Don`t Read This; Wait for the Movie

Ironically - yet somewhat unsurprisingly - my early retirement has come to a premature end. When I first moved down to North Carolina, everything was great.

My mornings typically started out around 2pm, where I would greet my roommate's puppy Chihuahua with the words, "And so we meet again... Herr Puppy." After losing a best of seven staring contest (usually 4 games to 1) with said canine, I would then grab a hammer and screwdriver to prepare a healthy breakfast of Spaghettio's with meatballs (we don't have a can opener). The remainder of the day usually consisted of less interesting activity.

Eventually, this routine grew dull and my bank account totals sank below my IQ. Homeless people on the street started offering money to me. It was time to get a job.

I soon found myself the newest employee of a major bookstore franchise (not that one, the other one). And truth be told, I've had a great experience. But I'd be denying that I'm a yankee cynic at heart if I didn't relate my experiences with sarcastic condescension while completely ignoring any positive aspects.

A common statement shared between bookstore employees is the somehow complimentary fact that "if you were normal, they wouldn't have hired you here." The staff consists of a variety of characters: Graduates with English degrees who recite poetry unprovoked. Others who oft find Lady Inspiration beckoning them to speak with an air of Olde English prose. Or former hippies who have finally given into the Man. Or maybe a socially awkward person who just loves to tell jokes about coleslaw.

And then there's me. I do my best to fit into society. But sometimes my selfish amusement gets the best of me.

Me: Good morning. Did you get a haircut? It looks good.

Female coworker: Oh! Now he's nice. Remind me; who was it that insulted me three times the first time we met?

Me: Geez. Knowing you, that could have been just about anybody.

There's also an elder employee who some call "extremely dedicated." I call him a selfish bastard. Dedicated? For coming to work when he's sick? Every four minutes he coughs and hacks something awful. The kind of cough where you know something came up and went back down behind the hands covering his mouth. And without a thought, he'll then take cash out of unsettled customers' hands and return to them their purchased material. Groooooooss. Under the Patriot Act, I'm pretty sure that classifies as bio-terrorism. And jackassery.

My time with customers has taught me that roughly 50% of the world's population is completely miserable.

Me: Good afternoon, sir. Did you find everything you were looking for?

Pleasant Customer: Whatever.

Me: Alright. Your total is $69.26.

PC: Fine. Wait - what!? Seventy bucks for one damn book?! Are you serious? This is ridiculous. What's wrong with you?

Me: I'm sorry sir, I don't set the prices.

PC: —whole world think that I'm made of money?! Gas?! Insurance?! Ballet shoes?! BOOKS!!

Me: Miss- I mean, sir. Would you like me to cancel the transaction? I can put the book back on the shelf for you.

PC: Oh - no, no. I want it. It's actually the best collection of Siamese cat photography out right now. Oh and could you put the receipt in the bag? Thankyasomuch.

Me: I can also gift-wrap that for you if you'd like.

PC: Oh I bet! And how much are you stealing for that little scam?

Me: Actually, it's free, sir.

PC: Oh. Free you say? Think I might go home and grab a few things. I'll be back.

But I have my little ways at getting back at the nasties and keeping myself entertained.

Me: Good evening, sir. How are you?

Douche-bag: Just ring it up.

(Joe picks up the phone and gets on the PA system)

Me: I need a price check on the latest issues of- let's see... Penthouse Letters. Hustler. Guys and... Guys?. Oh, and Better Homes & Gardens.

If I get really pissed, I just start asking for photo IDs from every customer who pays in cash. 9 times out of 10 they don't think anything of it:

"Nothing to worry, Pastor. Just making sure everything checks out. Now can you tell me the last 17 digits of the serial number on the 10 dollar bill you claim is yours?"

Or if the customer is an attractive young fem that wants to pay with a credit card, I ask for her license and then say, "They're getting so good with fake IDs these days. You'd better give me your phone number. Just to be safe." Since I started working, I've got more digits than a calculator. (yeah, that one was real bad)

Though phone numbers have caused their share of problems for me. More than once I've had a customer approach the register shouting something like, "436. 29. 82."

