Monday, November 08, 2004

My first job out of college was being a peon at a bookstore. Working at an independent bookstore is a common nerd fantasy, but it was actually kind of awful. The bookstore, a beloved community institution, was co-owned by two women, and the one who did most of the employee relations was a passive-aggressive nightmare who swore she'd never fired an employee because whenever she called someone in to tell them their tenure at the store would be ending, she framed it as being about their personal development. I'm not joking. Instead of saying "you're fired," she'd say "it's time for you to move on to new challenges," and because she'd never uttered the phrase "you're fired," she thought she'd never fired anyone. She conceived of the store as a family, with her as the mother and us peons as the children, which is a metaphor that masked a whole lot of condescension and a fair bit of exploitation. When your children don't get their chores done, you can insist that they stick around, and you don't have to worry about pesky things like overtime. You're not supposed to do that when your employees can't finish the shelving before their shifts end. After a painful, unsuccessful attempt to unionize the place, I realized it really was time to move on to new challenges and hopefully better bosses.

Anyway, we had a running riff at the bookstore about rearranging the books. We'd joke about coming in in the middle of the night and sorting them by ISBN number or size. But the most common fantasy was that we'd sort them by color. And according to McSweeney's, Adobe books in San Francisco is doing just that for a week. I'm in awe! I want to live in a city where such things are possible.

Ugh. I used to work at a bookstore. It was vile. Everyone who worked there was psychotically passive-aggressive and thought that if your entire world didn't revolve around their wonderful bookstore, you were an inadequate human being. We were supposed to chant little mantras about teamwork and stuff every morning. Never again. Anyone who thinks working in a bookstore is fun has obviously never done it. -Sofiya
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