retail

#687: Chronic Complainers

GETTING MORE TALE #687: Chronic Complainers

There will always be people who relish complaining.  Maybe they feel that life wronged them somewhere.  Perhaps they got up on the wrong side of the bed.  Some people are just miserable and like to spread the misery.  Others are just cheapskates.  Whatever the category, we saw ‘em all at the Record Store.

If you don’t like a store, why do you shop there?  Chronic complainers had many grievances, but were still coming on a regular basis.  It’s not like we were the only game in town.  We weren’t the cheapest either.  So why did the chronic complainers like to make our lives misery?  Every retail job has “horror stories”, but those are amplified in a buy-and-sell environment.

I think a lot of people used to have the wrong about idea about what a “used CD store” was all about.  One of the old managers, Joe, used to say we were nothing but a “glorified garage sale” disguised as a store.  A lot of complainers seemed to see it that way too.  They wanted to haggle.  They wanted a better deal than what was on the sticker.

Me personally, when I walk into a store, I don’t assume every price is negotiable.  Some people do.  I still know people who love to haggle.  At the store, we all hated when customers tried.  Only the owner had any real authority to haggle, and he didn’t work at a cash register.

We carried a small selection of new CDs in addition to our used stock.  Some folks loved to whine about pricing.  Chronic complainers would tell you that “Walmart has the new Metallica for cheaper than you.”  Great, super, thanks for the help.  You know that an indy shop can’t compete with Walmart’s buying power, right?  Their costs were much less than ours, and there was no way to beat them.  Why didn’t you just buy Metallica at Walmart when you were there if the prices are so great?

Selection was another subject for complaint.  We might have had 10,000 used CDs in stock but complainers loved to point out what we didn’t have.  “This is the only Zeppelin you have?” they’d ask as they held up a copy of Encomium – A Tribute to Led Zeppelin.  “You never have any good Zeppelin.  When are you getting more?”  I’d explain that you can never predict when a specific used CD would be traded in, but I could put them on a waiting list.  “Nah, I’ll just check back.”  Well, then don’t complain when someone else snags the next Zeppelin before you.

We had a pretty good system for a waiting list.  It was all computerized so if something particular came in, it would automatically get flagged.  We could also have stock sent from other stores to pick up locally.  There was one woman that only came in during our first summer open…a chronic complainer that eventually fucked off.  She always had a complaint, every visit.  You don’t have this, you don’t have that, why is this taking so long?  She ordered in a CD from another store, didn’t pick it up on time, and by the time she came in (a month later), it was gone.  I remember telling the staff, “Keep this one on hold.  She’s really mean.  Give her extra time.”  Eventually though I had to put the album out and sell it.  I know that we called and left a message that she only had a week left to pick it up.  She still came in too late, and that’s when she ripped me a new one.

“I had to drive an hour to get here!” she complained.

“Would our Waterloo location be more convenient for you?” I asked, trying to be helpful but also hoping to dump this annoying customer on another store.

“NO!” she exclaimed.

Maybe you should have called in to see if the CD was still here before you made the trip.  I would have.  I think that was her last visit, and it was one customer I was happy to lose.  The owner probably wouldn’t like to hear me say that, but he didn’t have to deal with her.

When I was running our website in the early 2000s, I received a complaint about one of our locations that would not refund some used CDs.  I called the manager up to get her side of the story before I responded.  She said that the guy was yelling and screaming and wouldn’t let her finish a sentence, as she was trying to explain the return policy.  Some customers treated our female employees like dirt, preferring to deal with males.  I got the sense that this complainer was one of them.  He threatened to go to the Chamber of Commerce, but he didn’t get his refund.

There were also chronic complainers who primarily just sold CDs to us.  They wanted a lot more for their CDs than you can offer, and sometimes even act insulted about it.  When you wouldn’t give in to them (because you’re not allowed), they’d be grumpy about it, to put it mildly.  There was one construction worker that came in regularly who was my first surly nemesis.  (And no, he never sold me any Village People albums.)  Then there was the prick that worked at CD Plus down the street.  He kept coming in over and over again to sell, even though he complained each time.  He had tiger-striped hair.  What an annoying fuck he was.  I sure was glad when CD Plus shut down operations and I never saw him again.  (The former CD Plus owner, David Cubitt, still has his mullet but now sells beer for a living.)  Whatever that fucking tiger-stripe guy’s name was, I couldn’t stand dealing with his arrogance.

