Tuesday, September 13, 2011

The Younger Me

Last night, I spent some time picking through the detritus of a former life.  I excavated my old journals from the mid-1980s.  This was the time period immediately after I had moved out of the Bowling Green Apartment, up through moving away from my ‘home base’ for the first time and going to Cleveland, culminating in the Whatsername Saga.  I was 25 to 26 years old.  And a pinhead.

Have you ever read through old journals, a really long time after writing them?  There was so much there that I couldn’t remember… Names and faces of people that I’d hired and worked with, restaurants I’d eaten in several times a month, even girls I’d attempted to date.  (Obviously, unsuccessfully, otherwise I’m sure I’d have remembered more.)

I spent waay too much time in the journal focusing on things that were going on at work.  I know I didn’t have very much going on in my life, so I had to write about something…  When I moved to Cleveland, (Parma, specifically) I did so to become a record store manager.  

Finally getting my own store meant everything to me, but I had no idea what I was doing.  I was pretty much working without a net, and while I had a pretty good sense of operations, I was completely at sea as far as how to be an effective manager.  It was so hard to strike a balance between getting people off their lazy asses to get some work done (properly) versus being an overbearing douche.  Suffice to say, the needle swung both directions.

But in reading this stuff, I could also see my steady development.  I was the guy that my DM sent into other stores to clean up their back rooms (by writing returns of old merchandise to the record labels) and re-organizing their desks.  He even sent me as far away as Nebraska, to set up a store the company had just acquired, and train their staff.  That was a lot of responsibility put on my rookie shoulders.  I must have pulled it off though, because my boss nominated me for the illustrious Manager of the Month Award for our region.  (“Our region” constituted the northeast quadrant of the country.  This was a big deal.)  This is what I wrote about it:

“As long as I make projection this month (sales goal), he’s going to put me in for Manager of the Month for the region.  That means $200 and a plaque!  (I was genuinely excited.  200 bucks was almost a week’s pay for me then.)  I think I have a good chance… probably the best I’m going to have, what with the store coming together, making plan for the 1st time, training a new manager, helping out all the other stores and making projected ‘key goals’ (like selling x amount of accessories or discount albums) and so on.  Yay for me.  On the other hand, I’d rather get laid.”

Yes, even though I did go on to win the award, you could see where my real priorities were.  I spent most of the time from when I moved out to Cleveland and throughout my off and on time with Whatsername, being desperately lonely.

The funny thing is that I don’t think I ever told anyone about it, but when I read the journals, it just leaps off the page.  I had a lot of guy friends, especially the first year or two when a number of us Toledoans relocated to Cleveland, but job attrition pared the number away quickly.  What I really craved was a relationship.  I sized up every female that crossed my path for dating possibilities.  Often, the cruelest jokes were the girls I matched up with best were often working for me, thus putting them off limits.  If only I could transfer my hiring criteria into dating criteria… Well, and pay them 5.50 an hour…

It’s no wonder I kept going back to Whatsername; I had absolutely nothing else going on.  When I first moved out there, it just so happened that I lived about 2 miles from a row of strip clubs.  We came to refer to that area as The Sewer, because that was where the filth was.  In actuality, these clubs weren’t really all that filthy… they were bikini bars.  Girls would pole-dance in bikini tops and g-strings.  These were the places we went most often.  There were other places that were much more, um, naked, but we didn’t go there very often.  It always seemed like the hardcore places were coated with a thin film of slime.  I always felt dirty leaving there.  But at our usual haunts, we got to be regulars.

My strip club experiences definitely deserve a post of their own… maybe some day.  But I was laughing as I read my journals because I seriously thought that I had an actual chance at dating some of the dancers.  And my sewer buddies were just feeding into it.  We all thought that we, a bunch of broke-ass record store managers, would walk off with hot stripper girls.  Hah!  My dumb ass…

But honestly, those girls seemed like my best chances at the time, which just goes to show how pathetic my life was.  This is from my first week in Cleveland.  Remember, I had never been to a strip club of any kind, until that very week.  I was obviously impressed.

“I’ve been to The Sewer every night this week to see Jeanette.  Last night I asked her out with this charming “love letter” on a napkin.  (Does this boy have game or what?  Gag.)  I’m awaiting an answer.  I’m not hopeful.  I can tell she doesn’t want to hurt my feelings, but she didn’t say no right away.”  (Because she doesn’t want to lose a customer, dum-dum.)

The next day’s entry: (Quoting AC/DC) Shot down in flames… Yes, but more blown off than shot down.  I was there myself tonight and she probably spent a total of 1.5 to 2 minutes at my table, and never mentioned the note and barely acknowledged our previously growing friendship.”  Is THAT what you call it?  Friendship?  Sheesh…

I went on to recreate the note I wrote her, but I’m sorry, it’s just too painful to reproduce here.  She probably had a whole wall of these ham-handed mash notes all tacked up on display, to run a Sappiest Come-on Contest.

