Sly Waters and the Thievius Justinius

By Tom "Power Up" Waters
December 1, 2003

I fear for the future of our country. I'm horrified of the children of tomorrow. They are barely literate simpletons with attention deficit disorder and poor social skills. Easily excitable and incapable of focusing on any one thing for more than five minutes, I worry about where their attention span will go (or how far out the window) by the time they've reached my age. Lord knows mine is shot, but I used to be sharp. It happens some time during your reluctant box step into adulthood. You're sitting at a traffic light dwelling on credit cards, romance, or a sitcom from the night before and bubbling up from your subconscious you think, "I believe I'll have a grilled cheese sandwich today". I'm father to a million children, and they are all semi-retarded and lacking in manners. I know because I've worked at a video game store for a year now, and it breaks my heart.

It's not just a freak occurrence or a problem with the local water. One of my saner customers told me that he'd traveled far and wide and ran into the same character no matter what gaming store he'd been to. The most annoying scamps who won't take a hint. Kids from 6-17 who come into the shop wide-eyed and making a mess in their pants over the fantasy land laid out before them. To them it's a paradise filled with a million delights. Portly plumbers leaping through the air in raccoon suits, robots blasting the hell out of each other, cars running down hookers; a total sensory overload. And with no cue of the body language or encouragement on my part, they shamble up to the counter and start speaking in tongues.

They relate every gaming experience they've ever had, rich with adjectives and spittle. Games that are coming out. Games out that they haven't yet played. I despise these demon seeds. They don't go away. They don't take a hint. Shit tumbles out of their mouth whether you listen or not. I walk away from them, turn my back to them, flat out ignore them, snap at them, and they don't notice. They go on uninterrupted, neurons popping off in their tiny little brains like stove top popcorn. And I hate them. I stop talking to them and concentrate on my work and they continue. I've learned that there's more to life than the conquests and victories you've achieved inside of a television. One day I hope that they will too, and piss off somewhere else.

Don't get me wrong, I love my job. Right now, there's nowhere else I'd rather be, but in the words of Randall in "Clerks", 'this job would be great if it weren't for the fucking customers'. There's a lot of things that the collective neglected to tell me during the interview. Before this, I had a cushy office job with a security company. They installed and serviced home alarm systems. It was 9-5, Monday through Friday. I had my own office, my own desk, and I learned to drink coffee and talk on the phone a lot. I handled the bad psychic end of the business, fielding customer complaints and cancellations across Western New York. I was the company punching bag. A lot of people would consider it the perfect job, but not me. I'm not cut out for 9-5. I really mean that. I'm terrible with free time. I'd been courting the video game company for a year and a half. I was a loyal follower. I hope I wasn't as annoying as the bastard children of Ms.Pac Man, but I can't be sure. They started me off at a new store in Niagara Falls. I've worked in Orchard Park, Cheektowaga, Clarence, and Amherst. I've worked in three different malls. I've been in music, toys, security, pizza, books, movies, phones, carpet, and outside sales. I've never been to Niagara Falls. The people who live in Niagara Falls are a delicious blend of crazy and poor. I don't know if they're crazy because they're poor or poor because they're crazy, but it makes for an interesting mix. Every five feet there's a hotel, motel, or buffet. The traffic is like nothing I've ever seen. People drive eighty five miles an hour in all speed zones and come to a screeching halt before turning into a plaza. I don't know how many people live in Niagara Falls because of the traffic. It's my theory that five people live in Niagara Falls and the other motorists are zipping into and out of town to get the hell somewhere else. I don't blame them.

