It’s been a strange week in Book Wobegon. After a week of hitting every sales goal, selling memberships like it was the newest style on the catwalk, and people rolling in off the street to demand they be hooked up with that Danged Digital Reader Device they’ve all got to sell, things have gone dead again, and the management’s pushing and worried and scared about numbers again, people nervous and twitchy about hours getting cut.
No one wants to be a member– no one wants to belong, everybody’s a loner, and no one wants to give over their email for coupons. “I don’t have a computer” is a current refrain. Possible for the oldsters, not so much for the ones peeling the Benjamins off of their rolls as they refuse to make eye contact. And the ones who cut Ike, the Bananagram Queen off mid-spiel in her membership pitch to declare “I don’t pay for that stuff” and then demand that the store honor competitor’s coupons? She smiles politely and says, “we don’t honor competitor coupons.”
They want to use the competitor’s coupons? They can drive next door, down into the mall parking garage, take the elevator up, and go into that store.
“But they don’t have the books!”
She smiles less politely. Looks them straight in the eye.
The ones who’re confused when she tells them they’re not in Borders? Them she just smiles at and wishes them a good day. They’ve got bigger problems than her not honoring their competitors’ coupons. How do you not know the difference? And what else are they missing, if they can’t tell the difference between one store and the next?
“Have you heard about our membership program?”
This time, they don’t interrupt. They don’t always buy it, but yes, there’s a point. Their membership’s free but no– they don’t have the books. Her store– it does. She makes sure of that.
For a wealthy suburb, her clients read lots of gossip mags. She’s seen too many come over her counter when she walks by the children’s section, sees “Frog and Toad Together” on the cover of something and thinks “It won’t last. Never does.”
The girl who tosses the still-shrink-wrapped audiobook of Eclipse over the counter (designer baby doll dress, reeks of some expensive perfume and cigarette smoke, accent drips of Long Island Princess) says “I’m returning this.”
Queen Ike reads the receipt for the $57.00 item and sees it was bought back in April, then turns it over to show her the return policy.
Fourteen days, any returns after that will not be permitted. (Except at the manager’s discretion, which the receipt does not say. Hi. I’m the manager/head cashier. Yes. And Queen Ike sends her fellow cashier off on her break. Shit’s about to get ugly and the girl is so young.)
She can do an exchange. And no, a store credit is not merchandise. The girl explains (shrills, really) that she has a Master’s in English and she doesn’t have time for this and reading the backs of receipts– well– it’s the same song and dance. She stomps upstairs after simpering that she’ll just “exchange” something and return it tomorrow. She comes back downstairs with a Malcolm Gladwell box set and she’d like to buy it, please, a bullshit smile on her face.
Queen Ike’s Assistant Manager comes up just in time for Ike to say “Oh, dear. I’m afraid my scanner doesn’t seem to quite work.”
The Assistant Manager looks at the scanner, turns it over, says “Hmm, looks like it doesn’t,” then turns the receipt over again. Then she looks at the Master’s in English– returning the audiobook about sparkly vampires. “She’s got a law degree. She can read the back of receipts. Have a nice night,” she says. And smiles.
Later on, a co-worker– young, gorgeous, brilliant and snarky in that quiet-zing! way, saw the Gladwell box set on the shelf for resort. “Gladwell…” she murmured. “He’s like the Jared Diamond of the psychology world. My anthro department had a discussion when he came to campus on whether or not he was worthwhile.”
Ike asked her about the result. She smiled mysteriously and headed upstairs.
“Why is this gate closed? My child could hurt himself, hitting his head on it like that!”
The gate’s closed because I love the watermelon sound of screaming, obstinate, misbehaving toddlers’ heads thunking against it while their mothers ignore them and try to carry on a phone conversation and ignore the cashier while they also berate them for not running a day care center in what is a bookstore.
“The area behind cashwrap is for customers only. Children often run behind here if the gate is not closed. May I have your credit card, please?”
“I want to return this Chicken Soup for the Teacher’s Soul. I don’t have the receipt. I bought it with cash. I can do an even exchange for another Chicken Soup book.”
“Do you have a membership card? Or an Educator’s Card?”
“Then I’m afraid I have no way of looking it up. I can do an exchange for the lowest price in the computer, since I have no way of knowing without the reciept if you bought it here or online or with a coupon or at some promo price. That price is 10.76.”
“But I always shop here. I never shop online.”
“I’m sorry, ma’am, without a receipt, I have no way to know that. I can’t just do a book swap, I need some record of purchase to do the kind of transaction you want. Without a receipt, I can only give you 10.76 worth of credit toward another book in the store.”
“But I always shop here.”
She might be telling the truth. But Ike works there forty hours a week, has for almost a year now. If that woman’s “always” is true, then she’s on a very different series of “always” than Ike’s, because Ike’s schedule rotates, 8–4, 3–11, M-F, weekends too, and this isn’t a woman she recognizes at all.
“Have you ever ordered a book with us, ma’am? Is there some way I could look you up in the system?” The woman huffs and says “We’re going in circles” and storms out of the store.
Yes, ma’am, we are. Just different ones than you think.