your existence has inconvenienced me

Contrary to the opinions of many retail employees, I actually like my part-time job. I like talking to people, and I enjoy helping them find what they’re looking for — especially considering it usually has to do with literature. I’ve spent my entire life loving books, and I intend to making a living writing them (eventually).

I’ve worked for the same bookstore for a little more than two years now, starting in the summer just before the start of my senior year of college. I was in a bit of a transitional phase, figuring out where I was headed and absolutely terrified of leaving school to be in the “real world.” When I think back on everything I’ve seen and done, all while still working at the bookstore, it’s sort of crazy to me. But I love it! I’ve met so many amazing people, made great friends, met my boyfriend/one-time coworker, whom I dearly love… and I get to talk about books and music all day.

That being said, as with any job where you’re routinely dealing with the public, there are just days I go to clock in and think, “Hmm. I’m in a sassy mood tonight. I’ve got to watch it.” Constantly going from my day job to my night job can be a bit draining, as anyone can imagine, especially considering I now have to change from my “business casual” day clothes to my “rough and messy” night clothes at work. Without a break in my day, working for roughly 14 hours straight isn’t really a great time.

Still, I know that’s definitely not the customer’s fault. I wouldn’t take it out on them — unless they get rowdy with me. Then we might have a problem. Which we frequently do.

Exhibit A:

I have a customer who loves to argue with me about coupons. I mean, really loves to argue. I don’t see her too often, but I have to brace myself when I see her get in line. Inevitably, I’m always the free cashier when she approaches (I have a magnetic way of attracting negativity, apparently). Now I know we’re in a tight economy — we’re all feeling it — but arguing rudely with a short girl behind the register about whether or not you have a coupon for 20 percent off of a book isn’t really the way to correct the problem. And when she finally does find some scrap of paper with our store name emblazoned somewhere on it — often it’s not even a real coupon — it’s months old. Like, two months old.

“So, you’re not going to honor it?” she asks me, staring blankly and angrily from behind her thin-framed glasses.

“It’s from June,” I say, staring just as blankly back at her. “I can’t take it.”

“Do you have another coupon I could use?”

“No, ma’am — we don’t have extra coupons. I need to have one to scan.”

“So you’re not going to take it.”

“No.”

“This is really inconvenient for me…” she says, shaking her head and sighing angrily. “Your competitor would take it.”

“Okay,” I say, trying to diffuse the situation as quickly as possible. Other customers are starting to stare at her — she’s shaking. “Well, I’m sorry.”

“You’re not sorry.”

I blink a few times, then crack a small smile. “Okay,” I say again.

“You’ve really inconvenienced me,” she continues, her hands literally trembling as she shuffles through the contents of her massive purse. “And since you’ve inconvenienced me, I’m going to inconvenience you.”

Resolutely, my customer picks up her dark bag and completely upends it on the counter in front of me. I watch with a mix of shock, disbelief and horror as a wallet, wadded tissues, a glasses case, scraps of paper, miscellaneous other coupons and who knows what else spill all across my register, covering even the book she was trying to purchase in the first place.

In my head, I’m thinking, Lady, you’re not inconveniencing me — I get paid by the hour. In reality, I say nothing. What can you say? Anything I say can and definitely will be used against me — and if there’s one thing I never do, it’s talk back to customers. It gets you absolutely nowhere, and it just gives them additional ammo when they inevitably ask to speak to a manager.

So my customer continues rifling through all the junk on the counter as I take a step back, absorbing the equally bemused and horrified expressions of my coworkers. Eventually Purse Lady gives up, buys her book (at full price — no discount) and storms off, still grumbling about how this is why we’re going to close — because our competitor is so much better, blah blah blah. Of course, the obvious response to this is, “Then why not go shop there?” I don’t say this either, of course. That would be a suicide mission. And we’re not going to close.

Good thing I drank a latte before I clocked in.