Suggested Audio Jukebox:
 Dire Straits “Money For Nothing”
 R.E.M. “Shiny Happy People”
 Elton John “Tiny Dancer”
 Adam & The Ants “Prince Charming”
 Wham! “I’m Your Man”
 Jerry Lee Lewis “Great Balls of Fire”
 Man Machine “Man Machine (Cybernetic Intervention)”
 Frank Sinatra “Mack The Knife”
 The Offspring “Pretty Fly (For A White Guy)”
 The Sisters of Mercy “Lucretia My Reflection”
 Chas & Dave “Rabbit”
 Vera Lynn “We’ll Meet Again”
 Snoop Dogg “Gin And Juice”
 John Williams “Star Wars”
 Karyn White “Superwoman”
 Kool Moe Dee “I Go To Work”
 Dr. Baker “Kaos”
 Nena “99 Red Balloons”
 P. Lion “Happy Children”
 Thomas Dolby “She Blinded Me With Science”
I’m always on the lookout for inspiration on what to write about next. Some mornings I am greeted by nothing more than a blank canvas and have the time it takes me to guzzle down my morning caffeine fix to work out a game plan or else risk wasting precious time with the dreaded inactivity. Other days it is made easy for me thanks to a little thing called suggestion and today is one such day. You see, one of my dear friends and former colleagues dropped me a line last night and proposed it might be cool for me to take a short trip back to the late nineties, when I plied my trade at a small independent video game retailer based in one of the most densely populated shopping malls in the entire United Kingdom. I was tickled pink by his suggestion as my memories of this ten-year stint are decidedly fond and I’m more than happy to don those rose-tinted spectacles and put in another shift, for old times sake.
Nowadays, independent stores are few and far between and we have large supermarket chains and the increasing trend for downloading pretty much anything our hearts desire at the simple click of a button to blame for that. Back then indies were ten a penny and the best thing about them was that staff actually had a clue what the fuck they were blathering about. Enter one of the larger franchise stores and ask them how to complete the final boss in Metroid Prime and they’d likely blow a circuit and commence frothing at the maw like Ian Holm. There is a reason for that as part of the employment criteria is a full lobotomy as all staff are required to uphold formation at all times so as not to tarnish said store’s reputation. Enter an independent retailer however and you are more likely to be greeted by the waft of stale farts and that happens to mesh rather well with a laid-back atmosphere.
As I mentioned, my tenure at this modest family run establishment was around the ten-year mark and, of all my time in full-time employment, none was quite so pleasurable. To be honest, I’m fairly sure I’m a bad luck omen as every position I vacate, companies fold soon afterwards. My first full-time role was for one of the three largest medical recruitment agencies in the country and they arrived at liquidation a couple of years after I moved on. The store I am about to discuss now went out of business not too long after I bid them adieu. I even worked for the local council and, midway through my stint, the whole world stumbled into recession and half of my colleagues were promptly laid off. Even the beloved video store I worked at on weekends as a wide-eyed teen ended up wilting like a geriatric’s ball sack, thanks to the emergence of the dastardly Rupert Murdoch and his Sky television glee-spoiler. Could it be that I’m actually a curse?
Anyhoots, my time as a clerk was rather marvellous and introduced me to one of the most gloriously cosmopolitan groups of people I have ever had the good fortune to sharing oxygen with. I was employed in a management capacity and entrusted with the day-to-day running of this cosy little squalor pit, and I snapped up the offer in a heartbeat. Regrettably, this proved the camel’s back breaker for my first marriage as, having punched way above my weight in snagging the homecoming queen, I fumbled that by practically announcing that I set to be crowned “king of the geeks”. These were her words, not mine, although the word geek is now one of far greater stature than it was back then. Two weeks after accepting the role, she kicked me to the curb before I could say “but videogames will be cool one day, you’ll see” and I now had the precise qualifications needed to truly excel in my new position.
