This weekend was my one year anniversary of quitting my job at the Giant Evil Bookstore. That’s weird, man. I don’t think I’ve ever been this stress-free for this long. I live in California now, where things are blissful and it’s gorgeous anywhere you look. Unexpectedly, I enjoy digging in the dirt. Being tired at the end of the day, but saying “Hey, look at this thing I accomplished.” That’s pretty great on a lot of levels. And the husband is the happiest monkey in the world out here. The other day he yells at me from across the living room, using his excited voice, “You know what we should do? We should make a wood stove that looks like R2-D2!” I sigh. He continues. “No, wait, no, we should make one that looks like Darth Vader’s helmet mask. And you put the wood in through his mouth? Nothing says ‘nerds off the grid’ like a Darth Vader wood stove.”
I’m not sure anything actually says “nerds off the grid.” But if anything could, it would, in fact, be a Darth Vader wood stove.
That’s like a Twilight Zone sentence, right? I’m not imagining the weirdness?
Anyway, I digress. I always had mixed feelings about the bookstore. It was books, and I love books. It’s like a little kid getting to wallow around in a pit full of kittens all day. Sort of. I do miss my peeps, good booknerdy folks who knew their shit and with whom I could comfortably commiserate about the horrors of minimum-wage shilldom. I liked knowing what books were coming out before anybody else. And seeing the ridiculous furor over best sellers or weird fads (thanks for that, Oprah). But the zombifying, soulsucking, spirit-crushing nature of a retail job definitely outweighs all of that.
But the best thing about working in a bookstore was definitely the customers. Also the worst thing. We had some fantastic regulars whom I adored. But most everyone else…hmm, there aren’t really words. But there are examples! (I’m the one in italics. I look great in italics.)
“You guys had a book on a table up front about six months ago? It had a blue cover.” It’s always the book with the blue cover! “Do you know where it is now? Why isn’t it still on the table?” Do you understand how marketing works? No? Ok.
“Where’s your nonfiction section?” Well, I can show you were my fiction section is, and then there’s the rest of the store, which is nonfiction. “What’s the difference?” Sigh.
“It’s a novel, but it really happened.” Novels are not nonfiction!
“I want something with wizards, but not like Harry Potter.” Urm. Good luck with that.
“Where’s your Harry Potter section?” Seriously?
“Where’s your Twilight section?” Fucking seriously?
“My kid really likes Twilight. Do you have anything that’s like that?” Everything’s like that. Can you be more specific? “Well, she’s ten.” Holy shit, lady, why did your kid read Twilight at ten? Or at all, for that matter?
“My kid’s a really good reader so it’s hard for him to find books that are challenging. He loves science fiction and fantasy.” Ok, great, let’s go over to the Science Fiction and Fantasy section. “Oh, no, I don’t want him to read adult books. He’s only a teenager.” This is why America is crumbling.
Kid with a giant stack of books she’s pulled out of the shelf and practically destroyed. Her mother: “Oh, no, honey, don’t put those away. That’s what she’s here for.” Point that finger at me again, bitch, and I will eat it.
“Why aren’t there any new Hemingway books?” Well, because disembodied dead spirits have a really hard time getting publishing contracts these days.
“I need these eighteen books as quickly as possible.” They’re out of print. “What do you mean?” I mean they don’t make them anymore. You’ll probably have to look at a used bookstore or order them online. “What do you mean?” When books stop selling they stop printing them. “What do you mean?” Are you stuck in a logic loop, Borg person?
“You can’t find it? Obviously your computer is wrong.” Obviously. Can we maybe think of more than one vague word out of the title with which to search? “Well, it should pop right up. It was ‘The’ something.” Can you think of any part of the author’s name? “Bob or Dave or John. Maybe.”
“I really like this author, but I’ve read all his books. Can you suggest something similar?” Sure, try this guy. “Oh, no, I don’t think so. I’ve never heard of him.” That was kind of the point, wasn’t it?
“I can’t find it. Can you just show me where it is?” Yes, ma’am. It’s right there on that shelf next to your eyeball.
“This place is so big. How do you find your way around?” A nauseating degree of repetition. And a basic understanding of maps and the alphabet.
“I ain’t never been in here before.” You don’t say.
Ok, ok. I’ll stop. I do tend to go on and on sometimes, don’t I? I don’t mean to sound so negative. It wasn’t all bad. Sometimes I even liked my job at the Giant Evil Bookstore. It taught me a lot about how not to run a business. Like not treating your employees like useless idiots. And refraining from most kinds of corporate scumfuck douchebaggery. What blew my mind the most about working there was how ignorant people were about books in general. I was endlessly fascinated by it, honestly. It’s like there’s a blind spot in their cultural awareness, you know? So often people would come in and say things like “I need that book that was on the news last night.” At which point I’d tell them that I don’t have a television and they’d look at me like I had three heads. And of course they didn’t remember the title or the author because they assumed that everyone at the bookstore would know exactly what they were talking about. Because it was on tv. Why wouldn’t everyone know exactly what they were talking about? It’s tv. Why have we gotten to a point where this is the norm? I’m upset and icky-feeling over it.
The other interesting thing is the way that customer service folks are looked at as subhuman. Like those types of jobs make you less, somehow, than other people. But you’ve got to pay the bills. Stupid capitalist society. For the record, we’re not in these sorts of service industry jobs because we’re too stupid or lazy to get a “real” job. Every single person I worked with either had a college degree or was in college to get one. Bookstore employees are pretty knowledgeable, if just by virtue of being forced to hang out there all the time. Don’t assume that they won’t know the answer to your question because of where they work. It’s their job to know the answers, and it’s a thankless job most of the time. Your shopping crisis may seem like the end of the world to you, but it’s only a few minutes out of their long-ass day, a day filled with all kinds of interesting shopping crises. So be nice. And be patient.