Putting price stickers on books was a pretty mundane experience, but it was part of my job and I got to see the latest sales books fresh out of the shipment boxes. Dressed for the task in thin cotton slacks, a peasant blouse, and moccasins, I was sweating as if I’d just run a marathon. I’m in good shape. Well, tolerably good shape for a woman in her mid-thirties whose main source of exercise is running to catch the bus and shopping. And the task of putting price stickers on the sales books wasn’t that difficult. It was the combination of the store’s thermostat (which the managers never quite seemed to master) and my apron. The neon orange apron all employees wear is made of a wool-like synthetic fabric. I think the fabric is actually recycled tires, or so someone said. They’re hot. They don’t breathe. They smell like old tires. And have I mentioned they are orange? The story is that a customer had complained to head office that she couldn’t find a sales clerk (a.k.a. floor ambassador), hence the switch to the sickeningly visible orange.
I’m not sure why the fabric is made out of whatever material it is, other than the head-office prides itself (or advertises itself) as being recycle-friendly. The work aprons used to be organic black cotton. Now there is nothing organic about the apron, except maybe the green stuff that grows in tufts around the pockets. The only thing black left are the letters emblazoned across the bib spelling out the bookstore’s name: Percival’s Books & Gifts. Around here, though, it’s known lovingly as Perky’s.
The apron I could live with, it was the hat that challenged me. April, for some unknown reason, is Mad Hatters’ Month at Perky’s. The hat, sculpted from the floppiest foam rubber available, perched on my head in the quaint shape of an enormous teacup, complete with saucer, spoon, and teabag tag advertising the store’s most popular blend: Percival’s Zimbabwe Ginseng.
“Excuse me, do you work here?”
I tried to smile in a Perky manner at the mousy blond woman who asked me the question. I gritted my teeth, longing to point out my orange apron (not just a nice tangy orange that is cheerful and compliments yellow - NEON, in your face, here I am—bite me ORANGE) replete with a name-tag spelling out Madison, with my title as Commissioned Officer beneath it. There are times when one must keep silence, or else all is lost. I kept my silence, but I did so only because I had to adjust the slant of the mad hatter teacup hat before it fell to the floor.
“I’m looking for a book.”
I have been told repeatedly not to make comments like you’re looking for a book in a book store? to this kind of statement, so I smiled encouragingly.
“I don’t know the name of the book.”
“We can research it on our computer by the author’s name. Do you remember who wrote it?”
I took a relieved breath.
“Bob somebody. Or maybe it was Ted. He had an initial between his first and last name.”
My job is to help the customer. My job is to help the customer. My job is to help the customer. “What was the book about?”
“Well, that’s sort of hard to explain.”
“OK. Was it nonfiction?”
“No, it was real! It was about werewolves.”
It is amazing how easy it has become to smile instead of speak. I’m not allowed to contradict the customers. “If you will go up to our customer service kiosk and tell the woman there that you are looking for books on werewolves, she’ll be happy to help you.”
“I did. She told me to ask you. She said she’s new and she doesn’t know how to work the computer.”
At the kiosk, reading a magazine with a face on the cover that was more metal than skin, dressed in what could only be described as gray sackcloth, slumped Henry. When Elizabeth Smythe-Covington came to work here seven months ago, she was given Henry’s nametag. She liked it so much, she refuses to answer to anything else. The original Henry has left for parts unknown. Rumor has it, he sells very new-looking paperbacks at the flea market. He supposedly has a warehouse full of them.
“Werewolves should be found in New Age on aisle seventeen in the center, just past the huge poster of Seth Green.”
“I looked there. The book I want isn’t there.”
“The one by Bob Ted Somebody?”
“Yes! Do you know which one I’m talking about?”
“I think so,” I lied. “I believe we have that on back order. It should come in by next week. If you’re not able to come back at that time, just call and ask for Henry.”
“Henry.” The customer beamed. “Thank you so much, Henry!”
“You’re welcome.” My smile didn’t hurt at all.
“By the way, do they really grow ginseng in Zimbabwe?”
“I can’t imagine Perky’s advertising something that wasn’t true.” OK, so my smile hurt just a little bit.
“Oh, and I don’t mean to sound like a prude,” the woman turned back to me. “But don’t you think your werewolf display is a tad garish?”
“Werewolf display? You mean Seth Green?” I scowled, trying to imagine Seth being anything but adorable.
“No, not the poster. It’s all the fake blood and gore behind it.”
“I’ll tell my manager.” I took a deep breath, put down my pricing gun and meandered toward the New Age section.
“Ms. Madison!” The Colonel had a snap to his voice that could bring an entire battalion to a complete stop mid-step. “I’ve warned you about this before.”
“Colonel,” I smiled, feeling my day had just brightened. I know I shouldn’t play favorites, but the Colonel was by far my favorite Perky customer.
He wore crisply ironed and starched tan cotton slacks and a navy blue oxford shirt, a pack of cigarettes poking out of the pocket. Shiny though worn boots, tanned and wrinkled face, lips set in a no-nonsense mode, the Colonel was probably in his mid-seventies. I was reminded of the saying, Old soldiers never die, they just fade away. But his brown eyes had a way of boring into me sometimes, and I often fought the urge to salute the old man. He held out a book, pointing it at me like a sword. “This does not, and I repeat, NOT belong in Military History.”
Perky’s Books and Gifts
© Evelyn Rainey 2013