Tiger-stripe loved to argue.  He quizzed me about what kind of CDs we would pay the most for.  At the time, the Beatles’ original albums were expensive and in demand on CD, so that was one.  “We’ll pay top dollar for the Beatles, they’re still very popular.”

“Why the Beatles?  Neil Diamond has sold more albums than the Beatles.”

Yeah, not the point man.  You could buy a Neil Diamond CD brand new for half the price of a Beatles CD at that time, and he knew that.  His store made their coin selling “super saver” titles.

Any time he brought in a bunch of discs, he would only sell a handful of them and keep all the best ones.  If he could get more for them elsewhere, why was he coming to us at all?

The constant negativity of the chronic complainers could become a real drag on your day.

If you catch yourself complaining regularly at a favourite establishment, maybe it’s not a favourite after all, and maybe the problem is you.

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#680: The End of an Era

It was the year 2000.  Not just the dawn of a new century, but a new store.  Even though I was a store manager myself, I only found out about the expansion through the grapevine.

We were at a party when Tom said to me, “You’re going to be so relieved when the new store opens.”

What?…what new store??

“They didn’t tell you?  I can’t believe they didn’t tell you.  Yeah, they’re opening up a new store and moving head office with it.  The head office people are finally going to be out of your hair when they move it.”

“Head office” was a little room in the back of my store.

Nope, nobody told me!  In fact, nobody ever told me in any official capacity.  Even when they had started building the place and deciding who would staff it, nobody ever officially told me.  Even as they chose staff members from my own crew to run it, they didn’t tell me.  Communication at the Record Store was dysfunctional.  I heard again in passing from one of my employees that was being sent there, as if I already knew.  This pissed me off, but Tom was right.  I was hugely relieved to have the head office people moving out.  Good riddance; now they could go and micromanage somebody else!

Life was peachy for a couple years.  I had them out of my hair, and I took over the back office when I began running the store website.

All things end, and in 2003, they moved me to the new store as well.  Sales were down at my old store, and I had some problematic staff members.  So they shuffled around managers and I took over the other store.  I hated working there.  It may have been new, but it never felt like “home” like my old store did.  They told me that being comfortable wasn’t a good thing.

I didn’t enjoy managing the second store like I did the first, and I hated the location.  It was smaller.  There was no room behind the counter and I was always bashing into things.  It had fewer listening stations.  I missed my old regular customers, and being micromanaged again sucked!

I finally left in 2006 and the store soldiered on with a new manager.  But again, nothing lasts forever.  In the Brave New World that is music retail, a lot of record stores bit the dust.  Now it’s 2018, and an era is coming to an end.  The store that I uncomfortably managed is closing this year.  Even though working there was not fun, it’s still a sad day for me.  It might never have felt like home, but it kind of was for three years.  Huge chunks of my CD collection came from that store.  My mint Black Sabbath Black Box, my Queen 3″ singles, and a Japanese import Deep Purple box set* all came from that location.  So did dozens of Record Store Tales.

As the sun sets on my old store, it’s bittersweet.  Not a lot of great memories there, but sadness just the same.  Any time a record store closes, it’s a loss for music fans.  The inventory will be consolidated with another store that is moving to a bigger location, but it’s hard not to see it as another one biting the dust.

 

 

 

* Review forthcoming.

#677: Rock Clocks (Happy Mother’s Day!)

No Sunday Chuckle this week — a special post instead.

 

GETTING MORE TALE #677: Rock Clocks (Happy Mother’s Day!)

My mom has always been creative.  Ever since we were kids, she’s been making things.  In my earliest memories, she learned how to make ceramics at home.  A prized possession of mine is my Darth Vader lamp.  It’s made of two ceramic pieces, the base and the Vader bust.  It has coloured lights in his chest, and his lightsaber lights up as well.  I got Vader, while my sister had an R2-D2.  I still have that Vader and she still has her R2.  Then she even bought a kiln so she could fire her ceramics at home.  My dad called it “that damned kiln” or “that god-damned oven” while my mom expanded to teaching ceramic classes in the basement.  She even started making stained glass ornaments!  My dad hated that we had a cottage industry in the basement, and her stuff always fought for space with my Transformers boxes.  But dad had to admit one thing, which is the ceramics not only paid for themselves, but also my mother’s annual vacations.

