Thursday, November 19, 2009

Bookstore Days Revisited

I don't go to Books-a-Million any more. Funny. Right after I stopped working there, I stopped going. I think we both needed a clean break. By the time I left, I'd watched a lot of people go through the machine. Most of them left pissed off. You couldn't blame most of them.

I lasted longer than almost everybody. I did about three and a half years, met some great people, made some friends and laughed a lot more than I probably ought to have in a retail job --mostly at the expense of the company. I had a good time moving books on caring for horses and goats into the romance section, occasionally dropping chunks of dry ice into the urinal and generally horsing around with the customers and staff.

Some of these people became friends and still are.

I also helped facilitate the mischief of others. In the men's room, where graffiti grew out like weeds in the cracks, I added to notes left by angry and frustrated men, changed the meaning by tacking on religious references, nonsensical Bible verses and overly earnest statements of love and affection. Sometimes, these incited strange and hilarious graffiti arguments that went on until management sprung for a new coat of paint.

Once, someone tossed a penny in the urinal. Unwilling to fish it out, I picked up a marker and wrote "Wishing Well" above the silver handle. The next day the drain was overflowing with change. Naturally, the thing was bailed out (no idea what they did with the change, but my guess --considering the company --they probably put it into circulation) and the note was painted over.

It didn't stop people from trying to bring back the Wishing Urinal. People have needs, I suppose. Several times, others put the sign back or tossed a coin in the urinal. It was one of my favorite running jokes, next to the old guy who kept stealing newspapers. Management was prohibited by corporate from chasing after him. They begged to do it, but all they were allowed was to glare and watch him leave.

So, the other day, I went back for a visit, to get a cup of coffee and decline the discount card. The store looks better than it ever has. The shelves were clean, organized and in good repair. They don't seem to have an impossible overabundance of home improvement books, children's storybooks or the word of God. Everything is in its right place or at least, a lot closer to its right place than when I worked there.

A lot seemed the same. Employees still quietly drifted toward each other from around the store, looking for some kind of company among the thousands of books. Quietly, with an eye toward the office door, they laughed a little, talked, and tried to be absolutely invisible to paying customers. Nobody was getting paid enough to care too much.

They seemed like the same kind of kids I worked with before I left, just maybe better at their jobs than I was. I kind of hoped they'd get as much out of the old place as I did and I think they will. On my way out, I stopped in at the rest room. A small circle of new copper looked up from a pool of urine.

It made me want to come back again, if not to work, then to just watch.

1 comment:

eclectic guy said...

This is my favorite Bill writing.

This is what I like best about your work. Good job.