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….
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.
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”.
Please welcome old friend and new contributor, Aaron. I have known Aaron since before I was first hired at the Record Store, and he made a cameo appearance in Record Store Tales Part 176: Trevor the Security Guard. Aaron is going to be launching his own site really soon and we have planned a few crossovers. He decided to kick it off with this hilarious memory that I had forgotten all about. Please enjoy!
GETTING MORE TALE #571: Record Store Tales – A Different Perspective
Guest shot by Aaron Lebold
I have been enjoying Mike’s Record Store Tales for quite a while now, I have found them particularly enjoyable because I was friends with him when he got this job. The store was initially located in a mediocre mall, and was about the size of a nice walk-in closet. The store has since branched out into a very successful franchise. I personally feel Mike’s expertise in music played a role in the success of the store, but I like reading them because I remember a lot of the stories, and I may even be mentioned in a couple.
One of my fondest memories of Mike working at the store, was after it had expanded and added a second location. Back in those days CDs were worth money, so in turn people had a tendency to steal them, and bring them to Mike’s store to sell.
A woman had gone into the other location, and given Mike’s co-worker a specific list of CDs to look out for, as they had been stolen from her home. Mike’s co-worker called him at his location to transfer the information, so they could contact the police should someone come in to sell that specific collection of discs.
Mike decided it would be funny if he had me call the other location to try to get a quote for some CDs. He read me the exact list of CDs that had been reported missing, and instructed me specifically to finalize the phone call with the line “and they’re not stolen either…”
I followed through with Mike’s request, and though I didn’t get much of a reaction from his co-worker, he told me that they called him back and asked him “How much did you pay that kid to do that?” It was pretty funny at the time, and I will always remember my line. “And they’re not stolen either…”
Aaron Lebold BMR
GETTING MORE TALE #568: Time Traveler
Not a pet peeve, exactly, but annoying just the same: Why did customers ordering CDs often leave a work number as their only contact? Was this CD such an urgent issue that one had to be notified immediately at work? I’ve never left a work number as a contact for anything I’ve ever ordered from a store. Why would I? Call me at home. Leave a message if you have to. Let me know it’s in, and I’ll pick it up. I won’t make you jump through hoops or speak to my receptionist, just call me.
I would also tend to think that receiving calls at work about something as trivial as a CD might not be the best plan. “You have a call from a client on 201, and a call from a CD store about the new Sarah McLachlan on 202.” I don’t know and I still don’t understand. Leaving a work number was an annoyance to us all. A couple times, a customer left just a first name and a work number. Upon calling the number, I was told “We have three people here with that name.” Great. Can you put me on the line with the one who listens to Sarah McLachlan?
Then it would really grind my gears when one of the “work number” people would come in and say “I’ve been waiting for a call and you never phoned me.” Then I’d pull the CD and find the slip inside where it said “left message” and the date. Of course this could happen at home too, and you could usually tell when a disinterested parent or roommate wasn’t taking down the message. At least in those cases, you could make a note to do a callback because it didn’t seem like the person was going to get the message.
The most memorable “work number” guy was a fellow that used to come in during 1996-1997. I’m guessing he was self employed because he seemed to be the only one working at that number. What I remember most was how he answered the phone: “Time travel,” he would say. Ring ring,”Time travel!” That’s how he answered the phone. “Ummm, is Greg* there?” we’d ask. Then he’d act weirded out that somebody called and asked for Greg. I assume the business was called Time Travel and I have no idea what they did, though we certainly did speculate. Thus, his nickname at the store became “Time Traveler”. It didn’t help that he was a bit of an ass and nobody liked dealing with him. I think that’s why he stopped coming in. He could sense that nobody liked helping him.
Did he run a travel agency? Maybe he was building a time machine? Or better yet, maybe he had combined the two — a time travel agency! Want to see the Spanish Inquisition? Book a trip with Time Travel today!…or yesterday! Ask for Greg.
