Sunday, August 21, 2011

Day 34

Okay, fine, i got a little freaked out.
I got a really positive response from Day 31. I like that, as some commenters said, i'd broadened the scope of what I could talk about. Thing is though, when i wrote it, I didn't think about that it's just what came out. Suddenly what I wanted to write about the next day just seemed like I was...being a punk.

And it freaked me out. I had a hard time pulling together something to write about that was worthy of that previous post. How do I top the WPA, for goodness sake? Lest it seem terribly emo and in my head, I have to say that I actually think about this stuff a lot, and very little at the same time. Most of the entries have been fairly organic and just sort of came out. A few have been pre-meditated in that I encountered things throughout the day and figured, oh this is blogworthy, I should remember this. But I do think about things like, Not making it just the lame customer/lame liquidator/lame circumstance post of the day. Becoming I Can Haz Horrifying Experience is not my goal. Folks I work with will confirm i've done some hand wringing over some stuff (go ahead guys, i'll wait...confirm Okay, fine do it in the comment sections!). So, yeah. I was concerned that the post I wanted to do, just wasn't...up to snuff. So I stopped for a couple of days to get some distance and a bearing and remind myself why I'm doing this and why it's important to me. And having done that I decided that the post I wanted to do was just right, and here is why.

If you ask me for books that make you look like ass, I'm going to think you're an ass, but I'm going to take you to your book anyway.

Its a simple rule. It's the booksellers code, the social contract. I don't want to seem like I judge everyone who comes up to me and asks for a book. I don't. Hardly anyone. But I have to admit there are a few titles that, while they don't give me pause, exactly. They do make me wonder, and usually concoct stories about you in my head. Sometimes the combination of titles a customer is purchasing tells a fantastic story. Sometimes i don't like to give it too much thought though, because it troubles me. But 99.9999 percent of the time i take you to your book, i take it off the shelf, i show it to you and I place it in your hand, just like the training video hosted by Anne Kubek told me to do.

These days though, I'm getting a bit...selective. I cherry pick the customers who I'm going to give that level of service to because I think they need it, or they are nice to me so they deserve it, or they are looking for something I want to get a chance to discuss with them. There are a wide variety of reasons why I choose a customer to spend time with. There are also a wide variety of reasons I don't. My job description has collapsed around my ears, so suddenly there is wiggle room. Enough wiggle room to make me a bit uncomfortable.

The liquidation has forced me to be selective. I'm sorry, but it was unlikely I was going to find the super rare single, short, and ultra thin copy of an NCLEX exam book specifically for treating leprechauns on the best of days., it's not happening. I'm sorry. Look in nursing reference, and may god have mercy on your soul. Cooking? Ha! Computer? Ha! Teachers Reference? Ha and Ha! Those folks get some combination of point, verbal description of what to look for, and/or empathetic facial expression. Not always all three. The liquidators have told us that our customers are needy, we know! that's why we hire smart people, to help fulfil that need. Well, that's not our standard any more. Trying to live up to the former Borders customer service standard is just going to make us overworked and crazy and most of the people shopping with us don't really care any how. It's the same with a lot of things we used to do. Recovery, for instance. That was fun once. 3 people though, cannot recover a store that has gone through what we go through on a day. It's not possible not in the 30 minutes from the last customer to walking out the front door. We've just had to adjust our standards.

I've mentioned how I'm kind of a fiend for customer service. I love it. I love being good at it. I love knowing that sometimes the best customer service you can give, is giving up. It's true, sometimes you just have to stop and tell the person you're helping you can't help them. Because continuing to do so is giving bad customer service to dozens of other people you could be helping in the interim. Being good at customer service isn't just a knack it's a skill and a disposition, it's like playing an instrument, it's an art. And it never involves Judgement and is always neutral, well mostly never and usually always.

I've only had one book in my whole history of being a bookseller that i refused to sell. Someone once told me that was censorship, to them I say: buy a dictionary and develop your understanding of context. While it is my job to be neutral and take people to books, in the case of this one book, i won't do it. I'll tell them the location, but i am going to exercise MY freedom of speech and not take them to it. The social contract a bookseller signs with their customer is one of neutral customer service, but every contract has its provisos. This one is mine. Why this book? I don't want my hand to pass this piece of literary excrement to someone. I don't tell them they can't have it, I just tell them I won't take them to it, i've only been asked for it once in all my years of book selling, and that was enough., I'm not going to say what the title is, because whenever I do people say "but such-and-such book advocates this, and this book is all about that" and it always ends up with Hitler, in much the same way I don't believe that what is right is always fair, I also don't believe that consistency is a much of a moral directive. I don't like this book, it more than skeeves me, and if you ask me for it, you skeeve me. My hand will never touch it, which means it will never pass from my hand to yours. If that is me censoring or exploiting my power over you (again, I'd ask you learn to understand context...after I was done laughing at you ofcourse) then I am comfortable with that level of corruption on my part. We are, all of us, corrupt in some small way. I didn't speed and take someones life into my hands to get to work today. Did they? If you look hard enough you will find we are all hypocrites. I am comfortable with my hypocrisies, at least this one.

