Monday, January 31, 2005

The Circle of Life

Our store runs on chocolate. Chocolate and caffeine and cigarettes. Those are the essential nutrients for booksellers at Big Bookstore. I know people at Big Bookstore who only smoke during their Big Bookstore breaks. They don't smoke at home, or in their cars, or when they're out drinking. But when that break rolls around, they're out on the side of the store smoking Marlboro Reds down to the butt.

We're covered in the caffeine department thanks to the Big Bookstore Cafe. As for cigarettes, we're all responsible for bringing our own, but are always willing to share. (Our generosity with fellow smokers is fueled by the sense that we are a beleaguered group, doomed to extinction.) Chocolate presents a more difficult logistical problem, however. Big Bookstore sells chocolate, but it is expensive stuff. Good, but expensive. Given the amount of chocolate necessary to fuel booksellers at Big Bookstore, we would go broke if we didn't seek outside sources. This is where I come in. Once a week, I go to Safeway and buy a couple of bags of Reese's Peanut Butter Cups, Hershey's Minis, and Dove Kisses, which I stuff in my locker (which doesn't have a lock). Whenever anyone needs a hit of chocolate, they can stop by my locker, conveniently located by the timeclock for that all-important start-of-shift chocolate hit.

Sometimes my cow-workers contribute to the chocolate acquisition effort. Chick Magnet or the Holler or the Dark Goddess will buy candy and put it in my locker. Last week, the Queen of the Flying Monkeys, disappointed to find the cupboard bare, placed a note in my locker which read, "Chocolate Lady, please buy some candy, I need a fix." He enclosed some money. This is where the Circle of Life begins. Well, actually it begins with QotFM's Big Bookstore paycheck. (QotFM works hard for the money. He works hard for it, honey.)

I took the money and pocketed it, because I knew better than to try and give it back to him. Later that day, Calendar Boy went out to Jerry's Subs and brought back lunch. To pay him back for my Big Bubba, I gave him the money that Queen of the Flying Monkeys had given me.

Even later that day, Calendar Boy and I were in the Cafe, which he now supervises, and he asked me to ring him up for the large Caramel Mocha which he was preparing for himself. I did so, and gave him the total. He pulled out the five dollar bill which QotFM had given me for the chocolate, and which I had given Calendar Boy for the Big Bubba, and handed it to me. I placed it in the Cafe till, and the Big Bookstore Circle of Life was complete.

I have to say that usually the Circle of Life is much more direct. We get paid. We buy books. This money actually made an intermediate stop.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005


I arrive at Big Bookstore for my evening shift. As always, I start my evening in the Cafe, sweeping books and magazines off the tables while I wait for the barrista to get me a soda to take with me to the registers. I start to do my thing, and shortly my arms are filled with books, newspapers and magazines that have been discarded by the, customers. I head toward the small cart that we keep parked between the Cafe and the periodical section to dump the load only to find that the cart has disappeared. In it's place stand two large rolling display carts with Bargain Books. I stop in my tracks and the words "what the fucking fuck" start to erupt from my lips. Sotto voce of course, because we can't swear in front of the fucking customers.

I page a manager to find out what is going on and the Tight Dude calls. I ask him what the hell happened to the cart. He can tell from the tone of my voice that I am supremely pissed. He doesn't know the answer, and avoids me for the rest of his shift lest he get caught in the blast radius when my head explodes. The Holler, a supervisor, finds me and explains that the cart has been put out in the trash. Cue cranial expansion. I begin a rant that doesn't subside for at least five minutes. "Where the fuck am I supposed to put all the shit I clean out of the Cafe? Should I just dump the magazines on the floor? Because I'll be happy to do that. In fact, why don't I just start doing that now? Getting rid of the cart is the stupidest fucking idea I have ever heard." It goes on far longer, but you get the drift.

The Holler goes to the loading dock and retrieves the cart and places it back in the Cafe. I am only temporarily mollified because I know that he is just placating me for tonight. The cart will be gone again tomorrow. And then. And then, they will be cleaning bits of my brain off the ceiling and walls of the Cafe, because surely my skull will not be able to contain the eruption.

* * *

Here's a suggestion. When there's an author event, and we're not allowed to use the paging system while the author is speaking, it might be good if people who aren't assigned to the registers bothered themselves once in a fucking while to look and see if the cashiers need backup. BECAUSE WE DID. Several times. And yet for an hour nobody bothered to see if this was the case, and we couldn't tell anyone this was the case. We couldn't page, you see. As I mentioned above. And the portable phone which the service manager is supposed to carry during such occasions was sitting on the information desk where it was doing a fuck of a lot of good.

