Snow Day

“I haven’t been surprised by snow since I was a child,” I said.

“Yeah,” the UPS guy said. “I don’t remember the last time the forecast was this wrong.”

“Oh yeah, it’s crazy,” I said. I was sure there existed a world of weirder events but I wasn’t about to remove my gloves and start Googling. No reason to be that guy while we froze our asses off and shot the shit.

“I’m wearing the wrong shoes for this,” he said. So was I. My leather boots had soaked through to my socks.

In my long-haired youth, I’d attended an outdoor concert on Beale Street and stood there with nothing but black leather Doc Martins and threadbare cotton socks between my poor feet and the 45° F chill. My body shook for hours after I escaped the elements.

I relayed this to the UPS guy. “I don’t know what I’m going to do,” he said.

He lamented having let his girls play in the snow before work. “Just run on out there,” he’d told them. It was still below 20° F, and he was concerned they’d been as cold as he was.

“Yeah, I didn’t let mine,” I said. “I didn’t want to get my work clothes wet.”

This morning, while I prepared coffee (between shushing the girls and fetching their requests), I wondered how many more times it would snow while they were small.

I kissed them goodbye while they stared at their tablets, which they still refer to as Talbots. The journey to the mall wasn’t as terrible as I’d anticipated, even on two-wheel-drive. That said, the combination of conditions and cockiness had landed enough people in the ditch to result in road closings on Jonesboro’s more hilly terrain.

The maintenance man and I entered the building and complained about the inaccurate forecast. “They can’t predict the weather,” he said.

“You’re right,” I said. “It’s too chaotic. You can’t predict that.”

The back buzzer sounded and I opened the receiving door into the alley. The UPS guy had apparently gotten a phone call in the meantime. He scanned boxes with one hand while he told someone he’d be by when he finished the mall.

He stuck his phone in his pocket and looked at me. “Your last name is Talbot, right?”

“Yep.”

“Are you related to someone over at the dress store?”

“Yeah,” I said. “That’s my ex-wife.”

“Ah, okay,” he said. “She was checking to see if I could come by there first because they’re closing early. I didn’t want to say something if-”

“Dude,” I said, “you can say whatever you want. She kept the name for some reason. I guess I’m going to populate the earth with Talbots.”

He laughed. I have no such plans, but I’ll lie in the name of comradery.

“It’s a small world,” he said.

Gina, the last Talbot I’ll make (by legal contract anyway), texted to inform me the girls were going berserk with snowlust. At least that’s how I interpreted the situation. Since I left for work, they’d been alternating between mauling each other and launching towards Willie’s delicate skull.

Their mother arrived, only slightly delayed by the inclement weather, and carried them away before they did any permanent damage. I assume she dropped them off somewhere before she gave UPS a courtesy call. Cora’s preschool was closed, and I’ve had to go get the girls from day care before on account of heavy rain.

They’re probably reenacting Revenant in some friend’s yard. I’m not always privy to such things, but I trust they’re safe.

The roads are clear enough for business. Mother Nature has done what our plow-deficient city planners could not. The occasional sirens remind me it’s not over yet, and the encroaching evening threatens to solidify the slop.

Still, there’s enough pristine powder on the grass to thrill a youngster. It’s probably not the right consistency for construction, but I wouldn’t blame anyone for trying.

Shop Talk

It’s been shock and yawn for me since the election. I enjoyed Christmas, like I said I would, and I’ve passed the dark winter days by yelling about death and work.

I guess I’m going to drink coffee until my arm hurts and try to convince myself that it’s a weightlifting injury. Maybe I’ll play some Lego with the girls. It’s always fun to put together a 700+ piece set so they can immediately drop it on the floor. I was able to reassemble it in about ten minutes the first time it happened. Yesterday I had my back turned for a second, and now Super Hero High School is in a box.

I am totally the dad from The Lego Movie.

The humanity.

