Thursday, December 23, 2004

Busman's Holiday

I cannot walk or drive past a bookstore without stopping and going in. Many booksellers suffer from this compulsion. I've shopped in branches of Big Bookstore Corporation from San Francisco to Manhattan and a dozen places in between. I've also visited my fair share of Rival Bookstore Corp shops. (And yes, I also visit independents.) Herewith, a report on my bookstore visits so far this week:

Two nights ago I completed my Christmas shopping at the nearest local Big Bookstore, a 25 minute drive down the freeway. I went late, because I'm not an idiot, and I hate the customers (even when I am one), and I know that the best time to avoid the customers is after 9 p.m. on a weeknight. I felt bad for my beleaguered fellow booksellers. The store was a mess. Merchandise was strewn hither and yon. The Kid's section was a complete No Go Zone. The periodicals looked like they had been the subject of some bizarre punishment wherein the person being punished is required to relocate each item, one at a time, to a different part of the store. The phone wouldn't stop ringing and nobody was answering. I had to resist the Pavlovian urge to grab the nearest phone and say, "Thank you for calling Big Bookstore, this is [Disgruntled Bookseller], how can I help you?" I actually did help them out with some recovery, picking up discarded merchandise here and there and reshelving it or returning it to their main Info desk. I settled my Mom in the Cafe with a Large Decaf Kahlua Foam Explosion Double Whipped Cream Chocolate Latte with Extra Sprinkles, and did some power shopping for family stocking stuffers: four WWII movie DVDs for my brother, three books on military history for Dad, the Illustrated Da Vinci Code for Mom, a couple of these cool carabiner LED lights for the nephews, Burt's Bees hand and foot kits for Mom and my sister-in-law, and other shit I can't remember now.

As I mentioned in my previous post, Rival Bookstore Corp recently opened a brand new store mere minutes from the parental dwelling. Last night, using the excuse that I was still looking for the new issue of the Atlantic Monthly, I stopped in. It was lovely. It was pristine. There was barely a book out of place. There was no merchandise on the floor. The Children's section was an oasis of serenity. At seven in the evening, with four shopping days remaining before Christmas, there was nobody in line. I wandered about the store noting all the lovely merchandise they carried: calligraphy sets, inkpad and stamp sets, Simpsons jigsaw puzzles, kits for writing love letters, Scoobydoo-opoly, and bird feeder construction kits to name just a few. I note this for all of my fellow Big Bookstore employees who complain that we sell too much non-book crap. Our crap doesn't even come close to the amount of crap Rival Bookstore carries. Seriously. Not only do they have more crap, but their crap reeks way more than our crap. Anyhoo. I was somewhat relieved to find that they did not have the new issue of the Atlantic Monthly for two reasons: I would have felt really guilty about spending money in Rival Bookstore, and I didn't want to break the peaceful, slumbrous state surrounding the cashwrap area. I don't think people Out Here read a lot. But perhaps Rival Bookstore can make it just by selling the crap.

Today was my final bookstore visit. I stopped into the Big Bookstore flagship in San Francisco. Good God. It was insane. All I can say is this: Booksellers of Big Bookstore #5_, I salute you, You Magnificent Bastards ™.

Thursday, December 16, 2004

In the Land of the Governator

By special dispensation from the retail gods (also known as the General Manager and HR Manager), Disgruntled Bookseller is on vacation this week, visiting the Kingdom of Cimmeria to celebrate her parents' 50th anniversary.

Let me begin by saying that reading about Arnold Schwarznegger being the governor of California from a distance of 3000 miles is one thing - actually being here is another. I swear he has people here hyp-mo-tized.

I was going to post the First Annualâ„¢ Disgruntled Bookseller Naughty and Nice Awards today, but first I must point out my extreme disgruntlement at the fact that Rival Bookstore Corp has opened a new store a few miles away from the ancestral abode, whereas the nearest branch of Big Bookstore remains an annoying 25 minute drive down the freeway. ("Freeway." So California.) This totally fucks my Life Failure Fall-Back Plan. You know - in case my life goes completely into the crapper I figured I could always move back to the parental domicile and work at the nearby branch of Big Bookstore which would surely be opening any day.

Personally, I can totally understand why Big Bookstore passed on my parents little patch of paradise. It totally bites ass out here. Where is "out here?" It is the Bay Area 'burbs. I will not get any more specific than that because I am too embarrassed to say. See, we used to be City folk. And I mean City with a capital "C". We were San Franciscans. Now, the Disgruntled Bookseller family seat lies at the end of a BART line, a good hour's drive away from the Promised Land. I think this is karmic retribution for all the times that my Mother and I laughed at all the underdressed suburbanites in their sensible shoes and dowdy clothes who came into the City at Christmas to look at the window displays. Other karmic retribution? My Mother had to sacrifice her Guccis, Ferragamos and Maud Frizons for those same sensible shoes after years of high heels on city pavement ruined her feet. (True story: my mother and I once ran into I. Magnin to buy her a pair of $120 Bruno Magli flats because it had started to rain, and she didn't want to ruin her $300 Bruno Magli pumps. Good times.)


Here I am, in the 'burbs.

And today I am wearing: Hush Puppies.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

More Lessons from the School of Obviosity: Holiday Edition

I think I've made it pretty clear how I feel about the customers. While some are intelligent, and some are pleasant, and a rare few are both intelligent and pleasant, many are complete fuckwits or asshats, and all too many are both fuckwits and asshats. The level of fuckwittage and asshattery rises drastically in December for a number of reasons. One of the chief reasons? Christmas shopping brings a deluge of people who would never otherwise step inside a bookstore, satisfying all their reading needs from the aisles of Safeway or the book section at Wal*Mart. Perhaps their children have defied the genetic imperative and requested the complete works of William T. Vollman for Christmas. Whatever the reason, the levels of idiocy and pettiness rise drastically with each day that passes in December.

