#1006: Too Many Cooks

RECORD STORE TAILS #1006: Too Many Cooks

Every so often, a thought or a memory has casting my mind back onto the old Record Store Days.

You probably don’t often think about a job that you quit almost 20 years ago now.  Then again, you probably didn’t work in a Record Store.

It was the Dream Job.  I always wanted to work in some way with music, and selling CDs was pretty high on my list.  It truly was everything I had hoped for.  I acquired hundreds of rare treasures, out of print CDs and things I never knew existed.  I got them with a discount, and I got to listen to music every day.  Lifelong friends were made.  That’s something I never thought would happen from a workplace.

The Record Store also put me back in touch with friends I had seen in years.  The Store was located at the local mall, the epicenter of the neighbourhood.  Banking, groceries, and everything you needed could be found at the Mall, and so a lot of the people I went to school with drifted in through my doors.  Some managed to stay in touch since then, thanks to social media.  I would not trade those connections for the world.

I know a young fella who now works at one of the many stores that I did time in.  It was one of my least favourite stores, in fact.  I hated working at that location.  The customers were not, shall we say, the upper crust of society in that neighbourhood.  But the kid loves his job!  Have things changed, or did I get it wrong? That’s what I ask myself sometimes.  Did I misrepresent those years in Record Store Tales?  Was I unfair?

The first two years were really awesome.  I looked forward to going to work every day.  I got there early and stayed late.  There is no question that the fun atmosphere changed when we started to expand.  10 years later I was having panic attacks.  Too many years of a retail job that was treated with as much urgency as a doctor’s or a lawyer’s.  Family came second.  Performance was everything.  Weakness was inapplicable.

Too many cooks spoil the brew.

At the end I had three bosses, and it was kind of shady how some of that went down.

I never looked forward to work anymore.  I still got there early, but that was more to take my own time opening.  Get ahead on some things.  Listen to music.  Fill orders.  I still do that today in my current job.  I arrive early, and slowly and casually start getting stuff done before we’re officially open for business.  Make a coffee.  Read some news.  Answer emails, before the phone starts ringing.  I don’t think there’s anything wrong with that, but the boss told me, “If you worked at IBM, coming in early to do extra is considered bad work habits.”  I distinctly remember him saying that.  I simply could not win with them.  It was a record store, not IBM!  Who cares what IBM do?  They don’t buy and sell used CDs from the public.

I’ve said before that there were cliques at the Record Store, and I stand by that claim.  I never felt like I belonged.  I was the only hard rocking sci-fi nerd with severe social anxiety.  I wasn’t hanging out with the right people at the right bars, because that’s not my thing.  Being invited out to the bar doesn’t count.   I.  Did.  Not.  Fit.  In.  I stand by that.  And I maintain that people in power did let their personal lives leak into their work life.

No.  Upon reflection I feel like I was fair in my previous assessments.  I will say that I am guilty of one thing in my writing.  Once I knew that people at the Record Store were reading, I let that influence my writing too much.  Too often, I wrote with that knowledge in the back of my head, whether consciously or unconsciously.  Perhaps that was unavoidable.

Too many cooks spoil the brew,
Wanna be the king of the world,
Yeah, and too many jailers makin’ the news,
Wanna be the king of the world.

#990: Cleaning the Door

RECORD STORE TALES #990: Cleaning the Door

In 2005, near the end of my sad reign as Record Store Manager, I was working at the head office branch.  There was a door in the back of the store that lead to an office space with several desks, and a warehouse area for supplies.  It was like the Great Wall.  On one side sat the the elite who laughed as they made the decisions, what stock we were carrying, and other sundry details that came down from on high.  On the other side, I the rabble that worked behind the counter serving the unwashed public.

Or at least that’s how they made it feel to me.  The cold detachment.  It was always unnerving when you could hear them discussing your store behind the wall.

Either way it was clear by 2005 that I was the old guard on my way out.  Management was unprofessional, and some of us couldn’t help noticing that other stores got away with things that mine didn’t, perhaps due to personal relationships.  This is not only my observance but that of others in the know.  So I knew the deck was stacked against me until I eventually made my move to depart.

