Monday, October 21, 2013

Southern Record Services

So it was off to Southern Records, another record warehouse located in Hialeah, Florida.  This was a much smaller ‘red-headed stepchild’ version of Tone.  I pulled up to the front of the building in my battered beige Plymouth Valiant--the one that had been purchased for two hundred bucks at a police auction and looked up at the building with a heavy sigh.  It was a lackluster, beige building with a chain-link fence on the right, heavy locks bolting the fence behind which was the receiving department.  I could spy a few sweaty Cuban men hard at work unpacking record boxes.  The front door was bolted shut and one had to knock hard, then be buzzed in by Ron who worked in the 45 record department which was the first thing you saw when you entered the facility.  Ron was another (hey guess what? Musician!) who was stuck working as a buyer in the 45 department.  Many of the folks who worked at Tone or Southern did so because they were musicians and were hoping to somehow get discovered by someone famous while pulling records off the warehouse shelf.  Not sure how this was exactly supposed to happen, but heck, it beat working at McDonald’s.  Ron waved me in, and I headed straight for the time-clock which was dead ahead to clock in for my first day of work.

I walked through the warehouse and up the rickety homemade wooden stairs to the second floor of the facility.  When I say that the stairs were homemade, I’m not kidding.  It was like they had a few two-by-fours left over when the warehouse was through being built and someone said, “Hey!  Let’s build a staircase!”  I held onto the rail, my wooden Scholl’s exercise sandals thunking heavily on the narrow wooden planks.  Looking at the hand rail, I noticed that someone had carved into the wood “Big Ben Was Here”  How charming.  I had been instructed by Lynda to report to one of two upstairs offices where I would be greeted by a man named Danny.  I walked past more homemade wooden shelves, these built to house the cassettes and opened the door to my new office.

“Hello!  You must be Jennifer,” said a short squat Cuban man wearing an all white outfit including white shoes.  He had so many heavy gold chains around his neck that I’m surprised he was even able to walk upright.  His black hair was slicked back with what smelled like Vitalis.  But he was super friendly, welcoming me with a broad smile and a firm handshake.  “Sit down, sit down.  Let me run down and get you a cup of coffee while you get settled at your desk.”

While Danny ran downstairs, the entire second floor vibrating from the sound of him descending the stairs, I sat at my desk and took in my surroundings.  The walls were cheaply paneled in what looked like another leftover construction project castoff, the wall on the right was lined with an inventory card system just like the one at Tone, four desks were set up in sets of two facing each other so that you would have to stare at the person sitting opposite you.  There was a large plate glass window so that I could view the warehouse, this time from a high perch.  The walls were decorated not with rock and roll posters, but with grandma-style oil paintings of flowers in vases.  A wall air-conditioner blasted refrigerated air.  The room smelled of stale smoke and boredom.  I already missed the excitement of Tone and my friends Norman, Robbie and yes, even Lynda.  Suddenly the door opened and a middle aged Cuban woman carrying a brown sack lunch walked in and sat down at one of the desks.  She wore large glasses, her papery skin almost translucent.  “Hi, I’m Alicia,” she said as she sat down wearily.  Alicia was a family friend of Danny’s and he had gotten her the job at Southern Records.  Her job, as far as I could tell, was to answer the phone, eat lunch, file her nails and regale me with stories about her ex-husband who was an alcoholic.

“Here’s your nice hot coffee,” said Danny as he entered the room.  “Just the way you like it,” he said laughing at his little joke because he had no idea how I liked it.  The way he liked it was the way it was served; plenty of Cremora and four packets of sugar.

“Roach Coach!” came a loud announcement over the public address system.  I would find out that a Cuban woman named Barbara, who worked downstairs in the billing department (which was basically a desk set up right next to the one smelly cubicle of a bathroom) was the person responsible for announcement of the breakfast truck.  I can guarantee you that Barbara didn’t miss many meals.

“Jen, can I call you Jen?” said Danny.  “Come on, let’s go out and get some fresh air.”

We headed out to the Roach Coach which was the Cuban lunch truck along with all the warehouse workers.  Barbara, who had to stay at her post to man the phones yelled to Danny, “Get me some Cuban bread mi hijo and make sure they put extra butter and toast it just the way I like it.  Make it nice and greasy.”

I may as well have been working in Havana the way this neighborhood was set up; rows of warehouses with Cuban workers clocking in for a days work, a Cuban coffee stand at the end of the block which was not much more than a closet sized restaurant with a window where one could order coffee so strong that you’d need a twelve step program to rehab from.   And the Roach Coach--a truck run by a Cuban man and his harried wife who were busily frying up greasy offerings like fried egg sandwiches, Cuban pan de agua (Barbara’s favorite) and all kinds of junk food like candy bars and potato chips.  I decided to play it safe by ordering a canned grapefruit juice since Danny was paying.  There was one place in the neighborhood that had good food and that was the Jewish Deli that was a block away.  I suppose that must’ve been a hold over from times B.C. (Before Cuban).

I went to work that day, the good little worker that I was, posting the packing slips to the inventory cards, calling in my orders to the distributors, answering the phones once in awhile and waiting for something exciting to happen.  Danny, whose job  title was “Export Buyer” had gone downstairs to help out in the warehouse pulling orders.  I think that working in the warehouse was really the main job for him.  That and sweeping floors.  There wasn’t much to do here.  I walked down the rickety stairs to get a drink of water from the water cooler and talk to Danny out of sheer boredom.

“God damn it!” I heard a woman yell.  “Danny, where the hell did you put the order for the DeLeon’s?  They’re gonna be here soon and I want that ready.  Now!”

The woman was barreling towards me, a woman who was probably in her fifties but looked older on account of the heavy cigarette smoking she’d done all her life and what I imagined was some pretty serious drinking when she got home from work--probably to a single-wide trailer where she would don a ratty bathrobe and tune into Bob Barker and The Price Is Right.

“Danny!  Ya better answer me.  You know how the DeLeon’s are.  I don’t want them waiting around.”  She took a long drag off a Winston and eyed me suspiciously. 
“Who the hell are you?”

