because you’d be out working on the floor, when some goof asks, “Do you work here?”

Once I answered, “Nah, I just wear this for fun.”  Fortunately the guy got the joke.

I will say this.  Wearing a staff tag is still a hell of a lot better than an apron for flipping burgers.

 

 

#582: Erasure

GETTING MORE TALE #582: Erasure

Fixing CDs is a delicate business. You need a steady hand, the right tools, and patience. A buffing wheel with the right textured attachment works, and you also need an abrasive to gradually smooth out the scratched plastic of a disc. We used to use a special wax but found that regular hand soap and water worked better.  That’s all the abrasive you need.

In short: Yes! You can fix some scratched CDs. There are two factors that might make a CD impossible to fix, however: deep scratches, and top scratches. A deep scratch that you can feel with your fingernail probably won’t be fixed. It’s just too deep. A top scratch happens on the top layer of the CD and goes into the aluminum, destroying the data encoded in it.  Pinholes weren’t usually a problem.

The best way to fix a surface scratched CD

I spent a lot of time talking to the guys we contracted out to fix our CDs. We used one Toronto-based company for a few years, until one of our guys cracked the secret of fixing discs. Once he had a method, he went into business fixing discs himself. This gentleman (now actually a Sausagefest attendee himself) shared a lot of interesting info about fixing discs.

One thing I learned was that if you had a bunch of scratches close to the outer edge of the disc, and you went too deep trying to buff them out, you could lose the ability to play the last songs on the CD. The information would still be on the disc in the aluminum layer, but your laser can’t read it due to the excessive buffing of the plastic. The plastic layer would be no longer perfectly flat, and your laser won’t read through it.  When playing, it sounds like the music fades into static and then disappears. The end effect is that it sounds like the last few tracks have been erased. This happened rarely, but it could and did happen.

Customers could come to us to have their CDs fixed. We charged them a fee and their CD would be back in a week or two. One of my regulars named “Kitchener Rangers Al” had one of his discs fixed. Unfortunately it was buffed too deeply on the edge and he couldn’t play the last tracks. It didn’t skip anymore, but you couldn’t play it to the end either.

I remember when Al came in with his CD after it was buffed. He was helped by the supervisor that I refer to as the “Bully”. Other people used other words that are not as nice, but she could be very difficult to deal with. That went for staff and customers both. Unfortunately Al was treated like a liar when he came back with his CD.

“Bully” heard his story: He brought the CD in to be fixed, it no longer skips, but it also now won’t play to the end. He said “I think the last songs were erased.  That’s what it sounds like.”

The “Bully” dismissed Al’s complaint. “It’s impossible to erase a CD,” she said. I heard all this and kept my mouth shut. I learned from experience that correcting her, especially in front of other people, was as dumb as kicking one’s own ass. I didn’t feel like dying that day. She sent Al home with his useless CD that he paid to fix, that we failed to fix. She didn’t even listen to it to test it. She just insisted, mockingly, that he was wrong and sent him away. Quite frankly, she treated the customer like he was either an idiot or a liar trying to scam us, and he didn’t deserve that. I thought to myself, “If she caught me talking to a customer that way, she’d really let me have it.”

I chose to stay out of it, because I learned from the past. This “Bully” was a vindictive bully and it would have been a no-win situation with her again. I didn’t want to spend another three weeks of her abuse, as was par for the course when she exploded on me.  Roughly three weeks.  I just minded my own business, even though I absolutely knew 110% that she was wrong.

Al wasn’t stupid, and he came back when “Bully” wasn’t in. Al had dealt with her before. He told me the story directly, and I explained to him how the end of a CD can come to be “erased” due to buffing. I refunded him the fixing fee, and he was happy. He said he’d come in and buy another copy if we saw one. Customer retained.

I’ve been criticized by other former employees for not speaking up. That’s fair and all I can say to them is, if you walked in my shoes all those years, let’s see how willing you’d be to jump into the lion’s den. I don’t know what it was about us, but she had an evil place in her soul reserved just for me. Other people had felt her sting before, but nobody I have asked ever experienced the brutal treatment I got. She’d explode on me periodically, year after year after year, right to the end, when I removed myself from the circle permanently.

No thanks to “Bully”, Al got his refund and kept coming back. He had been there since Day One, and I hope he still shops there today. As for me, nobody knows the role I played in keeping that customer. At least they didn’t until now! You can, technically “erase” the songs at the end of a CD, or at least make them unreadable. Not exactly the same as erasing, but the end result is a wrecked disc no matter how you look at it.

