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:
Please call me regarding a position we have available.
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.”