a week and a half ago i started a job at a small community bookstore in my neighborhood. i was thrilled to be able to walk to work and to be further immersed in the culture of my lovely neighborhood, nerdily excited to get back into a bookstore again. it’s been 6 or 7 years since my last stint at barnes and noble, and i really have missed it.
other the actual fact of selling books, my new part-time gig is nothing like my days of old at B&N and doubleday. i’m not quite sure if it’s the whole small community used bookstore -vs- large retail chain thing (a la sleepless in seattle) , or maybe just the general cracked-out-ness of the atmosphere of my general store.
the bookstore is owned and has been run by a couple in their early 40s for as long as its been around. however, this dynamic seems to have been abruptly and dramatically uprooted within the past two weeks as the owners have filed for a divorce. yeah. i was told within the first hour of my first shift that part of “the settlement” that the wife was no longer allowed in the store. um, okay. so you can imagine my discomfort when said wife entered said wife-free zone approximately two hours into my first shift. she was greeted somewhat sullenly by her soon-to-be ex, and proceded to hang around in the store while he grumbled about in the background. how’s that for workplace dynamic?
other highlights of my new bookseller gig are myriad.
i was left alone in the store on my first day while my boss ran errands. i would like to be able to graciously accept this as a compliment, a testament to my boss’s belief in my level of ability and trust. however, we must all realize that i am far too neurotic to think this way and i really spent the 45 minutes he was gone trying to not freak out about fucking something up horribly.
my “paycheck” for my first week of work was a fat handful of cash my boss pulled from his pocket while assuring me he’d soon be hiring an accountant to cut proper checks “with withholding and everything.” hm.
my boss appears somewhat inept socially. he reminds me of my brother-in-law in that i can’t really get a read on him and even when angry, he appears unruffled. he neither commends me for a job well done nor tells me i’m doing poorly. at the same time, his unphased-ness doesn’t quite strike me as something cool, either. he also has announced to me (twice) that he was “going to work on the crossword” while indicating to me that he would be using the restroom by flapping the afore-mentioned puzzle toward the bathroom door. bleh.
the store is ridiculously disorganized. my boss blames this, in its entirity, on his ex-wife. i’m a little dubious. since we sell used books (a well as some new titles), there is a steady stream of books that comes into the store each day. however, since in its entrity the store is approximately twice as big as my apartment* it is super full. the stacks reach to the ceiling in some areas, and about 20% of the titles we have can only be seen by someone making use of a stepstool, or blessed/cursed with extraordinarily long legs. i am used to chain bookstore experience, in which shleving is a daily shore and books are meticulously sorted into category, subcategory, and then alphabetized. it shook my obsessive-compulsive world to be told last week that in most sections, books are piled haphazrdly into rough alphabetical order by only the first letter of the author’s last name. therefore, for example, all of tom clancy’s novels could be located in different parts of the mystery section. or actually, the sci-fi section, too, or maybe even in fiction. i’m walking a very fine line trying to keep my anal retentive compulsions in order and not alphatizing the entire store one day while my boss isn’t looking, or, er, “working on the crossword.”
i have already learned that some things simply have to differ when you are talking about used/small/independent stores versus their mainstream counterparts, but i also believe that this store could benefit from some of the things standard in a bigger place.
despite all of this, am enjoying the job. it may seem unlikely or an impossibility given all of the above, but it’s true. working at the bookstore is forcing me to adapt, challenging me to think differently, and figure out ways to make suggestions for store improvement without coming off as the bossy new girl who thinks she knows everything (since i do). and it’s certainly giving me hella good stories.
last week, i am reasonably certain that i sold a copy of in cold blood to steve buscemi. here’s how it went down. i was alone in the store around 9pm last friday night, listening to “disintegration” and trying desperately to straighten out things behind the counter while my boss wasn’t there to move everything back into precariously balanced stacks of disarray. a voice at the counter suddenly intoned, “it’s friday night. it’s raining. you’re listening to the cure. couldn’t you put on something a little more, ah, cheerful?” my head still under the counter, i replied, “our other musical choice is my boss’s leonard cohen CD so i’m gonna go ahead and say this is cheerful.” there was an appreciative guffaw and i popped to see what i am relatively certain was the distinctive snaggle-toothed grin of one mr buscemi. i must give myself major, major props at this point for not losing my shit entirely. celebrities still get my knees a-knocking and voice a-shaking, but i very calmly directed the-man-i-presume-to-be-bescemi to a copy of truman capote’s greatest book(“new or used?” i asked cooly, as i didn’t feel like i was going to pass out talking to mr pink, for godssake.)
the only reason i will not 100% swear for certain that it was definitely him is that i was doing that thing where you look at someone famous when they are standing in front of you in living color and then all of a sudden they don’t look like that celebrity anymore, just an average joe. but it is steve buscemi, for goodness’ sake. you don’t really get much more unmistakable than that, right? and besides, he does live in my neighborhood. and yes, the element of celebrities-walk-among-us still continues to thrill me. i mean, c’mon. did you really think it would wear off anytime soon???
* the world’s smallest apartment (TM)