Tag Archives: overgeneralizing stupidity

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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Where’d I put my brick wall?

29 Mar

I go through these weird periods of obsession. Just various and sundry odd things that I think about constantly for about six months at a time and then move on to the next. It’s one of my less charming quirks. Lately I’ve been kind of preoccupied with comedy. Which felt new and exciting and different until I realized that this has happened before. It’s not amnesia or anything. I mean, I hope not. If I’ve got selective cultural amnesia, you’d think I would at least do myself the courtesy of forgetting about the Bush administration. Or Chumbawamba.

When I was a kid, it was the 1980’s. Which, in America, was the heart of the standup comedy boom, back before all those folks got their own sitcoms. My family’s somewhat musically inclined, so when we got cable we watched a lot of VH1 (which, if you’ll recall your prehistory, actually stands for Video Hits One, from those dinosaur days of honest-to-God music videos, or short films set to music for those of you who really don’t know). VH1 had a lot of standup stuff in their lineup back in the day, and aired a lot of weird comedy shows. This is before reality television, you understand. Also, HBO had a shit ton of comedy going on back then. Whole marathons of one-hour standup specials on the weekends. So, there was comedy in my house, whether I was paying it much attention or not.

Around about high school I started listening to comedy albums pretty heavily. I had Steve Martin and George Carlin on vinyl. Although, to my discredit, that was probably just because I really love vinyl. And then came Bill Hicks. Oh, how I fell ass-over-teakettle in love with Bill Hicks. I can recite his Philosophy album word for word. When you’re that age, you tend to glom on to people who express ideas that are similar to your own, especially when your ideas are what make you feel really out of place in your community. You know, like how it feels being smart and skeptical in a small, Christian, southern town. I also had a pretty intense love for Janeane Garofalo. Smart, snarky, pretty brunette with glasses and a successful career telling people exactly what she thought? That is definitely role model material. Also Daria. I think I may actually be Daria. But I’m not sure. There was some other weird comedy shit going on in the 90’s, too, though I don’t think I was quite old enough to have a lot of it on my radar. The State, Kids in the Hall, Mad TV, Mr. Show. That transition from traditional standup to alternative comedy was a strange time. (If I were just a couple of years older, I’d be a much cooler person. I got the ass end of the 90’s, honestly.)

Fast forward to this winter, when I was trapped indoors and decided to start this blog just to get the writery demons out of my head. Through a weird chain of events and link-clicking on the interwebs, I found myself listening to a lot of comedy again. Obviously my tastes have changed since my high school comedy obsession period. But why? That’s what’s been tickling the old brain buttons lately. And now I’m trapped in this hideous tangle of existential comedy questions. What is funny? Why is it funny? And why are things that I found funny fifteen years ago not funny anymore (putting aside the obvious fact that teenagers are sociopaths)?

It’s so subjective and weird, the idea of comedy. The things that I find funny are exactly the kinds of things that shouldn’t be funny. Religion, politics, human behavior. These are heavy, heady issues, right? I’m not making that up, am I? To be able to take those things and our psychological or cultural reactions to them, turn them over, show us how they work and why they’re fucked up, and then laugh about it – I’m not sure that normal humans do that. But through some mutation in the awesome gland we’ve evolved to a point as a species where we have comics to show us how. And thank the giggle gods, because if you can’t laugh at yourself you’re fucking useless, frankly. I do this whole tongue-in-cheek, self-deprecation thing because I have low self-esteem due to years of systematic bullying and social isolation. And as fun as that is, it’s not turned itself into a marketable skill. Comedians are ninjas at exactly that, at analyzing their own behavior and the foibles of others. Really neurotic mirrors for society, these people. The good ones, at least.

Alright, alright, that’s not true. Let’s not be one-sided here. I guess this is still America. You’ve got to pander to the masses. Which is how that collection of redneck-exploiting idiots made a bajillion dollars off of “Git ‘er done” and other cerebral quips, and that racist jackass with the puppets is still going strong. Representing the majority is important, too. How else are most of these people supposed to make any money? Comedy is hard. It’s a stupid hard life that they choose for themselves, living out of a suitcase for the sake of inviting rejection from strangers night after night. I salute the balls it takes to do that, for real. I just think that a lot of it is not funny. That’s kind of my point. I don’t think fart jokes are funny, either. Or slapstick. But somebody does, which is why that shit still gets made. Contrarily, when comedians from the other end of the spectrum get close to some touchy subject like God or abortion or (every few years) an election they get told by the vast majority that they’re going to burn in some special hell for commie pinko atheist scum (what does “pinko” even mean, you guys, seriously?). The American masses are so easily offended when you try to pet their sacred cows. It’s like (in comedy as well as every other arena) there are two Americas: a smaller one living in the huge, overarching shadow of the other, struggling to get by with just our logic and secular humanism. And down here in the Neverwhere gloom we few still think Bill Hicks is a goddamned genius. Bring on the hatemail, I’m totally ready.

