Tuesday, October 14, 2008

Phone Grunt


My apologies. It seems to be the norm in the blogo-net that one must routinely apologize for their late arrivals and missed connections, but to my dear friends I must offer my sincerest sorrys. It has been over a month since my last post.

My excuse, however feeble, is that I actually haven't been at Booth and Noble. I have been instead on a whirlwind adventure, starting from the foothills of the Northeast, traversing the dusty plains of the Midwest, and finally culminating in the moist happiness of the Far East.

But, upon my return to Booth and Noble, I was not disappointed by the tearful horror that greeted me. I took not one, but two phone calls on Sunday from what could only (at best) be described as mutant gorillas who learned how to speak but did not, as such, develop the capacity to reason or form coherent thoughts.

Imagine, if you will, a jungle of talking beasts. But instead of forming thoughts that make sense, these poor animals simply move their lips and emit a form of breath. By pursing their lips and moving their tongue into a number of complicated formations, they can simulate what speech sounds like. But they are as far removed from having an intelligent thought as my bookcase is from being edible.

But I digress. Two phone calls, within minutes of each other. The first begins averagely enough:

"Thank you for calling Booth and Noble, how can I help you?"

A pleasant elderly lady's voice peeks through the speaker: "Yes, where are you?"

The briefest of pauses. "...I'm in Booth and Noble."

"No, I mean, where is your store?"

"Oh! We're in the Native American Commons."

"Is that a mall?"

"Well...it's an outdoor shopping area. There's a Booth-Mart, a Booth's, and Booth Chopper, and a Booth Wireless store too."

"Can I get there in my car?"


"How do I get there from Pacey Street?"

"I don't know where Pacey Street is, ma'am."

"Well how do you like that? I thought you'd be able to help."

"Ma'am, we're between Middle Ave, or Route 3 and Booth-Booth Road, which is Route 8. You can't miss us. We're the big building with Booth and Noble written on the side."

"Well, I don't know if you'll see me later. I may not make it."

The phone clicked to a standstill and I breathed a sigh. At least, I thought to myself, this would be the most irritating thing to happen all day.

Then the phone rang again.

"Hello, thank you for calling Booth and Noble, how can I help you?"

It was a young woman on the phone. A young woman who sounded like she was speaking to me from another planet. "Yes, I put a book on hold last week and I wanted to check to see if it was still there."

"Ok, well we usually only hold books for three days, but I'll check. What's your name?"



"No, Kayly."



"Ok, I'll check." I check. No name up there.

"What book is it?" I ask, not unreasonably.

"The SAT II Book on Literature."

I look again.

"Sorry, I couldn't find the book up at the cash registers. Why don't I check on the shelf for you?"

"Ok, why don't you?" comes the snarled reply.

I hurried to the shelf like a good little elf. After five minutes of exhaustive searching I turned back to the phone.

"I'm sorry, I can't find it on the shelf. Are you sure you gave the name Kayly?"

"Maybe I gave them a different name."

I sighed. Why should this day be any different?

"What name might you have given them?"


Let me check for you.

It was under "John," of course.

"Yes, we have that. I'll hold it until the end of tomorrow for you."

"Thank you! Good bye."

[dramatic pause.]

Fifteen minutes later...

"thank you for calling Booth and Noble, how can I help you?"

"yeah, you know that book I reserved?"

"who is this?"

"Kayly John. You know that book I reserved?"

"Yes, I do. I looked all over for it, remember?"

"What is it called?"


"What is it called?"

I checked the exact title.

"It's called The SAT II Literature Review Book."

"Ok, thanks."


[dramatic pause.]


"Hi, it's me again."


"Can you tell me the author on that book?"

"I'm sorry?"

"Who wrote it?"

I check for Kayly. I tell her: "Diane Amberson and Jason Anderton"

"Are you sure?"

"Kayly, I'm looking at the book right now."

"Well, I'm looking at it online, and it only says one author."

"I really don't know what to tell you. Would you like me to put the book back on the shelf?"

"No," she says. "I'm planning on coming in to look at it soon."

Think on that, dear reader. Think on that.

Monday, September 8, 2008

ARGH Grunt


I knew it was going to be a bad day at the very first customer. A short, squat, pallid-looking elderly lady walks in, followed by her even older, shorter, squatier, and more-pallid-looking mother. The proceed to gab and gossip, sounding like a couple of chipmunks. They head over to the Pop Standards section (of course).

Giggle giggle giggle. Gab gab gab. "HEY THIS SONG IS GREAT" one shouts at other when she has the headphones on. No worries ma'am - I'm glad the cashier at the front of the store was able to hear that you liked the song - oh, and he loves your singing too.

Then one of them walks up to me:
"Do you have any Julie Andrews?"

"Yes, she's in pop standards, actually, rather close to where you were standing." I walk with her over to the Pop Standards section and point out the CDs.

The Pop Standards section is almost as far away from the desk where I sit as you can get, by the way.

She wanders around Julie Andrews for a minute, and then walks back to me.

"What about Michael Buble?"

"What about him?"

"Do you have any of his CDs?"

..."Yes, they're in Pop Standards, approximately 10 inches from Julie Andrews."

I walk across the department with her and show them to her. At this point, I usually say something like: "It's easy to find anyone you want, because its organized alphabetically," and they usually are able to find the other people they want.

I say this and walk back to my desk.

Two minutes later:

"Do you have any Frank Sinatra?"

"Excuse me?"

"Frank Sinatra? Do you have any? CDs?"

You mean the most popular singer in the English speaking world? Ol' Blue Eyes? The man constantly sampled, parodied, homaged, revered, feared, sung and possibly loved in the United States?

"Yes, yes we do," I say as I walk AGAIN back to the POP STANDARDS section, shift approxmiately one foot to my right, and point out the ENTIRE SHELF of Frank Sinatra.

The rest of the day I couldn't get the haunting image of this woman -- short, squat and music-happy -- wandering through the seven shelves of Pop Standards searching, hoping against hope, that there might be some CDs of Burt Bacharach somewhere...anywhere...where on earth could he be?

Wednesday, August 13, 2008

Grunt Too Much?


I've found an interesting phenomenon at Booth and Noble as of late:

it has been incredibly quiet.

I don't know if it's because a giant, new Booth and Noble moved in just a few minutes drive away - and people seem to like to drive an extra 30 minutes in order to enjoy a greater selection of books that they won't - or can't - actually read.

Perhaps it's because of the recent downturn in the economy, and people no longer wish to buy books.

(Actually, since most of our customers use Booth and Noble like a library/prostitute, this probably isn't the reason).

Maybe it's because people can no longer read. It would certainly explain why I have to tell people that the large sign that says "RESTROOM" is actually a "RESTROOM."

Whatever the reason, I do think that there are fewer people hauling their bulk around Booth and Noble, and although in theory this doesn't sound bad, in actuality it is quite disturbing.

Because the ones who do flop around the store and the determined, the needy, the horrific - the unwashed masses.

For instance, the other day in Booth and Noble's music department, an unwashed comes up to me. He says, "do you have any CDs of rain?"

I try to not stare at his tooth.

His one tooth.

"Rain? Sure, we have some sound effects CDs."

Then he starts: You know how in Return to Oz, the movie with the scary Wheelies, Tick-Tock the robot gets wound up and then moves in hyperspeed for awhile, until he settles down? This is what Unwashed did. He just started talking faster...and faster...and faster...

