Thursday, September 06, 2018

COLUMN: Co-Op


If there's one thing I'm good at, it's issuing overly-dramatic and potentially life-changing vows, only to go back on my words as if they were never uttered. "I'm THROUGH procrastinating!" "I will NEVER let my house get this messy ever again!" "That's the LAST time I ever eat an entire Harris Pizza!"

Words to live by -- except I never do. But there was one such assertion I've remained true to my word on for decades. I swore it in the middle of a particularly hissy fit sometime in the mid-Nineties, but I meant it:

"As God is my witness, I will NEVER work retail again!"

I'm now sorta hoping God wasn't eavesdropping that day, because yours truly is the newest part time employee of Moline's Co-Op Records.

Me working at a record store shouldn't be THAT much of a shocker. Listening to music, collecting music, and talking about music are pretty much my three favorite hobbies. I might as well be getting paid for it. Besides, it's not my first rodeo in music sales.

When I got out of college, I got hired on at a now-defunct second-hand CD shop. I thought it would be my dream job -- well, except it was part time, offered no benefits, and paid minimum wage.

But then I got to know the owners. They turned out to be less music junkies and more like money junkies out to make a tidy profit, and my charming slackerish ways weren't met with much love back then. I was constantly getting admonished for not tucking my polo shirt in straight. Don't get me wrong, there's certainly something to be said for wearing professional appropriate attire in the workplace. But in the "professional" setting of a used CD store, an untucked shirt IS appropriate attire, and it's usually best if said shirt is ripped, weathered, and contains the faded logo of a band that NO ONE'S ever heard of except you.

Instead of hour-long discussions about the greatest drummers in rock history, I got lessons on how to wipe down countertops. Instead of sharing musical passions, they shared how to take advantage of elderly customers. My tenure there was short-lived. Thankfully, Co-Op was waiting in the wings to offer me a job at a REAL independent record store.

My days at Co-Op were great, and quickly proved that every stereotype about record store clerks is pretty much true. YES, we would sit around and have heated arguments over which Beatles album was best. YES, we'd have contests where you'd look at a customer and try to figure out which in-store music would get him to ask what was playing. YES, we were all pretty much insufferable dorks. It was great.

Eventually, the real world had to win out. I was about to fall off my parents' insurance, they were growing tired of paying a college graduate's rent, and I wasn't exactly raking in the big bucks. A Shane in a record store is like a kid in a candy shop -- and back then, you could just take home whatever music you wanted and they'd subtract it off your payroll. That's how I went down in history as the only employee to ever receive a NEGATIVE paycheck. "It's payday! You owe us $72."

So I folded up the concert tees, put on some nice clothes, and took what I thought to be a short-term job at the local newspaper to get my parents off my back until I figured out what I wanted to do with my life. 23 years later, here we are. No regrets.

But last fall, I got an interesting proposition from my friend Reid. He owns the Co-Op Records on Moline's Avenue of the Cities, and he was in a bind. Reid runs the store with a couple dedicated employees who work tirelessly, but even music dorks need time off once in a while. That, friends, is where I come in.

It's not a big commitment -- I'm lucky to work 2 shifts a month -- but I am back in the retail game. I'm still the same insufferable dork as ever, but I'm now selling music to kids half my age, which I guess makes me an insufferable elder statesdork. If I can recommend a record that'll change a kid's life the way music once changed mine, mission accomplished.

I've worked a few shifts already and it kinda feels like home, but with a few exceptions. I can operate a newspaper's entire complicated software system, but put me in front of simple cash register and I panic. I thought I knew music until I started getting questions from kids about bands I've never heard of. And how 1990's Shane stayed on his feet all shift is beyond me. 20 years and 100 pounds later, I leave work dreaming of epsom salt.

But I'm happy occasionally reliving my retail days. I've even been trusted with a key to the store. Frankly, there are days I don't trust myself with my own house keys. So if you fancy some records and see a chubby guy behind the counter struggling to stay on his feet, say hi. I promise I'll give you a great deal, and I clearly never go back on my word (cough).

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