Michael Cavacini

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Supermarket Stories – Creepy Customer

I haven’t posted a supermarket story in quite some time, so I decided to use the webcam on my new Alienware laptop to record one for you. Enjoy!

Supermarket Stories: Beer Belly Bob

BeerBellyCatIn the great book Nickel and Dimed by Barbara Ehrenreich, the author mentions suspecting that, when in retail stores, adults act like children because their children act out at home and they have no other place to vent. Whether these acts are conscious or unconscious is anyone’s guess. But it’s an interesting idea that I see played out each time I’m at the food store – parents acting worse than their kids. They do all sorts of ridiculous things, including putting items they don’t want in the magazine rack (I’m pretty sure pickles don’t go there!), spilling something and telling no one and leaving their trash at the register.

In addition to trash, many customers leave their shopping carts at the end of the line. This used to bother me, but as long as it’s not in the way of the next customer, I let it slide. However, once in a blue moon I’ll get a shopper whose stupidity and rudeness is off the charts and he or she will leave the shopping cart at the front of the line. Yes, you read that correctly; after emptying their grocery cart, some customers will back up and leave their shopping cart in front of the cashier’s line or in front of a display. I had the great fortune of ringing up one of these clueless individuals today.

The RIGHT PLACE to put a shopping cart.

The RIGHT PLACE to leave a shopping cart.

The WRONG PLACE to put a shopping cart.

The WRONG PLACE to leave a shopping cart.

After emptying his cart, he said to the woman behind him (who was waiting to put her items on the belt), “Excuse me, would you please back up?” She gave him a bemused look and got out of his way. Then, as he was about to push and leave his cart in front of a Tide display on the end of an aisle, I said very loudly, “Excuse me sir! Would you please bring your cart though here?” motioning to my line where he previously was standing.

He obliged, and I glowered at him as he approached. And I couldn’t help but notice how his massive gut was testing the elasticity of his shirt. Once he got to register, he said in a southern drawl, “Oh, I didn’t know these had to come through. Is that a rule?”

Without hesitation I said, “Yes. That’s a rule. You have to put it back where you found it.”

Beer Belly Bob responded, “Well, I didn’t find it here.”

I said, “I know. You found it over there,” pointing to where the carts belong.

“What’s your name?”

“Michael,” I said.

“Is this your full-time job? Is this what you do for a career?” he asked.

“No. I work here part-time, I have a full time job and I’m in graduate school.”

Beer Belly Bob responded with, “What are you studyin’?”

I said, “Communications, which is why I like to be clear. Any more questions?”

He didn’t have anything else to say. Like any customer, I thanked him for shopping, gave him his receipt and told him to have a good day. Once the encounter was over and he left, I was proud of myself. Not only did I get him to do the right thing, but I remained composed when he tried to push my buttons and get me to say something he could report. While it’s sad that he feels the need to determine someone’s worth by his or her job, that’s his problem.

If you learn anything from this story, it should be this: Always put your shopping cart – and pickles – back where they belong, and don’t judge others because of their job title. The world is already overpopulated with condescending, myopic twits. Be open-minded and happy, and most of all, have respect for others.

Supermarket Stories: Mr. Quarters

Mr. QuartersToday was a typical Sunday at the supermarket: insanely busy. However, I was quick to get people in and out of my line. When the lines are long, the only thing to do is keep my head down and establish the highest level of efficiency possible. From time to time, problems will occur that throw off my alacrity.

The first problem during my shift was a man with a bad check. Having encountered these kinds of situations before, I knew what warning signs to look for. Once I saw that his personal check was in the name of a “business” and that his shoddy-looking state ID expired two years ago, I quickly told him we couldn’t accept his check and he was on his way.

In addition to personal checks, which I despise, people pay for groceries in a variety of uncommon ways. Sometimes I get customers that pay with two-dollar bills, silver dollars or travelers’ checks. Occasionally, people will pay with change, which isn’t a big deal as long as the total is less than five dollars.

Unfortunately, halfway through my shift, I rang up a customer who didn’t get the memo on how much change is acceptable for a grocery bill. After telling him the bill was $14.50, he said, “I’m paying with quarters today,” and dumped a massive amount of silver coins on my conveyor belt.

