“we will be open tomorrow from 8am until sometime between 9 and 10pm…”

I walked out of the Bookstore shortly after 9:30 Thursday night, ending my last pre-Christmas work shift. Let me tell you this: I am so glad I’m not working tomorrow. I worked Christmas Eve last year, only for a few hours in the morning, and I literally spent each moment of it dashing to and fro looking for this, that, and the other thing.

We closed at 9:30 tonight. I keep saying tonight, but it’s early Friday morning, so technically it’s last night. You know what? I’m just going to keep writing “tonight”, and if you’ve got a problem with that, well, congratulations.

We closed at 9:30. Our posted hours — yes, even our posted holiday hours — show that we closed at nine. The first Christmas I was here (’08) we did some extreme holiday hours — opened at our regular time, but closed at 11pm every night, even Sunday. The first week, the store emptied out by 9pm, even without the benefit of our announcements. By the close of the second week, as we rounded the bend and accelerated towards Christmas, people started staying later. I don’t actually know if it was worth keeping that much staff on hand that late (payroll v sales), and I guess not, because last year they scrapped our holiday hours after the first night. I can’t actually remember if we started staying open later the day or two before the holiday, I think we probably did. In any case, this year, they told us, “No holiday hours!” They’ve been telling us this since early November.

And then Tuesday I walked in, and our Ops Manager yanked me into her office and said, “Hey, so you’re staying until 10:30 tonight, right?”

And I said, “?” and “!” because “wtf, dude?”

Let me tell you how Tuesday went: sure, it was busy until about 8pm, but then business dropped off to such a degree that at 8:55 our GM said, “Fuck it, we’re closing at nine.” He didn’t actually say “fuck it”, but he might as well have. Wednesday night I went in and was told, “Okay, tonight we’re really really actually staying open until ten.” It was so slow after 8pm, management, at 9:15pm, made the call to close at 9:30 and I still snagged my regular 9:45 L2 home. I went in tonight, expecting a clusterfuck of a night, Thursday being the last shopping day before Christmas Eve. I expected long lines, lots of customers, and a nice long six hour shift before I could even think of possibly getting up to the corner in time for my bus.

At first, it was like that. And it was crazy: an iPhone was stolen from a British guy visiting the U.S. with his wife and teen daughter. They seemed to take it in stride. We actually had the store detective, and both our loss prevention staff working — Christmas time might be all about cheer and giving and human kindness, but the real dregs of humanity make their appearances, too. Wednesday afternoon, a pickpocket snagged a woman’s wallet out of her purse. Just reminds you: keep an eye on your stuff, because bad stuff happens to good people who don’t deserve it.

But the line was killed pretty quickly. And while we were a little short on the floor, I think we did a good job finding stuff for the folks who asked for help. And then, it being a Thursday night, and with Christmas on the weekend, the 24th being the Federal holiday (even for those of us not Feds), and people wanting to get a head start on their vacationing, we got really, really, really …

… slow.

Like … really, really, really slow.

And instead of being open until 10pm … we closed at 9:30.

Which was fine with me, because again: 9:45 L2. I really like catching that bus.

But … let me just say this. If you want to do holiday hours next year, Bookstore? I mean, assuming the company is still around. And, if we are assuming the company is still around, assuming I am still around, let me say this: if you want to do holiday hours, honestly? I’m cool with it. Not thrilled about it. But if you come to me with it in advance, if you work around my schedule, then I’ll work with you and we can make it work. But if you can’t give your staff advance notice, if you can’t then be consistent with it (Wednesday night, my closing announcement ended with, “…and for your two days until Christmas shopping panic, we will be open tomorrow from 8am until sometime between 9 and 10pm…”)

In any case, Christmas vacation is two days for me: tomorrow, and Saturday. Off to the grandmother’s house I go. I’m back to the Bookstore on Sunday, and back in my cube on Monday morning. Sunday’s as much a part of the Christmas rush as any day, what with so many people returning gifts. Seriously, folks? Gift receipts. They’re free: both in terms of cost, and hassle.

But the week after? New Year’s?

I leave my cube at 3pm on Thursday, and I don’t have to be at either employer until 7am Monday. Cannot wait.