* not his real name
GETTING MORE TALE #565: The Price We Gotta Pay
(And All the Games We Gotta Play)
I was reminded of this story recently, when J from Resurrection Songs asked about pricing schemes for new release albums.
We had a pricing schedule, created by the manager that I have called “The Bully” in these pages. I’m sure she did a fantastic job of purchasing, pricing and stocking goods. She was horrible at managing people, and never should have been in any position of power over others.
The pricing schedule was pretty simple. Any time we’d get a shipment of brand new stock, there would be an invoice packed with it showing our cost on each title. The Bully made up a pricing schedule based on cost, so we could price incoming items easily. For example, if the cost of the item fell between $10.40 and $11.60 (plus shipping), our sell price might have been $13.99. (That’s not an actual pricing scheme, that’s just an example of how it worked.) This way, all of our stores would have consistent pricing across the board. That was important. It also made it easy for us to price things on our own without having to ask for too much direction.
The pricing scheme was created and implemented during one of the periods when The Bully was no longer speaking to me. Who knows why anymore. A manager who stops speaking to her direct reports is the very definition of unprofessional.
I came in one Tuesday afternoon, which is when the brand new stock arrived. Remember New Release Tuesdays? I began pricing the new releases using the pricing scheme she made. Suddenly she broke her silence and started going at me.
“You’re pricing these all wrong!” she yelled. Unfortunately nobody was in the store to witness the exchange, so you’ll just have to believe me. I looked down at the paper in front of me. “But this is the price right here on the new pricing schedule.” I looked at it again to make sure I wasn’t wrong. I wasn’t.
She paused and yelled again. “Forget about that!!” Then she stormed into the back office, slammed the door and stopped speaking to me again. No witnesses, no apology either. An updated pricing schedule was issued shortly after. I never reported this behavior. As discussed in a prior chapter, I had brought up her abuse before and didn’t see any changes. I just sucked it up until I couldn’t anymore.
Some may doubt these stories, which is understandable, but I’m the guy with the journals. I’ll never forget the way I was treated by one very unprofessional jerk.
GETTING MORE TALE #558: Easter Eggs
“Easter eggs” – Hidden content that you have to really search to find. Often refers to hidden DVD/Blu-ray bonus features. The first DVD Easter egg I heard of was on the original “steelbook” version of Terminator 2. If you go to the right menu and punch in the exact date of Judgment Day, you can access a super-extra-extended version of the film, only visible in this specific way. Another great DVD Easter egg was on Fellowship of the Ring. Click around, and you will find a clip from the MTV movie awards where Jack Black has pierced his own wiener with the One Ring.
The term “Easter eggs” is common vocabulary today, and has expanded to include secret cameos or information in films too. Recent examples: The appearance of the droid Chopper from Star Wars: Rebels in the new film Rogue One. Or brief glimpse of Lexcorp trucks, in Man of Steel. They’re designed not to be immediately noticed, but only detected by die-hard fans after repeat viewings.
The old Record Store has Easter eggs too, so secret that I don’t think anyone who still works there even knows about them. But they’re still there.
When I first began Record Store Tales, I made a decision to never publicly identify the name of the store. For that reason, I’ll remain vague. Back in the olden days when everybody more or less got along, at least two Easter eggs were hidden somewhere on the store website. They were nods and winks at two employees: myself, and one other guy who had been there a long time. They are still there, hidden unless you know where to look. They were never removed even after both of us left.