It’s difficult not to stare deep into the news and compound my general life frustration with the trainwreck agony of current affairs. I had promised to engage in some shitty GONZOOOOOOOOO (I have to write it like that so you can envision me awkwardly flailing around like Kermit the Bob) journalistic blogging about the situation on the ground here in Trump Central. You know, the buckle of the bible belt, the City of Churches, not far from Klan Headquarters. FUCKIN’ GROUND ZERO, MANNN.

I’m crushed even further that there’s not much to report. This strikes me as a weird, conflicted emotional response. It’s good that jackboots aren’t thumping down Main Street, but it also means there’s nothing to do except share dank memes and read articles about things that happened in the real world, a thousand miles away. Here, it’s a lot of hurry up and wait, as the military folks say.

I realize “Local White Man Doesn’t Experience Oppression Directly” is a headline right out of The Onion, guys. Cut me just a little slack. I’m absolutely certain people are being shit on all over right now but I’m also not going to engage in the sky-is-falling theatrics I know and love so well.

For example, late last year some friends and I attended a meeting of a local Hispanic community outreach group. They had some immigration lawyers in attendance, plus a dude from the Mexican Consulate. They fielded questions from a few frightened individuals and were as helpful as they could be in a public forum. A local Arkansas State University professor, Dr. Richard Wang, was in attendance to bloviate about checks and balances like we were incoming Freshmen and assure us that “Trump is hemmed in by the Constitution.” He also expressed great faith that Senator Chuck Schumer is going to save the day. I’m pretty sure we’re all fucking doomed.

There we go. I can freak out like old times. Still got it.

Nevertheless (and I’ve expressed this before to the great disbelief of people in our shining blue metropolises and megalopolises), people who are winning on their home turf usually don’t stir up shit. The nutty guys in their throbbing phallic lift-kitted 4X4s aren’t flying so many Confederate battle flags these days. The holiday season was strangely calm. Tactical beards and open carry everywhere but not many gripes. I’m pretty sure the worst thing I heard someone speak was, “Ughhh, Megyn Kelly,” as if they’d just stepped in dog-doo.

Yeah, some Arkansas State University sorority girls dressed up as the wall at a Make America Great Again themed Pi Kappa Alpha party. It made the Facebook rounds, I posted a rant about how I was hazed twenty years ago, and then I disavowed the entire shitty organization. I realize I matter so little in this regard that my name is probably still there on the rolls I demanded to be struck from. Maybe I could write a series of articles on that. Imagine the Alpha Betas from Revenge of the Nerds then remove all dramatic irony, or maybe Lord of the Flies with less murder.

Don’t worry, it was pretty mundane in the grand scheme of things. If you really want a thrill, go watch Goat or hit yourself in the face with a hammer.

I’ve seen the recent howling (as opposed to the previous constant howling) about Congress, which is gearing up to repeal the Affordable Care Act (an acronym I recently Twitter typoed as APA, to the great glee and amusement of onlookers). I’d love to call my senators, guys, but they are John Boozman (R) and Tom Fucking Cotton (R/TP/NSDAP). If you aren’t familiar with this horroshow, he’s the guy who took a page from Genghis Khan and suggested we not only punish people who violate sanctions, but their entire bloodlines. Luckily, someone pointed out that this practice might be unconstitutional.

Maybe it’s time for the flaccid American Left to get it up like Republicans did the past eight years. They got away with some brilliant rhetoric and sometimes downright nasty open threats. Here’s one I like to bandy about: If they are actually threatening the existence of you and your families by cancelling healthcare options for millions of real live living loving human people, what are you going to do about it? Maybe it’s time to engage in some self defense.

Gotta love that freedom of speech. Goes both ways, fam.

I hope there’s nothing to report down here, people. I hope my personal conspiracy theory about this election is correct, and the Clintons attending the inauguration is their version of the Harlem Globetrotters shaking hands with the Washington Generals after the latter accidentally wins an exhibition game. “Uh, good job guys, but don’t do that again.”

