Friday, July 28, 2006

Panic At The Bookstore

I used to think that bookstores were realms of peace and tranquility (it’s a place filled with books; how could anyone ever have a problem with that?), but since learned that this is not the case. I know that this is hard to believe, I got into an argument about it with a clerk from the Apple store just the other day.

“But it’s a bookstore! It can’t be that bad. People yell at us all the time when we tell them that we can’t fix their iPods.”

“Yeah, but the difference is that you know that they might yell at you. They might even have a semi-legitimate reason since you are telling them that something they’ve already paid for is broken. We can’t even begin to predict the customers here. It could be because we don’t have a book, or because we do have it. It could be because we refuse to honor another company’s discount. It could be because they’ve had a bad day and they need to yell at someone. We don’t even get to brace for it.”

In my time with the company I’ve had a woman throw a book at my head because I asked to please step into the line; customers scream at me/my coworkers that they are “useless, dumb,” and then never apologize when it turns out that the reason the coworker couldn’t find the book was because the customer didn’t supply the correct information; and the other night I had customers get into a yelling match (one yelling, the second apologizing and a third trying to get the first to calm down) in the middle of my magazine section. I can’t go into the saga of he said/he said because not only did it continue beyond my store, but one of the two participants was ended his evening in handcuffs. Just imagine something on Jerry Springer but dress everyone a little better.

Does it make me a bad person when I say that I’m glad that part didn’t happen in my store?

The incident did reaffirm the absurdity of all life though. During the verbal fight in my store, combatant 1 stopped yelling at combatant 2 long enough to tell the third man (who was just trying to calm everyone down, thus is not deserving of the combatant title) that “you should shut up and not get involved, fatty.”

After security helped herd c1 and c2 from the store, the poor man came up to the counter to collect his bag and ask, “Do I look fat? I mean, I’ve been called a lot of things, but never fat? You don’t think I look fat, do you?”

The answer was no, he wasn’t, but we had to spend a few minutes reaffirming this fact.

“No, you look fine.”
“You’re not fat. Don’t listen to him.”
“I’ve seen fat, and you are not it.”

No one told me that the definition of bookseller had evolved beyond “seller of books” to include “target of books, encyclopedia of facts, peace-keeper, bouncer, babysitter, priest, performing monkey, political sounding board, and positive body image consultant.” No wonder I’m tired when I get home.

Thanks for the sangria recipes.

What’s the weirdest/funniest thing that has every happened to you in a bookstore?


Robin Brande said...

Oh, my gosh, BSC. I know it must have been unnerving and bizarre to be part of all that, but it sure makes for some entertaining reading.

What are people thinking?

I suppose that kind of behavior gets people what they want every once and a while, but is it really a strategy that works in the long term?

Guess it goes back to your current favorite theory on the long tail. That customer may think the incident is over, but you'll be able to make fun of him for long, long time.

Be careful about acting psycho around someone who has a blog.

Sha'el, Princess of Pixies said...

What’s the weirdest/funniest thing that has every happened to you in a bookstore?

You mean other than what I found in the restroom? Don't want to know that one, I think. And then there's the old dude who propositions everyone in the store. If you find yourself hard up for a date, do I know the man for you! Or not.

My favorite: Customer brings book with dust jacket to front counter. Customer says, "This costs more than it did new!" I say, "Yes, ma'am. It does." Customer says, "Why should I pay your price if I can get it new for less?" I say, "Well, first you can't buy it new anymore. It hasn't been in print for a bazillion years. It's an expensive book. Would you like to see price comparisons from one of the online bookseller sites?" I get the long blank stare. They put book back. I shrug.

No one's thrown any books at me. Yet. I suppose it might happen.

And I get those who want "that book about the two girls who trade places, and one's rich and the other's not, and they go off and have adventures and it's called something like umm well I don't know what it's called ... Do you have it? Oh and I also want that book about the cowboy with the purple hat. I loved that as a kid. Got it?”

lady t said...

I knew something was wrong when you asked for sangria recipes(sorry I couldn't help you there,not a big drinker)but maybe this little bookstore bit of hell I went thru might cheer you up:

The policy at my former job was that we giftwrap for free but only items sold at the store and that we don't give out sheets of the paper for folks"to wrap at home"(our compromise was to just put the paper loosely around the item and only put one small piece of tape on it). This policy caused tons of debates with customers who felt that free giftwrap to take hoome for their own needs was their right as a customer.

One of the worst encounters came from a lady who had acted up at an offsite event we had held weeks earlier. She kept calling me a robot and a "rigid rule holder" while rambling on about how God was on her side. She actually spoke in tongues at me TWICE(yes,there were witnesses). I said to her"If you want to rant at me,please do it in english." My other co-worker pretty much bailed on me at that point(not unusual for her,sorry to say).

Even another customer tried to reason with her(you know you're in it big when strangers feel bad for you and try to help)by saying"If you were in a coffee shop and had your choice of sugar packets and creamers,would you expect to use them there or take them home?" to which she replied"I would take all the creamers!" I thanked the guy for his efforts after she finally left(calling upon God to avenge her as she did). People are so cute when they think bookstores are just these cozy spots of harmony and bibliobliss:)

Serenity Now! said...