Vader lamp, far left

When I started working at the Record Store, one of my mom’s more successful creations were functional clocks.  You could buy a clockwork and put it in anything really, but CD clocks looked cool.  I convinced her and the Boss to work out a consignment deal.  I brought home a bunch of defective CDs that were written off in the back room.  I had her make a variety of clocks — Pink Floyd CDs, Bob Marley’s Legend, or anything with a cool picture on it.  We also had a few basic ones with just numbers glued to a blank CD face.

They weren’t great sellers, but she moved maybe two dozen over the years.  It didn’t cost the Boss anything to stock them, maybe 18″ of shelf space behind the counter, but it was more of a favour than a business move.  As cool as they were, they got dusty up there on that shelf, and were tricky to clean.  The little metal hands bent easily, and if you wiped too hard you could mark up the clock face, or remove one of the numbers!

One gimmick came up with was allowing customers to buy custom clocks made.  They could either a) bring in a CD to be made into a clock, or b) use one of the defects in the box in our back room for a clock.  We did a few of those, though it meant my mom had to go out and buy more clockworks.

I’ll never forget this one guy.  He came in one day but it wasn’t for a clock.

He approached the counter and asked “Do you buy CDs?”

“Yes we do!” I responded, and he pulled a CD from his jacket pocket.

I looked at the cover and did not recognise the name.  I flipped it over and looked at the back.  No label, no bar code…definitely some unknown artist.

“I’m sorry,” I said as I began explaining the part that I hated explaining.  “I’ll have to pass on this one.  We just generally don’t buy things like this because they tend to just sit on the shelves for years.  I can’t find a record label on the back, I don’t know this artist, and there’s nothing under this name in our system.”

“Oh, well that’s me,” he answered.

“Oh this is you!  Well, that’s cool, but still, it’s just not the kind of thing we would buy for stock.  The best I could do is offer to sell it on consignment here for you.  But I’ll be honest, we don’t sell a lot of consignment CDs here unless it’s a pretty popular local band.”

“Can you make it into a clock?” he asked while pointing at my mom’s CD clocks.

“You want to make it into a clock?  Yes, absolutely we can do that!”

That took a twist I didn’t expect!  “I want to give it to my wife as a gift,” he said.

Well sure, why not!  I took his order down in a little yellow receipt book.  He chose the style of hands and numbers (gold coloured) and a week or so later, he had his clock.  Two AA batteries not included.

Here’s another clock memory for you.  Can you guess how often people looked up at the clocks and said, “Woah!  Is that the time?”  More frequently than you’d think.  No, those clocks don’t have batteries in them, they’re for sale and they’re all showing different times, you dumb ass.

We ended the clock collaboration shortly after.  At least I tried.  Not all my ideas were good ones.  It wasn’t a failure, it just wasn’t worth the effort after the novelty wore off.  It demonstrated one thing that remains true about retail:  things only have a limited shelf life.  People don’t want to see the same stuff sitting there year after year.  It was true for virtually everything we sold.  Bobble heads, action figures, Simpsons characters, Osbournes figures, accessories and impulse buys…they were all shuffled from one location to another when they were “dead”.  Then you’d sell a few more, and the product would die again.  Shuffle the remains to a sale bin in a third store and you’ll probably clear them all.  One of our stores had the Metallica McFarlane figure set opened up on display with the big stage and everything.  I was aghast!  You don’t open a toy for display, you idiots.  Nobody would buy it.  And guess what?  That open Metallica set was a shelfwarmer, as it slowly suffered from shelf abuse.

The only thing that was timeless and the never-ending star of the show?  CDs.  Music.

I left in 2006 and I know that music stores have changed in the last 12 years.  They’ve all had to diversify, and the old store I used to manage now sells board games and used Nintendo cartridges.  I got out at exactly the right time.  My passion has always been for the music.  The rest is just window dressing.

And that includes CD clocks.  Sorry mom!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

#676: Cry For Help (VIDEO)

GETTING MORE TALE #676: Cry For Help

My best impression. Based on true events.