That’s quite a bit of hope, though, and while I’d say, “Hope is a mistake,” someone recently rebutted my favorite slogan with, “Hope is not a mistake. Belief in change is a mistake.” I like that one even better, because we haven’t changed. We’re still self-propelled shit tubes, slightly smarter worms, thrusting, humping and squirting our way to oblivion. My Memaw used to say (still does, I’m sure), “There’s nothing new under the sun.”

That’s Ecclesiastes 1:9. “The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” King James Version, because this is how we roll down in Trumann, Arkansas, and if I quote a bible verse on my heathen rageblog I’m going to do it the right way.

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be. I hope not, kids. I hope not, but go ahead and buckle down.

I think I’m going to have something to write about.

Bestsmellers

As long as we aren’t speaking metaphorically, I will absolutely judge a book by its cover. Anyone should be able to spot a self-published pile of garbage (most likely copied and pasted from Wikipedia) from a mile away after thirty seconds of instruction. (Hint: It’s cheaply bound and fucking ugly.)

Bookstore customers tend to hold the common misconception that the King of Publishing has bestowed a knighthood upon any author so honored to grace our warped, dusty shelves. Guys, with enough money and motivation, I could have my third grade book report in stores nationwide within a couple of weeks. If I wanted it on the bestseller lists, all I’d have to do is turn around and buy thousands of them back. With the resulting publicity, it might get legs of its own, or I might end up writing my next book about do-it-yourself bankruptcy petitions.

“But Bob,” you’re mumbling into your smoldering Samsung, “as a proponent of Automated Luxury Polyamorous Pansexual Post-scarcity Space Communism (ALPPPSC), how can you take a such a steaming dump on the masses? The proletariat should have access to the eyes and ears of the people! Tear down the gatekeepers! Off with King Publishing’s head!”

Au contraire. The same top-hatted, monocled magnates are still swimming in their gigantic piles of shitty teen poetry money. The only difference is that they’re spending less of theirs finding these assholes. The answer to everything is still, “be bankable.” Are you already famous for something that has nothing to do with writing? Here’s a book deal. Did you get hot on Amazon writing dinosaur porn? Here’s a book deal. Did you self-publish the doodles and emo notes from the liner of your junior high Trapper Keeper after you hit 100,000 subscribers on your YouTube channel? Here’s a fucking book deal.

As the Chairman of ALPPPSC (ALP³SC), I’d remove the funds and the fame entirely. There shouldn’t be a system to game. We’d all be as one in the shiny digital databanks of the Starship USS Indestructable-B, equally accessible and left to be browsed or abandoned on our own merits. Then we’ll engage warp 9 over to James Patterson’s literary sweatshop planet and free the slaves.

Nevertheless, I don’t judge you by what you purchase. Believe me, there was a day when I put people into a column every time they asked for Mein Kampf (usually “that Hitler book”) or the The Satanic Bible between giggles. Oh wait, I still do that. It’s the Idiotic Teenager column. Yes, we can also get The Anarchist’s Cookbook, kids. No, it isn’t banned. No, you aren’t on a list.

Well, not our list, anyway.

RIP Spuds Benghazi

Yeah, I might get a kick when you buy six copies of Clinton Cash so you can give them as Christmas gifts, but I also realize I’m coming at the situation from a completely different angle. It’s been interesting times discussing politics with the Trumpers and Tea Partiers over the past year. They’re so close to embracing ALP³SC and they don’t even know it. Maybe I can sneak The New Jim Crow into their orders after I delete a couple of these Bill O’Reilly books.

I don’t judge, guys. Maybe you’re purchasing Killing the Rising Sun for your ailing grandfather, who actually had a hand in killing the rising sun. Still, it’s something that O’Reilly’s other books in the Killing series are named after a particular historical figure, but in this case he was apparently so hellbent on otherizing Japan, like some slanty-eyed bucktoothed WWII propaganda caricature, that he settled on targeting the entire fucking country and slapped a mushroom cloud on the cover. I had a lady come in an ask, “Do you have that book on killing the Japanese?”