I don't think I've ever had a weird thing happen to me in a bookstore... either my idea of weird is different, or I'm totally oblivious. The only annoying thing that happens is when someone picks up a book to read it and then stands six inches from the shelf to read it... then I'm left trying to crane my neck around their body to look at the books they are blocking... it bugs me.

Anonymous said...

I've never worked in a bookstore but I did have a weird experience. My husband and I were in a big chain bookstore with our then 18 month old daughter. It was one of those weird fall days where the day before it had been near freezing, but that day it was in the 70s. My daughter, being a toddler, insisted on wearing her mittens everywhere. The bookseller sees this, turns to my husband (obviously she didn't know the toddler was his) and said, "Why would a parent put a child in mittens today? I swear, I don't get people sometimes."

Of which my husband says, "That's my daughter and she wanted to wear her mittens so we let her."

The store clerk never apologized.

Kate R said...

I was doing a drive-by signing with the bookstore owner's permission. He wandered away to get some stickers for the cover A woman saw me and came over to yell at me for writing in the books.

After I explained she still said she hated it when people wrote in books, even the authors. She calmed down, asked to see the book and decided she'd buy it ("it's only 3.99. Even if I hate it I can give it to my mother's nursing home. They like everything")

And then she asked me to sign it.

I added a heart and everything.

SteveInLA13 said...


Unfortunately, the bookstore environment doesn't make us immune to weirdness/rudeness/hostility. If only it were so.

Some of the strangest things that have happened to me?

Flashed by a homeless woman at a signing for Gene Simmons.

Complimented on my film career by a customer who apparently thought I was Peter Coyote.

Asked for my autograph by a customer. I gave it, though I have no idea who she thought I was.

Screamed at by a customer who was cursing someone out on his cell phone.

Fun stuff.

Anonymous said...

I've had numerous 'funny' things happen in the bookstore, but one of the most memorable was catching a shoplifter. Not a big deal it's own, as it seemed to happen every so often, but this one was a little better. When we took the perp aside and told them we were calling the cops (we weren't really) he tried to bolt, but manged to trip on his own feet and fall to the ground. At this point panic took hold of them and they started crying (this was a grown human being) and it took us some time to figure yout what was going on. It turns out that in the bottom of the knapsack they were using to stash the shoplifted books in was a BIG bag (not ounces, but 1/4 lbs) of green leafy stuff (you might know the stuff?). They were panicing that the cops were coming and going to arrest them not for shoplifting, but for what was in the bottom ogf the bag. We gave the perp a stern lecture, told them they couldn't come back ever and let them go. Very funny.

Caught people having sex in the washroom. Got hit by canes - on more than one occasion! Yelled at more than I like to remember.

Beth said...

well, I work in a library. In my early days when all i did was shelve books, I had a male customer come up to me and asked me "Do you have sex?".
All i could do was just look at him in total shock. Then it dawned on him what exactly he said and got embarrassed. He was actually looking for the book : "Sex : a man's guide"

Little Willow said...

If I start telling you stories about the store, I'll never stop...

quiche said...

Man, I lead a really dull life. The only unusual thing I've got is the Asian lady who takes naps in the Art section every day.

Anonymous said...

Great post! (I really like reading your blog, by the way.) Anyway, I work at a used bookstore and had this slightly-dazed looking woman come in last week...she came up to the desk, told me she was interested in a book we had in the window *two summers ago* but couldn't remember the title or author, though she was "pretty sure" it was on design of some sort. then she wanted me to rifle through the art/architecture/design section with her for 15 minutes, just in case we found a cover that looked familiar.

she left without finding the book (surprise, surprise) but alluded that we ought to remember/know/keep detailed records of all titles kept in the window over the store's history.

MrsMacNeil said...

I used to work at a library and I feel your pain. I would agree with your list of job skills and add crisis management to the pile. When I worked in a library, we used to have street people come in to collapse because they knew there was a first aid attendant on every shift.

After eleven months I had to quit the job in the nice, quiet library because I discovered the stacks are in fact the most dangerous place on earth.

Oh, and we used to have people accuse us of hiding the books they wanted to borrow. Hah hah. If only we had been that organized…

Bernita said...

They YELL at you?
That simply boggles.

Anonymous said...

For me it was walking into a book store and asking for a book titled, "Your Money or Your Life" (by Joe Dominguez, Vicki Robin). Before I asked for the book, I reassured the saleslady that I wasn't pulling off a holdup -- just asking for a book. She had a good laugh and told me some other bizarre titles that customers had asked for.

Gabrielle said...

I'm with Bernita: they YELL at you?

Sling Words said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Anonymous said...

Customers yell, yes. And call you names, and throw crumpled money and coins across the counter, and become livid purple in the face if you don't have the book they want in stock, and leave delightful things like partially-eaten food, sticky lollipops and dirty diapers on the shelves.

Funniest-oddest thing that happened when I was a bookseller was coming upon a teen in the erotica section who was reading a Black Lace novel and absently adjusting his package.

I was silently debating on whether I could ask if I could help him without laughing my butt off, but just clearing my throat made him shove the book back on the shelf and bolt from the store.