A man walks in with aroma of retired debate club arrogance. He walks over to the back issues, side stepping the CLOSED sign blocking the only reasonable path.
"Sorry," I say, "that section is closed."
"Oh, no. Really? Why?"
"I'm putting away this week's books." I say.
"That's okay. I want to look at your Iron Man and Captain Americas." which are the comics behind me when I work at the computer, in the open portion of the store.
"Sure." I say, handing him the stack.
"Are these prices firm?" He asks. "I like to haggle."
"They are." I say. "You can discuss prices with the owner but he prices them at the lower end of the spectrum because, like me, he doesn't like to haggle."
"You can't knock off, like," he swats at the book, not in a damaging way, "five bucks on this."
"Nope They're not my books to knock money off of."
He makes a face. "See, I go on Ebay, and I see these books starting at ninety-nine cents."
I make a face. "They're probably reprints. This is a fifty year old book. I can't imagine they'd start the bidding at under twenty bucks."
"They go up to eighty or ninety before I give up. I don't have that kind of money for a comic. I read them for the-- mind if I open this?" he asks.
"I read them for the stories. I'm not one of those.." he pulls the comic out of the bag, flips it open to a page, and sticks his nose All The Way In to the binding, loudly sniffing "people who buy the books for the money, I" flips to another page, sticks his nose in, and sniffs loudly "I like them for the stories."
Today is never going to end.
"Have you considered getting the collections, then? They're sturdier, you get more story."
He stops mid-sniff to shake his head disapprovingly at me.
"You kids" I'm a kid now! "trying to tell me how to collect things. I've been collecting since I was a kid" back before humans knew how to control fire, back when they viewed women as property and not people, so you know, any point in history up to this point, "I know more about collecting than you" who work in a store that specializes in the thing that I collect "could ever know. Sniiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiiifffff."
"See this one has a tear, so you should knock off a few bucks. That's how they do it on EBay. But I don't like to order from there, you never know when they smell like mildew."
"True." I say. "The thing is, the owner *has* knocked off a few bucks. He's a certified expert on grading comics. I'm not. It's why I don't haggle. But he's been working for this store for almost as long as I've been alive. And he's owned it for over twenty years."
"The Black guy?" he, of course, asks.
"One of them." I say.
"Glasses and a paunch?"
I inhale. But not deeply. Not like I'm sniffing for mildew. "Sure. So he knows all about pricing. He's one of the foremost experts in the country." This might be hyperbole. Who can quantify that skill?
"This one has a little tear in the corner, though."
I nod my head. "I know. He knows, too. If it didn't have the little tear, it would be more expensive."
"I think I could find this for ninety-nine cents on EBay."
"Then you should get it there." I say, reaching for the pile.
He says, "You're a tough negotiator."
"I'm not, though. I don't have the authority to negotiate, as these aren't my books, and this is not my store."
He pulls one of the issues back. "Alright. I'll get this one."
"That's twenty dollars, please."
He gives me a twenty that smells of mildew enough that I don't have to put it up to my nose.
"Can I have a bag?"
"Sure thing." I say. "But I have to charge you for it. It's Cambridge law."
"Oh yea. I keep forgetting that. It's a dime, right?"
"It starts at a dime." I explicitly lie. "But can go up to about three dollars depending on the quality of the bag. Ours are a quarter." you asshole.
The owner of the store had low-risk surgery this morning, and just called to check in.
Owner: "I survived the surgery, so I guess (His Son's Name) doesn't run the store yet."
Me: "That's the chain of succession? You skip over your employees, straight to your eleven year old son? Wouldn't it make more sense for your wife, who runs nonprofits to take over?"
Owner: "She doesn't want to do that. Maybe (Coworker's Name)?"
Me: "She doesn't want to do that, either. Plus, hasn't (Other Coworker's Name) worked here longer than some of us have been alive?"
Owner: "That makes sense. You think he'd want to do it?"
Me: "No, none of us would want to do it, but he'd be the most prepared to make it somebody else's problem."
Owner: "I guess I'll have to keep surviving then."
An Erudite Man enters the store. "Well, isn't this just perfection. You work here, correct?"
EM: "My daughter is a graphic novelist."
Not Yet A Graphic Novelist: "No. No. I'm a children's author who is thinking of getting into graphic novels."
EM: "Yes. Well." He gives me the eyeroll. "If, let's say, I was a person who read real literature and thought graphic novels were just a failed rebranding of comic books to intimidate adults into foolishly investing their money in comics until they died. What would you say to me?"
Me: "I would say you sounded so convinced in your argument that it would be a waste of my time to try and convince you otherwise."
EM: "Oh, I like you."
EM: "Gun to your head, what's the best graphic novel in the store."
I look to my left.
Me: "Daytripper. It's a book by two Brazilian twin brothers. I don't want to spoil the joy of reading it, so I'll just say that it's a story about family focusing on a young man whose father is a famous novelist, but he writes obituaries and is trying to find his voice as a writer."
NYAGN: "Oh wow."
EM: "That was spectacular. I grew up in Brazil, where I was a journalist in a newspaper. I didn't write the obituaries, but one of my mates did."
NYAGN flips through the book. "I'l definitely be getting this."
We discuss different art styles, what she's looking for, and she mentions that she's in town to have a surprise conversation with an author she particularly likes, who happens to be a subscriber at our store.
EM: "You seem very well informed. About comics and literature. Do you know anything about poetry."
This is not going to end well.
Me: "Yes, I have spent a great deal of time working in the Cambridge area poetry scene."