First things first, let’s talk about the motley crew I inherited as my workplace co-pilots. Straight off the bat, I wish it to be known that I love these guys dearly, every last one of them, and don’t wish to do them any injustices that I won’t also do unto myself. You’re damn right I’m a team player, if one of us is going down then we’re all doing so together. I may jest a little, embellish each tale with a dash of Keeper seasoning, and bring up the odd instance of shame that they may prefer had remained inanimate. But every last transaction will be made affectionately as they really were a great bunch of co-workers. Given that we were one of only two stores in existence, staffing numbers were minimal. This is why shopping in an indie offers such an intimate experience, as it is all about the familiarity. Speaking of which, there seems no better time to shake hands with the workforce individually. For the purpose of upholding anonymity, I shall refrain from using real names and, instead, provide each of them with a faint spin. They’ll know who they are.
First up, please allow me to introduce you to Keith Mears. From the very first moment I laid eyes on Keith, I just knew we were going to get along famously. You see, much like myself, Keith prides himself on being a people person and can adapt to different folk on a coin flip. Perhaps a dash shorter than your average guy in their mid-twenties (but rather adept at MMA I’m told), he made up for what he lacked in vertical inches with larger than life personality and, true to expectation, we went on to become water tight over the coming years. Indeed, we also shared a sense of humor, and unearthed many childish games we could play to pass those long midweek shifts. If I was to be master and commander of this rickety ship, then it stood to reason that I would need myself a right-hand man. Keith fit the bill perfectly and had my back in many a tight squeeze.
While we’re on the subject of captains, allow me to express my personal thoughts on being top dog. Time after time I’ve seen managers fail to lead by example and spend the lion’s share of their time barking orders while sucking the teats of their behind-the-scenes superiors. It saddens me to see so many heads clouded by a simple dash of power and the first rule I enforced was that nobody should do anything that I wasn’t prepared to do also. Granted, that meant none of us did a great deal, but at least we were unified. Nobody wants mutiny in the ranks, but it was more than simply a selfish decision, as I genuinely believe in team spirit and there’s only one way to endorse it. Coming down hard wasn’t my thing in the slightest and cracking the whip just seemed downright unnecessary. Thus, we all co-existed blissfully for the most part.
So we’ve now all met Keith. Next I would like you all to give a warm round of applause to a gentleman by the name of Will Robson. I’m sure Will wouldn’t mind if I referred to him as something of a court jester and every independent store needs them one of these. It took us a while to figure Will out as we never quite sure when he was bona fide and when he was pulling our plonkers. We all adored a laugh and you know how much I like a good chortle but, given my position of responsibility, I was expected to keep any workplace humor reasonably PG-13 rated. Did I fuck? My mind never strays far from the gutter but here was a dude who positively pissed sewage. Absolutely no discernible filter, no topic whatsoever deemed too taboo to lampoon, and a strange fixation with revealing his closely shaved testicles at the most inopportune moment imaginable. In fact, I feel obliged to spare a stanza or two for Will’s bonus balls. Roll them center stage Mr. Robson.
I recall one instance with startling clarity as it transpired when I really could have done with not spotting a pair of polished plums in my peripheral vision. A significant wedge of my man-hours were spent on the phone to distributors, locating the best priced bargains and rares to stock up on. I’m certain that memory serves when explaining that this particular call was one of reasonable importance and required my utmost attention. I duly applied my game face and Will mistook this as my please dish up some shame face; dreaming up a devilish plan to shatter my concentration. As I listened in intently to what my fellow professional was relaying, I suddenly spotted two spherical items glancing into my rear view in much the same manner as a blimp with a crease down the middle. At first I discounted them as simple light orbs and continued with the more pressing matter at hand. However, the second sighting was far more definitive as they warped directly into my personal space and remained there double-daring me to crack until which time as the game was won.
