I recently watched SWIMMING WITH SHARKS and Kevin Spacey's performance as sadistic, volatile devil-boss Buddy Ackerman sent my mind hurtling back to my first ever full-time job, as a Hi-Fi Salesman. It was there that I met Bill El-Jafar, certainly the most fear-inducing boss I've ever had.
It was the year 2000. After finishing high school, then enjoying the best summer of my young life, I went to university in the far flung reaches of Bathurst, New South Wales. Thus began my first go-around with tertiary education.
SIX WEEKS LATER...
I was on a payphone, calling back to Sydney, trying to find a job. Education and I parted amicably - it got six weeks of my life, I got out without a HECS debt. I decided I wanted to be a film director, so naturally, I took a job as a Hi Fi Salesman.
The store was Sydney Hi Fi, in the Westfield Shopping centre at Liverpool. I arrived on my first day, wearing a Target shirt and K-Mart tie, and met the Assistant Manager, Bobby Balloo (no shit, that was his name). He introduced me to my predecessor, whose name I vaguely recall being Mohammed, but I could be wrong there. Anyway, Mohammed seemed happy as he showed me the ropes. The reason for his happiness, I learned, was that earlier in the day he'd received the results of his HIV test and he'd been deemed HIV negative. Why the test? Earlier in the week he'd been stabbed in the cheek with a syringe in the Food Court by a Liverpool Westfield regular who Mohammed had taunted about his sexuality. Not a dispute over the price of a CD player, thankfully.
My role, he explained, was primarily to make to deliveries to customers and install hi fi systems. Fine, that's fine, I said, reiterating the lie I had told about my ability to do both in my interview. When there were no deliveries to be made, I was to sell hi fi in the shop. At some point in the morning, I was introduced to Bill.
Bill was a stout, intense man of Lebanese descent who always reminded me of a bulldog. He was the manager of the store but since Sydney Hi Fi were about to start franchising stores, he had decided to buy it, the transaction to take place in a couple of months. This led to some bizzare business decisions, like having to tell customers were were all out of stock on a particular item even though we had a storeroom full of them. Apparently Bill wanted to drive the buying price down by making it look like the store was struggling. We also had a lot of merchandise go missing, supposedly so that when the changeover happened, there would be less stock for Bill to have to buy off the company.
Bill was prone to wild outbursts. Our store was right next to a music store and he would borrow CDs off them to play in our store. He loved this one CD of disco hits and after 2 weeks I was so sick of Baccara's 'Yes Sir, I Can Boogie' I decided enough was enough, I had to change it. I did this while Bill was out at lunch. The moment he stepped back in the store he sensed something wasn't right - someone had changed his CD. He opened the tray and frisbeed my 'Beaucoup Fish' right out of the front doors, to settle somewhere near the food court. Another time I sorted the recordable media in a way that wasn't to Bill's liking and he swept the discs onto the floor for me to start again.
Being the delivery guy, I spent a lot of the day lurching and stalling the delivery van all over the western suburbs, so I escaped much of Bill's wrath. His real whipping boy was a kid called Allan, a second generation hi fi salesman, whose Dad was a gun salesman at Len Wallis Audio in Lane Cove. If Dad was a gun, however, Allan was a slingshot at best, a handful of moist soil at worst. He couldn't sell (something pertinent) to (someone desperate). Nice guy, but the kind who was always mixing up instructions, sending the wrong things out to customers, losing phone numbers, etc. Bill brought him to the verge of tears several times during my tenure.
Bill had tense relationships with all his staff, even his right hand man, Bobby Balloo. The way Bill told it, the main reason he'd brought Bobby over with from the last store they'd worked at together was because there were a lot of Indian customers in Liverpool. Bobby was Indian and Bill said Indian cutomers only wanted to buy from an Indian salesman. There was another salesman there called James, who was openly gay. Bill used to make snide remarks about this behind James' back all the time, but once James told me that Bill used to get heaps of gay porn off him.
Bill was engaged to a tall, gorgeous woman. She was one lucky lady, as evidenced by the following advice Bill once gave me. He said: "When you get married, the first morning after the wedding, you make your new wife the best breakfast she's ever had. Eggs benedict, pancakes, fresh fruit, coffee, everything. Your wife is amazed, she says this is the most amazing breakfast ever, you are so wonderful! Then you say to her, see this breakfast? I expect you to make this for me every day for the rest of your life." What a romantic.
Bill had another woman on the side and I always hoped that the fiancee would come in when Bill had the girlfriend around, but sadly, it never happened. But I would have paid good money to see the look on his bulldog face if ever it did happen.
Anyway, one day I decided I'd had enough of working in fear and I arranged through head office to get transferred to their Miranda store. On my last day, however, in front of all the staff, Bill wished me well and "I'm sorry I had to let you go - there's just no position for you in my new store." As though he was getting rid of me! I was so glad to be leaving though that I just nodded solemnly and said "That's okay."
I went to the Miranda store and was quite happy there, working with a pretty decent group of guys (details of which I'll chronicle in Part 2). After about three months I got a phone call. It was Bill, asking me if I'd come back to work for him! I said I had a customer waiting and I'd call him back, which I never did.