Life behind the counter can be a war of nerves. The customer believes they are always right. You, the shop assistant/assistant manager/second-in-charge/shop owner/school or uni student trying to make ends meet, must abide by their every whim, and smile graciously that they even deigned to enter the vicinity of your shop. It’s a tough world out there in brick and mortar – any retail or service worker could tell you that.
But let’s not dwell on the misery. Once you realise others are going through precisely the same thing, like any group therapy, you feel a whole lot better for it. That’s the comforting (and often darkly disturbing – oh, humanity) takeaway from Sydney author Elias Greig’s new book out just in time for retail’s big Christmas crunch, I Can’t Remember The Title But The Cover is Blue.
Greig has worked in retail for more than a decade. Starting as a shoe salesman, Greig became a bookseller in Sydney’s northern beaches, which helped fund his BA, MA and PhD at the University of Sydney. But it also gave him a compendium of experiences with every customer under the sun. After having a read and many, many LOLs later, I picked five of the ones that reminded me a little too closely of my former life as a video store attendant (does that age me?)…
Sunday, 3.30 p.m.
Muscular father and son duo, both tanned and wearing grey singlets, enter store with sense of purpose, scoop up and pass from hand to hand a copy of Cheryl Strayed’s Wild. At Muscular Son’s urging, Muscular Father places book on counter and gestures brawnily at it.
Muscular Father: That one, mate.
Me: *tight-jawed approval* Great book. *blokey nod and smile-frown*
Muscular Father: *hands over money*
Me: Did you see the movie?
Muscular Father: Nah. Any good?
Me: *more blokey nodding* Great film. You should go.
Muscular Father: *twists mouth; pained expression* Yeah, but it’s got whatzername in it, doesn’t it?
Me: Reese Witherspoon?
Muscular Father: Yeah, see, she doesn’t do anything for me – physically – and I can’t be bothered watching anyone I’m not attracted to for that long. She just doesn’t do it for me. *thinks for a moment; faraway Hemingway look* Bit like Meryl Streep.
Me: . . .
Muscular Son: *wordlessly pushes Muscular Father – hard – out of the way, picks up book and meets my eye, smiling desperately* Is it a good book?
Me: *Equally desperate smile* It’s fantastic –
Muscular Son: Awesome! *gives absurd thumbs up*
Me: Enjoy it! *absurdly returns thumbs up*