As I started to count the change, I looked at my line of customers, which was bending into oblivion, and apologized for the delay. I then proceeded to count the change. But as I was counting, he added news coins to the pile and threw me off completely, so I had to start again. And while I was doing this, his moronic friend – who should have been bagging the groceries – was filling him in on all the celebrity gossip from a magazine he wasn’t even going to buy. Once the counting was complete, I realized Mr. Quarters gave me two too many, so I gave them back to him with his receipt.

If you think paying for groceries with an excessive amount of change is acceptable, it’s not. Mr. Quarters could have simply visited the bank, which is directly across the street from the grocery store, and turned his sea of quarters into dollar bills, or he could have done the same thing at customer service. Please take this story to heart. Not only will it help you avoid the derision of others, but not carrying around several pounds of metal will also significantly lighten your load.

Supermarket Stories: Meat Loaf

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There’s one customer that’s been regularly coming through my line at the supermarket for the past 11 years who I’ll never forget. Let’s call her Meat Loaf. Why Meat Loaf, you ask? Why would I besmirch this legendary rocker’s good name by comparing him to one of my certifiably insane customers? Well, one day I was talking with a manager about her and he said, “Oh yeah, I know who you mean. She looks like Meat Loaf on a bad day.” Needless to say, the phrase “bat out of hell” has taken on a whole new meaning for me. So what makes Ms. Loaf so crazy? Read on my inquisitive friend.

The first time I met this woman she told me that I looked like her son, who was taken away from her by Children and Youth Services. Then she proceeded to hit on me by saying in her gravely Joe Cocker-esque voice, “Do you have girlfriend, honey? When it comes to me, you can look but you can’t touch. Ha, ha, ha!” After being disturbed and feeling violated, I did my best to get her out of my line as quickly as possible.

Since this first meeting, I’ve run into her many times inside and outside the store. I’ve had the misfortune of bumping into her twice while on a date. The first time we made eye contact and she said, “Look at you! Reeled in another one, huh? Ha, ha, ha!” The second time she yelled at me and my date from across the street, “She’s a hottie! You better hold onto her.” The most embarrassing part is trying to explain to my date just exactly who she is. Lord knows I don’t want them thinking I had a romantic history with this woman.

Nowadays, this customer has aged dramatically. She has fewer teeth, deeper lines on her face and her hair is tattered. Meat Loaf’s excessive “recreational” activities haven’t served her well, and it’s a shame. The good news is, her son is in college and doing well – or at least that’s what she tells me. While I love Meat Loaf as a performer and an entree, I’ll pass on Meat Loaf the customer.

Supermarket Stories: Bucket Hat

I just got in from a late night at the supermarket, so I thought now would be the perfect time to share another supermarket story.

Nearly five years ago, I set off to work and moved at a feverish pace so as not to be late. With the balmy breeze mussing my hair, I was in a delightful mood. My shift started off as usual and things were going well. Being a cashier, I have plenty of time to talk to customers, and this day was no different. I’d rung up a slew of my favorite customers as well as some that were new to the neighborhood. But one customer in particular caused a scene over sales tax.

My favorite line is express because it allows me to get people in and out at a quick pace, without having to spend an enormous amount of time bagging. When I saw that my next customer, an elderly man sporting a bucket hat, only had a six-pack of Pepsi, I was pleased. Such a small order would take no time at all. Boy was I wrong.

As the old man’s long, gaunt face peered up at me, he yelled, “That’s supposed to be $1.99!”

I replied, “Sir, the Pepsi is on sale, with a discount card. Do you have one?”

After failing to answer my question and staring at me suspiciously for several seconds, I said, “Here, I’ll use mine. The total is $2.12.”

“It’s supposed to be $1.99,” he barked, as spittle sprayed from his three-toothed mouth.

“Sir, there’s sales tax, which is why it’s $2.12.”

“F*%k sales tax! I’ll take you outside and kick you in the balls!”

At this point, other customers were staring at him and telling “Bucket Hat” he was being rude. Realizing I was in a no-win situation, I called the manager over to complete the order so I could walk away and calm down.

Following the incident, I came to two conclusions: First, this guy was passionate about Pepsi – although, considering his lack of teeth, he probably should have been buying Diet Pepsi. Second, his resistance to paying sales tax, more than likely, wasn’t linked to an unhealthy obsession with Henry David Thoreau. Instead, I realized, the cheese slipped of this guy’s cracker a long time ago, and there wasn’t anything I could do to help him find it.

