The guys I worked with at East Side Foods and the music that each of them brought to play over the makeshift sound system, or music they turned me on to while I worked with them, are in themselves great stories. Each had a particular style that influenced me whether I liked it or not, and now as I write this 20 odd years later I still remember.
The influence of the store on me was significant, and you will have to excuse me if the music tie in is thin with the stories of each, but I have selfishly wanted to write about these guys and their music and interactions with me for a long time.
Without any doubt, Paul Beck was my bud. For the life of me I cannot recall how we first met, though I know it was through school. I just always remember us being friends. He came from a small town in Wisconsin and had some demons in him, but don’t we all. He would often come to my little rented room and hang out before I went to work, we would play music and exchange stories of our past. I learned a lot about his struggles and triumphs and we were close. He was the one who turned me on to George Thorogood, April Wine and Jackson Brown. Paul loved Jackson Brown. His favorite was “Running On Empty”.
When I eventually got him the job working at East Side Foods and we discovered the tape playing system, this tape was played almost every night when he mopped. It was tradition. Of course that meant that I didn’t hear much of it, since if he was mopping and Rory was up front, then that was the time I worked in the back stocking or in the basement organizing stock.
Paul liked the old psychedelic Pink Floyd, tried to turn me on to Syd Barret stuff and had a lot of old school party tapes. Boston, Foreigner, and lots of AC/DC. I had been turned on to “Highway To Hell” by my friend Jeff in middle school and had gotten “Let There Be Rock” later on, but Paul had all the early Bon Scott tapes and I was amazed at how good they were. I absorbed them and made a few AC/DC mix tapes that got a lot of airplay at the store.
We were a good team, covering each other on nights when one or the other was not 100%. I recall one night Paul came in straight from a party and was way drunk. I could see it in his eye and the way he slunk in and bee lined for the back of the store. He put on a good show, but as soon as everyone who mattered was out of the store, he came to me and let me know in his words that he was stone cold drunk. He looked half dead and I told him to sleep it off in the back for a while. He crawled onto a nearby pallet of Pepsi cans and crashed hard. I woke him an hour before the owner’s son came in and he got it together and was lively and chipper for his last couple hours. He returned the favor a few weeks later when after getting off of work we stopped by the liquor store on the way back to my rented room, bought an assortment of strange beers that were on sale and proceeded to listen to Pink Floyd and try and out do each other with the hot sauce and chips, which was all that we ate all day and then on no sleep went to work that next day. It was an awesome day, being stupid and buzzed and listening to music all day, but that night… it was a feeling this lightweight had never felt before. I was straight by the time I got to work, but my body was in turmoil. When the changeover was done and it was our shift and it was just us, I started mopping. I made it halfway thought the aisles before my body revolted and I could only stand there dumbly while my arms and legs shook and my stomach tried to crawl out of me. Paul, who was seemingly unaffected by our day of debauchery made me some deli food, made me drink water and 7-up alternately, and had ME sit down for a while in the back while he covered my work. I made it through the night, barely, then slept for like 24 hours.
He eventually left the store and got a roofing job. He would come by on rainy days when there was no work and we would hang. When he realized that the roofing job was not going to make ends meet, he up and joined the Navy. We corresponded during his boot camp and assignment to a ship. He stopped by with a few of his Navy buddies once and we had a great time hanging out. I was getting married soon and we arranged for him to be an usher (it was too risky for him to be in the wedding party because he was afraid he would pull a watch and not be able to come) and on the eve of the wedding, guess what… he could not be reached, and sadly he never showed up, and I never heard from him again.
Strange how some people can come and go with no warning.
Speaking of strange…. there was Tripp.
Tripp started work when I was on third shift and was very stand offish at first, he was a bit older than us and it seemed like he was a bit cagey and paranoid. He was tall, had a hint of a southern accent and he wore a distinctive eye patch, “no double vision” he proudly announced. It was not long though before the ice broke and he started opening up. He came from Florida where he had been working as a video game arcade manager.
His southern rock leanings were clear when he started bringing in tapes. He brought in Molly Hatchet and Lynyrd Skynyrd and Charlie Daniel’s Band and Z Z Top. His favorite was “Lynyrd Skynyrd – Second Helping”
It freely admit it took several years for me to be okay with listening to “Sweet Home Alabama” again after Tripp. One night as this one was playing, during ironically “Sweet Home Alabama” the tape snapped and Tripp, who was up front with me at the time stood with his mouth agape, then dropped what he was working on and ran to the deli prep room as though his child was in danger and despondently returned with the remnants of the tape which he carried with him the rest of the night. It was sad.
Tripp’s story was that though he wasn’t proud of it, he had been involved in a big drug sale that had gone bad and that he had hidden a large sum of money in a hotel air vent and fled the state. He came to Wisconsin where his sister lived to “hide out” and plan his return to recover that cash and make his escape to the good life. We were skeptical at best, but he did have a lot of stories of dealings with the underbelly of the Florida scene.
We went to his apartment a few times after work to drink and hang out. His apartment was very very bare. He claimed that it was easier to pick up and move if “they” came after him. We laughed it off and sat on plastic patio chairs and used TV trays to eat from when we made a pizza or ordered subs. It was all very mysterious, but we though comical. Tripp turned out to be great on our crew and we were all getting along great until one day he didn’t show up for work. Tripp must be sick today huh? Then he didn’t show the next day. The owner’s son asked us about him. You mean he hasn’t contacted you? we asked. Nope.
