Jim Norris was behind the counter when the governor of Colorado came in and ordered his usual. Roy Romer stopped by this particular Peaberry outlet at least once a week, always ordering a Frozen Bear--sort of a sweetened espresso slurpee. And he'd always been "basically pretty friendly," Norris recalls--but not this time.
When Norris informed the governor that the machine was on the blink, Romer, "who received a vote from my own mother, threw the fucking [cinnamon] stick at me and and asked me if I knew how to run a business. Of course I don't know how to run a fucking business--that's why I'm working a fucking coffee shop."
Not anymore, actually. After Norris published those words--and several more sentences along the same line--in the March/April issue of his year-old `zine, The, he was fired by Peaberry, even though he hadn't mentioned the business by name. But even Norris's official termination notice lists the cause of action as: "Jim wrote a piece in his local news [crossed out] magazine about Gvnr. Romer [crossed out] a customer that was derogatory."
Of course, Norris wrote about that, too. In the hot-off-the-presses current issue of The, he writes with all the insouciance of a 26-year-old who knows, this time at least, that he's truly in the right: "Well, it's been a hectic two months since the last The. I lost my job because of what I wrote about the Gov...Don't vote for Roy and don't ever, under any circumstances, buy Peaberry `We Censor Our Employees' Coffee. You don't have to vote republican to keep Romer out. A Mr. Aguilar (I'm sorry I can't remember his first name) is circulating a petition to be able to run against Roy under the Democratic ticket. I've seen him out on the mall a couple of times."
Norris sees a lot of the folks he writes about out on the mall. That's why he liked the job at Peaberry's Tabor Center outlet: He met lots of interesting people, sometimes street people, people whose pieces he'd publish in The. Besides, it paid the bills. Even Romer wouldn't miss the irony: The java jerk he'd accused of not knowing business, and who'd actually had to leave school when he tried majoring in business at the University of Northern Colorado, now runs a fledgling publishing empire. Norris discovered journalism--or at least a Brand X variation on the theme--when he returned to school and wrote a letter to the editor about frat boys. "The next day: death threats, people calling and harassing me," he recalls. "At first I thought, `Oh, my God,' then a couple days later, `Wow!'" He published an alternative paper, College Consciousness, in Greeley, then moved down to Denver and started the 1,000-circulation The with partner Dave Newblom.
Norris is a man of principle, if not strong punctuation skills. And he'll find plenty of company in the unemployment line, where several other young Denverites are learning that losing your job is a small price to pay for invoking the Bill of Rights.
On June 1 the Florida-based Blockbuster Entertainment Corporation (owned by garbage mogul H. Wayne Huizenga) introduced its new dress code at stores across the country, including the local Sound Warehouse outlets bought out by Blockbuster two years ago. "As you consider our sound and proven dress code standards," one company memo urged, "please balance and rethink your negative reactions against all the positives BBEC has to offer you."
In addition to sporting the khaki slacks, blue oxford-cloth shirts and name tags required under the previous incarnation of the code, male employees now must keep their hair no longer than two inches below the collar (and "no mohawks or spiked `punk' hair styles, or unnatural hair colors such as pink or purple") and can't wear earrings at all; women may don one "conservative, professional" earring per ear. "Jewelry displaying macabre/occult symbols such as skulls and pentagrams is not permitted," the rules warn.
It was the pentagram prohibition that got to George Edwards, an eight-year veteran of Sound Warehouse. He organized last Wednesday's protest of the policy, but by then he was already officially gone. "Had I not submitted my resignation, they would have fired me," he says. "I left on the basis of religious freedom. A Christian can display a crucifix, but if I want to wear a pentagram, I can't. That's discrimination."
It was the hair rule that clipped Jerry Jerome after he'd worked for Sound Warehouse nine years. "It was pre-ordained," he says. "They told me, `You cut your hair or June 1, you're out of here.' I said I wouldn't quit, wouldn't cut my hair." And he was gone. "They can hide it in this `hair' thing," Jerome adds, "but it's all about money." Unfortunately, it's about money for Jerome, too. "I'm kind of torn," admits the Capitol Hillbillies guitarist. "They carry our tape."
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It's the earring that will probably tear it for Les Porambo. He started working at the Blockbuster store on Arapahoe Road six months ago, when khaki slacks were already required but jewelry was never mentioned. "I was hired with my earring," Porambo says. "That's why I refuse to take it out." As a result of his loyalty to that little hoop--and his refusal to jump through any corporate hoops--he's been sent home three days running. And some day soon, he knows, his dismissal will be permanent. "I could see it at an office job," he says of the code, "but a music store?"
In the meantime, the governor has given up on Frozen Bears--he's decided they're fattening, and he's trying to lose some weight. (He's drinking cappuccino instead.) As Romer remembers it, he'd called the Tabor outlet that day and asked if the balky machine was working. That's why he was upset. Even so, Romer says, he's "disappointed that the young man was fired."
Norris would be the first to forgive the governor. Or, as he puts it in the latest The: "Unemployment kicks butt. Try it.