Monday, August 19, 2013

HARDCORE PAWN, Episode 16: System Failure, or Don't Hand Me That Line

In years to come, Hardcore Pawn aficionados and historians (do such people exist?) may well refer to this as the show's most regal episode: It's not every day you can see a Prince (impersonator) and a King (Tut sarcophagus) in the same 23 minutes.

But "Seth in Charge," this chapter of the continuing drama that is Detroit's American Jewelry and Loan, really revolves around Seth being chosen to run the store (again) while Les continues to recuperate from his hernia operation. Finally able to implement some modern store procedures without his dad's stifling Old School oversight, he establishes a new system he believes will improve the customer experience. Instead of having to stand in two lines before receiving their money, people now can simply walk up to Seth, armed with a printer and a cash box, and turn their pawn tickets into speedy green.

(Not sure about the wisdom of keeping a cash box out in the open, especially in Detroit and particularly given the wackos who routinely wander through AJ&L – there is a reason the money is usually protected behind double-thick windows, after all – but youth must be served.)
These smiles will not last through the entire episode. (Mark Hill/Turner)

Ashley, to the surprise of absolutely no one, thinks the plan is "dumb and irresponsible," "beyond ridiculous," and that her baby brother is making changes for no other reason than because he can. (The last time he made a major operational change at the store, she is fond of noting, most of the employees walked out in protest.) Les, still operating gingerly on his cane, is willing to hold his tongue – as long as he can – and allow Seth to assume the authority he has been given and run with it, asking Ashley to keep quiet and support her brother in the interim.

Well, here's a surprise: The new system quickly becomes a gigantic snafu, with lines snaking nearly out the door and hour-plus waits for service. "Growing pains," Seth declares it, but the furious pawnshop customers with steam coming out of their ears aren't quite so understanding. One, a blonde long-haired hippie freak with a portable TV in hand, storms Ashley's "jewelry window" and demands she take his set and give him something in return. So she does: She comes out from behind her window, takes the TV, hands it back to the barbarian and gives him security guard Byron, who quickly gives him the gate.

As the situation slowly sorts itself out, Seth and Bobby J are approached by a man in a baby blue suit with long flowing tails, whose conversation is punctuated by loud birdlike whoops. "Do you know who I am?" he asks in a husky voice.

Matter of fact, I think I do. Unless I miss my guess – or more than one of these fellows is running loose on the streets of Detroit – I believe this gent might be Prince St. Paul (Paul Jack William Hall), the Detroit-based Prince lookalike whom my friend Curtrise Garner wrote about so splendidly earlier this year in the Detroit Metro Times. While he may have to work on his material ("Look at this service I'm getting: I can see why doves cry"), he certainly cut a dynamic, showstopping figure in his brief retail excursion.

He said he came to pawn a diamond earring in order to get his little red Corvette repaired, but what he learned got him delirious: the rock was schlock. "That may be a real earring, but that's not a real diamond," Seth announced. ""Imitation Prince, imitation earring," chimed Bobby J.

Ah, well. One more full split on the floor in his see-through blue pants, and Prince dances away a pauper. (Read more about him here.)

Moments later, the pawn becomes a king. A man who says his entire home is decorated in an ancient Egyptian motif arrives with a genuine knockoff King Tut sarcophagus. "Where'd you get it? China?" Seth asks, and the seller sheepishly agrees that's possible.

Ashley is sharpening her claws waiting to see how Seth handles this oddball offering, but for one of the very few times in Hardcore Pawn history brother and sister see eye to eye. The Tut dragger wants $300; Seth offers $75. They agree to disagree, and the King has left the building.

Also worthy of note are the fellow who wanted to sell a beaming yellow suspension sand buggy that looked like a set of monkey bars on wheels, and the mouthy, self-proclaimed "pink b---h" who goes off when she can't retrieve her pink mink from the racks – even though her claim ticket clearly states her fur is brown.

"I ain't never comin' back to y'all!" she shouts once Byron has shown her the spacious parking area.

"See you tomorrow," Les shouts back.

However, it's an item as commonplace as a circular saw that ultimately tears it for Les. When a reedy, desperate man wants $200 for his saw only to be offered $20 in return (supply and demand, you know), he gets into everybody's face – including Les's. He may still be recovering, but Les doesn't take anybody calling him "old man" lying down. He sheds his cane, then rips into the insulting sawman himself. "He made me so angry, I don't even feel the pain any more," Les steams.

Family huddle. Les declares that Seth's new system is Public Enemy No. 1 for triggering the in-store chaos. "So here's the deal," he says. "I'M IN CHARGE! Until you can prove to me that you have the ability to run the store without me, it's gonna be my system. Period!"

Les isn't convinced either of his offspring can run American Jewelry and Loan in his absence, but as is frequently the case, Seth's reign is barely a drizzle. "He hasn't even given me a day to prove myself," Seth laments. "That's so typical of my dad."

But hey, in the middle of his diatribe Les did yell at Ashley to "stop kissing my ass." Little victories. Take 'em where you can get 'em.