I’ve come to decide that most retail customers fall into four categories: assholes, nice people, needy mcneedsters, and freaks.
Sometimes the venn diagrams overlap. Sometimes they don’t. There are outliers, of course. Aliens who land on Earth just to make you grab your hair and say OH MY GOD WHERE THE HELL DID THEY COME FROM, like the parents who think it’s a fun idea to walk backwards with their kids down the escalator during the busiest time at the store, when other people are trying to use the escalator to oh, say, GO UP LIKE THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO.
This is when I get out my mom voice, the one I didn’t once have, and say (stern look over glasses included) “Stop that right now, go up to the top of the escalator, turn around, and come down the stairs at a respectable pace, right now sir, you in the red shirt and brown pants with the red sox cap.” The info desk person came out to regulate and make sure they came down, so I could remind the irresponsible parent that such irresponsible bullshit would get them banned from the store, though I said it in a way that was more “we had someone injured just last week doing just that, I’m sure you wouldn’t want your beautiful daughter hurt, would you,” instead.
I do not like to fill out injury incident reports, see, even ones where every employee in the store who’s a witness to the wailing and bleeding can all clearly swear on a whole stack of bibles (located upstairs, on the left, over the cafe) that IT’S ALL THE STUPID CUSTOMER’S FAULT.
Public shaming. Nope, don’t mind if I do it at all. Those Puritans and their stocks, they were on to something, I think. I don’t care if it’s passive aggressive or outright aggressive or bitchy or rude. DO NOT FUCK AROUND IN MY BOOKSTORE. WE’RE NOT A DAMNED PLAYGROUND and I WILL LEARN YOU SOME MANNERS IF IT’S THE LAST THING I DO. Besides, I’m sick of getting ice for your kid’s head injury in the cafe while you’re nowhere to be found. Yeah. That happened, too.
There was that lady at Christmas, fifty years old if she was a day, who blew her red snotty nose and then LEFT HER USED TISSUE right on my counter after she was done with her transaction. Yes, gentle reader, I left my register. I followed her right to the end, despite the fact that it was 8 p.m. on a Friday and we had a line to the end of the store. I said “Excuse me. You left your dirty, germy tissue out on my counter. I’d like you to come back and throw it out, please.” She followed me back. I held up my basket, she threw it out, face red, and then I got out my Lysol wipes and wiped down my counter as I wished her a good day and told her I hoped she got over her cold very soon.
The next customer told me I was her hero.
Last week, I had a lady get out her money to pay. She had a new wad of cash from the bank, lots of new bills, and I get it, I know. I handle new cash all the time. I’ve got a vat of sticky-goo in the basement I use to help me separate the new bills, make them easy to count. Barring that, you crumple them up a bit in your hand, then count them out– it makes it all go much smoother.
But no, not she. Instead, in slo-mo, out comes the thumb, then the wet, glistening tongue. She licks the thumb, a string of drool, practically trailing, as she separates all the ones, counting them out until she gets the right number, then hands them to me, wet side facing me. I took them dry side down, even though it was awkward, and so help me, I know it was rude, but man, she used a lot of spit. I got out a tissue and dried them a bit before I put them in my till. Because– EEEEEW.
There’s a reason the other head cashier and I keep a quart of hand sanitizer under the register at all times. Money is filthy, you just don’t usually have to see the reasons why enacted out in front of you so viscerally. So please, don’t lick the monies. At least not where I can see. You’ll make Doris Day cry.
And then there are the people who try to get to give you the online price. “But I reserved it online.” We have this handy-dandy thing where you go to the website, look to see if it’s in store, and if it is, BAM, the store clerk picks it out of the shelf and brings it down to the register to hold it for you.
I try to patiently explain that reserving it online to be held at the store does not get them the online price, only the convenience of in-and-out service. If they want the online price, they don’t get the service of someone pulling the book off the shelf for them after it’s been put on a truck from the warehouse from New Jersey (or wherever), unpacked by my receiving manager, shelved by my shelver, zoned by my booksellers, and then pulled by the person who handles the online reservations who checks all the emails of the people too lazy to come in and look for the book on the shelf all by themselves. You want the online price, you wait the two days while Joe Shmoe in the warehouse puts it in the box and into the truck and sends it directly to you. It’s called customer service. And same-day convenience. Overhead. Learn it. Live it. Don’t love it, but deal with it and you know what? I’m not going to match the online price, so kindly stop asking. Just, NO.
There are people who mumble and cut you off when you ask them the membership questions, tell you they won’t sign up because Amazon ships free, etc., when you tell them we ship free as well to members, they tell you you’re lying even though there are SIGNS ALL OVER THE STORE, people who assume you’re illiterate and interrupt you as you’re trying to ask them basic questions about the book that they’re looking for until you can’t actually look up the book– “Sir/Ma’am,” I finally say, “I will be able to do this if you would let me finish a basic series of questions that will allow me to complete an inventory query, so if you would please listen, I would appreciate it,” people who get pissed off that you don’t take OTHER STORE reward cards and gift cards when YOU AREN’T OTHER STORE, because, um, the SIGN ON THE FRONT SAYS WHAT STORE YOU ARE, and then there are the kids who get pissed when you card them when they try to buy porn, the jerks who insist that “THE SIGN SAYS 20% OFF,” and when you say the book isn’t stickered as discounted and therefore is the regular price, plus, the sign says “Select titles,” they go off about it being small print and their being lawyers and not to push them around, goddamnit, because they know unfair trade practices when they see them.