#581: Attention Walmart Shoppers

GETTING MORE TALE #581: Attention Walmart Shoppers

On June 10 2017, Mrs. LeBrain was at the Walmart at Fairview Mall looking for Transformers for her husband (me).  She came home with an injury so bad she was immobile for the rest of the night.

She already has mobility issues due to numerous falls and fractures, but June 10 she aggravated her sciatica.  Some idiot was there with two kids, but too busy texting to notice what was about to transpire.  The baby was seated in a shopping cart, and a young boy had control of the cart.  Mother was deep in texting.  You can see it about to happen can’t you?  Kid hits my wife in the leg with the cart, then does it again.

Jen says to the lady, “Would you mind watching your kids?”

The lady responded with the very typical, “Why don’t you mind your own business.”

“It is my business!  Your kid hit me in the leg with your shopping cart, twice!”

There’s a baby in this shopping cart, remember!

The lady then said to the kid, “Stop that.”  She didn’t offer an apology.

When Jen got home that’s when the nerve pain really kicked in.  We managed the pain the best we could through a very sleepless night and went to the doctor (emergency appointment) the following day (a Sunday).  All that because some kid wasn’t being minded by his distracted mother.

People, we’ve bitched about Walmart shoppers here before, but Walmart’s not to blame.  It’s the idiot parents, and this is nothing new.  Back in Record Store Tales Part 29, we recalled the dad who didn’t care about his kid that just demolished the country section.  People, watch your kids.  It’s not hard, and if you do such a poor job that your kids cause injury to someone else, maybe you should have got your shit together before having kids.

Sunday Chuckle: Sheeple

Sometimes you see something so absurd you have to take a picture.  This is the Zehrs store at Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener.  (I used to work there in fact.)  At what point do people say, “Gee, there isn’t room for any more carts??”  But no….

 

#575: The Chris Cornell Obsession

GETTING MORE TALE #575: The Chris Cornell Obsession

A retelling of a portion of Record Store Tales Part 6:  Year 1

One of my very first lessons at the Record Store came courtesy of a customer whom nearly everyone loathed dealing with.  Nancy was her name, but she also had a very politically incorrect nickname back in 1994-1996.  Some people have no filter, and Nancy was one of those people.

What I discovered during our very first interaction was that she liked Chris Cornell from Soundgarden.  A seemingly innocuous interest.  But she liked Cornell a lot.  More than the average bear.

I was new at the store and had never seen her before.  The store owner had, and with a little mischievous intent, sent me over to ask her if she needed help finding anything.  Little did I know, he was sending me into the lion’s den.

“Hi, can I help you find anything today?” I asked as I approached.

“No thank you,” she said before adding, “Do you have any Soundgarden?”

Of course we did!  It was the summer of 1994.  Superunknown was one of the biggest CDs of the season.  Badmotorfinger was still hot too.  I showed her what we had new and used, but she wasn’t interested.  She just wanted to talk.

She saw the copies of M.E.A.T Magazine that we carried on the front counter.  M.E.A.T (“Metal Events Around Toronto”, or “Metal-Alternative”) was an excellent publication made all the more impressive since it was full-colour, on glossy paper, and free.  Chris Cornell was on the cover that month.  Nancy saw that and went crazy.

“Do you like Chris Cornell?”  That was the question that sucked me in.  I should have answered something neutral, like “He’s OK” or “I don’t know.”  Instead I answered something far more enthusiastic, thus springing the trap.  Once she knew I was a fan too, she wouldn’t stop.

“He’s sexy!” she began.  “He’s so sexy when he wears his Doc Martens.  Are there pictures here of him in his Doc Martens?  Do you know the Doc Martens I mean?” she asked as she flipped through M.E.A.T Magazine.  “I love Chris Cornell when he wears Doc Martens!” she continued.  “He used to have long hair but now it’s short.  I liked his long hair better, which do you like best?”

At this point, I realized I was in the thick of it and the boss had sent me in, intentionally.  He continued going about his business as I tried to extract myself from Nancy’s conversation.  He ignored my sidelong glances appealing for help.  However I was new, brand new in fact, I’d only been there a couple weeks and had no idea what to do!

“Did you know that the original bass player from Soundgarden was Japanese?  I’m Japanese too.  Did you know there are not many Asian people in rock and roll bands?”  I’d never thought about it before.  Now I wished I never had the chance to think about it.

Throughout the 20 or so minutes that I was stuck with Nancy talking to me, she had much to say on sexy grunge rockers, the members of Soundgarden, Doc Marten boots, and Asians in rock.  And of course, she asked my name.

“Nice to meet you Mike, I’m Nancy.”  And I would never, ever forget that name even though she periodically forgot mine.

