Working at a retail store in Toms River, NJ is a situation one would consider to be pretty safe. Working at Toms River FuncoLand, I can only think of two situations where I feared for my safety. One time was when a bunch of guys came in with gators over their faces and yelled, “This is a stick up!” and then immediately removed their gators while saying, “Just kidding, but seriously you guys got the new Madden in? We need to each buy a copy.” I feel like Shane was working with me that night, but I’m not sure. My memory is very fuzzy. I also do not recall when it happened.
The other time I feared for my safety, was at a time early in my position as 3rd Key. You couldn’t be 3rd Key unless you were 18, and I remember this happened when I was in high school still, so it most likely happened sometime during the winter months of 2000. You see Wooza was from the Bronx and had a reputation for being tough. He and his Brother, Nick, were constantly facing challenges in school and outside of school simply because people wanted to prove they were tougher than they were. To his credit, Wooza never went out of his way to look for a fight or to start one but it always seemed like he was dealing with some kind of beef. I don’t remember the specifics of this particular beef, but it was basically a group of guys that went to Toms River High School South who thought that they were going to show Wooza and Nick that they weren’t as tough as they thought. Maybe there was more to it than that but that was all I ever took away from it.
One day I came in to start my closing shift the way I did so many times before, I arrived in the late afternoon and Wooza was the opening manager. Typically there was about an hour of overlap where the opening and closing managers worked together while the closing Game Advisers came in after that hour was up. During our hour together, Wooza brought me up to speed on the night’s tasks that needed to be completed and also informed me of any shipments were were expecting that night. Then he said, “Oh, there is one more thing…” He proceeded to tell me about this current beef that was going on that he and his brother were involved with. It was like all the other ones I had heard before. But then Wooza said that they were probably going to come into the store to look for him and that they might cause some trouble. “TROUBLE?”, I thought, “What kind of trouble?” Wooza said it would probably be nothing, but he wanted me to be prepared if something did go down. He then proceeded to take out this old wooden hammer that he had hidden below the counter on top of the register’s CPU. It sort of looked like this one but was way older and more beat up looking:
I looked at Wooza and said, “What am I supposed to do with this?” He then looked at me dead in the eye and said the following: “You take dis hamma and hit them with it, then you run out da store.” [Author’s note: Wooza had a very thick Bronx accent, and I’m attempting to reflect that here the best way I can. Writing how he spoke phonetically seems to be the best way to accomplish this and is not meant as a slight against Wooza or people with Bronx accents.] The rest of the conversation played out as follows:
Sean: “So you want me to throw the hammer at them and run away?”
Wooza: “No. Hit dem wit da hammer and run out tha store. If you throw it at dem then they gots your weapon and you’ll be in more trouble.”
Sean: “So you want me to run away from the store? What about all the merchandise?”
Wooza: “Don’t worry about dat, I’ll handle it with corporate. Just get out and call me right away.”
For some reason this was all OK for me to hear at the time. I did not even think twice about it. Wooza kind of had that effect on people, he would explain things to you in a way that no matter how ridiculous it was, it just seemed normal and OK. Wooza then proceeded to describe how it would go down and there would basically be a “signal” for me to get on the offensive. He said most likely a large group of 5 to 6 people would come in the store and ask if he was in. If this happened, this would be them for sure and I should be ready if anything happened. Wooza then left as his shift was over and I began my watch.
Around 8:30pm, 30 minutes before close, it was just as he described, a group of 5-6 guys came in. Some of them picked up controllers on some of the PlayStations and then I recognized one of them, it was this guy Eric. Eric and I had been teammates in Toms River Little League and his little sister was friends with mine. Eric saw me and came over to talk. We B.S.ed for a bit as it had been some time since we saw one another and asked about each others families. I figured that all was well and that this was just Eric hanging with his friends looking for some video games. I relaxed completely. We continued our conversation. I noticed some more familiar faces with him, one kid was named Justin and another Kurt, they were both from my 6th grade class. The rest I did not recognized. Eric and I finished our conversation and we shook hands because he was going to leave. He took a few steps away from the counter and then turned back around to face me and then he asked, “By the way, is Wooza working tonight?”
I swallowed hard, “Na man, he isn’t working tonight.” Eric then asked if I knew when he was coming in again, I told him that Wooza hadn’t made up the schedule for the rest of the week yet so I couldn’t say and he wasn’t scheduled to open the next morning. Eric said it was no big deal, he then said good bye and left with the rest of his crew. I couldn’t believe what just happened. Eric was here to fight Wooza! I picked up the phone and called Wooza:
Sean: “Wooza they were here.”
Wooza: “Did you have to use da hamma?”
Sean: “No Wooza I didn’t. I actually knew most of them and they didn’t cause any problems. I didn’t even realize what was going on till they were leaving.”
Wooza: “Who were they?”
Sean: “Eric, Kurt, Justin, and I didn’t know the rest.”
Wooza: “That was dem alright.”
I dodged a bullet. Had it not been for my friendship with Eric, I would have been in serious trouble. But alas I did not have to use the hammer and it was business as usual for me.
Later on that week, my Dad came home from a basketball meeting and he told me there was a huge commotion in the parking lot of FuncoLand. He said there was a giant circle of people and there looked like a fight was going down. I called Wooza, there was no answer…
The next afternoon I came in and saw Wooza. I told him my Dad said there was a fight in the parking lot the night before. Wooza said that the crew came back looking for him. He said that his brother happened to be visiting at the same time and Game Adviser Jamie’s boyfriend had been there too. Wooza then said, “I locked the door to the store and the 3 of us went out and stood back to back and fought them. 10 minutes later, we beat their asses and I opened the store back up.” Wooza didn’t have a scratch on him. There was no way you could tell he was in a fight the night before.
Luckily this was the last time anything like this ever happened to any of us in the store. But it was far from the last ridiculous thing to go down at Toms River FuncoLand #307. Now every time I see a hammer, I can’t help but remember the valuable lesson Wooza taught me that day: “Hit dem wit da hammer and run out tha store. If you throw it at dem then they gots your weapon and you’ll be in more trouble.”