"You know why I want this CD?" [no pause for me to answer] "I've been listening to ocean sounds back and forth and back and forth and back and forth and back and I found that I CAN'T SLEEP THROUGH IT anymore." [oh yeah, and his voice modulates up and down, louder and softer too]. "So I thought I'd get some rain sounds because it reminds me of Nam and when I was there I could sleep through the rain no problem so I'm sure I can sleep through this..." [meanwhile, I've given him the CD and he has indicated that we should return to the cash register]. "So I said to my wife that I'd get a rain CD and here it is and it's only 10 dollars, that's a great deal for rain."

"Yup," I say.

"Anyway, do you know my Mom died when I was just a kid and now I watch Abbott and Costello and think about her do you have any new Abbott and Costello?"

I check the computer.

"No, nothing new," I say.

"It really made me sad when I saw Costello die on screen" [at this point, I'm like 'WHA???'] but I got through it because it was also so funny. It was a lot like Star Trek.

"WHA?" I think I actually verbalized it without the 'T' because I was so shocked.

"You know in Star Trek when the Enterprise got destroyed and I looked at it and I thought 'That's my childhood and it's going up in flames and its gone forever!' man, that was a good movie. I love Christopher Lloyd. Anyway, bye."

And he turns and walks into the sunset. I'm sure he's still talking somewhere, to someone...

Monday, August 4, 2008

Regular Grunts


Yesterday was a particularly slow day in the music department of Booth and Noble. Besides the few stragglers who wandered around for hours and then didn't buy anything (a common practice), there were only a few sales of any worth.

So, instead of describing some of the society's rejects that shop at Booth and Noble, I think I might describe some regulars that are in the store every Sunday (the day I work).

The first I shall call Carl. Carl calls Booth and Noble every Sunday and requests a CD - his taste, judging from his purchase history, ranges from the hardcore (Aimee Mann) to the more subdued (Aimee Mann). He also likes Jazz and showtunes.

Carl has the habit of bending very close to the CDs as they are splayed out on the rack and thumbing through them quickly. He also has a rather large rump. Imagine, if you will, a large-rumped beast bent over a the waist, eyes three inches from the surface of the CD, scanning as quickly as possible. He will scan through most of "his" sections (Pop Rock - M, Jazz, Shows, and sometimes Blues) as quickly as possible. I don't know what he's looking for, or even if he can see it when he scans that quickly.

Carl also ends every conversation with me with a high five. This started about 8 weeks ago. He holds up his hand in the air, and as much as it depresses me, I cannot leave a man hangin' like that. So I slap him five.

I hate to encourage this behavior, because I do not believe that people who do not know each other should give each other five. A firm handshake would also be ok, although shaking the hand of an employee who just sold you an overpriced CD is a tad odd. But the high five - really? Is this a new thing, a "fad" as the kids say? Is it possible that I've missed out on the new cultural greeting?

What an interesting experiment: go into various stores and high five the people that work there. Here're my predictions:

Wal-Mart: Total high five back, if the person who works there hasn't already given up on life.
Old Navy: Possible high five. Only high five if the headsets are not working.
Famous Footwear: No high five, due to the fact that their backs are completely curved over.
Target: High five with an added "Whoop! Oh-yeah" because everyone knows that people that work at Target are clinically insane.
Abercrombie and Fitch: No high five, and a withering look of disdain.

Carl does not, I imagine, work at any of these places. He might work in a Hobby Shop. Or maybe in a factory making toys for overprivileged children.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Grunt Update


You may remember reading a I post I wrote about a book signing I did a few weeks ago ( LINK .

In this post, I mentioned the book Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy, in which a friend and I each have written a chapter.

Yesterday, this friend (and a number of others) were all walking down the street and we happened to see one of the cast members walk into a bar.

As it happens, we also had a copy of BSG and Philosophy with us.

So we went inside, told this cast member how much we appreciated the show, and gave them a copy.

It was one of the best experiences of my life.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Grunt at War


In the desolate outreaches of civilization, where even the bravest men fear to travel, I, alone, stand tall. Others may quiver at the mere thought of venturing past the gates, but I, alone, stay. There are few that could survive its barren loneliness, its constant threat of danger, and the ever present odor of death. But I, I alone, can claim complete ownership of this fear.

Today I worked in the music department of Booth and Noble.

As with most days in the music department of Booth and Noble, I found myself with nothing to do. No customers to help, no time to start "projects," no alphabetizing to do.

And then the pair of them walked in.

The daughter, pudgy and with a hint of cowardice, slunk behind her brazenly obese mother, who stormed up to me like a giant baguette of slander and hate.

"How do you have your CDs?" she exclaims, ejecting spittle as if my face were on fire.

"Excuse me?" I wipe.

"How do you have your CDs?"

"I don't know what you mean."

"If I wanted to find a CD, how would I look for it?"

"Oh, well, they're first organized by genre..."

She interrupted: "What. The HELL. Is Genre?"

I looked at her face: this was not a joke. "Genre is a way of organizing things by what category you'd put them in; for instance, we have "pop rock," "classical," "folk..."

"Never mind that fancy talk. I need a new CD, because some BITCH" and at this point she glares at her daughter with eyes of pure fury "decided to take and LOSE my BEST CD."

"Um...ok...I'm sorry" I say to the daughter more than to the mother, "what CD was it?"

"The Greatest Hits of Boyz II Men."

I stifle a giggle.

"Uh, yeah, that's right here," I say and hand it to her. She grabs it from me as if it was made of solid gold. I swear she would have licked it if I weren't there.

Meanwhile, the daughter has slowly wandered away to one of our listening stations. These are the kiosks where a customer can scan a CD underneath the barcode reader and listen to samples from that CD. We often have people asking us if the CDs themselves are broken if the kiosk only plays a few seconds of a track; we have to assure them that the CDs are working fine and the listening station just plays samples.

I assume the daughter was playing something by the Beastie Boys or NWA, because if this woman were my mother, I'd have issues with society as well.

The mother grabs the CD from me and waddles over to the listening station the daughter is on. Now, she is actually closer to a different listening station, and there are 25 listening stations literally within twenty feet of her. But she wanders over to her daughter's and says:

"Get the hell off this, I need to listen to my CD." Never in my life have I been so desperate to listen to a CD THAT I ALREADY KNOW.

The daughter gingerly pulls off the headphones and hands them to her mother. The mother:

"THANK you, you CD loser. I know what I'm doing."

"Mom," the daughter says, "do you want me to help you?"

"Get your hands away from this CD. I don't want you losing THIS one as well."

At this point I'm about to cry, the daughter is worn down and the mother is trying to use the listening station, and failing. Instead of scanning the CD, she's hitting the top of the listening kiosk with it.

Then, the daughter helps her and she starts to happily dance to On Bended Knee .

She pays for the CD - no, she does not have a membership card - and as they're walking out she turns to the daughter and says:

"If you lose this CD, I'll lose you."

I still don't know what this means, but if I were that daughter, I'd want to be lost.

The daughter

Saturday, July 19, 2008

Grunt from the Other Side


Yesterday I had the unique experience of being a Grunt while not actually at work.

You see, I recently published a chapter in a book (Battlestar Galactica and Philosophy), along with a friend of mine, and together we contacted the Booth and Noble at which I am employed to inquire about having a book signing. She and I were both happy as kittens to be there.

Of course, we know that this is a rather esoteric title, and the number of books signed and sold will be fewer than the number of people who saw The Love Guru, but we thought it would be fun nevertheless. How often does one get to do a book signing?

What we did not realize was that my job as a Grunt would significantly impact the people that approached us for our signatures.

We sat in our chairs and waited for the hoards of nerdos to attack.