* * *

Meateater - I threw your coffee cup away. It was foul. At first I thought someone at the registers had busted ass. OK. It's not pleasant, but sometimes you gotta do what you gotta do. But then I realized that the stink was lingering. I traced said stink to your coffee mug which was sitting on the wrap counter. I couldn't leave the registers, so I double-bagged that badboy and tossed it. Sorry.

* * *

Let me close with a big hearty thank you to the crack team at the Big Bookstore warehouse for sending us some Advent calendars this week.

Monday, January 24, 2005

Other Booksellers Who Blog

I've added a list of of links in the sidebar to other booksellers (or groups of booksellers) who blog. They run the gamut from the big chains to indies like The Strand, and even include a few English dudes. If you come across any other booksellers who blog, let me know.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

Chewy, Chocolatey Bookseller Goodness

Tuesday night a customer flushed his cellphone down the toilet. He was nice enough to let us know that this had happened, just in case we had any problems with the plumbing. Me? I would have just walked away. There's no way in hell I would confess to being stupid enough to flush my cellphone.

* * *

It's 7 p.m. at Big Bookstore when the following conversation takes place:

Customoron: What time do you close?

Chick Magnet: We close at 11, sir.

Customoron: P.M?

* * *

From the We're All Faceless Robots Department:

So, Mimi is helping this woman who is looking for books on fashion and appearance. Some books are selected, and there is confusion over whether one of the titles might be discounted 50% as a promotion. (It had previously been discounted.) Mimi checks. The book is not discounted and so informs the customer. Later, Mimi is at the registers when the same customer approaches to pay. Mimi is ringing up the books when she gets to the book over which there had been some question of a discount. The woman says, "the girl told me this would be 50% off." Mimi says (knowing that "the girl" said no such thing), "which girl told you it would be 50% off?" The customer says, "the girl who was helping me." Mimi says, "was it me?"

* * *

Earlier this month, I blogged about unsupervised kids in the store. Something happened the other day which is a perfect illustration of why parents who let their kids wander about the store are complete and total fucking morons. A customer called 911 because a man was stalking two girls in the store. The girls appeared to be about 10. The man followed them around the store, upstairs and downstairs, carrying his pr0n with him. Maybe he just wanted them to see him masturbating, or maybe he had darker intentions. We'll never know because apparently his behavior was creepy enough that another customer noticed and called the cops. The creep disappeared before they could talk to him. He wouldn't have been the first scumbag to masturbate in the Kid's section. And yet, later that same day, I found a nine-year old girl who had been left in charge of her three-year old little brother while her mother was out and about shopping. It's a big store. With two floors. And a parking lot right outside. I feel bad for kids whose parents are such morons.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

It's Big BookSTORE

Customer Unclear on the Concept: I have a question.

Disgruntled Bookseller: How can I help you, sir?

Customer Unclear on the Concept: Can I take this book home, read it, and then bring it back?

DB: [blank stare followed by dead silence]

Customer Unclear on the Concept: What I mean is, can I borrow the book?

DB: Oh, I understood the question, sir. You can buy the book and take it home and read it to your heart's content. But no. We don't lend books.

Customer Unclear on the Concept: OK. So I have to buy it?

DB: Yes, sir.

Customer Unclear on the Concept: OK, then. Never mind.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

It's Always Friday the 13th at Big Bookstore

The whole calendar thing baffles me. I don't use calendars unless absolutely forced. I have been known to use a calendar at the pesky day job, where it is sometimes unavoidable; but I'm not a big fan of keeping track of the days and writing dates down. It's that time management thing. Never been very good at that. I prefer my deadlines to sneak up on me like a slasher in a dark basement. I work better that way. "Oh my GOD. This project is due tomorrow. <bloodcurdling scream> Fuck, fuck, fuck, fuck." And then I kick my ass into high gear and produce something absolutely brilliant. When I was in school, my Mother would say things like, "Just imagine what you could do if you started early and took your time." She just didn't get it. If I started early, I would produce absolute crap.

I suppose a calendar would be helpful for organizing other things in my life besides work - paying bills for example. To be honest, though, I don't really see the need for a calendar in that endeavor either. My creditors are very good about reminding me that I owe them money. It's really quite convenient. Some people pay assistants to remind them when things have to be done, but my creditors actually call me and give me polite reminders. It's so lovely of them.

