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.

the Only Anniversary I Actually Know

It may not be one of my finest moments, but it was one of my proudest.  By this time, so many years later, which, to be honest, feels even longer than it is, it really doesn’t matter.  The woman in question is probably dead and unless she cried out about the experience on her deathbed, which I find unlikely, never gave what happened a passing thought after that day.  On the afternoon of the Fourth of July there are many more things to be concerned with, and as I assume she was a wife, a mother, a grandmother, I’m sure she had other things of greater importance than rude young men with fantastic spiky rockstaresque hair.

Fun Fact: Buttloads are an actual unit of measurement.

Fun Fact: Buttloads are an actual unit of measurement.

In my defence, I was having a rough year.  I’m not sure I am removed enough from it, even now, to maturely write about the circumstances of that year.  Suffice it to say, I would not be where I am now if things had turned out differently.  In much the same way that an earthquake in 1812 caused the Mississippi River to flow backwards, the events of the better part of 2006 could have disrupted the course of my life.  I survived that year reasonably in tact due, in no small part, to good friends and a buttload of Jameson.

I was having a rough year.  Tack onto that the fact that my friends mostly worked a nine-to-five schedule with weekends off and a plethora of floating (paid) holidays, a luxury that I, working in retail, still cannot grasp the concept of.

It was the Fourth of July, and unlike my friends, who had gotten out of work at five the previous day with the promise of a day off, I mostly likely had to work… and then be back bright and early on the fourth.  Now, I don’t remember, but given that July 4th, 2006 was a Tuesday, I’m willing to bet a couple of those douchebags took Monday off as well.  This would have pissed me off.

So I went to work, weighed down with the knowledge that all my friends are having fun without me.  At least it was in the days before we were beholden to Facebook status updates for proof of our unique existences (which is actually what spawned my sudden desire to tell this story—thank Vic for asking for the backstory) and I wasn’t reminded via staged yet spontaneous in-the-moment photos what I was missing.

I probably went to work hungover as shit.  No, I’m trying to be honest here, I probably went to work drunk from the night (morning) before.  I told you, it was a rough year.  So by the time I got out of work I needed to procure three things: beer (to go with my whiskey), pizza, and solitude.  The first two were easily accomplished with a brief stop at Tops on my way home, and third, as cranky hermit luck would have it, had taken care of itself.  My friends were all going down to South Buffalo where in true drunk Irish fashion, residents promised to blow a ton of shit up in the middle of the street.

I don’t know if I was ever excited about fireworks as a child, probably only so much as a typical little kid is, I suppose.  I remember sparklers and those popper things you threw at each other’s feet.  I don’t remember much about fireworks as a child other then fragments of sitting on the grass at Riverside Park, and to be honest, I could just be thinking of the time I went there with my high school girlfriend.  As an adult, or the nearest approximation of one I’ve managed so far, I don’t recall an affinity for fireworks shows.

As my friend and her family no longer live in South Buffalo and the chance to witness this epic fireworks display my friends still talk about today, I do regret hiding away from them.  I wish I had taken hold of the events of my life rather then brood and allow the events to build swaying drunken walls around me I’m still trying to tear down.  Sadly, I’ve only recently realized I’m capable of doing so.  Instead, I’ll have to enjoy the stories I hear from that other life that occurred that night, and hope I have enough sense to learn from my mistakes.

And so I went home to drink heavily and play the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, which to this day I still have not beaten.  But first, a stop at Tops for frozen pizza and a case of High Life, neither of which would survive the night.

I tell this story as though I were the victim and the old lady the aggressor, but really, Us Weekly and poor timing is to blame.  Goddamn their flashy covers and utter lack of substance or passable writing!  The real victim here is that old lady, taken in by the promise of secrets about Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes… or maybe it was Johnny Depp… you know what?  It doesn’t matter who was on the cover.  The feature articles could have been written by throwing a handful of magnetic poetry letters at your fridge.  I imagine the employees of these magazines to be the girls from middle school who always had a Mad-Libs book with them on bus rides.  Insert celebrity name, insert adverb, insert noun.  That’s your article on how “Halle Berry shamelessly exposed a hippopotamus tea party last Orange” gets on the cover of In Touch.  Orange was supposed to be a day of the week.  The author of that article has a little trouble with those still.