No nerdos approached.

Instead, the man who approached our table glaced at us through eyes glazed with spirits. His shirt - ripped and moldy - hung from his body like rotting flesh from a zombie. A tiny bit of spittle sat, unmoving, from his slackened lips. He limped over to us.

My co-signer and myself smiled. "Hello."

He didn't glace at me, but concentrated solely on her. He leered at her chest and thrust his hand at her to shake. She gingerly took it.

"I live in Livingston, Massachusetts," he said after a short pause.

"Oh," she said.

"Why do you sign your book with your left hand?" he asked, "if you shake hand with your right?"

She stared at him. "I don't sign books with my left hand," she replied. "I sign them with my right."

He fingered an open bag of candy in his pants pocket slowly, and with deliberate hunger.

There was the most pregnant of pauses while she shifted uncomfortably and he leered at her.

"Massachusetts," he began, "is a good place to live. I go to the Barnes and Noble there."

"Ok," she replied. "Would you like me to sign a copy of the book for you?"

He paused and looked down at her chest again.

Then he took a piece of candy out of his pocket and slowly started to suck on it. He turned and walked away without saying a word.

Not once during this interaction did he look at, or talk to, me.

There was silence for a moment while we watched him walk away.

"So..." I said. "I guess he's not a fan of the show."

We turned to face the store, our faces held high and our spirits undaunted. There were books to sign, and we had a job to do.

Friday, June 13, 2008

The Grunt-capades


Things at Booth and Noble are not always as they seem. For instance, although I may act like I care why you are interested in obtaining a particular title, I can most assuredly assert:

I do not.

I do not care the history of why you might want the book. I don't care if someone from your family read it when they were little and you now want it. I don't care if you read it when you were a child and loved it. I don't care if your husband read about it in the New York Times and you think it would be a good Father's Day present.

I don't care. Honestly. It's not that I want to hurt your feelings - I really don't mean to.

But do I come to your work and blab to you why I really want my cable? Or my life history at McDonald's? Or why I prefer white chocolate Lattes as opposed to regular ol' mocha Lattes at StarBooth?

I do not. I do not give my life history because I assume that you have other things to worry about - like making my damn sandwich, or producing a delicious frothy beverage from your magic hot wand.

Um...ok, strike that last sentence from the record. I'm not sure I want anything frothy from your hot wand, Mr. StarBooth.

So, forgive me if I do not care why you want to return an item. Is it not enough that you want to return it? Do I need a history of your un-desire for this object?

Perhaps I speak too soon. For yesterday, a gentleman came in with an opened and listened-to audio book.

Booth and Noble's policy on such acts are as follows:

We will exchange an open audio book for the same item, assuming the original is damaged. We will only refund if the audio book is unopened.

This, I think we can all safely assume, is because an opened audio book is possibly a uploaded audio book, and thus is a used audio book. It's not like we can resell an opened audio book anyway - what, one of our customers is going to buy a cling-film wrapped audio book? Not our customers - they return items because "this page is slightly folded in one corner." Prissy to the extreme.

I ask the fellow what is wrong with the audio book.

"It doesn't work right," he unhelpfully explains.

"What doesn't work right?" I ask.

"It's too quiet."



"[pause]. Did you try turning up the volume?"

"I did part of the way, but it didn't help."

I look at the CD. I wonder if this is a problem with the CD, with the CD-player. I look at the man. And realize what the problem is:

he's wearing hearing aids.

"[sigh]. Let me call my manager."

And another satisfied customer of Booth and Noble gets his refund.

Perhaps he should return his hearing aids instead of all his CDs.

As I hastened to put the returned audio book back in the receiving area, I passed a young man wearing a teeshirt.

You know how lame it is to wear shirts with not-so-funny sexual innuendos on them?

For instance, "You must be ____ this tall to ride" or "your mom called and she wants me to come over and do her." (I may have made this last one up, but you get the idea).

You know what's lamer than that?

Wearing a HANDMADE sexually explicit tee-shirt.

In rather poor handwriting, written with a Sharpie marker, a young man had written on the upper portion of his right shoulder (evidently, he couldn't center it):

"I only date 10's, but I'll take 2 5's."

Ha! Ha! Ha! Just the thing to pick up women in a bookstore, no? I wonder why he decided to put that shirt on.

Actually, thinking about it...no, I don't really care.

Interesting story

Check out this interesting story from NPR about Book Returns, a process that is extremely wasteful. Turns out, when customers order books willy-nilly (a practice that Booth and Noble encourages), it costs the company an enormous amount of money and the environment an enormous amount of happiness to return, restock, and then resend the books around.

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

The Chronicles of Narnia


What follows is not strictly a treatise against the masses at Booth and Noble. It is, rather, the articulation of a literary debate that I have been warring for a number of years now. Although, it does touch on traditional Booth and Noble issues. I would appreciate input into the matter.

In 1950 C. S. Lewis published The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe. Each subsequent year, until the publication of The Last Battle, he published another in this famous series. I read the books when I was just a small lad (I read most of them in the bath, which is an image I'm sure you're all enjoying right now; me and my little Mr. Tumnus). I read them in that order: the publication order. For those who need a review, this order is as follows:

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
The Last Battle (1956).

This is the order of the books in my set, as well.

In 1994, however, the American publishers of the book decided to change this order, ostensibly because Dr. Lewis preferred the new order. The order they changed it to follows not the publication date, but rather the chronological narrative structure of the series:

The Magician’s Nephew (1955)
The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950)
The Horse and His Boy (1954)
Prince Caspian: The Return to Narnia (1951)
The Voyage of the Dawn Treader (1952)
The Silver Chair (1953)
The Last Battle (1956)

According to the Wikipedia article about this rearrangement, the books were reordered because of a single letter Dr. Lewis wrote to a child:

“I think I agree with your order [i.e. chronological] for reading the books more than with your mother’s. The series was not planned beforehand as she thinks. When I wrote The Lion I did not know I was going to write any more. Then I wrote P. Caspian as a sequel and still didn't think there would be any more, and when I had done The Voyage I felt quite sure it would be the last, but I found I was wrong. So perhaps it does not matter very much in which order anyone read them. I’m not even sure that all the others were written in the same order in which they were published.”

Dr. Lewis's stepson spearheaded the rearrangment, also according to Wikipedia.

Although this probably offers too great a glance into my psyche, and consequently makes people uncomfortable, I have very strong feelings about this change, from a literary standpoint, from an authorial standpoint, and from a cultural standpoint. I don't want to overstate my case, but would it be too much to think that this change is not the result of the whining of a child, but rather the cause of the increasing lack of sophisticated reading habits of children and adults alike?

Let me state my case, first, from a literary standpoint:L

There is no good reason to re-order the books; in fact, there are nothing but bad reasons. Although the events may become chronological, the telling of those events is crucial to the gradual unfolding of the narrative. This highlights an important distinction in narrative theory: the difference between what is told and how it is told. At times, this has been called the difference between the "story" and the "discourse," or the "what" and the "way," or (specifically to film) the "fabula" and the "sjuzhet."

But it's easier to think of examples. Star Wars has an enormous "universe" created with characters and events as part of the universe that aren't in any movies, right? So, although we learn about this "universe" from the movies, the movies only tell one part of the story. It is one discourse that describes a larger story out there.

Anyway, we can think about Narnia as a world that exists, and each of Lewis's books are only seven discourses that tell seven specific stories that take place in that world.

