Saturday, December 19, 2009

The View from the Airport

Working at my new job is a strange affair.

It's a bookstore in name only; in reality, it's a newsstand that has a larger-than-average selection of books and stuffed animals, magazines and travel games. And no bottles of water, although we do carry water bottles. The first couple of hours' worth of customers basically want newspapers and no conversation. The management wants their adept booksellers to ply them with questions about our coupon club and our book drive, but mostly, the early morning customers are disinterested, anxious for their coffee to kick in and to board their flights on time. I don't blame them.

This experience is completely different from my old bookstore job in New Orleans. The airport store is all about moving the hit titles; we sell a lot of Grisham, Patterson and Cussler mass-market (small) paperbacks, and the Sarah Palin 'autobiography' as I mentioned in an earlier post--we have some customers who like to hide Going Rouge, the rebuttal to the Palin book, from view by putting Going Rogue over it or flipping it around. To protect themselves? I'm starting to think every conservative with a laptop has written a book on how wronged they've been and how bad they've had it. And we carry them all. There's no place for customers to sit and read, although some of the more intrepid ones sit on our stepstools in the mystery and romance ares, sprawling with their baggage and making whole sections of the store impassable to others.

The old store had deep catalog. The new one carries a Raymond Carver biography and no Raymond Carver books themselves. We had a local interest section, but nobody was interested so the titles got remanded to their predestined homes in the fiction alphabet.

The old store had lots of cds and dvds; the new one has Susan Boyle's weepy new album, a couple Christmas titles (Neil D. but not Bob D.), and some popular new action dvd releases in a cardboard dumper bin.

Of the 'make' items we have to concentrate on selling this month, one is a decent novel (The Piano Teacher by Janice Lee, which I'm actually reading during my lunch breaks), one is a weird little guide to the myriad things you forgot after you left school (I Used to Know That) and one is a stuffed panda bear. They are, in that order, progressively harder to shove down the throats of customers. Especially the bear. His name is Beckett. I'm anxious to see if Kafka the Kockroach shows up at the store next year, assuming there's a store next year.

We sell a lot of Malcolm Gladwell's nearly identical looking business books. We don't sell a lot of Chesley Sullenberger's memoir of crashing into the Hudson--big surprise there. All of the Twilight series move a lot of copies. Dan Brown's new hardback sells in quantity, which is good considering how many boxes of them we have in the tiny storeroom.

The Starbuck's next door plays soul music. We have no music playing in our store. I'm constantly leaning out, trying to catch the strains of William DeVaughn or Jackie Wilson, just to keep myself sane.

There's a window in the back of the store, ceiling high, that looks out over a jetway. It's got stripes across it, so it's hard to look through, try as I do. The concept of being tied down to a place that everyone else is leaving or returning to is interesting and a little sad, considering all the travel I've done in my life. I get there and leave by bus and car, not plane. I wonder if I'll ever get to fly away again someday.

Sometimes, mostly Tuesdays, we see color guards marching their slow step through the terminal, soon to be escorting a coffin back from the war. We give the military a ten percent discount on their purchases for their effort.

All in all, I'm glad to have this job. I don't want to lose it. My coworkers are all great, and we're all in the same boat (plane?) It's just weird and lonely there. I get to meet some nice people, and I've gotten some very generous donors to our book drive. But I'm hoping 2010 offers something even better and more creative for me. It would be nice to be a working musician again. Can't say as that looks too promising. But I've got one eye out for the future and progress and hope. And I wish the same for you, my dear readers.


amy said...

Peter, whatever you are doing you bring such honesty and humor to it. Take care, lots of love, and here's to a bright 2010. xAmy

Little Johnny Jewel said...

Beautifully written Peter.

Happy holidays to you and your family, and best wishes for the new year -- here's hoping for more music from you, from you and Chris, from The dB's (when is that new record going to be finished?), or from some new collaboration. We need your music.

zombie rotten mcdonald said...


I caught you and Chris Stamey touring behind "Mavericks" at Shank Hall here in Milwaukee, many moons ago.

Good luck in the new year, and I hope you find a way to become a working musician again soon, you certainly deserve it.