Sunday, January 23, 2011
This big fella and his tiny wife comes in the store today talking in that distinctive Newfie accent and he asks if I have any books on whales and I reply ‘no but when are you folks going to stop killing those baby seals then?’ (I don’t really care about the seals but I figured the question would break the ice). He says ‘they’re not babies, we don’t kill babies. They’re cubs. We club cubs.’ Ah, I said, and it’s euphonic too.
He ignores this and asks me if I have any prints of whales. I do, I say. But are they old prints he asks. Oh yes, I say with my best newfie accent, I have verra olde prints. Abbut 1750 they is, I say. He looks at me funny and says that’s all very good, but are they Newfoundlander whales? Well how the hell would I know what nationality the whales are, so I say they’re Pacific whales and he says well NFLD is in the Atlantic don’t you know and I answer, is it now?
His wife starts making him big-eyes, you know, wife code for enough already so I try and smooth things over and I ask him, ‘so how’s the economy on the Rock then?’ Maybe that wasn’t the best tact because he answers that unemployment’s at 19% and the tuberculosis is killing those too weakened by eating Raman noodles 3 times a day to look for fish that ain’t there no more no how.
Ha, I say, you think you have it bad, just look at that roundish building out there (I point to the curling club), that’s a soup kitchen, I say a little untruthfully, we’re suffering here too but we don’t complain about it all the time. They look over to the curling club and he whispers a soup kitchen can you believe it and I say yeah and it’s not even real soup it’s just tap water with food coloring added so don’t talk to me about suffering. They glanced sadly at the curling club as they left and I thought, I won that one not that I care about winning of course.
Sunday, January 16, 2011
I’m talking here about myths, not delusions. Delusions are often funny unless the person holding them is also holding a machete. Myths are not funny, they’re too much like Beliefs, and Beliefs are like Principals and you know what people are like with their damned principals. So let’s go there.
Myth number 1 is that kids today don’t read. This is usually said very loudly to no-one in particular by people who are bitter about the biochemistry of aging. Oddly, they rarely buy a book. They know kids today spend hours in front of a computer monitor and wonder why they don’t instead spend hours in front of the TV watching Gilligan’s Island and The Beverly Hillbillies like we did. But it’s not true; kids buy a lot of books. I try to slow them down a bit but kids today just don’t listen.
Myth number 2 is that eBooks will supplant printed books. Well, it’s not a zero-sum game. EBooks will replace a small part of the paper book market, but if radio can co-exist with TV, and pencils with keyboards, then we don’t need to worry about the future of paper. (This myth was sponsored by The Pulp and Paper Institute of Canada)
Myth number 3 is that used books are cheaper if purchased on line. Well if you include shipping costs, they rarely are. Also, you might be interested to know that used books purchased on line are packaged by underpaid Albigensian monks that because of their vows of silence can’t complain about their terrible working conditions.
Myth number 4 is that to be successful, a used bookstore must both specialize and offer a wide selection of everything. This is only true if you’re schizophrenic.
Myth number 5 is that books printed in China gives you scurvy. This one might just be true.
Thursday, January 13, 2011
Let me say from the start that I’m not going to talk here about disgusting smells, funny smells, or inappropriate smells. This blog-post is about those unhealthy smells that bring back fond memories, smells like diesel fuel, bacon fat and pipe smoke. And guilty smells like when your neighbour’s house burns down and you like the smell because it reminds you of a campfire on the beach.
On second thought, it’s not about those smells either. It’s about preventing my bookstore from smelling bad.
An elderly man came in recently with magazines to sell and the moment he opened the box my eyes began to burn and my nostrils clamped shut like a camel in a sandstorm. I said ‘these magazines smell of cigarette smoke, and there’s a yellow film of pure nicotine that sticks to my fingers when I touch them. You could roll these magazines up and smoke them’. He narrowed his eyes and said ‘they didn’t smell when I put them in the box this morning’ and I said ‘how the hell can you tell? You’ve been smoking for what, 60 years?’ He made that angry face I see people make sometimes in other bookstores and I was beginning to think that maybe I went too far when he suddenly whistled with his throat and began hacking that loud barking sound seals make when they’re in distress. Well, I figured that if he can’t talk I can finally get a word in edgewise so I tell him I get many books that smell of mould or cigarette smoke but I throw them out because a bookstore should smell like wood and cognac and not like a rotting corpse. He had yet to take a breath and was turning purple and worse he wasn’t even listening to me so I suggested that he take the magazines elsewhere to sell. He finally took a breath and said ‘I’ll donate them to a Hospital’. I hope he changed his mind, our hospitals have enough already to deal with.
Wednesday, January 5, 2011
When you’re in retail you notice certain things, like when people do crazy things it’s because they’re crazy people but when I do crazy things it’s because I’m a victim of circumstance.
Take last Friday for example. The street was closed off and covered in a quarter inch of mud after city workers dug in the wrong place. I figured that it would cost more to clean my carpets than to open the store (that gives you an idea of why used bookstore owners don’t drive Jags) so I locked the door and since it was the holidays and well after noon I broke out the vodka. The first person to breach the rampart was a thirsty friend who vowed through the door that he had only walked on the sidewalks and was mud-free so I let him in and gave him a glass. Minutes later some fellow saw us through the window and tried to get in. He jabbed at the hours sign on the door and mouthed something indignant and I made sorry faces and mouthed something incoherent. Then a teenager tried to get in and I shouted through the door that it was the feast day of Saint Stolichnaya of the Three Olives and why the hell wasn’t he in church. I may have lost a customer there. My friend treasonously muttered ‘but you’re a store’ and I poured him another drink to shut him up but it got me thinking. I had to change tactics. An elderly lady tried the door next and courtesy demanded that I go out and speak with her so I asked her if her boots were clean. She said ‘what? Are you crazy? Let me in.’ Behind her two women appeared and also wanted to get in. It was the first time I had a line-up at the store but I had no time to savor it. ‘Ladies,’ I shouted, ‘I must first see the bottoms of your boots’. They just frowned at me so I said ‘Come on, come on, your bottoms!” Well, that was an unfortunate turn of phrase because they marched off. My former friend asked me if my business model was to alienate people and then buy shares in the competition. I gave up, unlocked the doors and had the best day of the month.