Crazy Jay and the Perils of Working Retail in DecemberDecember 22, 2008
For a period of about 14 months, I worked at a book store. I loved it. The pay was lousy, the hours were lousy, but I was surrounded by books, which I loved. I love the look of books, the feel of them, the smell of them. It was awesome! And once Noodle was hired, it was even better. I knew I’d found a friend for life because she was so much like me, and yet so very different, too.
I was a “third key,” which meant I had some supervisory authority but was not considered a manager. I opened/closed the store, made schedules, counted money, delegated tasks, etc.
Well, a competing bookstore opened right around Thanksgiving and two of our best employees left to go work there. That left the manager, assistant manager, and me. Which would have been fine, had the manager, Jay, not been a total nutcase.
Jay was a little man full of quirks. To delve into all of them here would take more time than I would care to spend remembering him. Here are some highlights of his peculiarities from the top of my head:
1. He passed me a note one day that asked if I would like to get together for an after work social. I figured he meant the employees as a whole so I responded with an enthusiastic, “Yeah, that would be nice!” It didn’t even occur to me until later that perhaps he was asking me out. Just the two of us. On a DATE. Ugh. I conferred with another third key who read the note and said without any hesitation, “Oh yeah, he’s talking about a date.”
I had NO interest in dating this weird guy. I figured the only way out of it was to be mature and honest. So I went to him and said, “Jay, I’m sorry. I think I might have misunderstood your note. I thought you were talking about a bunch of us getting together after work some day. If you meant just me and you, then I’m afraid I’ll have to decline. But thanks for asking.”
At which point Jay had a bit of a hissy fit and told me that no one liked me. He was real mature like that.
2. He told Noodle’s husband that he planned to write a motivational book. Whenever he got around to it.
3. He suddenly decided one day that he wanted to be known by his initials, J.M., rather than his name. Whenever someone called him Jay he would correct them with an exasperated sigh.
4. We had two employees named Teresa working at the store. He decided that it was too confusing, so he insisted on re-naming one of the Teresas “Tracie” instead. (Without her consent/approval, I might add.)
But on to the big story. When Black Friday rolled around and the other two third keys had left to work at the new store, poor old Jay had himself a nervous breakdown. The first clue I had that something strange was brewing was when he posted an open letter to the employees on the bulletin board in the break room. I don’t remember what it said, but it was psychotic enough that I took it to the drugstore at the opposite end of the mall and photocopied it. When I got off work, I faxed the copy to the district manager at her request.
I don’t remember what all went down in the days that followed, but Jay was pretty quickly placed on an “administrative leave of absence.” That left the assistant manager and me running the store all by our lonesomes. Pretty hard when one of us had to be there at all times and the store was open for 14 hours a day. It was the most intense Christmas season I’ve ever had, and the only one I worked retail. Frankly, I’m not sure if I could do it again.
Jay returned to work some time after the Christmas rush was over, and I left for a more traditional office job in February. Noodle stayed on, though, and we had quite the head-shaking, disbelieving laugh when Jay had ANOTHER breakdown the following Christmas.
Sometimes, when I’m in the crowded stores at this time of year, I think about that crazy year I worked at the book store. I try to be extra nice to the sales clerks because, after all, they could be dealing with goodness only knows what kind of crazy individuals. On either side of the counter.