The venerable McSweeneys had a column contest recently. Like a good little writer geek, I gave it a go. In fact, the night before the death of my hard drive I had started writing my proposed column. The one I ended up writing right before the deadline wasn't quite as good, but there was no point in not entering. Anyway, now that the big M has posted the results, without mention of yours truly, I thought I'd post my not-quite-as-awesome-as-the-original-version of my proposed column here. Enjoy or pretend to. Either way.
Observations from a Children’s Bookstore: Don’t Pick at It
I just gave a dirty look to a little girl.
That is, from behind the counter I heard a picking noise. Fingernails on cellophane. A quick look around the computer confirmed the little pigtailed girl was picking at the wrapping on a fairy play set. She looked up at me, I shot my glance, she put the play set down and walked away.
Hi, I'm your local children's bookstore employee, and it's the last job I ever imagined myself having. Before I took over running the store, owned by my mother-in-law, my resume had included such kid friendly hits as pumping gas, changing oil, painting houses, and doing construction in the Arctic Circle. When people ask me how I like working at the bookstore, I'm still shocked that I have an indoor job.
Running the store for over a year now and I've learned a few things, gotten to the point where I know every book we have in stock (we're a small store), and managed to not lose my shit with a customer. Not once. Not even when one told me I needed a better personality.
I've learned I will always be entertained by sitting behind the counter reading Bukowski while a mother is reading a board book to her infant at the back of the store, that some people will always think they are the only person who knows about classics like Pat the Bunny or Goodnight Moon, and that people are prone to hyperbole beyond your wildest dreams, like referring to Mercer Mayer illustrations as "grotesque," which really made me want to tell the gentleman that his priorities in terms of his adjective assignments are clearly whacked.
Of course, like any other book slave my days are filled with straightening shelves, returning books to their proper sections, marveling at customers’ inability to follow alphabetized shelving schemes, and marveling at the dreck that sells while the truly great books gather dust.
But what has being around children's books taught me as a writer of things decidedly not for children? Well, one that grown-up books deserve illustrations, too. But more than anything behind the counter I get a great vantage point for dialogue, and often some very awkward or tense exchanges. My favorite exchange of late was this:
Little Asian Girl: "Look, that book is Jewish. Can I get it?"
Little Asian Girl: "Because I'm Jewish."
Mother: "No you're not."
Little Asian Girl: "Yes I am."
Or, curiously, as I was typing this, a mother asking her young son, "What would be a bad dad?" Which can lead one’s mind down a labyrinth of thoughts and inferences.
The arguments between couples about books, or the discussion of passersby about how lame books are can be just as amusing. And as a writer concerned with human communication what could be better?
On top of all this I've learned a thousand ways in which I don't want to parent my two children. It's like a crash course in how not to deal with your kids. Like, hey, don't stand five feet away while your daughter tries to unwrap a sealed product and completely ignore the whole situation.