Have you ever attempted to uphold your poker face with a brace of throbbing bollocks just inches from the whites of your eyes? It’s not easy money, let me tell you, particularly when the verbal baton is passed back your way. Within barely three seconds the cracks began to show in my voice and, no more than another three later, I was doubled up with happy tears gushing down both cheeks and no longer able to complete the call. Will Robson got me hook, line, and sinker and I’m eternally grateful for his skullduggery as I wouldn’t be writing about it now had it not been one of my top twenty most excruciating lifetime memories. To be fair, I got off decidedly lightly, as one of our recruits later chowed down on his lunchtime hot dog, blissfully unaware that it had facilitated Will’s schlong just moments earlier and the very same spicy meatballs had been resting right against the lower bap which was currently pressed against the victim’s chin dimple. Put me off wieners for weeks that one.
Regrettably, Keith and Will clashed on occasion, and this is only to be expected when you spend almost half your waking life with one another. That said, I’m convinced they would both agree that absolutely no bad feelings should ever be harbored. Hindsight works wonders here as all of my remaining recollections of my time as a clerk are fond and both of these fine cavaliers played their part in this. Keith liked a dash of drama and I dig this about him rather a lot in retrospect as I chose narcotics as my way of raising the temperature and controversy was his own drug of choice. Will was the same but his idea of dissension was markedly different from Keith’s and he secretly got a kick out of testing his playmate’s endurance I’m sure. However, there was never any malice. 99.9% of the time, we were just one happy and slighty fucked up family.
Next to swipe in is Dean Offsprey and I could write an entire memoir about this glorious hunched over figure of a man. Where do I possibly begin? Well let me start by stating this – Dean truly possesses a heart of solid gold. Perhaps a comparison will aid in drumming up those mental pictures so, for argument’s sake, let’s assume that Dean was the similarly extraterrestrial doppelgänger to Sheldon Cooper from The Big Bang Theory, at least from a personality standpoint. Physically he was more Abe from Oddworld as his thighs were the same diameter as his ankles. Few people could frustrate me as effortlessly as Dean but, by the same token, fewer still thoroughly could win me over mere moments later with a show of innocence swaddled in complete obliviousness. With certain unique cases you come across, one is required to take the rough very much alongside the smooth. This was the case with Dean as, for all his social foibles, he didn’t possess a solitary spoiled bone in his exoskeleton and there’s much to be said for that.
Dean’s chief problem was his general smugness and stubborn desire for one-upmanship. He undoubtedly knew a great deal, and if a customer had a technical query then he was their man-machine, but he had no concept of simplification and loved nothing more than to blind you with science. Should you ask him whether he had watched a film then, rather than providing a simple yes, Dean would inform you that he watched it six months ago in a typically sarcastic tone. This led to many finding him incredibly frustrating, me included, although there was no malice to his method, merely insecurity and a desperation to feel indispensable. There were times when I wished to wring his scrawny little neck and, after providing one particular spoiler (something Dean excelled in), I pretty much did. However, the place really wouldn’t have been the same without him.
Would you believe that my beloved Grue sidekick Silent Shadow who, for the purpose of this exercise, I shall call Pat O’Teethe, was also part of our dirty half-dozen and it was here that I first met this glorious chap and struck up a lifetime brotherhood. Pat only worked for us part-time but made himself part of the scenery in no time. Wide-eyed and bushy-tailed, he was just beginning his voyage into horror, thus I took him under my wing and introduced him to the genre, one slasher movie at a time. Universally respected by his peers, Pat was never less than a joy to be around, and had absolutely no concept of the term hidden agenda. He also bore a canny resemblance to Martin Short, albeit a more dashing strain, and that is never a bad thing in my book.
Another ray of light was fellow part-timer Anton Haggler, illegitimate lovechild of Bill & Ted, and the closest we had to our very own surfer dude. Anton never left home without his smile and, should trouble and strife be on the horizon, would be too busy riding the jolly waves to be drawn into it. He was also a dedicated collector of all things game related and, if half his bedroom consisted of vintage NES cartridges, then the other half was the cellophane they were meticulously wrapped in. Like Don, there was no bad marrow but, unlike The Offsprey, he boasted social skills in vast abundance, making him impossible not to warm to. He also possessed potentially the longest, most slender feet I have ever seen outside of Sideshow Bob. No wonder he was so adept at riding waves.
