Over the past couple of years, I've discovered something about myself. I am a horrible conversationalist. However, I'm a decent storyteller. If we're around a campfire or a poker table, at company party or a family holiday gathering, I can talk for hours as long as I'm telling a story.
If you're around me long enough, there are a few stories you'll hear me tell more than once. The following are the six stories you'll inevitably hear if you spend enough time with me.
Encore Entertainment's Shoplifter
I used to work in a record store. Well, not exactly. It was a record store, but it was also a video rental store. This was in the late 90s when CD sales and video rentals were in their prime. My manager was a burnt out hippy that used to jam with The Afghan Whigs. Two of my best friends worked there. So did a couple of the kids from my youth group - one of whom would become my roommate when I moved out of my parents' house.
Other than the ex-hippy boss who was on a smoke break for 45 minutes out of every hour, that store was a fun place to work. The best way that I've found to describe the workplace conditions is that it was like a cross between Clerks and Empire Records. The annoying and clueless customers that Dante and Randall discussed in Clerks? We got them. Like the twitterpated tween looking to buy the brand new Backstreet Boys album the day it was released; she asked if we had it in stock while standing next to a life-sized cardboard cutout display of the Backstreet Boys that was stocked with about 30 copies of the album. And the guys playing hockeyon the roof in Clerks? We played hockey in the store. Those customers asking for that one movie about that one guy and a girl? We talked to people like that daily. Discussing the philosophical merits of Star Wars? We did that. Singing and dancing with whatever music we wanted blaring over the house speakers like they did in Empire Records? Yeah, we did that too. The people that I worked with even reminded me of the characters from those those two movies.
There's one scene from Empire Records that always brings back fond memories: the one where they catch the shoplifter. There was no greater thrill than catching someone in the act of stealing. And there was one kid that came into our store - looked a lot like the shoplifter in Empire Records - and was using a razor to cut through the cellophane packaging of CDs and try to slip the disk out of the jewel case. We would occasionally find these empty jewel cases stashed around the store so we tried to keep a look out for the culprit. When I finally saw this kid doing it, it was a rush of excitement. Jeff and I played a quick game of cat and mouse after watching the kid pocket a CD. We had the doors blocked so there wasn't any way that he was going to get out. We finally cornered him and escorted him to the back room to wait for the police to show up.
By this time, the hippy manager had either quit or got fired, and his replacement was a college aged girl who had obviously been raised in a very sheltered environment. She grumbled about the kids buying Korn, Limp Bizkit, and Master P CDs. She gave dirty looks to the customers that rented rated R movies. She also started cracking down on the selection of movies and music we played during store hours. To make that point, she made us listen to nothing but Eric Clapton's Pilgrim album on repeat from open to close. She did the same thing with Natalie Merchant's Ophelia. She was a prude in every aspect of the word. She made my conservative upbringing look like a bleeding heart in comparison to hers.
She didn't spend much time on the sales floor. Where her predecessor was on a permanent smoke break, she spent most of her time in the back room counting receipts and looking through inventory logs. She was back there when Jeff and I brought in the shoplifter. The back room was divided into two sections - a stock room/janitorial area and the office. Both rooms were windowless with one metal door exit to the back parking lot where we would take the trash to the dumpster. Between the lack of windows and the tight seal around the door, that area would be pitch black without the lights on, so the lights were always on.
Once the shoplifter was standing in front of our manager, Jeff and I let go of his arms. The kid was dressed like the punk rocker stereotype: baggy wide legged jeans, patches safety-pinned to his jacket, lots of pockets to hide things. Unfortunately, nothing was in those pockets. Sometime while he was running around the store, he had ditched the stolen property. By the time we caught him, he had nothing on him. And when the door between the back room and the rest of the store was closed, he took every effort to prove he didn't have anything on him. "I got nothing on me." He kept shouting it over and over again. When we let go of his arms and our manager had turned to face him, he ripped his belt out of his jeans then pulled his pants and boxers down around his ankles and lifted his shirt up high enough to reveal his ribs. "See, I told you, I got nothing on me."
He stood there, full monty in front of our manager - whose expression was nothing more than shock and horror. We're pretty sure that this was the first time in her life that she had ever seen male genitalia. She just sat there, slack jawed and staring. As usual, every light in the office was on. There was not a single dark corner for her to go hide and escape the sight of this scrappy kid shaking what his papa gave him right in front of her face.
She asked us to turn off the lights and keep an eye on him until further notice. She left the room and did not return until the police arrived. The CDs he attempted to steal were located and he was taken away. As thrilling as it was to catch a thief, nothing beats seeing the look on our manager's face as she tried to reconcile what it was that she was seeing.
My first gig
Shortly after Bekah and I moved to Sioux Falls, I got a job as a DJ. Over the next year, I would play for several wedding receptions, school dances, and company parties. Much like working at Encore Entertainment, this was one of the funnest jobs I've ever had. However, I had a handicap for a DJ in the Sioux Falls area: I didn't know much about country music.
Up until that point in my life, I didn't care for country music. I had grown up in the Seattle suburbs during the grunge era. As I got older I got into punk, ska, and hardcore. I was familiar with pop, electronica, and hip-hop... but not with country. When Bekah and I started dating, she listened to nothing but country music. I was into alternative and hard rock. Rather than argue over what to listen to when we were together, we compromised on rap and R&B. So I entered the entertainment industry a little stunted - especially for working in a Midwest community in South Dakota.