There is one more Easter egg, that only two people know about: Tom (co-founder of Sausagefest) and myself. Tom owned a franchise at the time. When he eventually moved on to something else, he asked me to do him a favour. He wanted to leave his mark in some way on the place. I can understand that. Tom, T-Rev, a couple others, and I put our blood, sweat and tears into that store. It wouldn’t be right to call us “original members” or “founding fathers”, because there was only one owner who started it all. T-Rev and I weren’t owners, we had no stakes. It was all just pure passion. We were there in the very early days as we made the baby steps. We contributed all our energy to that place, helping to build it and make it grow. I can’t speak for Tom, but I personally am very proud of that. Tom pushed to be the first one that carried vinyl. T-Rev helped actually build the stores, putting up shelving and all the works. I trained dozens of people and came up with the idea of a store newsletter. It’s not as if they have a “wall of fame” with our pictures on it. Tom leaving his mark seems pretty justifiable.
So, he asked me to sneak something in there, and I did. Tom’s little tribute is still on the website. Only he and I know where to look. His franchise was always kickass, and he personally supplied me with plenty of great rock from there, including autographed Helix records, some Foo Fighters singles and a rare live Judas Priest. He had a 25 cent bin of vinyl that always had good stuff in it. Let’s all raise our Romulan ale to a true rock and roll animal, the mighty Tom.
GETTING MORE TALE #557: Just Joking
Ever heard a joke that made you almost too uncomfortable to laugh?
In my second year of university, I was in a history class and one of the students missed a previous lesson. He asked if he could borrow some notes, so my friend Tim offered. “Thanks!” he responded, and then added jokingly, “Hey, who says white people never help out black people?” Yes, he was black, and Tim and I were white. We laughed, but a part of us felt like laughing at that joke was taboo. It clearly wasn’t, he was obviously just kidding, but it hit that grey area of discomfort.
Here is an example from the Record Store. One of our regular customers named himself “Richard the Indian”. Super nice guy, usually easy to deal with. Loved heavy metal. He had a native status card proving he’s indigenous and entitling him to a tax discount, but he also absolutely looked it. He had long straight black hair, and wizened eyes. Even though he referred to himself as “Richard the Indian”, I didn’t like calling him that to his face. It didn’t seem “right” to me. So, he was usually just addressed as “Richard”.
He listened to his music on a CD Discman. He was always have problems with it, and I saw pieces falling off it once. It was “a piece of junk”, according to him. “This thing must have been made by Indians!” he joked, playing on the stereotype that all Indians are drunk and lazy.
Do you laugh? I let out a slight uncomfortable chuckle. Some of the staff felt uncomfortable too. “I know he’s just kidding, but it makes me feel weird when he makes Indian jokes,” someone told me. “I feel like I should laugh, but also shouldn’t.”
The ins and outs of retail are labyrinthine. There have been jokes that flat-out were not funny. One guy thought he was hilarious with this joke: Q: What does Marvin Gaye have in common with one of his records? A: They’re both black and have a hole in the middle. That joke got no laughs because it wasn’t funny at all. In other situations, I have laughed and then realized too late that the customer wasn’t joking.
So what do you do? If you work in retail, when in doubt, don’t laugh. Do not. At worst you’ll appear humourless, at best you’ll avoid the wrong reaction!
GETTING MORE TALE #555: How to Be Annoying
Nobody really liked working with Dandy. What Dandy did was decide who he liked and who he didn’t. If he liked you, he wouldn’t annoy you repeatedly. If he didn’t like you, then he just didn’t care – he’d do whatever he wanted, the more annoying the better. One or two higher ranked people never saw his annoying side. For the rest of us, he’d act like an idiot on a dime.
One of his most annoying habits was dancing at work. He’d put on one of his favourite bands – the Dandy Warhols, or the Toilet Boys – and dance around the store. And when he danced, his white belly would pop out from his too-tight black T-shirt – not a pretty sight. I’ll admit I’m not the most svelte of specimens but I keep my white belly under ample amounts of shirt! I’ll never forget the sight of him belly dancing when the Toilet Boys came on.
