Tag Archives: bookstores

Retail minions unite!

5 Apr

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.

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Story Time!

8 Mar

Alright, kids, I hate to let life get in the way of my blogging responsibilities, but sadly it does happen from time to time. I’m in the middle of moving so I’ve got to keep this short and sweet this week. No deep insights! Very few ridiculous analogies! Plain old ordinary anecdotes! Possibly even typos. It’s so haphazard and exciting. Sorry. Next week I’ll try to be a badass. If I’ve got my shit together by then. Onward and upward. (Cue campfire ghost story voice. Ahem.)

Our story begins in a dim and dreary bookstore in the rainy depths of coastal California. This particular bookstore has pretty damn satisfactory scifi and fantasy sections (Tin Can Mailman in Arcata – I always leave happy and broke, check it out if you’re close and need a bookstore, plugplugplug). And the scifi section faces the front door so everyone who comes in has to walk right by you, right? I was standing there with (I’m not even fucking kidding) Isaac Asimov, Carl Sagan, Piers Anthony, and Frank Herbert in my hand. In those great old 1970’s-looking mass market paperbacks? I love those. I looked like a walking cheapskate scifi 101 class, though, for real.

In walked these two gentlemen who were clearly on a mission to find a particular book. Which should’ve been right where I was standing. But wasn’t. Of course. And it’s a used bookstore and they’re usually kind of busy and they’re by nature a little disorganized so I usually look two or three times and try random leaps of logic to try to look in other places that it just might have possibly ended up through some twist of fate. But these two gentlemen were being extremely thorough, even by those standards. And they were all up in my space, you know? I suppose at some point my comfort bubble got a bit bent because myopic, fucking overly polite me, I stepped back and started squinting at the books from afar so as to give these dudes the prime scifi section real estate, goddamn it. Because clearly they felt that their used bookstore experience was of a higher priority than mine.

One guy gave me the thank you nod (manners props to Dude #1!) and the other guy. Ooh, the other guy. Homeboy looked like Comic Book Guy’s, geekier more UV avoidant cousin (can you make fun of Simpsons characters for being pale? Does that even work? Fuck, I’m brainfried, just let it go). And you know, I don’t give a shit what people look like, I really really don’t. But sometimes you can just spot them from a mile away. Those haughty kind of LARPier-than-thou sorts of guys. They fall within a bell curve. They usually resemble the bell curve, as a point of interest. So this walking fucking stereotype, this caricature of a human being, gave my books the “I’m obviously being nosy about your books but it’s ok because we’re in a bookstore” head-tilt eyeball situation. And giggled. More of a giggle/scoff, really. A gloff, if you will.

At this point I should’ve asked him “What the hell, bro?” And just intimidated the shit out of him with my meaty social prowess and skillful altercation-starting skills. But those things aren’t real, you see, so I was left in this weird state of not knowing what had just happened or how to feel about it. Which is how I feel most of the time when I deal with other humans. Also why I moved to the middle of nowhere to a county that literally has more bears than people. That’s statistics. Look it up.

Because that gloff had the stink of superiority to it. And I don’t know why. I’m bothered by this not knowing (grammar what?). Are these four really important scifi classics not good enough for Dude #2? Because that’s bullshit. Maybe he was just a fantasy geek who scoffs at scifi in general, but then why the rudeness trying to get past me to the scifi books? Or was he laughing because he assumed I hadn’t read them (three of them I had, I just didn’t own my own copies, for the record)? In which case the proper etiquette of nosy bookstoreness would be to say “Hey, those are really good books” not “You mean you’re in your thirties and you haven’t read those yet?” Or maybe (because we need at least one optimistic prospect) he was thrown off by my being a girl in the scifi section at all and couldn’t think of anything to say that was polite so he opted for the idiot gloff instead. Any of these things is possible.

Anyway. I guess it’s just a mystery. Damn, there’s really no good way to end that story. It was a frustrating nerd moment, you know? I’ve let it roll off my back. After I stopped myself from chasing him down the street screaming “Why?! Why?!” Then I let it roll off my back. I’m not particularly good with people. So, if we need to find a moral here: be nice in bookstores, ok?