Wednesday, September 29, 2004

The Revenge of the Smelly Hippie

Remember that site I linked to last week where people were posting about how booksellers were smelly, evil hippies trying to keep them from buying conservative books? That site was This quiz asks you to guess whether a given set of 14 quotes came from the fuckwits at littlegreenfootballs or Nazi propaganda. It will blow your mind. <™ Hippie Speak>

The Big Bookstore Index

Shamelessly stolen from Harper's Magazine, the first in an occasional series of completely fictional statistics:

Number of hours in a full shift: 8
Number of hours spent at registers in a full shift: 3
Number of hours spent at the information desk: 5
Approximate number of questions by customers answered in a typical hour: 30
Approximate number of answers involving the location of the bathroom: 10
Percentage of phone calls after 9 p.m. asking what time we close: 55
Percentage of people who confuse Information with Registers: 8
Percentage of those people who are non-English speakers: 84
Percentage of customers at Information who are complete asshats: 12
Number of people who confuse Big Bookstore with Rival Bookstore in a one hour register shift: 2
Percentage of customers on cell-phone during transaction during one hour register shift: 22
Percentage of customers at registers who are complete asshats: 18
Average value of returned merchandise per return: $22.53
Average dollar amount of returned computer books per computer book return: $49.99
Typical number of days since returned computer book was purchased: 30
Percentage of computer book returners who want to keep the receipt for tax purposes: 15
Percentage of computer book returners who are complete asshats: 95
Total number of cow-workers: 69
Average number of cow-workers whom I like in any given shift: 6
Total number of cow-workers I wouldn't cross the street to piss on if they were on fire: 6 8
Total number of cow-workers to whom I would actually set fire: 1

Sunday, September 26, 2004

More Disgruntled Booksellers!

I'm keeping my finger on the pulse of the Disgruntled Bookseller nation, so you don't have to!

Saturday, September 25, 2004

Sort of a Retraction, But Not Really

Glenn Reynolds, aka instapundit has published a half-hearted correction about booksellers "hiding" conservative books.

Gee, thanks, Buddy.

Friday, September 24, 2004

Hey, You! Yes, You With the Cell Phone. I Hate You.

By now you're tired of cell phone rants. You've read about it everywhere - in the papers and in online rants. You've heard about the new laws banning cell phone use by drivers, and you've all witnessed some monumental cell phone gaffe like the sound of Outkast's "Hey Ya" beeping from someone's Motorola in the middle of a funeral. There's even a book out now dedicated solely to the subject of The Jerk with the Cell Phone. It's been covered. If you don't want to read another rant about cell phones, then move right along. Nothing to see here.

First let me give a full disclaimer. I own a cell phone. It currently resides in the side pocket of my totebag. It is four years old, the battery is dead and the antenna, which had been taped on with hundred-mile-an-hour tape, is off on its own little adventure somewhere. I'm just not a phone person. At home, I can go for days without making or receiving a call. I don't get a lot of calls because anyone who would be calling me knows that I almost never answer the phone. I go for weeks sometimes without even checking my messages. The only day I answer the phone is Sunday. On Sundays, Mom calls. It's always Mom on Sunday, and she knows I'm here, and if I don't answer she just keeps calling and leaving messages that make me feel like a total slackass. She says things like, "It's 2 in the afternoon, but you must still be in bed. Call me if you ever wake up." Later, "It's 6 p.m. I guess you've gone back to sleep." (The last said in an exasperated tone.) Later still, "Lisa, it's 10 p.m. your time. Are you there? I'm getting worried."

She's not worried. She knows exactly where I am. I'm on the couch in the living room reading the paper and watching the Simpsons and I only have one phone (which is not cordless) and it's in the bedroom and I'm not about to haul my ass across the apartment to get there by the fourth ring so she can tell me about my nephew's latest school band performance, the stupid thing my Dad did, and what she served at her last bridge luncheon. If anyone dies in my family, it better be on a Sunday, otherwise I might not make it home in time for the funeral.

So, yeah. I'm not a phone person.

