When Elias Greig applied for a part-time job at a bookstore on Sydney's North Shore, he had no idea what he was in for. To maintain his sanity, Greig started recording his interactions with customers. Here are some of the regular characters – instantly recognisable to all of us who have worked in retail – he encountered.
Listless Hipster Dad and Lily
“Parenting is hard. She’s three.”Credit:Phillip Marsden
Small girl in pink swimmers repeatedly throws hardcover Wind in the Willows on the floor while Listless Hipster Dad watches on.
Me: *wincing as book hits floor* Everything all right?
Listless Hipster Dad: Oh yeah . . . Sorry man . . . *looks blearily at daughter* Hey Lily – don’t do that, hey?
Me: *wincing as book hits floor again* Ah, maybe you could take it off her . . . ?
Listless Hipster Dad: *wryly* Parenting is hard. She’s three.
Me: I believe you. *winces as book hits floor again* Do you mind if I speak to her?
Listless Hipster Dad: Sure man! *thinks for a moment* Don’t yell at her, but.
Me: *gently* Lily, if you throw that book one more time, I’m going to make your daddy pay for it –
Listless Hipster Dad: LILY PUT THE BOOK DOWN RIGHT NOW!
“Have you seen this one?”Credit:Phillip Marsden
Tanned louche with designer salt-and-pepper stubble, and a pair of Ray-Bans pulling his collar down to show more of himself, puts two expensive coffee table books on the counter – one about Venice, the other a collection of fifty years of Pirelli calendar babes.
Tanned Louche: *lavishly; with much too much tongue* This shop is amazing. It’s filled with beautiful things.
Me: *smiles blankly; scans books*
Tanned Louche: Have you seen this one? *strokes and admires the Venice book obscenely* I l-u-u-u-h-v Venice.
Me: *smiles blankly; bags Venice*
Tanned Louche: And this book *takes the Pirelli book lovingly into his arms; half-opens it to show a hint of classy boob* is stunning. I love *pauses; thinks* Pirelli.
Me: *smiles blankly* $250, please.
“Just something small – I’m in a rush – something like a notebook.”Credit:Phillip Marsden
Perpetually frowning woman in camel coat with many jewels: Hello, I’m in a rush and my mother has turned 100.
Me: *buffering* . . . Wow. How can I help?
Frowncamel: I just want something small for her birthday, something appropriate for someone who’s just turned 100 – do you have anything like that?
Me: Do I have a small gift appropriate for your mother who has just turned 100?
Frowncamel: *grows frownier* Yes.
Me: *fascinated* I have no idea! What sort of small gift is appropriate for a 100-year-old lady? What sort of 100-year-old lady is your mother? *starry-eyed; drifting* Wow! Imagine – 100 years old . . .
Frowncamel: *impatiently* Just something small – I’m in a rush – something like a notebook.
Me: *deflates* I’ll show you where they are.
“Yeah but why was it HERE?”Credit:Phillip Marsden
Low-fringed, sandblasted blonde woman with the pugnacious, snap-hinge mouth of a monitor lizard: I want Jane Harper’s The Dry!
Me: *feels the residual calm equipoise of his recent holiday leave him in a rush of sadness and irritation* Good morning! I’ll get you one – won’t be a sec. *heads for the crime section*
Sandblasted Snap-Mouth: *follows testily* You probably don’t have any left – I couldn’t see it! *snaps mouth shut*
Me: Here it is! *hands it over*
Sandblasted Snap-Mouth: *annoyed* Where was it?!
Me:It was here *pats shelf* in the crime section, under H, where it’s supposed be for a change. *smiles confidingly*
Sandblasted Snap-Mouth: *even more annoyed* Yeah but why was it HERE?
Me:In the crime section?
Sandblasted Snap-Mouth: *enraged* Yeah! *snaps mouth shut*
Me:. . . Because it’s a crime novel?
Sandblasted Snap-Mouth: *furious* NO! Why isn’t it more obvious!? It’s a BESTSELLER!
Me: Oh. *digests this* Ah . . . *snaps mouth shut* Hmmm . . . *retreats; feels the extent to which he is now back at work*
“Do you mind if I hang out in here a bit longer?”Credit:Phillip Marsden
Receiving reactionary filth [in my opinion] from New Holland Publishers in the back office with the door propped open, quietly loathing my job, when there’s a soft knock on the door frame. I look up to see a teen girl standing in the doorway in sneakers, jeans and a plaid shirt, smiling apologetically – the Muse of Slackers, Schlubs, and Service Workers.
Me: *delighted to be pulled away from an invoice that includes the Mark Latham/Alan Jones cookbook* Hi! How can I help?
Muse of Slackers, Schlubs, and Service Workers (MSSSW): Hey – sorry – not important at all, but I’m just wondering what the playlist we’re listening to is called? It’s – *smiles and nods her head shyly* it’s a really good time.
Me: *enjoys this a lot; pauses for a second to pay attention to the music, perfect shop indie with cruisy, chorus-rich strums and a luxuriously melancholic whale-song male vocal over the top* I’m not sure, let me check with my colleague – he put it on.
MSSSW: Oh, no, don’t worry! It doesn’t matter! *gestures I should sit back down*
Me: *twinkles* No, no – I want to know, too. It’s good, isn’t it? *slopes to the front counter and checks with younger colleague, writes down band and album name on a Post-it, then presents it to MSSSW*
MSSSW: *makes small bow* Thank you so much – do you mind if I hang out in here a bit longer? It’s such a nice store.
Me: *smiles sadly, even more aware of his role in a comfortably derivative and powerfully sentimental vision of working in a bookshop/record store, a pocket universe of reverie and interlude where life leaves you alone –
so shelter’d from annoy,
That I may never know how change the moons,
Or hear the voice of busy commonsense!
– and with a sense of being added as a character (The Bookseller, tall, paunchy, fluffy, balding, with tortoise-shell glasses, a penchant for plaid, and an air of wary sauropodal benignity) to the gorgeous, unownable, never-to-be-finished novel MSSSW is writing about herself* Of course. Take your time – enjoy! *returns to Jones and Latham*
This is an extract from Elias Greig's I Can't Remember The Title But The Cover Is Blue, illustrated by Phillip Marsden, which is published by Allen and Unwin at $19.99.
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