Tuesday, March 22, 2011

White Dope on Punk: Chapter 1. Musicland

I wrote a book called White Dope on Punk about 2 years ago. It has 19 chapters and an epilogue. I’ve done nothing with it. For the next 20 (work) days, I will post snippets from the chapters (or the full story) in sequential order, editing as I go along. Hopefully this will motivate me to do something with it. Maybe not.

White Dope on Punk
Chapter 1
By Greg Kim

Growing up in Pleasanton, California, there was an acknowledged hierarchy of jobs for teenagers.

Number Three Most Desired Teen Job was lifeguard at a pool or beach. Because they were seasonal, these jobs were scarce and highly coveted. The sun was never my friend and I failed Junior Lifesaving in 7th grade, so this was never an option, just a fantasy.

Number Two Most Desired Teen Job was working in a vintage clothing store. For starters, you got first pick of the stuff that came in. You also got to wear whatever you wanted to work, which was very important. Identity is everything to teens and those ripped jeans or 50s house dresses weren’t just your clothes—they were a statement. You also got the added bonus of being able to judge those who came into the store to sell clothes—holding up retro gear, smirking and saying “Yeah, we’re gonna have to pass on this.” This was one job where cattiness was expected.

Of course the Number One Most Desired Teen job was working at a music store. If it was a used record store and you could play your own music, all the better. Nothing gave you more street cred than being “in the music scene.” Seeing as I was exceptionally pale and couldn’t really swim, and not that into fashion, I was destined for bigger things. For one blissful summer I was at the top of the job heap: Sales Clerk at Musicland.

Musicland Records was on the second floor of the Stoneridge Mall. It was book-ended by The Foot Locker and the GNC store, and, as we were told to remind people, “accessible by the northwest escalator that opened up into JC Penny’s.”

GNC was the vitamin store, which also happened to sell bland veggie sandwiches. I devoured these on a daily basis, since I was dabbling in veganism. The Foot Locker didn’t sell the kind of shoes I liked to wear; plus, the employees had to wear those awful striped referee outfits, so I chose to ignore them. At the time, I had only three pairs of shoes: 1) blue Vans, my primary shoes; 2) Vietnam army boots, the ones with the odd green canvas above the ankle; and 3) red Creepers that I bought from a store on Brady Street in San Francisco. These were my favorite, as they looked the weirdest and attracted the most attention. At the time, Creepers were only available in England, so getting them involved finding an import store or convincing a friend that was traveling to Europe to lug back an extra pair of heavy, thick-soled shoes in their suitcase. You would be surprised how many people were willing to do this.

Katy Walrath, my Stevie Nicks wannabe friend from the other High School, held the title of assistant manager at Musicland and encouraged me to apply for a job. She said the Manager was a cokehead and was never around, so it would be fun. I was a little dubious about working with Katy because I suspected she secretly hated me. Anytime she was drunk, and the evening was coming to a close, she would lurch over to me and say, “You think you’re so cool. I hate you. I hate you!” After the third or fourth time hearing this, I tersely replied, “Yeah, I know. You tell me this all the time.” This went on for years. The next day, I would bring it up and she would always shrug and reply, “Watch gonna do?” Eventually it became a joke; although, to this day, she looks at me funny after a few drinks.

I met with the manager, Bruce—a gangly, disheveled fella with a scrappy beard that looked like Hugh Grant’s roommate in Notting Hill. He handed me an honesty test, forgoing any kind of formal interview. That was it. No “Where do you see yourself in five years?” or “If I called your former employer, what would they say about you?” He said to fill it out the way it was supposed to be filled out and winked at me. His movements were jerky and he was sweating. I already liked this guy. Katy also encouraged me to lie on the test. I took this as a sign that both of them thought I was honest.

David left me sitting on a mall bench outside of the record store. I opened the test and scanned its entirety before starting. My fears that the test would be savvy enough to detect my blatant lies were unfounded, and lying proved quite easy. The majority of the questions were about taking drugs, drinking alcohol and stealing. Answers to most questions ended with, “It’s illegal in the State of California (Have you taken drugs?)?" And, a variation on the theme, “The legal drinking age in the State of California is 21 and I’m only 18 years old (Have you ever drank alcohol?)” After a while I got bored and inserted phrases like “the great State of California” and replaced “narcotics” for “drugs.” It was actually an enjoyable test.

A week later Katy called and said I got the job. She told me that I was supposed to wear a tie, but I didn’t have to if I didn’t want to. Another formality I was told to ignore—my kind of job.

I ignored the tie request, but I did try to look presentable. At this time in my life presentable was relative. Up to that point I had been sporting a pink triple Mohawk. Despite its rebellious implications, this look was actually rather high maintenance. Being very lazy about my appearance, I never took the time to make the triple hawk look good (if that was really an option). Looking good would entail getting up early and spending time in front of the bathroom mirror coating it with dish soap and hairspray until it stuck up in big liberty spikes. I usually chose to wake up late and left the house at the last minute possible. As a result my Mohawk looked more like a scraggly, pink, comb-over than the bad-ass hairdo worn by the lead singer from The Exploited. I decided to make it a little more wash and wear for the new job and shaved it all off except a small, pink tuft in the front. I looked like a skinhead’s girlfriend.

The first day of work I wore the red Creepers, 1950s wool trousers, a vintage short-sleeve button-up shirt and thin suspenders. Not too shabby. Nobody said anything about my outfit, so I continued to dress like this, alternating between the Creepers and the army boots.

It turned out that working there was actually really fun. David showed up only to collect payroll at the end of every two weeks. He was a great boss - he was never there. Katy and I would goof around, play music and act like the unsupervised 18 year olds we were. We gave out free Kurtis Blow 12 inch records to every 10th customer, and told one homophobe to get lost for trying to return a Bronski Beat record because they supported a gay organization. The only problem was that my looks were attracting some attention.


  1. Hilarious Greg! When I read your writing, I never feel my usual compulsion to edit, so I hope you DO do something with this.

  2. ...thanks Greg! Looking forward to the rest of it. I also worked at a Musicland (Mission Viejo Mall)

  3. Greg, you've got talent. I enjoy reading your stuff.

  4. "I looked like a skinhead’s girlfriend."

    Oh, the imagery!