Supermarket Stories: The Curious Case Of Facial Hair

I’ve been working part-time at my local supermarket for nearly 11 years. I started off as a bagger and moved up to cashier. It’s provided me with a decent amount of income and benefits throughout high school, college and now, grad school. It’s also provided me with an endless supply of stories; below is one of my favorites.

Several years ago, I was ringing up one of my regular customers – let’s call him Bill. Normally he sports a goatee, but this time he was clean shaven. I told him I thought he looked great, and that, in my opinion, all men look younger without facial hair. Then I jokingly said, “Women look younger without facial hair too.” As Bill and I were laughing at my quip, I turned toward my next customer. To my chagrin, it was a miserable older woman with – of course – a hairy upper lip. Needless to say, I was mortified, as I sheepishly asked her, “Do you have your savings card?”

Do you have an interesting, humorous or flat-out bizarre supermarket story you’d like to share? If so, please feel free to post it in the comments section below.

A Conversation With Gene Simmons

Photo by Michael Cavacini.

In addition to recently interviewing Barry Manilow and John Oates, I interviewed the God of Thunder: Gene Simmons. I’ve been a KISS fan since September 4, 1996, when I saw the band perform under the Brooklyn Bridge on MTV’s Video Music Awards. So, having the opportunity to speak with Gene Simmons was a surreal one, especially when I answered the phone and he said, “Hi, this is Gene Simmons.” I hope you enjoy this interview as much as I did conducting it.

Read more…

A Conversation With Dennis Woloch: Part 2

fullsizeoutput_1e62Dennis Woloch was the Art Director for 20 of KISS’ albums, including studio, compilation and live records. He worked with the band from their early days all the way through the mid-1980s. I met Dennis at the 2016 NJ KISS Expo and he was kind enough to speak with me for two hours about everything he worked on with KISS. Below is part two of this discussion. Part one can be read here.

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A Conversation With Dick Hill

Dick Hill HeadshotOver the past year I’ve become obsessed with audiobooks. They’re a great way for someone with a busy schedule (i.e., me) to enjoy books on the go. Whether I’m walking around town or brushing my teeth, I’m almost always listening to an audiobook on my iPhone or Kindle Fire HD, through the Audible or Overdrive apps.

Audiobooks are a magical form of entertainment because of the narrators that read them. These men and women are legitimate actors that breath life into the stories they read with a variety of intricate character voices, accents and dialects. The right audiobook narrator can make a mediocre book good and a great book excellent.

One of my favorite audiobook narrators is Dick Hill. Most famous for being the voice of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher series, Hill has nearly 500 audiobooks on Audible – including classics, sci-fi and fantasy, mysteries and thrillers, you name it. Hill is one of the most prolific audiobook narrators in the business and his ability to turn words into theater for the ears is impressive.

I recently had the honor of interviewing Dick Hill, and I hope the questions and answers below provide you with a greater understanding of this interesting profession. Enjoy!

How did you get involved in narrating books?

A friend of mine, Brit actor, was narrating for Brilliance Audio. They were looking to cast a WWII combat novel, and he suggested I get in touch. I did, recorded a couple pages of something similar I got off the supermarket shelf on a crappy little recorder and sent it to them. (They weren’t looking for audio quality, they’d provide that, they wanted to hear me read). Booked the gig, and knew I’d found my niche. Never looked back.

On average, how many hours does it take to record a book?

Depends on the length of the book, type of text etc. Generally I finish an hour of recorded book in around 75 minutes.

Do you read chapters straight through, or do you stop and start and edit the pieces together later to establish a seamless sound?

Susie is upstairs engineering and directing, and whenever I stumble or miss a word, we stop, roll back to a likely spot, then do a punch edit. She plays back for me to hear a lead in, then does an on the spot edit and I come right in and do it right. Generally.

How many audiobooks do you narrate each year?

I’d guess around 40 a year now, give or take a dozen.

From a business standpoint, do you have long-term contracts with publishers where you have to narrate a certain number of books a year, or are you hired on a book-by-book basis?

I’m paid per finished hour.

How are audiobook narrators compensated? Is there an upfront payment, a monthly retainer, royalties based on sales, or a combination of all three?

