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.