I worked for Barnes & Noble many many moons ago. For the better part, it was a good job. I made a number of friends I still have to this day, learned a great deal about bureaucracy, came to grips with the fact that some people suck, and got to see the world of books from a side that was more terrifying and heart-wrenching than I could have ever imagined.
Working in a bookstore is a blessing.
Working in a bookstore during Christmas is soul-crushing.
One night I was the manager-on-duty during an overnight inventory. This involved a lot of wandering, answering questions when the inventory team (an outsourced company) had them, and an abundance of idle time.
I took some of that time to pay homage to one of my favorite stories of all time: How the Grinch Stole Christmas. I had it memorized at one point, though I doubt I could remember half of it now. To the beat–more or less–of The Grinch, I wrote about the experience of being in retail this time of year.
I was idealistic once, as well. My first Christmas at B&N put that to rest.
Final note: I’m not a poet. Generally, I’m an idiot. No need to edit my work here. Just enjoy, and maybe–just maybe–be a bit more kind to the folks working retail. It. Is. Hard.
Once Upon a Retail Dream
In a town, once there was, not so far from the fuss
of a city that travelled by car and by bus;
crowds of people who would pounce
and then pay no heed,
to the stories and literature they were told to read.
And in this small town was a store that sold books,
a place of joy and good will where friends and family alike
would come to browse and to gawk and to look
for stories upon stories to warm their bleak hearts,
for those in need, for those not quite right,
for those so eager to read by fine light.
And to this store one day, there came a man,
whose smile brought good cheer to this place in demand.
He came with a box full of ribbons and bows,
full of doo-dads and papers and puppets for shows!
They welcomed him warmly, this boss who promised the most,
and granted their allegiance as he took this fine post.
They cried, “Hooray for this man, who brings with him hope!
He seeks our redemption, he may right our doomed boat!”
But the man formed a grin, a strange little smirk.
“What do you mean?” he asked,
“This store is a blessing, not the slightest known quirk.”
The employees, they did laugh,
most simply shaking their heads;
then one spoke up light, her fair voice so sweet,
she bit at her lip and said, “Oh, brother, we’re dead.”
“Surely, you jest,” said the man still aglow,
“Let me show you the heart of the customer flow.”
He walked to the door with a bounce in his step,
his face full of joy, his hum full of pep.
He reached for the lock, those in wait staring long,
for a moment he paused, his mind waging within,
they looked so intense, unhappy and withdrawn.
But he drew his best smile—a patented grin—and parted the door,
which they pushed open so quickly,
he was knocked to the floor.
“We told you,” the workers said,
as he wiped dust from his pants,
“They’re maniacs, they’re mad,
they’re retail’s life-sucking ants.”
“Just anxious,” he said, with notable doubt,
“They needed their coffee, a few simple gifts,
they needed exercise books to workout.
They’ll get what they need,
then they’ll hurry right out.”
But the customers did linger, they plopped into chairs,
they scattered books and they slept,
and they bumped tables without care.
Signs fell to the floor, the children’s section was trashed,
the café was pillaged, and displays were crashed.
The carpet—once as neat as his bed—was littered
with pastries that were mangled, half-eaten and mashed.
“What are you doing?” asked the man, his hands wringing with fear,
“This is a store to buy books! There’s no carnival here!”
But the people paid no mind, they hurried instead,
their faces intent, eyes glossy like pearls,
they rummaged through clearance racks and filled him with dread.
“I don’t understand!” he cried, but to no great avail,
“You’re supposed to come shop, not barter for sales!”
And the man who did smile as he walked through the door,
with boasts of good fortune and scores of good cheer,
suddenly realized that retail was a little bit more
than selling to people who know what they want.
“They shop without purpose, they shop without heart.
They shop without discounts or knowledge or carts!”
And what did they hear on that cool winter day?
Those customers and employees, well, in whispers they say,
that the man with the smile and promises of more,
screamed and he screamed
as they carried him out from the store.
He screamed like a child, in the white jacket he wore.