As for birthdays, I have made it a habit for the past few years to completely ignore my birthday and not let anyone know when it occurs. By doing so, I free myself from the obligation of remembering the birthdays of others. Except for my Mother. I always remember Mom's birthday. It's the 4th of May. Or the 9th. Possibly the 14th. One of those. Anyway, it's definitely in May. I'm sure about that.

This lack of interest in keeping track of the days makes the zeal with which customers buy calendars fascinating to me. As I've posted before, the next year's calendars start arriving the store in June and we start displaying them in July. And people start buying them immediately! I suppose they are afraid that if they wait too long we will sell out of "Outhouses of Appalachia" and then what will they hang on their cubicle walls?

Of course we stock the predictable stuff: scenic vistas, famous artists, cats, dogs, hot rods, sports teams, and Star Trek. These are perennials. But I'm more interested in the oddball stuff and I always wonder who buys these things: the aforementioned "Outhouses", "Nuns Having Fun", "Clay Aiken", "Crop Circles", "Precious Moments." Precious Fucking Moments.

I think that calendar sales provide an interesting snapshot of American pop culture for any given year. Assuming that calendar sales are a predictor of popularity, America is currently into: Bush bashing, Spongebob Squarepants, the Sierra Club, the Boston Red Sox, and, as always, half- or mostly-naked chicks. America is tired of: Celine Dion, Queer Eye for the Straight Guy, the Sopranos, Snooopy, Thomas the Tank Engine, and Van Helsing. (OK. America never liked Van Helsing in the first place.)

And for all of the calendars that we stock, there are thousands more that we don't stock. Here's one that I'm sure would have been a hot-seller if only we had carried it: the Menopause Pocket Planner.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

This Is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

A couple of weeks ago I posted about my Busman's Holiday. In response to that post, someone posting anonymously made an extremely shitty comment about management. While the post didn't mention any names, it was pretty clear that one person was the intended target of the comment. I probably should have deleted the post at the time, but I didn't. I didn't delete for a couple of reasons. I'm not a big fan of inviting discussion (by the act of allowing comments to my posts) and then editing that discussion. Also, deleting or editing comments is just an invitation to the world to test the limits of the editor's tolerance. Finally, I didn't think it was that big of a deal. And in that final conclusion, I was mistaken. Had I thought about it a little more deeply, I would have realized that it was a big deal.

I didn't think it was a big deal because, for the most part, this blog has been very positive about Big Bookstore, and I didn't think one comment grousing about management was too much to get excited over. I think I've made it clear, as have most of the posters here, that I love working at Big Bookstore and I love the people I work with. In fact, our love for each other and books is the reason we put up with the things we don't like - like mean customers. But what I didn't really think about was how the individual at whom the comment was targeted would feel after reading the remark. I think we can all try to figure out what it feels like to walk around the store wondering who the hell it is that wants to slap you silly. I'm guessing it feels pretty shitty. I'm deeply sorry for that. As I say, I should have deleted.

And being deeply sorry brings me to my next point. I don't like having to apologize for what is, essentially, someone else's primary fuck up. It makes me mad. So from now on, I'm asking you, the readers of this blog, to refrain from making personal, negative comments, unless you are willing to accept responsibility for them - and by that I mean, tell us who the fuck you are. If you don't have the balls to say it and take credit for it, don't say it at all.

I'd like to think we are adult enough to be self-policing. I could just turn off the anonymous comments, but I don't want to. Anonymity isn't always bad. I wouldn't, for example, mind an anonymous comment from someone expressing his (sorry, Mir) undying love for me. Preferably from some hot, young, anonymous poster. Just sayin'.

So, bottom line: I would prefer that you register with blogger and log in to post comments. If you really need to post anonymously, or are just a lazy fuck, then go ahead, but I will be aggressive with the delete button if necessary.

And remember this: I have referrer logs, so you are never really anonymous.

Friday, January 07, 2005

More Random Notes

I was really dreading having to have that conversation with the Mullet about his personal hygiene. You know how bad I am with confrontation. Also, assertiveness. I have problems with both of those things. Oh! And speaking my mind. Also very difficult for me. The whole thing would have been very awkward, I'm sure.

Thank Jebus, the Mullet has left us to "seek other opportunities." We can all breath deeply now.

