Curb on Trust

There’s a bookstore close by my house.  It’s a huge bookstore, with a separate section just for movies and music, and when you go in, you’re immediately accosted by the sole employee who never appears to have anything to do.
 “May I help you?”
“No thanks.  Just looking.”
But this employee won’t leave you to look.  Instead, she—most often it’s a young woman—will lean on the counter, staring at you, occasionally walking behind you, hands clasped nonchalantly behind her back, as she watches to ensure you aren’t stuffing videos down your shirt.
And if you decide, under all this scrutiny, to actually purchase a movie, the employee will run that movie over a scanner to deactivate the RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tag stuck to the back before slipping your purchase into a clear plastic bag so that that everyone can see that there are no stolen books hidden within.
* * *
I slowed when I spotted the bookshelf sitting on the curb, surprised that the owners had decided to get rid of such a piece.  I could picture exactly where it would go.  But I drove on: there was no way I would fit it into my trunk and besides, I’m too embarrassed to go shopping at the curb.  I don’t have the confidence of the man who drives through our neighborhood once a week, slowing at every drive to check the offerings, occasionally stopping to load something into the back of his truck with the words SCRAP METAL painted on the sides.
The next time I drove by the house, the piece was gone.
The third time I drove by the house, there was a piece of cardboard affixed to a telephone pole.  Written in large black letters were the words: “Whoever took the bookshelf, please bring it back.  It was on the inside of my driveway, not on the curb.  Bring it back, no questions asked.”
I knew that they would never get that shelf back.
* * *
Today, V and I went to the bookstore.  She headed immediately for the movie section.  I followed a few minutes later. 
“May I help you?” It was a new employee, a man.
 “No thanks.  Hey V, I’ll be up front reading.”
She nodded.
I glanced at the employee.  His back was towards V.  Arms crossed, he was staring at the screen perched on the counter at the checkout.  He was staring at V on the screen.  The word ALARM was flashing on and off on the screen beneath her image.
I walked out.
Why was that man watching my daughter? Why was the word ALARM flashing on the screen?
I walked back in.  “Uh, V, we should look for that movie for Dad.” 
She looked at me.  Frowned.  “What movie?”
The man continued to stare at her.  On the screen, I watched my daughter riffle through the movies.
I went to her.  “You have to get out of here,” I whispered.  “That man is staring at you on the screen.” 
She whirled around and waved at the camera.  She laughed and spoke loudly.  “Are you feeling watched?”
We stood behind the man, watching him watch us on the screen flashing ALARM.
We complained loudly about lack of trust.
And still he watched.
We mentioned that we weren’t thieves.
And still he watched.
Giggling, we walked out and into the fiction section.  I found an RDID tag sitting upon a shelf.
* * *
The last time I drove past the house, there was a new sign: “Thank you.  God bless you.”

Labels: , , , , , ,

Writing in the Margins, Bursting at the Seams: Curb on Trust

Monday, July 4, 2011

Curb on Trust

There’s a bookstore close by my house.  It’s a huge bookstore, with a separate section just for movies and music, and when you go in, you’re immediately accosted by the sole employee who never appears to have anything to do.
 “May I help you?”
“No thanks.  Just looking.”
But this employee won’t leave you to look.  Instead, she—most often it’s a young woman—will lean on the counter, staring at you, occasionally walking behind you, hands clasped nonchalantly behind her back, as she watches to ensure you aren’t stuffing videos down your shirt.
And if you decide, under all this scrutiny, to actually purchase a movie, the employee will run that movie over a scanner to deactivate the RFID (Radio-frequency identification) tag stuck to the back before slipping your purchase into a clear plastic bag so that that everyone can see that there are no stolen books hidden within.
* * *
I slowed when I spotted the bookshelf sitting on the curb, surprised that the owners had decided to get rid of such a piece.  I could picture exactly where it would go.  But I drove on: there was no way I would fit it into my trunk and besides, I’m too embarrassed to go shopping at the curb.  I don’t have the confidence of the man who drives through our neighborhood once a week, slowing at every drive to check the offerings, occasionally stopping to load something into the back of his truck with the words SCRAP METAL painted on the sides.
The next time I drove by the house, the piece was gone.
The third time I drove by the house, there was a piece of cardboard affixed to a telephone pole.  Written in large black letters were the words: “Whoever took the bookshelf, please bring it back.  It was on the inside of my driveway, not on the curb.  Bring it back, no questions asked.”
I knew that they would never get that shelf back.
* * *
Today, V and I went to the bookstore.  She headed immediately for the movie section.  I followed a few minutes later. 
“May I help you?” It was a new employee, a man.
 “No thanks.  Hey V, I’ll be up front reading.”
She nodded.
I glanced at the employee.  His back was towards V.  Arms crossed, he was staring at the screen perched on the counter at the checkout.  He was staring at V on the screen.  The word ALARM was flashing on and off on the screen beneath her image.
I walked out.
Why was that man watching my daughter? Why was the word ALARM flashing on the screen?
I walked back in.  “Uh, V, we should look for that movie for Dad.” 
She looked at me.  Frowned.  “What movie?”
The man continued to stare at her.  On the screen, I watched my daughter riffle through the movies.
I went to her.  “You have to get out of here,” I whispered.  “That man is staring at you on the screen.” 
She whirled around and waved at the camera.  She laughed and spoke loudly.  “Are you feeling watched?”
We stood behind the man, watching him watch us on the screen flashing ALARM.
We complained loudly about lack of trust.
And still he watched.
We mentioned that we weren’t thieves.
And still he watched.
Giggling, we walked out and into the fiction section.  I found an RDID tag sitting upon a shelf.
* * *
The last time I drove past the house, there was a new sign: “Thank you.  God bless you.”