That was hilarious. I pulled the sign, looked it over, said, “It’s the same size as the 20%, don’t you think?” to the cashier next to me, “and by the way, I’m a lawyer, and so is he,” and he handed it to the also-a-lawyer ringing next to him. She agreed, handed it back down the line, and I put the sign down on the counter, looked at him, said something to the effect that I was sorry, it wasn’t small print, would he still like the book, and if he wanted to speak to a manager, I was the head cashier, hello, nice to meet him. Then I smiled and asked him how he’d like to proceed. He bought the damned book.
Hint: the three judge panel wins every time.
And then there’s the needy mcneedsters.
Them, I don’t mind, even if we’re a bookstore, not a psychiatrist’s office.
We all get a little bit lonely, and if a little bit of conversation or a compliment on their sweater makes them feel better, hey, what the hell. They’re in a lot, and if they mostly read magazines and occasionally buy a mass market romance or mystery and talk to us when it’s not busy– where the hell else are they going to go?
There are some people so disorganized it’s a wonder they get through the day– “I need a book, there’s a boy, and a ball, there’s the word ‘the’ in the title,” and yet somehow we find it– and I wish I had an endless stack of notebooks and pencils for them, because LISTS, YOU CAN HAZ THEM. There are people so tired and depressed and sad-looking that I worry for them, even when I’m feeling my blackest. We’ve got an older man, always “cheery,” who’s retired, and his interest in books is political and financial, stuff I stay out of because it just makes me depressed. But I stay up on the news, and I know how to bullshit, so I can talk to the guy. I don’t know if he’s blowing smoke up my butt, but I gather he’s wealthy and had quite the business, but his wife’s now quite ill and gets cancer treatment a lot. The store is his outlet and frankly– he can be a bit of a time-suck. But– he’s doing no harm, and it brings a little light to his day to flirt, tell a mild dirty joke, or agree that Eliot Spitzer’s a shmuck and the market is awful. At Christmas he brought me a box of Frango mints that I shared with the store. He didn’t need to know I don’t care for mint as a flavor, all I had to do was say thank you. And so I did, with a kiss on the cheek, and I got an overjoyed smile.
When it’s someone’s birthday, or someone is leaving, I bake them whatever they want. It’s easy for me, and it makes someone happy. Pineapple upside down cake? You got it. One of my favorite cafe people is leaving to go move in with his girlfriend and start college again and I said he could have whatever he wanted– after deep thought, he said– “Um. Oh. Chocolate chip cookies. No. Wait. M & M cookies. No. Wait. Could I have both?” When I said yep, the chortle of glee that I got was so pleased. I like that it’s easy to make people happy that way.
And then there’s the nice people. Mr. W., the retired math teacher who comes in to combat politics with me because I’m a Keynsian and he’s Chicago school all the way. Mrs. C., who didn’t like Elizabeth Gilbert (“so self-involved in the end, I do feel sorry for her”), but loves Alice Steinbach and any other non-fiction recommendation I make, so now I can upsell practically anything and she’ll give it a try because I “have excellent taste.” Mrs. W., who’s a child psychiatrist and deals with the most severely traumatized kids, who buys utter trash and pulp mags and when I had a bad cold that lasted for months offered to write me a Z-Pak if I didn’t have health insurance and recently commented with all the weight that I’d lost that I was “lovely” and “didn’t need to lose any more.” There’s “Crazy M” as we call her, with pre-Raphaelite hair and lace sweaters and too much girlish makeup, always a bit scattershot, for whom we save coupons because she has to count out her purchase to the last dime. She always has a compliment for either of us head cashiers– she comments on our hair or our sweater or just “you have a nice aura today,” and she always, always means it, full of Grace as she is. There’s a monk from a monastery nearby, also Grace-full, and I love interacting with him, and not just because he buys really interesting books, not all religious. (Book choices, the ultimate intellectual voyeurism.) One day, he was short just a dollar, and the monastery had apparently cleaned out the car, so there was no spare change in the well. I spotted him a buck from my pocket because hey– he’s a regular customer and I wasn’t going to let him go home without all his books. I told him it wasn’t a problem, not to worry about it, and even as he said he’d pay me back, I forgot all about it. The next time he came in, though, he had not only my dollar, but a loaf of the special bread he and his brothers bake just for Easter, and oh, it was eggy, sweetly-spiced heaven, even though I’d expected no kind of reward.
Oh, that’s a whole post unto itself. They often overlap with the assholes, and we’ve got nicknames for all of them. They make us wish we had a blender in the basement, so we can add vodka and rum to our icy blended coffee type drinks. Some of them have worked for the store. They’re the reason, moreso than the assholes, that a colleague and I dearly want “International Talk Back to Customers Day.”
But I’ll leave you with a list of nicknames for teasers. Miss Piggy, Twitchy, Barefoot Guy, Manga Man, and Blue Dreadlocks. Yeah.
The Isle of Misfit Bookstores. ‘Tis a wonderful place. Just don’t lick the monies. Please?