We went to investigate after it was clear he was not coming back to work and his apartment, we could see through the patio door, was empty. He was gone. No word to the store, no forwarding address for his last check, no nothing. He vanished and we never heard from him again. Hope all is well Tripp.
Rory, who was younger than us and had long curly hair that he loved to shake in heavy metal style and give the horns hand sign WAY too much. He was pretty cool most of the time and we got our metal selections from him. Judas Priest, Iron Maiden, Motley Crew, Quiet Riot and such.
His tapes were well worn and every now and then the sound would go crazy and you would cock your head and listen, waiting to see if it would come back or if you had to go extricate the tape from the player and put in something new. Rory was a big fan of recreational everything. He was often out with a “sour stomach” or arrived smelling of strange herbs, but when he was there he fit right in to our little group and would do any kind of crap work so long as he could listen to this while he did it. It was his all time favorite.
I had no objection whatsoever.
Rory was your typical party animal, and had some of the greatest party stories known to man. I only believed about a tenth of what he told us, but it was fun to hear how the other half lived, supposedly.
I am pretty sure Rory had some kind of trade agreement with the milk delivery man. They would whisper and exchange small packages almost every time he delivered and Rory would stress if some other dude came delivering. The store was a hub for all sorts of commerce. We had our tasks that we liked to cover and Rory liked to work up front during drunk time (bar time) and dairy in the mornings when I preferred to be up front. Sympatico.
Another character that was a fun influence was Abdula. He started one night sort of unexpectedly and I took him under my wing for the first few nights to train him. He was my first trainee after I got the coveted role of Night Shift Leader, which netted me an extra $0.25 an hour. Abdula was as you might guess “not from around here” as we liked to joke with him. He was from Iraq. He was about as cool as you could get. His accent was thick and people sometimes had a hard time with it, but I got to know him quite well and learned to love when he would tear loose in non-English at drunks that annoyed him. They usually stood wide eyed and speechless, not knowing what to say or do and just left scratching their heads. Pure overload and shut down.
Abdula brought in tapes from his collection and some were interesting and what you might expect, World Music type, not at all annoying, and kind of cool in fact, though I think I was the only one of our group that thought so, but he also loved The Talking Heads. “This is music that to me is awwwwesome” he would say. “Please you play next this tape yes?” How could I not. We listened to “More Songs About Buildings and Food” endlessly.
It was a riot to hear Abdula singing “Take Me To The River” loud at the front of the store with his accent. I will never forget it.
Abdula’s niche in the store was handling Pete. Pete was a magician that would periodically stop into the store after bar time. Pete was a big man. A large man. He had greased back hair and handlebar moustache. He was usually coming from a gig and wore a tux and a small box hanging around his neck that was a speaker. I envisioned him doing up close magic in a crowded bar using the speaker wherever he went so he could be heard. Pete took a liking to Abdula and would do magic tricks for him while we gathered his usually substantial order of 30 t0 40 chicken wings or drumsticks from the meat department. Sometime it would be like 20 pork chops, or 15 steaks. He would always bow to us after his tricks. He spoke like an old time vaudeville act. “Thank you my good man” or “Mother will be very pleased with this bevy of poultry” or “I’ve just the thing for cooking these up”. He was cool and amusing but we all hated working with the crazy slips that the meat department wrote up for charging Pete. Abdula didn’t seem to mind and dug his tricks, even the 40th or 50th times. So when Pete stopped in it was “Abdula, Pete is here” over the intercom.
Jimmy was a crazy young kid that was there for a short but memorable time during my third shift tenure. He was short and blonde and 110% on all the damn time. Sometimes to the point of exhaustion, of us, not him. He was into anything you could dance to, which he would do in the aisle, in front of customers, he didn’t care. He was always moving and could not sit still, ever. His music was as you might expect. He brought in homemade mix tapes that he recorded off of the radio, and not that well, but fair is fair, and when it was his night it was like a dance hall in there.
He loved The Thompson Twins, Michael Jackson, Tina Turner, Huey Lewis, Wang Chung, Sheila E… and it was sometimes a nice change of pace.
Jimmy ended up leaving the store to deliver The Wall Street Journal, which he did from his Eldorado Cadillac. It was constantly full of fast food bags and newspaper plastic strips (you delivery boys know what I mean) and he never in all the time I knew him ever, ever, ever came down. I can only assume he was fueled by some substance most of the time. No one is always that tightly wound.
In direct contrast to Jimmy was the last character in the list, Jimbo.
Jimbo was an older, former hippie who was heavily bearded and talked s l o w but loved Deep Purple as you might love a first child. He turned me on to “Hush” which I love, but somehow managed to have the biggest collection of Deep Purple and especially several (like 10) versions of “Highway Star” which today still makes me reach for the dial.
“I love it! I need it!” No.
and “Smoke On The Water”?… did it to death.
He played us some Grateful Dead which I didn’t appreciate at the time but he did play us a lot of Allman Brothers, which after hearing “Whipping Post” and loving it I paid attention to. He was a jam band freak although I’m not sure that term was around at that time. It sure fits him now though.
I wore out 2 walkmen during my time at the store and we listened to a lot of cool music.
It was a great job when I needed one and I loved the people there if nothing else and had it not been for the music, it probably would have been drudgery, but we found a way to play the music fairly, and have a nice cross section of styles and everyone got along.
East Side Foods, your Rock And Roll Grocery Store.
R. I. P.