I do most of my shopping online because I live in Los Angeles, and Los Angeles excels at making everything much more difficult than it needs to be. Film shoots beget street closures beget gridlock beget aneurysms. If you somehow make it to the store, you find a Thunderdome atmosphere overstuffed with people enraged it took them 20 minutes to find a parking spot, and you are in their fucking way. No, thanks. I’d rather be a shut-in.
But I received a Barnes & Noble gift card from my mother for Hanukkah, and I thought, “I haven’t been to a book store in awhile. I used to love going to book stores, and I miss them a lot. This will be fun.” I found myself in Santa Monica on a recent Sunday for a brutal and bloody afternoon of War of the Ring with an old friend. After the battle cries ended, I ventured to the Santa Monica Promenade, an ongoing social experiment pitting an army of homeless people against an invading horde of tourists in a crowded outdoor mall. Who will win?
I avoided the car-pinball parking structures and managed a street spot near Barnes & Noble. Signs announced that I would be towed if I didn’t move my car by 5 PM. It was 4:15. I had plenty of time. Or I should have. I walked down the street, into the store, past the not-smiling security guards and up the two escalators to the Science Fiction & Fantasy section.
First item on my list: Shift by Hugh Howey, the follow-up to his completely captivating Wool. (I lost more sleep to this book than any in recent memory, and I can’t recommend it highly enough. Drug pushers should take lessons in addictiveness from Howey.) Given the holidays had just passed, I didn’t expect fully stocked shelves, but I found inventory thin enough to make Calista Flockhart envious. No Shift for me.
I did manage to find a few titles after poking around. With only one book left on my list, I set out to find Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh. I have been reading her blog a lot lately and was super-excited to read her bizarro life stories in book form. I rode the two escalators back down to the ground floor, thinking that’s where Humor lived. Nope. A sales associate led me back up to the second floor, located the section and a hardback copy of the book. I had wanted paperback, and she told me I could find it downstairs on a display table. I rode the escalator back down, wandered around and found a table with hardback copies – no paperback.
Time ticking away, frustration building, and tow truck images flashing through my mind, I decided Allie Brosh would have to wait. I queued up to pay and soon found myself face-to-face with a gentleman who asked me if I’d found everything okay. “Actually,” I said. “I’m looking for a paperback copy Hyperbole and a Half by Allie Brosh, and I couldn’t find it.” He actually sighed. And then he said something like, “You can’t come to the front of the line and then expect us to help you find something. You need to talk to customer service over there.” He pointed a customer service desk near the elevator. He continued, “Do you want to go talk to them now?”
I can’t say that’s his exact quote, but it was the gist. He had asked if I had found everything I needed and then refused to help me find anything. The guy was a dick. If I remember correctly, he also had a goatee and a beret… a fucking beret.
I paid and walked over to customer service. To their credit, they weren’t dicks. The kind woman told me to go back up to the third floor and look for a table called “Laugh Out Loud,” and I’d find the book there. So I rode the two escalators back upstairs, checking my watch, now imagining calling my girlfriend, asking her to drive an hour to get my car out of a Santa Monica impound lot. But I wanted that book, dammit.
I wandered the third floor for awhile, checking every table I could find for “Laugh Out Loud.” No luck. I wasn’t laughing out loud. I was getting “Muttering Under My Breath Angry.” I eventually told another customer service associate what I was looking for. She sighed loudly and said that they had taken the “Laugh Out Loud” table down, but she guessed that customer service on the first floor didn’t know that. Apparently, customer service had divided into warring clans, and I was to be a non-combatant casualty. The woman called first-floor customer service, and then I rode more escalators. And there, sitting on the customer service counter, were paperback copies of Allie Brosh’s Hyperbole and a Half. Holy fucking shit! I grabbed one, paid for it, and got the hell out of there. And no, I didn’t get towed.
I used to like stores. I spent much of my young adult life working retail – fond memories, mostly – and am sad to see that world eroding away. But this visit to Barnes & Noble couldn’t have been a clearer indicator as to why. Lousy customer service and poor inventory don’t make happy customers. The whole process of buying a few books took over a half-hour, many sales associates, two loud sighs and probably twenty escalator rides. It would have taken five minutes online.
P.S. Hyperbole and a Half is completely hilarious and great, well worth the effort to locate. I had to set the book down five times just reading the first story because I couldn’t stop laughing. Brosh’s sharp wit and ridiculous illustrations support surprisingly poignant and insightful stories, all of them worth your time. Get it!