Tuesday, November 30, 2004

A Letter

Dear Big Bookstore Customer,

I know I haven't always been very gentle with you here in this blog. And I have said some unkind things about you. I've bitched a lot about the things you do that piss me off. No. Really. But that's no reason to end the relationship! I just needed to get some stuff off my chest. I didn't mean for you to break up with me!

This last weekend really hurt my feelings. It was Black Friday. Where were you? I waited and waited, but you never showed. I thought we had a date. OK. It's not like we actually sat down and made an appointment, but it's traditional - the Friday after Thanksgiving has always been our special day together! The day we set aside every year to spend together! I can't believe you just blew me off like that. I thought what we had was special. I thought it was different. I was so sure that I was different from all the other retailers with which you've had relationships in the past.

Don't I do things for you that other stores won't do? (Let's not be coy. I think you know what I'm talking about here. I bend over backwards to serve you. I go out of my way to meet your needs. I even go into the back room for you when you want something special that you just can't find elsewhere.) Maybe that's the problem. Maybe I've been too easy. My Mother always told me I should play harder to get.

So, yeah. Last weekend really hurt. When you didn't show on Friday, I was sure that you would make up for it on Saturday. I stayed late Friday night to fluff the displays so that when you did stagger in on Saturday, smelling of knock-off perfumes from whatever skanky big box retailers you'd been hanging out with the day before, you would be blown away and immediately regret ignoring me. But again you were nowhere to be found. That's when I started to really get pissed off. I was willing to chalk up Friday to those doorbuster specials that those cheap, tarty retailers were flaunting to get you to look at them. You know the ones I'm talking about. The $29.99 DVD players being sold by that slut Wal*Mart. God. Wal*Mart. She's so fucking common. But by Saturday I realized that the problem was deeper than that. You've begun to take our relationship for granted. Deep down, you think that no matter how late the hour, no matter how few days are left before Christmas, I will still be there for you. After you've satisfied your baser needs with those other retailers, you'll come crawling to me for some real service and sincere, meaningful merchandise - the kind you can't get elsewhere.

I only hope that when you come to your senses, that I can still be there for you. I'm not really sure that I can. I mean, I'll try, but by the time you get around to noticing me, it might be too late. There are other customers in the sea you know! And they'll all be lining up at the last minute trying to find the perfect gift, just like you. So I hope you'll understand that when the line is fifty customers deep at the registers you have only yourself to blame. When there are 10 people at the Information Desk and only two booksellers to service them, please know that it could have been so different if only you had paid a little more attention to me at the right time.

You could have had my undivided attention. You could have had me waiting on you hand and foot. I would have been, metaphorically, on my knees for you.

Maybe it's not too late to salvage this relationship. I'll be in the store every night this week. I'll be looking for you. But I can't wait forever.

Love always,

Disgruntled Bookseller

Saturday, November 27, 2004

Discretion, or Lack Thereof

These lines from "A Well Worn Story" by Dorothy Parker describe me well, don't you think?

I wore my heart like a wet, red stain
On the breast of a velvet gown.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

This is How It Happens

This is how it happens. You're shelving in Transportation one day and one of your coworkers passes by and makes a casual comment. You look up and notice that some time in the last six months he has shed the unique look that made him a cross between Jerry Garcia and Grizzly Adams and you can actually see his face - and it's a very nice face. And you realize that he's also been a bit more outgoing and less...scary. So you think about it for a little while, and one night you ask him out. You're not really that interested, but what the hell.

You go out on a few dates, and things are kind of nice, but then you wake up one morning a few weeks later and realize you are in love for the first time in years. You move in together and proceed to live in a relationship which you think of as The One. You know. The One that will last forever.

But it doesn't last forever. It lasts eighteen months, because he has some issues to work out and a lot of growing and learning to do, so he leaves you and moves out. He dates other people, but you can't and you don't. You leave Big Bookstore because you can no longer bear to work there where the other people he is now dating also work. You can't even bear to drive by Big Bookstore on your way home without crying uncontrollably, so you take alternate routes.

Six months later he is back. He moves back in. You try vainly to put Humpty Dumpty back together again. You try and try and try, but you can't and he won't. He moves out again.

* * *

This is how it happens. You are working at another branch of Big Bookstore, and you begin to realize you have a crush on another coworker. You resist. Not because you have been down this road before, but because he is totally inappropriate and completely lacking in social skills or redeeming qualities. Although you still have enough sanity to realize this, it doesn't help. Reluctantly you give in to the crush. One night, you confide your crush in another coworker. He responds by paying you such an extravagant compliment that you are forced to look at him with new eyes et voila, the old crush is extinguished. Within two weeks you are dating your confidant. You do not yet know that the extravagant compliment is one of the last nice things that your confidant turned boyfriend will ever do for you. A year and a half later, after you have helped him through some incredibly rough times, he breaks up with you by pointedly ignoring your birthday. Another Big Bookstore relationship ends.

