Bookstore Clerk

Illustration by Bob AulI wanted to work in a bookstore because I figured it would be better than any other retail job. I thought the clientele would be more upscale—no teenybopper crowd. I was wrong. But I like the people I work with, and I like my job during those times when I don't get a lot of shit from customers. Basically, I work the cash register, deal with returns, stock shelves and answer phones. Sometimes I call people to let them know the book they ordered just came in. But my biggest task is customer service: trying to find books for people. This is at the bottom of the list of my favorite tasks. Customers sometimes make me want to quit. A lot of times they blame me for shelves being badly organized or books being unavailable—things completely outside my power. They get really mad, as if we did all this on purpose. I've had people get really upset when I told them we didn't have the book they wanted—even when I told them it wasn't in our backroom. One time, this woman called on a cell phone from another bookstore and asked if we had a certain book. We didn't, and it didn't appear on our list of books in print. When I told her this, she got really upset and said she was looking right at it. Then she hung up. A few minutes later, she called back and asked for another title that we did have. I asked her if she wanted me to hold it for her, but she said no and hung up again. Many times, people talk down to me. One time, this woman came in and asked if we had a book. I couldn't understand her because her accent was so thick. I asked her to repeat it a number of times, and she got angry and told me in a perfectly understandable tone that because I lived in California, I should understand people with accents. Finally, I understood her—she wanted Shakespeare's Macbeth. A lot of times after we get a bad customer—all the time, in fact—the other clerks and I all get together and make fun of them, sometimes for 10 to 15 minutes or more. That's how we deal with it. If we can laugh about it, then it's no big deal. I've had to learn not to take all this personally. Our best customers are people who've worked retail before. They're very nice and considerate and always ask—they never order us around. I'm still amazed how many people think that we who work retail are their personal slaves.

—as told to Anthony Pignataro

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