#675: 5% (This House is Not for Sale)

For 16 years, I have been waiting for a phone call.

GETTING MORE TALE #675: 5% (This House is Not for Sale)

My dad, an old school banker, used to tell me, “Never pay somebody rent when you can put that money towards owning something of value.”

I lived in a rental apartment with T-Rev for a little while in the 90s, but mostly I lived with my folks.  That allowed me to save a lot of money for a place to live.  In 2002 I bought a condo.  I was lucky.  It was the first and only place I looked at.  It was 10 minutes away from work, 10 minutes away from my parents, and absolutely perfect for me.  I soon as I saw it, I started planning where the stereo would go.

I wanted to have my own place before I turned 30, and I was the first Record Store employee to buy one.  I could tell the office Bully was jealous.  When I told everyone I bought my own place, they all sent their congratulations, except the Bully.  She sent a back-handed email about how I had it easy living with my parents all this time.  I hit “delete”, but I did not forget.  It was a pattern of belittling that continued over the years.

I wasn’t trying to boast.  Just sharing my happy news with people who I thought were my friends.

I got married, continued to work hard, and a couple weeks ago, I finally got the phone call from the bank that I had been waiting 16 years for.  “Congratulations!  You are now among the 5% of Canadians that own their homes with no mortgage!”

What a feeling!  It doesn’t seem like 16 years.  More like 10.

Back when I moved in, I insisted that only I carry my treasured CD collection.  If any jewel cases were broken, I could only blame myself!  (Only a couple broke.)  My whole family helped.  We had the place painted later that night and I was entertaining my first guests two days later!

First movie played at the new place:  Star Wars Episode I.

Those kinds of things are important, you know.

After I got married, we meant to find a bigger place.  We both had great jobs and the time seemed right.  Unfortunately Mrs. LeBrain got sick – really sickEpilepsy has changed our lives and we have not been able to move.  Too many far more important things to do.  We’ve outgrown this place, but we will make it work.

We own it free and clear.  It’s ours.  The roof over our head is a security blanket that we never take for granted.

 

#672: “The”

GETTING MORE TALE #672: “The”

In the spring of 1996, the Record Store chain expanded to its third location. This was a life-changer for me, as it was my store — the store that I had been assigned to manage.  I spent eight years at that location, and that’s where most of Record Store Tales came from.  Myself and a young employee who was obsessed with Pink Floyd stocked the place.  It took weeks to manually clean, input and price thousands of used CDs.  We had fun working in a closed store away from the public, but the used CD stock we opened with was very monotonous.  It was just overflow crap from the other stores; a lot of the same-old-same-old.

When training the new young Floyd fanboy, the Boss told him, “When you enter a band’s name that starts with ‘The’, skip the word ‘The’.”  This makes sense for three reasons:

  1. Speed of data entry.
  2. Saving on the cost of expensive Dymo tape for the labeling gun (for the header cards).
  3. Alphabetical listings becoming much more tedious and cumbersome when scrolling through hundreds of “The” bands.

It’s pretty logical.

  • BLACK CROWES = The Black Crowes
  • FABULOUS THUNDERBIRDS = The Fabulous Thunderbirds
  • FUGEES = The Fugees
  • KINKS = The Kinks
  • SEX PISTOLS = The Sex Pistols

This worked especially well with Fugees and the young guy’s favourite band, Pink Floyd.  Both artists had a “The” in their name in the past.  You don’t call them “The Pink Floyd” but it was certainly possible you’d see something when they still had the “The”.  Dropping the “The” on our header cards kept things simple.

The young fella got it, but followed it a little too closely.

One of his header cards said simply:

  • THE

“What is this one?” I asked and he showed me a CD by The The.

I told him to change it to The The, but he didn’t get it.  The Boss told him to drop the “The” on every header card.  But the header card didn’t make sense without it.  He wouldn’t change it, so I did it myself.

It seemed pretty clear to me then, and still does now.  The name “The The” just doesn’t make sense on a header card when it’s just “The”.  Tell me I’m wrong.