There are some works being done through ACX on royalty share, but I work strictly for fee. If Lee wanted to do a royalty share, or Stephen King, I’d be happy to, but those are not the kind of authors hoping to get someone to narrate their book on spec.

How do you make sure your recordings don’t include any background noise from inside the studio, like turning pages?

I’m quiet. I’ve developed a technique for moving from one page to the next that’s mostly soundless. If I do screw up, we just do an edit.

What is the most challenging aspect of your job and what is the most rewarding?

I find all the aspects I deal with challenging, but in a very good way. I relish the challenge of presenting the listener with the best, most compelling delivery I can achieve. It’s of the moment work, which I love doing. I don’t pre-read things, with a few exceptions. Susie preps the books, makes a vocabulary list to check, and gives me a character sheet noting gender, age, any accents mentioned or implied, etc. I use those to guide my performance. Since she’s prepped the book, she can alert me to any potential traps (e.g., don’t make the mystery caller too this or that) so the voice seems reasonable to fit the character it turns out to be. She generally doesn’t tell me just who those people are, or really, anything beyond performance guidance. I like to discover what happens right along with the listener. I love flying by the seat of my pants, doing cold reads. I’m good at them, and I think the sense of discovery helps with my work. Most rewarding?…pretty much all of it. Plus the checks. Getting paid to have fun, in large part.

Without naming it, have you ever had to narrate an awful book? If so, did you have to work harder or approach it differently than a book of higher quality?

Yes. Harder work. A couple were so bad I felt like a five dollar whore faking passion. I turned down any more work from those authors. Pretty lucky now, the publishers I work with most often have a very clear idea of the sort of things I like to do, and I’m seldom offered work I’d find offensive.

I’ve noticed that some of your books feature interesting audio effects to immerse the listener in the story. For example, Jack Reacher might be talking to someone on the phone and the voice on the other end is altered to sound as if it’s coming through a phone line. How is this done?

Those were probably earlier books. I prefer eschewing that sort of thing myself. If you’re gonna’ have a phone effect, then how about ambient noise, traffic, door slams, gunshots? I don’t include any effects or ask for any. I’m not aware of any publishers adding them any longer, though I’m not sure. I don’t listen to audiobooks myself, my own or anyone else’s. It’s immensely pleasurable to record books, but once I’ve done that why would I want to listen to them? Been there, done that.

What kind of personal preparation goes into getting to record an audiobook and how do you preserve your voice?

Occasionally if Susie gives me a heads up about a particular accent, I may go online to find samples of 15-year-old Malaysian girls with lisps raised in Irish Catholic orphanages till age ten then indentured as servants to a family of Germans with a Spanish head of the household. Other than that, I pretty much have a handle on how I approach accents, etc. Might not be Meryl Streepalicious, but then she has to perfect an accent for several hundred lines in a few projects per year. I do many more characters, many more books, so while I do try to do a good job with accents and dialects, my primary concern is to create characters and narrators that feel well motivated and interesting and further the author’s intent.

Recently, three of Lee Child’s Jack Reacher books, Die Trying, Tripwire and Running Blind, were rerecorded by another audiobook narrator, Jonathan McClain, and released on Audible. There was a backlash from fans for you not being the narrator. Do you know why your versions of these books were replaced and will you continue to be the voice of future Jack Reacher audiobooks, including Never Go Back, which comes out in the fall?

Yes, I’ve heard from a number of concerned folks. I think what that is, audio rights for the UK are issued separately, and Mr. McClain has been doing those. I will be doing the latest Reacher, and unless something happens I expect to continue doing so. Folks just have to look carefully to ensure they’re getting the reader they prefer, I guess.

Aside from narrating books, what other kinds of acting have you done?

I’ve worked regionally in live theatre, onstage. No film, some commercial video, ads and the like.

You and your wife have extensive experience in the audiobook industry. How did you two meet, and have you had the opportunity to collaborate on a project?

We met when she played Guinevere and I played Arthur in a production of Camelot. In addition to our work onstage, once we entered the audio world I directed her several times, she’s engineered and directed me on lord knows how many projects, and we’ve recorded a number of dual reads, one of which won us both Audies, the audiobook equivalent of an Oscar or a Tony. Or a Westchester Kennel Club best in show I suppose.