He also liked to embarrass other people as much as possible. For example, when Joe Strummer died. Customers were jumping on the Clash bandwagon, but I really didn’t know anything about the band. I knew the hits from having heard them in the store, and there were songs that I like. I know one of the drummers (Terry Chimes) was briefly in Black Sabbath. But I knew next to nothing else about the band members. Due to his name (Strummer) I assumed Joe was the guitar player. To this day I only own one Clash album (London Calling). It just wasn’t my background. My youth was a heady mix of British and North American classic rock and metal, and I never even bought a punk rock album until the mid-90s (Never Mind the Bollocks was my first). Once Dandy realized I didn’t know who Joe Strummer’s was, he made sure to tell everybody. Loudly.
“Hey get this! We were listening to the Clash – Mike thinks Joe Strummer is the guitar player! HAH HAH HAH! He doesn’t even know! HAH HAH HAH!”
But then the next day he would be nice as pie to me, and picking on somebody else. Usually the infamous Spoogecakes.
Spoogecakes and Dandy weren’t exactly two of a kind. She liked Lord of the Rings, Finger 11 and the Showboat soundtrack (we’ll talk about that one another day). He liked drugs, makeup, and whatever was on-trend. The only thing they had in common was annoying me. Like for example, one time Spoogecakes hid my hat somewhere in the store and thought it was freaking hilarious. I found out later on that she had a crush on me and this was an attention-getting game. Kind of like something you’d do in grade school, annoying the girl you like for attention because you didn’t know what else to do.
It was Dandy who coined her original nickname: the Angry Walrus. His opinion was that she had that kind of face, and always seemed angry. (She did definitely always seem angry.) Apparently the name stuck immediately. It was like a freight train that could not be stopped and I was the last one to hear about it, because I was the manager and nobody wanted to tell me.
Dandy: “Damn, you have me scheduled to work with the Angry Walrus tonight. That sucks.”
Me: “Who the fuck is the ‘Angry Walrus’?”
I was so frustrated with both of them that I really didn’t even give a fuck anymore. Thankfully I was soon transferred over to another location, and I never had to work with either again. Thank fuck!
GETTING MORE TALE #553: Jesus’ Lyric
Many record store employees drink. Record store people are just people, and some people drink. And some drink, a lot. I was never much of a drinker, not until I moved in with T-Rev in ’98. Then I caught up pretty quickly (Captain Morgan’s and Coke, not beer), but I still couldn’t compete with those guys. (In fact, I still remember when I went out for my 30th birthday. I was accused by the Operations Manager/Bully of “faking” that I was drunk. I’m a light weight, and she was just a meany.)
Like me, some of the younger folks, they just couldn’t pace themselves. The difference is they’d be drinking while having to open the store the following morning. A lot of them would be out partying, and then we’d get the inevitable phone call the next morning. “I’m sick. Can you cover for me today?” It happened more than once, not naming names.
One guy, who helped me set up the first store that I managed, came into work hungover so many damn times. The first time, I had to send him home. He was absolutely useless. He was actually trying to work with his head down touching the counter. He was slowing me down, so I sent him home and somebody else came in.
The same guy came in hungover one Saturday morning, later on, after we opened. He had his head down on the counter when a customer approached him. He raised his head.
The hungover employee stumbled over to the computer.
“It’s a movie soundtrack,” clarified the customer, seeing Mr. Hangover was struggling.
“No. We don’t have it.”
The customer asked him to check to see if one of our other stores had it, so he picked up the phone. The customer went back to browsing while Mr. Hangover was making the call. We only had three stores at the time. One of them had Jason’s Lyric used on CD!
Mr. Hangover then walked out onto the floor to tell the customer about the CD. Only problem: he didn’t remember who asked. Or the exact name of the CD he asked for. So Mr. Hangover approached somebody who looked right.
Walking up to the unsuspecting stranger he said, “Hey man. They got your Jesus’ Lyric over there.”
“They got your Jesus’ Lyric soundtrack CD at the other store that you asked for.”
Overhearing this, the correct customer identified himself, and things got sorted. No big surprise ending here: Mr. Hangover was let go soon after!