* * *

This is how it happens. You are walking around the store with the Trainer talking about various work issues when he stops to introduce you to a new coworker. The new person gazes down at you from his perch on the sliding stairs and offers his hand and his name. The French call it the coup de foudre. You have never believed in it before but now you do, because instantly you are lost.

This is how it begins.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

My Big Fat Bookselling Family

I almost had a really bad night tonight. An ex dropped by the store and by the time he left, I was in tears. Not because I'm upset about the demise of the relationship (which occurred about six months ago and was pretty mutual), but because in typical fashion I was somehow made to feel responsible for his unhappiness.

My night was rescued by my cow-workers.

Calendar Boy, an incredibly hot, mature beyond his years, 18-year old supervisor, with whom everybody in the store, male and female is in love, saw that I was upset and came over to give me a big hug and let me vent, while Buns of Steel looked on and listened with sympathy and concern. Later, my girlfriends, Chick Magnet and Mimi, also listened while I expressed my anger and frustration at feeling so manipulated. And then, at the end of the night, my dear friend, Wife-In-Law, provided much needed ego boosting, cheer and distraction by discussing my new crush with me in optimistic terms.

These people turned the night around for me and reminded me of why, no matter how much I may earn at the day job, I will always work part-time for Big Bookstore.

I'm not being hyperbolic when I describe my Big Bookstore cow-workers as family. There are about 70 people on the payroll at my store, so it's a big family, but a family nonetheless. At the head are the General Manager and his Assistant Managers. The GM, Closeted Straight Guy, is the perfect pater familias - loving but firm, affectionate and friendly but demanding of hard work and loyalty. His co-parents are Queen of the Flying Monkeys, Foam Party, Gun Nut and the Tight Dude. The other managers and supervisors, including Calendar Boy, Dark Goddess, Wife-in-Law, and Holler, among others, are like the big kids - older siblings who help Mom and Dad keep the younger sibs in line, but occasionally act like kids themselves. Then there's the rest of us - booksellers, music sellers, barristas, shelvers, cashiers. We are the children - some of us are favorite children, and some of us (Baby Seal) are problem children - as in any overlarge family.

Not everyone at Big Bookstore is as invested emotionally in the Big Bookstore dynamic as I am. Some people just come to work and go home, and aren't really interested in having a personal relationship with their cow-workers. Others know they're only passing through - Big Bookstore is a pitstop on the way to grad school or a "better" job. But at the core are the people who stay despite the possibility of better paying jobs because they love books and they love the people they work with. We become friends with each other, we hang out together, we date each other, and sometimes we move in together or get married to each other. Over the course of the years, these relationships can get a bit tangled, and to outside eyes might even seem awkwardly incestuous. My ex, the Medieval One (who is not the ex mentioned above), and I lived and worked together on and off for four years. He's now married to another cow-worker which is why I jokingly call her "Wife-in-Law." We all work together quite happily and are the best of friends.

After the Medieval One and I broke up for the final time, I thought some space was needed so I moved to another, smaller branch of Big Bookstore. (In a Big Bookstore break-up, custody of the store always goes to the one who has been there longer. He had me by four months.) It was like being orphaned from a large Italian family and being adopted by a small clan of New England WASPs. They were nice people, but they weren't my people and I felt adrift in a place of strange customs and cold embraces. The store was too small to contain my sometimes overwhelming personality. I missed the boisterousness and drama of my old store, the tantrums and intrigues, and the sense of being enfolded by a place of belonging each time I walked in the door. It only lasted six months before I returned home.

New kids walking into this large, complicated and sometimes dysfunctional family are often confused by the thicket and tangle of old friendships and loyalties. But if they are destined to become "one of us", they quickly learn to fit right into the family rhythm and establish their niche in the sibling pecking order.

My cow-workers are my friends, my social life and my support network. (And I'm sort of hoping that one cow-worker in particular, with whom I am completely and utterly smitten, will eventually become my boyfriend.)

They are my big fat bookselling family.

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

A Bookstore for Some of Our Special Customers

Anyone who has ever been a bookseller can tell you stories about customers who come in looking for "that blue book with the gold lettering that I saw on your front table last week." Not only can these customers not remember the title or author, most of the time they can't even remember what the book was about. The only shred of information they have managed to retain is the color of the cover and the fact that for some reason, which they can't even recall, they would like to find it again. I've always found this incredibly bizarre. If you can't even remember what the book was about, why on fucking earth are you interested in it?

