Mid-20s Malaise

Struggling against the inevitable since 1986!

National Bookshop Day 2

Wow, after going onto MySpace to retrieve my earlier post about Segways, I’ve been perusing the few entries on that blog. It sure deserves the title Mid-20s Malaise more than this collection of vaguely unsatisfied mutterings: what a pit of vitriol that thing is! Once again, to celebrate National Bookshop Day, I bring you the story of a sanctimonious bitch I had to smile at and be nice to back in 2007. I still remember the powerlessness I felt as she was mouthing off and I had to shut up and keep myself to myself. Try to remember stories like this next time you feel like hassling a young and underpaid retail lackey:

As anybody who has ever spoken to me for more than, ooh, twenty seconds will be aware, I work in retail and it crushes my soul. (Well, it would if I had a soul, but that opens can upon can of metaphysical worms that I don’t have time to deal with right now.) It’s mostly awful because it’s boring, degrading and you have to be polite to people who are incredibly rude because the company wants their money. I try to take it all in my stride, but occasionally I encounter a customer whose stupidity is so awesome that I must share.

Recently, for a reason unbeknownst to me, I have been rostered on to work in the children’s section. Normally, I love children, but I hate working in this section. The problem isn’t the children. It’s their parents. I realise that children have a limited understanding of right and wrong, and this is where parents need to step in, rather than using our bookshop as a babysitter which their children are free to desecrate as they see fit. Sure, I’m only 21 and have no children of my own, but I have frequently looked after six or seven children at a time, and successfully taken them on outings that haven’t resulted in them causing wilful damage to private property.

But enough of that. I have a story for you.

The other day, I was serving a customer and, while still chatting to this customer (you know, comments about the weather, the beautiful furniture on the cover of the magazine she bought, and other such pleasant, pointless natter), another customer comes up and starts talking to me without so much as an “Excuse me”.

“I was looking for a book for my twelve-year-old son,” she says. “And this is the second one I came across with sex in it!” She went on to discuss how it was disgusting that this was in the intermediate fiction section, how we should read and appropriately label every book that comes into the shop and so on. Firstly, I was mad because she was holding up The Messenger by Markus Zusak, one of my favourite authors. He writes beautifully and, as I told her, I believe he has many appropriate things to say about humanity. Furthermore, I told her (but not so eloquently), the book is very obviously shelved in the young adult section, designed for people between the ages of thirteen and eighteen (to which she declared “I would be horrified to think of my seventeen-year-old son reading this!” to which I thought “Well, sugar, prepare to be horrified, because your seventeen-year-old son is probably batting off to animal porn right now”). Finally, I said, if you read the blurb on the back, it mentions in the first sentence that there is sex in the book. Heaven forbid this woman take an interest in what her children are reading and discuss it with them! She claimed to be a child psychologist, and my heart went out to her poor patients: what kind of damage is this limiting attitude to sexuality doing to them?

I was reading books with sex in them by the fifth grade (the earliest one I can remember being The Dead Of The Night by John Marsden). Of course, his discussion of sex (and the emotions that went with it) dealt with situations I wasn’t familiar with, but the same can be said of the book’s wilderness-and-war storyline. There’s always a place for adolescent literature that deals with sex in a thoughtful and mature way. I mentioned to this woman that I know The Messenger is a Board of Studies-approved English text (a good friend will be using it with his Year Nine class later this year). So, not only has Zusak’s book gone through strict editing and classifying by his publisher, it has also been read, judged and deemed appropriate by dozens of teachers who are responsible for the intellectual and emotional health of teenagers.

Anyway, I could go on, but I’m already mad and probably boring you. But jeez, lady, you know what happens when you tell people what they can and can’t read? You get Nazi Germany. (Ironically, Zusak’s first adult novel, The Book Thief, is about a young girl in Nazi Germany who steals forbidden books. It is one of the most beautiful books I have ever read, and I suggest you all read it – preferably after buying it, so that Zusak makes lots of money and continues writing. That’ll make my crazy friend roll over in her emotional grave.)

