Category Archives: Rant

So You Want to Work in a Bookstore: Lesson 7 | Sweatpants Guy

Sweatpants Ancient AliensNo longer resigned to lounging on the couch on Sundays for every football game ever, no longer for painting or yardwork or staring at that weight bench in your basement you keep intending to use. What? No, you will, I know.  Next week.  You’ll start your workout routine next week.

No!  No sir, not anymore are sweatpants marginalized and cast aside in favor of pants with their fancy zippers and buttons and measured waists.  Who the hell do those pants think they are?  No more!

Sweatpants.  Sweatpants are your going out pants now, because somewhere along the line we have devolved into a society where this is entirely acceptable.  With sweatpants you get a a full range of motion, the possibility of keeping one pair your entire life no matter how fat you end up with their revolutionary stretchable elastic waistband; and, of course,  the liberating knowledge that your balls are just bouncing free as you walk, unhindered by stiff, restrictive fabric that other “pants” fall victim to.  The ladies will love that last bit.  A man in sweatpants is DTF, you better believe that.  And for the record, real men wear their sweatpants pulled up an inch above their ankles to properly show off the white socks they’re wearing with sandles.

I was kneeling down, putting some books away on the bottom shelf when a husky, sweatpants clad customer who had a five-o’clock shadow on only half his face, stopped at the end of the aisle.

When I looked up he gave me a big, wide-eyed smile and snapped the waistband of his sweatpants.

“Yes sir!” he yelled and nodded at me, his eyebrows threatening to jump off his face, and continued on his way.

“Ok,” I said to the now empty space he had occupied (well, what else do you say?) and went back to what I’d been doing.

Until he came back.  He always come back, that’s an important point to remember.  You spoke while facing his general direction and that means you spoke to him.  That means, as far as Sweatpants Guy is concerned, you are the only person in the store.  You made the mistake of acknowledging his existence, something that apparently no one else has done in quite some time.

See, you’re the guy in the horror movie that opened the creepy nailed-shut door behind a shelf in his basement his first night in the new house that he bought for a surprisingly low price that the rest of the town avoids going near.  How many red flags do you need?  The house was wearing sweatpants, why did you even look at it?  Now you’re the guy that lets out the evil spirit that’s been trapped in there since the house was built over an old Indian burial ground.  Now, you gotta pay the piper, because that evil sweatpants-wearing spirit will now feast on what is left of your retail soul.

Anything else Sweatpants Guy needs to ask, that he needs to say, any other thought regarding his favorite snack foods or his opinion of the color green, anything at all that pops into his lumpy noggin that he inexplicably needs to speak aloud, he will find you, and he will tell you.  And only you.  Because you’re friends now.

Sweatpants Guy popped back around the corner of the aisle about 27-seconds later—-he didn’t come back into the aisle, make no mistake about that—-he only leaned around the corner.  And waited.  I saw him out of the corner of my eye and took a deep breath.  I’d been through this before.  There’s no point in trying to avoid it or pretend he isn’t there.  Sweatpants Guy has nowhere else to be.  He can do this all night.  He stared at me silently until I looked up.

“Do you still have—-you have paper applications, or I do it online now?”


“Excellent!” he yelled, and pumped his fist int he air, and with a sweatpanty swish and a cloud of the cheap potpourri he rubbed on himself before leaving the house to mask that man-stink of indeterminate origins, he disappeared again, leaving me with the realization that he would probably get hired and I would be the one to argue with him that sweatpants were not acceptable work attire.

Elf Guilt: a Christmas Tradition

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.

Elf on the Shelf Watching You

      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.

*     *     *

Elf on the Shelf with Jerseys copy      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.

Coaxing Salinger to Come Out and Play

Store ClosingsThings have gotten a little weird at the ol’ bookstore.  Now, I’ve joked with friends about the bookstore being the new bus station, but lately that really hasn’t been far off.

From the loungers, the loiterers, the grazers and the panhandlers, to those who come in simply to have someone to talk to; it seems every time another store closes that would service a particular variety of “shopper” we get a new influx of customer.

Media Play was the start of it in 2006 and then, to a certain extent, with movies and music when Circuit City bit the dust in 2009.  It wasn’t until Borders went under in 2011 that the true decline of—well, let’s borrow a phrase from Syms (which also closed in 2011) and refer to our client base as—the educated consumers became clear.