One thing they were always bitching about was “your store is messy/dirty/disorganized”.  There was the incident with the glass front display case that had fingerprints on it for example.  Other “preferred” stores were the same or worse, but didn’t catch the grief that I did.  So I decided to try an experiment and see if they’d notice.

The only door to the back office was filthy with fingerprints when I took over that store.  You know how the area around a doorknob gets blackened with the dirt and grime of the years since last painting?  I was shocked, because I inherited that store from someone who seemed to be more preferred than I was.  One week I decided to scrub that door, and surrounding wall, clean.

Anytime management were not around that week, such as the night shifts, I would get out the cleaning products and scrub.  It took a few days, but eventually I got all the black off the door and wall.   They were as fresh as the day they were painted.  The grossness was gone.

I waited for someone in management to notice, but notice never came.

A week or two later, I asked someone if they noticed I had cleaned all the grime off the door?

“Mmm,” came the only reaction.

“Fuck this job,” was my own silent response.

#967: Dilemmas of Buying

RECORD STORE TALES #967:  Dilemmas of Buying

Mixing friends with work is always a tough balancing act.  When you work retail, it’s even harder.  The friends come to you, and they’d like to do business with someone they are familiar with.  Who wouldn’t?  At the Record Store, it was particularly difficult to maintain a stable counterbalance when buying used CDs from people who consider you to be a friend.

One thing always said when training new staff on buying used CDs was that “every customer thinks their CDs are gold.”  They don’t really understand why certain ones are worthless to you.  When buying from the customer, we went into detail explaining the why’s and wherefore’s of the offer, breaking it down disc by disc.  “These ones I can’t take because I already have two or more copies of each right now, and the other stores are well stocked too.”

When it’s a friend coming in to sell their discs to you, they don’t necessarily expect any special treatment, but they do expect you to “do your best” with your offer.  And that wasn’t always possible.

Upper management really kept an eye on my interactions with my regular customers.  They often complained to me that I paid too much for stuff when it was somebody I “preferred”.  That may be true in some instances, but I believe that upper management were too focused on dollars and cents, and not maintaining good relations with a regular customer.  A customer — somebody who spent money in our stores or supplied us with used stock that we in turn sold and made a profit on.  The managers were always hammering us on COGS – Cost of Goods Sold.  We had targets to aim for, and strategies for buying stock.  Unfortunately, this ran contradictory to “doing your best” when buying stock from somebody who knows you.

Just because somebody considers you a friend doesn’t mean they won’t go somewhere else to sell their discs to get better money.  They will.  They did!

“Come on Mike, this was twelve bucks when I bought it from you!  You can only give me three?”

“Fine, fine, I’ll give you four.  Just don’t say anything.  The bosses really hound me if they see me giving more than I should.”

Another factor is that every customer felt their CDs were in great shape even if the store didn’t.  That was another source of conflict.  We had a regional manager who was so picky that she would deduct money from a customer’s total for the lightest hairline scratches, even off the actual playing surface of the disc.  When you answer to someone like that, it was hard keeping your regulars happy with your offers.

And they really did watch me.  More than once they gave me shit for treating my regulars better than they thought I needed to.  Conrad, for example.  The guy bought in so many Japanese imports.  I don’t know how he had so many, but I tried to give him the maximum.  He could have taken them downtown, but he came to me.  He chose me because we both liked heavy metal (especially Bruce Dickinson) and both understand the value of Japanese imports.  He pissed off management because if I wasn’t working, the person who was usually offered him less, which he would complain about.

To me it didn’t matter that my COGS would take a hit by offering Conrad top dollar.  What mattered more was keeping Conrad loyal.  Where in Kitchener are you going to buy Japanese imports?

At Encore Records, that’s where, if Conrad thought he wasn’t getting enough money.

I’m sure, given the opportunity, the old management could run off a litany of reasons why I’m wrong.  But the fact is they had their own preferred customer.  They called him “Scottish Man” and only a limited number of employees dealt with him because he expected top dollar.  Now, upper management would always tell you that “Scottish Man brought in better stock and was more pleasant than gum-chewin’ Conrad.”  That sounds like a bias against heavy metal and chewing gum to me.

Just my opinion.  Just my opinion from my position at the front counter.

