by Kevin Kelly
I suppose I should thank my Madonna-lucky stars that I’ve never had employment that I would ever refer to as a “Job From Hell.” Clearly, no job is ever perfect. There certainly have been things that have come up that I would have rather not have had happen. It happens for everyone, everywhere. My record store days certainly had their fair share of them.
I worked for a local independent chain called Tracks. I would pretend to be Annie Potts in “Pretty In Pink” when I answered the phone. “Tracks… whaddya want?” Yes, I even shot staples from a staple gun at customers if they annoyed me, but I was always disappointed that no one screamed “You missed my eye by an inch!” at me so that I could, in return, point out a la Ms. Potts, “Half an inch!”
Oh, those were the days. My signature work move was putting on Yoko Ono’s “hits” anthology Walking On Thin Ice about 10 minutes before closing time in order to ensure the store was empty by the time we were ready to lock the doors. It worked every time. I wasn’t always so abrasive, though. I really was helpful, and usually greeted customers with a “Hello” or the obligatory “How are you?” when they entered the store.
“How are you?” I really hate those words when they come from a person I don’t know. You don’t care how I am. I don’t care how you are. Let’s skip the empty content of the acknowledgement that you are in my store and move about our business, shall we?
I learned my lesson, I learned it well, and even lived to tell (let’s see how many Madonna references I can work in here) on the day that I asked a tired-looking forty-something woman how she was when she stepped through the door.
“Been fightin’ the flu,” she answered.
She was obviously hurting. She was hunched over and looked like she should have been entering an emergency room, not a record store. Before I could wish her well, like Terence Trent D’arby (so much for the Madonna references), the woman paused, gagged, and spewed what looked like 300 gallons of used up Taco Bell Nachos Bell Grande. She covered the security gates and floor. She slowly turned and mumbled a half-hearted “I’m sorry” before leaving. I was totally grossed out by what had happened, but more than anything else I wondered what CD she had come into the store to buy. What musical act could possibly be worth “fightin’ the flu” for? I’m thinking it was Yanni.
At one point, our store moved into a former Shoney’s restaurant location where murders had taken place. Yes, murders. The owner of the store was rather cheap, and he got the building for a fraction of what it was worth because of what happened. There was still a filthy, greasy kitchen in back that we had to walk through to turn the power off at night. I was convinced the place was haunted. There was still blood on the wall in the little cash office that was now my storage room for the poster displays I did for the store. It wasn’t a lot of blood—just a little splatter—but it was enough to freak me out. I covered it up with a Taylor Dayne poster. Tell it to my heart, indeed.
A few bizarre things happened at this location. One day a deaf man wandered into the store and wanted to be seated. He was only deaf, not blind, but it didn’t seem to register to him that his beloved Shoney’s was history. Never mind there was a giant sign in the front that said TRACKS RECORDS, or that the front windows of the store were filled with poster displays of all the current new releases. The restaurant had been vacant for a few years before we moved in, yet he still wanted an endless trip to that wonderful Shoney’s salad bar.
My co-worker, Megan, began screaming at him: “THIS IS A RECORD STORE, NOT SHONEY’S!”
I gently informed her that no matter how loud she yelled he still wasn’t going to hear her.
The deaf man’s reaction to being in the store was like a bird accidentally flying into a house. You’ve seen it happen: the bird flies into windows, walls, and fine furnishings in a desperate attempt to find its way out. This man was no different. He couldn’t get out of the store quickly enough, but couldn’t get out the way he came in because the door only opened one way. I had to physically guide him around the counter and out a different EXIT door. He was visibly shaken. Instead of thanking me for setting him free, he screamed “Thuck You!” at me. I could tell he meant “Fuck You” and not “Thank You” by his tone. I shrugged my shoulders and waved goodbye, in hopes he found a place to rest his weary ass whilst chomping on room temperature iceberg lettuce covered in a forgettable Thousand Island dressing.
My favorite bad customer story has to be the woman who pulled up in a SUV before we were open and banged on the door, demanding to be let in. There was still a good thirty minutes or so to go before we opened, but this dame was relentless. I could tell from her demeanor, look, and car that she was a “woman of means.” I went to the door and told her through the glass that we weren’t open yet. She pleaded with me to let her in, saying that she was going on vacation and needed some music to listen to before she hit the road. I asked if she knew what she wanted, and she did, so I took pity on her and let her in.
She wanted a Michael Feinstein album. Ugh. I should have pushed her back outside right then, but I was nice and fetched several of his CDs for her to peruse. She quickly chose one from the options I presented. As a courtesy to customers, we always asked if they wanted us to remove the CD from the long box they came in–this was back in 1992 when that sort of packaging was still standard—and she said yes. She paid for her selection and was on her way…or so I thought.
Her vehicle lingered in the parking lot for what seemed hours, until she got out and banged on the glass again. I went to the door and asked her what the problem was. She waved the CD all around furiously, yelling.
“THIS CD IS DEFECTIVE! YOU SOLD ME A DEFECTIVE MICHAEL FEINSTEIN CD! WHY DID YOU DO THAT?”
I opened the door and took the CD from her. I opened the jewel case and inspected the disc. It looked fine. She continued screaming.
“THIS MICHAEL FEINSTEIN CD IS DEFECTIVE AND I DON’T HAVE TIME FOR THIS! I’M GOING ON A TRIP!”
I asked her what the CD did when she put it in.
“NOTHING!” she screeched. “THIS MICHAEL FEINSTEIN CD IS DEFECTIVE! ARE YOU HEARING ME?”
I asked her if I could go back to her car with her so she could show me what it was doing. She got in the car and rolled the window down. I waited while she fumbled with the CD, trying to jam it into her stereo.
“SEE? IT’S DEFECTIVE!”
I saw what she was doing and said, “No ma’am, it’s not defective. You are trying to put a CD into a cassette tape slot.”
She told me to fuck off, too. But unlike the deaf customer, I completely understood what she was saying.
Kevin Kelly became a writer when he figured out the only job he would ever be suited for, Simon Le Bon’s replacement in Duran Duran, wasn’t going to happen. He is also a pastry chef. View his blog for more of his correct opinions, alarmingly good advice, top-notch reviews, and scrumptious recipes. You can also find him on Facebook and Twitter.