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Sunday, 12 June 2011

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Seven Stories about working in a bookstore:

Fallout

We’d spent all night boxing up the store on a Tuesday, but I had shifts on my schedule through the end of the week, so I walked to the store, dressed for work and a bit early for the shift on Thursday with it in mind I’d find it locked tight—it had already been explained that final checks would be mailed out.

The store lights were off, but through the window I saw one of the part-timers propped up on the countertop reading a magazine.

“Are we open?”

“Yes we are” he said, at first not even looking up then doing so with an annoyed, hapless expression.

I’d never met this person before, so held out my hand, introducing myself, explained I was on shift at two. He loosened up, immediately, shook my hand and sighed while chuckling.

“Sorry, I thought you were a customer.”

“You’ve had customers?”

His smile widened.

***

The store was still operational—when I talked to Peter he explained that he had wanted to box things up early, just to have it done, because there was no longer staff to work with and though he hadn’t expected I would quit his idea was ‘better safe than sorry’. There was cash in the till and customers did, indeed, come and go.

“How am I supposed to be able to find anything?” one asked me, dead serious, obviously put out by the state of things.

“I really don’t know.”

I’d said this with sincerity, but it seemed to have affronted the man.

“Can you look things up on your computer?”

“Yes, I can. But I might suggest going to another store, because to be honest there’s no way I can find anything that’s already been boxed.”

Nothing further had been packed up since the overnight, everything just where it had been left—the other remaining part timer out-and-out refused to have anything to do with it and I was totally on his side.

“I don’t understand what’s going on, why are you still telling people you’re open for business?”

I didn’t know was this question some sort of Socratic investigation or if he was just at his wits end or what, so I simply answered “We are open for business, you know? We’re just in the process of closing down.”

“In the process so much you might as well already be closed,” he huffed, saying that on top of it he didn’t understand why I was literally saying I refused to help him. “You’d think you’d want to show some better customer service—maybe this is why you’re going out of business.”

I got out the first sound of an answer, but he waved me off, started poking around at boxes before leaving in a tizzy, literally—literally—saying to me “Thank you for nothing, thank you for absolutely nothing.”

***

In the meantime, I’d gotten a job as night watchman at a bio-genetics research company way out in the middle of nowhere. I’d secured this post in particular because it was the Ole Bordenal film Nightwatch (the American, Ewan McGregor, version) that had prompted me to look into night security—when I had been hired, I asked if they had any posts at a morgue or medical examiner’s office and when they said No I’d asked “What’s the scariest site that you do have?”

I worked graveyard shifts during the week, but the weekends was the four o’clock-to-midnight. Saturday would be no trouble, but I noticed that my Sunday shift at Bravado—the day the store was to be emptied, the last day it technically existed—was from store opening until five. I didn’t drive and the security site was way out, so I had arranged for a ride at three (time to get a bite to eat, get freshened up, make the trip).

Peter didn’t even look up at me when I mentioned I’d have to leave early on Sunday, he just noticeably seethed down at the paper he was looking at.

“Schedule has you on until five,” he finally said.

I watched the side of his face for some tell, a faux smile wide on my own, but when he just kept staring at the sheet I let out a long breath and said “Okay man, but I have another job, you know? I’ll have to leave at three.”

He picked up the papers, went into the office, slammed the door, then didn’t say anything else to me until he’d gone in and out of the store twice for cigarette breaks.

“I can’t give you permission to leave early, you know? If you want to, that’s your business, but it means you’re not working the full shift and I’m still your manager so I can’t just say ‘That’s fine’. I mean, you didn’t even ask me, you just told me and I don’t think that’s really professional—it’s not cool to just tell your boss that you’re going to take off when you’re supposed to be on shift. But do what you want.”

***

It was this same shift—I’d at first been helping to box up, properly, but now was just doing so lackadaisically, sitting on the floor leafing through whatever books were still around—that I was treated to listening to Peter have a full on screaming match with his lady friend from back in his home state over the office telephone.

I’d overheard some tense ones before, but there had always been some semblance of trying to keep up appearances—as I mentioned elsewhere, he’d turn on a cassette of Scott Adams or an audio book version of a Clive Cussler novel (“This stuff is all real,” he said to me one time about one of these) and would whisper-curse as best he could—what I’d overheard being because I would have to ask a question and so approached the office door with caution, waiting for some opportune moment to knock.

This time it went on, full volume, for half hour. The odd thing is, I remember remarking to myself that there were no pauses in Peter’s screaming, so either they were both shrieking overtop of each other or he was just laying it out, not being interrupted—or a third possibility that made me uneasy: Peter was just sitting in there yelling into a dial tone, or hadn’t even dialled, was just venting aloud, spinning in his swivel chair.

***

The last time I closed the store was Friday—I’d leave work at ten, be met by my girlfriend, we’d hang out for an hour then she’d take me to my graveyard shift at the security site.

I had my duffle bag with me and as I was closing up alone (Peter was scheduled, but had not shown up by eight so I doubted he’d be putting in an appearance) I poked through boxes and perused what was still left unpacked, setting up little piles of items I’d take.

Recalling how Pamela had once mentioned boxes of special ordered product that had never been sent away, I spent some time in the backroom—this still had not even been touched, as far as boxing up went. There were some pretty interesting things around—books, fixtures, advertisements, I kind of wished I’d thought to loot the room, sooner.

