If you’re not going to listen to what I tell you, then why did you ask me in the first place? This one’s for all those customers that will ask for a book and then question everything I do to find it for them. I work here. I have worked here for a long time. Please, stop judging me only by my incredibly handsome face, I also know what the hell I’m doing. So shut up, just shut up. If you were so great at finding books, why’d you even ask for my help?
Guy: Yeah, can you help me? My kid wants this book, it’s called Alice, by Stacy Cordially. And I need some, what are they, wimpy diaries?
Me: Ok, we might have a copy of Alice in our Biography section, and then I’ll take you back to our Kids’ department.
Guy: Why are you looking here?
Me: Because Alice is a biography.
Guy: Oh. Is it supposed to be here?
I always want to ask them why I would be looking for a book that was not supposed to be here. Why? Why would I see that we had zero in the store and go look for it anyway? How stupid do you people think we are, that we would look for something that does not exist?
Guy: Why are you looking under R, her name’s Alice.
Me: She was a Roosevelt, so it’s supposed to be under R.
Guy: But it’s not there, great.
Me: I don’t know, that’s why I’m looking at the shelf.
I’m muttering to myself while scanning the shelves. She was born a Roosevelt but married a Longworth, maybe its under L? Not there, double-check R, just in case. I know this because I looked at the cover of the book. This isn’t time consuming research I did, I read the cover. Problem is, the book came in back in March. March to December. We’re three days out from Christmas and this book hasn’t been seen since March. This book could be anywhere.
Me: All right, I’m going to check in the back for Alice, but I’ll take you back to the Children’s Department, and you can take a look at the Wimpy Kid books.
Guy: Yeah, where are those wimpy books, are you going to show me those? Where is that?
Me: Yes. They’re in the… I’m taking you there right now.
We get back there, I point out the newest book and the new blank diary that looks just like the main character’s diary. That’s pretty cool. I assumed he would just need the newest book in the series since Wimpy Kid is like crack to these kids. They swift fury and determination with which they pre-order these books is unparalleled outside of sci-fi/fantasy fandoms.
Guy: We have up until the last three or something, where’s the rest of them?
Me: The rest of them are on the shelf here, they’re numbered on the side, here’s 5 and 7. Let me check for number six.
Guy: Aren’t these numbered, who are you supposed to know the order they go in?
Me: Yeah. There are numbers on the side. That’s… that’s the order they go in. Ok, here’s number six, there’s also a boxed set with five through—
Guy: But you don’t have book three?
Me: Why… you said you had that one. You needed the last three.
Guy: Which ones are those?
Me: Five, six and seven.
Despite having them in my hand and holding them out to him while I say this, the guy turns around and starts scanning the shelf, then pulls off books 5 and 7. I try to point this out to him, but he doesn’t hear me. He’s searching for book 6, which I had to get from another display because it wasn’t on the shelf. Which he should know, because he was standing there the entire time.
Guy: Well that’s too bad though, you don’t have book three.
Me: You don’t need… forget it. I’m going to go find Alice.
That was under C in Biography, mistakenly shelved by the author’s last name, which was Cordery. I’ll see you the day after Christmas when you want to exchange your Wimpy Kid books for the ones I tried to sell you in the first place. You won’t have the receipt either will you?
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.