Smokey The Bandit: or, the assorted joys of working retail during the holiday season

One of the things you learn to deal with, working in a downtown retail environment, is that the homeless population will use your store to escape the extremes of the weather. We have several regular homeless folks who come to the Bookstore, and most of them are no problem at all: they come in, they use the restroom, they keep to themselves and they don’t cause trouble for anyone.

That’s sort of the general rules for all the customers: most of them just come in, find what they want it, buy it, and leave. It’s the ones who print out three 33% coupons and don’t understand why they can’t use each coupon in a single transaction (“No matter how many times you print it, it’s still the same coupon”), or why I don’t know what book it is they’re looking for even though it was just mentioned very prominently above the fold in the daily newspaper from their layover in Newark over Thanksgiving – you know, the one with the blue cover? By that guy who wrote the other book — the one about the people? Who did that thing?

Once, a few weeks ago, I had to pull on a red golf shirt that had the store’s logo on it, and pin on a badge that said I was “eReading Certified.” I had to do this because the CEO was in town, swinging through late, and all of the actual “eReading Certified” folks (the ones who don’t say, like I do, “Actually, I prefer actual books” when asked what eReaders they like) had left for the evening. One old bat saw that badge and said, “Oh, nice, you’re certified to read. I always think that’s important to do, to work in a bookstore” as she rolled her eyes. Did I call her an old bat yet?

Speaking of old bats, there’s the crazy psycho who brings her little rodent of a dog into the store with her and throws ridiculous requests at us. One night, she hounded me for a solid hour to find out who published what books of a whole list of different authors, and then write down the publishers’ addresses in a little book. Bitch, please: a.) this is not a fucking reference library, and b.) you are not my boss and do not get to tell me what to do!

Do not even get me started on the lazy sons of bitches who come into the store, pick up a whole bunch of magazines and books, find themselves a comfortable chair, read all that crap, then just leave it on the floor instead of being bothered to put it back on the shelf. Everyone who does that? Seriously: fuck you. Double fuck you if you do it while drinking a coffee and use a book as a coaster. The Bookstore is not your apartment. The staff is not your mother. If I was your mother? I’d shove that book you used as a coaster right up your sphincter, followed by the trash cans. Yeah, the trash cans aren’t always easy to find, but we do have them, and is it really that hard not to leave your crap all over someone else’s place of work?

I won’t even get started on the lazy douchebags who don’t seem to understand that when we go around and say “We’re closed now”, that actually is polite code for “Get the fuck out.” The restrooms are, in fact, closed.

So, speaking of closed restrooms. A week ago Monday, our men’s room was, in fact, out of service. Plumbing issues. We don’t actually have the capability to look the restroom door (truly to our regret), so we settled for taping a sign on the door that said “CLOSED: OUT OF SERVICE.” You would think this would be the end of the matter, but, dear person, of course it wasn’t.

Back to the homeless folks who come into our store. One of our new regulars was a guy we didn’t yet have a nickname for (he does now: Smokey the Bandit). Trust me on this: it is never, ever, ever, EVER good for you to have a nickname in the Bookstore. If you have a nickname, it’s usually because the staff needs to be able to rapidly communicate, say, “White Manga Man is in the store, White Manga Man is in the store” over the radio. This lets us know that White Manga Man, who will chide staff because Manga titles are not in proper numerical order (“Well, number six comes before number five, and obviously that isn’t correct …”) has arrived in the store, thus letting us all be extra vigilant in ensuring we stay well the fuck away from him to avoid being snared into some obscene conversation about why an anime DVD set advertises itself as “complete” when the pressing he has, of the same anime, from four years earlier, has features not listed on this anime, so how can it be complete? I DON’T KNOW MOTHERFUCKER, WHY DON’T YOU FUCKING TAKE IT UP WITH THE PUBLISHER?!

Anyway, so back again to Smokey the Bandit. And if there’s anything you should be learned from this rambling post, it’s this: fuck, man, there’s a lot of shit to drive retail peeps up the wall. Don’t ever snap at someone working in retail, no matter how long you’ve had to wait in line, because it’s not fun at all on the other side of that register counter.

So this homeless guy, Smokey the Bandit, had been coming into the Bookstore for a few weeks by this point. Unkept fellow, dirty, greasy rags for clothes, and a rather noticeable stench. He didn’t really cause any trouble: every now and then he might knock some calendars down, but honestly those things fall at the drop of a hat. On this particular day, however, with the men’s room out of service, a customer found a manager and informed him that someone was, indeed, in the men’s room.