I was at Sunrise Records the other day, where I found The Best of Sword on CD. I eagerly put it under my arm, since I was missing the three previously unreleased bonus tracks.  (In case you didn’t know, Sword recently reunited and are recording a brand new studio album.)  But guess where I found the CD?  Or, rather, guess what two bands were filed together under the same name?

  • SWORD

Sword is from near Montreal, Quebec.  The Sword is another band altogether, from Austin Texas.  They both play heavy metal but are nothing alike.  In this case, there need to be two header cards, and one needs the word “The”.  It’s another rare exception.  The Sunrise store should have made these two header cards:

  • SWORD
  • THE SWORD

Even better:

  • SWORD (Montreal band)
  • THE SWORD (Texas band)

But clearly nobody who worked there knows enough about either band to see this.

A customer who enjoys The Sword could be very disappointed by picking up The Best of Sword.  Likewise, a fan of Sword might have thought the live Greetings From… CD was a reunion CD by the French Canadian metalers.

This is why it is critical to have staff who know music.  It’s the kind of proficiency that in our insta-knowledge internet era, most people don’t maintain anymore.  Proper header cards were a problem when I was managing the old Record Store too, and it was the same root cause:  It’s hard to find staff who know and care about this stuff.  And it’s not impossible to learn it.  The truth is, if I were a young The Sword fan today I would already know there was another band called Sword, because I would have stumbled upon their albums and looked them up on Wikipedia.

You could take this header card business too far, of course.  Just as you don’t need both “Pink Floyd” and “The Pink Floyd”, a record store doesn’t need two Queensryches or two L.A. Guns.  But you do need two Swords…with “The” and without.

* Here I am nitpicking about proper filing of header cards, when I should be complaining about the mistakes on this Sword CD.  Right there, on the back and inside covers, is a massive typo:  “Get It Whole You Can”.  Inside, the liner notes make the classic “there/their” screw-up.  Can’t believe nobody caught these before they went to print, but there it is.

 

 

#671: A Clockwork Orange

Expanding on Record Store Tales Part 58 – Klassic Kwotes VII

 

 

GETTING MORE TALE #671: A Clockwork Orange

“Do you like the drugs?” asked the creepy customer looking for the A Clockwork Orange soundtrack.

Let’s back up a bit.

One of our early employees, Scott, made a critical error one Sunday at the Record Store.  This is a great lesson for every retail employee, everywhere worldwide.  Never, ever, ever tell a customer that you have something if you can’t sell it to them.  Just lie.  Claim you don’t have it.  If you say, “We have it, but I can’t sell it to you,” then you are opening a potentially big can ‘o worms.

A very creepy dude came in one afternoon asking for the soundtrack to A Clockwork Orange by Wendy Carlos.  It is a potent mix of classical music and synthesizer compositions.  Beethoven was a major part of the film’s plot, and Beethoven is also a huge chunk of the soundtrack.  This customer wanted the soundtrack to psych him up for his court date.

That’s right.  For his court date.

Too much information?  Customers often shared with us the weirdest details of their lives.  We didn’t need to know he wanted A Clockwork Orange to pump himself up for court.

Thinking he was being helpful, Scott said, “Yes we have a used copy, we just bought it today.  But we have to hold it for 15 days before we can sell it.”

Scott was an honest guy.  According to the bi-laws, all used inventory had to be held for a 15 day waiting period.  In a business where buying and selling stolen goods was always a danger, this helped protect us, and any victims of theft.  15 days gave the cops time to go over our purchase reports and see if anything matched up.  If they did, then we already took the seller’s ID.  The cops can track the thieves that way.

The 15 day holding period was standard but not all stores honoured it.  We did, without fail.  There was no breaking the 15 day hold.  Not even for your court date.

The creepy guy tried to cajole Scott into selling the CD early and wouldn’t let up. He needed it before the court date, not after!  He had to get psyched up!  So much was riding on this one CD.  The soundtrack was still somewhat rare as a used CD.  The 1998 reissue was yet to come.

Eventually the creep tried to bribe Scott.  “Do you like the drugs?” he asked, implying he could get Scott anything he needed.

To his credit, Scott didn’t budge, though he certainly wished he never told the guy about A Clockwork Orange in the first place.  The customer asked to speak to the manager instead (me).  He came back then next day when I was working.