What good is light without a harmless dash of darkness? This is where Tim Sploosh came into play. Tim was an absolute breeze block of man, as broad as he was dense, and possibly closest resembling Ludo from Labyrinth. While Anton was all dimples, Tim was all about the frown, and seldom have I met anybody quite as geared towards negativity. Should you inquire as to how Tim’s day was going thus far, then the answer “surviving” was the best he could muster. That said, he was a stand-up guy and brought a welcome dash of desolation to the ranks. He was also the most single-minded game junkie I have ever come across and any new release that didn’t include either the words Gears or War in its title was dismissed out of hand. It was poor Tim who chowed down on Will’s wiener and, to his infinite credit, he took it with a simple shrug of the shoulders.
How can I possibly forget the great Albert Hades? The store had been open for over a decade before I showed my face and Albert was the sole remaining member of the original line up. He was also a legend, the likes of which, they just don’t mass produce any longer and could fabricate a fable like no other in existence. You see, being the closest thing we had to an in-store gramps, Albert loved nothing more than to tuck us boys in with a bedtime story or two. However, there was no chance of us ever being bored to sleep, as each tale was embellished with faint inaccuracy, and traditionally concluded with the famed Albert headbutt. One of the last true East End boys, this gloriously Cockney kingpin was so expressive in his story telling that his eyebrows often threatened to vacate his face entirely and had a tendency to pout like a goldfish when he got really excited. He also had passion, reams of the stuff, and that made him a part of the scenery we could never dream of doing without.
Speaking of campus wallpaper, Jilly Sprite was also in this for the long run and had been on staff for almost as long as Albert. Alas, after a spot of unfortunate handbags with a co-worker, she was sent to a remote outpost and seldom ever seen again. Said settlement was our sister store and set in a far less exotic location. Here she flew pretty much solo with only her wonderfully LSD-infused mother DeeDee to assist in the running of her ship. Constantly passed over for fashionable product which she spent most of her day pleading for, she was a massively engaging character and added a welcome dash of oestrogen to a primarily testosterone-fuelled environment, albeit from a distant vantage in the Outer Hebrides. Different personalities fascinate me and Jilly’s quirk was just how much it pained her being wrong about anything. This just made her all the more endearing.
Coming along at the tail-end of my tenure was Mork Beale and this young man I wouldn’t have the vaguest idea how to have a crossed word about. Mork gave easy-going a whole new meaning, and shared my placid nature and horizontal demeanor, which made him alright in my book. It was tricky for Mork as he was also the youngest offspring of company owner Grodin Peale and timid sibling of his daughter and eventual successor Tricia, so there was always an element of “is this guy a mole?” but I’m pleased to report that I got over that paranoia in no time as he had no intention of dropping us in it and every intention of just being one of the guys. Of all the people I have lost contact with over the years, it is Mork that saddens me most, as I have nothing but superlatives for him.
I mentioned proprietor Grodin and this man made this shit happen in the first place with his bare bloody hands. Not only was Grodin a shrewd businessman, but he was also an inspiration to us all, as he invested his heart and soul into ensuring the store exhuded this at all times. He was also the closest we had to Spartacus and, despite being in his sixties, didn’t have an ounce of wasteful blubber on him. It was with a heavy heart that Grodin relinquished his grip on this vast empire as he was never more content than when on the front-lines fending off the crowds. But priorities change when heading towards your twilight years (not that you’d guess this to see this paladin in action), and he decided the time had come to donate the nest egg to his oldest, Tricia.