This is why I find it incomprehensible and unfathomable that so many people now find it virtually impossible to live their lives without being in constant contact with whoever it is they feel they must be in constant contact. When I see people shopping in the grocery store, cell phone to ear, I want to drop to my knees and scream to the heavens, "WHY???" Grocery shopping was never a consultative process before. You made a list, you shopped. None of this calling of the spouse from Aisle 7 to assist in the monumental Mrs. Butterworth's versus Aunt Jemimah decision. WHAT THE FUCK? PICK ONE OR BUY BOTH. IT DOES NOT REQUIRE A PHONE CALL.

But apparently it does.

At Big Bookstore, people do not seem to be consulting the person at the other end of the line so much as talking recreationally. Big Bookstore, apparently, is conducive to catching up with friends and just generally shooting the shit. I have a theory about this. I think that some people feel that shopping for books indicates something negative about their desirability as social beings. After all - reading is a solitary pursuit. So if you're at the bookstore stocking up on the latest chick lit or the entire Tom Clancy oeuvre, you might (if you are a socially insecure moron) feel that others are looking at you and wondering why you have so darn much time on your hands. It's kind of like the single-woman-in-grocery-checkout-line-with-catfood-and-lean-cuisine syndrome, where you can just sense the pitying looks gazing down on your pathetic basket of single girl goods.

If do find yourself in Big Bookstore, shopping alone, on a weekend night and you are that insecure moron mentioned above, then you really need to show the world that you are not the Big Loser that you appear to be. What better way than talking loudly on your cell to let the world know: "Hey! I am not a Big Loser! I have friends. Friends with whom I am speaking RIGHT NOW!"

There are other variations on this theme. Some people (mostly men) talk business, very loudly, while their infant spawn run amok in the Kid's Section. They are saying to the world: "My wife may have stuck me with the kids tonight, but I AM IMPORTANT, DAMMIT. I am not some girly-man caregiver! I have work that cannot wait until tomorrow!"

So these people walk around the store, talking and gesticulating and not using their inside voices. When they come to the cash registers, they do not even pause in their important conversations to acknowledge my existence. I am reduced to a human vending machine. The entire transaction takes place without the customer ever making eye contact or exchanging a word with me.

I watch the customers depart, juggling their belongings, purchases and cell phones, the flow of this vital conversation never ceasing, and I think: "You don't fool me. I know you are really talking to your Mom - who is telling you about your nephew's latest school band performance, the stupid thing your Dad did, and what she served at her last bridge luncheon."

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

Damn, This is Getting Old

Glenn Reynolds, also known as instapundit has also jumped on the all bookstore employees are flaming liberals who display books based on a political agenda bandwagon.

I don't understand the difficulty in comprehension these people display.

It's a goddamn election year with an incumbent running. As a result there are a lot of anti-Bush books out there. I would venture to say there are three or four times as many anti-Bush titles available right now as there are conservative books. So, OF COURSE THE DISPLAY WILL SEEM LOPSIDED.

Sorry for the yelling, but this really, really PISSES ME OFF.

When Clinton was up for reelection in 1996, the plethora of anti-Clinton books was overwhelming. Even in 2000, without an incumbent, there were plenty of conservative books that hit the shelves.

We don't write the books. We don't publish the books. We just sell the books. But the argument is that in selling the books we are giving an unfair amount of display space to the "liberal" books.

Let's do some basic, grammar-school level math, OK? If I have four "liberal" titles, and one "conservative" title, and my bookshelf holds five books, how much of the shelf will be occupied by conservative books? Please answer in fractions.

If you answered 1/5 of the bookshelf, then you win a prize.*

There is another problem with this misperception that bookstores are promoting anti-Bush books. What, exactly, constitutes an "anti-Bush" book? If Robert Reich writes a book called Reason: Why Liberals Will Win the Battle for America, is that an anti-Bush book? Is this? How about this book written by a conservative author? Is it anti-Bush too? In the Instapundit/littlegreenfootballs/freerepublic world, it appears that any book which questions the current direction of the country is, by definition, anti-Bush. And somehow, by extension, being anti-Bush in their world is also anti-American.

God, I'm tired.

Let me just close with a hearty FUCK YOU to Instapundit for flunking out of the School of Obviosity. As a result of your article, booksellers across the nation will now have to put up with another week of cranky, old white men taking copious and detailed notes on our displays, rearranging all of our displays to suit their beliefs, and verbally abusing us on the way out.