Johnny really IS a homicidal maniac…

1 Mar

I got a nerd bug up my ass and bought a bunch of comics the other day. I reread Johnny the Homicidal Maniac. It’s still awesome. I had the individual comics once upon a time, but I’m not sure what ever happened to them. One of those growing up and moving all your stuff out of your parents’ house things, probably. Kind of sad, really. The trade paperback version is basically the same, with one extra Happy Noodle Boy. Also, I feel like the subliminal messages are different, but I have no way to prove that. It might just mean that they’re not as easy to read since I’m not stoned all the time anymore. But whatever. I realized, too, that Johnny looks like me in high school. Stupid 90’s. Urgh. Fucking mortifying, that. Moving on.

It’s trippy comic book art at its finest. Vasquez has a really great, super simple, pen-and-ink-meets-woodcut kind of style. The characters are somewhat bobble-headed and the perspective is skewed or off-kilter most of the time. All done in black and white, which makes the blood splattery bits even more striking. There are a lot of fun, subtle details in the background of each panel, too. Little treats for the very close observer. It does date itself with all the goth jokes, but having been there I think it holds up pretty well (nostalgia counts for a lot there, for some reason). And all the girls have undercuts. Remember undercuts? What the hell was that about?

Living up to his name, Johnny’s fucking twisted. He’s such a psycho. Page after page of the most creative, interesting ways to kill people. It’s hilarious. I love it. For the same reason I love zombie and slasher flicks, I guess. There’s something really purgative and awesome about watching people do abhorrent stuff that we’ve thought about but would never do. It’s just an outlet. A pressure valve. It appeals to our baser instincts. JTHM is the oh-so-very deliciously gory result of that idea. I honestly don’t know if the intention is satire or pure shock value. Could legitimately be both. I’m ok with that. I love me some hyperbole. I’m also (on a seemingly unrelated note) a rabid Tarantino fan, so I don’t mind a bit of violence if it’s done with some finesse, you know? Some style, some class. Yeah, the book is awful damn bloody, but there’s a point to it. Or, at least, one could read into it and find a point, were one so inclined.

Cue the violence in the media conversation: apparently it impacts the weak minds of our stupid children, making them into murder robots because they can’t think for themselves and we can’t, obviously, as busy adults, be bothered to parent them (but they turn around and cut school funding – whaa?). Then these heathen brats who are somehow trained killers lose their shit and lash out and kill a bunch of people who have wronged them in a gruesome cloud of vengeance! And it’s all society’s fault. Can we just grow up a little bit here, talk about this like adults? Seeing gore on a screen or a page doesn’t mean that you should think it’s ok and go out and do it. Here’s my theory. We tend to forget what we absorb pretty quickly in our soundbite (soundbyte?) culture, right? So if you watch a lot of horror movies or read a lot of gory books (especially comics), you become desensitized. It all  becomes cartoonish, almost. You end up thinking in more realistic terms when it comes to your own actions and reactions. You know, if your brain is healthy and all. This is just me talking out of my ass about anger management, though. Shrinks would probably disagree with me. They have, actually. But I stand by my statement. I also love that wacky heavy metal, so maybe don’t take my word on this stuff. (Disclaimer: Horror movies are not therapy. Ass covered.)

But why is it always just violence that gets all the blame? Other things don’t seem to come up as often in our “bad influences in the media” discussions. Theft, fraud, lying, cheating, drug use. Or sex. Jesus, don’t even get me started on sex in the media. That’s not a blog, it’s a goddamn dissertation. Maybe the real problem is that we don’t intellectualize or rationalize violence. Too visceral. Our culture has to account for the lowest common denominator and assume that monkey-see-monkey-do will be a pretty typical reaction. Which is fucking pathetic, but I won’t say it’s invalid.

Bottom line, if you don’t mind a lot of blood in black and white, Johnny the Homicidal Maniac is fan-freakin’-tastic in a sick, snarky way. I highly recommend. Get thee to a comic shop.

(To give credit where credit is due, the version I have is: JTHM: the Director’s Cut by Jhonen Vasquez, Slave Labor Graphics, 1997, ISBN 9780943151168)