Labels: , , , , , ,

12 Comments:

At July 4, 2011 at 9:54 AM , Anonymous Songbyrd1958 said...

Oh, I'm glad they got their bookshelf back. It gives us hope that trust and honesty are not totally lost... even if we get scrutinized in the store!!

 
At July 4, 2011 at 10:29 AM , Anonymous Lisa Elam said...

I really loved this. Love the contrast between trust and paranoia. I do however think that I would be changing book stores! lol

 
At July 4, 2011 at 10:57 AM , Anonymous Cheryl P. said...

That would upset me if I thought I was singularly being watched as a possible thief. I won't ever shop at places that do things like Loehmann's does with the communal dressing rooms. I totally understand that shoplifting is a huge problem but when it makes the customer feel scrutinized that is just unfriendly.

Conversely, that is nice that the person got their bookcase back.

 
At July 4, 2011 at 11:25 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Cheryl,
I had to look Loehmann's up and found that Erma Bombeck wrote on it. Here's another piece: http://www.examiner.com/women-s-style-in-denver/communal-dressing-room-anyone-an-ode-to-loehmann-s

 
At July 4, 2011 at 11:26 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

I think I'm going back to the small community book store.

 
At July 4, 2011 at 11:27 AM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

It was kind of neat, seeing that last sign. However, my kids and I are figuring that, since the sign was posted, the shelf had to have been returned in the dead of night. So the returners didn't want to get "caught" or be embarassed by a perfectly honest mistake.

 
At July 4, 2011 at 11:58 AM , Anonymous Cheryl P. said...

How, funny that I had read that piece too. I was thinking what a positive type of person that would look at it as a way to get opinions. I don't take it like that at all. I just look at it as I am taking my clothes off in front of a bunch of strangers so Loehmann's can be sure I am not stuffing it in my bag. Aren't I a negative Nelly.

 
At July 4, 2011 at 12:00 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

I read it the same way you did. I guess I'm a negative Nelly too. I would NEVER shop at this store!

 
At July 4, 2011 at 4:56 PM , Anonymous Annie said...

So glad to hear that the bookshelf was returned. Like you, I thought it was a lost cause. I have no idea why but it reminds me of that Raymond Carver story where his wife puts his side of the furniture in the yard and a couple come by and want to purchase a few pieces. An amazing piece of writing.

I have to agree with you...a bookstore should be a place to relax and read without employees looking over your shoulders and assuming you have a fetish to steal.

 
At July 5, 2011 at 9:30 AM , Anonymous Deborah Batterman said...

I see a story in the making here . . . not that this isn't vivid in its own right, but that 'hovering' employee is a character, indeed.

 
At July 5, 2011 at 7:36 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

Quite a character. A creepy character.

 
At July 5, 2011 at 7:37 PM , Anonymous kgwaite said...

I thought it was interesting to see how this all played out with the bookshelf and I was really happy and surprised to see that last sign.

 

Post a Comment

Subscribe to Post Comments [Atom]

<< Home