*There is no actual prize, you big losers.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The Customer is Always

My friend and cow-worker, the Medieval One, is a serious guy who writes serious shit. He thinks I should write more serious stuff and that I'll run out of things to blog about if I limit myself to the type of stuff one would expect on a blog called "Disgruntled Bookseller." He could NOT be more wrong. I've got a list a mile long of things I want to write about. Every couple of days I add to the list. Hell, every time I go to work, I add to the list. My backlog of Disgruntled Bookseller topics is as long as my backlog of books purchased and not yet read. Off the top of my head, these are some of the things I could be blogging about right now: the Vortex of Evil Otherwise Known as the Kid's Section, Customers Who Are Flunking Out of the School of Obviosity, the Disgruntled Bookseller Index of Random Statistics, the World of Bizarre and Inane Periodicals, and Com-Poo-Tors and the People Who Read Books About Them. Oh! And Fucked Up Things People Do at the Cash Registers! Definitely need to write about that.

But I'm not going to blog about any of those things tonight. For those of you looking for a laugh, I don't think this post is going to provide one, because tonight I feel like writing about customers and their sense of entitlement.

Margaret Webb Pressler writes a great weekly column for the Washington Post called "Selling Us." It's one of the first things I turn to every Sunday. She writes about retailers and the retail environment, as well as consumers and what motivates them. As much as I like her columns, I don't always agree with them. She wrote a column recently about what she perceived to be a general lack of customer service - an unwillingness on the part of retail employees to go out of their way to meet customer needs. She essentially laid the responsibility for lack of customer service at the feet of the front-line retail employees, saying that they are undertrained and underprepared. She didn't use the word "lazy", but it was lurking in there, between the lines.

She did say one thing in this column with which I partially agreed. She said there was "a disconnect" between the folks in the corporate offices and front-line employees. However, she implied that the disconnect was a failure on the part of the front-liners to understand the corporate desire to drives sales with customer satisfaction. There's definitely a disconnect, but at Big Bookstore, it's not a failure to understand what corporate wants us to do. We know what constitutes good customer service. We just don't always have the tools to provide it. And even when we do, "good customer service" has become like Zeno's Paradox - an asymptotic retail equation where no matter what we do, it is never quite enough.

I chalk this inability to satisfy (some, not all) customers to the sense of entitlement that so many seem to feel. Some of this is societal. We're the richest and most powerful country in the world, and by God, we know it. My Baby Boom peers seem particularly guilty of thinking this way. But a lot of this attitude is the Frankenstein creation of retailers themselves. In the haste to outsell the competition, retailers have created an environment where the customer feels he can do no wrong. Return used and damaged merchandise? Sure! No problem! Let your kids run wild and destroy merchandise without paying for it? Why not! You want a discount for no good reason? Do it angrily and insistently enough, and threaten to make a scene, and we'll probably cave in.

The bottom line? If you're a customer, the sky's the limit! Be shameless! Be bold! Threaten to take your business elsewhere! When all else fails, demand to see a manager.

I can provide the customer with fabulous customer service. I can find every book the customer wants, make recommendations, giftwrap his selections, give discounts, and do it all with a smile -and after all that, some customers will still walk away feeling like they should have gotten more.

This is why there are websites like this. Whenever I'm feeling especially disgruntled and cranky, I read some of the latest entries there to remind myself that it could always be worse.

Friday, September 17, 2004

I'm a Smelly Hippie!

I was going to do a big, long rant about this conservative website where people in tinfoil hats are currently posting about how booksellers are conspiring to keep them from buying Unfit for Command. There are hundreds of posts on this site about bookstore employees. According to these nice conservatives, all bookstore employees are:

- dirty, smelly, hippie shitheads
- college or high school dropouts, who like to smoke dope before going to work
- smelly, emaciated dildoes (again with the "smelly")
- easily replaceable employees who can learn our jobs in half a day


- snotty (OK, I'll give them that one.)

So, in order to teach us a lesson, these nice, upstanding people are going to:

- wipe boogers in Michael Moore books
- vandalize the books of liberal authors with chewing gum to make them unsellable
- rearrange our displays to better reflect their tastes

Bottom line? These lovely people would like to tell us to just: "[Shut the fuck up] and give me my change you f'ing moron."