Once I got to know Jo Jo, she turned out to be an okay person.  She was a hard worker, kind of a mother hen to everyone in the warehouse.  She’d been with Southern Records for many years and probably died with a headstone that read: “God damn it!  Where’s my clipboard?”

The DeLeon’s turned out to be a family of a mother, father and a teenage son with red hair who owned a record store.  The father was a man who looked like he’d had a few nips off the ol’ bottle of whisky that morning; a little too happy as he stood by Barbara’s desk while she added up his order for payment.  He spoke in a boisterous voice, his arm resting on the counter by Barbara’s desk, while his wife and son roamed the warehouse pretending to be vaguely interested in various records and tapes while Mrs. DeLeon stealthily slid cassettes and whatever she could steal into her oversized faux leather bag that she’d probably purchased at a flea market.  I don’t think they ever got caught doing this.  I found out about it later from the person who would become our new warehouse manager.

As I stood by the water cooler, a cone shaped paper cup positioned under the dispenser, a short, nervous looking man with dark hair, neatly pressed jeans and a freshly laundered navy blue polo shirt cleared his throat and said, “Hi, I’m Mannis.  You must be new.”

Suddenly the public address system sprang to life.  “Macias, line two please,  Macias, line two.”  A Cuban man who didn’t speak a word of English ran over to the telephone on Barbara’s desk and snatched up the receiver.  Macias would work in the warehouse for a few months more before abruptly quitting without notice.  The day he quit, he was helping to unload an order from Columbia records.  This involved a fireman-style bucket brigade assembly line of one person throwing a box to the next and the next, to keep from having to lift and carry one heavy record box and risk hurting ones back.  As the assembly line was working smoothly, the person ahead of Macias threw the next box to Macias and he was simply gone.  Poof!  Vanished into thin air.

“Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like meeee.” A pleasant looking black woman with thick glasses and a serene smile was walking toward me and singing with her clipboard in hand.  “You must be the one and only Jennifer,” she beamed.  “I’m Barbara Siplin.  Work in the warehouse but also do the Gospel Record buying.  You need anything at all, you just come to me honey,” she said with a wink.

A few days later, Lynda came to check on me.  I was so happy to see a familiar face.  “Jennifer, sit down,” she said while positioning herself in the desk opposite mine, leaning back in the wooden swivel chair, the springs creaking.

I sat at my scarred desk, starting to get used to these little tete a tetes that Lynda liked to have with me.  I picked up my grapefruit juice, took a long swig.

“Things are going good at Tone,” she said.  “My dad’s given me control over both the companies, and I’ve got some ideas.  You were the first part of my brainstorm in bringing Southern back into profit.  I’ve decided to bring Norman and Robbie over to round things out.  Robbie’ll be the warehouse manager, Norman’s going to sit right here next to you as head buyer.”

Sounded fine to me.  Maybe we’d add a little excitement to the place.

The following day, Robbie DeFreitas and Norman Nessis reported to work at Southern Records, excited about their new roles in the company.

“I’m calling a meeting of all the warehouse workers this afternoon,” said Robbie as Norman was spooling calculator tape onto his scratched beige calculator and I was just hanging up the phone.  “Meeting’s at two o’clock.  Sharp.”

That afternoon, all the warehouse workers huddled around the large packing table that dominated the front of the warehouse.  Mannis, the short nervous guy looked extra nervous.  Barbara, the Gospel Record buyer and order puller clutched at her gold cross necklace.  Jo Jo took a long drag off her cigarette, muttering under her breath.  Ron, the 45 buyer raced in at the last minute, wiping his mouth from lunch.

“Hurry up!” yelled Robbie.  “I told you two o’clock sharp.”

We all stood silent, waiting for our new leader to take charge.  Hopefully someone would call him something other than Darth Vader.

“You know why I called you all here today?” he began.  “Lynda put me in charge as warehouse manager.  So what that means is I’m responsible for everything that comes in and goes out of this warehouse,” he said motioning around with his hands, one which held a lit cigarette.  He took a sip off his styrofoam coffee cup.  “I’m fair but I run a tight ship.  I work hard and I expect all of you to do the same.  Anyone has any problems, you come straight to me.  I don’t know what’s been going on around here before I got here and I don’t care.  This place is a joke.  But we’re going to work together and make it profitable again.”
I looked around at the others.  Everyone seemed to be happy that someone had finally taken charge.  Robbie would turn out to be just like he promised; fair and an extremely hard worker.  Many were the nights that the entire crew would go home and Robbie would stay behind in that creepy, dark warehouse with only the grey mice for company, working, working, working.

“I expect everyone to be on time.  Lunch is no more than thirty minutes.  And no lingering around the Roach Coach.  Now let’s make this place better than Tone.”

Once Robbie and Norman were on board, things at Southern turned around dramatically.  The goofy grandmother oil paintings depicting soothing images of flowers came down to be replaced with rock and roll posters of Supertramp, Gerry Rafferty and The Who.  Norman, who was a Trekkie, hung a mobile over his desk that had photographs of all the members of the Starship Enterprise, faces of Captain Kirk, Bones, Uhura, and the rest bobbing merrily from strings.  Someone decided to have some fun and cover Captain Kirk’s face with a photo of Norman.  It took him months to notice it as he was usually zipping in and out of the office, head bent in concentration, numbers dancing in his head as he made his way from the warehouse to his desk where he’d punch more numbers into his calculator or furiously scribble out a new order for cases of the new Michael Jackson album, Off The Wall.

Robbie could be found in the warehouse, keys jangling off his blue jeans, his dark curly hair towering over Jo Jo or Barbara as he patiently helped them pull orders, restock shelves, sweating it our in the receiving department when new orders arrived, working with customers in making sure they had everything they needed (and even some things they didn’t need that he would talk them into) and trying (unsuccessfully) to catch Mrs. DeLeon in the act of shoplifting.

Our little office of four desks was now full.  There was me, Norman and two new salespeople that Lynda had hired.