Going through a pile of posters and from-the-publisher promotional stands that had never been properly assembled all splayed out across two long tables, I discovered someone’s secreted stash of pornography. It was rather breathtaking, at least eighty to one hundred copies of porno mags dating back god knows how long.

These became top priority—I made them into heavy piles, not remembering it was my girlfriend picking me up until I already had them shoved in the duffle. Sighing, I took them out, re-hid them less elaborately on the off chance I’d get another crack at them and resumed my general scavenging, a little bit less enthusiastically.

***

To my great surprise, Peter was working when I arrived Sunday morning, had sweat clothes on, rushing from the office to the telephone at the cashier counter, deeply involved with some computer technician about the final shut down procedures. He took long enough to say “Only use that drawer,” pointing at the center till. I just nodded, knew there was no point in even asking why we were keeping the doors unlocked.

***

I walked a lap of the store, contemplating it all generally, kind of chuckling that still, other than the little bit I’d halfheartedly done to avoid Peter the previous day, nothing further had been packed up—there was even a bag of gummy bears and a soda left on the floor next to some packing tape from where I’d set myself up.

I heard Peter fiddling around up front, but was caught off guard to see him decked out in his rollerblade gear, cigarette already lit and at a dribble from his lip, just standing in the propped open entrance door, backpack over one shoulder.

“Adios, man,” he said.

I didn’t even have time to ask him when he’d be back or if he remembered how I was leaving at three before he was skating in heavy, blundering stokes out across the strip mall parking lot.

***

I hadn’t locked the door, so a customer did wander in. Politely enough, he asked were we closed and took my saying “More or less” with the good humour it was meant. I told him it was alright to take a look around and delightfully he came to the checkout counter with a copy of Chicken Soup for the Dog Lovers Soul.

Tendering his transaction, the drawer popped to reveal an empty till.

“Sorry, I think my boss was a bit rushed this morning, forgot to set me up. I really don’t know why we’re still open, you know?”

I used the button under the drawer to pop the first cashier station and found that till empty, as well.

Considering the physical money tray was never removed from the stations at Bravado, I had no reason to think anything other than that Peter had been too caught up with computer support to have bothered with normal procedure—and as the customer was nice about telling me to just keep the entire fifteen dollars he was paying with, laughing about the whole situation, I just laughed at it, as well.

***

The office door was unlocked when I tried it and before I even had time to start poking around for Peter’s telephone number or some place the safe combination might be written (I’d by this time locked the front door until the money matter could be resolved) I saw the safe door open, the thing empty except for the cloth coin sack, a few rubber bands, and an envelope filled with paperclips—the lock box was on the floor by the office chair, open, tipped on its side.

***

At one o’clock, I got a call from corporate—I had to tell them Peter wasn’t there and that, in fact, he might have emptied the safe and run off.

“Are the liquidators there?”

I blinked. “No. I’m here. But I’m leaving in two hours.”

“No, no. You have to stay until these guys get there, it should be any time, they said they were only twenty minutes out last time I talked to them.”

“Alright. I mean, I’ll let them in, but I have to leave at three, I have another job.”

The corporate fellows tone was a combination of bewilderment and anger, anger which he aimed at me—to be fair, no one else was there to aim it at, but still it put me right off.

In an accusatory tone, the guy asked me what I meant by ‘Peter had run off’ and so I curtly related about the tills being empty, the safe being open and Peter skating away, hours before.

“I never would have noticed if a customer hadn’t come in.”

“Why are you letting customer in? Lock the door immediately—why are you taking customers?”

The tone was the end of it for me, I put it to the guy flat that I was leaving at three, that I was taking customers because that’s what my boss (who I referred to as belittling as I could as “the man that you hired to run this store”) had told me to, and that I wasn’t the one they should be yelling at. Then I said something like ‘Figure it out’ and hung up the phone, feeling exhilarated, dreadful, and nervous.

It was ten minutes before he called back, and his hardline had been redoubled. “You are not authorized to leave the premises—you are an employee of the store and you cannot leave the premises unattended.”

“I’m a part time clerk and the store is closed—you want me to stay till the end of my shift, or what? What will you do, dock me the last two hours?”

He explained that if I locked the door, the liquidators couldn’t get in and that I couldn’t leave the door open, because then I would be responsible for the merchandise.

“I don’t agree with any of that. Here,” I was in a helpful mood all of a sudden, “I’ll put the key in an envelope and tape it to the door. Or better, I’ll leave it at the shoe store and you can tell the liquidators to pick it up there.”

“Do not leave our key at the shoe store,” he barked, mad dog, threatening me with theft of company property if I did so.

***

I left Bravado Bookmark with my duffle bag full of pornography (Shalvo’s, I imagined, from the bulk of it—had it been Peter’s I imagined he’d not have left it behind) taped the envelope with the key to the front door and waited for my friend Nicolai to pick me up. I’d filled two big bags with a selection of scavenged merchandise which I tossed in the back seat of his truck when he pulled up to the curb.

“Peter robbed the store,” I said while he turned down the blues music he’d had on high.

“What?”

“He emptied the safe, put on his rollerblades and took off down the road. He actually said ‘Adios’ to me. Adios.”

“What did he steal, like thirty dollars?”

“Something like that, I suppose” I said, breathing a sad laugh, stretching where I sat, my feet pressing down on the duffle bag at my feet, the contents of which I didn’t mention.

Pablo D’Stair welcomes reader contact/comments. He can be reached at [email protected]

 

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