Thursday, August 16, 2012

My Coworkers: The Video Store (#1)

Almost immediately after I turned 18, I began working full-time at a video rental store chain that shall remain nameless (use your powers of inference), and worked for the same company at three different stores in Arizona and Michigan over the course of the next two years. During my stint, I worked with quite a few interesting people, all of whom I got to know fairly well during our shared shifts together.
Since I love observing peoples' behavior and mannerisms (see here), and often do it without even intending to do it, I'm going to make each of these people their own little psychoanalysis profile-type thing where I describe my experiences with them in a semi-anecdotal manner. I promise that it's a lot more interesting than it sounds. 

The Video Store (#1)

Jason (store #1)

Mail-carrier by day, video rental store clerk by night, Jason was a thick-necked and thick-headed thirtysomething who made every action his meaty body performed look like it was the most exasperating task he'd ever performed. As I'm sure you can imagine, his abilities as anything beyond a warm body to have on-shift were incredibly limited. His other job prepared him for the mundane, movie-restocking half of it, but nothing in his life had prepared him for the other, more social half that involved actually speaking to customers in a coherent manner. He just didn't have the chops for it, to be frank.

But that isn't to say he didn't mean well. Generally speaking, he would at least attempt to weasel his way out of direct questions and film recommendations by making what he considered a joke. Usually these would fall flat, but every once in a great while, his humor would hit its mark and he'd squeeze a laugh out of an unsuspecting middle-aged mom or older gentleman. These moments were clearly his proudest on the job.

Aside #1: He had a habit of flirting with said middle-aged moms, despite being married. His motto was "just because I've ordered doesn't mean I can't look at the menu." In retrospect, he may have known more about life than I cared to admit at the time.

About four months after being hired, his wife gave birth to a baby girl. After what I'm sure was plenty of deliberation, they decided to name her "Abby Rhode _____," an obvious play on the Beatles album of the same name. Proud of what he clearly considered to be a creative homage to the musical styling of the Fab Four, he would never fail to mention her current age and (full) name to any customer that seemed like they would listen. It was nice to see him happy, but kind of obnoxious at the same time. He'd jumped on the weird baby name bandwagon, and was proud of it (as most of them are).
I know it's not that big of a deal, and it didn't make him any less of a person in my eyes. But he was still a pretty sub-par employee.

Tim (store #2) 

Middle-aged and ridiculously, happily gay, Tim was a "lifer" at the second location I worked at, having been there for almost exactly the same amount of time I'd been alive at the time (19 years). He was extremely defensive of every decision the company ever made, claiming that they knew what they were doing (even when our store started selling books that had nothing to do with movies). Considering the fact that he was payed just under $20 an hour for doing a lowly customer service representative's work from his nearly two decades on board, this was unsurprising.

According to other employees that had been there, his small apartment was filled wall-to-wall with hundreds of movies, with the alleged ratio being 90% VHS tapes and 10% DVDs.

Aside #2: He had amassed such a large collection of VHS tapes during the 90's that even ten years after the conversion to the superior format, he was still re-buying most of his collection. Even worse, I met him right around the time blu-rays were becoming prominent, so his collection was slowly becoming even more out of date (a fact that frustrated him greatly).

He (obviously) loved movies. His knowledge was vast, but his taste was not so generous. He was extremely picky when it came to his "yearly top ten," a list he posted around the store every December to alert patrons of what films he'd enjoyed over the last twelve months. He often avoided action films and those involving/catering to children (whom he despised for some reason), but would sometimes throw one of these genres into the mix, just for good measure.

Aside #3: If this sounds really egotistical, and you're asking yourself "Who the fuck cares about Tim's Top Ten?", well...everyone did. He watched 90% of the movies that were on the shelves week-to-week, and the regulars that had been coming to the store for years respected the hell out of him (and his taste in film). I have a feeling that if he took a shit in a DVD case and told a random customer to watch it "because it's great work," nine out of ten of them would go home and stuff said turd into their players, oblivious.