One was a southern boy with blond hair, a charming smile and the gift of gab named Dale Crigger.  “Used to work at MCA in sales,” he told me as he sat at the desk behind me and plunged into one of his stories about life on the road.  “Used to pad my expense account so’s I could take girls out for drinks,” he said as his face broke into a grin.

The other was a curly haired brunette named Nancy who used to be a nurse.  Why a nurse wanted to work in a smoke-filled office with a bunch of rocker wannabees is anybody’s guess.  “You know Jen,” she told me one day.  “When I was nursing, I had people dying on me all the time.  It’s not fun to be in a job where peoples lives are at stake.”  So I suppose talking to folks on the phone all day about what records and tapes they wanted to order wasn’t so bad.

I was promoted to Assistant Buyer, a title that was bestowed on me by Norman who decided that he liked the idea of having an assistant.  Norman also decided that he liked me but no one was supposed to know that.

Meanwhile, things were not going that great for me at home.  I had only been married for a few months and realized that I’d made a huge mistake.  I suppose a mistake is really more along the lines of ‘I forgot to pick up a quart of milk at the store today’.  This was more along the lines of I did something really stupid.  Really stupid.  My lawful wedded husband seemed like a fun enough person when I first met him, but the reality was that he was a young man who’d made it his business to see too much in his twenty years on the planet.  Oh, things like the inside of strip bars, the mirror staring back at him as he rolled up a crisp dollar bill and took a snort of cocaine, and the inside of a prison cell when he’d gotten drunk one night, handcuffed and thrown in the slammer.  A place he should’ve been kept until he rot if you ask me.  And those were his good points.  I needed to get out of this joke of a marriage.  I felt like I’d never had the chance to even date, getting married so young.  What was I thinking?  Now that I saw all the fun that people were having at work, and I was meeting people who lived their lives the way they wanted, I was starting to gain the courage to make a change in my home life.  And there were some interesting guys at Southern.  Single guys.  Guys like Jim.

Jim had moved to Florida from Michigan.  His brother worked at Tone and Jim had experience working at another record warehouse in his hometown so he was a natural.  The first day he started, he came into my office, all bushy hair and bright eyes smiling at me from behind a pair of aviator glasses.

“Hi, my name’s Jim.  Lynda told me that if I need to place a special order for a customer, I’m supposed to come to you.”

A special order was a record or tape that was usually so obscure that it was rarely carried by any record store, or even so obscure that it would have to be pressed by the record pressing plant especially for the customer.  Due to the relationships that I’d built with the various distributors, I knew who to call.

“Sure, what do you need?”

Before long when groups of us would go out to our thirty minute lunch down at the local Jewish Deli, or Taco Bell, Jim and I took to sitting next to each other.  If we needed to drive to wherever we were going, I made sure to sit in the front seat with Jim, my leg grazing his blue jean clad leg.  Jim was a low key, easygoing guy who certainly wasn’t looking for trouble.  That’s why he wasn’t too happy when he got an irate visit from my sleazeball of a husband one day at the warehouse.

“You sure do talk about Jim a lot,” my betrothed said to me one day after work as he was working his way through a six-pack of Budweiser and taking a hit off a joint.

I guess he was becoming suspicious about something that wasn’t happening.  I had a crush on Jim but that was about it.  Nothing ever happened between us, although now, looking back on it I wish it did.  All the heartache that stupid husband of mine gave me, it sure would’ve been fun if I at least had a make out session with Jim to show for it.

One morning as the warehouse was just humming to life, my husband decided it would be a good idea to show up at Southern Records and threaten Jim.  I don’t really know what happened because I was hard at work in my office upstairs, and maybe I really don’t want to know but there was some kind of altercation.  It was just terrible.  I felt like I wanted to die when I heard about it.  All because of me, some innocent person was collared and threatened by the man I lived with who probably had beer on his breath when he screamed in poor Jim’s face.  I was mortified.  Everyone in the office and warehouse had seen what happened.  My resolve to leave this marriage was solidifying.  But that wasn’t even the worst thing that happened before I finally decided to call it quits with this loser.

Saturday, October 19, 2013

Tone Distribution

I walked to the mailbox one day after work and found an envelope addressed to me. The return address said “Tone Distribution”.  I eagerly tore the letter open:

Dear Jennifer,

Please call me regarding a position we have available.


Diane Lamb

I was thrilled as I was so bored with the current job I was doing.  I was a reservation agent at a car rental company.  That may sound like an okay job but it was the most boring thing I’ve ever done.  I reported to an office across the street from Miami International Airport every day where rows of desks were set up and sat at a desk with a headset on taking calls from all over the country for folks who wanted to rent cars.  Nine times out of ten they wanted to rent the cheapest possible car and had zero interest in BS’ing about the weather.  In fact, there was a sign (one of the many signs posted around the facility) that warned us not to chat up the customers.  No BS’ing about the weather was one of the stern mandates.  I couldn’t wait until every day was over to get home, peel off my work clothes and hop in the pool of the apartment complex I lived in.

My friend Charlie, who worked at Tone Distribution (a music distributor in Hialeah, Florida) told me they had a position available and referred me to the person in charge.  I eagerly called the number provided on the letter.

“Good afternoon, Lynda Stone’s office,” said the English accented woman who answered the phone.

“May I speak to Diane Lamb, please?”

“This is Diane.”

“This is Jennifer Leavins.  I’m calling about the letter you sent?”

“Ah, Jennifer,” she said sounding pleased and chipper.  “You got my little note.  When can you come in for an interview with Lynda?”

I walked into Lynda Stone’s office in Hialeah wearing what I thought would be a good interview outfit for this record and tape distributor.  This was, after all, the music business and I wanted to look hip.  I wore a pair of bell-bottom jeans, a white shirt with a denim vest over it.

“It smells like Christmas in here,” I said, trying to make small talk.  It smelled like Christmas because it was Lynda’s birthday and the room was filled with a vast array of every kind of flower arrangement imaginable, not the least of which were dozens of roses.  I would learn that people sucked up (or is cowered a better word) when it came to Lynda.