The guy walked in, wearing a green suit and carrying a briefcase.  He told me the whole story about how he “needed” that CD to get ready for court, but that nobody else in town had it.  He begged me for the CD, though with me he neglected to ask if I “like the drugs”.  He even said he’d pay over sticker price, but there was nothing I could do.

Scott was a little shaken by the creep.  It’s not every day you are solicited at your workplace by a drug dealer bound for court.  I can’t help it, but I think of him every single time I see the soundtrack for A Clockwork Orange.

Oh, and by the way:  he did buy the CD when the 15 day waiting period was up!  I didn’t ask how his court date went.  Apparently well enough.

 

#668: It’s All in the Name

GETTING MORE TALE #668: It’s All in the Name

At the Record Store, we had a habit of giving customers nicknames.  It made them easier to remember…and it was sometimes good for a chuckle!

Some customers, however, needed no nicknames.  Their real names were definitely historic enough.

First there was Bill.  Bill Board.

If I had a name like Bill Board, I think I would prefer to introduce myself just as “Bill”.  Or I’d just go by William.  We had a few CDs on order for Bill Board.  It was one of those names that made you say “Come again?”

Charlie Brown was another one.  You were not required to give a last name to order a CD.  Only a first name was necessary.  The first time he phoned, Charlie Brown gave me both his names.  He requsted a CD.  I asked for his info, and I laughed!  I thought it was a prank call.  “You laughing at my name?” he said.  “That’s my real name!”  Charlie Brown, you will never be forgotten.

There was also a fellow named Lynn, no last name given.  Yes, there are men out there named Lynn.  It’s unusual but not unheard of.  However when Lynn was put in the system for a CD order, we made sure to add the notation “Lynn – a man”.  That way when you called for Lynn and left a message, you wouldn’t say something like “Please tell her that the CD she ordered was in.”  We’d know it was a guy and which pronoun to use.  That’s how “Lynn – a man” made it into our order entries!

Finally, we had Zoltan.  Zoltan Zonger.  What an awesome name!  It recalls the “Zoltan cultists” from the movie Dude, Where’s My Car.  Remember them?  “ZOLTAN!”  Good old Zoltan, “Double-Z”.  He was not seen much, but his name was there in the order system.  It’s the kind of name that jumped out every time you scrolled past it.  Zoltan Zonger.

Fuck, I wish I had a cool name like Zoltan Zonger!

#650: Frequent Buyer

GETTING MORE TALE #650: Frequent Buyer

I heard through the grapevine* recently that my old store (“the Record Store”) are discontinuing their frequent buyer cards.  These cards have a long, long history going back more than 25 years.  First we offered free tapes and CDs – buy 10, get one free.  Those were eventually phased out when we stopped carrying new tapes and CDs, but due to popular demand we added a free used CD card – buy 12, get one free.

Minimum wage just went up on the province of Ontario, to $14 an hour.  In 2019, it will go up again, to $15 an hour.  There is an election in six months, and the present provincial government is pulling out all the stops trying to appeal to young voters.  Some restaurants are battling the wage increase by cutting hours, raising prices or cutting staff breaks.  At the store any time wages went up, hours were cut and we reviewed what we were paying for incoming used CDs.  It appears that this time out, the Record Store is cutting the frequent buyer card.

Frequent buyer cards are on the way out anyway.  Remember when Subway used to have them?  Seems like a long time ago now, because it has been:  Sub Club cards were phased out back in 2005!

Our frequent buyer card was very popular.  We would redeem several of them on any typical day.  You could cash it in for any used CD, $11.99 or less, and we gave away a lot of free CDs.  Customers would collect the cards, save them up, and treat themselves to something they really wanted.  It was a great incentive to get customers to buy more than one CD at a time.  People would buy an extra CD or two to collect the stamps, especially if they were close to completing their card.  Very few were the people who turned down the card.  “I have too much crap in my wallet,” was the most common reason for declining, but most people like the feeling of getting something for free.

It’s sad to see this era pass.  My wallet is empty; I redeemed my card last visit.  I know some customers would be furious.  People love to complain.  They used to whine that we wouldn’t stamp their cards if they bought a cheapie out of the “bargain bin”.  (If they were nice about it, I’d give them a stamp for every two cheapies they bought, though it was against the rules.)  Now they’re going to be pissed that they can’t get stamps at all.  I don’t envy the staff members who have to explain this to the complainy types.  (“Do you know how long I’ve shopped here?” will be one complaint they can look forward to.)

