Once Upon a Retail Dream

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.

The Grief Monster

Often, I feel alone. Not lonely, but alone. A great bit of this is my own fault. I’m a solitary creature, an introverted writer drifting in and out of the space-time continuum. I spend a great deal of time in my head with worlds and people who are very much real, albeit without any physical nature to them. They are, to me, no different at the heart than the people and places I see in this world. Imagination and reality are the same. There’s a comfort to it. Not an escape, but a pleasant dynamic of creation and satisfaction in discovering people and places that inspire me. It allows me to feel more human. More whole. Less alone.

In my everyday world, it’s a different story. I work alone 90% of the time. I’m not much for chatting on the phone. Texting is communication, and I prefer it, but it hardly leaves one feeling accompanied on a journey of any sort. Social media offers an opportunity to connect, to be a part of something, and certainly gives me the daily chance to broaden the Broadleaf community of writers. But, in the end, the world gets quiet, the sound of the fridge running filling the void when the air conditioner doesn’t. Whether on the patio or at the dining room table or sitting at my desk there is an abundance of silence.

Then, I am truly alone.

My only solace during these times, as I have not been so fortunate as to have children, is of the furry four-legged variety. For the past six years, the constant love and attention I’ve received from the ever-present Molly the Cavatese Muppet Dog has given me a healthy dose of what it might be like to have a mini-human in my life. For thirteen years, my cat companion Maggie has been by my side. Through the closing of my bookstore (long live Wordsmiths Books!), to divorce, to break-ups, loss, and moving from one rental property to another. More moves than most cats could endure, I’m sure. Mix those two in with the friend and family member (and mother to the fur babies) that the Moss has become and there is something daily to remind me that I am not entirely alone. They keep me balanced, humored, and moving forward through the worst life has to offer.

But now Maggie is gone. In a flash. Bone cancer took her one week ago. In retrospect, I can see she dealt with it for far longer than I knew. But from diagnosis to the end was a mere ten days. Ten days. The last three of which were filled with dread and horror, sadness and disbelief. I feel cheated. Stunned. Above all, heartbroken. Finding my way through the days that have followed has been challenging, with more breakdowns than I should probably admit.

Some, I know, don’t understand how losing a pet can rival the loss of a human. All I can say (and have said) to those folks is that, aside from believing that all life has equal value, Maggie was never a pet. She was a friend, a confidant (though I’m sure she spilled the beans to Molly far too often), and a loyal and loving companion through my everyday attempts to live. The void that remains is profound. It is intense. I can’t brush my teeth without staring at the spot on the vanity she would perch, tail driting in and out of the sink, not so patiently waiting for her next round of food or treats (and, I like to think, ensuring I wasn’t left alone). She’s not there to keep me company at night, sprawling out on more bed at my shoulder than I should allow. She’s not there in the morning to climb upon my chest, work her claws into my skin as she makes biscuits, and give me a slice of joy to start my day. She’s not there while I work, while I write, while I sit on the patio and take the world in for a few minutes. There’s no chirpy greeting when I come home, no soft tick, tick, tick of claws on the floor as she moves from room to room hunting her next spot to nap.

She’s just not there anymore. And I feel more alone for it.

Grief often carries one into anger. I can’t feel angry about it. Weird though it sounds, I’ve actually tried. She was suffering, in pain, her liver and kidneys failing as the cancer spread, as she quit eating. She’s at peace now, and I can live with that. I’ve quoted Albus Dumbledore more times this week than is reasonably sane, but it speaks to my beliefs on life and death: “Do not pity the dead. Pity the living. And those who live without love.”

That doesn’t make it hurt less. That doesn’t curb the unyielding waves of calm to agony in the blink of an eye. That doesn’t bring her back. But it helps.

As it happens, I’m working on a project now that this experience broadens. About a young boy dealing with the loss of his older brother. I understand the character far more than I did a week ago. Much like him, I would do just about anything to have Maggie here again. To fill that void created by her absence. And to ultimately come to terms with the fact that she’s gone. That life goes on, just differently.

There will never be another Maggie. In the physical world her uniquness lives only in memory, in picture, in video. In the other world within the walls of my mind, in the realm of imagination that houses worlds and people that keep me company, she prowls and talks and sleeps and plays as she did here. She watches over me, fusses when I’m not attentive enough, gives me that whisper of a meow when I wake her up kissing her head, and stays by my side always.

It doesn’t take the hurt away. It doesn’t remove the fact I’ll never be able to pet her, to pick her up and put her over my shoulder, or to watch her sleep by my feet while I write. But it’s something. And, somehow, that will have to do.

20190617_111335