The redheaded woman who sat behind the desk smiled a crooked smile, her eyes fixing on me, one of her slightly lazy eyes trying to keep up.  One could never quite tell where Lynda was looking because of that one unfocused eye.

“Have a seat.  I’m Lynda Stone,” she said extending her hand.  She leaned back in her chair, picked up a pack of Camel unfiltered cigarettes, shook one out of the pack, struck a match and inhaled deeply.

“Tell me about yourself.  Your friend Charlie works in the warehouse, right?”

I looked around Lynda’s office, gold records covering the walls, a large promotional stand-up cardboard cutout likeness of Debbie Harry from Blondie smiling down at me and was impressed.

“Yes, he does.  Charlie loves working at Tone.”

“Well, Jennifer what I’m looking for is someone who can keep my inventory up to date by posting the packing slip orders onto my card file system.”  She took another drag off her Camel and said, “The job’s kind of tedious but it’s really an important job.  My dad who started this company begged me to come work for him.  I told him just as long as I wouldn’t have to do paperwork.” She laughed ruefully.  “What a joke.  All I got around here is paperwork.”

We chatted awhile longer and Lynda must’ve liked what she saw because she hired me on the spot.

“Welcome to Tone,” she said extending her hand.  “I like hiring women because women are willing to work.  Men all think they’re rockstars.  Who needs ‘em?  Diane!” she yelled into the adjoining office, “Can you come in here a minute?  We got a new hire.”

Diane, who was Lynda’s personal assistant was an attractive blonde woman who always dressed in tight clothing which accentuated her top-heavy figure.

“Hi Jennifer,” she said in that sexy English accent.  “Looks like you’re part of the team.  Welcome,” she said smiling broadly.  Oh, Lynda, I finally found someone who could cast that hard hat in solid gold.”

Diane rolled her eyes at me good naturedly and said, “That’s what I love about this job.  Neve a dull moment.  Lynda had me running all over for a gold plated hard hat to celebrate the opening of her record store.”

I left Lynda’s office and walked into the vast warehouse, floating on cloud nine.  I was going to be in the music business!  The warehouse was almost the size of a football field and on the shelves were record albums and cassettes with music of every artist I could imagine.  All my favorites like Led Zeppelin and Heart and everything in between were warehoused there.  Loud rock music played over loudspeakers, while the P.A. system intermittently cut in paging one person or another.  “Darth Vader to the buyers office,” I heard announced at one point.  Darth Vader?  That’s strange.  I found my friend Charlie, dressed in blue jeans and a black t-shirt that said “The Omen”, clipboard in hand as he pulled an order for a customer.

“Hey Charlie,” I said, a huge smile on my face.  “I got the job.”

“That’s great!  Call me after work, okay?”

I left the building, walking past the 45 department which was the section of the warehouse where the 45rpm records were housed, a couple of long-haired rocker looking guys waving to me and yelling hello over the strains of The Sex Pistols.

Reporting to my first day at work, I walked into the smoke filled office of the buyers department, the walls covered with promotional album posters.  The Rolling Stones Mick Jagger’s plump lips smiled from one poster, somebody named Blowfly, a man who looked like a pimp, leered suggestively from another.  Eric Clapton’s Cocaine played on a stereo system that was placed on a counter underneath a plate glass window which overlooked the warehouse.  One wall was covered with rows and rows of filing cards which were designed to keep track of the inventory.

“Hi, my name’s Ilyana,” said a pleasant young Cuban woman.  “I’ll be training you.  I would keep the job, but I’ve got a baby on the way,” she said while patting her tummy.

I looked at all the cards with the stacks of packing slips overflowing her in-box and mentally rolled up my sleeves.  Ilyana gave me a tour of the warehouse where young rock star wannabees roamed up and down the aisles of the warehouse pulling records off the shelves and readying them on a large packing table to be boxed and shipped to record stores all over the country.

Back in the buyers office, we set about the job of posting the incoming merchandise from the packing slips onto the inventory cards.

About thirty minutes after I’d arrived, a tall, lean man with dark curly hair and a mustache and beard bustled into the office and sat at the desk on the opposite wall.  He leaned forward, busily rifling through important papers and started punching out some numbers on a large desktop calculator.  Calculator tape spewed furiously out of the top of the machine, printed numerals trying to keep up with the fury of this mans hand.

“That’s Norman,” said Ilyana as Norman glanced up in our direction and offered a nod in between sipping his hot coffee, chewing on a pencil and tapping more numbers into the calculator.  “He’s the head buyer.”

Another man ran into the office saying, “Ily, you got the pages updated on the phonolog?”  The phonolog, I would find out, was an encyclopedia of music cataloguing.  One could look up music in this enormous book by artist, genre, song, album name, record company name.  This was the cornucopia of music information.

“That’s Mark,” said Ilyana.  “He works in the promotional department and in the warehouse.”

Mark picked up a beige phone which hung on the wall, pressed a button and in a serious baritone voice, said, “Darth Vader to the Buying department.”

After a few minutes a young Italian man with black curly hair and a plethora of keys jangling from a heavy keychain attached to his belt, sauntered into the office.  I guess I’d just glimpsed Darth Vader.

“Why do they call him Darth Vader?” I asked Ilyana.

Overhearing this, the man who I would find out was named Mike, chuckled and answered, “Because I’m in charge.”  Mike was the even-tempered warehouse manager, a man that his employees could easily talk to.

Employees bustled in and out of the office all morning.  One was a girl named Michelle, an anemic looking vegetarian who wore long skirts, birkenstock sandals and ate rice cakes for lunch.  Another was a man named Fred, who sounded like Ethel Mermen on acid.  Fred liked to sporadically run into the office yelling, “Dirt Alert! Dirt Alert!”  when he had gossip.  Another was a guy named Robbie who had dark, curly hair, a mustache, a mischievous smile and a clipboard.  Everyone used a clipboard around here it seemed.

That afternoon, Lynda’s assistant, Diane escorted me into her office where she trained me on how to call in the orders for new records and tapes to the various record companies like Columbia, WEA, MCA and Polygram.  I would become very popular with these companies because they all love the person (even if that person is a minimum wage worker) who buys from them.

