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.”
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: Books, Community, Consumption, Culture, Raising Children, Technology, Trust