I woke this morning to two messages on Facebook from an old acquaintance.
Someone who worked for me at EB Games a decade ago had passed away last month.
His name was Chris Jackson, and I met him one of my first days working for EB Games in Exton in June 1999. He was a regular customer of the store — Bonnie, the manager, knew him pretty well — and he’d have still been in high school then. He’d come in with his girlfriend, in whom he was completely besotted. (I don’t recall her name, unfortunately. All I remember is that she looked like a teenaged Lalla Ward.) As time went on, they would come in the store at least once a week, and we’d talk about this and that, but mainly about games. I liked Chris.
Time passed. He graduated from high school and enrolled at West Chester. I was promoted at EB, then promoted again, and one day in the spring of 2001 he wanted to know if we were hiring. If I had to make a stab at when he started working for EB Games, I’d say it was ten years ago exactly, plus or minus a month.
I didn’t know, until this morning, that Chris was an Eagle Scout, but now that I think about it I can see that. He was a good kid, very responsible and very upstanding, with a strong moral core. There are people who take to responsibility the way fish take to water or kids take to LEGO, and Chris was one of those who was born responsible. I never felt any qualms in leaving him in charge of the store to lock up. He was only twenty, and I think he actually liked the responsibility.
But he made one really big mistake.
He “borrowed” an Xbox and a PlayStation 2 system. He also “borrowed” some games.
Every morning at EB, managers had to do what we called “perpetual counts.” Basically, it was a list of merchandise items that needed to be counted each day. I had been off one day, I did the morning perpetual count and discovered some serious discrepancies — some game systems were missing. Thinking they might have been damaged out but put in the wrong place, I called Chris — who had worked the day before — and I asked him if he knew where an Xbox and a PlayStation were.
Chris gave me an answer I wasn’t expecting, an answer that I would never have expected. He told me that he had them. He’d opened the previous day, he really wanted to play them, so he took the systems and some games and put them in his car. I didn’t have to pry that answer from him, he offered it honestly and straight. He had been up all night, wracked with guilt over what he’d done.
The by-the-book response to this would be to 1) call the district manager and 2) call corporate Loss Prevention. I saw very little value in that; they would have sat him down and yelled at him for an hour and left him a quivering emotional wreck.
My unorthodox response?
“Chris, you understand that you can’t work here any more?”
He said he did.
“Then this is what you’re going to do. You’re going to come in this afternoon, you’re going to turn in your keys, and you’re going to pay for what you took. Once that’s done, as far as I’m concerned, the matter’s closed.”
He agreed, and later that afternoon when I was working with another of my employees, Jordan, Chris came in. He could barely look at me, and he looked like he had been through an emotional hell. He had a list of what he’d taken, complete with serial numbers. I rang up the merchandise; it came to over a thousand dollars, and he paid in cash. He handed me his keys. When it was done, I shook his hand and wished him well. I never saw him again.
Jordan asked me what he had just witnessed.
“Chris doesn’t work here any more,” was all I said. There was nothing left to say.
Offering him the “out” was, to my mind, the mature, responsible act. He had made a mistake. He had owned up to it. It was a mistake that cost him his job, but it didn’t need to be a mistake that ruined his life.
There’s another story that I associate with Chris.
In the summer of 2001, Chris and his family took a week’s vacation and they went to Florida. When Chris came back, he brought a photo album for everyone in the store to look at, and he was so proud of it. He handed it to me, and I flipped through it, and there was page after page of Chris and a young woman who wasn’t his girlfriend.
“Who’s the girl?” I asked.
Chris beamed. “That’s my first cousin Mandy.”
“Mandy. Got it.” It didn’t mean anything to me. I finished looking through the album — there’s nothing more soul-sucking in the world than to look through someone else’s photo album — and I handed it back to him.
“So? What do you think?” he asked.
I shrugged. “She looks nice enough.”
“It’s Mandy. Mandy Moore.”
Yes, Chris was the first cousin of actress and pop star Mandy Moore. Unfortunately, I had absolutely no idea who Mandy Moore was — and, to be perfectly honest, I still wouldn’t be able to pick her out of a police line-up today. He was disappointed I didn’t know who she was. That happens.
Chris passed away a month ago, at the far-too-young age of twenty-nine. I see, in reading his obituary, that he did some exciting things in his life and, when he died, he was working with video games for GameStop in Exton, actually.
When I think of Chris, it’s the good times I’ll remember and not the way things ended in 2002. I’ll remember him with Lalla Ward. I’ll remember him excited about a video game or computer game. I’ll remember him complaining about the staff of the restaurant he worked at after high school. And I’ll remember his glee at the photo album of his cousin, Mandy Moore.