Let’s just say that if Conrad was bringing in rare Van Morrison and Stones imports instead of Axel Rudi Pell and Helloween box sets, their opinions might have been different.  With or without the chewing gum.

#966: Crossing the Line

As hinted in the past, there are many Record Store Tales that have gone untold.  Some I have been asked not to share.  Some I’ve waited years to write, in hope that the past two decades will put some distance between the events and the people concerned.

RECORD STORE TALES #966:  Crossing the Line

It took time for the world to catch up to my needs.  As an introvert, I hadn’t had much luck meeting girls.  I said stupid things, I put my foot in my mouth, I didn’t know how to introduce myself.  I’d tried going to the bars with friends, I’d been set up on dates, but I had no success.  Thanks to the internet, I was soon able to make a better first impression, online.  There I could take my time with my words and hopefully make a connection with someone.  It was the summer of 1999, when I met a local girl named Jen online (not the one I married, I must like the name).  We got along great so she decided to meet me in person.  I was not hard to find, working at the local Record Store.

Convenient, yes.  Smart, no.

Though I was at the end of my shift and it was OK for me to chat, my boss did not like the looks of Jen.  She was exceptionally tall, and worked as a bouncer at Oktoberfest because she could physically handle herself.  But that wasn’t the boss man’s problem.  His issue was that she had a piercing in her bottom lip.

I know, right?  In 1999, a labret piercing wasn’t as common, and my boss absolutely hated piercings.  He flat out told us once that he would not hire a guy that might have been fully qualified for the job because he had a ring in his nose.

He warned me against “crazy girls”, and then proceeded to tell one of our customers all about it behind my back.

The customer that we called “Tony Macaroni” was in one day and wanted to check out some newer metal releases.  (I was always trying to sell him on Bruce Dickinson who he found to be too “Satantic”, thanks to the Chemical Wedding album.)  Tony said to me, “So your boss tells me you’re dating a…” he paused looking for the appropriate words.  “A different kind of girl.”  He probably meant to say “freak” or “weirdo”.

“Huh?” I responded in confusion.  Jen and I never actually got to dating, but I knew what was up.  The boss was telling Tony about this “freak” he spotted me with in the store.  I guess he found that amusing enough to share.

I really should have spoken to the boss then and there about privacy and overstepping his bounds.  But I found him intimidating, and so I said nothing.  As a business owner in charge of dozens of people, he certainly should have known better.

The funny thing is that I’m still friends with that Jen.  We never hooked up romantically, but she’s a solid human.

The next incidents happened in 2003.  Again, he involved himself in my dating life.  I had recently turned 30 and for the first time in my life, was getting turned down by girls in their mid-20s for being “too old”.  29 was fine, but 30 was apparently over the top.  Unable to turn back the clock, I was not happy when this started happening.

I had one weakness back then.  I liked to talk.  Some of the other store managers were friends, and I would periodically call them up and ask for advice.  The boss absolutely hated when we talked on the phone to employees at other stores.  It meant that during the phone call, there were two people not working.  I did this too often and got caught.  The next day he pulled me into the office for a chat.  Then I made another mistake.

The correct course of action would have been to keep my mouth shut and accept a slap on the wrist.  Instead, I opened up.  I told my boss about how I wasn’t enjoying turning 30, how I just found a gray hair, and how this girl I was seeing decided to break it off because she was 24 or 25 and her parents wouldn’t like that I was 30.

“What’s her middle name?” he asked me.

I could not remember her middle name.

“Well she couldn’t have meant that much to you if you don’t even know her middle name.  What are her parents’ names?” he continued.

The meeting ended with him handing me a slip of paper with a phone number written on it.  I consider this to be the second time the line was crossed.  “Give these people a call, it’s counselling”.  It wasn’t an EAP program, it was a piece of paper with a phone number written on it and I felt very uncomfortable.  Legally and ethically, no lines were crossed.  But I left that meeting feeling pressured.  Later on, he did follow up and asked if I called the number.  I had tossed the paper out.