Tricia was similarly awe-inspiring and had a drive for business that will see her good for the rest of her life no doubt. She had a tough task as her reign commenced just as business was starting to show signs of dropping off and had one helluva fight on her hands just keeping the ship afloat. In truth, we would likely have gone bust way before we actually did, had it not been for her stubborn refusal to accept defeat, even when it appeared inevitable. Granted, she had no interest whatsoever in videogames, but that just made her passion all the more refreshing. Being a hands-on director is no minor undertaking and understandably there were moments when Tricia was truly fearful. However, her task was a thankless one, and she had just the same reinforced backbone as her father. I worked under various bosses as one of life’s full-timers and my memories of the Beales are far and away the fondest.
I guess it would only be right to cast the spotlight back on myself as I shouldn’t be deemed exempt from cross-examination, team-player that I am. All things considered, I don’t feel that I did a bad job and, to the best of my knowledge, would imagine the general consensus was that I was one of the A-OK brigade. That said, I wish I had committed more to the fight during later years, as I became increasingly disillusioned as time wore on and failed to really take the bull by the horns. Managing a retail outlet has its challenges but, after a short while, you can do it pretty much on auto-pilot. Deep down I knew I needed a fresh challenge but wasn’t prepared to do a damn thing about it. My work rate suffered as a result and could have no complaints over receiving one of Albert’s legendary headbutts for not giving it my all. It’d be worth it just to bask in that pout once again.
One thing you’re guaranteed as a clerk is side-spitting incident and, years later, certain gems still shine brightly. One of our more mature regulars, Dabney I believe his name was, provided one such diamond when we presented him with a stiff rubber cock mould and requested that he prop it up beneath his trousers for shits and grins, before making a purchase in the store opposite, sporting said faux erection. Not only did he accept this challenge but he took to it with considerable vigor and didn’t bat an eyelid as he ventured right out into the very thick of it, while countless young mothers frantically covered their infants’ eyes. On his return, things only got more debauched as Will and I took great pleasure from this prosthetic member and continued to titillate ourselves with it. Suddenly we were required to apply our game faces as one such young mother entered the store with her two young children. The last thing a store manager wants to be caught with in his hand is an artificial penis so I promptly hid it from plain sight or 80% of it at least.
As she approached the counter and began perusing our depleted range of Nintendo DS travel cases, I was already fighting a lost cause not bursting into a fit of giggles. So when he asked the perfectly innocent question “do you have a pink one?” and I glanced over to discern the tip of a phallus poking out from behind a Sega baseball cap, staring at me with its one eye, I believe the words GAME OVER flashed up on my hud and I totally capitulated. There were no CONTINUES here and my only option was to scurry back into the stock room howling, leaving poor Will to complete the transaction. How he did so will forever be a mystery to me. Needless to say, I’m not altogether sure she ever came back.
Keith too had a similarly impish sense of humor to me and one priceless snapshot moment came courtesy of a helium balloon and two easy-pleased numbskulls. We were meant to be hard at work but the balloon was just too much fun not to lark around with and there seemed no harm or foul to passing it back and forth while we filled our cheeks with helium. Alas, we hadn’t heard Tricia letting herself through in the rear entry point and what happened next you could attempt a thousand times and never once recreate quite as beautifully. As the big boss strode in to witness two supposedly responsible adults being anything but, I panicked and released my grip on said balloon. It travelled fast, rasping as it went, and arrived between her legs fully deflated, where it rasped one final time, and dropped to her feet a spent force. Naturally, Tricia didn’t quite see the funny side as we did.
A surprise visit from the big boss was something we dreaded as our slackness in the field had a habit of leaving us wide open to finger wagging. Should we hear her approaching, then Def Con 5 was facilitated, any game pads tossed aside, raucous punk rock audio lowered by a couple of decimals, and Will’s testicles zipped back behind the barricade. However, there were occasions where we were caught with our pants at half mast and this culminated in a freeze-frame moment of grim realization as our impish plans were soundly scuppered. Even worse was when she infiltrated the camp from the front as she was then provided with the same vantage as the consumer and hell truly hath no fury like a woman scorned.