Anyway, today, two young men, incoming first years if the crispness of their new college gear is any indicator, rocking that Bieber-esque windblown look in their sun bleached hair, approached me and asked "Do you have Tucker Max's I hope they Serve Beer in Hell"? Immediately, when asked for that book, i think of the person who wants it, as an ass. That book is practically an instructive primer on misogyny. It advocates things I find to be detestable. It also smears anyone who doesn't think his special breed of "charm", shall we say, is anything but humorous and wicked awesome. Whatevs. There are people out there who are professional Haters of Mucker Tax, I'll let them do it, they are better at it than I am anyhow. But you know what, every time someone asked me for that book in the past, I took them to it, I showed it to them, and I placed it in their hand, all the while thinking "this guys an ass", but i remained neutral. Today for the first time i didn't have to smile and walk the customer over to it and hand it to them. So ... "over there" I said and waved vaguely.

It. felt. GLORIOUS. Before liquidation the only thing that would keep me from doing my sacred duty as a purveyor of the written word is a feeling of nausea at the thought of a title, a feeling entirely specific to me. I mean, the book I won't sell, "it that shall not be named", I have a MORAL imperative not to involve myself in it. It's a wired part of my physiology. It's like, "I won't kick a puppy", or "I won't give cigarettes to 5 year olds". I've sold Tucker Max dozens of times over the years and felt admittedly dirty each time, but would balance it out by selling more positive titles to people, when and where I could. Not that I use book selling as a personal pulpit, but when I find someone is interested in a vegetarian cookbook, I might show them "The Omnivores Dilemma" Or if I find someone is interested in "The Omnivores Dilemma" I might show them, "Animal Vegetable Miracle". You know, book selling. But I have to admit on days when i've sold books I find yucky, my book selling goes into a bit of overdrive.

Suddenly I'm free of the sacred duty bit. My 10 point code of honour (GURPS reference, dig it), just isn't relevant any more. The liquidators tore up the social contract. I can sneer and wave off Mucker Tax if I feel like it, or Shel Silverstein for that matter. It shouldn't be confused with a new kind of absolute neutrality however, it should be understood to be ambivalence.

As anyone who gives a damn about what they do for a living knows, ambivalence sucks.


  1. If high praise for a post causes you not to write new posts every day, let me say this in the interest of reversing that trend: today's installment was mediocre, at best. DID YOU HEAR ME, DREW? MEDIOCRE!

  2. Oh, and here are some books that I, too, have gone out of my way not to help a customer find, in the interest of preserving what few brain cells they have left:

    Anything by Glenn Beck
    Anything Obama-related with the stock Scary Black Man-type cover
    Anything by Michael Savage
    Any book written by any Real Housewife

  3. No Tory Spelling or Kardashian or Taylor swift or Paris Hilton or Perez Hilton and please lord NO ROMANCE!!!'nuf said. Mediocre at best but you make a great latte:)

  4. You're killing us here, Corey. Come on, what is it...Mein Kampf? The Anarchist's Handbook? Twilight? The world needs to know!

  5. As to whether or not you can live up to a previous, fabulous post, you dan decide to be either Harper Lee or Larry McMurtry. I hope you choose the latter. Not everything will be " The Last Picture Show" or "Lonesome Dove", but that's OK.
    I have to admit I too am a judgemental bookseller. Anytime a customer wanted books on UFO's and aliens, I realized I was not going to be sharing suggestions on great read-alikes. And don't get me started on the dreck that has choked the Politics section.

  6. Ugh! Tucker Max! And the guys who come in to buy those books, they sort of test me. They want me to prove that I'm a woman whom they should hate just a little bit less b/c I like Tucker Max. Well, sorry dood-bros. I hate Tucker Max.
    I don't know whether it is the region our store is in or if times have changed, but I do have a difficult time rectifying my politics & ethics with helping customers get what they want. Beck. Palin. Bush. Obama is a scary socialist Sharia law luvin black man. All that stuff. Gross. To say the least. Sometimes it's not even a specific book. It's an attitude. There is a lady who comes in regularly (well, only once since the liquidation began - at least when I'm on the book floor) and she expects us to ignore all other customers & do her shopping for her while she spills her coffee (almost never bought from our cafe) all over the place & frequently has her children with her whom she allows to run around doing whatever they want. She's the lady with whom I had the altercation back during the first or 2nd week.
    Part of me is upset that I have even less time & fewer resources to help customers. Another part of me is happy that the next time some dood-bro comes in requesting Tucker Max I can say that the date rape fan section is over thata way.

  7. I too had one title I refused to place into the hands of anyone... well almost anyone. I did it once, but that is because it was to embarrass the hell out of a teenager who had the gall to ask me for it in front of his parents. And that is The Game. Anyone who bought that book immediately skeeved me out.