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Filed under: work,

National Bookshop Day

Today is National Bookshop Day and, in honour of this event, my friend Holly suggested I post a story that originally appeared on my blog on my MySpace profile (remember them?) way back in 2007. At the time, I was working at a bookshop. Now, bookshops are often wonderful places that deserve to be celebrated on a day like today. They are also cesspools of almost bottomless misery, usually staffed by capable and almost embarrassingly overqualified people. I have worked in bookshops and record stores, and rather than being a chance to connect with people through the art forms I love, these jobs always prove to be the same as any other retail job: boring and often demeaning. Nowadays, I’m not sure whether to laugh or cry when I watch a show like Black Books, because it’s closer to reality than to sature. With that in mind, I give you the words of my 21-year-old self who was, surprisingly, even more bitter than the man I am today:

Working in the humiliating torture world of retail, I encounter a lot of idiots. And by that, I mean people who are rude jerks, and people who are actually mentally deficient in some way. Well, not officially mentally deficient, just dumb. We actually have one guy working in the stock room who is developmentally disabled, and he usually behaves better and understands faster than some of the fools I have to be polite to just because they have a black American Express card.

Anyway, just when I thought my hatred for humanity could not be increased, a man rolled into the store today on a Segway. Yes, a Segway. For the uninitiated, this is what a Segway looks like:

And this is what a person on a Segway looks like:

Fucking stupid, that’s what. The Segway’s official website is full of ridiculous corporate babble that tells you nothing, but somehow I managed to learn that the Segway contains two tilt sensors and five gyroscopes, as well as two computers which, based on what they learn from the tilt sensors and gyroscopes, adjust the motors thousands of times per second. All of this results in the Segway managing to stay upright, and the driver being able to move forward or backward by leaning forward or backward respectively, and likewise for turning left or right.

I am not the first person to point out that a small third wheel could have done the same thing for millions of dollars less.

Anyway, this dickhead comes rolling into the store and pulls up in front of the information desk, slowly rocking back and forth as he comes to a stop as though he were reigning in a horse. But he wasn’t. He was a grown man, riding a very expensive scooter. I was so flabbergasted to actually see one of these stupid things, let alone in a store, that I was dumbstruck. I imagine I looked like some dribbling bogan, bored and confused in an economics lecture. Fortunately, my co-slave Elicia stepped in.

“Can I help you, sir?” she asked, and didn’t laugh at all.

“Yes,” this man called down from his mighty chariot. “I have a book on hold.”

Elicia found the book, and the man slowly backed away on his jerk mobile and parked it between a table and a pillar, both of them displaying books. He briefly alighted from his vehicle, blessing the ground of our store with the touch of his feet, to make a phone call. He then got back on his Segway, and turned it around to leave the store. In doing so, he knocked an entire row of Lee Childs’ new novel Bad Luck And Trouble onto the floor. (The title of the book isn’t really relevant – I just wanted to include some facts to demonstrate that this isn’t all made up. Also, an entire row consists of twelve books.) He did this and kept on rolling, oblivious to the unnecessary mess he had created.

“Sir!” yelled my manager, Kristen. An assertive woman at the best of times, she was having a bad day and was in no mood to deal with dickheads like this one. “You can’t ride that in here,” she told him. He begrudgingly got off the Segway and walked it out of the store, having the nerve to shoot her filthies as she picked up the books he had scattered.

I understand that some people have trouble walking, due to disability, lack of limbs or gross obesity, but this man suffered from none of these (unless you count a lack of manners, a comb over and a beer gut). Why would you  you take this cumbersome device into Pitt Street Mall – one of the busiest areas in Sydney on a week day – and compete with buskers, shoppers, escalators, beggars, bins, benches, trees and rain? (N.B. It was raining today.) Not only that, but he was dressed in a way that suggests he works in an office. When I spent a day at The Drum Media‘s office, I look forward to going for a walk to the supermarket or the cafe to get my lunch. “Aah, a bit of exercise!” I think to myself. “Get some fresh air, move my muscles and give my heart something to do!”

Not for Mr Wankalot on his steely steed. In fact, Dean Kamen, the creator of the Segway, has been quoted as saying that “walking is a remnant of the Dark Ages, an unpleasant time-waster that technology need eradicate”. So what does Sir Shitfest plan to do to save his walking time? Run over women and small children to reach his destination faster? When you’re in a crowded shopping mall, you can only move as fast as the pedestrians clogging your path. In fact, I would say you go slower, seeing as you cannot dart around plodders as I can, being young and lithe (but decreasingly so).

At this point, Andrew P Street or Bronwyn Bron Jovi would bring this blog entry together with some devastatingly witty comment that made you ponder life and existence and purpose. Not me. All I want to say is people are worthless cunts, and my only hope is that, since this knob-jockey wasn’t wearing a helment, he will be thrown from his Segway and crushed and killed beneath a bus, a horse or a similarly sensible mode of transportation.

What a tosser.

Filed under: work,