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!
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.
It was my day to learn about zoning, a practice where we take a wand of a scanner and scan each book on a shelf, pulling the ones scheduled to be returned to the publisher. We needed to get rid of 1,300 books off the shelves to make room for new books and to clear space for the new Nook boutique we were building in time for the Christmas craze. The scanner would tell us which books to pull, books that had not sold in a few weeks, books that might never sell because they had not been sufficiently promoted.
The manager showed me the bays of books I would scan, and showed me a chart to after each bay was complete.
“You should be able to complete a bay in about 20 minutes,” she explained, demonstrating how to pull the book out just enough to scan the ISBN on the back cover, but not out far enough to waste seconds.
I got excited about the challenge. I love a good challenge. I did not mind the cleaning task either. Simply swipe the Swifter along the shelves once the scanning was complete. I did not cross my arms and proclaim I am not the cleaning service and they should be ashamed for trying to get two jobs out of me for $8/hr. I scanned the books and wiped the shelves, sitting on the floor to reach the bottom shelf. When the scanner began malfunctioning and I found myself pulling some books intended to stay and leaving some books scheduled for return, I suddenly enjoyed a smidgen of power within my grasp. I could give an author an extra few weeks on the shelf or short-curcuit some other author – at my own descretion.
But more importantly, I suddenly felt a huge relief about my previous failures with books I had published. Until now, I had not considered the many factors that could ensure a book’s success or failure. Until now I had accumulated a heavy sadness, blaming myself completely for my books’ failure to reach the New York Times bestseller lists. I had believed I failed to write it well enough, had failed to suffciently craft each paragraph, had failed to market the books strategically, had failed to hone a message and connect with an audience. I may have failed at all those things, but I also realized at this moment, working inside a book store, that I could have done all I was supposed to do and to the best of my ability, but to no avail. Booksellers could have returned the books pre-maturely for all I knew. They could have spitefully done so because of the controversial subject of the books. Anything could have happened. I could have sold 20,000 copies instead of just 2,000 copies because some booksellers liked the subject and kept the books on the shelves after the powers-that-be scheduled them for return. Either way, handling the books myself helped me realize that much of the fate of my books is actually out of my hands.
I do not like the woman who hired me – the store manager. I think she is arrogant and corporately callous. It’s just an air she has about herself. I know the type. Type-A. The bottom line, the company’s line, profit margins and procedures are all that matter. Meet their goals or get lost. I used to be one of those types, but now I know better. Yesterday she irritated the hell out of me from the time I got there. She irritated me effortlessly!
“No shades,” she said, nodding toward the sunshades perched on my head.
How dare they impose a dress code on people they’re paying a pitiful $8 an hour!
I had enjoyed the sunshine of what felt like an extended summer – interrupted breifly by snow flurries. I stood on one side of the customer service counter punching in promptly as she stood on the other side talking to one of my co-workers when she stopped her conversation just long enough to tell me what was wrong with me. No, “Hi there. How are you today?” Bitch. Before she could point out something else she didn’t like, I shifted gears on her.
“I meant to ask you. I know jeans are not allowed, but is this jacket ok?” I asked since I was sporting a jean blazer over khakis.
“No denim,” she said with a fake smile.
“Ok. I’ll take it off, but if I get cold, I’ll have to put it back on, “ I said, ever the agreeable little one. Always aiming to comply and to please.
“I’ll keep you too busy to get cold,” boss-lady said. “Grab a V-cart from the back, get a Swifter, and meet me back here.”
Surprisingly, I didn’t flinch at the notion of helping to keep the place clean, even though custodial duties were not part of the “bookseller” job description. No. I was happy to be on the inside of a bookselling business because I love books!
On my day off, I enjoyed an acupuncture treat.
Thanks to my spouse’s insurance, I was able to make an appointment for acupuncture on my day off yesterday. The acupuncturist asked about the high-paying job I had when I last saw her, and I explained that the last high-paying, high-profile job had not worked out despite my best efforts. I ranted for a good two minutes about the bad bosses and horrible demands I had experienced in the course of my 20-year journalism/P.R. career. I also told her how I had been willing to suffer the circumstances for the high salary and potential job security within a government agency, but her comments compelled me to consider otherwise.
“Sometimes it’s better to realize a bad fit sooner rather than later,” she said. “A lot of people get stuck. They end up in golden handcuffs. They have to stay because they get set in a certain lifestyle and can’t make that money anywhere else, but they’re miserable in their job.”
As I lay on the table with tiny silver needles strategically place to reduce stress and soft music playing in the background, I thanked God that I get excited about going to work at Barnes and Noble because I will be surrounded by books, and people who love books enough to patronize a book-selling business.
The pay is only $8/hr., but the lessons I am learning will prove invaluable some day. This week, for instance, I began noticing my strengths and weaknesses when it comes to book sales.
Strengths: Talking to customers, engaging them in fun conversation about the books they are buying. I love books and love people and getting involved with both is exhilerating. I’ve also chatted with a colleague about what she reads and why. She loves Jodie Piccolt because this author, “deals with timely controversial issues…and gives you new great read every March.” I hadn’t thought of how important consistency is to readers. Now I know. I also found that I easily make customers smile and easily offer information about other books they may like, because I enjoy adding a little something to their shopping experience this way.
Weaknesses: I flubbed the hell out of most of my pitches for our new nook boutique, because I’m not completely sold on it myself yet. I also realized I need to master basics before I try a sprint. For instance, just one month into the job, it’s proving to be challenging enough just keeping the line moving and pitching membership cards at an extra $25 a pop to their bill. Ringing up sales, pitching membership cards AND answer the phone AND calling people to pick up their books on hold is too much for now AND getting them to sign reservation slips for our new nook boutique is too much for now. So, today I won’t sweat if I only manage one to three tasks smoothly.
I have been fired so many times it ain’t funny. My last job – making $88,000/year, thank you very much – lasted only three weeks, and the abrupt firing threw me for a loop and back into the job market, which, as you know, is crowded with more than 11 million unemployed people. That’s not including the unemployed and under-employed people who have given up and don’t even show up in the official account anymore.
I have had many really great jobs and I am sure my divine job is out there some where. Meanwhile, I consider it a blessing that this $8/hour job I landed at Barnes and Noble has already lasted me longer than three weeks. I’ve been there since October 5. I value each hour I get to work there, and already I am beginning to get more out of it than the $8/hr. the company pays – WITHOUT STEALING!
I meet great people, and believe one of them may lead to a new career opportunity. I am learning how retail works, learning sales skills, and finding I would not have picked up on my own.
Here, I will blog about the experience, hoping to hear from many of you whose experiences with unemployment and underemployment has somehow enriched your life in other ways – like saving your sanity.
Today I was off work and had time to reflect on a few things. While eating breakfast I glanced over at my basil plant, and realized something important: just as my basil plant did not shrivel up and die after I plucked a bunch of leaves from it to make pesto, I will not curl in and die just because jobs have been plucked from me. And just like I am watering the basil plant, God will send resources to replenish my bank account and prosper my soul.