Robbers without Guns

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.


Who Steals $150,000 Worth of Books?!?

I can’t even describe the sheer joy I felt prancing behind the counters at the bookstore for the first time, pressing the security code to enter the employees break room for the first time, proceeding into the recieving room for the first time. I have spent probably a few thousand dollars shopping here since I moved to this area five years ago, and when I became unemployed, I spent whole days there reading or journaling in the café. But now, I was “in there.” A month later, two months later, the thrill was still there. I loved being behind the cash rep.  I learned that the round things on the ceiling, which I thought were bulbs were actually security cameras and in the staff break room, there was a wall of video screens showing the store from every possible angle,  in every possible area. I knew all stores have security cameras, but I had never stopped to consider how elaborate the security operations might be.

But all this elaborate security has not fool-proofed this store from petty thefts and crime rings. On my first day on the job, the lead cashier who trained me and the others on-boarding explained several scams that have succeeded at the store. Who would steal books to the tune of $150,000 worth in 18 months? People who know they can sell them on the street, on college campuses, on the internet. The lead cashier told how three guys come in on Sunday nights sometimes and steal $150 textbooks. They haven’t been caught yet. Their photos haven’t even been secured yet. But, in the break room we do have the equivalent of a “Wanted” board with photos of people who passed bad checks.

Barnes and Noble Dress Code

One of my co-workers mocks the dress code by wearing the wrinkliest, raggediest khakis known to man. If he wore clean, pressed jeans, they could send him home because jeans are prohibited. But they can’t send him home for wearing raggedy khakis. HA! Dress codes and company policy are not worth my protests these days. I wear what we are asked to wear – casual professional, dress for comfort, but no jeans.  Ironically, my colleagues who work in the café think that we who work out on the floor have it good because we can wear anything but jeans. They have to wear black pants and white tops – everyday! Some of them hate it!

A Moment of Insight Worth More Than They Paid

I scanned a book promoted by a friend of mine and felt bad for the author because I realized her book never had a chance at being discovered because it had been improperly categorized. Her book was scheduled to be returned to the publisher due to “poor sales.”  Her publisher would count it as a loss, and when she gets ready to publish another book, her publisher would hold these returns against her.  She had written a historical book about Nat Turner and the great slave revolt. Her book, however, was on a shelf in the religion section. I realized that book buyers in the religion section were not likely to pick this up, and book buyers in the historical sections would not find it there. Did publishers and Barnes and Noble decision-makers intentionally sabotage certain books? Could they be this careless? Of course, I kept my friend’s book on the shelf. But, of course, the next time we did these major overhauls her book would get sent back.

I realized that my book sales may have been low for the same reason.  It, too, had been wrongly categorized, wrongly shelved. This insight was worth more to me than the $8/hr. the company was spaying.