Smoking dope.

See, I think we’re all at the Bookstore “live and let live crowd.” I don’t care if you smoke weed. Shit, I don’t actually care if you use books as coasters. Provided the books you’re using as coasters are the ones in your apartment, and that you’re smoking weed in that exact same apartment. But in our restroom? Not so cool. You’re probably thinking, oh, I get it: you call him Smokey the Bandit because he was smoking weed! Hah, you’re so wrong.

Anyway, as our merchandising supervisor and loss prevention staffer tried to coax him out of the restroom, but he said, “Man, I don’t care! Call the police! I don’t give a fuck!”

So I went to the nearest desk, picked up the phone, and dialed nine-one-one. Anyway, so I explain the situation, and the dispatcher tells me there’ll be an officer on the way soon. At this point, Smokey goes walking out of the store, mumbling loudly about something or other, with our staff members following him. Once he’s gone and on his way, they both came back over to the desk and I called the police back to cancel the request.

“So,” our LP guy said, “He came out of the stall? And his sleeve was on fire.”

Smokey the Bandit: because while smoking up his weed, he set himself on fire.

Fortunately, he put himself out.

He came back in, too. I got to kick him out. That was fun. The police actually wound up walking him out of the store last Friday. As far as I know, he hasn’t been back since. On the other hand, as long as he sticks to setting himself on fire, and not other people or, you know, books, aflame … well, screw it, I guess that’s okay.

Dehydration is NO FUN (graphic)

Wednesday night, Bill Simmons, ESPN’s “Sports Guy” came to the Bookstore for a signing of The Basketball Book, which had just been published in paperback. I was thinking maybe 100 people would show up, but probably six or seven times that came. The line started at our Mini-Minfo desk, snaked through the DVD aisles, along the back wall by the DVD cases, down past art and architecture to the CDs, snaked through those and the computer book aisles, then ran along the wall again, past Math and Science into Self Improvement, Health Reference, along the Cooking Wall, into Paperchase, past the elevator, through Romance, and Mystery and True Crime. The line make a sharp turn and ran along the entrance to the Kid’s section, then past Education and Child Care, past Science-Fiction and Untranslated Literature where it finally ended at African-American Fiction. If more people had shown up, we were going to run them up the stairs and back towards Biography and Calendars.

Our store is 35,000 square feet. Most of it is the lower level. Long story short: it was a lot of fucking people (I couldn’t begin to guess, but we sold over four hundred books, and some people who came for the signing brought their own — we had maybe 5 or 6 hundred people?) . Thankfully, Simmons signs fast.

When I work at the Bookstore, I frequently wear a sweater. The store isn’t evenly heated: some places are nice and toasty, others are kind of drafty. So I didn’t really pay any attention to the fact that I was wearing a nice thick sweater. My night was fairly laid-back: I held a big sign that said “END OF LINE”. Tame, right?

Except that about 7:30, I began to feel some cramps. I made my way to the employee restroom, and, well, let me ask you a question: have you ever been dry-heaving AND suffering from diarrhea at the same time? It’s no fun. A few minutes of that, and I felt better and went back on the floor. About forty minutes later, I was back in the restroom, with more of both symptoms. I had no strength and was soaked in sweat. At one point, I sort of fell onto the cold title of the restroom floor, my boxers and jeans around my ankles and just tried to soak up the coolness.

My store radio was still on. At some point, I guess one of the managers figured out I was out of action. The store closed at 9pm, but there were still people in the store waiting to get their books signed, so they were permitted to stay. Meanwhile, I made my way out of the restroom, asked if I could leave right then and there, was told yes, and promptly collapsed back into the restroom again as I didn’t have the strength to walk any further.

Look: I’ve got a lot of faults. But getting sick isn’t something that happens to me that much. And even when I do get sick, like with the flu, I’ve usually still got the strength to, y’know, walk where I want to walk, or do the laundry, or whatever. And the other night, I just had nothing. I was soaked in sweat, and walking took an incredible amount of energy. At some point, I left the restroom and put on my scarf and coat. At this point, I collapsed into a chair and lay my head on the big industrial paper cutter.