What projects are you currently working on that fans should look out for in the months to come?

Expecting that Reacher script soon, think there’s a fall release. Doing the last of the Stephen White series about Dr. Alan Gregory, which is heartbreaking for us. Love his writing and character insight, and one supporting character, Det. Sam Purdy, is one of the characters nearest and dearest to my heart. Susie’s prepping it this week, and is raving about how good it is and wailing about the fact that it is the last.

The Prince Of Tides – Book & Movie Review

The Prince of TidesFrom time to time, I encounter a book that fully engrosses me. Two such books were Stephen King’s It and Ken Follett’s The Pillars of the Earth. Not only were these novels well written, but they also featured characters I cared about. I distinctly remember reading The Pillars of the Earth and being blown away when a key character died. I was so flabbergasted that I stopped reading and called my friend, who had also read the book, to let him know I’d made it to that part. Pat Conroy’s The Prince of Tides profoundly moved me just as much as the aforementioned novels.

I work with a woman at the supermarket named Judy. For the past couple of years she’s been telling me I should read The Prince of Tides. Last year I downloaded the audiobook, and I didn’t get around to listening to it until now. Going into the book, I had high expectations. Based on the reviews I read, people felt this novel was a masterpiece and that its narrator, Frank Muller, brought it to life in a way that was mesmerizing.

Now that I’m done the book, I’m glad to report that The Prince of Tides was one of the best I’ve ever experienced, and Muller’s narration kept my rapt attention from start to finish. The majority of the novel was based on Pat Conroy’s life in the south, and this reality came through in the incredibly descriptive language. Conroy is a beautifully metaphorical writer whose prose manifests scintillating scenarios and gripping drama.

The Prince Of TidesThe Movie

After reading the The Prince of Tides, I watched the film adaptation directed by and starring Barbra Streisand. Her and Nick Nolte were terrific, and the film did a fine job of condensing Conroy’s tome into an incredibly enjoyable film. I was also delighted to see my all-time favorite comedian, George Carlin, in the Oscar-nominated picture. Most of all, I loved the music. The score, composed by James Newton Howard, was one of the most gorgeous pieces of music I’ve ever heard; it was simply breathtaking. Like any movie, the book was better, but the film didn’t have any radical departures from the source material; it just made it work in a different medium.

If you enjoy a good story, I recommend you read the novel first and then watch the movie. Both are beautiful works of art everyone should experience.

To prepare you for both, below you’ll find:

  • The official synopsis for the book
  • Frank Muller narrating a book
  • The main title song from the movie
  • A trailer for the film

Book Synopsis

Here’s the official description of the book from Pat Conroy’s website:

In this best-selling novel, Pat Conroy tells the story of Tom Wingo, his twin sister, Savannah, and the dark and violent past of the family into which they were born.

Set in New York City and the low-country of South Carolina, THE PRINCE OF TIDES opens when Tom, a high school football coach whose marriage and career are crumbling, flies from South Carolina to New York after learning of his twin sister’s suicide attempt. Savannah is one of the most gifted poets of her generation, and both the cadenced beauty of her art and the jumbled cries of her illness are clues to the too-long-hidden story of her wounded family. In the paneled offices and luxurious restaurants of New York City, Tom and Susan Lowenstein, Savannah’s psychiatrist, unravel a history of violence, abandonment, commitment, and love. And Tom realizes that trying to save his sister is perhaps his last chance to save himself.

With passion and a rare gift of language, Pat Conroy moves from present to past, tracing the amazing history of the Wingos from World War II through the final days of the war in Vietnam and into the 1980s, drawing a rich range of characters: the lovable, crazy Mr. Fruit, who for decades has wordlessly directed traffic at the same intersection in the southern town of Colleton; Reese Newbury, the ruthless, patrician land speculator who threatens the Wingos’ only secure worldly possession, Melrose Island; Herbert Woodruff, Susan Lowenstein’s husband, a world-famous violinist; Tolitha Wingo, Savannah’s mentor and eccentric grandmother, the first real feminist in the Wingo family.

Pat Conroy reveals the lives of his characters with surpassing depth and power, capturing the vanishing beauty of the South Carolina low-country and a lost way of life.

Frank Muller

Main Title Song

Movie Trailer

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