Encounters in a Bookstore: A Series by Liz Mathews
Perhaps in some jobs, having a manager title is a respected and wonderful thing, implying both a larger paycheck and passing off tedious job responsibilities to the peons below. Not so at the bookstore where I work. Yes, peons still do a lot of things like shelving and answering phones. But managers are the ones that get to deal with all the real customer nonsense, and they likely don’t make that much more than I in their weekly paychecks.
Case in point: during one recent shift, a customer approached me with a woman by his side, and asked with excess politeness, “Do you have a store manager?”
In my mind my response went something like, “Nope, we just get free reign at this place—buyer beware.” But I said, “Yes.”
“May I speak with him or her?”
I responded in the affirmative and called Laurie, who is quite possibly the nicest lady ever. She appeared several moments later, and I pointed her toward the couple, not realizing the horror I'd just set her up for.
“You are the store manager?” the man asked Laurie, and she said yes, currently she was the manager on duty. He then dove into his issue.
Turns out he and his friend were sitting in the cafe, each at their own table, though they had pushed the tables together. Maybe they were studying, maybe they were just sipping coffee with their junk spread all over the place. Seeing as it was lunchtime, the cafe was busy. Other people wanted to sit down. The cafe manager, trying to make the best of a crowded situation, went over and asked them to consolidate to one table, so that some more customers could have a seat and a table to eat.
To me, the cafe manager’s request makes sense. To Laurie, the request also didn’t seem inappropriate. To these two people with giant backpacks and looks of stubborn determination on their faces, this was abominable. Still, Laurie attempted to explain our side.
“You two are together, right? So it doesn’t seem so strange, then, since you had pushed the tables together, that she ask you to consolidate to one table.”
“But we are individuals, who each had our own table! If we weren’t together, no one would ask us to consolidate! There are other people in there, sitting at their own tables, alone, and no one is bugging them to sit with someone.”
I could go on recording the back and forth, but it really wouldn’t be worth the time. It went on for at least ten minutes. A coworker named Ben came up beside me and also eavesdropped. He had been in the cafe at the time of the incident. “Yeah, they had their shit spread all over, meanwhile one guy was eating his food leaning against the garbage can because he had no place to sit. Frankie [the cafe manager] politely suggested they free up one of their tables. This is ridiculous.” He walked away.
At some point the irate troublemakers questioned Laurie’s authority. “Is there another manager we can speak with?” they demanded.
“Our store manager doesn’t work today, but will be back on Tuesday, starting at 9am. You are welcome to take this up with him—his name is Jonathan.”
“And what’s your name?”
“My name is Laurie.”
That part of the confrontation repeated several times—because along with being unnecessarily upset they were pretty dense. As they hassled Laurie, other customers who were trying to have a pleasant shopping experience were also becoming agitated.
Eventually the duo huffed off. Laurie disappeared as well. None of us were happier or feeling better about ourselves. I went back to telling customers where the bathroom was, and that we don’t carry Surfing Magazine.
Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.