Prepare for more minimum wage fallout in Ontario over the next year.  This is only beginning.

 

*  I won’t say who told me…even if you do the unskinny “Bop”.

** That was a clue.

 

 

#649: Denizens of “The Mall”

GETTING MORE TALE #649: Denizens of “The Mall”

Every mall has its questionable denizens.  I’m not talking about mall rats or bargain hunters.  I mean the people that are there every single day, not doing much of anything, just…being.

Stanley Park Mall in Kitchener, where I spent most of my childhood and early work life, had plenty of characters.

One of the first I was aware of was named “Butts”.  Nobody knew his real name, but he earned the nickname Butts by fishing cigarette butts out of ashtrays.  He was there frequently, and if not he was mining the ashtrays at Fairview Mall instead.  We left him alone, but one kid from school named Kevin Kirby decided to make fun of Butts one day.  Butts responded with a flurry of F-bombs.  It all seemed rather sad to me and not at all funny.  A kid making fun of this guy, and him telling a little kid to fuck off?  Why not just leave him alone?  I’m sure Butts was made fun of regularly, but Kirby was generally a dick.  (Any time he teamed up with me on a school project I did all the work and he coasted off my grade.)

Sue came along a little later.  She was in a bad car accident and was in a walker.  She really liked the Record Store I worked in, and had a bit of a crush on the owner.  We didn’t actually know about the crush until she gave him a Valentine’s Day card.  She used to park her walker at the front counter and talk to him for hours.  We didn’t assume that meant she had a crush, because there were lots of lonely people in the mall who just liked to talk.  It was one of the drawbacks of working there.  One day before leaving she gave him a card, and the owner didn’t realise it was a valentine.  He opened it in front of us, and we all saw it.  He was super embarrassed and really tried to avoid Sue after that.  I witnessed him taking a huge dive behind the counter to avoid her when she strolled by!  And that wasn’t an isolated incident.  I learned from it – I took a few dives behind the counter myself over the years.

The last regular denizen to discuss was the saddest and I don’t know what happened to him.  He was known as Johnny Walker.  Like Butts, nobody knew his real name although his first name may actually have been John.  They called him Johnny Walker because he would walk around the mall all day, every day.  The mall was like a big rectangle, and he would complete numerous circuits through the day.  He talked to himself as he did, mumbling away as he walked.  If you overheard him, it would sound like a normal conversation but with just one person talking.

I’ve been trying to find out what happened to Johnny Walker but nobody seems to know.  People at the mall said he was rich and didn’t work or need to work.  Maybe it was an inheritance.  Maybe an insurance claim.  Nobody knew.  His clothes weren’t ratty and he was clean shaven, but there was clearly something wrong with him.  It was no act.

The general rule of thumb was “just ignore him”.  Sometimes kids would make fun of him and he’d get loud and violent.  He’d been kicked out of the mall a few times after a violent or loud spell.  Then he’d go to a different mall to walk around, before finally returning to Stanley Park again.  He was never gone too long.

As told in Record Store Tales Part 6, I only dealt with Johnny Walker once at the Record Store.  He strolled in, talking to himself.  I took a deep breath and hoped nothing would set him off.  He walked, talked, and picked out a tape.  He came up to the counter and immediately stopped talking to himself.  I sold him the tape, gave him his change, and he walked out again, sharply resuming his conversation with himself.

All I really know about Johnny Walker is that at one point, he listened to tapes.

I hated seeing highschool mallrat kids following him around and shouting at him to “shut up”.  If Johnny got loud and violent, I have a feeling the kids were the root cause most of the time.  I’m sure they thought it was hilarious to harass this obviously damaged person.  But he was still a person, a human being.  Although it was sometimes startling to see someone walking around talking to themselves, it would have been nice if parents taught their kids a little respect.  We don’t know anybody’s secret battles.  Walker minded his own business any time I was present.

If anyone knows what happened to Butts, Sue, or Johnny Walker please drop us a line or leave a comment.  I hope they are all doing better.