As you may or may not know, I am currently funding my extravagant Bostonian lifestyle by working as a bookseller in the children’s room of the Harvard Coop Bookstore. The Harvard Coop is, to use a technical industry term, a big-ass bookstore. It is four floors of books. Four grand, Harvardian floors of books, complete with a sweeping spiral staircase, shelf-lined galleries, and a well-read, articulate staff.
….so we’re basically just a glorified Barnes and Noble. But still. Harvard.
Now if you have never worked in a bookstore, particularly the children’s room of a bookstore, you may think that the job involves primarily handing out books to tiny people and their accompanying adults. You may think booksellers do little more than talk about the books they love to their similarly polite and well-read customers and then read covertly behind the counter while sipping tea and waiting for the next customer to chat them up about Tolstoy or the derivative nature of Kafka’s Metamorphosis.
Oh contraire, my friends. Oh contraire.
Being a bookseller is hard. There is a lot of carrying books up and down those four sweeping staircases. There is a lot of fielding ridiculous questions and impossible requests1. There is a lot of talking to people who don’t know a darn thing about books (or in my case books for children), which is why they’re talking to me. There is a lot of putting things back where they belong because most patrons seem incapable of it. In the children’s room there is, on top of all that, clean up of snacks, reading at storytime2 and making really excellent crafts3 that the kids can then duplicate.
Today, the job also involved some light spelunking.
When I returned to the floor after lunch, I found the children’s room empty and the Boss behind the counter, grinning her most maniacal grin at me.
Boss: Why hello there4.
Boss: Did you have a good lunch?
Me: I am very suspicious of this conversation.
Boss: So something happened while you were gone.
Me: Did it?
Boss: And now we have to fix it.
Me: So long as it does not involve me carrying the 160 copies of Panic by Lauren Oliver back down the stairs after already carrying them upstairs this morning5 then I am okay with just about anything.
Boss: I’m glad you said that.
So here’s what happened: while I was at lunch, the Boss made a classic rookie mistake. She gave the bathroom key to a small child and her nanny and told them to bring it back instead of walking them to the bathroom and unlocking it for them herself as she has told the rest of us time and time again we are supposed to do. It was a rather lazy and pathetic move on her part6. A few minutes later, the nanny returned rather sheepish and informed the Boss that while they were in the bathroom, the laws of physics had stopped, resulting in the key becoming nonsensically and impossibly wedged inside of the fold-out diaper changing table.
“No trouble,” thought the boss. “I got this.”
But she did not “got this.” Not even close. We discovered rather quickly that the key had fallen at such an angle that our adult-sized hands could not reach it7. It took a good half hour, a pipe cleaner, two straws, a dowel, a beehive of packing tape, and some very creative maneuvering before she and I working as a single until managed to chopstick that son of a bitch out from the interior of the diaper changing table and into our waiting palm. We both touched a fair amount of unmentionable things in the process, dug out some crayons that had also fallen victim to this strange black hole, and dropped enough McGyver references to last a lifetime.
But at last, with a small plop, the tiny silver key, now a bit tarnished and smelly, fell into the Boss’s hand. We cheered in unison. There might also have been some high fiving and victory dancing.
And then the Boss, still riding the high of successfully conquering the bathroom changing table, threw all our now soiled tools in the trash can and reflexively threw the newly-rescued key in after them. I let her fish it out of there.
We then returned to the desk and disinfected ourselves.
Friends, today was One of those Days. The sort of day where you find yourself stretched like a gymnast across a unisex bathroom while trying to prop the door open with your foot and simultaneously root around shoulder-deep in a diaper changing station with straws clutched like chopsticks fishing helplessly to get a key out from between the hinges of a collapsible diaper changing station, all the while cursing loudly and with great relish. It was One of those Days.
Being a bookseller is not a very glamours life. We’re not all the bespectacled, cardigan wearing do gooders you see in films8. So do me a favor–go thank your bookseller today.
Or bring them chocolate. I have it on good authority that booksellers love chocolate.
- Example of a real question I had: “I’m looking for a book. I don’t know the title but the cover has writing on it.”
- And doing the librarian hold until your arm starts to cramp.
- An example of one of my best, but ultimately rejected, ideas:
- She may have actually swiveled around in her chair while stroking a white cat and wearing an eye patch. Details blur together.
- True story.
- I can say this, because I know she is reading and because at the end of our harrowing adventure she said, “You should put this on your blog! But I don’t want to be named.” Careful what you wish for, Boss.
- And we both ended up with gouged knuckles to prove it.
- Though it should be noted that at this moment I am both bespectacled and cardiganed