Sunday, December 16, 2007

(Twenty Years) Part 4: Black Sabbatical

Shift change at Adanac, sometime in the summer of 1990.November 30, 2007 marked 20 years to the day since I started at Record Den, which has inspired some thought and reminiscing on the person I was then, what the job was like as the years went by, and what has kept me around until now ...

It's difficult for me these days to remember a time when I was not working at Record Den: a little more than half my life to this point has been spent in that tiny bump on the retail end of the music business. I'm pretty sure I wasn't intending to stay in the biz this long when I was eighteen years old (I must have been thinking that I would only be able to put off finishing college for so long), but the way time seems to slip on by when you aren't paying attention coupled with a never-ending desire to work around music has stretched this job through two decades now, with a third looking like a decent probability as of this writing.

I think I've mentioned before in this arena what a terrible slog January can be at retail. Going from December, a month that progressively increases in volume to a deafening roar, you suddenly drop within a week to a near total lack of activity as the industry enters a month long post-holiday siesta and the pace of everything slows to a tortoise-like crawl. Frazzled. twitchy, and fed-up with people (and retail in general) after being put through the wringer yet again, you stumble into January in what amounts to a mild state of post-traumatic shell shock. If you can hold it together for those first four weeks afterward, you can start to feel the biz returning to life and the pipeline begins to spit out interesting new releases once again. Until that happens, however, January at retail can feel like you are damned to walk an endless, featureless desert with no water in sight.

There have been three Januaries where I had become so bored and dispirited and burned-out from the Christmas before that I wound up squarely in Greg's cross hairs as a result. On two of these occasions, I found myself reduced in hours as a punishment and was forced to find additional employment elsewhere to make ends meet. In early 1994, I wound up working mornings (and the odd afternoon) for a local family-owned computer business, basically doing a lot of phone/desk work and occasionally going out on-site to help with network installations when needed. A couple of years later, I put in time over the spring and summer at the local Suncoast outlet, doing a lot of the same things I did at Record Den, but with a much different, far more corporate-organized feel to the proceedings. In both cases, I left these jobs amicably after a few months when I was asked for an increase in my availability, but both times the Den wound up winning my loyalty.

Early Donnie, Joe, Jordan, Mark and Jonathan. The bane of my existence: 19891990, on the other hand, was something altogether different. Christmas of 1989 had been awful, and taking some time away from the store (and Great Lakes Mall in general) was a move suggested to me by Greg during a walk through the mall one morning a few weeks after. His grievances were dead-on: my mind was no longer on doing the job, and I wasn't even trying to pull my own weight anymore. For me, the fact that the Record Den had transmogrified from a record store to a New Kids On The Block accessories outlet at the same time that a lot of personal shit hit the fan had made working there an exercise in masochism. Trying to find some kind of solace and healing in music that winter wasn't working when all I was doing was selling New Kids tapes, CDs, buttons, shoestrings, posters and pillows all day and night. Coming out of that holiday season, I was a fried, hollow shell running on autopilot and Greg, in effect, fired me after a few weeks had passed in the new year and I had still not snapped out of it. As I left work that day, he made it clear to me that the door was being left open once I had figured out what I wanted to do, but for me, it felt like the end of the line.

A quick bit of advice for those of you in the midst of bleak emotional turmoil of your own design: don't move away hoping that a new setting will miraculously make everything all better, because it won't. The idea of actually moving out of the area hadn't occurred to me until my best friend asked if I wanted to move in with him down in Columbus that spring. At the time, this seemed like a great idea, and I accepted, but my problems were still attached to me on a very long, invisible, elastic string and they eventually caught up with me a few weeks later.

I wasn't completely miserable in Columbus, but it was obvious this arrangement was not going to work out long term. Luckily, my roommate delivered the "I'm moving to a new place ... alone" ultimatum before I had the opportunity to damage our friendship, but the question of what I was going to do since I couldn't afford an apartment on what I was making had to be answered quickly. The idea of asking for full-time hours at the nearby Drug World (the place of my employment) made me blanch immediately: I had not cottoned to that place at all in the two months I had worked there. Worse, none of the other job ideas I'd applied for back in April had ever panned out. In the end, the only choice left was to come back home to Mentor, tail between my legs, admitting to myself that this had not been a greatest idea ever.

Luckily, I had barely finished moving back in to my old room when a friend of my dad offered me a job at his business over that explosively hot and rainy summer. I took the offer, more under pressure from my dad to do something than from any real enthusiasm on my part.