The second day I closed at the new store, someone wandered by outside asking us if we wanted to buy razor blades. The musky smell of poverty is thicker than the trash that rolled onto our lawn outside from the motel next door. This is when the job was still a dream come true. The manager who hired me got pregnant, and moved to Florida to be with her family two weeks after it opened, leaving me clueless, confused, and without an authority figure to report to. I'm an assistant manager, by the way. Curt, the gentleman who took over, was a welcome relief. Curt was a soft spoken, semi balding guy in his '30s who did dj work on the side. We both loved redheads, salt and vinegar potato chips and sarcastic wit. We made a good team. He came over from the downtown Buffalo store where I trained, so we already had a good rapport. The first three months were like paradise. I love video games. I've been playing them since I was 6 and it's been a constant hobby. It was like a dream to walk in every morning and have the store to myself, turning on the demonstration units and processing mountains of interesting titles I'd never played along with old classics that reminded me of simpler times in the industry. The business has grown up a lot in the last thirty years. It's exploded. To think that we've gone from quarter operated Pong units making millions in bars overnight to a multi billion dollar a year market with 20 Playstation 2 units worldwide and Super Mario representing the 2nd most recognizable icon next to Mickey Mouse is amazing. To be a part of that machine is pretty interesting. It's evolving at the speed of light, and it's probably only a matter of time before 3 dimensions give way to 4 in the fantasy realms, and the next big game is a bigger deal than the next movie sequel. In a world full of stale ideas, all the fresh ones are arriving via polygons and bump-mapped Xanadus. But there's more to life than games. And forty hours a week inside of a peripheral hobby can be trying.

Nobody in retail enjoys the holiday season and if they tell you that they're lying. After Thanksgiving, the flood gates open and torrents of vicious, greedy, obnoxious customers issue forth breaking against your point of sale like a sea of assholes. They all want personal attention, the lowest price in five states, and to take out all their seasonally related stress out on you. You see the worst of people during Christmas season in retail. Short tempered, short-changed, and short-sighted, they push your limits to the breaking point. Mantras of interpersonal wisdom like 'the customer is always right' and 'treat every customer like your only customer' wear thin by December 24th. In my business, it is a war, and we're on the front lines with no reinforcements arriving. And following the wave of grandparents and parents seeking the object of their children's affection are the children themselves. This job has made me hate kids. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate all kids, just other people's kids. Watching them scurry around for twelve months unattended and neglected, I think it would be more humanitarian for me if their makers put them in a cage before they left the house. I babysat for years when I was younger. I worked at Toy's 'R' Us later on and still managed to tune annoying rugrats out. As of today, my paternal instinct is gone. Snip the rip cords and stomp on my balls because I don't want any children if they're going to grow up like the ones I've seen. Crying, whining, simpering little shits who are given every comfort under the sun to shut them up. Ill-behaved adolescents who haven't been raised to say please and thank you or keep from wigging out in public. They're like a cloud of Tasmanian devils, swirling through the front door and leaving a path of destruction in their wake for us to clean up and arrange so that the next half-witted off-spring can trash it all over again. We go to great pains to alphabetize everything for easy reference and parents feign ignorance and focus on something else while their demon spawn rearrange whole sections into a case study in entropy. Poor people should incinerate their eggs and buy pets. Stupid people are better off taking a bullet for humanity and pulling out during sex. If that's too blunt, walk a mile around one of the stores I've worked at.

In January, I was asked to take over the store in downtown Buffalo. They'd been robbed at gunpoint. One of the managers was robbed making a deposit. Before they put a security gate in, someone drove through the front window. The store opened on September 11th, 2001. If it was built over a sacred Indian burial ground, I wouldn't be surprised. Ever the corporate whore, I declined the promotion but agreed to transfer over and help pick up the pieces. Nobody else in the district wanted a piece of this location, so it was worth beucoups brownie points.

Instead of me, they gave the store to Tony, my current boss. Tony worked at the store and had a knack for not taking shit from the customers. If someone threatened to kick his ass (which happens pretty often at the store, to all of us), he'd agree to take it outside and show them his black belt degree. We're roughly the same age, and, while we don't have much in common, we've worked well together. We took a store that was on the brink of disaster, cleaned it up, and ran it like professionals. Why the past tense? Because I'm leaving in a few months. I'm getting my own store. And it's a relief, because the downtown location is a living nightmare, every day.

