Sunday, April 19, 2009

adventures in bookselling

Dispatches from the frontline of publishing.
You know, that part of the biz where the book actually makes it into a reader’s hand for the first time. And that reader forks over cash.

Life in these retailing trenches occasionally amuse and startle. When my book is written it will include the following incidents.

I take the middle-aged woman to the section and hand her the requested book, The Yeast Syndrome.

She looks up at me asks, “Can I buy this?”
For a tiny part of a second I am too stunned to speak.
“Of course,” I reply. “That’s the point. You can purchase everything but the fixtures.”
“Well, I’ve never been in here before.”
Huh? Perhaps the name above the door should have been a clue.

OK, so maybe one such oddity is to be expected once in a blue moon. But this is the SECOND such inquiry I’ve had in the past two months. And neither was approaching senility.

In the early days of my employment, I am working the register in the hectic post-Christmas rush. A woman of no more than 50 steps up to my station, complaining her computer is not functioning. Where, she demands, is the line for returns. I lean in close, so as not to embarrass her.

“Ma’am, do you think you are in Best Buy? (on the other side of our mall)
She stops, straightens up and looks around.
“I guess you got your laugh for the day.”
I do.

A colleague reports a phone call from a customer requesting, “A bible for someone new to walking in the word.”

I recently took a call from customer requesting the author of The Anderson Method. Perhaps, I thought, it's the same person buried in Grant's tomb.

As the lead bookseller in the kid’s department, the bane of my existence is adults who think nothing of dropping/sending their young children to my department and trotting off to sports, self-help, investing or whatever. I am not a babysitter, and small folk are not to be left unsupervised in the section. I once caught a toddler hanging from the metal hooks of a display he had climbed.

One day, I notice a child who really does toddle, she’s so young--not much beyond a year--wandering about with no adult in sight. I am just about to call a manager, when her father (I assume) strolls in, unconcerned. Overcome with outrage am I. What can I say? The Jewish mother part of my psyche is easily activated.

“Sir, you cannot leave a child this young alone in this department.”
He looks genuinely surprised.
I wonder how his wife—or the judge supervising his visitation—would react.

The recent installation of a security system creates its own indignity, constituting a downright hostile work environment. While covering breaks in the music department, I am subjected to repeated shots of my butt in the monitor. Talk about cruel and unusual punishment!

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