Yes, of course. Right over here.

I don’t want to misuse the term offensive. Offense is an attack or a physical reaction. As it is with other powerful words, we risk watering them down when we throw them about willy-nilly, just as I risk starting a prescriptivist versus descriptivist web battle by even mentioning this issue. Offensive describes my sulfurous ass gasses. Many of the things I find ignorant or slightly annoying are probably not correctly defined as offensive.

That being said, my jaw locked up the first time I saw the electronic bulletin with attached color pre-order poster. I laughed, incredulous. “You have got to be kidding me,” I said. “Are you fucking serious?” Oh god, I am clenching my teeth right now. Maybe it’s the coffee, but I’m pretty sure I’m offended.

Bestseller, baby. Bestseller.

Your Supreme Chairman doesn’t want to resort to censorship. Hell, I read ridiculous shit constantly. Tweets, posts, and memes, some brilliant, most dreck (occasionally a disease, a pox on humanity, but I digress). There are gems in the sewage but there’s also hepatitis and a slight chance of alligators. If you want to read at all, you’re going to consume junk. I’d say roughly 95% of what I sell on any given day is absolute swill. There’s a whole section of manuals on how to be a better sociopath, then a couple of aisles away there are sections full of books about dealing with all the goddamned sociopaths, some by dead bearded guys and others featuring amorphous sky friends who may or may not have been purported to have beards.

I love you, pagans and wiccans. I really do, but it occurs to me that somewhere along the line, while your brain was short circuiting under all the inconsistencies of organized religion, you took an, uh, different fork off the road of realization and decided that instead of questioning the existence of magic, you’d add even more magic. Hey, that’s cool. Whatever gets you through the night.

As a big ol’ nasty agnostic atheist, though, one of my proudest moments might have been when a young woman tracked me down years after a reading recommendation and thanked me, profusely, for changing her life. I barely recalled the initial interaction when she brought it up, but the situation was that she had been in her late teens and had finally gotten out on her own. She expressed that she’d been brought up by parents who were oppressively religious and asked for a suggestion. I handed her The God Delusion.

Yeah, yeah. I know. You can shit on Dawkins all day long for being a gigantic dickface (which he can be, but so can I), or being Militant Atheism 101 meant for angsty young people who’ve just escaped the dogmatic clutches of their upbringing (along with Harris, Hitchens, Dennett, Tyson, Nye) and I won’t argue with it. Thing is, motherfucker still saves lives, and he coined that meme thing you Millennials love so much. He’s also married to Lalla Ward, who is a sonofabitchin Time Lord. Let’s not throw out the brilliance with the bastard-water.

It’s taken me a while to get to this zen state of not caring whether you order a book about keeping your Christian children straight or not. Maybe you’re neither Christian nor straight and you’re reading it as research, so you know what you’re up against. I’ve seen it happen. I also try to remember the words of Jedi Retail Master Christopher Clark, who would shrug and say, “I don’t care as long as it keeps us in business.” I don’t think he’d sell espresso and hand grenades to toddlers, but I’m also not sure.

Capitalist leanings aside (I’ll have you ALP³SCing eventually, Mr. Clark), it’s good advice. For a guy who probably runs his mouth a little too much about bookselling (especially when it comes to the promise of continued employment), I do enjoy being able to pay my mortgage. As much as I complain about the industry, it comes from a place of love. I adore my coworkers and I want us all to succeed. Unfortunately, it often seems there are too many broken processes and not enough people willing or able to address them.

However, when you tell me you need a physical copy of Fifty Shades of Grey because you want to hold it in your hand and you don’t want to get your e-reader dirty, but then you turn around and ask if we have any used copies?

Yeah. I’m judging the fuck out of you.

