Wednesday, April 19, 2006

That'll Teach Me to Ask for Anything Other Than Dan Brown

I think I'm going to start a series on the unbelievable rudeness of people who work in places in this city in which they have absolutely no chance of earning a tip. Unless there's the possibility that, by talking to you nicely, they'll earn themselves another dollar on top of the apparently-optional-but-actually-mandatory tip they expect no matter what kind of service they provide, you're better off not dealing with most New Yorkers. This evening's specimen: the brattish shop clerk in the wonderful Strand Bookstore, where I'd gone to stock up on Richard Ford and to spy out a present for A. This evening was the first really gloriously summery evening in Manhattan, and I had worked a full day at The Literary Journal, and I was in something like a good mood for the first time in three weeks. The green market was open again in Union Square, and lovely smells of fruit and flowers were in the air, and people were in their summer gear... it was just pleasant. And to make it even more pleasant, I headed to Strand. But I couldn't locate the anthologies (I wanted to get a copy of Ford's Book of the American Short Story ). I could find the novels, and the literary theory, and the poetry and the drama and the art books and the Americana, everything where it usually is, on the towering, well-organised shelves with their handwritten signs, but I'd never had to look for an anthology before and I needed help. So what did I do? I approached a member of staff. A young guy stocking a shelf in the fiction section. The exchange went pretty much exactly as follows:

Me: Excuse me, could you tell me where the fiction anthologies are kept?
Shopguy: I don't know what an anthology is, so you should...
Me: It's like where you get a load of writers in one book, a selection of different pieces by different authors....it's fiction, so you should have it around here somewhere...
Shopguy (face has darkened somewhere in the middle of my last sentence, now looking at me like he would like to hurt me, and now speaking in as sarcastic a tone as his little Lacoste-clad ass can muster): Oh. Well, actually, see, I don't know what a writer is either.
Me: Oh. I see. You're...
Shopguy: Go and ask someone else.
Me: Just forget it.


I walked off and asked someone else, roughly two feet away, and they politely directed me to where the anthologies were. I walked in that direction accompanied by the sound of Shopguy's pointing and sneering along with the colleague who had joined him to relish this incredibly interesting and bizarre display of obvious lunacy by a customer with a weird accent.

This made me REALLY MAD, as rudeness in a situation like this always does. I mean, what would it have cost him just not to have been such a blatant prick? Sorry. Anyway, I should have stormed out, called his manager, etc, but it wouldn't have made any difference (no, really, I don't think it would) and being able to browse in Strand is more important to me than scoring a point over somebody who got the equivalent of a 2.1 in English Lit last year and will be working in Strand until they start to get jowelly under the chin...so I just kept looking, and eventually found the Ford in hardback for $14, and Women With Men , (which I last read during the summer of 1999, when I spent four months writing 100 fake horoscopes a day in a plastics factory in Drumcondra) for a fiver. Plus a copy of the new book of Henri-Cartier Bresson's Portraits for A, to celebrate lots of things, including an anniversary (ours, number four), a fellowship (his, for full tuition, for the next year of his PhD), and a publishing deal (his, for the book of essays he's co-editing, with a very good Irish publishing house). The book is brilliant and beautiful (aptly) and I will try to post some scans of the amazing portraits of people like Beckett (on the cover, and his birthday is the same day as our anniversary, so that was apt also), Beauvoir, Sontag, Capote, Matisse, Bacon, Jung, Camus, Miller, McCullers, Faulkner, Dior....phew.

7 comments:

Miglior acque said...

I had a similar experience in Hodges & Figgis in Dublin at Christmas. Me: Hi, I'm looking for the Princeton Collected Works of Aristotle; Him: oh, ok, let's have a look...do you know who the author is? Emm....

Anonymous said...

That's particularly ugly because the Strand is otherwise heaven on a stick, the sort of place where travellin' furriners like me ruin our luggage allocations and have to casually get on a plane with a cabin bag that loooooks small but weighs more than a parcel of bricks.

- barista

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