When Nancy finally left without buying a damn thing, my boss said to me, “That’s your first lesson.  Don’t get into conversations with customers.”

Nancy was one of the most regular of regular customers.  As we expanded, she visited all our local stores.  She came in year after year, and many staff members became trapped in her spider-like snare of conversation.  But she had a nasty side, she wasn’t easy to deal with.  I was “lucky” she was in a good mood during our Cornell conversation.  On other occasions she called one of our guys “retarded” and made work unpleasant in general.  After Soundgarden her next obsession was classical music, and she stalked our classical sections for years.  She had a husband who liked to wait outside, but once or twice he had to come in and calm her down when she was upset about something.

To me she’ll always be Nancy the Chris Cornell fan.  I thought of Nancy when Chris died.  What happened to Nancy?  I used to see her around town, but it’s been over 10 years since I last spotted her.  Probably still haunting records stores somewhere and providing “interesting” conversations.

 

#573: Pawning Sh*t

GETTING MORE TALE #573: Pawning Shit

You’ve met new contributor Aaron, and as he begins his story, you’ll get to know him a little better.  But how did he enter Record Store Tales?

It’s a funny story, but I very briefly dated his older sister.  We all “met” online – a local electronic “BBS” or “Bulletin Board System”.  My handle was “Geddy” and his was “Capone”.  He still sometimes calls me “Geddy”!  He must have thought I was cool or something.  I wasn’t even working at the Record Store yet when we first met, but Aaron/Capone was big time into music.  He loved Guns N’ Roses.  It was 1994, and Guns N’ Roses were still big news.

When I started at the Record Store, it was like the floodgates opened!  Suddenly, via me, Aaron had access to all kinds of rare rock.  His favourite band was Nirvana, and a few months later I was getting in rare CDs like Outcesticide and Hormoaning.  We continued to bond over music, and started hanging out on weekends.  He was known to complain a bit about my “80s rock” in the car…my response was always “the driver chooses the music”!

Most weekends revolved around music in some way.  We’d hit all the major local stores:  Dr. Disc, Encore, HMV, Sunrise, and of course my store.  I remember one Sunday shift: Aaron had nothing to do that day so he just hung out at the mall during my shift.  It ended up being a great idea.  He helped out some of my customers when I was too busy!

I couldn’t even begin to guess how many discs we bought on those shopping excursions, but I remember a few.  I got Japanese imports of Kiss Killers and Judas Priest Unleashed in the East, at the Sunrise records at Conestoga Mall.  I can recall one afternoon of introducing Aaron to Iron Maiden.  Their home video Raising Hell had just come out, which was to be Bruce’s “final” show with the band.  They had a “horror magician” on stage named Simon Drake and we enjoyed that video quite a bit.  “Do all their songs sound like this?” asked Aaron, who was more used to the detuned rock of the 1990s.

I have one memory that happened a bit later on, after Aaron had his daughter.  A lady came into my store with a giant box of CDs and almost all were shit.  I had to pass on most of them for a variety of reasons.  It was mostly dance music.  They were in shit condition, they were shit titles, and we had too many of them already.  The lady didn’t care; she just didn’t want them.  “Just keep them,” she said.  She took a few bucks for the discs we could take, and left behind at least a hundred worthless discs.

Worthless to the Record Store, anyway.

We didn’t really have a specific policy at the time regarding what to do with the abandoned discs in this situation.  The store could not sell them.  I’m not sure if the Boss Man would have been pleased that I took them, which is one reason why I’ve chosen to wait 20 years to write Record Store Tales and Getting More Tale.  Aaron and I took the discs to a Cash Converters store, which was a pawn shop on the other side of town.  They were the competition.*  It was funny watching the guy go through all the CDs I had passed on, checking the discs inside and not caring about all the scratches.

One thing Aaron owned that I did not was a Super Nintendo.  I skipped the Super.  My sister had the original NES and I had the Nintendo 64.  Aaron and I had played WWF Wrestling on his Super Nintendo, and I quickly became addicted to the game.  So together we dumped the box of junk CDs at the pawn shop, where I bought a Super Nintendo and a couple games.  Star Wars: Shadows of the Empire was one, a great game that still rocks today.  Unfortunately that Super Nintendo busted after two months.  Rats!

At least we had fun.  Whether it was watching shitty horror movies (Killer Klowns from Outer Space, The Stuff, Frogs), searching for rock and metal in record store racks, or pawning shit to buy more shit, we definitely had our fair share of fun.  And that’s the long and the short of how Aaron fits into Record Store Tales.

* The Cash Converters outlet close to our store was managed by a guy that we named “Jheri Curl Man”.