Sunday, July 29, 2007

Adventurous Times in Music


And now, a short piece about life as a Grunt at Booth and Noble.

Your players:
- Me (the Grunt)
- Lady (the customer)

The setting:
- The music department at Booth and Noble at 2 pm.

[Lady walks into the department, anger flashing in her eyes and a bag swinging by her side. Glancing left and right, she spies Me and gallops over to the poor Grunt.]

Lady: ExCUSE me? Do you WORK here?

Me: [Me looks down at Me's nametag, at the PDA in his hand, and at the stack of CDs he is holding.] Yes, I do work here.

Lady: I need to complain.

Me: I need to sit down, but I don't see a chair emerging from my ass.

Lady: [Ignoring the obviously fake comment that Me did not actually say, because if Me said that, Me would be fired and on the street] I wish to complain about the CD I purchased.

[Lady holds up a copy of The Travelling Wilburys special deluxe album. Me knows exactly what is going to transpire, and is extremely happy to be in the know for once.]

Lady: The second CD won't play.

Me: [Fake looking concerned. Me wants to play this for all its worth.] Oh no! Tell me what happened.

Lady: I took it home and tried it in my CD player. Nothing. I came back and replaced it. It still wouldn't play! I got a THIRD one. And it wouldn't play either! [Lady is so mad, she slams her fist down on the counter. If there was a clown under there, that clown would be dead.]

Me: Did you think it was your CD player, maybe? [Me smiles inwardly. It's's coming..]

Lady: Of course! It plays all the other CDs just fine! [Lady gestures to the two other CDs in the 3 CD set.]

Me: May I see the CD?

[Lady hands Me the CD. Me looks it over, touches it, and pets it. He closes his eyes and sighs. His hands rub the CD case briskly, like he was wisking a delicious souffle. Suddenly, he opens his eyes.]

Me: The second CD is a DVD.

[Lady stands, mouth agape, eyes wide in shock.]


[Lady turns abruptly and leaves. Me goes back to scanning CDs.]


Sunday, July 22, 2007

Harry Potter and the Book Grunt


It now falls upon me, at this late hour, to detail the end of a dynasty. The world’s most popular fiction series was finished as of the 21st of July, and this particular Grunt had the particular pleasure of selling scores of copies to adoring fans. There were literally hundreds of obsessive and all-knowing fans flocking towards Booth and Noble, each and every one of them so anxious to get their copy that they were willing to eat puppies.

I am, of course, speaking of the release of the new Sylvia Browne book, So You Think You Can Speak to the Dead: Then Will You Please Tell Them to Turn Down the Music?

Ok, obviously I’m not. Obviously it is the much-anticipated release of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows that brought all of us to Booth and Noble until 3 in the morning. This particular Grunt arrived at 6 in the evening, armed with a small container of fried chicken, for the Grunt Pot Luck, and the cobbled costume of half-giant Hagrid.

My role was two-fold. From 6 pm until 10 pm I watched the music department, and made sure than tomfoolery and willy-nilly-ness did not happen. I had nothing to worry about. From the moment I wandered into the store, passing by the two hundred people lining up outside to get their much-coveted wristband, I was completely enthralled by the complete emptiness of the music department.

Part of the uncomfortable nature of Hagrid’s costume stemmed from the large, fake beard worn around the neck. The other discomfort came from the combination of flannel shirt, corduroy trousers, and bodice wrapped towel around my waist; a combination that made temperatures in my body reach towards the heliosphere.

It can be argued, I am sure, that the pleasure of working the Harry Potter Midnight Madness Party and Booth and Noble is seeing the children smile with eagerness at finally, after ten years, discovering the end of the series. Seeing their wide grins and wide-open eyes should be enough to open up one’s hearts and let the Good in.

And then you meet Fat-Kid-In-Red.

I will be the first to admit that my costume was not the most expensive or realistic as can be. I decided early on in the costuming process (i.e., four o’clock that day) that MY Hagrid would be more of a HOBO Hagrid. I wore an oversize pair of green trousers, a pair of too-small combat boots (no laces), and a brown and red lumberjack shirt. In addition, I stuffed my shirt with a towel, bunched into a working-man’s beer belly. And I wore a large black beard, spirit-gummed to my already hirsute upper lip. In addition, I stapled a stuffed dragon onto my collar and held a small plastic umbrella.