If we order the books in their publication order, we are highlighting the discourse of Narnia - the telling of the tale becomes paramount. To order them chronologically, however, is to underscore the importance of the story of Narnia. On the face of it, this wouldn't seem to be bad thing. Learning about the story is important, and I don't want to deny this.

But what this does is take away the experience of the narrative.

Yes, when we first read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe we don't know why the wardrobe takes the children to Narnia. We don't know why there's a lamppost there. And, perhaps most magnificently, we discover Aslan along with the children, complete with the awe and stunning power they feel. Read as the first book in the series, The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe opens up questions about a world that don't get answered until the sixth book: The Magician's Nephew. When these questions are finally answered, when we learn, for instance, that the wardrobe was constructed from the wood of a tree grown from a seed taken from Narnia, we experience one of those once-in-a-lifetime shudders down our spines. When I first read that, it was a put-the-book-down-and-think moment. We get the same feeling in movies today: when we first watched Star Wars: Episode IV and learned that Darth Vader was Luke Skywalker's father, it was a shocking moment. If we watched the prequels first, however, we already knew that. It loses it's shock value, it's excitement. Instead of surprise, we experience suspense.

Additionally, any foreshadowing put into the series of books by Lewis is lost in the re-ordering. In The Silver Chair the children are told a brief story about a boy named Shasta and a horse named Bree. This horse and boy are the protagonists in the book A Horse and His Boy. To hear this mention without having previously read A Horse and His Boy creates a nice surprise when we get to the book and learn what happened. We then remember back to The Silver Chair and understand the reference. Not only does this make the connections between the books more salient, but it also brings the reader into that connection: the reader must actively search for and connect the disparate parts. To have read A Horse and His Boy first, however, the reader then encounters the mention of the story in The Silver Chair and the connection is made for him/her. There is not the sense of discovery, or of activity, involved.

Other minor issues crop up. Why, as Wikipedia points out, would the The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe have written: "None of the children knew who Aslan was, any more than you do," if we have experienced Aslan twice before?

In sum, to move the emphasis of the narrative from the discourse to the story is to make clear the complex, and interesting, narrative elements present in a disjointed and multi-linear narrative.

This brings me, conveniently, to my second point: the authorial standpoint.

Simply put, although it might seem that change the order of the books subverts Lewis's authorship, in reality, it actually reinforces the author's role in the construction of this narrative world.

Let me explain what I mean. We commonly think of authors as people who construct worlds that readers passively experience. The ultimate authority on a piece of literature is the person that thought it up, right? Orson Welles is the director of Citizen Kane, therefore, we can state that he is the author of that film, and the person completely in charge of the meaning, the subtleties, and the subtexts.

Yet, this is not the case. Authors may scribe the words, but it is the audience who interprets them. Shakespeare is wildly considered one of the greatest authors the West has produced. Yet, his plays are performed in a multitude of ways with a multitude of different interpretations. Who is to say what Shakespear intended? All we know is what we think of the play, the book, the film. The audience writes the text anew each time it is experienced.

The same is true of Narnia. I read it the first time when I was a child, and was taken by the powerful story of good vs. evil. When I read it as a college student, I was interested by the Christian allegory. Now when I read them, I see how the characters represent a bygone time period. Each time I read the books differently, and I understand different stories: some of which Lewis may have intended and some of which he may not have.

To read the books in the published order, I experience these different readings in an independent and unique manner. I might make connections between parts of stories - oh, this fight with a monster is different from that fight with a monster - that Lewis may or may not have intended. To read them in the re-ordered, chronological order, however, is to asert Lewis's reading of the story. Here, we are told by the publisher, is the correct order. This immediately limits our interpretation of the story by silencing our readings. No matter what you think about The Silver Chair, including the fable told about the horse and his boy in that story, in a re-ordered reading, it will necessarily be tempered by what Lewis (and the publishers) have deemed to go before it, namely A Horse and His Boy.

This prescribed reading severely limits the creativity and exploration that comes with reading a book full of wonder and mystery. Imagine reading Harry Potter and starting with the scene where Voldemort kills Harry's parents. There would be no mystery, no build-up of suspense for when we finally get the scene, towards the end of Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.

Which, at long last, brings me to my final point: the re-ordering of The Chronicles of Narnia is detrimental from a cultural standpoint.

For all the talk recently about the complexity of new television programs (Lost is unique because of the flashbacks and flashforwards!), it is really an old trend. The first novel, The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, is told in fragments and narrative flashbacks. To read a book in this way, or to watch a narratively complex television show, is to experience narrative in a new way. Steven Johnson's wonderful Everything Bad is Good for You details how this complexity is creating readers who are more mature, more intelligent, and more capable of handling complex tasks. Thinking multi-chronologically frees us from "thinking inside the box." We get used to thinking from many different angles, looking at problems from different viewpoints.

To re-order the Narnia books is to limit these different viewpoints. It's not enough that the customers at the bookstore ask to find the shortest books for their children to read (I usually recommend The Postmodern Condition, as it is only about 80 pages long, minus footnotes). They also have to make the books less complex and easier to understand. Why? Why do we want our novels simplistic and spoonfed? I'm not saying we have to give our children Gravity's Rainbow or anything, but let them experience mystery, suspense, connection and interconnectedness. Let them read the books in a way that doesn't explain everything right away.

Culturally, when we dumb down our literature, water down the media our children - and we ourselves - experience, we tell them (and us) that it's ok to be passive, that it's ok to read unquestioningly. We should read The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe and wonder why the hell a lamppost is in the middle of the forest. It gets us thinking - critically. When we finally discover why (Jardis threw a portion of an English Lamppost into Narnia as it was being created by Aslan), we have already thought about the importance of this. Perhaps we foresaw why the lamppost was there - perhaps we disagree with how Lewis actuated this appearance. Either way, we are thinking .

The literature we read, or have read to us, as children helps shape who we are, and what we become. I have no doubt that my own philosophy on life has come from the books I read when I was little: The Phantom Tollbooth, Ender's Game, The Three Investigators, Ramona the Pest series, etc. If we start to make these stories less complex, less narratively interesting, what are we doing to the children that have yet to read the stories? What are we telling them: yes, there was a different way to read these, but you'll find it easier to read it this way. Oh, and why not just skip the big words. And next time, find a shorter book to read.

It's a slippery slope.

So the next time you're in the children's department of a bookstore and you see the Narnia books on the shelf (and you'll see a lot of them), I urge you to rearrange them. I doubt you'll find them in the "published" order, because the publishers generally agree to put them in the revised order.

Or, at least, buy a set and read them in the published order, like I did when I was 10: one chapter at a time, in the bath.

Monday, June 2, 2008

You Think You Know What It Is To Be A Grunt?


My apologies for not posting in a few weeks - you see, I moved, and I have found myself both Internet-less and sleep-less for a number of nights. Plus, there are always new things to hang on the walls and new parts of the lease to break (pets? Why the hell not. No flags? Damn it, I'll hang the flag if I want to. Petty arson? You better believe it).

Anyway, so I haven't posted for awhile. But that doesn't mean that the customers at Booth and Noble have matured. No, if anything, like the hero of Martin Amis' Time's Arrow , these customers get less mature as they progress through time (although, to be fair, few of them are Nazi war criminals).

To whit:

It is summer reading time - the time when thousands of schooled children arrive in what, to the, must be a wondrous playground of imagination and joyous amusement: the bookstore. "Joy!" they think to themselves, "we get to read about mentally handicapped geniuses and strange men who hide things in trees -- all summer!"

No, the children are wonderful - full of bright vivacity and loveliness. It's the parents who mystify me.