The third and final time he crossed the line with me, it was unambiguous.  I have no idea what his issue was this time, because I only heard about it after the fact.  Behind my back, he had called my parents!  My parents!  He called them to tell them that Mike was “used to doing things the old way,” and not adapting to the “new way”.  I am not sure exactly what he was on about.  There were lots of possibilities.  Maybe it was the time I did some employee reviews on the “old” forms because I didn’t have any of the “new” ones. Or maybe it was when I got piercings of my own.  Nobody knows anymore, but when he made that one phone call, he went a step too far and my dad isn’t quick to forgive.

Over the years, I’ve been accused of being unfair and too harsh towards the store ownership.  I don’t think so.  Not when you know the context.  Best thing I ever did for myself was quit.

* That was my fault.  The copier was right next to the office bully‘s desk so I probably neglected to copy the new forms out of avoidance.

#961: Christmas in the Hamster Wheel

RECORD STORE TALES #961: Christmas in the Hamster Wheel

I always wanted a hamster when I was a kid.  I used to love looking at the neat setups that other kids had in their homes.  Hamster wheels, tunnels, all kinds of neat stuff for the little guys to run around in.  I never saw them use the hamster wheels.  They seemed to sit idle near the back of the cage.  A forgotten amusement.

These days, the hamster wheel in my head is running overtime.  Is this really the second Christmas of Crap?

One thing that’s concerning to me.  The last two years have blurred together in my mind.  I used to pride myself on knowing exactly when any life event occurred.  If I could remember the life event in terms of the music I was listening to, or a movie I was into, I would always be able to pinpoint the year.  But with the last couple years being such a blur, I find I can’t tell 2021 memories from 2020 memories a lot of the time.  That’s worrying to me.  Remembering these things is important.

I feel like Jen and I haven’t been able to catch many breaks at Christmas in the last five years.  2017…she had cancer.  2018…first Christmas without her mom (also cancer).  2019 was the one where I felt like we were getting back on our feet a little.  Then the carpet got pulled from under us in 2020 for the weirdest Christmas ever.  2021 looks a little better in some ways, a little worse in others.

I haven’t been as creative this Christmas as I was in past years, including 2020.  We do what we can.  I have my annual end-of-year list that I’ll be posting on the 31st.  I have the LeBrain Train drop-in New Year’s Eve party (message me if you’d like to join the fun).  I’m still working on the Def Leppard review series (15 parts written).  I’ll also be starting a Judas Priest box set review series in the new year.  Spoiler!

Y’see, I asked my parents if they’d be willing to part with a lot of money and buy me a Priest box set.  And, my dad let the cat out of the bag.  Even if 2021 is a bit of a downer compared to past years, it’s going to be pretty awesome opening that bad boy.  A know a certain Kontrarian (Kopp) who is eager to see inside its contents.  I’ll be showing off that box set and other goods on the New Years Eve live stream.

Things I’m grateful for:

  1. Health.  Nobody in our family has had Covid (knock wood).
  2. A roof over my head.
  3. Jen
  4. Family
  5. Friends

If I were to add a 6th thing to that list it would be “thank God I’m not working retail during Covid.”  I think I would have snapped long ago.

It’s funny — we have a friend named Michael who has been on the LeBrain Train a couple of times.  (We call him Max the Axe’s stunt double.)  He is absolutely thrilled to be working at the same Record Store chain that I used to work for.  His uncle Tom used to own a branch.  So things have come full circle in the world of the Record Store.  25 years ago this Christmas was my first one managing my own store.  I had a tradition of wearing a tie every Christmas Eve.  It was something the Boss originated that I liked.  So I kept it going.

Michael tells me that retail during Covid is much better working at the Record Store than it was at Giant Tiger.  Gratefully, they will be closed Boxing Day this year.  I had to work 80% of Boxing Days over the years, and truthfully they were one of the hardest.  Stock on everything was pretty picked over by then, and of course you had people doing returns and selling boxes of CDs for store credit.  Big sales, big crowds.  Including putting up signs and taking them down at the end of the day — a very long one.

So I’m grateful for that.

Merry Christmas everybody.  See you on the other side.  And please, join me New Years Eve for a rock and roll party!  Again!*

* I’m even re-using the exact same art as last year.


#943: Irate With a Beeper!

RECORD STORE TALES #943: Irate With a Beeper!

There was once a time before we had our infamous “no questions asked” return policy.  In 1996, we were able to…shall we say, “express ourselves” more freely as managers of Record Stores.