Like I said, I was going to do a big long rant, but fuck it. You can read the links and do your own rant. I have to go put on some patchouli and fire up a doob.

Monday, September 13, 2004

Appropriate Attire

Let's talk about what constitutes appropriate attire. I've been thinking about this a lot lately because of a confluence of events.

I had an interview last week for a law-type gig, and I put on a suit for the first time in four years or so. The suit was black. My sensible, low-heeled pumps were black. My shirt was black. In a moment of crazy fashionista rebellion, I carried a red tote bag. Fashion-wise, this is a conservative town. If I don't get the job, I'm blaming the tote.

We had an event recently at the store. The event was for a best-selling author of genre novels who is famous for his iconoclastic and humorous style. He is "out there." And so is his audience, which contains a high percentage of...there's no way to put this nicely...dorks. I find that with audiences of this type, it is very difficult to tell the deliberately bad fashion choices from the merely accidental. I'm pretty sure the woman dressed as a witch, complete with pointy hat and candy-striped hose (a la the Wicked Witch of the East) was making a deliberate statement. But what of the girl in the mini-skirt and sagging, aqua thigh-highs? Tough call there. The guy in the shirt that proudly proclaimed that he was "Pissing Off the World One Person at a Time" was certainly an exemplar of truth in packaging when he came to my register and nitpicked me through the transaction. Oh! And let's not forget the guy who came to the Info Desk to tell us, indignantly, that The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy should not be on the new books table because it was very old and the author was even dead! OK. He wasn't a fashion victim as far as I can recall, just a complete fucking idiot. I'm not even going to go into the tragic grooming choices of the male attendees, except to say that balding, middle-aged guys should avoid pony-tales, PLEASE.

One of the things I love about working at Big Bookstore is that there is considerable freedom of choice when it comes to appropriate work attire. That stereotype of the bookstore clerk with pink hair, and multiple-piercings and tattoos? There's a reason for that. My cow-workers and I dress, for the most part, as we please. We can't wear things that make political statements and we can't wear open-toed shoes. Other than that, you're golden. I've had male cow-workers who have liberated themselves from the dominant-male paradigm by wearing skirts to work. One of my favorite cow-workers has actually worn her pajamas on occasion. And then, there's the cow-worker who regularly wears what I would call cocktail attire. Of course, this precludes her from doing any real grunt work. Hate. Her.

Me? I mostly wear black. It's slimming, utilitarian, and everything matches. It's a bookstore, not a soiree.

Friday, September 10, 2004

Outed, and Other Random Stuff

I've been outed to management. It's not like I thought they wouldn't find out eventually, but I was a wee bit nervous. The best feedback I've gotten so far is from the manager who is indignant that I did not give him the ™ for the phrase "Baby Seal". He first used that term to describe a former cow-worker who was, I swear, mildly retarded. So, I hereby pronounce "Baby Seal" to be ™ Gun Nut.

Tonight I helped a leggy Young Republican locate the Anne Coulter books. She was in the Political Science aisle and said, "I've been looking everywhere but I can't find her books." I showed her where they were - in the, um, C's for Coulter. Maybe she thought they would be shelved in the L's for "Lying Bitch". Or the I's for "Insane Whore with White Daddy Complex." I don't know.

If you are reading this, and you are a closeted gay man, or simply one of those bi-curious MWM that I see posting on craigslist all the time, I have a request to make. Please don't pull all of the male nude photography books off the shelves every single fucking day, and then jam them back in some random and out of the way place because you're too embarrassed to be seen looking at naked guys. Dudes! Just buy Freshman 10 Magazine. It's naked dudes without all the artsy crap. I promise you I will not even blink when I ring you up. Trust me on this. It will be more satisfying for you - and for me. Thank you.

Friday, September 03, 2004

"Cow-Worker" Is Not a Misspelling

I confess. I cannot claim credit for this hyphenate. "Cow-worker" is ™ Steve Berg, aka the Berg Man of Alcatraz. Berg is an acquaintance from my old-stylee on-line community, Echo. Echo is so old-fashioned it has no web interface. If you love command-lines, Echo is for you. On Echo, when someone creates a witty turn of phrase, or even a typo that seems apt, the word or phrase becomes "™ the person who created it." Sometimes a ™ gets applied to a certain phrase whose repetetive use becomes associated with a particular member of the community. So, for example, "customoron" would be ™ me. "Cow-worker" has entered into such common usage on Echo that almost no one ever spells it correctly anymore.

