Reading Rage Tuesday: Tales from a former bookseller. Also, wankers.
You may or may not be surprised to know that I used to work in a bookstore. I know. It’s the most shocking. If you like to read, working in a bookshop is almost ideal. I say “almost” because, despite the obvious pros (you know, getting to fondle, smell, look at, linger near, and generally be around books all day–and having a discount wasn’t terrible, either), the job is just like any other job. There’s actual work that you have to do (sadface) and not all of it makes you happy to be working in a bookshop.
Those of you who have worked in bookshops are nodding your heads sagely, but people who only frequent bookshops might be wondering–just what about working in a bookstore might make one hate working in a bookstore? Well! I’m glad you asked. Even if you didn’t ask, you’re about to find out, because that’s what today’s Reading Rage is about: things that sucked about working in a bookstore.
Suffer from children.
I’m already not the world’s best at children. I tend to get really awkward and not quite know what to say or do when kids are talking to me. Lucky for me, I didn’t have to work directly with kids too much. (This cut way down on the panicked, deer-in-headlights looks.) Most parents blissfully shopped after leaving their
monsters children to play in the kids’ section, where we had a wooden train they could sit in and a small table where the rugrats could presumably read or stick foreign objects in their mouths or up their noses. Although a great solution for the parents, I didn’t find it quite so agreeable. By the end of the night, our kids’ section invariably looked like this:
and guess who had two thumbs and had to clean it up five days a week? THIS GIRL!
I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to straighten children’s books, but it’s a lot different than organizing adult books. The books have absolutely no regularity as far as shape, size, or thickness, and the spines on modern books (well, modern for the era that I was working in the bookstore) were often so thin that there was no information on them. This made organizing books, which traditionally reside on the shelf spine-out, a tiny bit difficult. Plus, the books were not only organized by author but also by age, and not having children myself, I had no bloody clue what age group some of the books fell into. A few of the baby books had age recommendations, but most lacked clear guidelines–guidelines that I could have sorely used. Maybe something like, “Okay, this one has mild violence and nudity, so it’s for the 8 to 10 set.”
Couple a lack of direction with a very small time frame, and we all ended up shoving books wherever there was room and calling it good. This practice backfired on us regularly when parents came to us in search of a particular title. “Uh . . well, did you try doing what everyone else does, pulling every book off the shelf and leaving the ones you don’t want on the floor? We don’t really know what’s over there. In case you haven’t noticed, it’s a warzone.”
It was a vicious cycle.
We’re all children at heart.
Lest you think that kiddos were the only offenders, guess again! The kids’ books weren’t the only books that we were likely to find anywhere but the shelves. There were also any of the how-to/DIY sections:
the gaming guides:
and, of course, magazines and newspapers:
You know, anything that people like to read for free and then leave in a haphazard pile wherever they were sitting. And yes, I still indulge in this terrible habit myself whenever I’m sitting at a bookshop cafe, which makes me the most awful person in the universe since I know exactly how much work it is. It’s a good thing I’m loved for my sassiness instead of my contributions to humanity.
I wish nature would stop calling here. I’ve changed my number twice.
I think that, outside of the home, the bookstore toilet is probably the most-beloved place for people to, uh, relieve themselves. (Starbucks is second–yet another place where I have worked and cleaned toilets.) There’s something a little more serene about a bookstore bathroom if you absolutely have to go in public. Cleaning the women’s room wasn’t terrible; it got a messy, but it was mostly just sweeping up stray bits of TP and wrappers. The men’s, though. Holy fucking hell, the men’s.
For me, cleaning the men’s bathroom already had a strike against it, because this is the only urinal that doesn’t totally gross me out. Our urinal was especially icky; we never seemed to be able to get it clean, and there were a fair amount of patrons who really needed to work on their aim. We used to wear bags on our shoes so that we didn’t have to stand directly in Pee Lake. The only worse bathroom I’ve ever seen was at a really seedy dive bar I used to frequent; unfortunately, I couldn’t get drunk enough not to care when I was at work. I tried, but they frown on that sort of thing.
The lone stall didn’t fare much better; besides the normal, uh, waste issues, the stall gave cleaning the bathroom another strike because it had privacy. It had privacy, and we, being a bookseller and all, had porno.
Yeah. You see where this is going.
Guys would nab a dirty magazine or a book of Penthouse letters and go have a nice wank in the bookstore bathroom on pretty much a daily basis. Then we had to clean it up, and these guys were NOT considerate. (Would it have killed them to use a bit of toilet tissue as a landing place instead of ALL OVER THE WALLS?) I maintain that the men’s bathroom stall of a bookstore would be the perfect place to commit a crime, because there’s so much genetic material on the stall walls that they could never prove it was you based on DNA evidence alone. Also? I would just think twice the next time you want to buy a sexy book from a store with a bathroom. Because if the guy put it back instead of stashing it somewhere in the bathroom, it might be used. And that’s just… ew.
You know the book about the thing, by the guy?
Sometimes, when I was very lucky, I got to work the customer service desk instead of being a cashier. The CS desk rocked because it mainly consisted of helping people find books and answering the phone. I got to stand on a platform and be a little taller than everyone else, which meant that, for a few hours, I was the supreme overlord of Bookdom. Plus, I got to see who came in and bought porn, which we kept behind the desk–yes, that’s right: the bathroom wankers had to ask for a Playboy before committing their crimes against booksellers. I guess those big balls were the reason they couldn’t wait till they got home.
At least once a week, though, a customer managed to completely frustrate me. The conversation usually went like this. (clears throat, puts on chipper voice)
Me: (brightly) Hi! How can I help you?
Customer: Yeah, I’m looking for a book.
Me: Okay! What book are you looking for?
Customer: I forget the title. I think it had “the” in it. Or “a” maybe. Might have started with a B, or an F. Maybe S?
Me: O-kay. Do you know the author?
Customer: One of those popular guys. It’s a novel.
Me: Can you tell me anything about it?
Customer: It’s about a woman. I think she gets killed. Or maybe she doesn’t. Or it might be a man.
Me: So. . . . you’re basically talking about every novel that’s ever been written.
Even with my serious search-fu, I couldn’t find these books. Which, fine: you can’t squeeze blood from a turnip, and I couldn’t squeeze any more information out of them than they had. What irritated me was that they would get mad when I couldn’t find their book. They would yell at me. They would storm away from the desk and then come back twenty minutes later with the book that they wanted–or, claiming it was the book that they wanted–and wave it in my face. “This one! This one! You had a whole display of them, why couldn’t you have found it for me so I didn’t have to waste 20 minutes looking for it?” At which point, I would grab the nearest bookshelf, knock it over punk-rock style, and scream incoherently.
Okay, so I didn’t. But I did in my mind.
All in all, working at a bookstore was a sweet job, and I’d recommend it to anybody who likes to read. (Especially if you don’t sell porn, or have a public bathroom.) Like all other jobs, though, you have to put up with bullshit from time to time, and you occasionally want to see how far you can jam a booklight up some jerk’s ass. Still . . . yeah, having that discount again would be badass. I’d do it all over again, even if it meant having to equip my shoes with baggies to avoid a puddle of piss.
How ’bout you? Have you worked in a bookstore or a library? Have any tales of woe from a house of books? Share ’em in the comments!
P.S.! I made a new t-shirt, just for you guys.