One hears often enough that it must be great to work in a bookstore, and I say, well yeah, sure, it's a living and it covers my expenses and pleasures, but it isn't always peaches and gravy. Here is an experience that nearly persuaded me to try another line of work.
It was the George Herbert Walker recession of the nineties and I was working at Crown Books in La Jolla , California, a slave wage job in a mediocre , short-changing, cheapskate corporation situated in a much-monied community of neurotic retirees living off the wealth of dead parents who, for all their money and skin color, were town full of high maintenance leeches who delighted in demanding anal-inspection attention for all the mere sums they actually spent. Crown Books, in turn, was the worst managed companies I'd ever worked for, seemingly operating on a fear-based business plan; cheap books for customers, sure, but the downside of that outweighed the pittance one saved at the register. No store credits, no special orders, no Books In Print, no selection, refunds mailed to you in the form of a check from Landover, MA. within three to four weeks. The customer service manual for Crown, some of us joked, was one page and only had one word, that term being NO.
I suppose I ought to mention that deliveries came through the front door, usually thirty boxes of remainders, and that they had to be received in the center of the sales floor; ahhh, nothing like trying to cross-count book stacks against a packing slip while retired corporate executives badgered you about the good old days that were never in fact extant, or while the thieving likes of slacking teens recycled moribund cliches while they helped themselves and their backpacks to Penthouse Magazines, in plain view of passing parents and their brat kids.
It wasn't a pretty picture; Crown was the 7-11 of bookstores--you bought what they had or you could go fuck yourself for all any of us oppressed clerks could care. The worst of it all, though, was the store manager, Jennifer, a probable speed freak, skinny, wiry, anti-social, snarky like old drone deprived of her game shows, always beginning projects and not finishing: she overslept one morning and I arrived on time, finding the front door still locked up and stacks of boxes containing books, dumped by the warehouse driver. I called the district manager for Crown, a mirthless drudge named Miriam, and promptly got myself chewed out. I stopped her rant--I called her at home, after all--and told that none of this was my fault and just how do you suppose we get the store opened and the inventory inside, off the sidewalk? Ms.M seemed annoyed that I was more interested in getting the store's inventory secured than in subjecting myself to her mewling list of droning complaints about how about a bunch of selfish, rotten assholes the La Jolla was. Miriam, shall we say, was neither the sharpest tine on the fork. She was, in fact, a dim bulb, clueless to any event thing outside her sphere of short-sighted references. I'd call her obtuse, but I wouldn't want to offend the genuinely obtuse among us.
She gave me Jennifer's phone number, and I called, and a scratchy voice grunted and gasped and swore like a mother fucker until saying, three throat clearings later, that she'd be at the store in twenty minutes.
Jennifer showed up an hour later, not smiling, looking more burned out than a junkie's spoon. We said not three words during the shift when the phone rang. It was Miriam for Jennifer. All I could make out from the aisle where I was receiving books was Jennifer giving faint protest and then inevitable submission to her boss's blowtorching. No mam, yes ma-me, but I was only...yes man, yes I do...yes I will...yes mam, yes mam, yes, I do apprec---no mam, no...
At closing Jennifer took me aside and handed me a yellow sheet, telling to sign it. It was a written warning, something she'd gotten in the habit of issuing me; this , coming from the manager of a store that had burned through five store managers in six months. I gave it back to her.
"Take my name off the schedule" I said, "I don't work here anymore...."