If I speak my mind at work, I will be promptly fired.
It’s not the job itself; I’m comfortable there, and I’m good at it. Besides: I know enough about our modern, secretless world to know that my future employers may well stumble upon this or any other defamatory remarks I make about my past places of employment.
Rather, it’s the clientele who tempt me toward madness and fury on a daily basis. I wanted to believe that working at a bookstore would attract a certain – I don’t know… respectable – element of the population: those with inquisitive minds and mild temperaments. I should have known that the flotsam of society would wander through our doors as frequently any other establishment, if only to demand directions to, and then desecrate, our very clearly labeled bathroom.
My job description might contain phrases like “digital sales” and “technical support.” eReaders, in other words. Electronic books. And so I’m at the forefront of our glorious and terrible “digital revolution” that will some day replace the comfort of paper with the fickle arrangement of electrons and silicon. I myself have learned to accept and even love the coming revolution, but for every person I meet who understands what we’re trying to accomplish, there are three more who glare at me suspiciously on their way into our store, as though I’ll Jedi-mind-trick them into buying an eReader if they lower their guard. To be frank, the glarers are actually the preferable crop of skeptics. There are those who, in a tone of voice suggesting I’d deflowered their only daughter and never called again, accost me and insist that “I like a book in my hands… I’ll never buy one of those.” That’s great, but I didn’t ask, I’d like to say.
Though even this pales in comparison to a younger couple I came across while running the register one day. When the time came to pay for their paperbacks, they presented me with crumpled bills and loudly announced, “We only use cash. We don’t have credit cards and we don’t believe in computers. We’re off-the-grid and proud of it!” They said this loud enough so that they could be sure everyone else in line could hear them.
Oh, what a breath of fresh air you are.
Off-the-grid? Who the hell do they think they are? If I hadn’t been on the clock, I’d have beat him until he agreed to purchase a digital watch. There are luddites and then there are those contemptible proud luddites. They don’t believe in computers? Like the vanishing act where a parent holds their hands over their face for the wonderment of their infant child? Self-deception is only remotely adorable when we’re too young to know better. Unless these folks could convince me that hemp necklaces, bottle caps, or seashells are acceptable currencies, the very transaction to obtain the books they’re buying will have to be filtered through a computer. Computers manufactured their crumpled ones and fives; computers designed and built the Prius they used to drive here. These people would like us to believe, as they do, that Satan dreamed up computers out of boredom on the same afternoon he came up with Walmart, popular music, and bikes with more than one gear.
I managed to smile politely at this young couple and hand them their change, swallowing my fury the same way I swallow seething rebuttals any time a person who looks like they’ve never read a book in their lives tells me they don’t like eReaders and “prefer the feeling of a book in their hands.” They typically say this while carrying the latest celebrity gossip magazine.
My most excruciating case of retaliation blue-balls came just the other day, when an overweight, middle-aged gentleman swept through our doors with his wife in tow, and began a conversation in a tone that immediately had me believing I must have accidentally hit on his wife, run over his dog, and sold heroin to his son. He told me, while I thanked the stars that my rabies shots were up-to-date, that he’d bought one of our devices a week or two earlier and that when he’d attempted to connect to the wi-fi in his house, the thing had gone “freaking bonkers.”
I sighed, readying myself for a lengthy and probably heated exchange where I’d try to determine just what he meant by “bonkers.” Let’s be clear about something first: when other employees have questions about our eReaders, there are two people they come to. I’m one of them. I’m the first and last line of defense – a righteous defender of capitalism and the march of technological advancement. I asked him a series of questions that seemed only to inflame his sense of entitlement, while he puffed himself up like a toad and interrupted me regularly. “I drove 120 miles to get here. And you’re telling me you can’t fix this?”
And here marched by another situation where my response would have been significantly different if I hadn’t been wearing a name tag. Bullshit! I’d say. There are closer stores than this one, and if you did actually drive as far as you claim, this clearly isn’t your only stop. And you realize there’s a 1-800 number you could have called, right? What I said instead was: “The device is operating properly in the store. This means that we’ve traced the problem to your home network.”
“No it doesn’t,” he bellowed. “You’re talking to a licensed Microsoft…” and here he trailed off, and so I’ll never know for sure if he was a licensed programmer or a licensed asshat. I suspected the latter, which I’d like to have told him, saying something like So ‘freaking bonkers’ is an engineering term, then? Instead, I smiled politely while his wife cowered behind him, and said “I suggest you go home and try my suggestions, and if it doesn’t work, give us a call back or try the customer support number.”
He gathered up his belongings and began to make his way to the door, closing with this little gem: “One way or another, we’ll make it work… even if I have to shove it up his ass.”
A moment of pride overcame me; the idea that one’s butthole has healing properties, you have to admit, is a weirdly appealing one. I shook it off pretty quickly, though, and did what any other sensible person would do when threatened with sodomy: suppressed the urge to launch myself at this bastard, knock him to the floor, and teach him some patience and manners.
And then I remembered that after a certain age, these things can no longer be taught, and that those who possess them can only smile politely and endure those who do not, and hope that their weekly paycheck remains a strong enough deterrent to physical violence.
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