Company Man

I’ve had a huge influx of readers over the past couple of days. If you’re new and you haven’t had a chance to browse the 2016 archives (with arbitrary-ass categories), here’s your chance. I don’t have ads and this site costs me a couple hundo a year. All I want from you is your occasional attention, and hopefully I can supply a feel or two in return. If you really want to do something for me, relay to your friends and family the legend of Web Scoundrel Bob Talbot, the King of Shit, who posts from his hermitage atop Fuck Mountain.


I first used the term book ninja to refer to my profession over a decade ago. I can’t claim the rights to its invention, since a quick Google search provides plenty of results that predate my employment as such, but I don’t recall having heard it anywhere else at the time. Chalk it up to multiple discovery, baby. It’s either that or ancient aliens. Pyramids on different continents and the proliferation of a simple two-word phrase couldn’t have happened any other way, right?

In my youth, I claimed to have come up with the slogan “Han shot first.” There’s absolutely no way that’s true, but at the time I was even more solipsistic and full of hubris, if you can imagine, and I had the gall to email a well-known comic artist and accuse him of idea theft. When he replied, politely confused, and asked me exactly what I wanted, I settled for a free t-shirt.

I didn’t get the t-shirt.

Rarely does a workday pass when I’m not complimented for knowing an item’s exact location without consulting the computer system. While it never fails to make me smile and puff up like a horny bird, deep down I know it’s no miraculous feat. I’m reminded of the scene from Groundhog Day where Bill Murray’s character is trying to explain to his stunned and slightly offended coworker, played by Andie MacDowell, that he is “a god, not the God.”

He goes on to say, “Well maybe the real God uses tricks, you know? Maybe he’s not omnipotent. He’s just been around so long he knows everything.”

Well, I don’t claim to know everything. In fact, I know very little in the grand scheme of things, and the things I do know, I’ve had to learn by repeatedly driving my garbage truck of a life off the top of the Empire State Building.

For example, you’d think a manager wouldn’t have to be taught that other humans need to pee, but a dozen years ago I was the guy who said, “Uh, yeah, let me see who I can get to cover your register,” when a cashier flipped her flashing light on and informed me that she needed to go. Luckily for her, me, and everyone I’ve supervised since, the heroic customer in front of her turned on me and said, “Hey, she said she has to go. When you’ve gotta go, you’ve gotta go.”

“Uh, okay,” I said, my face on fire. “Let me cover your register.”

I wish I had the customer’s contact information so I could send her a fruit basket with a card that says, “Twelve years ago, you taught me part of what it means to be a human being. Thank you.”

I used to be that guy, though. I was a Company Man. I was concerned with profits and payroll and product and price. People, not so much. Not enough. Not as much as I thought I did, anyhow. It’s easy to reference my writings from that era and see how I thought I was some kind of selfless hero of the people. Upon reflection, I am not so certain.

As a father of three, it’s easy to witness the selfishness of early human life close up. Kids have to be taught empathy. They’re hungry potato sacks who turn into little monkey monsters, and I haven’t even witnessed teen behavior under this roof yet, aside from my own.

I won’t pretend to be a scientist, so I’ll leave it up to you to Google research on frontal lobe development and the sociopathic tendencies of young people. Suffice it to say that teenagers scare the living shit out of me, but append this to everyone up to their mid-twenties. After that, it’s a crapshoot as to whether people aren’t actively thinking of ways to destroy you just because it tickles their collective pickles.

Maybe the dickhead is me. It’s possible that I don’t give other humans nearly enough credit, but when I interact with over a hundred people a day, possibly a thousand on a busy weekend, there are far too many wrenches in the wonky works for me to ignore.

There’s always the chance I’m going to live up to my nickname, “Howlin’ Mad,” which was bestowed on me by my pal and twenty-year retail veteran Christopher Clark. Somebody cleaned my mess up the day I stalked down the power aisle and knocked books off every endcap on my way to the back. “I’m sick,” I said as I left the breakroom. I wasn’t sick of anything but working there. “I need to go to the doctor.”

It was probably him. I never had the balls to ask.

