Monday, August 29, 2011

day 42

Let me get this straight: You know nothing of how our business works, yet you get to make the most profit from it that it has ever seen?

Yeah, thats fair.

It's just so frustrating that with almost no exception, the liquidators prove on a daily basis that the very basics of what we do is an ages old mystery not worth solving to them. Simple steps of logic escape them. For instance the old ditty about rectangles and squares. All squares being rectangles but not all rectangles being squares. Yes, all Sci-Fi mystery and romance are fiction, but not all fiction is sci-fi mystery and romance. A simple theorem, really. Something even a child understands.

Let me step away for a minute and deluge you with my personal manifesto re: genre. I personally believe that most literary genre is just a marketing ploy. Genres make it easier to sell books. There is no such thing as literary taxonomy. And all efforts to create or observe a literary taxonomy just create (and allow you to observe) annoying people who parse the difference between Science Fiction and Space Opera. Heres the difference: you've decided your tastes are exceptional and since you don't like it must be something wholly other. I can remember as a small child watching He-Man on television and finding it really annoying that even though he-man had a magical sword and a sorceress who created him, he also used lazer beams and flew around in spaceships. I liked fantasy, I didn't like science fiction. I didn't want chocolate with my peanut butter. I still am not a huge fan of hamfisted efforts to jam them together. Anyhow, that was (and remains) a very juvenille point of view. All it does is create easily shoppable ghettos and encourage schlock mills like James Patterson to keep pumping out easily branded product. You wouldn't dare put Dan Brown (whose books I enjoyed immensely but I also like jolly ranchers, I just wouldn't recommend them for dinner) in the same category, and thus court comparisons to, the likes of ...oh...Umberto Eco, who is a far superior writer by any objective measure, except perhaps the measure of sheer enjoyability, which is ...well subjective. And you create authors who have a distaste for setting up shop in those self same ghettos for fear of being deemed low brow, or one trick ponies (See Also: Margaret Atwood) Anyhow, my point is that I'm not, in the above paragraph, advocating for a strict adherence to some kind of literary eugenics, I'm just saying that as book purveyors and members of the buying public we divide and conquer. -Fin

So when a customer asks you “where is the non-fiction” section, it's a hard question to answer, right. Because you don't want to appear to be a punch line for a John Hodgman bit on the Daily Show. But really, how do you answer that question (no really, comment please) because there is no answer to my way of thinking that doesn't make the person asking you seem like they didn't graduate the 6th grade. At least, though, they ask you. Unlike the AI cyborgs who write up the draft copies of the emails we send out and don't bother to check them. If you are offering an additional 15% off of All Fiction in the store, that can be a couple of things. It could mean all prose that isn't true and it could mean all The books categorized as Fiction/Lit (another distinction I have a manifesto on) . Fine, if you say in the small print “all books in the Official Fiction/Lit category” which is how it was programmed into the register. All general Fiction/Lit books were coming up an additional percentage off. However, If you then begin listing authors on your email that are comfortable and even become incredibly wealthy, in their low rent districts you then create what I like to call “chaos”. Rick Riordian is an author primarily associated with titles for children. James Patterson is mostly a mystery author, though he has books all over. Unless you want me to stand at the register for my ENTIRE SHIFT and manually over ride the prices, this isn't going to work. Oh...that is...what you want me do? Really? That seems messy. I'd think a simple phone call to whereever to change the coding on the discounts in the computer so we could update them would have been easier.

It's just so astonishingly head/desky. And not to mention frustrating as hell. I mean, these guys stand to make in 2 or 3 months what our Gms make in a year. As a corporation, or series of corporations they bought us for nickels on the dollar. Even at 50% off on books they are making money.
It may be fair, but it isn't right.

When you marry that with the sheer boredom, the increasing idiocy of the customer base, the madness that is selling fixtures, it borders on impossible to keep your chin up.