I may not have been J. K.’s Hagrid, but I was most definitely Hagrid -- as if he were born in a barn and lived on the rails.


Fat-Kid-In-Red walks up to me. He cannot be more than 11 years old, but looks as though he were practicing for a role as an short, obese 22 year old. He stops me, as many children do in Booth and Noble that night, to inquire about my costume.

“Who are you supposed to be,” he argumentatively asserts.

I stop. “Who are you supposed to be?”

“Are you Hagrid?”

“Yes, I am Rubeus Hagrid.”

He appraises me: “Your beard’s not long enough, your hair isn’t black enough, your shirt’s too small, your belt isn’t right, and your dragon is upside-down.”

I looked at him. Then he walks past me, to find another costumed person to knock down to size.

The rest of the “music” time was spent cleaning up various things: books fell down, CDs were disorganized, the D&D players on the ground lost a 12-sided die. At 11 I took my break and at 11:30 walked back onto the book floor.

A small crowd had gathered around a teenaged boy wearing a green shirt and a baseball cap. He looked like a string bean.

He was a Spoiler.

Yelling the secrets of the book that had been leaked online a few hours earlier, he made children cry and grown men want to start beating their chests and ripping out their hair. Our managers, unable to take the onslaught of public outcry, rushed forward and brutally thrust him out of the store, onto the pavement.

Spoiler-boy was no more.

Of those that celebrated the ousting, the school-girl sluts were perhaps the most appreciative. I don’t know which House at Hogwarts they belonged to: perhaps a mysterious fifth house that had the talent of sexifying and cock-rubbery as their magical talents. I say this because these young women decided that it would behoove them to dress like cheap hookers at a Britney Spears talent show. Their outfits, short skirts that barely covered their bulging backsides and stockings that ended mid-thigh in a ruffle, would make a French Maid sit up and say, “oui?” The school tie and woolen vest made all the difference, as we Grunts were comforted knowing the three girls would not freeze.

But, then at midnight, the “Magic” started.

I removed the paltry beard and oversized cloak (oh yeah, I had a cloak too) and prepared for the on slot. In back of me: thirty to forty boxes of the book. In front of me: 500 people, eager, tired and developing a very strong odor.

As the bell sounds at 12:01 am, the huddled masses in all their glorious pageantry rush forward. The surge tallies forth. The tills ring and the cash flies.

I have a glance at my register and notice that the credit card machine is broken. This is just wonderful. I pull out my wand and yell “Reparo!” unaware, I believe, that magic does not actually work and that I was left holding a stick in my hand.

However, I am able to type in manually the credit card numbers, and commence doing so. After a few customers pay with their cards, a cash customer walks up.

“One copy of Harry Potter please” she says, handing over the $20.40. I type in the amount and hit the CASH button…and the drawer swings open with a hollow bang. There is no money in my drawer, just the remnants of a discarded receipt and a small dead bug.

The powers-that-be had neglected, in the adrenaline rush of the night, to get me any money.

From that moment on I was unable to accept any cash transactions.

This did not stop people from attempting to buy the book with cash, despite my warnings of dire punishment. One man even lied and said that he had exact change. He did not. I wouldn’t have been able to help him even if he did.

Finally, my last customer: 1am. He walks up to me and hands me his gift card.

“Does this have less than $20.40 on it?” I ask.

“Nope, it’s full.”

“I just want to make sure: I CANNOT give you change.”

“It will be fine.”

I ring him up. The total: $20.40. The gift card: $18.93. My last sale was a bust. The guy moved to the next cashier (Snape, whose register worked like a charm). I turned to face the crowd, Hagrid once again:

“ARGH!” I yelled into the empty book hall. “Wrart! Brarabaragh!”

The others looked at me, but I just turned away and smiled, serene in the knowledge that I had finally vanquished my dementors.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

The Musical Experience


So as I'm sitting in the music department of Booth and Noble (well, not sitting exactly, as the Higher-Ups at Booth and Noble think that a "stool" would indicate to the customers a general laziness on the parts of the Grunts. We Grunts feel that the fact we often stand around the counter reading Entertainment Weekly is a much better indication of our laziness, and we would enjoy the chance to gaze longingly from the vantage point of the three-legged wonder spot.)