We learned from the best, and we didn’t take kindly to someone trying to rip us off.   Some time in early September 1996, I received a call from T-Rev at his own store.  “Mikey,” he said, “Just a warning.  There’s a guy coming your way with the new Rush CD, that he wants to return.  Now I had a look at it, and it is just hacked.  There was no way he opened it like that.  I wouldn’t let him return it.  You’ll see what I mean when he gets there.  He’s this little short guy with glasses and short hair.  You’ll know him when you see him.”  A prepared myself for the Rush fan with Napoleon complex.

The new Rush album, Test For Echo, was received with mixed reactions.  We started seeing used copies early on, traded in by ordinary fans (albeit impatient ones) who simply didn’t like it.  T-Rev and I both thought it was a step down from Counterparts, while acknowledging that sometimes a Rush album needs time.  We liked a couple tracks, and disliked a few as well.  (“Dog Years” and “Virtuality” were on the shit list.)  We were not surprised to see people returning it, but Nerdlinger here was unique.

The little guy stormed in, straight up to the counter, and asked to return the Rush CD.  “I don’t like it,” he said simply.  I dutifully opened the case and, as T-Rev has warned, the disc was mangled.  Probably due to a car CD deck, which were common and had a habit of murdering discs.

“I’m sorry,” I began, “but I can’t take this back.  It’s seen some pretty serious use and it’s scratched up really bad.”  I didn’t know what else to say.  “I’m sorry,” I added lamely.

He was irate.  “‘Seen some serious use’?” he quoted back to me.  “How?  I just got it at your other store.  It’s a day old!”

Customers always asked “how” their CDs got scratched.  How the fuck am I supposed to know what he did with it?

“I don’t know how it got scratched up this bad, but they don’t come this way out of the shrinkwrap.”  I grabbed our store play CD to show him.  “See, this is one we just opened a few days ago and we’ve been playing it every day.”  He glared through his glasses at our copy.

He insisted he didn’t scratch it, that he bought it that way from T-Rev’s store and he wouldn’t return it.

I didn’t know what else I could say.  “Well, I showed you what they look like coming out of the shrinkwrap.”  Then, poking the bear just a smidge, I chided, “Did you drop it?”

“NO, I didn’t drop it!” he expressed in a mocking tone.  Knowing he was not going to get anywhere with me, he left.  And, much like many tenacious customers of his guilt-free mindset, he returned later that day on the night shift.  A time he assumed I wouldn’t be working.  But he didn’t get anywhere with the night staff.  They knew something wasn’t right about it and asked him to return when the manager is in.  So, like any douchebag worth his salt, he left a pager number for me to call the next day.

“Oh, joy” I said to myself upon seeing the note waiting for me.

I never called a beeper before.  I noted the occasion for its novelty.

A short while later, Nerdlinger stormed back into the store with his Rush CD.  He must have been so dejected upon seeing I was the manager.

And so for a second time I refused to return his CD, and he did the usual expected temper tantrum.  I’m never shopping here again, I’m telling all my friends, I’m this and you’re that.

And life got incrementally better, knowing I’d never have to see that fucking Nerdlinger again.


#918: Drinkin’ Thinkin’

RECORD STORE TALES #918: Drinkin’ Thinkin’

A buddy of mine said the other day, “I saw your clips from the first live show.  I was killin’ myself laughing, that was great”.  The part a lot of people laugh at is when I say “Have I had too much fruit punch this evening?”  I appear drunk but was not.  I told him that, and I had to convince him.  But it’s true.  I don’t really drink.

Note that I said “don’t really”.  I don’t call myself a “non-drinker” or an “abstainer”.  Two summers ago I had a beer with Max the Axe, so I am obviously not a non-drinker.  But that was the first drink in many years, and last drink until present.  I just don’t like the way it makes my stomach feel.  As I got older, my stomach got worse, exacerbated by anxiety and stress.  It’s just not an experience I seek out anymore.

From my mid-20s to my early 30s, I enjoyed a sometimes-drink.  I was a lightweight.  T-Rev was a great buddy to hang out with, and he tried to get me to be more social.  We’d be hanging out with a whole bunch of girls that he worked with at the Waterloo Inn, and I loved hanging out with that group.  They could take it much further than I could, but I did my best.  Beer, shots, depth charges.  Usually, I was just the designated driver.