Tim's best quality however, was not his dedication to film. It was his dedication to the store. I am absolutely positive that the place would have burned to the ground a long time ago had he not been there to put out every fire that was started (figuratively speaking). The store ran because he was there, whether we all wanted to admit it or not. The entire store was meticulously organized and categorized correctly, this was something he made sure of every single day before he left. If you messed with his methods, you had to face his wrath. Even our general manager came under fire (and later backed down) at least once that I knew of. He was the most powerful employee, but he didn't let it go to his head, despite the fact that he should have. Our location was ranked consistently in the top 2-5% of the company as far as sales and general customer satisfaction went, and if it weren't for him we wouldn't have even cracked the top 25%. He was that crucial of a member.
One time, Tim came into work with a buzz cut, a drastic change from his usual style. Noticing this the day after as I was arriving and he was leaving, I said something about it. This is the conversation that followed:

Tim, your hair cut looks nice. Short hair suits you.

I hope you're kidding, it looks absolutely awful. The bitch at the salon butchered my head, and we had to chop it all off in order to even it out.

...oh. Well, I'm sorry to hear that, then. I really don't think it looks that bad.

Flattery will get you nowhere. It looks bad, and I know it.

...okay then. See you tomorrow, Tim!

Needless to say, he wasn't very happy with me for a few days after that.
When I left the store, Tim's goodbye to me was much more sentimental than I'd expected it to be. This was someone that had seen dozens, possibly hundreds of employees pass through that door over the years, but he pulled me aside on my last day and said that he'd actually miss me "sometimes." Considering his slightly caustic personality and prickly demeanor, this was about as high of a praise that I think I could have received.

Ed (store #3)

Ed was the most unique general manager I'd ever had before. Easily 6'5 and 250 pounds, he was built like a weightlifter and had the short temper of someone that regularly injects steroids.

Aside # 4: I'm not making any assumptions or accusations here, just being speculative.

Only a manager for a few months before my arrival, I could tell that he was intimidated by the fact that I came from a store that was doing so well, considering his was barely afloat at the time. He'd been trained improperly when it came to the overall "flow" of the store, an unfortunate and deadly side-effect of hiring outside of the company for leadership positions.
Despite this, he set aside his pride and would often ask me how the location I'd come from did things, and actually followed my instructions to the letter. Two weeks after my transfer, the store looked much better than it had when I was hired.

Aside #5: This should not be a testament to my mad movie-slinging skills (ha!), but rather a testament to his ineptitude in that area.

My constant suggestions and improvisations on his terrible organization of the store and the general floor layout eventually started wearing him thin though, and I could tell he was beginning to feel like I was being too critical of the way he did things. I couldn't help it though, ten months at store #2 with Tim had ingrained a sense of consistency in me when it came to matters of the store.
It almost made me uncomfortable seeing how little everyone except for Ed seemed to care about these matters, and I admittedly overstepped my bounds a bit and started politely suggesting that he start disciplining those that weren't actually doing their jobs. He did not take this well at all, and saw this as me trying to take his managerial position away from him; undermining him by trying to do his job.
I clearly wasn't trying to do this. I was just slightly overzealous in my execution when it came to wanting to transform my new location into a "perfect store." I tried explaining this to him several times, but he wasn't having it. But his paranoia got the better of him, and his mind was made up about me. By the time my month anniversary rolled around, he had begun making my life a living hell.
At first it started out subtly, with him making me do the so-called "bitch work." Rather than working the register like I was used to, I was bumped down to movie-shuttling duties. Then he began cutting my shifts, until I was only working fifteen hours a week. Soon after this, during an evening shift, another employee (a manager) showed me several texts Ed had sent her calling me quite a few different names that bore no creativity whatsoever.

Aside #6: These included (but were not limited to): "little fuck," "little fucker," "little shit," "little asshole" and "pipsqueak." Over the course of four messages. Do that math.

Offended and fuming, I asked her to send him a text saying that I was leaving before my shift ended, and never coming back. He immediately responded, calling me another classic Ed nickname and telling her he was going to head over to the store to confront me once he'd finished eating dinner. Not wanting to confront him, but also not wanting to leave my now-former coworker alone, I called three other employees before one agreed to come in and finish my shift immediately. Fifteen minutes later, he arrived and I said my goodbyes to the both of them, apologizing for the inconvenience. They said they understood, and I left.
I walked to my apartment and saw Ed driving to the store when I was less than ten minutes away. He didn't see me in the darkness, though I'm sure he was to preoccupied with coming up with things to call me to notice anyways.