Thursday, March 17, 2011

A Drunk, a Schizophrenic, and Three Teenage Shoplifters Walk Into a Bookstore; or, This Isn't a Joke, It's My Life

I swear that every time upper management leaves the store and I'm the only one in charge, the crazies come out and Chaos reigns supreme.

This doesn't just happen occasionally, either. Without fail, as soon as The Universe sniffs out that I'm the one everything is going to, it sends out its trusty minion Chaos to royally screw me over. As happened last night.

Manager's been out for the week anyway, and the other two ladies in charge left early yesterday, around 4 p.m. or so. Let the countdown begin: two hours to closing. Can we make it that long without the store catching fire? I nervously glance over my shoulder, hoping The Universe doesn't catch word of my crossed fingers and the empty offices upstairs.

People begin sauntering in, casually picking up every book in sight and piling them on the floor. In the back, three teenage girls wander in, acting like teenage girls. I keep my eye on them, but gave them space. The tall one with bedhead behaves most oddly. Chaos has arrived.

The girls leave. I'm about to clear off the pile of books on my lap and come up front to stalk them some more when Sue comes to the back. "I think those girls took some buttons," she says. Great, I think. Just what we need right now. I walk through the front, asking a plethora of customers if they need help - no one does, of course.

A mother and her kids begin their Quest for the Perfect Book, and none of my suggestions are acceptable. But they are well-behaved kids, so I don't mind.

The Man in Black comes into the children's section. (Remember him? He's the friendly schizophrenic.)

"I think I've been referred to you," he says.

Sue sent him to me, I think. "Okay, what can I help you with?"

"Someone's made a voodoo doll of me, I think, 'cause I've been getting poked all day."

I keep the children in the section in mind, just in case he starts saying things they don't need to hear. As The Man in Black starts talking about genocide and evil, I figure it's time to wander up front. Sue's at the counter with a customer. I can't help The Man in Black find a book on countering voodoo (I know nothing about that stuff), but I show him where he can look.

About this time, he stands there quietly for a moment, a troubled look on his face. He's shaking - has been since he came in. It's his new medication; he says it makes him stupid. Either he takes it or they send him back to the hospital, where orderlies sit on small children and the walls are not padded at all. I usually take what he says with a grain of salt, but I believe him on this.

I listen with sympathy. The Man in Black is someone who just needs an ear sometimes. I tell him to take his time looking and that we can order a book if he'd like.

During our conversation, the three teenage girls come back in. I take leave of The Man in Black as quickly as I can (without making him feel like I'm running off) so I can track their movements - and closely. For the rest of their time in the store (at least near merchandise) I am three to five feet away. I watch them the entire time they go through the bracelets they crowd around so I can't see what they're doing. But I watch each bracelet go out, and each goes back in. They leave at long last.

After the store has finally cleared out, Sue says she's pretty sure she saw one put something in her pocket. I'm optimistic about people to a fault in this regard; they had phones in their pockets, too, so maybe they were just reaching for those. I think if they stole something the first time in the store, they wouldn't dare come back in. Sue says of course they would; it was easy. In any case, the girls don't come back a third time.

She tells me the guy she was helping kept asking for obscure titles and spelling the author's name wrong, and when she finally found a book, he didn't want it. Plus, she thought he'd been to the bar.

"And when that guy started talking about the voodoo doll, he was talking really loud and some of the customers were nervous. He said we'd sold them here before, but I didn't know that. He was kind of demanding, and I was busy with the other customer, so I sent him to you."

Good move, and I don't blame him for being demanding or anxious over that. Even if I don't believe in that stuff, far be it from me to tell someone what they believe is silly or weird.

But believe me when I say this: That kind of stuff happens every time I'm in charge. Courtesy of The Universe and his agent, Chaos.

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