“Hey Diane, somebody sent you flowers,” said one of the warehouse workers as he strode into the office with a crystal vase filled with two dozen long stemmed red roses.

Diane smiled broadly while opening the card, then blushed.  “My husband’s such a sweetheart.  I guess things went well with a deal he’s working on.”

I spied the card after she set it on her desk.  “Meet me in bed for the rest of your present,” it read.

Later in the day Lynda walked into the buyers office beaming at me.  “This is great!  Look at how far you’ve come in the posting,” she said looking at the few packing slips that were left to post.  “Have you met everyone?”

She turned to Norman for the serious business of number-talk but he was suddenly jovial and relaxed in her presence.

“Hey Lynda!  You know I spent years getting educated in college, right?  Well, we had a chemistry class one time where I learned about hormones.”  Here he paused for effect.  “Do you know how to make a hormone?”

Lynda, looking perplexed, answered, “No.  How?”

“You don’t pay her.”

“Oh, you crazy man,” she said swatting him with a sheaf of papers.  “You’re always making me laugh.”

I loved working at Tone.  The atmosphere was relaxed and fun but we all worked hard.  The people were all easy to get along with, lots of laughter and good natured banter.  Lynda, who was my direct boss pretty much left me alone, walking into the buyers office now and then to tell me what a great job I was doing.  Rock music was always playing and all the employees (especially those in the buying department, like me) got free promotional records from the salespeople who were working so hard to get our business.  That’s why I was very disappointed when Lynda brought me into her office one day to tell me that I’d be moving to another location.

“Sit down,” she said, motioning to the chair in front of her desk and lighting a Camel unfiltered.  “When my dad brought me to work here, I didn’t know it meant I was going to be taking over not one, but two companies.”  She took a long drag off her cigarette, thoughtfully.  “You know, I went through a pretty hard time a few years back.  Had a kid, went through a divorce, ended up in the hospital.  All this before my thirtieth birthday.  I’ve been watching you and I like what I see.  You work hard.  Some of these guys,” she rolled her eyes, “I don’t get it.  All they’re good for is fucking and lifting record boxes.”

I sat across from Lynda, smiling sympathetically.  I’m not sure exactly what it is about me, but for some reason, people seem to like to tell me their deepest, darkest secrets.  Maybe I just have that kind of face.

“I’m moving you over to our sister company, Southern Records.  It’s just a couple miles away.”  She smiled that crooked smile at me.  “You start Monday.”

Friday, October 18, 2013


I had long been fascinated by Manx cats because when I was seventeen, I’d adopted a white Manx cat from a woman who had a litter of kittens.  A Manx cat, if you’ve never seen one, is basically a cat without a tail.  The first one I had was a pure white cat which made her look exactly like a bunny rabbit.

“You know we can’t get a cat,” said Norman one afternoon as I was pestering him about getting a pet.  “This apartment complex doesn’t allow pets.”

Norman lived in an apartment complex way down at the end of Kendall Drive in South Miami.  It was one of the first apartments complexes built in that area, an area that has since been dug up, dynamited, sawgrass cut down, alligators corralled in god-knows-where, and built up to be a thriving metropolitan area.  But in the late 70s, there was only the one long road, Kendall Drive which had a few scattered businesses, but mostly vegetable and fruit stands.  At the end of this long lonely road, stood one apartment complex called Tennis Villas, where Norman lived.  I’d moved in with him after I escaped from that big fat joke of a marriage I was involved in and was ready for a new chapter.

“But nobody’s ever going to see it,” I begged.  “I don’t plan on letting the cat be an outdoors cat.  So who’s ever going to see it?”

I could tell he was starting to soften, and I already had the local newspaper laid out and open to the classified section and a few listings circled that said “free kittens”.

“Here, look at this one,” I pointed, “It says they rescue cats and try to find them good homes.  Are you really going to let these poor kittens starve?  And guess what else?  They say they have a Manx kitten.”

We pulled up in front of a ramshackle house in South Miami--white house, red tile roof with a few tiles missing, overgrown grass surrounded by a chain link fence and parked the Toyota.  I could already see cats cruising the yard.  We cautiously walked up to the front door and rang the bell.  The front curtain moved and a woman’s face momentarily appeared, then darted away quickly.  The front door opened to reveal a woman of about five foot, rail thin, a few tendrils of dark hair escaping from a red bandanna that she wore over her head.

“Name’s Jody.  You two here about the kitten?”

I’m going to try to break you in to what this place looked like very delicately on account of I don’t want anyone scratching at their skin thinking they have a bad case of Chiggers just by reading this.  How else to explain it other than if you looked up the word “packrat” in the dictionary, you’d see a picture of Jody’s house.

“You said you were interested in the Manx?” asked Jody.  “Come on back and out to the carport area where I keep the babies.  I’d offer you two something to drink but I haven’t had time to wash dishes in a few days.”

We trailed Jody through the living room, past stacks of newspapers, some in English, some in Spanish, (don’t ask me why the Spanish as Jody was about as hick as they came) past the multi-tiered cat perches constructed from wood covered with orange and white shag carpeting, through the kitchen where I glimpsed the open pantry which had cases of Top Ramen in ‘natural’ shrimp flavor and extra large bags of Plain Wrap dry cat food and past the kitchen sink overflowing with dirty dishes.  Stepping on the cool linoleum floor in my bare feet, I felt something sticky which will remain unidentified.  Cats were everywhere.  Black and white cats, calico cats, orange and white striped cats, white cats, black cats, fluffy cats, short haired cats.  And even a hairless cat.

“That’s Q-Tip,” said Jody as she passed the unfortunate hairless cat and stroked it delicately.

“I just love cats,” she said.  “Always have.  Grew up with cats and they’ve pretty much saved my life.”  I didn’t ask her to elaborate on that one for fear I’d hear some stories about her being locked up in a small closet as a child with a cat, her only friend.  Jody looked like the type of woman who’d trap mice to feed the cats if she had to.