Take, for example, the typical parent. Walking up to me while I'm near the children's department, she says:

"Do you have any books like this ," as she holds up a Matt Christopher sports book, "but for girls ?"

"Ma'am," I say, "girls can play sports too."

She looks at me like I just ate my own pants. "Not MY girl. She will like horses , isn't that right Betty?"

Betty, decked out in a baseball cap and a pair of cleats, nods her head, sadly holding onto a Pony Pals book.

Or, for example, the parents who says to their child: "you're not smart enough for this book," or, "this book is too long for you; let's find one a better length." These are the Oprah book club parents - the Secret generation, the Last Lecture devotees who like their literature like they like their literature like they like their politicians: white bred, old, and full of safe platitudes.

Of course, you often find those people that probably haven't given these things called "books" that much thought at all - the people, like this parent, who walks their daughter through the fiction section, trying to find a book:

"How on earth do they arrange these? It looks completely random!"

"Mom, it's by the author's name!"

"Oh, that makes sense."

"Yeah, duh."

"I always liked this alphabull organization. When it's alphabull, it's easy!"

But even some hardcore readers think they know what it's like to be a Grunt. It's a lot more than knowing the alphabutt. According to one gentleman who came through my cashwrap line the other day, it involves knowing things about money too:

He trailed a small daughter behind him like the detritus from sneeze. When she lagged too far behind, he would snort her back into his arms. When he arrived at the line, he said to her:

"When you give money to a clerk, you need to make sure it all faces the same way. This makes it easier for them to count!"

She nods her head; I begin to experience an emotion I haven't felt at Booth and Noble in a long time: understanding.

Then he takes six dollars, in ones, in his hand, crumples them all and throws them on the counter.

"Don't ever work retail, honey," he says to his daughter as he holds his hand out for his change.

Of course, it's not just the parents that know the best way to run things. Often, many customers of Booth and Noble believe that their way is the best way.

Booth and Noble, of course, has a cafe which serves many fine, overpriced, and much, much worse-for-you-than-you-think foods, some of which can be found at Starbooth. At seven o'clock in the evening, a woman comes up to the Information Kiosk and says to me:

"Excuse me. Is your manager here? I wish to complain about your cafe."

"Absolutely ma'am," I say. "Can I tell them what the complaint is?"

"Oh, it's not that big a deal," she says. "But. Your cafe is out of soup." She pauses. "Did you hear what I said? OUT OF SOUP." She looks at me. "THERE. WAS. NO. SOUP." My non-reaction starts to bug her. "It is dinner time. And YOU HAVE NO SOUP! What sort of establishment is this? I WANTED SOUP!" She starts to work herself up now: "I WANT TO TALK TO A MANAGER. THERE WAS NO SOUP! THIS IS UNCONSCIONABLE!"

Yes, it is. Unconscionable.

Let us not forget what "unconscionable" means. I quote from Merriam-Webster here:

"not guided or controlled by conscience" i.e., not answerable to "moral goodness" .

Let's list some other unconscionable things, shall we?

  • Torture

  • The Holocaust

  • Dog fighting

  • Not having "Chicken and Wild Rice" soup at Booth and Noble

Hey, guess what? We're right next door to a Panera, eh? They even have more than one type of soup at a time - imagine that, a choice! That's, what, super-conscionable?


Maybe that's what being a Grunt is all about. I now offer, for your consideration, a virtually unedited transcript of a phone call I received yesterday at Booth and Noble:

[ring ring]

"Hello, thank you for calling your local Booth and Noble. How can I help you?"

"Yes, do you have [trying hard to pronounce] Charles ... Dar...win... and the Voyager of the Beagle?"

"Ma'am, do you mean The Voyage of the Beagle by Charles Darwin? I'm pretty sure we have that, let me just go check on the shelf."

[I check on the "evolution" shelf and, lo and behold, we have it.]

"Ma'am, I've got it right here for you."

"Now, is that in hard cover? This is a gift for someone."

"No, I'm afraid we've only got it in paperback. I can order you hardcover copy, thoug - it would come in in 3-5 business days."

"Don't new books always come out in hardcover?"


"...You know, like Stephen King always has a hardcover?"

"...Ma'am, maybe we're not talking about the same book. I'm holding Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle in my hand."

"Yes, this is the book reviewed in this week's Wall Street Journal ."

"Well, ma'am, this book isn't new - it's over 150 years old. It came out in the middle of the 1800s."

"Yes, it's Darwin's Joyful Journey of Discovery."

"Yes, so would you like me to order the hardcover, or would you like the paperback?"

"I don't want either. I want the modern book."

"Ma'am, are you looking for a different book?"

"No, I want the one from the Wall Street Journal."

"...I'm holding Charles Darwin's The Voyage of the Beagle for you."

"NO! YOU AREN'T LISTENING TO ME!. The article says," and she starts to read:

Next year is Darwin year: the bicentennial of the great man's birth and the 150th anniversary of "The Origin of Species." The book is not the easiest of reads, but it is less of a trudge than Charles Darwin's four volumes on barnacles or his 15 works on topics as distinct as climbing plants and the formation of mold by earthworms. They tell, in plain and sometimes pedestrian prose, the tale of a life of observation and experiment that founded modern biology.

"The Voyage of the Beagle," in contrast, sings. Its language is that of a young man intoxicated by the tropics

"That's the one I want!"

"Ma'am, that sounds a lot like the book I've got in my hands."


"I don't know what you mean, ma'am. Perhaps you could help me understand by providing me with some more information."


Darwin looked back in his attempts to understand the present. He scarcely considered what the future might bring, for in his view evolution was so slow, and life so stable, that no great shifts were to be expected. A glance forward on the 200th anniversary of his birth shows how wrong he was. The world is already a far less interesting place than it was when he set forth on his circumnavigation and will soon become even less so: and no future explorer will ever write a book so full of the joy of unspoiled nature as is "The Voyage of the Beagle."

"I want this modern book."

"Ma'am, perhaps Darwin was just prescient?"


I tell her.


"Ok, ma'am. How about I hold this book for you and then you can come in and look at it, and if it's not what you're looking for, you don't have to buy it and we can order something else."

"That's more like it. Find that book I want. Is it in good condition?"

"Yes, ma'am, it hardly looks touched."

"HARDLY? I don't want any books that have been touched!"

"Ma'am? You're not going to find a book that's untouched."

"Put it down! Wrap it in a bag!"


"I want you to wrap it in a bag, you ass. Stop touching it!"

"Ok." I wrapped it in a bag. "Under what name can I hold it?"

"Excuse me?"

"What is your name?"

"Why would I give you my name?"

"So that we can give you the book when you come in."

"I'll come in later today. Won't you have it?"

"Yes, but we won't know it's for you unless we put your name on it."

"You're not getting my name."

"Ma'am, I don't know how to identify the book for you if you don't give me your name."

"I'm not giving you my name! I DON'T WANT TO BE MANHANDLED!"

"Ma'am, I won't manhandle you."

"You may write down Nancy. It is not my name, but I shall use it when I pick up the book."

"Alright." I write down Nancy, put the slip of paper around the book, which is wrapped in a bag, and put it behind the cash registers.

The ultimate punchline to this story is that "Nancy" came in later and didn't buy the book. I don't know why - I like to think that it's because too many people had touched the book.

Or maybe she was looking for a book for a girl, and she found a book for a boy instead.


Hey, a friend pointed out this site for other great customer stories - very funny: Not Always Right .

