Monthly Archives: November 2013
This is the Captain: the Prequel. Christmas 2012. My first experience with the legend himself. If I asked a few of the booksellers I’ve worked with over the years, I’d probably have more stories about this guy than anyone else. He likes looking at the nudies over in our Newsstand. He likes describing them loudly but in his defense, the Captain would do this whether or not anyone was around. That’s makes it sound like he’s not a bad guy, right? Maybe he’s just, you know, not rowing with both oars in the water?
Well, at this point, he’s been told enough times. He’s been told not to describe these pictures at the top of his lungs. He’s been told not to show said pictures to other customers. Whether or not he understands this behavior is wrong doesn’t matter. It’s been made clear that he should not do it. Or at least we thought it was.
I get called over to our coffee shop because there’s someone acting… well, a little weird. He’s been talking to himself for a while, rearranging items on the counter, he went up to someone in line and sniffed them, he’s ripping open sugar packets on the condiment bar and making little Sweet ‘n Low mountains. I watch him for a bit. He sees me watching him. He abandons his Splenda ski-run and makes a b-line for our display of chai tea cartons lined up in front of the espresso machine. I make my move.
Me: Is there anything I can help you with?
the Captain: Oh, what do you want? You’re here to throw me out?
Me: Yes sir, you need to leave…
the Captain: And who are you? You the boss? You’re the captain?
Me: No sir, I’m not a Captain, but I am the—
He touches the brim of his captain’s hat and winks at me, the son of a bitch.
the Captain: You know what you need? You should have some of those marshmallows, those little marshmallows. Do you have any of those back there?
Me: I’m afraid I don’t have any marshmallows..
I’ve been herding him towards the front doors during our exchange. Each time I step in front of his path he adjusts to avoid me, which is remarkable as he refuses to look at me. It’s not far now, perhaps thirty feet or so to the front doors.
the Captain: Let me ask you a question— I’m going! Before, let me ask you, do I have time to pick up a woman? On my way out?
Me: No, you do not have time to pick up a woman.
the Captain: Not even one of these?
He points at a female customer we’re passing and asks her if she’s a librarian. He walks away before she can answer as there are four other women nearby he must ask as well, and I apologize quickly before following after and attempting to steer him left to the doors.
Me: No! No one here is a librarian! I’m sorry about him, I’m so sorry. No, she is not a librarian either!
the Captain: And what about you? Christmas shopping! Huh?
Me: The extent of my Christmas shopping is none of your concern..
the Captain: Hey, let me ask you a question—
Me: Ok, I’m just going to call the cops now..
This guy looks a lot like one of my little league coaches, the one affectionately referred to as ‘Chief Swings-the-Bat.’ Think Gary Farmer if you ever saw Dead Man. No? The Score? C’mon, that was pretty good. Edward Norton, Robert De Niro; it was Marlon Brando’s last film. All right, what about Smoke Signals? Whatever. So here’s Chief Gary Farmer, long hair and all. He has on a dark zip-up windbreaker over a ratty t-shirt and sweatpants. I got the feeling these were his nice sweatpants.
Chief: I’m looking for rats.
Me: Rats or books on rats?
Me: Ok, good. Do you mean books on keeping a pet rat?
Chief: No, just rats. You know, rats. What they eat, where they live, their natural enemies besides cats.
Me: Right. Well, there’s nothing in the store at the moment. There is a lot we can order that comes up in our ‘Pets’ section. They should have that kind of information in them.
Chief: Ok, where are those?
Me: No, no, we don’t have any in the store. We’d have to order them.
Chief: Can you give you give a print out of everything so I can look them up online?
Me: Yeah, whatever. Here you go.
Chief: Yeah. Where are your movies about seahorses?
A Look Into the Dark Underbelly of a Holiday Phenomenon
Let me put you at ease regarding your purchase: I don’t think you’re a racist.
But I do think you’re wasting $29.95.
It’s a stupid purchase, this magical little creature. And creepy. Look at it. Really. I want you to look into his dead little eyes. Sitting there like he owns the place. He won’t even look you in the eye will he? Always off to the side, the shady little bastard, until you look away and then! Goddamnit, just out of the corner of your eye, just as you looked away, or were distracted. Maybe as you were dozing off, there it was: he moved. You swear his eyes moved. It must have been. It must have been because he’s watching you and he’s watching your children. He’s always watching. When you go to bed he goes through your underwear drawer and rifles through your wallet, he raids the liquor cabinet. He watches you sleep. You have invited him into your home. There is no escape. He is… the Elf on the Shelf.
