I have naturally always sided with the freaks and the outcasts, the downtrodden and the impaired. They are usually so much more interesting than the regular, the normal, the average person. They offer unique views on the life and the world, driven only by what their mind can conjure, with no thought of attempting to impress or saying what you might like to hear, nor using someone else’s opinions to broadcast as their own. There is so much that we can learn from these individuals of how we should present ourselves and views, even if it often comes across as naked naivety. They might not supply you with knowledge that could change your life. But you’ll remember their conversation. You’ll remember them.
Record shops tend to attract weirdos. Probably most shops do – working with the public you realise just how many there are out there sharing the streets. But there is something about music that people like to own, to claim ownership of. It breeds bragging rites. Just from saying that you enjoy music means that these folk assume kinship. But they don’t want to chat about music, to hear your opinions. They arrive ready to challenge you with how much they know – how I feel for the musicians themselves: after a show, does Bob Dylan really need to listen to someone telling them about how their mum once went for tea with Pete Seeger and she told him that she had a hammer and that Pete was inspired to write a song about what he would do if he had a hammer, that all credit was because of their mum, and tea? I don’t really mind these types of customers, but I don’t really wish to stand and listen to what they have to say – to tell. To do that is to waste my time. I have absolutely no will to compete. If, however, you tell me that you once shared a reefer with Shane MacGowan and then fell asleep on John Martyn’s coat I will engage. A regular customer of mine witnessed one of the rare occasions when Nick Drake played live – the crowd chatted all the way through the performance of this precious genius who was soon lost to us forever; probably they were telling bored ears about how many records they owned.
In the shop I pride myself on building relationships with customers who appear to have been ostracised from service somewhere else. It can be frustrating, but it is ultimately rewarding to become friendly with these otherwise unwanted characters. Quite often – sad but true – I discover that they are in some way disabled – or “less-able”. You have probably recognised that there are two definable types of less-abled person: those who chirpily go about their life, or the kind that feel that the world has dealt them a cruel hand. You will find no judging here, just commentary. I could not possibly imagine what these people have to live and deal with, to be reminded each day – and probably even in sleep – what they have to cope with. I do imagine what life might be like for them, which is why they deserve more time and patience than a person of able body and mind. If they feel that it is their right to be abrupt, even rude, in dealing with someone who they might feel has got everything the world has to offer, shouldn’t we give them a little right of way before we can peel back that understandably tough exterior and find out the person that they once were before fate intervened so inhumanly?
That said, they truly can be hard work. It is understandable – if a little bit heartless – that they might have tested someone else’s tolerance beyond breaking point, especially if it is a faceless individual with whom we only ever meet over the phone. But suck it in and laugh it out later and they really can create priceless anecdotes. So here is my first Tale From a Record Shop.
I have a regular customer who fits all of the above character traits. At this time she was temporarily blinded from virulent cataracts. (The afflicted will nearly always tell you of their plight, perhaps making excuses for their upcoming behaviour. This is why we must understand that they are needy for a reason. Easy? No. But mostly not for them.) I have never met her, but spent many muddling hours on the phone with her. One day I was in the shop early to get some work done before opening. At 8:50 the phone rang . . .
PHONE CALL NUMBER ONE
Me: Good morning.
Mrs Carblurt (of course I’m not going to use her real name!): Hello, love. I was wondering what Roy Orbison CDs you have?
Me: But you bought a Roy Orbison CD yesterday.
Mrs Carblurt: I know, but I really wanted one with “You Got It”.
Me: Didn’t the one that your husband collect have “You Got It”? I remember; I read the tracks out to you.
Mrs Carblurt: I wanted a different one.
Me: But there’s only one version. Unless you’d like a live version?
Mrs Carblurt: I don’t like live music.
Me: I know what you mean. But the version that you have is the one that you want. The famous one.
Mrs Carblurt: Are there any others?
*I read out the tracks on a couple of other Roy Orbison compilations. Mrs Carblurt asks me to put one aside for her.
PHONE CALL NUMBER TWO (seconds later)
Me: Good morning.
Mrs Carblurt: I don’t think I told you that it’s Mrs Carblurt.
Me (laugh): That’s okay. I’d worked it out.