“Didn’t you ask to leave like an hour ago?” someone asked.

“Mmm-hmmm,” I muttered, asking if I could borrow some cash from one of the managers so I could take a cab home. He gave me a cup of water and handed me a $20.

Another manager asked me what my symptoms were, then said: “You’re dehydrating. It happened to my daughter: take off your coat and sweater.”

I did, and moved into the GM’s office, where, reclined into a big comfy chair, with my feet propped up on his desk, and the lights off, and a big cup of water in my hand, I recovered. I mean: not a lot, but after twenty minutes or so I was unable to move under my own power and felt like I wasn’t on the Front Line of Death anymore (so that was good).

I drink a lot of water, particularly at my Office Job. I have a big beer mug that I use for at-work drinking purposes, except hah hah!, non alcoholic-drinking purposes. It makes a good hot chocolate mug for winter mornings, and transitions to hold lots of nice cold water. I probably drink at least six mugs worth of H20 over the course of 7-3pm. But with so many people in the store Wednesday night, and wearing the sweater as I was, I clearly needed to be drinking water.

I got the Overnight Supervisor to give me a bag check and let me out of the store, and I flagged a cab (by my count, only the fifth time since I’ve lived in DC that I’ve taken a cab). I got home, cranked the heat, and collapsed into bed.

This was like 10:30. At about 11, I thought I was about to dry heave again, but … no.

It wasn’t dry heaving, it was legitimate, and copious amounts of vomit spewed out of my mouth. I felt like I should’ve been on the Exorcist. I really should have kept a towel with me, but I didn’t. My poor, poor carpet. This lasted a couple of minutes (felt like hours), and I changed the sheets on my bed and went back under the sheets for sixteen hours of fitful rest: yes, I finally pulled myself out of bed for longer than a moment or two at 1pm. Empty plastic water bottles ringed my bed.

That’s pretty much how I spent all day today: in bed. Sleeping, or not. I forced myself to eat a pretzel a little after 4, even though I wasn’t at all feeling hungry. Around 5 I actually feel asleep, legitimately, and stayed asleep until pushing 10.

And now it’s a little after 11pm. I am (mostly) awake, and I feel a million times better than I did last night, and a thousand times better than I did six hours ago.

So the moral of the story here is: drink your water. And if this hasn’t been enough to convince you to drink your water, I’d be more than happy to discuss the consistency of the diarrhea.

Dear Omar Little: Your Code Blows, Bro

Beginning in October, I watched all sixty episodes of The Wire, from the very first episode of the first season all the way through the final episode of the fifth season. It had been a few years, and as I watched the show, I initially cheered as my favorite character, Omar Little, made his walk walking through the alleys of Baltimore, whistling “The Farmer and the Dell” and shooting up Barksdale, and later Stansfield crew, soldiers, and lieutenants.

I liked what Omar said about “A man’s got to have a code.” Omar knew what kind of a person he was: he made his living robbing drug dealers, and when they rolled on him, he rolled right back on them. Basically, he willingly participated in an eye-for-an-eye culture, and always took it so damn personally when people near him were killed. If he’d just stop sprouting off about his code, maybe he’d realize how little his code elevated him from the drug hoppers: okay, sure, he had a code. Even when he escaped the game, he came back for his vengeance after Butchie was killed.

And then there comes that final, fateful episode. If you’ve never seen The Wire (but think you might want to), you might want to stop reading now. Omar gets ambushed by Marlo’s crew, and has to jump off a balcony to escape, breaking both legs in the process. A couple of episodes later, Omar gets some cops to roust a Stansfield crew, and then, limping to the corner store, passes a bunch of kids pouring light fluid on a cat.

“Every man’s got to have a code,” but Omar Little’s code apparently thinks it’s okay to light cats on fire.

One of the kids, a little punk named Kenard, follows Omar into the corner store, and shoots him in the head. If Omar’s code has opposed torturing little animals, maybe Kenard — who is like maybe eight — wouldn’t have followed Omar, virtually unseen, into the corner store.

So: Omar Little. Fuck you. Fuck your code. Any man who talks to much about his code but is cool with cats getting lit on fire deserve what he got.

As for me, my new favorite character on The Wire? A man with a real code: Bunk Moreland.