I have a new job at a bookstore café. They asked me to come in on Wednesday morning to fill out all the paperwork and get a tour of the store. I came in at 8AM, rang this creepy doorbell/buzzer, and was greeted at the front door by a custodian who wasn’t specifically familiar with the English language. He glared at me suspiciously.
“You work now?” he asked through a heavy accent.
“Yeah, I’m new,” I said. “I’m here to meet with Jane.”
He looked at me blankly, then motioned for me to come inside the store.
As I entered, I was taken aback somewhat by the hugeness and emptiness of the place at eight o’clock in the morning. Everything’s so still and peaceful, in spite of heavy orange extension cords strewn about and the obnoxious whir of a carpet cleaner.
“Where can I find Jane?” I asked the custodian, who gave me another blank look. After a few moments of mental digestion, he nodded and motioned toward the back of the store.
“In the back?” I asked, referring to the staff area where I had been interviewed.
“Back, back,” he repeated excitedly.
“Thanks,” I said and made my way to the back, where I laid eyes on one of the most attractive women I’ve ever personally met: Jane, the human resources manager. I’d never met her before—I was interviewed by the floor manager and general manager—but I’d talked to her on the phone in my dealings with setting up the interviews.
“You must be Stan,” she said in a peppy tone (for eight o’clock in the morning).
“Yeah,” I managed after I caught my breath. That’s right: her physical attractiveness literally took my breath away. Also, I’ve had this strange breathing problem for over a year that I think may be a food allergy. The combination was not pretty.
“All right,” she said, “have a seat.” She motioned to the table at a small, dingy break-room recessed behind a bank of lockers and mailboxes. On it sat an employee tumbler, a nametag, and a small, yellow envelope. She and I sat down, and we went through the ritual of filling out tax and liability forms. I kept trying to make direct eye contact, partly because it’s professional, but mostly because she’s really hot.
After the paperwork, she popped a tape into the VCR: it was time for the training video. I hadn’t seen a terrible training film since I worked at Starbucks, so I was quite excited. Only these weren’t the standard bad training videos: these were sexual harassment and pro-diversity videos. She put in the sexual harassment video first, but it needed be rewound. As it did, she engaged me in basic small-talk as she did some morning stretches.
I watched her, eyes agog, as she bent and twisted her body, stammering to answer her questions about where I lived, what I did, and so forth. Finally, the video rewound, she pressed play. As a serious-looking man in a suit said, “Our company takes sexual harassment very seriously,” she stretched her arms out and arched her back, her sweater-covered breasts silhouetting against the glow of the television, blocking the serious man’s face altogether. With that out of the way, she went into her office and did actual work while I sat in a daze, barely paying attention to the video about sexual harassment as I considered such weighty issues as what she looked like naked and whether or not she’d be likely to sleep with me.
Plus, I was trying not to laugh at the bitter irony of an ungodly good-looking woman playing a sexual harassment video as she contorted her body into all manner of erotic positions. It seemed totally unconscious, but when I discussed the matter with Lucy, she insisted it was all way too convenient and therefore she must have been testing me. I don’t really think so, because what did Jane really think I was going to do? Say “Hey baby, why don’t you do some stretch exercises…on my cock?”
Finally, after the store had opened, she gave me what she called the “abbreviated” tour, which took more than two hours. She took me through every section and subsection in the store, despite the fact that I’m going to be a coffee-jockey. Obviously I should have a general idea of where things are, because I’m sure people will ask me, but I don’t have to know, for example, that all the “gay/lesbian/transgender issues” books are in the “psychology” section. I just need to know where the psychology section is, and so anything that sounds related will most likely be there, and if not, they’ll find somebody over there who knows what they’re doing.
This was interrupted, near the end, by an old man, who was browsing the religious section. Jane, as a manager, is obligated to offer help to anybody. Most of the people either had general requests (“where are medical textbooks?”) or blew her off, but this guy was one of these old men who trolls bookstores because he has nothing else to do with his time. Sadly, I will be one of these men soon enough, but for now, I’ll just make fun of him because I’m a vile hypocrite.
“Can I help you find anything?” Jane asked the old man.
“Yes, I’m looking for any books relating to apparitions of Mary,” he responded promptly.
Jane’s eyes widened a bit, taken aback as she was by the oddness of the request. “Um…” she started, “I’m not sure if we have any of that.”
“That religious bookstore in Arlington Heights closed down,” the old man said.
“Oh, did it?” she responded hilariously, her face completely blank.
“There was a man there who knew everything about this kinda stuff,” the old man explained. “Now it’s gone. Do you have anything on apparitions of Mary, or Mary, mother of God.”
“I can check. Hold on.” She dragged me over to a computer, where we checked. None of the books relating to that subject were stocked at our store. She had me wait at the computer so she could tell him that we could special-order them for him. I pretended to browse while she did this. I looked up occasionally and weirdly, every time I did, the old man would look over at me and give me this look like, “Hey, I stole yo’ woman.” Being that she was really hot, this actually did make me a little jealous, despite the fact that (a) she’s not even remotely m’woman, and (b) he was 950 years old.
Finally, she came back over to inform me that she had to look for a country music fake-book (a book full of chords and sometimes melodies of songs, so somebody can fake their way through it on an instrument) that included “Your Cheatin’ Heart” “Coal Miner’s Daughter.” He came over while she was this looking up and felt the need to inform both of us that his wife has taken to hanging out at a karaoke bar most nights, and she’s insisting he learn various country songs on his guitar to help her practice. Jane and I exchanged somewhat horrified glances, and after half an hour of trying, the old man walked away empty-handed.
“No need to order anything for me; I’ll be back,” he said. It didn’t sound ominous, but it lingered in the air like a threat of physical violence.
Finally, she let me go. Admittedly, the excessive tour and its little sidetrip down Lonely Old Man Lane was pretty boring, but I didn’t want it to end because I’d hardly ever see her after this, and maybe it’s just a pathetic product of being unattractive, but whenever I’m around somebody that beautiful, I don’t want to leave their side if I don’t have to. But I did.
I came in the following day for a seven-hour shift of fun. I met many, many employees and was invited to a fancy dinner downtown because our particular store won some sort of charity contest among the various branches. I was planning to go, but Lucy stopped in town for the day, and I haven’t seen her the last three times she’s been here, so I decided to go out with her instead.
This job is much, much easier than any café job I’ve ever worked, which seems like it’ll be a blessing as well as a curse. They have no real quality standards, which is cool, but I was so in love with the high quality of delicious Tully’s Coffee, I almost want to go back to Seattle and return to my old job until I have to go to L.A.
I guess I’ll be happy here, and I might have some kind of security if I come back home right away. They seem laid back enough to give me a 15-week leave of absence.