But I digress. I was going to explain why I call me colleagues at Big Bookstore "cow-workers." Partly it's because after spending years on Echo, I can't shake the habit of typing "cow-worker" rather than "co-worker". But I also like it because it implies that we are all corporate cattle. You may bristle at being called a cow, but, hey - I'm part of the herd too. And as herds of cattle go we are, for the most part, a pretty intelligent, educated and diverse group of bovines.

I love most of my fellow cows. As I say, it's great herd. Nonetheless, there's no getting around the fact that there are a couple of cows that are just not that smart. I'm thinking of one steer in particular, who can't seem to master the alphabet, and consequently fucks up the shelves I so meticulously maintain in the Art section. He'll be first up the ramp into the slaughterhouse, if I have my way.


Wednesday, September 01, 2004

The Cake Girl Birthday Memorial Blog Entry

Today was the birthday of cow-worker Cake Girl. It was suitably celebrated by the Mean Girls™ who feted her with balloons and presents at a nearby bar. I ran over on my dinner break, and arrived just in time for the serving of the Slut Barbie Cake complete with teeny-tiny anatomically correct sex toys made out of marzipan.

When a group of booksellers congregates outside of the workplace and has an audience of even one non-bookseller, the conversation will inevitably turn to Crazy Customers We Have Known. Non-booksellers are always amazed at the levels of sheer bugfuckery that we witness on a daily basis. Perhaps the civilians assume that bookstores, by their very nature, must attract reasonable and sane patrons. No.

Here, in honor of Cake Girl's natal day, is a partial list of the CCWHK - people who, by repetetive acts of dementia, or one monumental act of totally inappropriate behavior, have earned their names:

The Book Licker: She would remove books one at a time from the shelves, lick the spines, and then return them to the shelf, blessed with the touch of her tongue.

The Shoe Licker: He licked the shoes of other customers while they were browsing unawares. One of his victims came to the information desk to complain to us about it. WTF? She couldn't deal with it herself?

Urinator 1: The old man who sat down, let go, and then wandered away with nary a warning to the next customer who, in a perfect Big Bookstore Moment, promptly sat down in a wet, warm chair. He was a regular for a while, until we ran out of upholstered chairs.

Urinator 2: This young woman had neuro-muscular problems but refused to wear Depends and would, instead, use newspapers and magazines from the Periodicals section to absorb her, uh, micturation. Then she would either return said merchandise to the Periodicals section for reshelving or cram the soaked papers into any nearby bookshelf. We finally had to ask her not to return. Hello? We have a cafe? Can you say Health Code Violation? Also, EW!

Masturbator 1: The old man who played with himself in the corner of the Kid's section. Double EW!

Masturbator 2: The young Russian guy who would grab some porn from the "Erotica" section, select a chair in a prominent place in the store, place his jacket over his lap, and then work that bad boy like he was 13-year old in a circle jerk contest. I caught him twice in one week.

The Shit Artist: The person who decided that our bathroom was his personal Lascaux and used the best materials he had to, um, hand to create his masterpiece on the walls.

The King of Efficiency: The person who had an entire Kentucky Fried Chicken dinner on the toilet, and left the box of chicken bones parked in front of the throne.

Then there are whole categories of everyday wackaloons whose demented behavior never quite lifts them above the constant background noise of batshittiness: people who want their merchandise untouched by human hands, people who change their child's diapers in the middle of the store, people who kick their shoes off and scratch their balls like they're on the couch at home, PEOPLE WHO DON'T HAVE INSIDE VOICES, "straight" guys who disguise their copies of Freshmen Ten with a copy of Maxim, people who arrive at the store every night at five minutes to close, and a whole raft of homeless people who just smell bad. Some of these people will eventually rise to a level of regularity in their nutbaggery and earn a Name. One of the homeless guys has recently been dubbed "Beaverhat" (™ Dark Goddess).

Beaverhat. Yeah. I think it fits.