Me: Pardon me, sir? Is that your high school locker combination or tonight's winning Lotto numbers?

Ass: It's my phone number. Look up my account so I get points or miles or coupons or whatever.

Me: Oh, sure. I'm just used to starting conversations with words instead of numbers. But that was a nice change of pace. Thanks.

And don't mention the words "area code" to the people of North Carolina. They never use them here and I suspect many don't even know what one is.

Me: What is your area code, please?

Ass: Code? There ain't no secret codes. It's a telly-phone number.

Whatever you say, Hee-Haw.

And what's with people who wear sunglasses indoors? And at night? And because their future is so bright? These are generally the same people who are legally obligated to go door-to-door every time they move to a new neighborhood.

There are also customers that prefer to be less overt and more offensive in their immaturity. For example, relocating all the Dr. Phil books to a restroom stall. Or putting a stack of Holocaust books in the Fantasy section. Or buying a Cher CD. "It's for a friend," my ass.

So far I've only encountered one case of theft. As I casually passed through the Sexual Experimentation section, I noticed an empty box that used to contain an audio book, the wrapper in shreds at my feet. The title? Questions of Faith & Morality. Since I know that there is a God and he has a wonderful sense of humor, I have full faith that the disc starts off with "thou shalt not steal," followed by a lecture on the definition of irony. Salvation does not come without a price, my friend.

I've already begun to notice how this work experience is changing me. I find myself acting in a completely unnatural way. Being overly pleasant and using that annoying retail voice.

"You have yourself a super day. Now you promise to come back and visit us again soon. I can't wait to hear how that Atkins/Yoga/Pilates/Amputation diet works out for you. I bet I won't even recognize you. Buh-bye." (cue shit-eating grin)
"This book is exactly what you're looking for if you want to take your craft to the next level. It's been flying off the shelves lately. To be honest, I've always been fascinated by crocheting, knitting - any kind of needlework really. I just wish I could dedicate the kind of time an art like this truly deserves."
"Oh yeah. This is definitely my favorite Danielle Steel book. It's got to be her best yet. So much... love. And passion. You should really buy it."

But working in any retail capacity has its benefits. For example, I get to listen to toe-tapping, booty-shaking music all day long. Time just flies while I'm serenaded by rocking artists like Bette Midler. Barry Manilow. Josh Groban. And I get it to hear it over. And over. And over. And over. And over. Kill me now.

But my employers made a fatal mistake. They assigned me to the music department a few times a week. One of the benefits being I am the soul responsible for choosing the in-house music. That's right; joey is DJ'ing at the bookstore. From the windows, to the walls, baby.

I wasn't expecting it, but in hindsight I'm not at all surprised to find a mega-bookstore corporation to be as overly sensitive to political correctness as all other businesses.

I was assigned to reorganize the holiday greeting cards as after every two hours, it starts to resemble the ball pits at Chuck E. Cheese. A customer approached me and politely asked, "Pardon. Do you have any cards that say Merry Christmas? Anywhere on the card, I don't care what it looks like."

Was she serious? There were currently 300+ boxes of holiday cards on the two enormous tables in front of us. I quickly scanned, prepared to throw 295 of them in her face and cackle at her ignorance.

However, she indeed had the upper hand. Not a single box of cards had the word "Christmas" anywhere on it. Sure, there were sayings like, "Happy Holidays." "Good Tidings and Cheer." And pictures of wreaths, candy canes, Santa Clauses and baby Jesus blessing a tractor. But no Christmas.

It apparently seems too risky to acknowledge the word "Christmas" in a business setting. But there's nothing with putting the tiny Hanukkah display way off in the back corner of the store - right in the heart of the business section. I kid you not.

And something I'm still trying to figure out is how Native American music is filed under International. Is there anything more domestic than the Native Americans?

But the truly touching part of this job is having the honor to grant the gift of books, of imagination to so many. There's just nothing that compares to the feeling you get when an 8 year-old child smiles at you as you hand him his very own copy of Pet Sematary . It's enough to bring a greater man to tears. Fortunately, I am not a greater man.

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