Anyway. I'm standing there, processing yet another check, I cannot help but think about what a colossal waste of natural resources most of these "customers" are. It's not just the general waste of space they take up, but perhaps the phenomenally large amount of food they eat, the unnecessary air they breathe (don't they know there are people suffocating in China today?), or the fantastically angry-looking faces. Because these people write checks, I have to look at their driver's licenses. Because they haven't yet learned that a check card is exactly like a check, but faster, less likely to make a mistake, and less likely to get you spit at, I have to look at their ugly mugs.

And all I can think is "this is the product when lonely, ugly people get drunk to meet people."

* * * * *

A woman comes up to the counter. She looks kind of like a small balloon on short stilts. Her red shirt unfolds like a parachute across her expansive bosom of death. I imagine her children nursing and curling up like the Wicked Witch of the East.

She can barely reach her face over the counter, but she looks at me and says, "I'm looking for a DVD for a child who is rather heavy." And she stops, about faces, and scans the department.

I am unsure what to do. Does she want an exercise DVD, to help the child lose the "heavy"? Or does she want me to find a congratulatory DVD? Or one that portrays obesity in a positive light? (Hairspray doesn't come out for another few weeks). Perhaps she wants a DVD of Israel Kamakowiwo'ole singing "I Want Candy."

Well, she wants the exercise DVD. As I hand it to her I give her my member card speech and she looks at me like I'm trying to sell her second-rate crystal meth. "Why would I want that?" she asks. "My wallet is too heavy as it is."

"Perhaps," I respond, "we can find it an exercise DVD as well."


A fifteen year old boy in a white, backwards baseball cap and an undershirt walks into the music department and comes up to me standing behind the counter.

"Emir," he says. And expectantly waits.

I think he's speaking another language to me. "Emir," I respond, bowing a little.

"Emir." He repeats himself and then folds his arms.

This can't be a greeting, I determine. So I look at him. "Do you want something?"


"Is that a DVD?"


"Is it a CD?"


I type it in. Nothing of note comes up.

"Can you spell that?"


OH! I exclaim and type it in. There's one CD and he scans it under our listening music station. The sound that emerges from the headphones sounds like what I imagine the death lament of a Transfomer would be. Or, perhaps, a thousand crying baby seals. Or the sound of one mime begetting another mime.

I'm all for mime-on-mime action.

Anyway, he listens to this music and, at 2:30 pm exactly, leaves the deparment.

"Now I'm totally pumped for my concert!" He exclaims into the air.

"Emir," I respond.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Harry Potter and the Deathly Grunts


It’s getting close to Harry Potter (Book 7) time at Booth and Noble, and things could not be any more hectic. Children are screaming; parents are fuming; Grunts are laughing at the funny looking people.

And I am once again astounded by the absurd reality in which we live.

For example, a pregnant woman walks up to the Information Kiosk with a determined look in her eye. And a baby inside her stomach (she was pregnant, but I also think she had eaten a child).

As she walks up, she slams her fist on the counter. “Is this where I order that Harry Potter?”

“Yes,” I say, typing the ISBN number quickly into the computer. “How many copies would you like?”

“Oh,” she laughs heartily, “just the one.” Then she rubs her stomach in a manner vaguely reminiscent of Gordon Ramsey rubbing spice into a hunk of red meat.

I order the book for her, she thanks me, and walks away. Then she stops, and turns, and heads back to the kiosk. “I have another question,” she says, basting her belly.

“Yes,” I sigh like a man on death row.

“I just want to make sure: is this the first edition?”

“I’m sorry?”

“The first edition of Harry Potter. Is the book I ordered a first edition?” The large gold medallions hung around her neck swing back and forth, hypnotizing me.

“You mean, the book that is being released around the world to fanfare and hundreds of thousands of eager adults and children?”


“The book that the world has literally been waiting ten years for? The one that answers all the question? The book that J. K. Rowling has put in her will in case she dies?”


“…Then yes, it is a first edition.”

But not everyone is super excited about Harry Potter. I was working in the music department when a woman walks up to me, her children leashed to her like it was the iditarod. A veritable cloud of cigar smoke curled around her sneered lips as she opened her craggy mouth with a creaking slurg.
“Ai’im lookin’ fur France-sis the Takin’ Moole.”

“Excuse me?”

“That Moole moo-vy. I want the France-sis Moole moo-vie.”

“Francis the Talking Mule?”

“Thaits what Ai sayd.”

I quickly look on the computer. “I see a couple of movies, here:” and I name them for her.