In Buffalo (not the concept of Buffalo in the whole Western New York togetherness sense of the word, but downtown Buffalo itself), there are good neighborhoods and bad neighborhoods, invariably right next to each other. There are sections that, as a white guy, you just don't drive through, get near, or talk about. The city itself is a dying metropolis with no jobs that's driving its residents slowly mad. It's a poor, run-down, depressed city. And like a rain gutter, all the trash runs downhill. So where do they go to buy their games? My store. We're at the epicenter of the city bus route. We're the heart of the city, located near a Target and a score of other discount stores for the financially impaired. Give me your poor, your tired, your white, black, and hispanic trash. Give me your humble bottom feeders and generations taught to get by on the welfare system.

The first of the month is like a holiday in our store. It creeps up on us and one day, you come into work wondering why it's so busy for a Tuesday or a Wednesday and it hits you. Oh shit, it's the first of the month again! But of course! People come tearing into the store throwing money around like Donald Trump, frittering away their allowance from Uncle Sam. These are the same people who trade their games in at the end of the month, or try to scam us and get their cash back so that they can pay the rent because they blew all their money on the first of the month. Don't get me wrong, though, we get a lot of people who blow their Social Security Disability checks, too. Crazy people deserve our tax dollars, too, don't they? Why get a job when you can get a prescription and sit on your ass at home playing video games and talking to your other personalities?

The bottom of the financial ladder contains every stereotype you can fathom. I'm not a prejudiced person, but working at my store has really strained that viewpoint. The majority of the black people who come in to shop smell like they rolled around in a marijuana sauna, or they reek of cheap gin and beer. At eleven o'clock in the morning. Some of the black guys who come in pay for their games by peeling a few twenties from a wad held together with a rubber band, and they don't look like business analysts. I've never seen a hispanic person come in alone. They always seem to roll up in a beat-up, rust-eaten conversion van and pile out of the vehicle family reunion style, in packs of thirty seven. Like a hive mentality, they'll rip the store to shreds in fifteen minutes and leave having spent ten dollars. The white trash is no better. Three hundred pound mothers with three teeth, hair that doesn't look like it was washed this side of the century, and a white t-shirt with more stains than rolls of fat smack their ill-behaved kids off the walls when they whine for games. I saw an Italian mom put her twelve year old boy in a half nelson this summer and slam him against the hood of her car because he was throwing a tantrum. It's pretty disheartening stuff. This must be what talk show audiences do with their free time.

And it turned out that the one black guy we had on our staff was behind the store robbery. That was a real blow to the team morale. Not only did he rob our store, he robbed two other stores within the company and the deposit mugging happened a month after he got hired. Our sewage system has backed up and flooded the back room with shit three times since I got there. So it's no wonder that the other stores think of us as the hemorrhoid of the region. The first manager who took the store was led out in handcuffs for stealing (along with the rest of the staff) and the second manager up and quit because he was too pissed off with the clientele. My boss and I have made a go of it longer than any other management team since the store opened. What's our secret? We've been through a lot. Management is a case study in stress and tolerance. How much can you take before you flip out and start breaking things? I smoke a lot of cigarettes. That takes the edge off a bit for me. When I have an absolutely horrific day at work where my face is beet-red and I want to scream against the back of my hand, I go home and sit down in front of the t.v. with a stiff belt of whiskey or bourbon. Not the healthiest way to cope. Plus I've got a light at the end of the tunnel. I'm paid very well right now, and when I leave and get my own store I'm certain to get more. Playing career leap-frog is exhausting, and I'm sick of starting over and working my way up through the ranks. It's a great company with a lot of perks. Health, dental, 401K, employee discount, and lots of freebies. You could fill a closet with all the promotional t-shirts the game companies give out. The majority of them come in black and extra large. The companies assume that most gamers are overweight and like to hide it. They're right. We've got a lot of lofty sales goals and expectations, but I'm not worried about them. We're a great team that's been through a lot and whatever doesn't kill you gets you through another day at our store. Or rather, if you get killed, you can start again from a save point.

 




HOME - LINKS - SEARCH - BUY!!!
Columns - Features - Interviews - Fiction - Acid Radio - GuestBook Sign/View - Blogs
View ForbistheMighty.com for more sin and wackiness!

Email Publisher