Some years back I was in a “major” book store (nameless here because I don’t want to get sued for denigrating their hiring practices) in search of a particular book. As I entered the store, I saw the clerk who greeted me with a semi-polite “Hi” and forced half-smile. She was a young lady, dressed in a black outfit with those raggedly cut billowy sleeves down to the middle of her palms. Her jet black hair was streaked with bright green and she wore way too much black eye shadow. A barbed wire tattoo encircled her neck and a shiny bright red lip gloss completed the very Gothic look. This is perfect, I thought. I’ll be out of here in two minutes.
“Excuse me, but I’m looking for a copy of Anne Rice’s ‘Interview With a Vampire.’ Do you have it in stock?” I inquired.
My request was met with a rather lifeless stare and, after twirling the little skull amulet draped around her neck with a polished black fingernail about two yards long, she pointed toward a back corner of the store and said, “I don’t know. You’ll have to look for yourself. The Historical Biographies section is in the corner.”
What? What? Historical Biographies? Is this Gothic wench nuts or just plain stupid? She looks like a freakin’ vampire but doesn’t even know the book I’m looking for is a novel? A work of fiction and not some damn biography of a real person? Un freakin’ believable… I was stunned to the point of speechlessness. It didn’t matter. Following a response like that, it was painfully obvious that there simply was no useful information to be retrieved from the girl.
It took but a few minutes to find the Fiction section unaided and, armed with my extensive knowledge of the alphabet (as evidenced earlier by my ability to correctly spell “geezer”), I quickly navigated to the R’s and found the damned book.
Now I found myself confronted by a new question. Would I be able to take this book to Vampira Britannica at the checkout counter, pay for it and leave quietly without causing a disturbance? I opted, wisely in retrospect, to browse the racks for a couple of minutes. While doing so, I made a truly herculean effort to rationalize the girl’s obvious lack of, shall we say, awareness? “She’s just a kid. She probably works here part-time. Making only minimum wage, I would guess.” I really tried to give her the benefit of the doubt. “Could be, in spite of her appearance, that vampire stories are just not her cup o’ hemoglobin. You know better than to judge a book by its cover. You can’t expect her to know about every book in the store.” I really did try. Feeling mildly placated, I made my way toward the checkout counter. As I waited behind a woman buying a book about cats, I felt my pulse quicken ever so slightly. “You should’ve waited until there was no one in line”, I thought to myself. “Calm down. You’re in control. It’s no big deal. After all, you got what you came for. Just put the book on the counter, pay for it, she’ll bag it and you can carry it right on out of here.” I heard Vampira’s voice.
“I just love cats”, she informed the woman in front of me as the big white Persian on the cover disappeared into a plastic bag. “Go figure”, I thought. Then it was my turn and I put the book on the counter purposely avoiding eye contact with the young girl. Scanning the bar code on the back cover, Vampira spoke.
“Oh, I see you found the book you wanted. I’m so glad I was able to help you find it.”
I could never adequately describe what was happening inside my skull at that moment. The frantic buzzing of a thousand angry hornets filled my head blocking out all other sound. I could feel the veins in my neck and forehead swelling to incredibly monstrous proportions and the capillaries must have been outright exploding because the heat of the flush on my face was making me sweat profusely. I’m not sure, but I may have been sweating real blood because Miss Vampira took a step back as a very frightened look drained what little color there was from her face. She stared wide-eyed at me as I desperately fought for some control.
“Young lady,” I managed to croak, “is your manager here?”
“No, she’s on her lunch break.”
This made the hornets even angrier and now they were joined by a thousand more. Even the blood vessels in my eyeballs must have been popping as everything in my vision took on a deep scarlet hue. So much so that Vampira’s once bright red lips now appeared an ashen gray.
“All right”, I managed, “what time……will she be……back?”
“Well, sh..she left only a few minutes ago s..so it…it’ll be about an hour.”
Add another thousand hornets. She’s just a kid.
I took as deep a breath as my now convulsing lungs would allow. My hand twitched uncontrollably as I withdrew pen and notepad from my shirt pocket.
“Okay”, I said. “Does…… your manager…… have a name?”
I wouldn’t have believed it possible for this situation to deteriorate further but realized I had accomplished exactly that the moment I saw the quizzical look in Vampira’s eyes.
“Well, of course she does. What a dumb question!”
In my mind’s eye I could see my brain bursting through the top of my head, spinal cord trailing, and leaping across the counter to wrap itself around Vampira’s barbed wire neck to suck out what little gray matter it might find. Just like in that 1950’s ‘B’ horror movie, “Fiend Without a Face”. I was rapidly losing control and had to get out of there.
“Just tell me……how much…… for the book”, I whispered as I struggled to return pad and pen to my pocket.
“Oh, that’ll be $17.95. It’s on sale.”
With every ounce of effort I could muster, I managed to fish a twenty out of my wallet and dropped it on the counter.
“Keep……change. Don’t need……bag.” I snatched the book from the counter and stumbled toward the exit. I’d managed only a couple of steps when I heard Vampira.
“Sir! Oh, sir! You forgot your receipt!”
“Shit”, I thought. Did I dare go back? Did I dare leave the premises with no receipt (and no bag)? I did not want to go back because the hornets were not completely gone. On the other hand, I didn’t want to get arrested for shoplifting either. On the third hand, if I went back, I’d probably end up throttling the poor girl and get arrested for murder. I figured shoplifting was the lesser charge and made my way out of the store into the wide corridor of the mall and headed for the Food Court where I chased the last of the hornets with a refreshing Orange Julius.
I suppose the point of this diatribe is how in hell do these people get these jobs? I mean, seriously, if you managed a hardware store like my friend Victor, don’t you think you’d hire a person who at least knew the difference between a tack hammer and a sledge hammer? If you ran a bookstore, wouldn’t you hire someone who occasionally read a book or was at a bare minimum at least conscious? To be fair, it’s certainly possible the girl was simply unfamiliar with Anne Rice’s books, but I really think the word “vampire” should have eliminated “biographies” as an appropriate category for the book. Perhaps I should give her credit for at least understanding that the word “interview” implies a two-sided conversation. Therefore, the interviewee must be a real person. Of course, considering her appearance, could well be the girl believes vampires are indeed real. And would you let your employees come to work dressed as if they were going on a trick or treat excursion? I sure as hell wouldn’t. But then, I’m just an Old Geezer…