But that passage showed an M.O. that turned up again and again, with strippers or otherwise.  I’d make a half-assed move and then obsess and dissect every subsequent encounter, looking for clues and direction.  If I could talk to the 25-year old me, I’d tell him, “Geez, just sac-up and ask the girl out!  If she says no, move on, for cryin’ out loudDon’t be such a dipshit!”  (I whack the Younger Me upside the back of the head, for emphasis.)  My life was reduced to a “Three’s Company” plot, where one line of dialogue could have cleared up hours of fumbling around.

As painful as a lot of this was for me to read, I’m still glad I had journaling as an outlet.  It fed both my need to write AND my need to record, archive and keep score.  Remember, there were no PCs or cell phones, and cable TV only had 30-40 stations (IF you had a good cable package).  There wasn’t really a whole lot to do, compared with now.  I spent my time watching ESPN, talking to my family or my buddies on my (corded) phone and collecting stereo equipment, albums and CDs, so I could make mix tapes. 

I definitely could have gone out more often than I did, because there were a lot of things to do in Cleveland then, but remember, I didn’t have much excess cash.  When I took my first store, they paid me $285 per week (and I was thrilled with that).  But factor out rent, utilities, groceries, beer and stripper money, and I wasn’t exactly rolling in dough.  At least I got to go various record label functions and got lots of free concert tickets.  Once I tired of The Sewer (which didn’t take long), the concerts became my livelihood.

One day, I dug into some of my old college papers, and grew nostalgic (for a period about three years prior!)  This is what I wrote:

“Was looking through some old Bowling Green papers and scripts the other night.  I was shocked.  They were actually pretty good.  My speeches were outrageous, my scripts were funny, and my papers had that ‘edge’ to them, saying ‘Hey, I may not be brilliant, but at least I’m interesting!  It’s scary to wake up and realize that you used to be a genius.’”

That was me all right… genius gone to seed and living in Parma.  (Snork!)  But the journals weren’t all downers and embarrassments.  I’d always throw in the odd observation or whatever joke I’d heard lately.  Like these:

“There is no better feeling of well-being than knowing that you have a 6-pack of Klondikes in the freezer and an unopened bottle of wine.”

Still holds true, I tell you that right now.

“Q: What do you get when you cross Dr. Ruth with William ‘The Refrigerator’ Perry?
 A: I don’t know but you’d better be on top.”

That sounds like a quip from VH1’s “I Love the 80’s.”

It was also kind of amusing seeing the roots of some of my own peculiar ways develop from the seeds of youth.  Sometimes, I’d see a story or a reference and go, “So that’s why I started doing that…” Kind of like a personal time capsule.

Lastly, you may have noticed that I didn’t mention very much about Whatsername.  Obviously, when you spend 3 prior posts on a subject, there’s not a lot of new ground left to cover.  But man, was that ever a roller coaster ride through hell.  (You may remember those posts from late April, where I talked about a girlfriend with whom I’d gotten together and broken up 4 times in a year and a half.)  Reading the corresponding journal entries are like seeing one of those horror movies where the audience can all see the killer and are yelling at the screen, “Turn around you dumbass, you’re gonna get killed!” 

I definitely should have taken the metaphorical knife with me, rather than gift-wrapping it and sending it back to Hell’s Siren.  But live and learn.  And speaking of learning, I also learned that I had a bit of the timeline wrong in the story’s first telling.  (I had the details of 2 different breakups switched around.)  I knew I should have consulted the journals first.  Just goes to show that you can take two different ways around the block and still wind up out on the same corner.

Wow, that sounds like something I would have written 25 years ago.

I’ve been going through my scanned archives looking for a shot of me from this era, but I couldn’t find anything appropriate.  So I’m running this:
Store Manager Bluz visits with the Dragon Lady, circa 1989. 

Note: that is NOT Whatsername.  The Dragon Lady was a good friend and mentor.  We started working together in Toledo, went up through the management system and both ended up running stores in Cleveland.  I just used this shot because A) I don’t feel like firing up the scanner to download a better one and B) Damn, I was skinny then.  And stylin’!

13 comments:

  1. 1. So what'd you do with the $200 you won?!

    2. Bluz, you were (and still are) quite the stud. You know you'd be SUCH a hipster today in those white pants, right?

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  2. Damn, Bluz, you were blogging old school style before blogging was cool. (It is cool, right?)

    If only you would have flashed the Manager of the Month plaque at that stripper. Bow chicka bow bow!

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  3. Mrs. Bachelor Girl
    I’m pretty sure I spend the 2 C’s on strippers and blow.

    Nah, I just wanted to sound like Charlie Sheen for a second. I think I spent it on stereo equipment and CDs. At that time in history, CDs were brand new, so I had my entire album collection to replace. The hardest part was waiting for particular albums to be made into CDs. Seemed to take forever before some of my favorites became available.

    And I have never been anything resembling a hipster. If there was a trend, I was that last to know because I was too damned busy. (Although you should have seen me in my white overalls, in college.) But I did look good then… I was on the Retail Manager Starvation and Stress Diet. It works. I probably dropped about 45 pounds between 1987 and 1989.

