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.

6 thoughts on “Smokey The Bandit: or, the assorted joys of working retail during the holiday season

  1. After reading this post for the second time because I liked it so much, I am simultaneously laughing out loud & feeling terribly sorry for you. But also a liiiiittle bit jealous. ;)

  2. Heffy, ah, the memories! Since I actually do remember White Manga Man, although I think I originally called him just M.M. w/o the White part. My new Bookstore is so boring compared to hen we worked together. I enjoy your stories and the memories, but clean up the language. It distract from the great writing.

  3. id just like to state..For The Record.. that im not the old lady with the rodent dog…ok ok i am AN old lady with A rodent dog & sometimes i might sneak her into the book store (discreetly in her bag) but …im reasonably not THIS one.. :-) happy holidays!!

  4. As someone who was in said bookstore today, and someone who has worked a number of different retail jobs, this entry literally made me laugh out loud! This type of foolishness is especially rampant during the Christmas season.

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