These are just a few of the things I would have like to have been able to say to customers tonight in response to the various queries and comments I received:

"No. You are not special. If you want to purchase that item you will have to get in line just like everyone else. I am not sympathetic to your request that I let you jump ahead of everyone else because you have just one item. In fact, since you are only buying one measly fucking CD, you should wait even longer. If I had my way, people would get in line for the registers based on the amount of money they are planning to spend and the quality of the merchandise they have selected. Since you're spending 15 bucks on that shitty Mannheim Steamroller Christmas CD, go to the back of the line, asshole."

"I understand that the phone rang for two whole minutes before someone answered. That's because the people who weren't too lazy to get off their big fat asses, put some fucking clothes on, get in their cars, and actually come into the store, were being helped first. If you want to shop in your pajamas from the convenience of your own home, you're going to have to fucking wait for me to pick up the phone."

"Yes, as a matter of fact, I do mind ringing up five separate purchases for you because you want to use the 25%-off-one-item coupon for five different items. It clearly says on the coupon that you can use one fucking coupon per day, you cheap piece of shit. READ THE FINE PRINT, ASSHOLE. But what the fuck, I have all day, and I'm sure the people in line behind you have all fucking day. And by spending five extra minutes ringing up your five separate purchases, all the people in line behind you will be extra fucking happy and cheerful when they finally arrive at my register."

Of course, I can't say those things. I can only pin the customer with what I like to think of as my basilisk stare - a sort of half-lidded, dead-eyed look that my friends know means I am thinking, "you are a moron and I wish you would go away." I only wish it actually had the power to turn people to stone.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

So, So Much More Disgruntled Than I

Seriously. I am humbled by the level of bile and disgruntlement this bookseller manages to express with his (her?) brief but hilarious posts at I Hate the Strand.

To be fair, beetlebreakfast has much better material to work with than I do, as anyone who has ever visited the the Strand can attest. For a bookstore, it is an amazingly foul place.

The Strand Magnetic Poetry is particularly brilliant.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

The Waiting Room of Hell

There was a time, back in the day, when the employees of Big Bookstore had some control over the music that is played "overhead". There were rules - nothing with lyrics, nothing too "hard" or "poppy" - but generally, if we stocked it, we could play it. Nowadays, the music we play overhead is dictated to us by Big Bookstore headquarters, and as a general rule, it is complete ass (â„¢ Meateater). There are six CDs that rotate on the overhead sound system. In any given month there will be at least one CD (if not more) from the following set of artists: Josh Groban, Andrea Bocelli, Sarah Brightman, the Three Tenors, or the Irish Tenors. For the last six months the selection has included a CD put together by the local easy listening station to support a cure for breast cancer. This CD includes songs by Billy Joel, Madonna, and Dido. Dido. Like I said. Ass. And we can't stop playing it until we've sold all the CDs. There are 78 left. I have actually considered taking up a collection to purchase the remaining CDs just so we can finally be free again.

We used to have live music at Big Bookstore every Friday night in the Cafe. The artists were local, and ranged from jazz combos to Celtic groups to folk singers. Once, during Hannukah, we had a Klezmer band which led the customers in an impromptu horah throughout the store. The music was always too loud, and occasionally very bad. Sometimes it was very, very bad. Banjer Dan comes to mind. Banjer Dan played the, um, Banjo. And told really inappropriate and bigoted jokes about the Middle East in between songs. To this day, if you mention his name, you will elicit shudders of remembered revulsion from the Big Bookstore staff. Then there was the "classically trained" singer who came during the holidays and insisted on having her own precious nativity set as a prop while she sang. Just in case people didn't get the message that her Christmas carols were about, you know, the birth of Christ and shit.

This past weekend, Big Bookstore hosted a special event. It was a live music event to promote a Christmas CD by a guy who used to be the lead singer for a big rock band that's been around since the late 60s. In the 60s and early 70s this band Did Not Suck. However, the cheeze factor on this band's output began to steadily rise, along with the singer's falsetto, from the late 70s onward, until it reached a peak of Cheddarosity in the mid-80s. So the Has Been singer has been a solo artist for the last twenty years or so, trading off of his association with the band, but never quite achieving the same success and fame.

We had strict instructions for this event. The Has Been needed the employee bathroom to be vacated for 30 minutes prior to his arrival. It made me wonder if the Has Been knew about the Big Man - our Saturday night music seller whom we love, but for whom a 30-minute Zone of Exclusion must be established after he graces the employee restroom. Also, we were not permitted the barest whisper of a mention of the Has Been's former band.

The Has Been was glossy. He was shiny. His fake tan practically glowed with a radioactive luminosity. His hair was bleached and blowdried to perfection. I was reminded of nothing so much as Abba. He sang for 20 minutes, emoting his way through such slices of holiday Camembert as "Santa Claus is Coming to Town." Rivulets of molten Velveeta flowed downwards from the Music section as his audience received this performance with the enthusiasm that only the freaks who worship C-list celebrities can muster. Afterwards, he signed his CD, while the burlier supervisors kept his insistent fans at a safe distance.

Then the Has Been was off into the night, and we returned to our previously scheduled overhead listening: Christmas with the Beach Boys.