When I wasn’t driving, I’d have some drinks at work functions.  The Record Store had a birthday party for me at Jack Astor’s.  I loved Jack Astor’s because they had the most amazing seafood linguine, and still to this day, the best lemonade.  None of my co-workers particularly liked it, but it was my birthday so it was nice of them to go there.  As for the drinking, it started with one beer and picked up from there.  Everybody wanted to buy me a shot.  It was a great night and I distinctly remember grabbing a dude’s ass.  No homophobia here, folks.  I’ll save him the embarrassment of being named, but it was a friend who played guitar in one of my favourite local bands.

I am pretty sure I puked the next morning, but I can’t even say for sure which birthday it was.  I think it was my 31st.

Even though my relations with the boss that I refer to as “The Bully” were always rocky, she did attend my birthday party.  Having seen me grab a guitar player’s ass, I thought it might be prudent to just pro-actively apologise in case she was offended by anything she saw.  “Sorry I got a little loud and rowdy when I was drunk,” I said.

“You weren’t drunk,” she flatly responded.

What?  “Yes I was…they started buying me beer right away,” I said, taken aback by her response to me.

“I’ve never seen anyone get drunk off one beer before,” she claimed.

I didn’t know what to say.  She thought I was putting on an act?  I was a little disturbed by her accusation.

At that time I was a skinny guy.  I had very little alcohol tolerance.  Whether she believed me or much, it didn’t take much to make me tipsy.  Add in the natural high you get from your own birthday party, when everybody is nice to you and at least pretends to like you.  Not only was I drunk, but I think that might have been the best drunk I’ve ever been.

What a strange accusation to make.  There was something wrong with this boss.  The professional response would have been, “Apology accepted, hope you had a nice birthday.  Have a good day.”

Circling back, when I appeared drunk on fruit punch in that live clip, I was completely sober.  I was having a lot of fun, and being live on Facebook was kind of like a birthday party.  It’s a natural high.  Your friends are there and you are the centre of attention.  Being “drunk” doesn’t depend on how many beers I’ve finished.  If I’m already surfing the high of life, it just takes a little.  I’m a cheap drunk if I’m in a good mood!


#890: Top Ten Most Annoying Things About Listening Stations

A sequel to #444:  “Can I Listen to This?”

RECORD STORE TALES #890: Top Ten Most Annoying Things About Listening Stations

Although it seems like dystopian fiction now, there was once a time when if you wanted to sample an album before you bought it, the best way was going to a store and asking to listen to it.

I imagine even today, people walk up to the counter at Ye Olde Record Store and ask to hear something before they buy it.  I am certain the demand is not like it once was.  We used to have six individual listening stations.  Granted, we were lucky if three or four worked at any given time, but when we first opened, we had six brand new players.  And they were busy.  On a Saturday, all six would be in use at once.  With a couple more people lined up waiting to jump in when one was vacated.

Here’s how it worked.  Pay attention, because some people just didn’t get it.

It’s actually pretty simple.  You just look around the store, grab a few CDs you want to listen to, and bring the cases to me to load them up.  All the discs were kept safely behind the counter.  All I had to do was load them up, and lay them out for you to hear.

All our players were five disc changers.  I would load up the first five of your selections, and lay down the cases on the counter.  “This is the order they are in the player.”  Then I would give them a quick run-through on the remote control.  Play, skip, stop, skip disc…I would ask them to ignore the rest of the buttons.

Annoying Thing #1:  People who don’t listen.

“Sir!  This player isn’t working.”

Because you ignored my instructions and hit the “program” button.  Now you’re in program mode.  Let’s get out of that, and just press play this time.

Annoying Thing #2:  People who help themselves.

There was nothing more startling than finding a customer behind the counter with you!  These people think the listening stations are like self-serve gas stations.  They’d go behind the counter and start looking for the CDs to load up themselves.  I’m really not sure what possesses people to think they can do that.  There’s a counter.  It has a front and a back.  We used to have a divider chain, but it ripped out years before.