Thankfully, my first gig was a baptism by fire kind of introduction to country music. There were clues that I was getting in over my head. The group that hired me was the Yankton Singles Club. Yankton is a small city along the Missouri River about an hour and a half south and west of Sioux Falls. But they weren't holding their event in Yankton; they were holding it in Gayville - a diminutive podunk hamlet a dozen miles east of Yankton. That was the first clue that I overlooked. The second clue was on the gig sheet where they listed off their music requests. It read: "We want a lot of country music and old time rock and roll. And by old time rock and roll, we mean Beach Boys. None of that Beatles stuff."
Knowing nothing of the area or the culture, I rationalized the location of a community center meant that I would expect a wide variety of ages attending the dance. I hadn't yet realized that the community center was the only building in Gayville that was big enough to house a social event. When I say that Gayville is a tiny town, I'm not kidding. There's a church, an elementary school, one bank, and a few bars. And the community center that lacked air conditioning. There isn't even a gas station. After I was done setting up my equipment, I was hot and thirsty. The only place in town where I could go get a soda was Wild Bill Cody's bar.
For this "singles" event, I assumed that I would be the youngest person in the room. I was only 24 at the time. But I wasn't prepared for how true that assumption would be. While I was expecting a bunch of 30 and 40 somethings that were either divorced or never married, what showed up were a bunch of 50 to 70 year olds that were widowed or divorced. After looking at the gig sheet and seeing the town as I drove in, I should have known.
But I learned a lot about country music that night. I discovered a few songs that I liked enough that they became regular tunes in my set lists. Those older than expected singles danced their hearts out with one exception. About two hours into the three hour gig, one of the club members came up and asked, "Do you have that song by Lee Greenwood, 'I'm Proud to be an American?' Do you know the song I'm talkin about?" I confirmed that I knew the song, looked through my gig book and found that I did have it. He asked for me to play it after the next song.
As requested, I got the song queued up. Faded out some Clint Black song that had been playing and faded in 'I'm Proud to be an American.' Then something weird happened. Everyone stopped dancing.
They formed two parallel lines down the length of the community center - both facing each other. Women on one side, men on the other. They all stood with implausibly perfect posture and saluted. They held the salute, standing motionless for the duration of the song.
I fumbled through my gig book trying to figure out what to play next. I kept thinking How do you follow that up? There is so much that could go wrong. A fast song could seem irreverent but a slow song could come across as a buzz kill and fail to get the crowd dancing again. I got another song queued within the last couple of bars of Lee Greenwood's patriotic tune and hit play just in time to keep the music going. Dancing resumed. And I drove away that night completely confused over what I just observed.
Go home, you're hungover
After moving to Coeur d'Alene, I got a job as a corporate trainer. My first class was filled with some memorable personalities, but none stood out more than Jon.
Jon cursed like a sailor, a habit he blamed on his time in the military. Even when he was self-censoring his obscenities, he talked like a gangsta wannabe. I'm sure if I talked to him about that, he would have blamed the military for that habit too. After all, he was a North Idaho boy. He was smart, but he was also cocky, flirtatious, and obnoxious. But he showed up and did the work that he needed to do. He was usually respectful toward me even if he wasn't respectful of anyone else.
He made it through training and passed his test. The last day of class was supposed to be review and a graduation party. That was the first day he didn't show up on time. He strolled in two hours late wearing dark shades and the hood to his sweatshirt pulled up over his head. I shouted, "Good morning, nice of you to join us," as he made his way into the classroom. I could see him grimace as I called out to him. When he sat down, he put his head down on the desk and wrapped his arms up over his head like he was trying to block out all sensory input. I yelled at him again, "What's wrong Jon?" He just groaned. I let the class go to break but kept him with me so that I could find out what was going on.
He admitted that he was hungover with what he though might be the worst hangover he had ever experienced. Through out the rest of class, I made an effort to talk louder than normal. Every time I addressed Jon, I shouted his name.
He finally got to the point where he couldn't stand it any more and asked, "Why do you got to keep yelling at me?"
"Well," I said, "Either you can let me give you crap for the rest of the day, or I can send you up to talk to HR about showing up to work hungover. Your choice."
He chose to let me continue giving him crap.
The next three stories that I'll inevitably tell to anyone that hangs out with me enough are stories that have made it into the blogosphere in one form or another.
Shadow of the Locust
There was that one time that I hung out at a rap concert with Sony and Traa from P.O.D. You can find that story HERE.
Pizza Delivery Driver vs. The Town Drunk
A few years ago, my sister-in-law asked for stories that she could post on her blog. I gave her THIS ONE, a story that reinforces the idea that guns and drunk people should not mix.
The Pillsbury Dough Boy and the Burger King Security Guard
The friends that I hung out with when I was younger were mostly church kids. We didn't drink or smoke or do drugs. We didn't do much to get in trouble. But when we did, we made sure that it was epic. Like the time a security guard jumped on my car. Why was there a security guard at Burger King? And why did he jump on my car? You can read about it HERE.
For those of you that know me in real life, you've probably heard at least one of those stories. If not, just wait. It will happen.