Thursday, May 22, 2008

I'm a Grunt...A GRUNT...I SAID A GRUNT


There is nothing more fun at Booth and Noble than experiencing the sheer wonderment at the multitudes of people with what could kindly be termed "issues" in the world.

For example, here's your thought for the day. If you are deaf, or just extremely hard of hearing, don't call a bookstore and try to have a conversation. This is not because I find it particularly annoying to talk to you, but because everyone in the store is going to find out your personal business.

I mean, on the one hand, it's pretty damn funny to be a Grunt standing at the information desk screaming at the top of your voice:


[pause, pause.]


[pause, pause.]



[pause, pause].


I always make sure to be more articulate and to be sure to specify the entire title of a book if I'm on the phone yelling in this manner. Well, it's for the customer's benefit. What if she wanted a different Tickle His Pickle ?

But then there's the more difficult customers: the semi-regulars. Now, the regulars at Booth and Noble aren't always all bad. Some are quite nice and it can be enjoyable to chat with them, especially when they also have the sense to leave you alone to do your job.

But then there are the ones who are only semi-regular. (Perhaps they need IBS for Dummies?). They're the ones who come in and know just enough of our "regular" patter to be annoying, but not enough that we actually care about chatting.

For example, a man comes through my line at the cash registers:

"Hello," I say as he steps up to the counter and puts his books down. Immediately, he snatches them back.

He smiles.

This is a bad sign.

"Aren't you supposed to say, 'How can I be of service?' he sneers."

I felt dirty, like I was just scolded by my pimp.

"I am not required to say that, sir."

"What about, 'How can I assist you?'"

"Nope. I don't have to say anything except, 'Do you want to save 10% with a membership card'."

"What if I need...assistance." He turned his head, coyly.

"We have an extensive self-help section, if that's what you need."

"What if I need your assistance?"

"Well, then I'd be happy to scan your books." And at that I grabbed his books and started to scan them.

There was a slight pause.

"Aren't you going to ask me if I can save 10% with a membership card?"

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Grunts in Awe


I know I shouldn't be, but I have more and more often been surprised by how weird the human race is. I shouldn't be surprised because I work at Booth and Noble, and every day I am surrounded by the odd and brain-damaged.

For example, yesterday, a woman holding THREE BABIES came up to me while I was standing at the information desk and threw a book on the counter: it was This Much I Know Is True by Wally Lamb. She frantically clutched babies one, two, and three and looked up at me:

"Do you know what this is about?" she demanded. And then, without a pause to let me answer, she continued: "I can't stand it when they don't put synopses on the book. How am I supposed to know what it's about? What am I, a mind reader ?"

I looked at her and said that I didn't know what the book was about, but I'd be only too happy to look it up for her. Which I did, and then printed out a sheet of paper that contained the said information.

She glanced at the sheet, sighed, adjusted the babies, and put the sheet down, nearly unread.

"Fine, I'll take it." She grabbed the book (jostling a baby or two) and headed up to the front of the store.

Later that day the phone rang. I picked up with my usually Booth and Noble spiel:

"Thank you for calling Booth and Noble, which may or may not be local depending on where you live and what you consider 'local.' How may I help you?"

"Yes," the tentative, shaky voice replied. "This may be a weird question, though."

And it is at this point that I took out a sheet of paper and a pen so that I could record, as best I could with the limited mobility allowed by a pen held onto the table by a chain, the events for this Booth and Noble blog. Let the recounting begin!

"Go ahead ma'am. I'm ready."

"Well, I don't have a computer. Or a car."


"But I've been having...a tough time in my life recently." And then she emitted a sigh so violent it shuddered through the phone and literally depressed to death my inner ear.

"Go on...? How may I, a book store Grunt, be of service?"



"Do you know any psychics?"

And then a very pregnant pause by yours truly, followed by: "Not personally, no."

"Hmm...well, do you know Sylvia Browne?"

"Yes, she is the dead-looking lady who writes about paranormal abilities and speaking to the dead."

"That's the one, yes. Do you have her phone number?"

Now this was getting too good. I was almost gleeful, with the amount of sheer weirdness of this phone call.

"I don't," I said straight-faced. "I don't have her phone number."

"Well," the woman replied, "I'm trying to deal with some real heavy stuff. And I could use a psychic."

"Have you looked in your local phone book?" I helpfully ask.

"Yes," comes the inevitable reply. "But none of them have the skills of Ms. Browne."

And so †hen the kicker:

"So, is there something I can help you with?"

"Yes. Could you...look up the name of a psychic for me?"

Yes, I know; you were all thinking (as I was as well, at the time) that she was going to ask me to do a reading. I was all prepared as well. I even had a tarot deck with me, which a rude and dirty customer had left on the information desk not half an hour before.

"Ma'am," I said, with a despondent air. "I'm afraid I don't know any psychics. Could you look online?"

"I don't have a computer."

"Well, could you go to your local library and use their computers?"

"I don't have a car. I suppose I could get my brother to drive me, but he wouldn't like the fact I'm going to talk to a psychic."

"Oh?" I ask, pen poised.

"Yeah, he's one of them wacky Born Agains, and he thinks psychics are just people possessed by demons."

Just? Just people possessed by demons?

"Well, it seems like you're in a bit of a pickle."

"Yes, well. Thanks for trying."

"You're welcome ma'am. And ma'am?"


"Good luck."

Sometimes, I'm just in awe of people. Their perseverance. Their tenacity. Their drive of insatiable curiosity.

And then I walk through the doors of Booth and Noble, and I realize that no, most of them just want to find the "non-fiction" section and call it a day.

PS If you're interested in a rant-astic version of working at Booth and Noble, check out Book Wench . Highly entertaining.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

I See...a Grunt in Your Future!


This is a story that children may not want to read.

There are a great many things that occur on a daily basis at Booth and Noble that may have readers of this blog scratching their heads with dazed wonderment. How on earth can this happen? Who does this?

For instance, take The Masturbator .

Here is a man who will spend nearly an hour in the one stall in the men's room. How do I know he is yanking his baloney pony and not just filled with one giant constipated mass?

He is standing facing the toilet, with his pants around his ankles.

He is not urinating.

It may occur to you now, dear readers, that I know too much about this man. That I have, sadly, spent time in the rest room waiting for this man to spurt his last spurt, to jettison his homunculi, into the water system of the city.

You would be correct.

At Booth and Noble, even we Grunts have to use the facilities from time to time. And when I have to wait an hour to release my inner demons, because some man is Jean-Clauding his Van Dam, I am not in the least bit annoyed.

Today, for instance, I was standing there as this man grunted and shunted his way towards the inevitably anti-climatic end. His feet faced the toilet and his pants were all the way down. I heard the charmingly rustic ripple of the toilet paper as he pulled reams and reams of it out of the holder. This went on for a number of minutes, which actually means he pulled almost an entire roll of toilet paper free from its moorings.

The toilet flushed.

It flushed again.

It flushed one more time.

I, bravely, stepped forward.

[Knock Knock].


"Sir are you ok?"


No answer.

[Knock Knock].


"Sir," a little louder now: "ARE YOU OK?"

And then, with the flourish of a man who has been told that the OCB is now open for business, I hear:


And then, (I am not making this up), the distinct sound of a "blip!" in the water. As if he were spitting in the bowl.

He exited the stall, nodded at me, and then left the bathroom. He neglected to wash his hands.

The Moral of the Story
The next time you are at a Booth and Noble, be very careful what you touch.

From a story of a man who found pleasure in the most discrete of stalls to a story of a man who did not:

After this incident in the bathroom, I am wandering through the cafe area of Booth and Noble, doing my rounds, collecting the books like washed up literary driftwood from the beach of commercialism.