She gets a pained look on her face, like she was passing a watermelon. “Ees eet the moole moo-vy?”

I say, “Yes, it’s a Francis the Talking Mule Movie.”

“Ai want the woon with the Moole.”

“Yes, this is the one with the mule.”

“The woon wit the takin’ moole?’

“Yes, the one with the talking mule.”

“Are yu shoore?”

“Yes, I’m sure.”

“The takin’ moole?”


“Ai want eet.”

“I can order that for you.” And then I ordered it for her. After it was ordered, she dragged her poor children around like deflated balloons.

I shook my head as she left, aware for not the first time that the very fate of human kind hung in the balance.

The next shift at the Information Kiosk found more people attempting to interact with me. The highlight of this interaction may have been the man who loudly informed the store that he would rather have a $40,000 guitar than work in a bookstore. I asked if they were mutually exclusive activities.

Turns out, guitars are different from bookstores. But I guess I didn’t need to tell you that.

Monday, July 2, 2007

Children, and the Experiment of Life at Booth and Noble


Apologies for the length of time between posts. Turns out -- I was on vacation last week! My affairs, however, are now in order and it is time to return to the wasteland that is Booth and Noble.

The past couple of times I've worked as a Grunt I've been surprised by the ineptitude of children. Turns out, they're not very intelligent. Or considerate. Or quiet.

See, it's "summer reading" time at Booth and Noble, which means that parents drag their grade school children and teenagers to the Booth and Noble to get them books -- people that have never cracked a book in their life are now "helping" their progeny find a book that they will never actually read. These illiterate children pick up the book like it's made of seaweed and wrinkle their noses like it smells like seaweed, and then hand the book to their parents to purchase, like seaweed. Perhaps we should ban them from entering the store.

I'm all for children's literacy. I think Harry Potter is really good. (I do, really!). I think it's great that children are reading, and that books have opened up their imagination and kept them inside and away from all the places I go, like bus stops, restaurants, and restrooms.

However, these children do come into Booth and Noble, so I guess I'm not completely free of them. They stand in the middle of the aisle, having not yet been taught by their parents (or any capable authority figure) the proper way to get out of the way.

In fact, this seems to be the problem here. Children themselves are lovely, cute, edible people. But when they aren't taught by adults to behave in an adult world, or when they are coddled to the point of lunacy, or when they are allowed to roam freely around screaming like they're on fire because the parents think that their precious little darling is more important than any other people in the store -- This is when the lovely, cute, edible people become denizens of the dark lord.

Anyway, what's been happening is that these children are running willy-nilly through the store, like they own the place.

The thing is, they do not. Booth and Noble own the place. Booth and Noble's policy is that I can kick kids in the face.

What this means is that I'm completely on edge, all the time, at work. When scores of kids run around because their parents let them act like douche bags, I become agitated. And I cannot give good customer service when I'm agitated.

So a father comes up to me yesterday and asks for some help, I am not as helpful as I could be.

He emerges from the test preparation books and asks, "I'm looking for a book that will help my daughter with Chemistry and Physics."

I ask, in reply, "Is she studying for a test? Do you want a test preparation book?" I thought to myself, perhaps he couldn't find the proper book in the test preparation books.

"No," he flatly says. "I want a book that will help her review concepts."

I decide to press this one step further, just to be sure.

"Many text preparation books have review in them. Are you sure it's not for a test?" I mean, it's July. Who buys a review book for the daughter after they've graduated?

"No, I need a review book." He is adamant.

So I take him to the science section -- all the way across the expanse of Booth and Noble. I hand him a good, solid review book of chemistry concepts, and a good, solid book of physics concepts. He looks at them and then turns to me.

"Will these help her study for the SAT?"

I looked at him like he had just dropped his trousers and shat on the floor.

"No, for that you'd want a TEST PREPARATION book." I lead him back to THE EXACT SAME SECTION as he had JUST LEFT and handed him the EXACT BOOK he had been looking at.

I'm not against children. Or against children reading. Maybe what I'm against are parents interfering with their children reading. Every day in the children's department at Booth and Noble we have parents telling their kids, "no, you don't want to read that." Or, "that book is too old for you." Or, worse yet, "you're not smart enough for that book." It's horrifying, knowing that our future is being told, at age 7, that they're too stupid for a book.

Maybe it's not children that should be banned from Booth and Noble, but parents.