No matter. For a short time, at least, there is a bookstore where these people can go and search for books by color.

Friday, November 12, 2004

So Pissed I Thought My Head Would Explode

I've got a newsflash. Federal holidays come at the SAME FUCKING TIME EVERY YEAR. Every fucking year we have the same goddamn holidays. Here. Let me list them:

New Year's Day
Birthday of Martin Luther King, Jr.
Washington's Birthday
Memorial Day
Independence Day
Labor Day
Columbus Day
Veterans Day
Thanksgiving Day
Christmas Day

Am I burdening anyone with information they didn't already know? I didn't think so. And yet. AND YET, every fucking federal holiday we are understaffed. And every fucking federal holiday FOR SEVEN YEARS I have said, "gee, didn't anyone realize it was going to be a federal holiday and think to adjust the schedule accordingly?" And every fucking time I ask that question, there is no answer.

Now, this wouldn't be such a big fucking deal if my branch of Big Bookstore wasn't located in a place where a significant chunk of the population is employed by the federal government. And an equally large chunk of the population is employed by companies that contract with the federal government, and therefore observe the same holidays as the federal government.

I think you can put two and two together and see where I'm going with this.

On federal holiday weekdays, every fucking civil servant in the metro area descends upon Big Bookstore. Having nothing, apparently, better to do with their time, they come to Big Bookstore to dream. They dream about the exotic trips they'll never take. They dream about the luxurious houses they will never build. They dream about the lucrative sideline selling real estate that they will never pursue. And they dream about that great private sector job that they will never have the guts to leave the government for. And they do all this dreaming by pulling ten or twenty books at a time off the shelves on their chosen pipe dream and redistributing them in various places about the store.

You might think I'm being harsh about feds. I am. I was a fed for 17 years, and in a few weeks I'll be going back to work for the federal government. I know whereof I speak. Feds, for the most part, are people who have big dreams but small realities. They want to have larger lives. They want to do something more meaningful or more lucrative. They want to be interesting. But the sad fact is that they are not. They dream but don't do. They are shackled to their secure, safe, unspeakably boring jobs, afraid to take risks.

It's the same every federal holiday. Travel books, interior decorating, job hunting, home construction, and real estate books. These are the things that small minds dream about. And picking up after the daydreamers is what I face. The day crew, having been shocked and suprised (shocked I tell you!) by the volume of business on this federal holiday that occurs at the same time every year, has not had time to reshelve any of these daydreams. This is especially true because two of the three booksellers who worked the open or mid shift today are - how can I say this politely? - slackasses. (Attention, cow-workers! If you are reading this and think you might be one of the two slackasses mentioned, and you are offended, please read the disclaimer in the sidebar and then Bite Me.)

Tonight, I spent five hours doing nothing but reshelving. At high speed. It took me a half hour just to sweep all the big chunks in the Kid's section into a big pile so I could start the reshelving.

So, yeah. I was so pissed tonight that I thought my head would explode. I think I'm better now. Ranting helps.

Wednesday, November 10, 2004


I was digging through my attic the other night searching for some old papers and came across this. For those of you too lazy to click, it's a Karma Violation Pad, a book of "tickets" from the Karma Police which can be filled out for various violations such as: barefaced lying, borrowing with intent to keep, hurting intentionally, being just plain rude and obnoxious, and a host of other karmic violations.

At the bottom of each Notice of Karma Violation is the following statement:

In accordance with the laws of the universe and karma, you are hereby required to make immediate amends and/or apologies to the aforementioned person(s) or institution(s) perpetrated against. Failure to comply will cause this already negative energy to come reeling around the planet right back into your life.


I've come up with my own Karma Violation Codes - one for customers and one for cow-workers.

Customer Karma Violation Code

§ 1.01 Removing an Ass of Books from the Shelves with No Intent to Purchase
§ 1.02a Child Neglect: Leaving Children Unsupervised in the Kids Section
§ 1.02b Child Neglect: Being Present with Children in the Kids Section and Failing to Supervise Said Children
§ 1.03 Opening Sealed Merchandise with No Intent to Purchase
§ 1.04 Attempting to Tell Bookseller How to Do Job
§ 1.05 Continuing a Cell Phone Conversation While Interacting with Bookseller or Cashier
§ 1.06 Asking If an Item Which Doesn't Scan is Free
§ 1.07 Behaving in Any Way Which is Appropriate Only for Your Own Living Room
§ 1.08 Consumption of Food and Beverages Not Purveyed by Big Bookstore
§ 1.09 Display of Indignance When Informed of "No Outside Food or Beverages" Rule
§ 1.10 Use of Cafe Seating for More Than One Hour, But Not Less than 4 Hours, Without Making a Cafe Purchase