A day on the job at Adanac (bilge-like industrial coolant not pictured).Initially, I sorely regretted my acquiescence: working at Adanac Industries meant another factory job, which I'd sworn three years previous that I would never do again. But this time, with my dad on my back and a boss who had once been a good friend and neighbor to the family, I knew I couldn't do half-ass two weeks and bail out like I had at Rainbow Plastics. No matter what, I was pretty well stuck for the time being. Worst of all, this was the kind of hellish factory work that you see in bad movies or music videos: sloppy, smelly, dirty, mindless, loud and, being second shift, during the hottest part of the day. This was not shaping up to be a fun summer, to say the least.

All that said, Adanac was also a solitary job: only one other person worked with me during that shift, and he was usually on the other side of the shop floor from me. With only two 15 minute breathers and a half hour lunch to make small talk with my co-worker, there was little for me to do besides feed pieces of metallic slag into the roaring machines, inhale the horrid spoiled-milk stench of machine coolant, listen to WNCX or WMMS on the tinny factory PA, smoke (a habit I'd idiotically picked up while living in Columbus and would keep at for another 16 years) and reflect upon what an immature antisocial dick I'd been over the previous nine months.

Over time, Pete (our once-neighbor who'd offered me the job) started pushing me towards learning CAD and other functions of the company's computer system. For some reason, I had this reputation with my parents as some kind of tech-whiz (probably since I was always programming the family VCR and helped wire up the stereo), and that undeserved reputation had apparently reached Pete's ears. While I relished the chance to recline in the crisp, air-conditioned peace of his office, I had absolutely no clue what on Earth Pete was talking about with the computer half the time. After a week or so of being shown around the system, we both agreed that I should get back to school in the fall and take a load of computer courses to get myself up to speed: if nothing else, getting off that shop floor once and for all made for one hell of a carrot on a stick.

It was a deliberate act on my part that I picked out a school schedule that had me in class during the afternoon three days a week, which would cut down my hours at Adanac considerably. I wasn't trying to be obstructionist, but the idea of working for 40 hours a week in that hellhole while taking on a full course load of was not how I wanted to spend that fall, especially considering that I was taking on what might as well have been a foreign language. Also, I also wanted to make an impression on Pete that I was serious enough about learning computer languages and programming to take a hefty pay cut while doing so.

In reality, the reduced schedule wouldn't be so hard, financially: my social life had been pretty quiet over the summer, I wasn't driving (though that changed once I had re-enrolled at Lakeland), and all I did on most weekends was sit around and get lit with my brother and a few of his friends. I had been pretty well paid at Adanac, so I felt like I could focus directly on school and not spend a lot of time worrying about how I was going to get by on a week to week basis. A good plan all around.

Starting up at Lakeland that fall for the first time since the spring of 1989 was probably the most excited I have ever been to go back to school. While I certainly had not been enjoying myself at Adanac, the psychological seclusion of working on the floor all summer long in those conditions had managed to leech away that choking aura of self-pity I had been carting around for nearly a year. I felt refreshed, motivated, and ready for a new start.

Then, a problem arose: Pete's boss at Adanac (a gruff, hulking old man with whom I had never exchanged a word with in my entire time there) was not at all pleased with this new schedule of mine and wanted that changed, pronto. This demand might have been workable if I'd been informed of it before classes had started that quarter, but it became a severe stumbling block being told a week or so later.

Incensed at this development (and greatly miscalculating my importance to the future of Adanac Industries), I told Pete that I was taking these classes in an effort to learn what they wanted me to be able to do, after all, and that it was a little late to switch all of this around. You guys wanted me to go back to school, so I did, damn it! You can't have it both ways! Pete, in the nicest way possible, then told me that his boss would not be needing my services if I could not be available five days a week.

I had always liked Pete and none of this was his doing, so I calmly accepted what he said, and then informed him of my decision to stick with school, hoping I was calling their bluff by doing so.

The cards were laid down. Adanac wasn't bluffing. Oops.

The decision on what to do next was obvious, but tucking my tail between my legs in order to carry it out took a bit more self-coaching. It was a few days after leaving Adanac that I realized for the first time in months that I was missing the Den, missing the flexibility of the schedule, missing the beehive of activity and excitement as another fourth quarter drew near, and missing the camaraderie most of all, since I'd experienced none of that since the day I was let go. A few days later, while visiting a friend at work in the Mall, I headed down to the store and went to lunch with Greg. We sat in the newly-finished food court of the now slickly-refashioned mall and discussed the previous year, the previous Christmas, and what had happened with me over the past few months and how I missed what I had lost. Finally, I asked him if I could have my job back. After a few moments of thinking about it, Greg thankfully said yes.

Starting work that following weekend felt like coming home. As with school (and life itself), I felt restored, improved, relatively serene, and ready to face to world from behind the retail counter once again ... this time, apparently for good.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

I like reading these. Keep them coming. :]