Repost: Bookstore, Christmas Eve
December 24, 2013
This is the post I did for Christmas Eve about six years ago, and I’m guessing some people didn’t see it then. I like this story, and I end up telling it a lot this time of year, so I thought I’d post it again:
Right after college, I worked in a bookstore for about three years. I worked Christmas Eve all three years, and was the closing manager for two of those years. I’ll tell you a little secret.
I loved working Christmas Eve. Just loved it.
This goes against all common sense. You think shopping at the last minute is bad, what do you think it’s like for the people working retail? The people who have to put up with all those panicked last minute shoppers?
Here’s the thing, at least for me, at least in the bookstore, which is admittedly a different kind of retail: last-minute shoppers were so very, very easy to please. It was so very easy making them happy. Someone would come in the store, let’s say a guy in his thirties, nicely dressed, clean-cut. Obviously not hurting for money. But maybe Christmas shopping just wasn’t high on his list. He has this vague idea that his parents — who he is in on the way to spending Christmas with right now — like to read, so maybe he should get them books. But after that, his brain just stops. So he runs into the bookstore, finds a clerk, and manages to stammer, “You’ve got to help me.”
And we would. Because bookstores are, for the most part, staffed by intelligent, well-read people who want nothing more than to foist vast amounts of reading material onto the public. I’d ask a few questions: What do they like to do? Fiction or non-fiction? Do they cook, garden? Do they like biographies? And after a few answers I’d usually be able to pick out a nice selection. Sometimes all I’d need to do was lead him to the right section, and his eyes would light up, and he’d have an armful of gifts in a matter of minutes. And he’d look at me with a gaze full of shining gratitude and reverently murmur, “Thank you. You’ve saved me.” Then, as he paid for his stack of books, I’d say, “We also have free gift wrapping.” His expression would turn positively beatific. It would be like the heavens opened and rays of gold shone down on him with choirs of angels singing –
Or that might have been the Christmas carols playing over the speakers.
The closer to our 6 pm Christmas Eve closing time it was, the more manic and satisfying this whole process became. When our customers at 5:58 pm on Christmas Eve said, “You’ve saved me, you’re a lifesaver,” they really really meant it, and I felt like Wonder Woman.
But it didn’t end there. I’d close the store, which took about half an hour, then go straight to my parent’s house to celebrate with them, my grandparents, and brother. Now, out of this group of people, I’m the only one who’s worked retail for any stretch of time. They all believe the nightmare stories about working retail on Christmas Eve. So I’d get there around 7 pm. The kitchen would be filled with the smells of dinner cooking. There’d be an open bottle of wine. The presents under the tree would be waiting to be opened. And I’d be awash with sympathy as soon as I walked through the door.
“Oh, you poor thing, sit down, the food’s just about ready, here’s a glass of wine. Was it very bad?” I’d make sure to have a war-weary look on my face, as if I had just escaped the trenches, sigh heavily, and nod as I whispered, “Oh. It was awful.” Cue more sympathy. Pass the chocolate truffles.
Of all the jobs I’ve left behind, the bookstore is the only one I sometimes miss, and I think on this day I miss it most.
Have a very, very Merry Christmas, everyone.