The Somewhat Fictionalized History of a Retailer
“Retail & Ethics”
We’ve been in business for longer than a week, and I’ve yet to decide whether or not I want people to actually come into the store. Sure, it would be good for business, potentially, because a person inside a store is more likely to buy a book than a person outside. This fits into my fundamental business plan of paying rent so that I do not have to go outside and get a for-real job. But here’s the rub: I do not want to go outside in search of that for-real job because I prefer to stay inside and do the things that one does when one does not have to go to work for real.
I could read a book, write a story, punch a punching bag, think a thought, or even perform a task or two germane to my pretend occupation, like say alphabetize the fiction section or input books on our on-line database. These are the things I’m willing to do.
Now what happens if a person enters the store? Well, potentially this creates a distraction to any of the aforementioned activities that my alleged soul seems to covet. I mean think about it; person walks in the store, is it not a social requirement for proprietor to greet said person? That there’s a distraction! And some of these people enjoy conversation, I shit you not. I say “hey, how are you?” and nine times out of ten a response is my so-called reward. Now I am trapped in a conversation and that there’s not only a distraction, but also an embryonic event containing the potential to propagate into a counter-productive predicament. I fear that the more words escape from my mouth, the more likely a potential customer will either attempt escape from these premises (bad for business) or find a reason to prolong a conversation (bad for my nerves).
When my reputedly punctual wife arrives at 4:00, let the customers come in droves. People like to tell me that she is the sole proprietor of charm and social graces in this partnership, which makes me wonder how big of an asshole I must be if people are this comfortable telling me that my social skills are that sub-par. This guy is such an asshole that there is nothing ethically wrong about telling him he’s an asshole. Seems wrong to me, but what the hell does an asshole know about ethics?
It’s almost two in the p.m., and thus far four people have entered the store. The first, second, and last patron did not proceed beyond the invisible force field that apparently separates the front desk from the actual books. Patron #1, an older woman with a 60’s house-wife bouffant, told me she lives in the neighborhood, loves bookstores, and wants to post a flyer on our front door protesting a proposed bar opening on Colorado Boulevard. Choosing critical sense over my sense of solitude, I imprudently prolonged the conversation. “Why you protesting this here bar anyhow?”
“Because we don’t want their customers taking all the parking spots in the neighborhood,” she said.
“Oh… they won’t have a parking lot?”
“Even if they do,” she said, “Do you want a bunch of drunk people driving on our streets?”
“Right… so you’re just kind of opposed to bars in general.”
“Well we don’t want them in our neighborhood.”
“Sure,” I agreed, building on a theme. “Let the bastards open up their den of iniquity in some shithole like Highland Park, right?
“Exactly,” she said. “They have a bunch of bars there already.”
And she’s right. They do. I live in Highland Park. We do. So she taped her flyer up on the front door and left. I un-taped it and stayed.
Patron #2, a less older woman arriving some 30 minutes later, took several steps toward the magazine rack opposite me and pointed abruptly at the largest magazine. “Oh!” she said. “That’s a great magazine! I just loooove…” she stretched the word lengthwise as she drew the magazine into her range of sight, “… Back Stage West.”
“Oh,” I said. “You’re an actress?”
She squinted at me and smiled. “No. Are you an actor?”
“I’m a sales clerk,” I said, “a confused, lonesome sales clerk.”
She put the magazine back and proceeded to try and sell me an ad in some local newsletter representing some group of local ladies that I never heard of but probably does exist. Did not matter; I do not have any money. Sell a few of these books, a Backstage West or two , and there’s no telling how many ads I’ll be purchasing.
My fourth patron, a stocky pale-face wearing a baseball cap, barreled into the store at about 3:30 shouting: “DO YOU LIKE STEAK?” Reckoning it was a trick question, I was reluctant to answer. I put on my game face and said: “Depends,” which it doesn’t because of course I like steak.
“I’ve got a truck full of Omaha Steaks outside!” he proclaimed. “In a truck!”
I shrugged, my eyes glued to the guy, because you never look away from crazy. No telling what you’ll miss. He proceeded to tell me that I should buy some of these steaks, because they’re real cheap and tasty, and then started quoting me meat prices that may or may not be cheap. I told him that I was a vegetarian, which is the opposite of the truth, but was one way to end a baffling conversation. He asked me if I knew any carnivores, the cunning bastard. So I asked him if he wanted to buy some books, because they’re cheap and tasty. He said he didn’t read. I asked him if he knew any literate people. Now we were at an impasse. So he started over.
“Want some steaks?”
“Okay.” He turned around and left. I made a mental note: Next time begin with “no”. That shit works.
Patron #3, who had preceded Steak Man, was a dream boat. I don’t much remember what he looked like, but he smelled like a six-foot cigarette, and his demeanor was remarkably awkward and ill at ease. I’m like: “Oh hey. How are you?” and he’s shrugging and flinching and smelling like a giant cigarette as he mumbles “Ah y’know. Eh. You?” The effort of answering my bland query apparently drained the poor bastard, so I wasn’t about to plague him with a rejoinder as he flinched his way to the back of the store. So as I sat there smelling him, he perused the fiction, eventually returning with a small pile of Brautigan, Miller, and Dostoevsky. He tried to smile at me, and it looked like it hurt. It was like looking into a stinky mirror. Smiling ineptly back at him, I decided to reduce the prices on the books he was purchasing because he probably deserved it. At the very least, he’s inspired me to give this customer service thing a try. Some stinky guy out there might need a book, and I’ve got one.