But there she was, little cart and all, that fucking old lady reading her Us Weekly while standing at the edge of the 10 Items or less line.

Have I mentioned it was mid afternoon on the Fourth of July?  With day drunk poor party planners scrambling around and clogging up lines with carts of food they just realized they needed?  Have I mentioned I had only a case of beer and a frozen (that was thawing as all this occurred)?  Can you imagine the sigh of relief that collectively escape the Jews who glimpsed the Promised Land after wandering the desert for forty years?  The noise I made when I saw the ’10 Items or Less’ line with only two people in it was better.

Except for Old Lady Us Weekly who had parked her empty cart across the entrance to this cash-line so she could take a moment out of her, clearly, oh so busy freakin’ day to catch up on the latest made up news of Tom Cruise or Captain Jack or Aaron Spelling’s ugly son.

I waited.  I waited as along as one should in this situation.  I clearly wanted to get into this line.  I needed to get into this line.  I had just spent eight hours dealing with people when I was in no condition, physically or psychologically to be anywhere near people, and then what did I do?  I went to a supermarket.  On a holiday.  I waited as long as one could in this situation.

“Excuse me.”

She looked up.  She glanced up from her magazine.

“Excuse me,” I said again, nodding so sweetly, so innocently at the line behind her.

She rolled her eyes and with what may have been one of those upper lip curls of disgust, pushed her cart out of the way.

I moved forward victoriously, a smile in her direction, and perhaps inward a bit too for my winning the right of way I did in fact deserve.

And then , with all the snotty snootiness of a spoiled high school girl Old Lady US Weekly says, “And you’re welcome.”

Under normal circumstances, I may actually have said ‘thank you’ before being prompted.  But that would have been a sign of weakness, a sign that I was in the wrong for simply asking her to move when she was absolutely and without a doubt in the way.  I apologize when something is not my fault, and I say thank you when I have given something up.  It’s a major character flaw that’s been lost to the idea of politeness that few believe in anymore.  No one understands what it actually means to be polite and so we overcompensate with apologizes when we, in fact, deserve them and thank you’s when we should be compensated by others with a simply thanks for our patience, or kindness, selflessness , a smile or offer of help.


She had to say that.

So I slammed my case of High Life on the conveyor, turned back to her and said clearly and with great feeling, “Yeah, well fuck off,” and turned around.

How did she react to this?  I have no idea.  I reacted by paying for my pizza and beer and leaving, and then going home to drink half a bottle of Jameson and wallow in the fact that the video game character Link, with his pointy ears and magical sword, was more of man then I’d been up until that point.

That lady?  I don’t know what happened to her.  How she may have told that story later, with her as the victim, just as I’m telling you mine in the same way.  She may have been the sweetest old lady and my reaction made her finally snap, after years of taking shit from other people.  Maybe that was the last straw and she ended up driving her car into a restaurant in Amherst in revenge for my vicious attack on her decency, since old people were doing that pretty frequently for a while.  Not necessary for that reason, I don’t know why they were driving into buildings so much.  I swear, she was the only old lady I yelled at, that shit was not my fault.

No, she probably forgot about it.  She probably didn’t even hear it.  Or didn’t care.  Whatever.  Life can suck sometimes.  You let all the garbage pile up like I did, you try to keep it all to yourself because you’re scared or embarrassed or whatever else you claim to justify being afraid to ask for help, eventually it’ll find a way out.  And it’ll find a way out in any number of ways, some productive, some aggressive, some destructive to yourself or others.  And sometimes, you just need to tell someone to fuck off, even if it’s not the person that deserves it.

Like I said, it wasn’t my finest moment…


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