A Special Circle Of Retail Hell

The first time that I ever participated in a store inventory was in college. It was a small record store – a dozen of us, max – and it lasted until about two o’clock in the morning.

It was a drag.

Several years later, working in a record store so large that we had a staff of sixty or so to cover the fifteen hours we were open each day, I gained a dose of perspective.

This store took inventory two times a year and each and every one was a unique experience with terrifying surprises and maddening twists.

One was in the winter and, the other, was in the summer. Both were feared and loathed, but I found the one in winter – coming less than a month after Christmas – to be particularly excruciating.

While the store opened at nine, an hour which – for those who worked opening crew – was early but not painful, inventory began at six.

Six translated to three and a half hours past when the bars and clubs had closed.

Six, unlike nine, was both early and painful.

Winter inventory took place over a couple days – yes, days – in January and, at that time of the year six o’clock was also dark and frigid.

Our entire staff – all sixty or so of us – would stumble in and mill about our receiving dock. As certain pairs arrived together, it was a good time for everyone to freshen up their mental lists of who was hooking up with who.

As some of us worked completely different schedules, the event was a bit like a reunion of the living dead and a little like rival prison gangs having a summitt.

Doughnuts would be provided because there’s nothing like adding an impending sugar crash to a lack of sleep and/or a hangover.

And, then, the fun would begin.

Even though it was the ’90s, everything was counted by hand, one rack at a time, written down on paper, and, then, counted again to verify. If the counts differed by more than some nebulous amount, that rack was scrapped and redone.

By mid-morning certain racks had already earned a reputation and were referred to by number much like hills were referred to in a military operation.

Upping the degree of difficulty was that we engaged in this effort while the store was open and customers were shopping and, even on a slow day, we’d do ten grand in business.

It was a two-day death march – rifling through thousands of vinyl imports crammed into understock – with complete hopelessness setting in at the end of the first day, knowing that the next day was more of the same.

Usually, mercifully, the first day usually ended by six in the evening, but, during the mother of all inventories, we adjorned day one at two in the morning – twenty fun-filled hours after we had started.

(one quiet Goth chick actually cracked and quit – I’m surprised no one ever got shanked)

Often, there were must-see shows on that night between that many of us had to see. A dozen or more of us once went straight from inventory to see World Party and 10,000 Maniacs at an outdoor ampitheater.

During 10,000 Maniacs set, we learned that World Party was going to play an unannounced gig at a small club. So, most of us ended up being out well past three and needing to be at work in a few hours.

Somehow it was all far less exhausting than a typical day at the office these days.

Here are four songs by the vastly underappreciated World Party…

World Party – Ship Of Fools
from Private Revolution

I had immediate interest as soon as I learned of World Party in 1986. The band was, essentially , a solo venture for Karl Wallinger who had been a member of the highly regarded group The Waterboys for two albums.

Private Revolution was, like the music of The Waterboys, literate stuff, but Wallinger infused the music with elements of funk, soul and ’60s pop that gave his debut effort a far less somber vibe. Much of the album was focused on the ruin being done to the planet.

Though not explicitly mentioning the environment, Ship Of Fools warns of impending trouble on planet Earth, but it’s so damned catchy that it could have been Wallinger singing his shopping list and it would stick in the head.

(and it somehow got aired enough by mainstream radio to make it a Top 40 hit)

World Party – Way Down Now
from Goodbye Jumbo

I had the chance to meet Wallinger at another small, private show and he struck me as a fascinating character – a tiny, slightly impish, rock and roll leprechaun.

He still had a lot on his mind when he released Goodbye Jumbo in 1990 and Way Down Now found him still quite concerned about the future. Whether he’s paranoid or prophetic, it’s impossible not to get sucked into a song so sonically engaging. This one always reminds me of The Stones.

(I think it’s the “woo woo[s]”)

World Party – When The Rainbow Comes
from Goodbye Jumbo

And then, here and there throughout each record, there would be a song like When The Rainbow Comes, a glorious, flower-power blast of sunshine and optimism. Oh, there’s a few grim references like “It’s be-bop-a-lula, then baby you’re dead.” but the sun is most definitely poking through the clouds.

When The Rainbow Comes might be my favorite song by World Party. I dig it’s granola-munching vibe and the guitar that reminds me of George Harrison.

World Party – Is It Like Today?”
from Bang!

Is It Like Today? was another pretty stellar number. The music has always made me think of a slightly more pop Don’t Go Back To Rockville by R.E.M, jangly and twangy, tinged with regret as it chronicles mankind – “out in space, hey, fixing all the problems” – meeting God.

God, understandably, expresses concern.

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3 Responses to A Special Circle Of Retail Hell

  1. Chris S. says:

    Ahh, 1987. I was 14 years old, and at the time I was really growing disenchanted at some of the stuff coming from the Top 40 radio station. Some of it was refreshingly good, like Crowded House, the Fine Young Cannibals’ version of “Suspicious Minds” and Prince’s “Sign ‘o’ the Times.” However, much of the rest was the same synthesized dance beat and AC music geared towards those Baby Boomers who hadn’t yet switched to “old people” stations (remember, I was 14).

    During that spring, I heard “Ship of Fools” a few times and loved it, even though I never picked up on the artist at the time. And later on, when Robert Plant released a different single called “Ship of Fools,” I was accused of being forgetful whenever I asked some of my friends if they remembered. A few years later, while in the Army (yes, I was serving at 17), I picked up a compilation that set me straight.

    Another 14 years plus a decade later, “Ship of Fools” still sounds fresher than the other 1987 offerings by Whitney Houston, George Michael and company.

    And before I go…I was once the manager of an electronics store. We did quarterly inventories, and those days were absolute hell because we were still expected to deal with customers and daily business. Then, at the end of the day, our district manager would show up to help sort through the numbers and it was always a hassle:

    “This is a mismatch.”

    “We sold two after this was counted.”

    “Okay, what about this one?”

    “Sold those too.”

    Then we had to go back and verify it. I’m surprised that none of my employees ever quit in the two years I did those.

  2. nat says:

    In big chain stores, inventory is now done by companies hired to do such things. At Borders, all hands were required to attend, just to run for things the inventory company needed, mostly our in-house inventory numbers. It was a very long drag.

    And now to World Party. Goodbye Jumbo is one of my favorite cd’s of the 90’s, which is pretty good because it came out in 1990. Chris S. is correct: they still sound fresh when listening in 2011.

  3. […] (if you wish more grisly details, they’re here) […]

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