    Carpetbagger
    I KNOW, right? I had that Manager of the Month swagger goin’ on… I was a catch! Of course, I had no idea what I was doing. I got much better at strip club life when I was up in Albany. Like I said, my days frequenting the strip clubs deserve their own post. (Man, I should have dug out my plaque and posted a picture. I would have but I know it’s buried in a box, deep in the recesses of my back room.)

    And I agree that journaling is totally a precursor of blogging, only with blogging there is a chance that someone besides the writer might actually read it. Although with a journal, I think the writing is much more personal and brutally honest, because you know that it’s only for yourself. The more people that read a blog, the more one’s thoughts get filtered through how one thinks they’ll be perceived. I’m not saying that a blogger will be more inclined to “lie” as much as ‘omit’ certain things. A blogger may also take steps not to offend readers, whereas in a journsl that’s not an issue. (If you offend yourself through your own writing, seek therapy!)

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  4. Wow, is that a knit tie? I miss the '80's.

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  5. I hate to go all Dr. Phil, but the most important thing is that you actually see growth. Everybody's priorities change, but not always for the better. As for the strip clubs, well, I think at this stage in my life, my fiancee will be much happier if I don't post about those misadventures anytime soon. Cheers!
    -brandon

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  6. Bluz, I just love it when you go all introspective on us! We probably know way more about your life than your little mama does! And just look at how you've grown over the years! No! Don't take that the wrong way! You've grown MENTALLY!!! You are still the stud you were back in the 80's, especially when you wear that hat you wore at the beach last summer!

    Your hot Arizona auntie

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  7. DG
    Indeed it is. I used to have such a complex about ties. I was always so worried that my tie wouldn’t “go with" whatever I was wearing. So since I knew so little about what constituted “going with,” I tried to cut down on as many variables as possible by only wearing solid color ties. And the knit ones were pretty durable, given all the grungy work I was sometimes called upon to do. So I had about a half dozen single-color knit ties, with a couple of other cheap silky ones thrown in. Eventually, I got bold enough to buy a couple that had a few stripes.

    When I finally got a job at our home office, I was really worried about not clashing, because I knew I’d be rubbing elbows with people that DID know how to dress themselves professionally. But the worry didn’t last too long, because shortly after I got there, I spotted my boss, the VP of Merchandising, wearing a loud Mickey Mouse tie.

    From then on I stopped worrying about it and, in fact, began my pursuit of interesting ties to wear. I tended to like the ones that had something identifiable on them, as opposed to just patterns. The irony now is that I have a tie rack with about 50-60 wild-ass ties on it, but now work in a “business casual” office. I only wear ties for weddings and funerals.

    In a future post, I’m going to have to take some pictures of my coolest ties… Of course, “cool” is totally in the eye of the beholder. At least I don’t wear my “fish” tie any more, although it IS tacked up outside my cube.

    But admit it… I’m rocking that white tie with the white slacks… And if you could blow up the picture, you’d also see that my tie-tack is a Bon Jovi pin in the shape of New Jersey.

    Brandon,
    Yeah, looking on the 1986 me is like looking at the Bluz Beta test. Still needed to be debugged.

    Judie,
    No one beats the Bluzdude for navel-gazing, that's for sure... I think Lil' Mother learns all about the far away, mystic and mythical periods of my life the same way you do: by reading about it here.

    We used to talk on the phone about once a week back then, but I don't recall getting too detailed about the day to day crappola I was going through. And I definitely didn't say much about my dating life. Just the highlights, as in, "Hey I went on a date." And a week later, "No, I'm not seeing her any more."

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  8. My oldest son, Jeff, kept his life pretty much a secret, but middle son Joey always told me everything, and I do mean everything!! He probably went a little overboard, like the time he came in with photos of himself posing in the nude for uiversity art students. He was pretty proud of the $50 an hour he got paid! Later, he realized it was a mistake to show me those photos.

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  9. I never said you weren't rockin' it! You definately are.

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  10. I'm with MBG. You were a stud! Still are. I know this because we're real life friends.

    On another note, I'm sure you were quite the gentleman in the strip club.

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  11. Cassie,
    Of course I was a gentleman. That was my “hook.” Unfortunately, it would have been a much more effective hook if it was combined with a secondary tendency to have my pockets stuffed with $20 bills. (I know they would have to be $100s now, but this was 1986.) But a rich asshole always got much more attention than a gentlemanly retail manager being as generous as he could afford to be. Sad but true.

    Yeah, I’ll have to do a strip club post. “I went to strip clubs for the conversation” will be right up there with “I get Playboy for the articles.”

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  12. One of my biggest lifetime regrets is not keeping a journal. Not only would it have shown where/who I was then and where/who I am now, but it would have provided excellent fodder for my blog.

    Your retrospective and introspective posts are some of my favorites.

    Dragon Ladies aside, I think you've turned out pretty damn fine at fifty.

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  13. Sherry,
    God forbid I ever unearth my high school journal, covering 10th and 11th grades. There's enough material in there to humiliate myself online for months.

    There's one problem with doing these kinds of posts: you become susceptible to this:
    Blogger's Disease: An illness where one begins to think that everything that happens in his life is as fascinating to everyone else as it is to him."

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