For a while the most puzzling thing was that once a week a customer would come into the store between open and let’s say eleven o’clock.  He would go into the men’s room and read a paper in the handicapped stall.  And eat half a banana.  I know this for a fact because there would be the remnants of not only a Buffalo News in the corner, but also half a banana.  Who does this?  Who decides that the best place to have their morning paper and half a banana (HALF!) is the handicapped stall at your local bookstore?

So that was thing that happened.  And for a few years I thought that was the worst of it.  Then the shit started.  It was on the walls, on the floor, on every surface of the toilet except within the toilet itself.  It was even on the carpet, leaving a trail across the entire store like a sick imitation of a Family Circus comic, before erupting within the bathroom on the aforementioned walls, stalls and floor.  It was even on the uppermost portion of the stall-wall.  That could only have gotten there by someone picking it up and smearing it.  I know that.  You know that.  Whatever excuses you may try to make for the previous poop-splosions throughout the store, feces on the stall wall was not accidental.

Sadly, now we have reached a new level.  Every once in a while there would be a nudie magazine in the men’s room.  This is pretty standard stuff, to be honest.  It is.  It is to the point that the people who run our magazine division recommended that for adult magazines that arrive in plastic wrap one copy be opened and left  on the shelf, as this was going to happen anyway.  More so, when we returned magazines to our distributor, back before magazines were simply recycled, we had a log to keep track of copies found in the men’s room.  So you see, there was a separate accounting of magazines we were no longer able to sell due to prior (and no doubt) vigorous “test drives.”

This brings us to the latest escalation.  The other day I opened the store and was greeted by a magazine in a plastic bag that had been found in the men’s room and needed to be disposed of.  Again, pretty standard stuff.  The next day when I opened I was greeted by a sex book that had been found in the men’s room as well.  Pretty normal restroom reading material.  What wasn’t so normal was the accompanying retelling of how it was found.

365 Sex Positions

and really, this is what you’re jerking off to?

Apparently, not only was this book stuffed into the fold-up baby changing station in the men’s room, but along with it, as the cleaning woman described it was, “That dude’s excitement all over wall.  I saw that [book], and went ‘ew!’ and then saw his stuff on the wall, and was like, “EW! Oh no!  Oh! No!’

This woman has been working for us for a while now, so she’s seen some shit.  Literally and figuratively when it comes to clean up.  We’re not the only store she works for, but I’m going to say we’re one of the most traumatic janitorial experiences she’s had.  This was a little much for her.

When her pregnant daughter-in-law, who works for her from time to time, complained about having to pee before they started cleaning the bathrooms, she responded with, “Well, stop being pregnant then if you’re gonna complain so much.  It’s your own dang fault.”

She takes it all in stride, she tells it like it is, and somehow remains a pretty cheerful person.  That’s saying something considering how disgusting this store is able to become on a day by day basis.

What people do to those restrooms between the hours of 9AM and 11PM is unimaginable, and a lot of it falls on the staff to clean up; I’m talking minimum wage bookstore employees mopping shit off walls kind of clean up.  And she has to deal with worse than that.  She is no-nonsense and delightfully hilarious about it.

But finding a sex book in the baby changing station with some dude’s “excitement” sprayed all over the wall?  No, that takes it to a whole new level.

What kind of person are you that you’re doing that?  I can’t even take a shit in that bathroom without six people coming in and out, usually one of them is whistling, another is talking to himself, one’s on their phone, some little kid is talking to his dad about going oopsies-poopsies, and another really needs to get his prostate checked because he’s grunting and wheezing just to squeeze a few drops out.  That makes it difficult for me to take a shit.  It does.  I like my privacy.

But you?  Apparently you can rub one out even with all that going on.  And without any of those people parading in and out of the restroom being any the wiser.  You didn’t just argue with Henry Longfellow, no you blasted your manhood all over the wall.  Part of me is surprised you then just left it dripping there, but that was just my initial reaction as a human being with some level of self-respect.

Really, if you’re the kind of scumbag to cook up a big oily batch of Victory Gin in a bookstore bathroom then yeah, you’re going to leave it right there for everyone to see, aren’t you?

Cemetery Gates Media

Cemetery Gates Media is a publisher of horror, paranormal, and fantasy fiction based in Binghamton, N.Y.

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