PHONE CALL NUMBER THREE (about 9:05)
Me: Good morning.
Mrs Carblurt: Hello love, it’s Mrs Carblurt. Sorry to bother you again: I wondered if you can tell me the songs that are on the Roy Orbison CD that I bought yesterday.
Me: But I told you what they were when we spoke yesterday. And you have one yourself now. You own it.
Mrs Carblurt: I know, I’m sorry, love. I don’t mean to be a nuisance, but I can’t see, you see?
Me: Um, can’t your husband read the track listing out to you?
Mrs Carblurt: He threw the case away. We don’t like keeping the cases; they take up too much room.
*I read out the tracks from the Roy Orbison compilation album that Mrs Carblurt had bought the day before.
PHONE CALL NUMBER FOUR (very soon after)
Me: Good morning.
Mrs Carblurt: Hello, love. Sorry to be a nuisance (they know that they are being a nuisance, but that won’t stop them . . .). Have you got any Sixties compilations in stock?
Me (still chirpy and polite): We do! When we spoke yesterday, before you ordered the Roy Orbison compilation CD, I told you the Sixties compilations that we have – it hasn’t changed overnight, I’m afraid. You decided on The Best Sixties Album In The World . . . Ever!
Mrs Carblurt: That’s not the one I wanted.
Me: Which one was it that you wanted?
Mrs Carblurt: I don’t know. Can you read them out to me, please? Sorry to be nuisance.
* I read out the Sixties compilation albums. Track listings, et al. It takes about ten minutes. She says that her husband will pick up one that she chooses from the shop.
PHONE CALL NUMBER FIVE (about 9:25 – I haven’t done much of the work that I had wanted to do)
Me: Good morning
Mrs Carblurt: It’s Mrs Carblurt . . .
Me: Hi. (I confess to sounded a tad exasperated by now)
Mrs Carblurt: Sorry to call again. I don’t mean to be a pain.
Me: Okay . . .
Mrs Carblurt: My husband was going to come and pick up the album on Wednesday.
Me: Okay . . .
Mrs Carblurt: He’s got to take the car in, so he won’t there until Thursday.
Me: Okay. That is absolutely fine. We’ll keep it safe here until then – you really don’t need to let us know when your husband will pick it up. We won’t let it go. It will still be here. (sigh) Look, I just want to say that we appreciate your custom very much. We’re very happy to help you find whatever it is you’re looking for, but if you can keep it down to one telephone call then it will save us all a lot of time, it would be very helpful.
Mrs Carblurt: I’m blind at the moment, so I can’t make a list of what I want to ask for. I just phone when I think of them. Sorry, love.
Me: I understand. Really, I do. And I just want to say . . . again . . . that we appreciate your calls very much. It’s just that, if you can, it would really be very helpful if you can find a way of limiting how many times you phone us.
Mrs Carblurt: I know, I’m sorry, love. If I wasn’t blind then it would be much easier. I know I’m a pain.
Me: You’re not a pain, Mrs Carblurt. It’s just that we have quite a lot of work to do and spending time on the phone means that we can’t get on with it. Five phone calls before we have even opened for the day is quite a lot, I’m sure you’ll agree. We’ve got the Sixties CD here for you – the one that you wanted. I’ve put it aside with the other Roy Orbison compilation that you wanted too, and we’ll keep them safe here for you until we see your husband.
Mrs Carblurt: Is “You Got It” definitely on that Roy Orbison CD? I don’t really like the one that you sold me.
Me: Definitely! It’s got the tracks on that I read out to you earlier. Believe me, it’s the one that you want.
Mrs Carblurt: Okay. Thank you. Sorry to be a pain.
Me: You’re not a pain . . .
I open up the shop. The phone rings for the sixth time since 8:50.
Me: Good morning.
Mrs Carblurt: I’ve just spoken to my husband. He’ll come and collect the CDs today.
Me: Great! That’s really great.
Mrs Carblurt: Please can you just tell me what tracks are on the Sixties compilation?
Me: Ohfuh . . .
Mrs Carblurt has since had a successful operation on her cataracts. Her husband didn’t come to the shop until Thursday after all – she phoned later in the day to let us know when he would be there.
The Roy Orbison compilation CD didn’t have the version that she wanted of “You Got It”.