Our store is suffering, all throughout. Everyone is pissy, sad, angry, bored, frustrated and scared and it shows. Our interactions with one another, when once upon a time they might have been fun and affirming, are becoming so baleful. It seems like every conversation I'm having these days is about how much it sucks, how rude customers are, how they don't care about what we're going through. Some of us are becoming down right unpleasant. This is the part of liquidation that, so far anyway, bums me out the most. Because for the most of us, we're a fun loving group. And I think a number of us have been over customer interactions for years, but most of us don't mind it. It is unusual for me to find a way out of helping a customer with what they need or to think that the customer is either heavily medicated or just a moron. I try to be helpful and cheery without being saccharine, but that is becoming nigh impossible.

The worst part is I feel incapable of improving it for everyone, they are entitled to feel however they want, and I feel that way too. The last thing I want is to be standing near the bow of a ship, looking at a hurricane sweeping over the seas and saying “allright me mateys, lets sing us a happy sea shanty! Yar.” (cory as pirate).

I worry that the only sustenance we have to consume is our good cheer with each other. For a while I believed we had the doldrums and the meanies licked, but no...turns out no, we just delayed it for a while. I'm not sure how to feel about that, and I'm not sure if we come back from it. All I am sure of is that what made this company is it's people. Watching all of us as we slowly get ground down is something I am unprepared to witness. I'm writing this as a clarion call to ask everyone to keep their chins up, accentuate the positive, you tunes stuff. But it's so hard. The gallows humor is just starting to mire us down. The boredom and constant busy work with no real end result, no net positive for anyone but a handful of people who I could care less about, is like a pencil pressed against my thorax and slowly being pushed into me one layer of skin and viscera at a time. How do you keep your chin up during that.

I don't want my last work memory of some of these wonderful people to be, “what a grouchy snot”. But how do we pull out of this dive? How do we energize the boredom, how do we strip the gallows from the humor? How do we have fair humor in unfair times? Do we bother? It seems to me the least this experience can be is a fun work environment. It seems to me that what they cannot sell out from us is our good humor and our friendship and the honor of doing a job well for each other and being kindly to one another.

Forgive Shakespeare his sexism for a moment:

We few, we happy few, we band of brothers;
 For he today that sheds his blood with me
 Shall be my brother; be he never so vile,
 This day shall gentle his condition;
 And gentlemen in England now-a-bed
  Shall think themselves accursed they were not here,
  And hold their manhoods cheap whiles any speaks
 That fought with us upon Saint Crispin's day.

This is our Saint Crispin's day. Alas I am not King Henry...

of course he died of dysentery.


  1. Maybe more after-party trips to Prospectors are needed. Or Slurpees? They seem to cheer everyone up.

  2. Fair enough. I promise to kick the boredom and be cheerful damn it! You are right. That's what we need to take away. Good humor and good friendships. That's how we will get through this. Together. Thanks Cory.

  3. I've started hugging people more. I'm not sure if it helps them, but it's helping me. :)

  4. Funny you mention hugging more Vagabond, I too have noticed several coworkers sharing more hugs recently. Im tired and pissy with everyone but my coworkers. I made a great closing compilation to overhead play and bought a sheet of fudge brownies for us from GFS. The bathrooms now closed, they customers are snarled than ever and behave like feeding sharks leaving the nasty bits floating everywhere,the book floor has finally gone to hell after such heroic effort from staff. And The liquidator just busted everyone, I repeat everyone for stashing product and confiscated it and promptly called LP. After wards she realized she would have to fire the entire staff so she decided to just give us a warning about "stealing ". We are close to the end. Maybe 10 days left. I feel as though I am near the deathbed of a loved one and can't leave but can't wait for it all to be just done. After 14 yrs. Im done. Keep writing my friend you are lightening our hearts with your truth and words.

  5. Sorry stupid auto spell*** the customers are snarkyer than ever**

  6. "Where's the nonfiction section?"

    The snarky answer is to point to fiction and say, "There's fiction. Non-fiction is. . . everything else." The helpful answer is to find what they're looking for and bring them to it. But I'm sure you knew both of those things.

    I work in an independent. Our owner raided the Borders down the block yesterday, buying thousands of dollars worth of books. One of our old managers is their GM now. He looked devastated. I wish I knew what to say to him to make it better.

    I turned him on to your blog, though.

    Keep writing.