Of course, no independent store worth its salt would be half as welcoming without a few regular mallrats to prop up the counter. All manner of oddballs and kooks took up residency for hours on end and every last one of them was delightful in their own unique way. We even had our very own Silent Bob, a dude by the name of Warren, who looked like Silent Bob, dressed like Silent Bob, and was just as unlikely to finish a sentence as Silent Bob. Everyone has their favorites but Warren was mine and, should he be reading this now, hit me up and I’d be only too glad to come shoot the shit for old time’s sake. There were countless other mainstays but one statistic was particularly depressing and that was the male-female clientele ratio. Often an entire shift would pass without seeing a solitary female and hardly an hour would fly by without at least one grunge-tinged Neanderthal with personal hygiene issues paying us a visit. One of these was Billy Whiff and the name hasn’t been changed as this wasn’t actually his birthright. We named Mr. Whiff on account of the way his funk left our eyes streaming as though we’d been chopping onions for the past week.
It’s hard to pinpoint precisely what the aroma consisted of but, should I hazard a guess, then I would plump on the following ingredients: unwashed armpits, chafing ass cheeks, untreated groin damp, and a sprinkling of forbidden spice that was nowhere near as exotic as it sounds. Thanks to Billy’s frequent visits, we never forgot to stock up on air freshener, and assisting him with his inquiries was a more excruciating experience than words could ever convey as it entailed holding your breath for up to three minutes at a time. To make us all feel positively wretched, Billy was never less than kind and congenial. But his stench was truly barbaric and this made him a potent threat.
One of our most treasured pastimes was to leave messages on one another’s electronic till displays in an attempt to break concentration mid-transaction. This was a particular favorite of Keith and I, as there was no limit to how low we would stoop to win a round. Before I offer an example, please be aware that this was far less mean-spirited than it may appear, simply the kind of harmless shit that clerks get up to on a daily basis. Okay, so please allow me to provide a free sample. There was a black paraplegic (I beg you to bear with me here) and I entered the name Wheels Smith into Keith’s cash register while he retrieved the goods just to catch him on the hop. I abhor racism in every form and my own father was wheelchair bound for twenty-five years so neither did I scoff at physical affliction. It’s simply a game without boundaries and any other clerks amongst us will vouch for me I’m sure.
Hijinks like this grew harder in the later years as CCTV was installed and we were never quite sure whether big brother was watching. Whoever invented close-circuit surveillance needs braining in my opinion as punctuation was never my strong point and the eye in the sky was alerted to every last late arrival. Gradually I began to fall out of favor and the golden boy was no longer deemed quite as resplendent. I meant well but always did struggle with authority and ultimately only wished to be one of the guys while picking up a store manager’s salary. After almost eleven years of active duty, I decided the time was right to spread my wings, and fled the nest for pastures new and exciting. Regrettably, new and exciting rapidly descended into oppressive and asphyxiating, and I was left ruing my wanderlust. You see, my time as a clerk was seldom ever less than eventful, rewarding not so much monetarily as emotionally, and provided me the most immeasurable ten stretch of my entire adulthood employment record.
Believe me, I have barely skimmed the custard here, and Kevin Smith is currently working on the widely anticipated Clerks III so you may still find me back behind the counter where I belong. I may not have been the model manager but there is one statistic that I am incredibly proud of. My customer service was exceptional and not once were voices raised on account of my affable demeanor. As for my ragtag assembly of able wingmen, there ain’t a solitary one of them I wouldn’t buy a drink. Granted, I may not leave Will Robson to retrieve said refreshments as there are numerous ways to concoct a shandy that don’t involve one’s hand. But I’d be all up for a ten-year reunion as it has been far too long since I last got my laughing gear round a helium balloon. Some jokes never cease being funny.
Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,
Keeper of the Crimson Quill