“And here we are,” she said stepping down the three steps from the kitchen and onto the carport.  “The nursery.”

For some reason, Jody thought it would be a good idea to keep all the nursing mothers outside.  I guess they like the fresh air, and as an added bonus, if Jody should forget to feed them, the mother could simply run onto the overgrown lawn where she’d be certain to catch a mouse or a lizard or who knows what else suitable to feed her babies.

Norman had never had a cat before and I have to give him credit for being a good sport.  I glanced over at him and saw him forcing his best smile for Jody.

“Like I was telling you on the phone, I used to have a Manx cat,” I told Jody.  “They’re just the coolest cats.  Their personalities are almost like dogs.”

“You got that right, sweetie.  I got one left.  Let me grab her away from momma.”

Jody bent over one of the nursing boxes and pulled a baby kitty away from its mothers teat with a sound that reminded me of someone uncorking a bottle of champagne.

“Look at this little sweetheart.  Isn’t she just as cute as she can be?”

And she was.  The kitten was a tiny little bundle of joy, no bigger than an Idaho potato.  She had calico colored fur, mostly black with orange and beige thrown in.  She looked up at me and squeaked out a little mewling sound.  I was in love.

“Oh, I just love her!  Looking over at Norman, I asked, “What do you think?  Isn’t she just perfect?”

“She really is a cute little thing,” he said, delicately holding her in both hands.

“Okay Jody, she’s the one we want.”

“Great.  But I’m going to have to give her shots before you all take her home.  And you have to promise to get her fixed.”

Don’t ask me how, but somehow Jody had all the necessary inoculations ready for a young kitten because she went into the kitchen, opened the fridge and returned with the shots our kitten would need.

“Just hold her still while I give her the shot,” said Jody bending over the oblivious kitten and injecting her with three different injections.

Right about this time we heard a loud cat fight, screeching and hissing coming from the kitchen.

“Thomas!  Goldenrod!  Cut that out now!” she yelled and the cats actually stopped.  This was a scary place.  One that may have worked for her and the cats, but I’m pretty certain this woman was never going to get a date.  What was she supposed to say on her profile?  Looking To Save The World, One Feline At A Time.  Call Me.  I don’t think so.

Norman and I took the most adorable kitten in the whole wide world home with us, then made a trip to the local K-Mart where we bought an array of cat paraphernalia; plastic cat bowls, a litter box, a large box of Friskies Seafood Buffet flavored cat food and of course, lots of cat toys, one of which was a toy plastic grasshopper that the kitten just loved.

“So, what do we name her?” I asked Norman as we were fixing dinner that night and giving the kitten an extra helping of Friskies.

He looked down at the little bundle of joy and said, “Princess.  Remember that show Make Room For Daddy?  That’s what the dad liked to call his daughter.  And she really does look like a little princess.”

And that is how Princess came to live with us.

A few weeks later, we got a notice on the front door of the apartment.  It was an official looking document which advised us that we were in violation of our lease agreement.  No pets allowed.  Get rid of the cat or move.  What did we do?  I think you know the answer to that one.  It looked like it was time to find a new place to live.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Westward Ho!

You'd be surprised at how much can fit into the back of a small Toyota pickup truck that's covered with a shell.  Seven boxes of record albums, a twenty gallon fish aquarium with a stand and filters, clothing, a 22 rifle, a 33 millimeter camera.   In the small front of the truck which seats two, you can fit a small pet carrier with a manx cat inside, and by the passengers feet you can even fit a medium sized German Shepherd.
We had decided that with Southern Records being closed, my divorce and the Liberty City race riots, it might be a good time to pack up all our worldly belongings and set out on a cross country adventure.
"Some of my best friends live in Santa Fe, New Mexico," said Norman.  "That'll be a great place to visit.  And a couple that I went to college with live in Oklahoma and have been bugging me to visit them for years.  Let's go."
That was about the extent of our plan.  My mother was not too happy that I was leaving my hometown of Miami.
"You know your dad is really upset that you're leaving," she told me one day in an attempt to get the guilt to kick in.
I figured it would be a good idea to go talk to my mom and dad, I owed them at least that much, a visit in person.
I showed up at my parents house, the house that I'd had so many memories of my youth, so many good times in Miami Springs on Hunting Lodge Drive.  There wasn't much for me there those days.  Susan had gotten married, moved to Orlando and already had a baby, Monica was living with her soon to be husband who she'd end up having a son with, and moving to New York.  Jim and Carol were getting ready to make one of their many moves for his job, Laura had moved to Brownsville, Texas with her husband.  My first attempt at marriage was a big fat joke, which I was more than eager to get away from.  It was a time of change for all of us.  I was excited about putting some miles between me and my first twenty years.
When I walked into the living room, my dad was sitting in his favorite chair reading the Miami Herald.  Mom had a concerned look on her face, she wasn't ready to cut the apron strings yet.
Best to jump right in and talk I figured.  "Dad, mom tells me you're upset that I'm moving."
My father looked up at me from behind his reading glasses, blinking and said, "No.  I'm not upset."
I don't know if this was a man who didn't want a confrontation, something my mother was itching for, or more likely, he was open to his daughter going on an adventure.  After all, he'd left his hometown of Beaver Falls, Pennsylvania right after graduating high school and never looked back.  There wasn't much to say.  My mother wasn't going to get a fight out of him or me.
The "No, I'm not upset," was all I got out of Dad.  No lecture about being careful on the road, no pep talk about how great it was going to be to be on a cross-country adventure.  Nothing.  Just, "No, I'm not upset."
Mom and I huddled in the kitchen, where she stood wringing her hands.  She still hadn't met my boyfriend even.  "Yennyfair, you really going to do this?"
"Yes, mom I'm going to be fine."
"Well, I want to meet the person you're moving with."
A couple of days later, after we had the Toyota packed to the gills, Norman and I planned to meet my mother in the parking lot of the record store where he worked.  It was his last day.  Norman was one of the nicest men I've ever dated; polite, funny, caring and loving.  My mother had nothing to worry about but she didn't know that.  As we waited in the parking lot, I saw Mom pull up in the gold Chevy Impala, a worried look on her face.  We all got out of the car and made introductions.  I can't really remember any of what was said other than my mom hugging me and saying to Norman, "Take good care of my baby."  I leaned into my mother as she gave me a fierce hug.  She smelled of Oil of Olay.  That would turn out to be the last time I lived in Florida.
We spent the very last night of my life in Florida at our friends Larry and Bill's condo in Kendall.  Larry and Bill were two good ol' boy drinking buddies that Norman and I had befriended at the Crown Disco Lounge in South Miami.  That was a place that we liked to hang out at after work for a night of drinking and listening to disco music in the dim lounge with the large dance floor that featured a glittering disco ball in the center.
"You all are stayin' with us tomorrow night," slurred Larry over a scotch and water.  "You guys need a place to stay, me and Bill here are always happy to help," he said while hugging his brother, a tall redneck with dark hair who tried to look as white collar as possible.  "And you bring that dog and cat of yours too."
We had already moved out of the migrant farm worker house in Florida City and needed a place to stay just for the one night, so it was off to Larry and Bill's bachelor pad where they showed us around.  The condo was a small two bedroom cracker box, on one of the many lakes (read rock quarry with reptiles swimming in it) that graced the Kendall area; an area like all of South Florida that was really meant as a home to the wildlife of the everglades, but instead was built up by hungry developers to house families and hard core drinkers alike.
"This here'll be your room for the night," said Larry, opening the door onto a bedroom with one queen sized bed.  "You guys can have these army blankets I got from the good ol' U S of A," he said while handing us a couple of scratchy green army blankets.  "They'll keep you warm while you're traveling."
Bill continued the tour, a slight sway to his step from getting a head start on drinking that day.  "This here's the bathroom.  Cushy toilet seat's for my hemorrhoids, and that fake salt in the kitchen's for my high blood pressure," he said with a laugh.  "Feel free to help yourself to anything.  Me and Larry's heading out to Crown.  Got us some serious drinking to do."
Norman and I hunkered in for the night, getting King and Princess settled into the bedroom.  We fell asleep under the scratchy army blankets and were awakened around two thirty in the morning to King letting out a low growl and bark as Larry and Bill staggered into the condo for the night.
"Just doin' his job," I heard Larry laugh.
Bright and early, and we were off, Larry and Bill waving to us from their post on the front porch, cotton robed and steaming mugs of coffee in their hands.

