In this new column, Kathy Iandoli tells stories from her five-year stint as a record store sales associate. This one is about pee.
A guy pissed on the floor my first day of work.
He was an older man, shopping in the first aisle all the way in the back where the Jazz and Celtic music was located. He was wearing a beige trench coat and a fisherman’s hat. My station was at the front of that same aisle. I was the Rap, R&B, and Electronica monitor, which was arguably the worst section to clean. There wasn’t a ton of music to organize, but for some reason all of the fuckheads loved pulling out 2 Live Crew’s As Nasty As They Wanna Be CDs from the section to rub on their JNCO jeans covered genitals and just lay the discs back on the top of the section like they’re returning a fucking cafeteria tray. The record store was located in a strip mall in suburbia, the kind of town where random celebrities lived that no one cared about. I took the job because Empire Records told me to. At least, that’s what I decided. That movie came out in 1995, and I spent the entire year stalking this record store before they agreed to hire me as holiday help in November of 1996. My first day of work I wore a plaid skirt like Liv Tyler. I never wore another skirt to work again during my five-year run as a “sales associate.”
I remember they handed me my nametag attached to a lanyard with a “Kathy” sticker made from a Brother P-Touch. I was encouraged to “jazz up” the tag with stickers or tiny pictures from magazines. I found a picture of Lauryn Hill’s face in some blurb from a store copy of Vibe and taped her to my nametag. I was obsessed with the Fugees back then. I even used my new employee discount to purchase the Fugees Bootleg Versions remix album that dropped that very day. It was the first of many purchases that would suck up my entire paycheck week after week. I’m now the proud owner of well over 20,000 CDs. When I arrived at work that Tuesday afternoon, I put the CD aside to buy during my dinner break so I could listen to it on my Sony discman while I ate my choice of either McDonald's or pizza, the only options in the strip mall outside of a supermarket. It was after dinner that the old man and his sea arrived.
I was organizing the sub-genre’d Trip-Hop section within Electronica (my boss was a stickler for proper categorization, though it’s become my thing too as of late), I looked to my left and saw this man whip out his tiny wrinkled penis and just start peeing everywhere. He wasn’t playing a game or anything; rather, he couldn’t control it. The urine spit across the Jazz section, onto the Celtic section, hitting the Chieftains right in the face. I literally just stood there confused. Our back room was located directly behind the peeing man and while my boss David was in the back eating dinner, he must have caught a glimpse and yelled, “Yo!” The old man tucked himself back into his pants and walked toward the front door. He tipped his fisherman’s hat to me, “Have a lovely day,” and walked out. He was neither the first nor the last of psychotic customers to enter that establishment.
After the incident, my boss was standing in the doorway of the backroom, while I was standing at my section, facing each other like we were about to have a duel. I was ready to argue semantics with him. Technically that wasn’t my section, so I don’t have to clean it. That whole back aisle belonged to Bill, who was a short portly gentleman obsessed with Celtic music. He stood behind the register the whole time during the peeing, polishing scratches off defective CDs only to repackage them and sell them again. He had a whole weird station in the backroom with special cleaning fluids, screwdrivers, glue sticks, the whole nine. He considered it a mark against his success as a music seller if he couldn’t polish the shit out of a broken CD and somehow bring it back to life. He would even say things like, “We lost Bowie,” when the CD was pronounced dead. Bill had to have carried catch phrases in his pocket. If you came to work tired, he’d say “Don’t burn that candle at both ends,” or if you felt nauseous he’d open the cash register drawer and say, “Ya gotta hurl?” I’m still not fully convinced he wasn’t a robot. He never took a break to eat, even during Christmas Eve, which was a marathon day of working 6 AM to 6 PM. He was running on lithium and enthusiasm I decided.
I glanced over to him to try and read his face for some sort of reaction. I didn’t know this man at all the time. He grabbed the paper towels and said, “I’ll clean that up in a jiff!” like he was headed to fucking clean lollipops in Candyland. The rug was completely saturated too, so my boss poured that sawdust looking vomit cleaner on the puddle so Bill could vacuum it up. I was floored by how well he took the accident. Little did I know he was an emotionally vacant man in his 50s who lived with his mom (or perhaps it was just himself in a wig). He was a very sweet man though when he wanted to be, except when he called Lauryn Hill a harlot for using the word “shit” in a song. He later forgave her in 1998 when she released The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill without curses. I never forgave him though.
My boss skipped back to the front of the store. I was wondering why he was so goddamn cheery too, until I later learned he would smoke laced joints out the back door with his dealer. “If you think this is something else,” he barked, “wait until Black Friday!” Black Friday was arriving a few days later on November 29th at the heart of the Tickle Me Elmo craze. We had two Elmos to sell for the entire day. They would leave the Elmos on the back room shelf with the door open so customers could see them and be teased before Friday. I looked at the two Elmos staring at me, then at Bill mopping up urine-drenched sawdust, and I almost quit. The biggest problem Liv had at Empire was a pill-popping addiction and a slutty best friend. Here I was about to be clobbered by suburban assholes with a Sesame Street fetish in just a few short days and already experienced customers with bladder problems.
I was working in a record store, though. The coolest job to have in high school. Ever. As I stuffed my discman and new Fugees CD into my Yak Pak purse and headed out the door from my first semi-successful day in retail, my boss yelled “So Kathy, will we see you tomorrow?”
“Yup,” I replied. “You will.”