It never gets old. I will say that about the Elf or at least what I think of as our Elf tradition. This treasured tradition is the pure discomfort on their faces when they have to ask this question. They really feel bad. They feel like they’re doing something wrong. You can tell the ones; they have an Elf on the Shelf box in their hands but they’re not looking at it. It’s held low in front of them and their eyes are watching the other customers around them. They feel genuinely guilty about the question they’re going to ask me. It’s adorable.
It’s known professionally as Elf Guilt*, but I’m here to tell you not to be ashamed. You have nothing to apologize for. I’m here to tell you it’s OK.
Say it with me, “It is OK.”
* * *
“Um, hi, excuse me. You… you work here, right?” the customer asks in a hushed tone, after she motions me a few feet away from the rest of the customers milling around the customer service counter. Sometimes there’s a little wave, quick enough so no one sees the gesture, but enough to get me to move away from the crowd.
“Yes,” I respond simply.
After all, I have a name tag on. I have books in my hand. Also, you just watched me help six other customers while answering the phone and trying not to trip over a cane some old man inexplicably left in the store. I shouldn’t have to answer this question. Why would I be doing this if I didn’t work here? But I answer.
“Do you…” she holds up an Elf on the Shelf box, her trembling hands keeping the flap closed tight, completely oblivious to the fact the top of the box is transparent, “do you have… a white one?”
I look at her a moment, the faintest of smirks tugs at my lips. I remain silent just long enough that she shuffles her feet and looks way. I can’t help it. I work retail during the holidays. That’s a special kind of hell and some days, this is all I have.
“Of course,” I say finally, breaking into my customer service smile, “right over here.”
By the way, there are elves everywhere. Te seconds of you opening your eyes between the front doors and the service desk could have avoided this situation entirely. There’s a mountain of Elf boxes in the front windows. There’s another mountain two steps inside the front door. I can see a third mountain from the service desk. That’s how many of these things we get in. We built a mountain. No, we built several mountains. One store made their pile of elf boxes into the shape of a twelve feet tall Christmas tree. Mount Elferest up front is one of at least six places those little bastards are on display. I can see two of those locations from where we’re standing.
Yeah, lady, we got elves. All right, you toe the ground and act embarrassed. I’ll take you over to them. And don’t worry, we have plenty of whiteys for you.
* * *
You do know there’s nothing wrong with wanting a white Elf, don’t you? I mean, you’re white and your kids are white. So, it’s OK. That’s why there are light-skinned and dark-skinned ones. Because it’s OK. It’s OK to want a light- or dark-skinned elf for the same reason that we have boy elves and girl elves.
Shit, you could buy a skirt and slap that on an old boy elf you have because you’re cheap or want to teach your kid a lesson about sexual identity. Buy a skirt and a football jersey, you filthy liberal. You’re already scarring your child by bringing the damn thing into your house, why not tear down those gender biases while you’re at it? On second thought, you probably don’t even need the skirt to raise a few questions….
It’s a brave new world people, and you shouldn’t feel trapped in your choice of terrifying behavior modification merchandise. I want you to feel free to buy whatever color elf you want, in any gender and with any stupid designer accessory brought to you exclusively by the Claus Couture Collection. Yeah, that exists. There are ugly sweaters, felt skirts, leather skirts, bomber jackets, football jerseys. Take your pick, you sick bastard.
So to all of you suburban housewives with your self-indulgent guilt fixations who need to buy a creepy, poorly made doll that looks like it stepped out of the 1970s in a futile attempt to control your spoiled child’s behavior, I just want to say, it’s OK to want a white Elf on the Shelf. Don’t be ashamed. You don’t need to act like a Cold War spy dead-dropping nuclear secrets just to ask where all the white dolls are at. No one who might overhear you asking cares that you want a white doll. No one cares that you’re an elf racist. I’m just kidding; you’re not an elf racist. Because that’s not a thing.
Unless you think the dark-skinned elf is going to steal your stuff after you go to bed. Then we have a problem on multiple levels.
*It’s not known professionally or otherwise as Elf Guilt. I just made that up. Feel free to use it.