Annoying Thing #3:  Using the remote to open the tray. 

You don’t need to open the tray.  You’re not helping by hitting the “open” button.  More than once, I was picking discs that were stored beneath the CD players.  I stood up, and “CRASH!”  Right into the now-open tray of a CD player.  Thanks for that.  I’ve definitely had them open up on me while I was walking past, too.

Annoying Thing #4:  Audiophiles.

Quoting a prior chapter:

“These headphones suck.  I can’t hear the nuances in the music.”  That was a real complaint.  Since there wasn’t much I could do about it, I explained that the listening stations were there just so you could hear a song and decide if you liked it or not.  Not much thought was given to hearing the nuances.  But this guy insisted he couldn’t tell if he liked a song without the “nuances”, so no sale was made.

Yes the headphones sucked, mostly from years of use.  Another issue is that all the headphones were run through a little tiny volume box that was custom made for us.  This volume control was the real problem.  Knobs went staticky, came right off… Maybe it wasn’t the audiophiles that were the problem, maybe it was the shitty volume knobs.

Annoying Thing #5:  Gross remote controls.

I think I cleaned those things every day.  I don’t know what people are walking around with on their hands, but those remotes got disgusting.  The listening stations were always solidly disinfected from headphones to remotes, but they somehow felt…gross to the touch.

Annoying Thing #6:  “Is there a way to plug in two headphones?  My friend wants to listen.”

No!  Stop asking!  Yes, it would be “cool” if we could do it.  The single-output volume boxes were bad enough.  Imagine putting two in there.

Annoying Thing #7:  Singers.

Yes, sometimes, people sang along.  It wasn’t frequent.  Other customers would turn and look.  Usually you’d just ignore it.  Only twice did I have to cut someone off for singing too loud.  Once was two girls singing “This shit is bananas!” along with Gwen Stefani.  Another was an angry kid who, quite frankly, was starting to scare me.

Annoying Thing #8:  Kids treated them like toys.  

Young kids get bored in music stores.  Trust me on this.  Some liked to climb on top of the stools, grab the remote control, and…you guessed it…open and close the trays.  They’d just mash their fingers on a remote and yell “HOW DOES THIS WOOOOORK?”

I wish I was making this stuff up, I really was.

Sometimes, mom or dad would ask me to put on a kids’ CD for them to listen to, to keep them occupied.  That I was happy to do.  As long as they didn’t play with the remotes, or God forbid, put them in their mouths.

Annoying Thing #9:  High maintenance listeners.

Sometimes you had to help people skip tracks.  You could even show them on the remote where the button is, and they’d still need help.  “Which disc am I listening to now?”  Well, it says disc 2 on the display, and I put the cases down here in order, so that would be Garth Brooks.  “Well it doesn’t sound like him!”  And that’s because you picked his Chris Gaines album.

Annoying Thing #10:  No limits.

You could come to the counter with 25 discs, and I had no choice but to let you listen to them all if you wanted to.  And you could take as much time doing so as you liked.  Some gentlemen (often fans of jazz or electronica or both, but always men) spent an entire morning glued to a listening station.  They only moved to go and look for more discs to listen to.

I won’t lie to you, listening station service was hard work when you have a guy like that in the store while you’re busy.  It takes time to retrieve all those CDs from behind the counter.  It takes time to file them back when you’re done.  And then I still have to re-file the cases out for display.  For you it’s one easy step — just pick the discs you want to listen to.  For me, it’s three steps.  Get the CD from its specific location, put the CD back when you’re done, and re-file the case.

Some customers thought they were being helpful by re-filing the cases for me.  All that did was create more difficulty, because now I had to look each one up in the computer to see where the CD itself is supposed to go.  And that wasn’t always easy.  You know, sometimes there are CDs out there with nothing to identify the artist or title.  At all.  And after serving the guy 25 discs, you’re not gonna remember what it was.

There are other miscellaneous things that used to bug me.  People who would treat you like a servant.  Working as a listening station jockey for an afternoon was a pretty thankless job.  Of course there are exceptions.  The exceptions aren’t the memories that stick in your head for 25 years!