It is 6pm: the dating hour.

A young man and a young woman slyly approach each other. He is short-haired, muscular, and tanned. She is verging on supermodel: thin, buxom, with tight jeans and a barely-there top. In any other situation they might be confused for the top 2% of attractiveness. They glance, meet, and shake hands. They sit at a table and the man offers to buy her a coffee and a delicious bakery item. He wants her: most of the rest of Booth and Noble, glancing over, do as well.

It is a first date: young love.

I swing by the cafe every 20 minutes or so, intending to pick up books and other detritus as I make my way through the story. But eventually, I start to walk by not to find extra books, but because I am so fascinated by this first date.

He: slumped in his chair, eyes glazed like a donut, staring into his coffee like he could see The Secret to leaving (hint: think really hard about it).

She: Talking talking talking talking talking.

A snippet of her babble: "I don't like my one sister, but I do like my older sister because she doesn't like my other sister. My brother is ok, but not my cousin who is not like me at all. She likes my sisters."

Every time I walk by, every 20 minutes, he is slumped lower and she is talking faster.

Every time I walk by, he looks at me, as if to ask me with his eyes to find an excuse to kick them out: a foot on a chair, perhaps? Spilling coffee all over the place? Masturbating in the bathroom?

If only he knew that such activities are not only permitted, but seem to be encouraged, at Booth and Noble.

They finally leave at 10pm, when the store closes. He walks out, slowly, followed by her. I hear her say, as they leave:

"This was really fun. You are a great listener. We should do this again!"

And he turns to walk into the bathroom.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

The Call of the Grunt


As you may or may not realize, the Grunt's job at Booth and Noble is more than helping customers find the "Janet Evanovich" section, or letting people know that, no, we don't have a copy machine. In a bookstore.

No, part of our job is also to field questions from the telephone. The phone rings, and we, as Grunts, must answer the phone like this:

"Thank you for calling Booth and Noble. How can I help you today?"

However, some of our employees answer the phone differently:


If it's busy at the Information Kiosk when the phone rings, we're supposed to answer it as such:

"Thank you for calling Booth and Noble. Can you hold please?"

When it's not busy, we're supposed to help the person find whatever they're looking for. However, more often than not, the people that call have no idea what they want. And they want us to find it.

Case in point: the other day a man calls and I answer the phone:

"Thank you for calling Booth and Noble. How can I help you today?"

"Yeah," he rasps, "do you have that book Frankenstein?

"Sure, by Mary Shelly. Do you want me to hold a copy for you?"

"No, that's not it."

"Um...I'm pretty sure Mary Shelly wrote Frankenstein."

"No, it's written by a dude."

"I'm pretty sure Frankenstein was written by a woman."

"NO! IT WASN'T!" he yells.

I look confused. Then a manager comes over, and I ask her opinion about what to do. She looks at me, shakes her head, and then goes to the fiction section. A few second later: This appears.

Damn you, Dean Koontz! Damn you for making me appear a fool!

In light of this, I decided to be less literate with the rest of my phone calls.

The phone rang later. I pick up:


"Hi, is this Booth and Noble?"

"huh." This one sounds more affirmative than the last.

"I was wondering if you could help me." It was a pleasant, feminine voice.

"Sure," I say, perking up. It's not often there is a pleasant voice on the other end of the line.

"I was wondering if you could help me find some magazines," she finished saying.

"Sure," I say, not knowing where this was going to lead.

"Ok, I'm not sure of the title, but I think it's something like Tattoo Life ."

As it happens, we had three copies of Tattoo life , or whatever it was, so I held them for her. She came in later that day to pick them up.

When she came in, she looked like a troll. Actually, she probably looked like a troll most of the time, not just when she came into my store. Like she just decided that day, "well, I'd better put on my bulbous and veinous nose today, time for a trip to Booth and Noble!"

Anyway, she picks up the copies of Tattoo Life and proceeds to come through my check out line (I was at this point working at the cash registers). She points to the cover.

"Do you know who this is?" the troll rasped.

The woman on the cover looked like a hooker with a bad GPA. She was, of course, covered in tattoos, but more so than that, looked like she'd been pulled off the street by a rich lawyer who needs an escort for functions and then will fall in love with her but only if she kisses him on the lips. That's what she looked like. Here is another example of the type of sex worker she resembled.

I responded: "no, I don't."

The old woman then leans in mischievously: "That's my daughter."

I hastily loll my tongue back into my mouth and respond with a choked: "eep. Really? I bet you're very proud!"

The woman responds: "I am as proud as a Mother can be." And then she touches the pentangle around her neck and looks at me lasciviously.

Later that day, another woman comes in. She is short and stocky and looks a little like Liza Minelli. As I ring up her sale she does that thing that all sales clerks hate beyond anything else:

She doesn't stop chatting.

Now, I'm really happy for her that
- her son is out of prison
- her father's heart attack isn't serious
- her life is better than it was a year ago
- she thinks Georgie Bush Jr. is the best president we've had since Jesus
- she hates high gas prices (even though it's actually cheap, comparatively .
- she finally found that book she was looking for

but I don't need to hear about it. Especially when it's near the end of the workday.

So she's mindlessly rattling off this stuff and I am not even pretending anymore . Usually I try and pretend to listen, to throw in some "uh-huhs" and "yeahs" and "amen!s" into the mix. But this time I was so annoyed I literally said nothing until we finished the transaction. At that point, I said:

"Thank you and have a nice night," to which she replied:

"Danka schoen."

If this had been a "normal" interaction between two people, even something as odd as "danka schoen" coming out of a normally-English-speaking mouth wouldn't be completely out of the ordinary. But this is not "normal." This is Booth and Noble.

So, of course, she starts to sing.

"Danke Schoen, darling Danke Schoen.
Thank you for all the joy and pain.
Picture shows, second balcony, was the place we'd meet, second seat, go Dutch treat, you were sweet..."
and dancing in the front of the store. Meanwhile, I'm standing there like a fart in a bucket looking at her, holding her bag in my outstretched hand.

She finally stops and comes back. "Oh, I'm sorry!" she exclaims, "but I work at a community theatre..."

Side note: a statement which wins the "obvious statement of the year award"

"...and sometimes I just break into song!" Then she laughs, this horrible cackle of a laugh. Then she suddenly, and unexpectedly, stops.

She looks at me.

"I better stop. He gets mad at me if I sing a lot." She looks around. Leans in closer and nods her head in a particular direction: "If I don't stop, he'll hit me!"

I look around. Not a soul in sight...

She silently turns around and walks out, into the ether of the night. I close my eyes , take a deep breath, and say,

"Can I help the next person in line, please?"

Shout outs

Here is a new section of the blog, much requested - some shout outs. Various places I've gone, seen, or been mentioned on (selfish self-promotion notwithstanding).

Shout out to Smart Bitches, Trashy Books, a snarky, yet wildly intelligent blog written by sassy ladies about the latest romance novels. Good stuff. The other day at Booth and Noble I found a romance book (watch out - link to Amazon.com) about a supernatural hunk with a bi-penis. Or, rather, not one penis split into two, but two penises for the price of one! Amazing...

The Bugle by John Oliver and Andy Zaltzman, a podcast of exceptional wit and humour. (Note: this is the correct type of humour).


