Lewis Buzbee suggests in his book, The Yellow-Lighted Bookshop, that rather than being conscripted into military service, young people should be required to work in retail. He believes it would make us a kinder, gentler country, with loads more patience, if we all had to serve time behind a counter, dealing with the public. I couldn't agree more. Except for a short stint during high school, when I worked in a clothing store, I never worked in retail before my husband and I opened our bookstore, The Well Red Coyote, in Sedona, Arizona. And really, why should I have all the fun?
As a lifelong people-watcher, as all writers are, I thought I really knew people. But boy, was I wrong! You ain't seen nothing till you've worked retail.
Just last week, for instance, a woman came in and told me the concierge at her hotel mentioned that I was a local mystery author. She gushed that she loved mysteries, and she asked if she could see one of my books. I quickly whipped out a copy of my thriller, Never Say Die, and placed it before her on the counter. Though she instantly pressed her fingers to its cover, she never picked it up, never read the blurb on the back— never really even glanced at it.
All she did was ask, “Can I get it at Barnes & Noble?”
Huh? "You can get it here," I said, pointing out the obvious. Hey look, you're smearing your fingerprints on the cover. Can't get much more “right here” than that.
Seemingly perplexed by that idea, she said, “I don't want it now. Can I buy it at Barnes & Noble?”
“I don't know,” I said. “I don't sell for Barnes & Noble.” Hint, hint.
But that was when she moved on to another topic. Then she wanted to know how to get to the Hopi reservation in Northern Arizona. How to get to it, what hours it was open to the public, and what she might find to do there. She even wanted to know how to correctly pronounce, “Hopi,” since she hadn't yet managed that.
Wait a minute. She just ended a conversation with her hotel concierge to come to see my book, only to ignore it. And then she went on to ask me the questions that it was surely the concierge's job to answer.
“Maybe I could just take you there,” I said.
“Could you?” she asked eagerly.
Sarcasm — it's wasted on some people.
Don't get me wrong. In the four-plus years our store has been open, I've met the most wonderfully generous and friendly people. Some days, when I'm not in the best of moods, a visitor will make a remark that proves to be exactly what I needed to hear at that moment, and it saves the rest of my day. I've come to love discussing life with total strangers, drawing unexpected wisdom from people I'll never see again, but whom I'll long remember for the gifts of insight they've offered me. Then there are the folks away from home, who need their pet fixes. Those are the ones who cherish spending a few moments with my dog, Annabelle, or my cat, Philly, so they don't miss their own critters quite so much. When occasional visitors confide that they've just lost a pet of their own, I'm glad that we can be there for them.
I can't believe how many terrific people there are out there. And I feel blessed by some of the ones whose paths have crossed with mine. If I didn't work retail, I wouldn't have that chance.
And yet, there are still a few of the other kind.
This woman hadn't stopped speaking. “They won't expect me to take a tour, will they? Because I don't like tours, I like to roam anywhere I want.”
Would she ask strangers to give her free run of their homes? Would she expect to pick through their most private areas and treasures? Come to think of it, someone as clueless as this probably would.
I still enjoy working retail, where strangers become friends, if only for moments here and there. And I look forward to all the friends I've yet to meet. Still, as a mystery author, it's nice to know that if I ever run out of victims to bump off in my books, a small supply of them will keep coming through the door.
Causes Kris Neri Supports
Sedona, Arizona Humane Society