Saturday, November 19, 2005

Just when you thought it was safe to go into my store: Catfights!

There was almost a fistfight in our calendar store yesterday.

I used to think that bookstores, like libraries, were quiet places to work. This was before I started working at one. I soon learned that there are people who not only don’t respect those around them, but they also view the bookseller as the lowest common denominator.

In fact, I don’t think I ever had anyone look at me like I was dirt before I started working retail. Something to ponder: when did trying to sell someone something make me the enemy?

Somehow, despite six years working in a bookstore, I still tended to view the calendar store with my old beliefs. Possibly because it’s so boring up there sometimes we let our workers take up books, but who could say for sure. Not I. So learning that there was a group of women screaming at each other? Not expected at all.

I really don’t know how it would have gone if another employee had been up there. At the time, it was my only male employee: an ex-Hawaiian surfer, vegan, lover of all things, Zen twenty-something. He just finished reading Cunt because he wanted to have a fuller understanding of the problems facing women. He’s now reading a fertility book because if he doesn’t want his girlfriend to “sully her body with chemical birth control” he needs to “understand what she’s up against.”

I remember being so earnest about stuff once upon a time instead of all jaded and cynical. What happened? Where did I go wro—oh wait, Book whore. That’s right. Moving on to the almost fistfight.

So Zen and the Art of Surf Board Maintenance calls down to ask me how to do a mall employee sale, and as I’m walking him through the steps I hear yelling in the background. Now yelling for yelling sake is not that uncommon. Often you’ll have parents yelling at kids or each other, or people yelling to others out in the mall and it just comes in the door. I asked him if everything was all right and he said yes, and that he had a handle on this employee sale thing, and hung up.

Five minutes later a girl from Mimi Maternity shows up in my store with a day planner. “You’re guy from upstairs said that I should just come down to the bookstore and buy this from you.”

“You bought the planner from upstairs?” The cold meds have made me a little slow as of late, so I think that my tone gave her the wrong idea.

“Oh, yes. He said it was okay. I left him my information and everything so he would know that I wasn’t trying to steal it, but then the lady lunged across the counter—”

“Wait a minutes, someone lunged across the counter?”

“Yes, for a second time, and…”

At this point I just kind of tuned her out. I know she was still talking, but it didn’t matter. Looking to the coworker who was standing equally wide-eyed next to me, I said, “Call the calendar store and see if he needs help…or security.”

What went down was this—and these are in his words, so it was like pulling teeth trying to get actual quotes (which I didn’t) as well as examples of what was said (which I also didn’t) or anything that didn’t sound so watered down that your seventy year old grandpa would say it in front of you when you were five—apparently the coworker was working the store, making jokes with a group of forty-year-old ladies and generally being congenial. This group of ladies took that as a sign that they could over-run the store and do anything they wanted including going behind the counter.

Knowing the coworker, I doubted he cared.

Enter Mimi Maternity girl who wants to buy her planner. As the coworker goes to ring her up (and call me) the group of calendar store ladies came whisking back behind the counter to grab a piece of paper to use as a measurement for a calendar. This piece of paper was sitting on a stack of calendars on the back counter.

This piece of paper had importance few were aware of.

Just as one of the ladies picks up the paper, another woman who was in her seventies comes diving across the counter “totally blindsiding all of us,” the coworker reports. “She must have been lurking around the bookstore for awhile, but I’d never seen her.”

That piece of paper was the hold slip for her stack of calendars back there and the hell she was going to let them use it when it signified that those calendars were hers.

“Harsh words were exchanged,” the coworker related as we were getting ready to leave last night.

“Harsh words?” Another coworker laughed. “All you can say is harsh words?”

“Hey, I kept them from coming to blows, but it was close.”

Yep, he actually said “coming to blows.” Seventy-year-old to a five-year-old, I’m telling you.

“So then what happened?” third coworker asked.

“Well the group of ladies bought stuff, basically to spite the older lady and left, but she stuck around and tried to make a joke out of it. I think she was pretty embarrassed, but by the end she just seemed crazy.”

“Crazy how?”

“Well first she asks who was in charge up there and when I said me she said, ‘No, you’re not,’ and then kept on like she hadn’t insulted me, and then she started asking how long her calendars were held until. [Other coworker] had written on the slip ‘hold until end of day’ which I showed the lady and she started going off on until the end of what day?”

“The day. Today. There are only one day holds up there.”

He looked at me like I was an idiot. “I know that, and that’s what I told her. So she starts saying how that’s not written on the slip and she doesn’t see that posted anywhere, so I wrote today late in large letters under her name. She finally left then.”

Other coworker: “Did she come back?”

“I was already to close at 8:30 when I saw her circling the second level. She circle, sit down, circle again and then sit down. I was so freaked that she would show up two minutes to close, but she didn’t.”

Big sigh of relief from all of us.

So there you go: we almost had a fistfight in the calendar store. I can now add that to my list of stories which includes the time a woman threw a Robert Jordan paperback at my head, another woman screamed at my coworker that he didn’t have the intelligence to work in my store, and some old guy tried to intimidate me into giving him a discount he wasn’t eligible for by leaning over the counter and getting in my face.

Oh retail, how I love thee. Let me count the ways…


Anonymous said...

There ought to be a study concerning why people's polite engines power down upon entering a store. Mystifying.

Mayhem in a calendar store--who would've thought?

Bookseller Chick said...

I think it's caused by some strange sense of ownership. A person walks in to a store expecting to possibly spend some money, but by God that store is going to have to work for it. This is combined with the "World Revolves Around Me" Syndrome. Woe be it for any customer service representative that should battle against these and wish to emerge the victor.