Oh, and I was asked for directions this week: well, sorta. Not directions, per se, but more confirmation: I was walking the dog when a man comes up to me. "We on fourth street?" he asks. "Yes," I affirm. He walks away without a second word. So perhaps it wasn't directions, so much as a friendly reminder: we, indeed, are on Fourth Street.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Directions: Second post today


As promised, I was asked for directions today. I don't know why this is, but if you were on a crowded street, walking amongst the people there, wondering how to get from here to another place, would you ask the people who are standing around doing nothing, or would you ask the one person who was a) walking a dog and b) listening to his generic mp3 device ?

Well, this gentlemen thought that he would ask me.


I continue to walk, oblivious to his exclamation.

"Hey!!!" [note the extra exclamation mark - this means he was REALLY excited].

I stop and take This American Life out of my ear. "Can I help you?"

"Do you know how to get to second street?"

I look at him blankly for a second.

"We're on second street."

He looks up.

"Oh, not second street. Second Avenue!"

I told him that I didn't know where second avenue was, and this was not a lie. Then he told me the kicker:

"I'm looking for a restaurant. It's called Te Diablo."

I still didn't know, but now I was intrigued. I went home and generic search engined it. Nothing.

Does not exist.

But I found second avenue!

Romestern Times, and the Man-Dominanted World of Books


To be honest, I never know what to expect from a day at Booth and Noble. Will I find that the people that come in for The Last Lecture will be friendly when I tell them that the publisher didn't publish enough copies of the book? Will the stone me? Will the threaten that Oprah herself will open her mouth to devour my soul?

Being a Grunt at Booth and Noble is a lot like walking across hot coals in your bare feet. On the one hand, you will never experience pain like it again in your entire life. On the other hand, you get to experience the thrill of dying again, and again, and again.

Take, for example, my experience yesterday at Booth and Noble. While nothing extraordinarily painful happened yesterday, I found myself slowly dying bit by painful bit as the day wore on.

And, to be honest, I can't even take credit for this first story: it didn't happen to me. In fact, it wouldn't have happened to me if it had happened to me. I'll explain what I mean as I go.

The phone rings and a co-worker answers. She runs through the traditional Booth and Noble greeting: "Thank you for calling your local Booth and Noble. This is Jenny. How can I help you?" [note: the rest of this story comes from Jenny]

The man then replied as if the entire world depended on this one conversation: "ARE YOU THE MANAGER?"

Jenny: "No, I'm not. Is there something I can help you with?"

Man: "No, there's nothing YOU can help me with. I have a major problem and I need to speak to a manager."

Jenny: "Ok, I can connect you. Can you tell me what this is regarding?"

Man: "DON'T YOU DARE! DON'T YOU DARE! This is PERSONAL business. I'm going to report you to your district manager. Do you like your job, MISS ? Because you're not going to have it for much longer."

Jenny: "Alright, I'll connect you to the manager."

Jenny then transfers the call over to the manager. A few minutes later, the manager comes over to Jenny and myself and asks us about the call.

"Was everything ok?" asked Jenny.

"Yes," said the manager. "He just wanted to speak to a man..."

"...ager," I finished. "Yes, but was...?"

"No," said the manager. "He wanted to speak to a man . He didn't think women worked in Bookstores."

I should point out here that not only do women make up the majority of the book workforce in my Booth and Noble, but that they do in most Booth and Nobles across the country. In addition, all of my managers (5) are women, the Booth and Noble cafe manager is a woman, and the district manager is a woman.

We live in enlightened times. But just try telling that to Mr. Man on the phone.

So, just to cheer Jenny up, who was understandably shaken by this encounter with Mr. Sensitive, I showed her a new game. You can play at home as well. It's called "Romestern Times."

You take a Romance Novel (this is the first one to appear when I typed "romance novel cover" into Google Images), and a Western novel (this is the first one when I typed in "Western Novel Cover"). Read a friend the title of one of th books, and then the title of the other.

I guarantee that 75% of the time, you won't be able to tell which is a Romance and which is a Western.

As Romances are geared predominantly towards women and Westerns predominantly towards men, I guess we can see that there probably isn't much of a difference anyway between the sexes.

Friday, April 18, 2008

Long absences and fresh starts


First of all, apologies. When I stepped away from Booth and Noble on Dec 31, 2007, I expected an absence of only a few short days. Instead, I found myself drifting in and out of various experiences, surfacing only a few short hours a day. These surfaces, few and far between, were not spent blogging, but spent doing other things. I found that the further away from the blog I got, the harder it was to re-appear, and the more lame I felt. It was a self-defeating cycle of poverty.

But here I am. Back again. Renewed, refreshed, and reworn.

My absence has been for a few reasons, but one of the main ones is because there has been a post-holiday dearth of people at Booth and Noble. This is to be expected, for the majority of holiday shoppers are those few people that emerge, once a year, to feast their beady eyes on what they "intellectually" know are called books, but aren't quite sure what they look like any more.

This crowd is the bane of Booth and Noble, but it is the bread and butter of Booth and Noble.

It is also the creme of the Booth and Noble blog.

Therefore, when that creme runs dry, what we are left with is a pitiful few "regulars" who, while annoying in their own way, are nothing compared to what we Grunts refer to as the "Unwashed masses...of body"

One such unwashed mass came up to me the other day at Booth and Noble, however, and asked me a question. Such is their want.

She says, in a voice like a cross between a pig's oink and the squeal of a cat getting drained of blood, "Do you have...medical...dictionary...and other...dictionary?"

I look at her oddly, because I'm concerned that she might be attracting daemons with her croaked voice.

"Yes, we have both, if you'd like to follow me." I walk her to the medical books, and hand her a medical dictionary. "This should solve all your medical needs," I say cheerfully as we head to the "other" dictionaries.

When we get there, I ask "what sort of dictionary are you looking for?"

"One that...I can use...and so...can my son...who is four."

I stare blankly at her, not knowing whether to recommend the Oxford or the Oxford. I finally decide to offer this: an all-in-one.

"Why...would I...get this?" she scabs.

"Well, you could use the dictionary to look up words, and it also comes with a Thesaurus."

She looks at me like I just peed on her leg. "What...is a thesaurus?"

I stare at her. Long, hard looks - puzzling out if she was for real, or if I was on camera.

"A...thesaurus," I start, and then continue when I notice she isn't laughing, "is a book of synonyms.

Those of you who know, will know.

"What...is a synonym?" she asks.

"A synonym is a word that means the same thing as another word."

"That's stupid," she says.

"..and it's idiotic," I finish.

Finally, the kicker:

"Will...I need...a thesaurus...in school?" she asks. "I'm studying...to be a nurse..."

Now, I ask you dear reader, what is a synonym for "scared to go to the nurse?"

She ended up buying the thesaurus, so maybe she can tell us.

Regardless, I am going to make it a goal to write one of these a week from now on. The fine folks at Alterati.com have kindly encouraged me to continue, and to be honest I have been feeling the loss of Booth and Noble quite strongly. However, I think I would like to also start a new feature, while we're here:

It has become apparent to me that I possess a superpower. I'm not sure I belong on Heroes , mainly because I'm not lame, but my superpower is pretty cool.

Once a week, no matter where I am, no matter what I'm doing...I get asked for directions. I might be walking the dog, listening to my generic mp3 player, hanging out with friends, shooting crack on the sidewalk - someone will ask me directions to somewhere. I can virtually guarantee it if I'm on vacation - someone will ask.

So, I will record these. It is time the world knew of my power!*

*Note: power does not equate to actually knowing where to direct people. Only that I will be asked. If I do not like the looks of you, or if you are wearing a shirt that has a "I'm-so-cute-I-was-purchased-online" phrase on it, I will direct you incorrectly.