I’m haunted by the time an employee asked me if his girlfriend, also a coworker, could leave early with him so they could attend a New Year’s Eve party together. “No,” I said. “Why are you doing this? She’s a closer. Look at the schedule yourself.” There’s the old dickhead we know and love. Bob Talbot, the Classiest Guy.

He left upset and I never saw him again. He went to the party, alone, and was accidentally injured during some horseplay. Andrew (I will force myself to write his name) died in the hospital some days later.

My coworkers urged me to visit him in the hospital, but I did not. The responsibility weighed on me and the content of our final conversation had me paralyzed in horror. I didn’t attend his visitation. I was almost late to his funeral, but I got seated just before the ceremony began. My boss thanked me for coming. “I didn’t think you were going to make it,” she said. They knew.

Everyone knew. I sat at the end of a pew and watched the priest deliver kind words about Andrew walking with Jesus in Heaven. My old cowboy hat was in my lap. I gritted my teeth and stared at the crucifix on the wall. Rage. Rage at myself. Rage at nothing. Rage. Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound.

It stabs at me even more now that we’ve seen payroll slip so much over the years. In retrospect, we were overstaffed that night. Since then I’ve operated the store on busy Saturdays with skeleton crews, overwhelmed, the wheels falling off, but on that night I wasn’t even the only manager in the building. It would have been fine, Company Man. I’d shout it back through time if I could. Fuck you, Company Man.

I wonder how the Lieutenant feels, who sent a man out of a foxhole and into his doom. Surely I hold less responsibility than that, because I didn’t know what his future held. I couldn’t have known. We weren’t at war. We were book ninjas doing battle with boxes.

Still, I remember my Vonnegut, and the words of his Bokonon, who suggested that if someone asks you to do something, and there’s no reason why you shouldn’t, perhaps you should. If someone asks you to accompany them to the store and you aren’t currently engaged, perhaps you were meant to go. If someone asks you to tweak the schedule and it’s of no consequence, why not?

Oh, but the consequence.

Once upon a time, in a different life, one of my door greeters asked me, with great derision, if I were a Company Man. He was gray and full of wrath. A customer had insulted him and I remember how he growled and shook in the breakroom. He muttered something about his pocket knife. “What did you say?” I asked, shocked.

“Nothing,” he said. “Nothing. Are you a Company Man?”

“Yes,” I said, beaming. “Yes I am.”

Company Man should have gotten a pocket knife in the gut. Perhaps we’d all be better off. As it stands, Company Man was beaten down by life, death, and consequences. Circumstances. I’m still a manbaby, but I possess a tattered list of lessons learned the hard way. Maybe that’s all we are, big children who’ve seen and practiced enough folly to place us a bit higher on the cliff face of life. We climb as long as we can, our views improving incrementally, until we miss a step. Hopefully we survive the fall with the knowledge of which footholds to avoid on our way back up. Up, to where we do not know. Just up.

But am I a Company Man? Call me a book ninja, a fuckhead, a man, but never that. Never again. I’ll make stunning new mistakes and leave the old behind, but the man who held Sam Walton’s biography to his chest and levitated by his own bootstraps is dead and buried. That malignant growth has been irradiated, cut off, incinerated.

I’d step outside and scream into the mist if it would do anything other than disturb Dave next door. Fuck you, Company Man. The blade is coming. Fuck you. Fuck you. You’ve read Vonnegut but you didn’t pay attention.

I’d say I’m paying attention now, but the future will certainly make me a liar. Ain’t we a pair, Company Man?

The Things They Didn’t Carry

I’m sorry. We don’t carry Cards Against Humanity. I don’t know why. It used to be sold online only, but apparently now they have it at Target.

Oh, they’re sold out too? Dang.

I don’t have any registers back here. They’re up front and to your right, by the windows.

We don’t have Speak Out, Pie Face or Pie Face Showdown anymore. I guess we’re having a shortage? Someone or something interdicted the supply lines? Seems pretty available everywhere else. No, I can’t order them. I’d try online.

