The decision to start working at a bookstore was prompted by my hatred of working in bars, dealing with drunks, and no longer being able to hide my impatience. I was just about to start grad school and one of the regulars, a little gray-haired man who had a hate-on for women, strolled into the bar one night half drunk, a bar, mind you, that perpetually smelled like stale hops, overheard a conversation and said “cynical is a big word for a barmaid.” Prick. The decision was made. Off to the bookstore I went in search of a job where I didn’t have to feign interest in drunkard’s problems or strain to laugh at obvious jokes.
I loved talking books with real book lovers and avid readers, seeing the new releases as they arrived, and believe it or not, shelving books. There’s something very intimate about that; knowing that someone is going to take it home and probably get in bed with it. Of course, the workers, like in any workplace, developed close relationships. With all our quirks, we had one thing in common that united us so we generally had a good time.
My workplace had strict rules about employee appearance. One time we got a memo about appropriate hair color. It had to be black, brown, blond or red; even the shade of red was described, no fire engines or poppies. A bold coworker then circulated his own memo saying Margaret Atwood ruled that we all had to dye our hair indigo.
Weirdo phone calls also come to mind when thinking about my bookstore years. One that I distinctly remember was on an early Saturday morning. So early, in fact, I didn’t even have enough time to finish my overpriced latté and pretend to be working. On the line was a gentleman–one I later pictured as someone who probably watches zeitgeist propaganda on youtube while most others are at work–who wanted me to contact Michael Moore on his behalf with some classified information. I regret not finding out what this information was because the conversation quickly went to the logistics of contacting Michael Moore and how I couldn’t do it. Apparently this classified information was so important our lives depended on it.