Well, I took the bait.
A rainbow of gelatinous, fruity bears shot through the air and peppered the wall behind him.
“Dude,” he said, projecting his voice over shelves and shelves of books.
My hand was a catapult and gummi bears my ammunition. I let fly another assault before Mike had time to descend the ladder. He zigzagged through the shelves, then sprinted at me, making a play at my ammo. He grabbed the bag and stuffed in his fist, and the first ever gummi bear war had begun. It was a Tuesday.
Those who found out I was a bookseller would often sigh romantically and say that it sounds like a lot of fun working at a bookstore. Of course, when you’re entrenched in the job and required to work nights, weekends, and holidays (or your payroll won’t allow extra help though you desperately need it), it’s easy to reply with trite colloquialisms such as, “It ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.” But the truth of the matter is that, for the most part, it’s much more than it’s cracked up to be.
Besides the Gummi Bear War of 2007, we had grill outs, overnighters, chili cook-offs, drink making competitions, scavenger hunts, and all sorts of absolute ridiculousness that could never occur at other jobs. After reading 1984 and loving every waking moment of it, I made posters with the famous WAR IS PEACE, FREEDOM IS SLAVERY, and IGNORANCE IS STRENGTH mantras and plastered them around our warehouse. We often told jokes over our headsets, especially when a coworker was working closely with a customer, in the hope that we could get them to laugh at inopportune times. And perhaps one of my most satisfying experiences was when the aforementioned Mike and I got to beat the ever living hell out of a damaged bookshelf with nothing but a hammer and ninja-kicks.
There were less appealing occurrences that were definitely out of the ordinary, but made for good bar talk. An old, perhaps senile woman, wandered into our store and suddenly dropped her pants and used the carpet as her own personal toilet. We had to keep watch on the girlie magazines because cheap, strange men loved nothing more than to remove the plastic, hide them in another magazine, and peruse the pages while sitting in a chair pressed against a wall. I even had an old man ask for help, then proceed to tell me racist, homophobic, and crass jokes for the duration of his visit. I told a manager after he’d gone and discovered I could have easily asked him to leave without helping him find a single book.
For the most part, bookstores are like sacred meccas for readers all across the country. It’s a place you can go get a cup of coffee and read or even meet other book lovers. I remember my trip to the infamous Powell’s in Portland and visiting their rare book collection. There I saw first edition novels, author signature, and the Holy Grail for me at the time: a first edition Fight Club signed by Chuck Palahniuk himself.
Anytime a book lover walks into a bookstore, they can’t help but get drunk on the thought of curling up with one while drinking tea or coffee. The rain will fall and give a rhythm that goes along with the words. I’ve fallen victim to this romanticism, and bought a fair number of titles that I just knew I would read the moment I got home, but ended up gathering dust on a very full and impressive looking bookcase.
Whenever I think about my time working at a bookstore, that same sense of romantic nostalgia fills me up. It was one of the best jobs I’ve ever had. My coworkers were like family and even today, after the store was closed, a good number of us still keep in touch. Sure, we all loved books. We got to see new releases before anyone else and perhaps one of my favorite aspects of the job was getting prerelease ARCs (Advance Reader Copies) that we got to read before anyone else. But to work at a bookstore, you need more than just a passion for books. You also need to be able to throw one hell of a gummi bear.