Are you needing to check out? That’s up front. Yes, you can go to the music department, but it may be a longer wait. Oh. You’re going into the mall? Okay.

Yes, Beanboozled? Wait, I mean I’m familiar with the concept. No, we don’t actually have it for sale. I hear they have Beanboozled down at Candy Craze. Oh, sorry. I don’t think your kid heard me. Okay.

It’s okay.

No I don’t have tabletop RPG dice. Yes, I carry the books. You’re correct, it doesn’t make sense. Yes, Hastings had them. I know. I miss them too.

Oh, the restrooms are over there and to your left. The registers are at the front.

I don’t have software of any kind, just books about software. You might want to check next door at Best Buy.

No, that was Books-A-Million.

Up front and to the right. Oh you need to check out too? Up front and to the right.

We’re out of Hatchimals. No one in town has a Hatchimal. Ebay.

Back, and to the left. Back, and to the left. That sounds like JFK. Remember that scene in JFK, with Costner? Oh. Well. They play the Zapruder film over and over and he says that.

There’s no way you’ve checked out here before, ma’am. Did you have an online order? This isn’t a register. I’ve worked here since the store opened. Maybe you’re confusing us with another store.

Happy New Year to you, too.

No, but they probably have it down at GameStop. Yeah, we used to. A few stores do, but most don’t.

No, I don’t have iPhone cases. I know they’re on the website.

Yes, I know it’s cheaper on the website. No, we don’t price match our own website. You’re paying for this quality customer service. Yes, I’m one of the managers.

It’s up front and to the right. See, right there. I can page someone but she’s standing right there.

I don’t carry Amazon gift cards. No, I don’t have Kindle Fire cases. I’d try Amazon.

Looks like that’s out of print. They have it for $0.01 on Amazon.

The restrooms are back past those shelves, to your left. All the way.

A lot of these authors don’t have a distributor. They’re self-published. They want you to go to their website. Oh, it’s your aunt? Well, she needs to submit it so we can put it into our system.

Sorry, it’s only available in hardcover. I know it’s expensive, it’s a business book. They’re in the business of selling them for the highest possible price.

Multilevel marketing? Okay. 

Up front and to the right.

I’m sorry, while we do serve Starbucks coffee, we’re not an actual Starbucks. The closest one is down by Target.

We’re sold out. I can call you when one comes in.

Looks like I can ship it to you. Three to four business days. About a week. Oh, you have Amazon Prime?

Okay.

Right over there and to the left. Up front and to your right. Right back there and to your left. Up front by the windows. Right over there in the corner.

I’m kinda stuck at this register but I can page someone for you.

Yeah, they advertise story time online but they didn’t schedule anyone for it. I can go grab something if you want. Oh. Okay.

We don’t have any registers back here.

The mall doesn’t open until 12:30 pm on Sunday. I don’t know how they got in.

Back, and to the left.

We’re located in the mall. Yes, there’s an entrance from the parking lot, at the front. Under the big sign. Well, that’s what we call the “front.”

No, we’re not closing. Great. We’re doing just great.

Up front and to the right.

There’s no one to call. I’ll be right with you as soon as I grab this book.

Up front and to the right.

Oh wow, they shipped you the wrong one. I’m so sorry. I can get another. I know. I’ll process a refund. Yes, I know. It is awful.

He’s there, let me page him.

Up front and to the right.

Is there somewhere I can direct you while I wait for his order to print out?

Ma’am? Ma’am?

They’re busy right now, is there a question I can answer for you?

It’s up front and to your right.

By the windows. Yes. He’s all the way at the end.

I’ll page.

Sorry, we don’t have any registers back here. There’s a gentleman up front and to the right. He’ll get you right up there.

Up front and to your right.

I’m sorry, we don’t have Speak Out.

Up front and to your right.

I can see that you’re upset, so even though the promotion has ended, I’ll go ahead and coupon that down for you.

Up front and to the right.