We had decided ahead of time to take turns driving one tank-full at a time.  We had a supply of cassettes with music like The Beach Boys, The Mama's and the Papa's, The Rolling Stones and The Young Rascals.
"Listen, I can do all the voices of the Beach Boys," said Norman as he sang along with one of their many harmonious songs.
I was excited to be on the open road.  The further we drove through the long state of Florida, the more I felt my old life slipping away from me.  I felt free for the first time in awhile.  We drove and sang, drove and ate fast food, drove and laughed, drove and drove.  I had made the right decision.  I was happy.

Amarillo, Texas is located at the very top of Texas, the area known as the panhandle.  We were driving on Interstate 40, the main highway through that section of Texas, which is long, hot, dry and flat--an arsonists dream.  The panorama goes by in a monotonous repetitive scene--miles and miles of government issued fencing which lines the highway to hell.  It was Norman's turn to drive and since we didn't have air conditioning in the truck, I was trying to cool off by sticking my head out the window hoping for a breeze.  It felt like someone had taken a giant blow dryer and was blowing it right in my face.  King lay by my feet, unresponsive in the heat.  Princess curled up in her cat carrier, eyes closed, pink tongue panting, trying to get some relief from the heat.  It was getting late in the day, the shadows getting long.
"Let's find a place to stop for the night," I told Norman who was busily looking for signs of civilization.  There were none.  We'd already passed through the last chance stop for gas many miles ago, a dusty place where a desiccated old man wearing a white mechanics jumpsuit had jumped up from his position on a folding chair, tossed aside the sports section, and pumped gas for us.  We'd seen nothing but tumbleweeds and scrub brush since then.  Suddenly, a small town loomed in the distance.  Was it a mirage or was that really a Motel 6?  It was!  The neon sign outside the two story L shaped building advertised $19.99 a night in blinking neon (blinking because the sign was threatening to burn out).
“Looks like they’ve even got air-conditioning,” Norman mused as we pulled into the dusty parking lot, white gravel crunching underneath our tires.
The first thing I noticed about the Motel 6 was the sparkling blue pool surrounded by a chain link fence, hard white plastic lounge chairs haphazardly strewn about the concrete pool area.  How great would it feel to jump headfirst into that pool?  We stopped in front of the office, Norman pulling the parking brake up as the Toyota slammed to a stop.
The reception area, if you can call it that, of the Motel 6 was a cracker box sized room with a long white counter directly in front, rows of wire holders on the left which held an assortment of brochures detailing all the fun we could have in Amarillo, Texas. Get Your Kicks On Historic Route 66 or Camp in Palo Duro Canyon.  I’d be camping in the Motel 6 tonight, thank you very much.  A bespectacled man wearing a white t-shirt advertising a local plumbing company turned the considerable volume down on the black and white TV that was blaring an episode of The Price Is Right.  Bells rang and grandmothers who waited to be called to Come On Down screamed.  What is it about game shows that makes the contestants look like they’ve consumed way too much Red Bull?
“Can ah hep ya folks?”
“We’d like a room for the night,” said Norman while extracting his brown faux leather wallet (the one he’d bought at K-Mart) from his back jeans pocket.
“You folks have pets?” said the hotel manager while craning his neck past us and looking suspiciously out the window at our truck in which sat an almost full grown German Shepherd.  “Twenty-five buck cleaning deposit.”
We made our way, key in hand to room sixteen which was right next to the ice machine and vending machine, the latter offering a tempting array of hydrogenated, high sugar delicacies like Butterfinger bars and my personal favorite, Cheez-Its.  We opened the door onto home, sweet, home.  The room featured a queen sized bed with one scratchy sheet, two flat as pancake pillows, an open-air closet with three rusting wire coat hangers, a black and white TV hanging near the ceiling, which would be certain to cause a crick in the neck to the viewer, a sink with a large crack running through the middle, a bar of soap about the size of a postage stamp, and an air conditioning unit against one wall.  I walked over to the air conditioner and turned the knob onto high and was rewarded with a blast of cold air, the fan blowing my long blonde hair behind my head.  I walked into the toilet and shower area, flipped the light switch and the fan came on at the same time.  That’s how you can always tell the grade of hotel you’re staying in--either the fan is separate (in high class resorts) or it’s all one unit (in dives like the Motel 6).
“I’m going to walk King,” said Norman while clipping the black leather leash onto King’s choke collar.  “Why don’t you put on your suit and I’ll meet you in the pool when I get back.”
I let Princess out of her cat carrier, her small tailless body creeping out with suspicion.  “Hey sweetie, you hungry baby?” I said while filling her plastic food bowl with Friskies.