#882: The Day KK Came Back

RECORD STORE TALES #882: The Day KK Came Back

Working retail means you can’t control who you see on a day-to-day basis.  Faces from the past are part of the job.  Teachers, old neighbours, bullies, and so on.  Sometimes it’s not a face you really cared to see again.  For example, there was this one kid named Terry Moulton from grade school.  He was known as a burnout even in grade eight.  The word in class is that he would skip to go and smoke pot with his dad.  One day I was working and who should show up to sell me some used CDs but Terry.  He recognized me.  I’m not so good with faces from the that long ago, but I remembered the name.  I made him a generous offer on the discs, and asked for his ID.  We had to ask for ID in order to buy anything used from the public.  Part of theft prevention.  Of course Terry didn’t have any ID so I skipped that part for him as a favour.  I asked for his address and he didn’t even have a fixed address.  I broke a few bi-laws by buying discs from him that day.

My journal records another encounter with a forgotten face from the Catholic school days.

Kevin Kirby’s name was ingrained in my memory even if I didn’t recognize his face.  Kirby was into metal when none of the other kids were.  He had Black Sabbath, Van Halen and Ozzy records thanks to an older sister.  He was my “friend” I guess.  Friends by circumstance, not by choice?  Frenemies?  He copied my homework.  He pushed me around.  He made fun of me.  Once he picked on me, and I fought back, so he cried to his mom about it.  His mom called the school.

According to my journal the last time I saw him was in 2004.

Date: 2004/08/04

An interesting day, thus far.

A couple assholes, but not many in general.

Saw Jessica, waved hello.*

Then a dude with a mullet came in. Bought a CD. Asked if I remembered him. He knew my name. Kevin Kirby it was…guy who used to pick on me in grade eight. Nice to see ya, pal.

He might have been into good music, but he was a prick to me in our last year of school together.  Don’t care if I ever see him again.


Yours Truly

* Jessica was Money Mart Girl who I had a crush on.  


#881: The Return of the Record Store Tales

RECORD STORE TALES #881: The Return of the Record Store Tales

A minor announcement, but an announcement nonetheless!  As of this chapter, for all of my stories going forward, I have decided to retire the name Getting More Tale.  I am returning to the original moniker of Record Store Tales.

It’s really always intended to be considered one body of work.

One of the most important parts of the original Record Store Tales was the “ending” — quitting the store in Part 320.  That series of events was one I was really anxious to tell, so when the time felt right, I got it done and wrapped Record Store Tales up in a lil’ bow.  I then broadened the scope of my stories with the “sequel” series Getting More Tale (title suggested by Aaron of the KMA).

Getting More Tale has often dipped back into the Record Store days for subject matter, as well as childhood, and the 15 years since I quit.  I’ve also told stories about technology and historic records.  The sky was the limit when I changed the name to Getting More Tale…but I have always identified as a “Record Store guy”.  Even if it has been 15 years since I last worked behind a counter…once a Record Store guy, always a Record Store guy.

The 12 years I spent in the store were 12 of the defining years of my life, from the highest highs to the lowest lows.  But to quote a song, “It’s My Life” and calling the whole she-bang “Record Store Tales” feels right.  Even if roughly half the stories have nothing to do with working in a store, “you are what you is”.  Today I may be a guy who works in the steel industry, but I will always be a guy who managed a Record Store, and proud of it!

So there you have it; the lines shall no longer be blurred.  The ongoing story of Mike LeBrain, former Record Store manager, obsessive music collector and all-around open book, shall henceforce be known once more as the Record Store Tales.*

The content is not changing one iota.  I have the next 10 chapters locked and loaded, with subject matter covering the whole gamut.  Childhood musical flashbacks, working behind the counter in the glory years, school daze, old tech, bad dates, toys, and maybe even some controversy.  I continue to be excited to bring you stories that you seem to enjoy!  It has been been over six years since I “wrapped up” Record Store Tales.  There was backlash to the ending.  But that only emboldened me.  My writing has improved ten-fold since.  I’m proud to fly the flag of Record Store Tales again.

Thanks for reading all these years!  It has been an organic experience and for nine years you have been an integral part of it.  Let’s go forward, shall we?

To be continued….

* I won’t be going back and re-naming anything, I will just be carrying on the numbering system will the title Record Store Tales.