Tuesday 4 August 2009
The Sarazens head without New-gate: It's still a retail job
I think I'm well overdue to devote a post to life in bookstoreland, hey? Even though there have been only a few Sarazens head posts, I think it's about time to disabuse you of your notions about the complete serenity of manning a bookstore all day long.
Yes, I sometimes get to read or nap on the job, and yes, I sometimes get to have great conversations with customers about books. But you know that guy in line at Starbucks who smells bad and who's yelling at the cashiers for moving too slowly? He shops in bookstores too.
Someone needs to get some lessons in anger management
Recently, a woman came in and spent about 45 minutes looking at one of these flaky new age books we sell so well to people in Alberta (not sure what that's about). After the 45 minutes, she asked, were she to buy the book, whether or not she could return it after a week or so if she found it wasn't the right thing. I said no, that 24 hours was the best we could do (not a generous policy, I realize, but the previous owners instituted it because so many people were trying to get things refunded after a week or more).
Upon hearing about the 24-hour thing, she immediately started screaming at me that this wasn't fair and what if she spent that $14 for nothing?? I responded quite calmly that I was sorry, but this wasn't a lending library and she could spend the next 4 hours before we closed looking at the book in one of our comfy chairs to decide either way on the book. Her response? "You arrogant fucking bitch! You're going to have a really fucking hard time in life and I'm glad! Fuck you, bitch!" She then threw the book on the floor and stormed out. She didn't fail to hear me laugh at her tirade, however, and slammed the door so hard it sounded like it broke (it didn't). The book has recovered, and is now waiting for that special someone to come take it to its loving, forever home in hippie-land.
Did you really just tell me that I don't know anything about Shakespeare?
Granted, this particular crazy woman didn't know that I have a PhD in the Shakespeare, but she didn't stop talking smack even after I told her. Last week, I was quietly minding my bookish business when a young woman came storming in and asked me, quite angrily, if I knew anything about Shakespeare? I informed that her that I could lay claim to some knowledge in that area, yes.
She then proceeded to inform me that all of Shakespeare's plays were co-written by a woman, namely Virginia Woolf. Apparently, Shakespeare often got tired and lost his writing mojo and she had to finish what he started. She knew for a fact that Woolf was the co-writer because she wrote a book named Orlando and there's a character in Twelfth Night (actually, it's As You Like It, crazy girl!) named - ORLANDO! She also knew that the co-writer was female because, she informed me, Ophelia means "help me". Now that's a thesis statement if ever I heard one, but one designed to earn you not a grade, but rather a punch in the neck.
At first, I tried to speak gently and reasonably with her about this stuff because clearly, she had some kind of mental issue (the clearness of it coming from her manner rather than what she said; I'm sure many people have no idea when either Shakespeare or Woolf lived and that's no biggie in my view if they're not either an English literature student or an insatiable reader - she was really twitchy and bug-eyed is what I'm saying).
But when she wouldn't listen to anything I was saying and just kept screeching about our man Willie as the co-author of our woman Ginnie, I lost my patience a little and asked her rather abruptly, "Have you come in here for anything besides talking mush about Shakespeare? Because if it's just about the mush, I don't have time." She immediately snapped out of it and asked if I had a copy of The Time Traveller's Wife. Which, based on her ideas above, made me think that maybe she believes this is a how-to manual and not a novel (and now a movie).
Can I call the double-A for you?
This is a sad case I can't make fun of. But it does highlight the fact that bookstores are retail environments through and through because yo, this won't happen to my husband at his hyper-securitied up office.
A few weeks ago, a woman came in with a bottle of what appeared to be Diet Coke. She took her time and gathered together a honkin' stack of books and then betook herself to the comfy chairs in the back. Upon her sitting down, I heard her open a can of something, which I found weird, what with the bottle of pop already on the go, so I started walking towards her to see what was up. She immediately spilled the canned pop everywhere as she drunkenly tried to pour it into the bottle, which I now know was not housing pop, or not only pop. She staggered to her feet, slurred at me that she was sorry, and handed me the can.
Whereupon, I informed her she must leave post-haste and not return. Meanwhile, a lovely pair of teenagers took it upon themselves to begin moving the boxes of books that were in the path of the expanding pop river on the floor. God bless 'em!
On her way out, poor drunk lady fell flat on her arse without the help of the many piles of books around; indeed, she managed to do it in the clearest place in the store. Sigh. I hope she'll figure this out before it kills her to death.
The fires of hell
People come in and try to make me a Christian all the time. Sometimes it's benign, e.g., someone comes in regularly and sticks pamphlets about Jesus everywhere (I still don't know who it is; they're crafty I guess; in any case, I think it's kind of funny). Sometimes, people come in to try to talk to me about it and when I say I'm not interested, they look disappointed but take it in stride.
But once, very soon after we took over the bookstore, this guy came in and started giving me his whole brimstone speech. He was loud to begin with but became much louder and more aggressive as I tried to tell him I was fine, thanks, but no. He was going on about the tortures I was going to experience in hell and he had crazy manic eyes on top of the voice. I was starting to get scared so I pulled on my super-aggressive face and told him to leave, which he just ignored and kept going, but even louder and with more violent gestures and the crazy eyes. Just at that moment, the meter reader guy came in and he happened to be 6'5" or so AND he happened to feel like being manly for he sent that guy packing with threats of his tall guy boot ending up in the other guy's hell and damnation ass. Phew. I was getting ready to call the cops.
Apparently, someone else owns this store
There's a crazy talking-to-herself lady that comes in sometimes and who I am now totally terrified of. The first time she came in, she just talked to herself but was pretty well put together. The next time, she was all dirty and her hair was matted. She said to me, I shit you not, "My other personality, who owns this store, tells me you have such and such a book." I was disconcerted but thought maybe she was kidding. I looked up the book. We didn't have it. I told her so. And then I knew she wasn't kidding for she looked at me with so much loathing and malevolence that I started to quake; she then informed her other self that "The lying bitch says she doesn't have it!" and muttered angrily to herself for awhile. Again, I got ready to call the cops but the other self took pity on me, I guess, and took her out of there.
Of course, these are extraordinary events; the everyday form my life here takes is that of quietly selling things like The Da Vinci Code and Harry Potter books, and generally remaining in a mutually molestation-free relationship with the people who wander in. But the encounters described above make my bro's advice to run my store like the guy in Black Books quite compelling. Here are some snippets on the YouTube if you're not familiar with Black Books.
Oh, and I have to make change a lot. That's part of having a retail job. A BIG part.