The pool area was devoid of any decoration at all.  No poolside bar with a Calypso band playing.  No scantily clad cabana boys offering me ice cold lemon-aide, no plush lounge chairs.  There was basically: the kidney shaped pool, about ten cheap molded plastic lounge chairs haphazardly set out on the hot concrete, a torn net on a long pole resting against the chain link fence and a sign advising me what to do if someone drowned.  I was to check for an open airway by tilting the victims head back, then I was to run to the nearest pay phone and dial 911.
I dove headfirst into the sparkling water and was thrilled with the feel of cool water rushing against my skin.  Popping my head up, I could feel the hot, dry blow dyer air doing its best to dry my face.  I floated on my back as a family of four; mother, father, two requisite screaming boys entered the pool area, the boys squealing with laughter, executing perfect cannonballs into the water, splashing happily.  Norman followed behind them, one scratchy white motel towel draped over his shoulder.
“Guess what?  There’s a Taco Bell in town,” he said.
We loved Taco Bell.  Norman had worked at a Taco Bell during college and told me that they used real beans in their bean burritos.  Good enough for me.
“Really?  Where?  Let’s go.”
“Well, I don’t really know where it is but I saw a Taco Bell cup on the sidewalk when I was walking King.  We’ll ask the manager.”

As the sun set, we sat at the small table by the window in our room, King and Princess sleeping contentedly on the lumpy bed, and ate our feast from Taco Bell; bean and cheese burritos with green sauce, bean and cheese tostadas with extra cheese and gobfuls of hot sauce squeezed out of individual hot sauce packets.  We showered, and as I climbed under the covers, Norman grabbed a handful of quarters off the dresser.
“This is so funny.  I’ve never seen a vibrating bed before,” he said while feeding a quarter into a coin slot that was positioned at the top of the headboard.
The entire bed started to shimmy and shake, sending a surprised Princess jumping off the bed, her fur standing straight up as she streaked underneath the bed for cover.  The vibrating bed was supposed to be relaxing and soothing but really it just felt like a train was going by.  Once the shaking finally stopped, I closed my eyes and fell into a deep sleep dreaming of cabana boys.

After you drive through Albuquerque, New Mexico--a city that looks like a giant had been playing, built a sandcastle city, then inverted a large plastic bowl over the city to trap in all the exhaust fumes and dust--you start the climb up the long winding road to Santa Fe.  It’s sixty miles of elevation, landing you in the capital of New Mexico which is at an elevation of 7,260 ft. above sea level.
This charming artists community is filled with beautiful adobe homes, historic cathedrals, a town square where the locals like to relax on a park bench or play chess while the Native American’s sell their handmade turquoise jewelry.  The town features authentic Southwestern Mexican restaurants like Tomasita’s where I tasted the most delicious green chili burrito I’ve ever eaten, and bars.  Lots of bars.
“I told my buddy, the Hip, that we’d meet him here,” said Norman as he pulled the Toyota into the parking lot of a local watering hole.  I can’t remember the name of the place but it was probably something along the lines of The Double Down or The Tequila Slammer.
‘The Hip’ was a tall blond long haired guy who looked like Greg Allman.  He strode into the bar with a decisive air, a few of the local girls smiling in admiration as they took long pulls off of their Coors beer bottles.
“Hey man, good to see you!” he said to Norman pulling him into a bear hug.  “And this must be Jenny.”
Norman had been visiting Santa Fe for a few years because his friends Jim Lang and The Hip, who he’d grown up with in Nutley, New Jersey, had relocated there.
“Lot’s of work here if you want to work in the service industry,” said Hip.  “It’s either you got money and one of those big adobe houses out in the desert or you’re working behind a bar or flipping burgers.  Jimmy got a job as a chef so he’s making pretty good money.  The day’s are warm and the beer is cold, so who am I to complain?”
From there we made our way to Jim Lang’s house, a humble adobe home in a residential neighborhood.  Loud music blared from the living room when we walked in, King on the leash, Princess patiently waiting in her cat carrier in the truck.  A tall man wearing a faded red plaid shirt who looked like Grizzly Adams barreled into the living room from the kitchen carrying a couple of cold beers for us.
“Name’s Woodie,” he said.  “Welcome to Santa Fe.”
The house was turning into pandemonium as more people arrived, laughing, smoking and drinking.  Suddenly, Woodie opened the back door and a pig ran into the living room.  This was not a smart pet pig like Arnold on Green Acres.  This was a regular, barnyard pig that was not sure what it was doing in a living room as it ran circles around the coffee table.  King jumped up onto the sofa in alarm without even bending his legs.
“That’s my pig,” said Woodie.  “I’m plumping him up for a big barbecue we’re gonna have.  So, don’t be thinking of naming him.”
A few days later, as we were in the local bar enjoying a cold beer, Woodie walked in and told me, “I named the pig.”
“What?  You can’t name the pig.  You’re going to get attached to him.  What’d you name him?”
“The pigs name is Dead.”
We all thought this was one of the funniest things we’d ever heard.  Drinking too much Coors beer can do that to you.