* * *

Big Bookstore now carries Southern Partisan magazine. I'd link to it, but they don't appear to have a website. Just as well. It would just piss you off. You may recall that an interview in Southern Partisan some years ago almost sank John Ashcroft's nomination. Unfortunately, in today's America, praising Jefferson Davis, and expressing admiration for a magazine that unabashedly yearns for the days of the Confederacy and has been called, in a feat of understatement, "crypto-racist", is insufficient cause to question a man's ability to be Attorney-General.

Screw this "crypto-racist" crap. I say we stop pussy-footing around and start carrying the hardcore neo-Nazi stuff. If a magazine isn't ready to come out and declare it's White Supremacist stance right up front then fuck 'em for the pussies that they are.*

* * *

I had a customer the other night who was straight out of an episode of "Cops." She had a bleached blond mullet (look! two mullet mentions in one post!), an inch of pancake makeup, skin-tight track suit, and a tank top that was pulled down so far in front that you could almost see her nipples. She might have been in her late 40s - or she may have just done some hard livin'. Difficult to say. Her skin had that leathery perma-tan one can only obtain from too many days riding "personal water craft" at some Redneck resort like Lake Anna. She had brought her son (also mulleted) to Big Bookstore because someone gave him a gift card for Christmas. He was disappointed to find out that we didn't have video games, and didn't think he'd be able to use his gift card. His mother pointed out that we had DVDs and CDs, and the day was saved. Apparently, the 150,000 book titles weren't even under consideration. I thought about telling him where the video game guides were, but I could feel the Ignorant People Cooties attempting to migrate towards me so I left them to their own devices.

Hey! I bet they would have bought Southern Partisan!

*For those of you who may not know, Disgruntled Bookseller is not white. She is sort of a racial tweener. Therefore, this paragraph is intended to be bitterly humorous. (™ standard sense-of-humor failure disclaimers)

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

Random Notes

The conjunction of holidays and Sunday hours this past weekend really put some people over the edge. We closed at 6 p.m. on Friday night, New Year's Eve, 9 p.m. on Saturday night, New Year's Day, and then 9 p.m. on Sunday which is our normal Sunday closing time. Given that we're open six nights a week until 11 p.m. all year long, and only closed on Christmas and Thanksgiving, I think that closing early on New Year's Eve and New Year's Day is reasonable, don't you? One customer was annoyed that we were closing at 9 on New Year's Day. I told him that Big Bookstore was giving us the remaining three hours of the holiday to celebrate and I was sorry if it inconvenienced him. Another customer snarlingly told the manager that he WOULD BE BACK WHEN WE OPENED AT 9 A.M. THE NEXT DAY. Because, you know, we always get upset when people threaten to shop at our store.

* * *

The cafe was packed on Sunday. We made repeated announcements about the one hour seating limit. When the announcements had no effect, and I had three separate groups of people with food and drink circling looking for a place to sit, I started approaching study buddies who had been there longer than one hour, and who had no food or drink from the cafe.

Disgruntled Bookseller: Ma'am, were you planning to get something from the Cafe? Because if not, I really need your table for the folks standing over there with food.
Nursing Exam Bitch: I got coffee this morning.
DB: Well, ma'am, that was this morning and we do have a one hour seating limit in the Cafe.
Nursing Exam Bitch: But I already had coffee this morning.
DB (wearily): Again, ma'am. We have a one hour seating limit in the Cafe. If you're not going to be having an refreshments from the Cafe, I really need your table.
Nursing Exam Bitch (angrily): Alright! I'm getting a cup of coffee.
DB: Fine.
Nursing Exam Bitch (still angry): You'll see! I'll get a cup of coffee every hour! You don't know how to run a business! I've been here for three days!

What I Didn't Say: Um. Yes. That's the point. You've been here for three days, and you've purchased one cup of coffee. And again, threatening to purchase product from the store doesn't really scare me. In fact, that's the whole fucking point you stupid cunt.

* * *

Charles Manson has been in the store a lot lately. OK. He's not really Charles Manson. He's just a homeless guy who smells bad and looks a lot like Charles Manson. One night I told him he couldn't leave his grocery bags (full of what looks like garbage but is probably Very Important Stuff to Charles Manson) parked in a corner of the store while he walked around. He asked me why. I told him we didn't like unattended bags lying around the store. He said, "you just think it looks bad to have my bags lying around." I said, "well, yes, that's true, it does look like shit, but I was trying to be nice about it."