Yes, we’re open.

Up front and to the right.

Up front and to the right.

Up front and to the right.

Bottom Management

I don’t often write about work, lest Mom show up on Facebook and post, “Delete! Delete!” like Cybermen assimilated the mother from Carrie. I know it’s out of love and concern. Especially these days, when Donnie Dumpo threatens to erase what little options one has for health insurance procurement, I cannot afford to call certain people buffoons to their faces on the open Internets anymore. Wink wink winkwinkwinkwinkwink.

Still, there’s something about being retail bottom management (this sounds like ass care, which is semi-intended) that gives you a unique perspective on life. You punch a clock like everyone else, and you’re given the responsibilities (which have done nothing but expand over the years) of someone who banks 2-3 times what you do, but you possess none of the authority. The title is usually a bone thrown, along with a meager raise, to keep you from leading an open revolt.

Humans love heuristics, and I am no exception. While I write “retail manager” as my professional title, the term still encompasses a huge range of positions. I’ve worked at exactly two retail establishments over the past thirteen years, so if I’ve worked with you and this offends your delicate sensibilities, pretend I’m talking about the other one.

First you have bottom management (watch your ass?), or the miracle workers. These are managers in name only. There is absolutely nothing they do that would legally classify them as any type of supervisor. They have to punch a clock, they get overtime pay, and they usually have the weight of the entire store thrust upon them with little to no reward other than the gift of continued employment. The M-word, again, is intended to separate them from their fellow workers. It’s the same reason wardens allow prison gangs to flourish. If you’re too busy shanking each other, you can’t organize to overwhelm the guards.

Then you’ve got lower management and upper-lower management. Lower management are the lackeys who have failed their way upward until they’ve hit a ceiling past which their ineptitude would be catastrophic. Yeah, you have rising stars passing through the ranks, but most of these people have been in retail for decades and have survived thanks to their awe-inspiring ability to fuck up just enough to be constantly infuriating but never enough to get themselves into actual, real trouble. If that fails, they’ll gaslight until everyone else collapses from mental exhaustion.

Upper-lower management are generally large department heads or store managers of smaller establishments. These people usually have some business-positive quality that allowed them to reach that level, whether it be an Oprah-esque level of business book Jedi mindfuckery or rote memorization of the 48 Laws of Power, but be forewarned. Even the nice ones don’t want to give up their yearly allocated four weeks of vacation or that heated swimming pool. You’d do well to fly below their radar. Alas, I’m usually Top Gun-ing myself right into that shit.

You might see a middle-manager once in a supermoon if you’re lucky. These are the folks who FedEx overnight a flyer you could have printed off an email. If you’re lucky, you’ll only have to deal with repetitive messages sent from their iPhone about how we have to get this thing into gear. If you aren’t, there’s an angry person on line 2 that wants to know why you can’t do your job. If you work in the district/regional office, my condolences.

Upper or executive management are the unicorns of the retail world. As bottom management you are as likely to meet a World War I veteran. Legends have been told of their prowess at inventing nonsensical sales initiatives. These are usually reversed with great pomp and circumstance by the next regime, which will display these errors like heads on pikes until they come up with their own new avalanche of folly, which will get plowed into the sea by future regimes, and so forth. While they all escape with their lives and bank accounts intact, you and your coworkers may not be so lucky.

Thus begins 2017, on this note of positivity. Consider it the moaning of a man defeated on this, his thirteenth year in the hellscape of the American service industry. One of my lowest moments may have been the time a friend pointed out that even under glorious Communism, I would be considered something lower than a producer. A furniture maker knows how to craft a chair. I move things. I hand things to people. I point to other things. I am a traffic cop. All I know how to make are babies and rage.

If this is my mantle, my craft, ragemaking, then so be it. I am the artisan of angst. Level 99 expert whineworking. I will gobble injustice and squeeze screeds into this latrine.

Feed me, Seymour. Feed me all night long.

 

My favorite place in the breakroom.