§ 2.01a Attempting to Return Used and Unsaleable Merchandise
§ 2.01b Whining and/or Shouting When Attempt to Return Unsaleable Merchandise is Refused
§ 2.02a Stealing
§ 2.02b Attempting to Return Stolen Merchandise
§ 2.03 Fraudulent Price Switching
§ 2.04 Use of Big Bookstore as Research Center with No Intent to Purchase
§ 2.05 Use of Cafe Seating for More Than Four Hours, Regardless of Amount of Cafe Purchase

§ 3.01 Public Masturbation
§ 3.02 Use of Any Big Bookstore Premises Other Than the Designated Restroom as a Toilet

Next: Cow-Worker Karma Violations

Saturday, November 06, 2004

Annual Harbingers of Doom

At Big Bookstore, the holidays move in on us like a snowball rolling down hill which, starting as a mere flake of snow, gathers momentum and grows in size, until it slams full-force into the store scattering booksellers hither and yon.

First there are the little signs. The calendars go up. In June. We don't want to think about December. And it is 90 degrees outside, so we don't. But it's the first snowflake of the impending avalanche.

The summer drones on.

In August, customers in flip-flops start browsing the newly hatched Halloween merchandise. More metaphorical flakes fall from the merchandising sky. But it's still too warm - no sense of doom yet.

The Christmas cards go out on the floor in September. Because, you know, we're all so fucking organized we're going to buy the cards in September, spend all of October and November writing lengthy personal messages to all our nearest and dearest, and have them in the mail by December 1st. THEN, after we've recovered from the monkeys flying out of our collective asses, we'll have time for a relaxing holiday with that little chore done. Yeah.

The Christmas wrap arrives in prefab cardboard display boxes at the start of October and the Halloween stuff is everywhere now. (The Halloween stuff is complete and utter CRAP. My GOD, I am amazed at the total shite that people will buy for this second-rate holiday. Except for the plushie bats. They are cute. I have spoken.) The Kids Christmas books are all out on the floor now. (They've been building up in the stock room since June.) The snowball is midway down the mountain and really starting to pick up some speed. I check my Grinch-O-Meter. Is this it? Is this when I finally start to sense the impending doom? Nope. Getting there, but not quite.

The Halloween stuff gets marked down to 50% off, and the Kid's Thanksgiving books go out. As holidays go, kids aren't terribly interested in Thanksgiving. There are no toys and no candy. A kid's reaction to Thanksgiving is mostly: "Eh." My needle on the Grinch-O-Meter has finally started to move though.

This week, the final sign arrives. I know now, without a doubt, that the hellish slide into Christmas has begun, for this week we have built: the Barge. The Barge is the centerpiece of Big Bookstores carnival of consumerism. It is the floor display to end all floor displays. A floor display to make merchandisers weep with joy. The beauty of the barge is that there are no gimmicks. There are no light-up displays. No motion-triggered sounds. Not even any fancy stacks. It is pure, unadulterated merchandise. Mounds of it. Piles of it. A sheer mass of books that confronts you as soon as you walk in the door. And almost every single one of them crap.

Yes, it is the arrival of the annual "literary" contributions of Janet Evanovich, Danielle Steel, Patricia Cornwell, James Patterson, Mary Higgins Clark and the like that truly heralds the arrival of the holiday season at Big Bookstore.

The needle on the G-O-M is moving into the red and the avalanche is on the way.

Give me a shovel. I'm ready.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

Disgruntled Bookseller Is in Mourning

I changed the blog to black to reflect my mood today. Maybe I'll change it back in four years.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

Chairman of Large Bookstore Chain Cribs from Disgruntled Bookseller!

Len Riggio, the chairman of Barnes and Noble wrote this op-ed yesterday in the New York Times about the plethora of political books this year and the problems that plagued booksellers as a result.

Here is a choice quote:

Indeed, the right seems convinced that booksellers and publishers are trying to influence the election by publishing and prominently displaying books that attack President Bush. In stores across America, angry citizens can be found poring over book displays and tallying up the number of titles according to their political persuasion. If they don't like the mix, they run to their phones and complain to their favorite radio talk-show host. Pity the poor bookseller who gets caught in the middle.

Damn, I like that guy.

(By the way, I just want to pat myself on the back for continuing to obfuscate the issue of precisely which large bookstore chain it is that I work for.)