Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 12

Today had no business being as good a day as it was. Last night was a profound fustercluck that dragged my opening to a stop. MORE power outages and "offline tenders". To top it off The viper felt the need to be there. Even still It was kind of a warm wonderful day.

I am overwhelmed on an almost daily basis at the amount of goodwill that has mixed with our oxygen. Yesterday Artsy Blogstar bought pizza for the entire staff. Just because he's kind like that. The other day a woman was brought to tears because i allowed her to 1.) use the restroom that was closed off, and 2.) held our last copy of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe for her while she did so "Please, please i'm begging you, it means so much to me". You don't have to beg lady, i'm doing it. She was so emotional. It was uncomfortable for me but still overwhelming. Afterwards i needed to decompress so i went into the breakroom and harrumphed that i needed to move back to New England where people realize emotions are for burying deeply. And today Mr. Smith...remember waaay back in day 1 I promised more about him. Well today is the day.

Mr. Smith wears a magenta shirt on Saturdays, "for the ladies". He uses his borders rewards card religiously. Even though for some reason i could never quite fathom, he never brought in the free coffee coupons. He was in our store, and specifically our cafe EVERY day. He would approach impolite customers and say things like "you know that was terribly rude, they work hard and being impolite to them says more about you than it does about their service". He will tell loud people taking up the cafe aural space to "Please be quiet, this isn't the environment for such loud conversation maybe you'd be less obtrusive in a bar". He would tell people using Wi-Fi and drinking a soda from the sandwich shop next door that "The internet doesn't pay for itself, you know. Buy something, maybe even just a small cup of coffee, because if you don't they will go out of business and then whose wifi will you use." He said all the things you dream of saying to all the people you want to say it to. He's British, the accent lets him get away with a lot. Even still, speaking as a manager Mr. Smith was the direct cause of a lot of uncomfortable conversations with the victims of his absolutely true, but stinging, barbs. "This man just said this to me.!". Oh the scandal! How dare he speak the truth to you and break the social contract of silence that all assholes seem to live by.

Mr. Smith always had a funny comment, be it about politics, or the store, or staff or another customer. He always had a helpful suggestion. Suggestions that 12 years ago when our stores were more autonomous, i could have put into effect. But because of the photocopy corpate policies and one size fits none goal of the company in latter years, i could infrequently put them into place. They were always good too, none of them were hairbrained. "you know what might bring up sales in the cafe, if you did displays of books where the 5 pound bags of coffee are. I'm not going to buy a 5 pound bag of coffee, but if you did an interesting display i might just purchase from it." What a great idea....shadow boxes as something more than storage for coffee. I wish we had thought of that befo....oh. Wait.

He was always complimentary to me. We have a bond, he and I. He likes the people I hire. He likes them a lot. I think...don't tell him I told anyone...but I think he probably said that to the previous supervisor as well. I have quite literally never heard him say anything that wasn't absolutely glowing about our staff. Except one time he suggested one of our baristas wear a longer shirt because her lower back was showing and it might inspire interest in something other than coffee. His daily visits were only half an hour or 45 minutes, sometimes twice a day. The visits were long enough to read a paper, short enough to have conversations but not get stuck in them. He was always very aware of time, the time he was taking from you and the time you were giving to him.

Today Mr. Smith brought us coffee and donuts. I'm only now seeing the irony of that.

When I found him later I helped him find some books. I thanked him.

He said, "you know, this hurts me. "

That is all you need to know about Mr. Smith.

When I was finally done fixing the paperwork from last nights mishigas The Viper wanted me to the front of the store to "Greet".

"So you see how the greeting program works is When they come into the store you say hello, when they leave say good bye". Actual words said to me.

I think to him we must appear so...amoebic, completely unevolved like we just crawled out of the primordial soup and cant tell if we peed ourselves or we're swimming. Does he look at me and see an oversized man child who just wants to pick his nose and paint walls with the content of his diapers? How could you look a full grown adult man in the eye and say "When they come into the store you say hi, when they leave, you say good bye". He must be terrified that when he goes home at night we're going to start climbing the shelves and throwing books and feces about, screeching wildly. He must envision himself Charlton Heston astride the sands looking at a profile of a fallen Area E: "You damned dirty apes! You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!" (POTA purists in the audience i recognize it's not an exact quote, you can have my poetic license when you pry it from my cold dead hands). Do you think he and the other liquidators get together and have philosophical conversations about Infinite amounts of Booksellers with Infinite number of typewriters reproducing Shakespeare? Does he sneak pictures of us in strange work clothes, smoking cigars speared by a toothpick, and talking on a comically oversized phone just to make a calendar with classic quips like "buy all the bananas you can, buy em high and sell em low!".

So I said fuck that.

I stood, we'll call it, doorway adjacent. I said hello to people, but I made it known I was there to help. Damnit i've got 5 maybe 10 good shifts of doing what I am good at for a living, and I'm not missing a second of it to impersonate a retired person in a red vest at walmart. Not happening, I got shit to do. I was on point, I found stuff that was just so strangely placed. I knew secret stashes. I made some people really happy. My favorite moment was when a young woman and a young man came in together, he was buying an e-reader and she was looking for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, who is one of my favorite science fiction authors. We didn't have kindred, but when she left she had Parable of the Talents, Seed to Harvest, and a book from African American Studies. I explained to the gentleman she was with how to get kindred as an e-book. I wish Octavia E. Butler was alive so I could hug her. I fixed some paperworky stuff at the register, I took a cash pick-up. I just did my job, my real job, not that discount store automaton impersonation.

On balance today should have sucked, but it takes a bit of salt to make chocolate pop. A little pepper with Strawberries makes the flavor more vibrant. I think seeing the hot mess I was walking into galvanized me to force a good day out of this, to find the right recipe. And with the help of a regular customers goodwill, I did it.

Then I got the hell out of dodge at exactly 4 pm. My momma didn't raise no fool.


  1. "Artsy Blogstar"--I like it, and I'm going to use it the next time I need an alternate identity.

  2. Oh, and I thought greeting the customers meant say goodbye when they enter and hello when they leave, Bizarro-style. Thank the Lord the viper is here to straighten me out!

  3. The first few times I worked the cafe, Mr. Smith tipped me a dollar and insisted that I put it in my pocket and not the tip jar. He was always a sweetheart.

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  6. mr. smith was always a character. i was never a big fan of him after he told me to shush one day because i was laughing at something another barista said, but he was loyal and i always favored the loyal customers over the always-friendly-because-they-felt-guilty-for-using-our-wifi customers. i hope he finds a new haunt where he can feel at home and tell some more customers how it is.

  7. They are making you *greet* at this point??? Are you kidding? I have to admit, I gasped when I saw that.

    Keep it going, dude- 281 had a happy hour the other night, and a bunch of people said they read this blog. What an impact you are making, to the patrons of your store and readers of this blog alike,

  8. Well I heard the Viper has hooked into our cameras, so he can watch us on his laptop. I am offended by this on many levels. Spent most of the day sticking my tongue out at the cameras. Maturity at its best.

    He is just bound and determined to catch one of us stealing.

  9. ::hugs::

    I want so badly to come to your store and ask to see this man and tell him to stop treating you and the rest of the staff like you're low-functioning children. Aaaarg!

    Also, I want to buy munchkins now for my local Borders....

  10. Olivia, if the only thing this blog achieves is that it inspires you to buy munchkins for your local borders staff, i will consider my time well spent. That would be incredibly sweet of you.