retail

#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.

 

 

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#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”.

 

#571: GUEST SHOT – Record Store Tales – A Different Perspective

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

#568: Time Traveler

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

#565: The Price We Gotta Pay

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.

 

#558: Easter Eggs

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.