* * *

The Mullet needs to take daily showers. I'm serious. If this issue doesn't get addressed soon, I will be forced to take matters into my own hands. And you know I will not be nice or tactful about it. I nearly snapped on Sunday. I was this close to saying, "Mullet, do you ever fucking shower before you come to work? Because you smell foul." But I did not.

What's that you say? Why, yes. Yes, in fact, I do think I should get a prize for my restraint.

* * *

Book returners of the world: hear me now. We are not stupid. We know you wait until the weeks after Christmas to return the unreturnable. You think that due to the sheer volume of post-holiday returns we will not notice that you are attempting to return a ratty, yellowed copy of a crappy novel that has been out of print for five years, or those shitty Book Club editions of bestsellers that are bound with spit and rubberbands. Unfortunately, it's true that occasionally, because of people like the Mullet, you get away with it. Woe to those, however, who attempt a bogus return on my register shift. I like to draw the process out. Spend my time looking the book up in the computer. (Even though I already know the item is not returnable.) Examine the book carefully. Telling you that the book is not returnable because it's not something we've carried for the last three years (if ever) is one of my little pleasures. If you argue with me about it, it's like icing on the cake. I do a little mental happy dance at one of the rare opportunities to say "no" to a customer. Sometimes I am almost tempted to break into song.

You cannot return your piece of shit.
Because you are a looooooser."

* * *

The Valentine's crap has arrived.


We are suffering a severe eye candy shortage on the bookfloor. My former crush, Senor Mujeriego, who turned out to be a pig, but was still nice to look at, quit last night. No notice. (Again I say, WHAT THE FUCK is up with YPOTs who give no notice?) To add insult to injury, El Otro Hombre Caliente has been moved upstairs to Music. APPARENTLY, NOBODY IN MANAGEMENT THOUGHT TO CONSULT ME IN THIS MATTER. Bastards.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

Plus, Babysitters Get Paid More

This article in the Washington Post touches on just one of the many reasons that I call the Kid's Section at Big Bookstore the Vortex of Evil. The article discusses children's story hours at Big Bookstore and Rival Bookstore, and how they provide a valuable service to parents who can shop in peace while their kids are entertained by booksellers. Here's a choice quote: "If you think about how clever Barnes & Noble and Borders are: While they are effectively baby-sitting your children, you have two hours of uninterrupted book shopping," said Paula Quint, president of the Children's Book Council, based in New York."

Someday, I plan to write at length about all the many reasons that booksellers hate to get sucked down into that maelstrom of malevolence known simply as "Kids", but at the top of any such list of reasons would be parents who leave their children to be babysat by booksellers while they shop. If these parents had any clue about the kind of people who hang out in bookstores (not to mention the kind of people who work in bookstores), they would chain their children to their sides as they browse the store. But no, they feel it is perfectly safe to let their spawn, some so young they can barely locomote let alone speak, run amok unattended in the children's section as if it were some sort of Safe Zone. At least once a week I find one of these grubby little urchins playing alone with no adult in sight.

Frankly, I could give a shit about their welfare* - I mean, if their parents don't then why should I? But being a dutiful employee of Big Bookstore (and keenly aware of potential legal liabilities) I take said urchin by the hand, attempt to elicit a name, and page the parents. The reaction of the parents ranges from embarrassment at being exposed as neglectful, to outrage that I have dared to disturb their shopping experience by worrying about the welfare of their disgusting progeny.

So it was with some gratitude that I saw this Letter to the Editor in yesterday's Post. I'm going to beg the author's forgiveness and quote it in it's entirety:

Paula Quint, president of the Children's Book Council, gave a nod of approval to parents who make a habit of dropping off their young ones in the children's section of a bookstore. She said that Borders and Barnes & Noble "are effectively baby-sitting your children, [while] you have two hours of uninterrupted book shopping" ["Bookstores' Story Time Not Just for Kids; Parents Use Occasion to Browse and Buy," Metro, Dec. 25]. As a former Borders employee, I wish to disabuse parents of this notion.

People who work in retail suffer from low pay ($6.25 an hour to start), chronic understaffing, a heavy workload and constant customer service requests. They are not nannies.

Booksellers are not trained or necessarily inclined to make sure the toddler being dragged out the front door -- a daily occurrence -- is really with his or her parent.

Drink your latte, buy your CD, but don't let your child out of your sight.



Right on.

*I like kids. I really do. But only if they are related to me in some way by either blood or friendship. I feel no special obligation to look out for the welfare of the children of strangers absent some immediate and obvious threat. If you disagree with this attitude, bite me.