A lot of customers– they all think they’re wags– ask if they sell any good books. Har-dee-har, har, she wants to reply.
One of her coworkers– the cool artsy-school grad, female drummer, was in a band, if she’s describing her in a screenplay, wears chinos and button-down shirts and worn Vans(-ish, they might be Skechers or something, she’s not hip enough to know the difference among non-clog brands of footwear) that our “heroine,” (note that the quotes are sarcastic) snarked once on the break room that instead of International Talk Like a Pirate Day, there should be Talk Back to Customers Day.
That would be fucking awesome.
Total, complete anarchy, but awesome, as long as it lasted.
Her own inclination, whenever anyone asks if they sell something good, is to just say “No, only trash. All Dan Brown, Twilight and Fat Busters diet books all the time, nothing else.” The rest of the time, she just smiles and asks what they like to read.
Misanthropy, thy name is retail.
The day she walked into the store and applied for a job was the first day in two– maybe three– she’d taken a shower. She was in the midst of a slide down after an uptick following a family crisis had forced her to be productive again– the need for her attention and energies out of the house had been somewhat of a boon, and that and a wedding had made her externalize things for a bit, long enough to engage with mere humans and stop being so damned withdrawn. For a bit.
Her husband– poor, long suffering bastard, we’ll come back to him later in far further detail– had gently suggested that if she wasn’t going to go back to the job she’d spent far too much money going to graduate school for, then she should at least try to get out of the house.
She’d liked waitressing. (What? She actually had.)
Then again, she’d always wanted to work in a bookstore.
Some miracle of energy happened, and she got in the shower, dried her hair, put on a twinset and skirt and some sandals and looked more than halfway presentable– she’d learned quite a lot about keeping up fronts, and again, more on that later– and before she quite knew what had happened, because the dissociation thing with this depression was a new feature, she’d walked into the store and filled out the form. (She did apply at a few places besides– they never called back. She wonders if it was fate.)
The manager was around and heart in her mouth she pasted on a smile as she tracked her down to personally hand over her application because as a former professional, she knew about selling her interest– that and the old lesson learned, smile until you mean it. She’d told herself that when she was a fat kid in school, and she remembered it once again. She talked to the very nice woman and it seemed to go well.
Three weeks later, she had her first day at the store.
She can’t decide if the store’s more a sitcom or a genre-defying full hour. There are enough employees to take up a full hour, the cast of full and part-timers a self-writing routine. There are the shelvers who are both drummers, both seemingly quiet, both raucously funny once you get them going. There’s the cafe employee who interns at the smutty book press. There are the brother and sister who kvetch and kvell until you just want to take notes– the femme minority lesbian manager, the manager who’s teeny and maybe a witch. Then, there was the one who’s obsessed with manga and all that kind of stuff– she was suspiciously perky, but she doesn’t work there any more.
Of course, there’s also the snarky weird guy, the one who seems unprepossessing until, as he said that day she gave him a ride home in the snowstorm, when she told him her theory about the store being a sitcom– “Yeah, I’m the guy who steals the show after three episodes, the one who says stuff that’s totally random and no one can figure out and is all ‘what the hell?’ until someone says– ‘His parents are shrinks. World famous ones.'”
She said “Oh,” much as she imagined the audience would, and they both laughed their asses off most of the ride home. They also spent a lot of time joking about whether superheroes have supertailors and supercleaners, because someone’s got to keep their clothes clean and repaired– and debated whether it’s good or it’s evil to deprive the rest of the world of bulletproof capes.
She was firmly of the belief that it’s evil. He wasn’t so sure– then again, though– child of two shrinks. Oh, indeed.
There aren’t any villians, per se– but there are people who are unremittingly stupid, a few of whom work for the store. It leads to what she’s begun to call “shortbus cashiering” moments, when she and some of the others who all get along (and giggle too much to really be all that’s completely professional) flash the “whatever” sign her friend’s five-year-old niece showed her, though really it’s only funny if you’re right there– but it’s good times.
It sees them through the holidays, and the ridiculousness of people shopping at Christmas. What? You want to return something and expect to get the maximum price without a receipt? Sure, we’ll give you back the full price. We don’t need to make any profit.
She’s beginning to feel the urge to be a boxing nun puppet in her next life.
There are times when she’s so tired at the end of the day, so blitheringly subverbal and fucking exhausted that she wonders what the hell she was thinking– not that there’s really much choice, she burned a lot of her bridges when she left her other career. The fact remains, though, that she laughs her ass off with these people who get her references to Airplane and Python and her fellow book sellers all roll their eyes to one another in commiseration when a customer once again acts surprised that they seem to know that Fagles and Lattimore both are translators of Homer. It’s a bookstore. In the most wealthy suburb of Boston, the one home to how many college professors? They probably have more freaking Homer than half the bookstores in Athens.
It just makes her want to say, utterly straightfaced, “No. We don’t have any good books.”
The manager she refers to internally as “Madam Drill Sergeant” (in a good way, and she makes the best fudge) says things like “Gird your damn loins, people, we’re gettin’ ready to open” first thing in the morning, and everyone giggles like morons down in receiving when she declares that she is the Bananagrams Queen because she has a backstock with her at the registers thanks to the special article in the paper. Seriously. People act like she’s granting a boon when she says yes, they may have another.
It’s the little things, stupid stuff, really, none of it really original, and who’d want to watch a sitcom about a national chain bookstore anyway, there’s already Chuck and the Buy More, which is exciting because that’s about spies. This’d be about a washed-up lawyer having a nervous breakdown before her thirty-fifth birthday.
Kind of boring, she thinks– except that she loves all her colleagues, her made-for-TV coworkers, the ones who chortle and giggle and snort when she jokes about writing “Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Bookstore” or something. They make her feel young, like she’s not such a wash-out, even though she’s only been there a bit and doesn’t know all their stories.
She doesn’t know if they’re hiding from other things, if this is their job in the meantime, if this is what they’re doing until they figure things out, or if this is it because this is what they can handle. And she’s scared to ask, mostly because she’s scared to find out what the answer will be for herself.
On New Year’s Day, though, after three and a half or so months’ worth of work, she gets one kind of answer.
The place is kind of cliched. It’s a smallish bookstore in a much larger chain, the red-headed stepchild in the district, she thinks. Maybe. They might really be the Isle of Misfit Toys, though no one’s declared the desire to be a dentist, not an elf or a merchandise manager or whatever the hell. The fact still remains, though– they’ve got no music or video department, they’ve half of the floorspace of the five closest stores, and their public events budget is practically nil– but damn, their people are clever and funny and she loves them to bits.
At the end of the shift, she stops to confer with her cohort and pass on a wee bit of not so much gossip as news of possible changes, to share what she thinks. She does this, not because she wants to tell her colleague what she wants her to do– it’s just to pass on the word. Her colleague, however, just gives her the gorgeous Mona Lisa smile that she wears and says “That’s fine with me, you’re the Supreme Allied Commander.”
She laughs and replies. “Girl, I’m way cuter than Eisenhower, and you know it.”
Her cohort smiles, shakes her head. “You are finer than Ike, that is true.”
Her colleague– who has the same job title and many of the same duties– and the cashier, give her little salutes as she walks out the door at the end of her shift.
And– it’s a shock, albeit pleasant– to be seen as the one in command.
She returns the salute. She’ll be back in the morning. Those bastards who don’t have receipts for their returns won’t know who hit them.
She will, though. She’s Ike, the Bananagram Queen.