My appreciation for the risks police officers – and retail workers and bank employees – grew one day when it looked like we were going to be ripped off for $3,000 by two guys. A man who appeared to be in his late 50s and a young man in his 20s requested book carts to purchase a bunch of books. My colleague, one of the older men on our staff, obliged, and the two customers loaded the carts with a wide variety of books, claiming they were surprising the older theif’s wife with books to replenish her library that had been destroyed in a house fire. They stacked two carts with the books and, glancing over my shoulder at the books, I could see they were not for a woman’s library. The books were mostly computer software and computer application books. There were books about airplanes and autos. Not many contemporary novels, classics, and self-help books, which women buy mostly, based on my observations at the store.
The two men robbing us blind without a gun were African American – like me, and I sensed that my co-workers did not want to appear racist, but every fiber of me was screaming, “We’re being robbed!” I continued to ring up the next customer in line while tuning one ear to what was going on with these robbers.
“Um, sir, for a purchase this large, I have to get a manager to sign off on it,” I heard my colleague say. I felt a bit of relief, sure that she was stalling so they could get security or police to the front door. Then it occurred to me that we don’t have any uniformed officers – or any undercover ones to my knowledge – protecting us.
The store manager, a young woman, came to the cash register, politely asked the men whether they would like to complete a form for membership to immediately save $300 on their purchase. Of course the men declined, saying this was a one-time shopping spree at the store, and they value their privacy more than a $300 savings. The theif handed my manager a credit card with his photo on it to complete the purchase, the manager approved, and my stomach turned.
The cashier, at least, took as long as she could ringing up each book by punching in the numbers rather than scanning the book. I thought she was stalling for time so they could have police show up out front. I hoped the cameras overhead had zoomed in on the man’s credit card and they were in the back running his name in some police-connected computer or calling it into cops to see if he was on the waiting list.
The line grew long as I and one other cashier rang up customers while the third cashier, a veteran, was tied up with the thieves. Another manager, a woman in her late 50s, came up and tried to charm the guys offering them something to drink while they waited for their books to be rung up. Of course they declined the offer of soda or tea. Duuh! Did she really think they would give her their finger prints that easily?
Next thing I heard: “Ben, please report to the front door. Ben, please report to the front door,” over the intercom gave me hope. I looked around for squad cars out front, but didn’t see any. Another manager, a young, football-player-built guy came to the cash counter as if his mere presence might intimidate these guys. The older of the two thieves said he would go and bring his car to the front door to pick up the books. Again, my stomach turned.
Would he return with a gun? I suddenly considered an aspect of this job I had not considered before. We could get robbed! Somebody could get shot! I had only considered the joys of selling books – and buying them at a better bargain than I could without my employee discount. Now, I had to consider the risks we face everyday just being around so much cash in the registers, around so much valuable product. What if robbers came to clean out the toy section? People are desperate these days. More than 11 million people are out of work. How would I feel if I died at a bookstore?
That would be like dying a martyr since I’m a writer, right? What if karma came calling on this corporation, which has been exploiting people for labor in more ways than I know. What if crazed robbers came in to take a blow at “The System”, the system which left them or their family members underemployed, unable to get beyond a struggle to survive? I justified lending myself to a corporation not paying fair wages to hard-working folks. I convinced myself that I am gaining more than $8 an hour because I choose to fully appreciate the non-monetary benefits of this job – like being surrounded by books and people who love books all day. But what if people who call corporate greed out for what it is came in to take a swipe at the system?
I would be dying in service to what I love most. But die today? God, no! I suddenly felt a greater appreciation for all the people whose lives are at risk everyday providing goods and services and protection we need.
Again, I gained much more on this job than the $8/hr. wage would suggest.