Price Breaks And Heartaches
A journal of retail and failed romance
Remaindered, Rejected And Irreconcilable
For all my eye rolling and complaints it was a pretty good time with laughter, friendship and minimal arguing about the check. They all got me horror novels of one kind or another. I think most of them are still somewhere in my To Be Read pile.
Then Tallulah and I headed back to her parents’ house to make sure everything was ‘secure’. The minute we got the door closed behind us we were in each other’s arms. She let her hair spill down and her blouse fall open; I was wearing a shirt from Chess King that had snaps along the left shoulder. So in other words she looked like a maiden from a romance novel cover and I looked like Captain Kirk after a fight.
As God is my witness there was a church in the mall, an actual church. It was a little hole in the wall of a chapel run by a group of friars. It was directly across from the head shop, bordered on one side by a travel agency and on the other by Montgomery Wards. They seemed to do good business, saving souls via masses every three hours until closing. You could even light candles at the altar, of course it was all automated, you just pressed a button and a little glass colored electric votive flickered to life. I mention this because the end of services always brought on our early morning rush.
Usually we were ready for it.
The Sunday schedule was easy enough, a senior clerk came in an hour early to update the bestsellers list, and then a second clerk would come in to help open the store. By the time Lunch rolled around a third staff member would come in and they would end up alone for the last hour of their shift and they would close lock up and go home.
If you had to go the bathroom you better get it done by 4 PM or you were on your own.
Frank was the opener that day and he had the bestseller shelf halfway stocked and priced by the time I got there. I took over so he could get a cup of coffee and man the register. I finished up just as the post mass rush started up; it was mostly women looking for romance novels or men looking for magazines- but not those kind of magazines we were near a church for gosh sakes!
The worst part of working in a book store was the questions. Now if someone knows what they’re looking for that’s just fine but sometimes you got a customer that thought you were psychic.
“Excuse me miss?”
I straightened up, “Me?”
“Oh sorry.” The customer said then he continued, “I am looking for a book about a young man and his father living together in an Italian neighborhood.”
“Ok.” I smiled, “What would the title be?”
“I don’t know.”
“Oh. Do you know the author’s name?”
“No, but the cover’s red.”
“Well…” I made a show of looking up and down the store, “…there’s a lot of red books here. I would need a little more to go on.”
He shook his head with disbelief, “You mean to tell me this store doesn’t have a section for books about Italian fathers?”
“No.” I began to back away, “But I will bring it up at the next employee meeting.”
The customer wandered off, probably to the record store in search of jazz albums with songs recorded on a particular day of the week, or maybe to the bakery to get a cookie with a specific number of chips. I imagined that for a man like that life must have been a never-ending quest.
I decided to head on up to the register and talk with Mary, her special order copy of the Story of O had just come in and she was reading it between calls with rapt attention.
You can’t beat a book like that can you?
“Hey Mar.” I leaned on the counter beside her.
“Al.” She put the book down, “You going on break?”
“No. Just coming over to say hi.”
“Like you wouldn’t believe.” I said, “The books never stop do they?”
“Box after box, I think there’s more than we have room for.”
“Oh yes very true. Wait till Christmas, you won’t be able to walk around the back room.”
A customer came up with a small stack of romance novels, they made me think of Tallulah and I smiled warmly. Once I had finished ringing up the sale I turned back to Mary, “So how are things at real college?”
“I broke up with my boyfriend.”
“Oh. I’m sorry.” Of course that wasn’t what I meant. I never knew what to say when I hear about other people’s bad news. At least when it’s my own bad news I can dismiss it with a wisecrack or a wry observation but what do you do when a pretty girl opens her heart to you about her problems- while she is holding a book about S&M in her hand no less?
“The relationship just wasn’t going anywhere you know?”
“Not really. Do you mean you weren’t going out on enough dates?”
“No.” She said, “He just seemed happy to coast along. You know what I mean...”
I shook my head, “I don’t. You mean he didn’t ask you to marry him yet?”
“It’s not that simple. It’s like when you’re a kid and you want some toy and you get it and it first it seems awesome but then you realize it isn’t all its cracked up to be.” She watched the man in the beret peruse the mystery novel section, he seemed to have a habit of rearranging the books on the shelves.
“You know I’m getting some of this from my girl sometimes. It’s like I’m on some kind of double secret probation thing.”
“Al, a girl will say she’ll have sex so she can feel loved, a guy will say he’s in love so he can have sex.”
“I’m not like that.” I said, “Was he?”
“I was starting to see that what he and I wanted were different things.”
That conversation gave me a lot to think about, but before I could start Frank called me to the back room so I could help him move some display bins. When I got there he was starting ruefully at a small mound of Danielle Steel hard covers. “They say 70% of the books being published are romance novels.”
“Wow.” I started dragging the cardboard display out onto the sales floor. There was a trick to moving these things because the cardboard displays were never as sturdily built as the books they were meant to hold. Even if you set them up patently and carefully all it took was one clumsy customer or malicious child for it to bend and collapse.
Frank started pricing the books, “You still submitting stories?”
I stood there trying to look helpful, “Oh yeah. I’ve got five copies of each of my stories out at all times. I’ve already got almost one hundred rejection slips but I figure any day now I’ll make a sale.”
“What magazines are you submitting to?”
“Oh all of them- Playboy, Twilight Zone Magazine, The Horror Show, Grue… all of them.”
“Have you ever thought about starting out with the markets that pay in contributor’s copies?”
“No. I want to be real writer, I want to get paid.”
“It’s one thing to be a writer, it’s another thing to be published.” Frank observed, “I’ve written some great material over the years and was glad to just get it in print. This way I know my work reached someone. Isn’t that what’s important?”
“My grandmother has a saying…” I said, “Sluts give it away, whores get paid for it. You can respect a whore.”
“Your grandma said that?”
“Yeah… we’re a complex bunch at my house. But my point is I’m not going to be some kind of literary slut just giving free material away because I’m broken inside and needing attention.” I paused in mid-sentence as a wave of irony from the future washed over me.
“WHAT IS THIS?” Karla seemed to appear out of nowhere.
Frank asked, “What are you doing here today?”
“Checking up.” Her nostrils flared, “And what do I find, everyone socializing and reading. We’re here to work!”
“I was helping.” I shook the display of Danielle Steel novels for emphasis. It immediately collapsed.
“Oh great! And where are we going to put those now?”
“On the- shelves?”
Her hands went to her hips, “You’ve just got an answer for everything don’t you?”
I almost answered but caught myself and instead stood silently beside Frank as we endured our public chastisement. Once she was certain the staff was fully demoralized she left the store. Frank cleared his throat uncomfortably. I said, “I didn’t realize the drill sergeant from Full Metal Jacket had a sister.”
Mary came over to us and started helping me repair the collapsed display, “You guys all right?”
“I’m getting sick of this.” Frank said.
“Does she frequently get that bitchy?” I asked.
“Oh my God!” Mary was appalled, “You just called her a bitch.”
“I did not!”