EM: "Do you know" name I've never heard of.
Me: "No." I look up the name on the computer. "They are quite dead. And have been since before I moved here."
EM: "Gun to your head. Favorite living American poet."
Me: "Patricia Smith."
EM: "I've never heard of her."
I give him a quick rundown, and tell him to start with Blood Dazzler.
EM: "Do you know Sharon Olds?"
Me: "Not personally, but I love her work, and saw her read once, many years ago."
EM: "Seamus Heaney."
Me: "I'm familiar with him, but I don't know him. He wasn't precisely local."
EM: "Of course, of course."
I return to talking with NYAGN about her influences, and different graphic novel categories.
EM approaches me with a book. The Cantab Anthology, which sits on the front counter.
EM: "Are you Adam Stone?"
Me: "I am."
EM: "I read one of the Patricia Smith poems, and then one of yours. What makes this poetry and not prose?"
Me: "A local legend name Jack McCarthy once said that if you wrote or performed something that everyone agreed was poetry, then anything you write thereafter can be considered poetry." (I'm aware this is not the precise quote.)
EM: "But this is just formatting, then. And repetition. Hemingway used repetition. Would you call that poetry?"
Me: "I'm not a big Hemingway fan, so no."
EM: "So how is this" yeup "Drunken Conversations At Hampshire College poetry, and not just prose with line breaks?"
NYAGN: "What classifies anything in the 21st century? Do you have anything from the mid-seventies? That's when I'm setting the book, so I'm curious as to what comics looked like in that era." She says, saving her father from violent stink eye.
We continue talking about 70s art, and a Very Drunk Cantabrigian comes in.
EM, to me: "Is there a second hand clothing store nearby?"
Me: "The best option in Cambridge is The Garment District."
Very Drunk Cantabrigian: "And how."
EM: "How would we get there?"
VDG: "Take the fucken bus."
EM: "Um. Yes. Is there another way?"
VDG: "You could drive, but parking sucks."
EM: "That's fine, we haven't got a car. Could we walk?"
VDG: "Hoooooo. Could you walk? Can you?"
While VDG gives Horrible Directions, NYAGN and I talk about shipping comics to the UK. She ends up buying "Daytripper" and Guy Delisle's "Pyongyang". She and her father leave, taking down my info.
VDG: "I want a copy of the In The Wind 40th Anniversary Edition."
Me: "I don't know what that is."
VDG: "This isn't a place I could get it."
VDG: "It's a motorcycle magazine."
Me: "Ah. Yea, we don't have that."
VDG: "I know. I know. But where would I get it."
Me: "The Coop is the most likely place to have it."
VDG: "Of course! My mother used to work there fifty years ago. 'Til the towers went down. Then she started making butter soup and she sold my house to the communists."
VDG: "Right on the coast of Oregon, they got her to give half the house to the city to secure her legacy. And then Helen....you know Helen?"
VDG: "Sure you do. She works over at...over at...uhh...Charlie's."
Me: "Oh sure, Helen." No idea.
VDG: "She kicks me out all the time. I don't think she knows that Cheny was behind the towers. People blaming Bush. Barabara was a lovely woman. I never met her, but what a lady. If any of those boys ever did wrong. KRAK! Melania, if Trump ever goes nuts..."
VDG: "Think she'd...KRAK!...him? Helen never hit me or nothing, but you know."
VDG: "They called Barbara The Iron Lady."
Me: "Good old Barbara Thatcher."
VDG: "Get those communists....KRAK!"
Me: "Indeed. Well, I've got to close the store for my lunch hour. You should get to the Coop to get your magazine."
VDG: "What? Oh! The Coop. My mother used to work there."
VDG: "But rent got so expensive."
Me: "Uh huh. See you later."
VDG: "I'm always getting kicked out of places. Thanks for not using your foot."
Random Con Man: "Hi. How much can you give me for this comic?"
Me: "Nothing. I'm not the buyer. You'd have to come back Wednesday night, or next Friday during the day."
RCM: "Can you tell me how much it's worth?"
Me: "Nope. I deliberately didn't train to evaluate comics."
RCM: "Could you look it up?"
Me: "Nope. You'd have to come back Wednesday night or Friday during the day."
RCM pulls out his comic, which has been *rolled up* in his pocket.
A Regular Collector who is a friend of the store is in, and wanders over to peek at the comic.
RCM: "It's in mint condition."
It had been rolled up in his pocket.
RCM: "And it's one of the first appearances of the Avengers."
Me: "Nooooo. It's definitely not one of the original appearances of The Avengers. It's from, I'd say the mid-70s, so about fifteen years after the first Avengers issue."
RCM: "I looked it up and the first appearance of The Avengers in this condition is worth several thousand dollars."
ARC walks away, uneasily.
Me: "I can't help you there. You should come back Wednesday night or Friday during the day. I don't price the comics."
RCM: "Oh, I see. It says 'The Avengers'. I thought it said 'Introducing The Avengers'. Still, it's probably worth fifty bucks, right?"
Me: "Probably not. But, AGAIN, I don't evaluate the comics. I can't tell you how much it's worth."
RCM: "Maybe I'll try and sell it on the street. But I don't want to undersell it. Y'know. It's from the 70s, so it's worth a fortune."
Me: "Uhhhhhhhhh. Sure."
RCM: "I used to have everything. Every comic in the world. I had it. Then my house burned down. I must have lost billions. You know?"
RCM: "Hopefully, I'll sell this for tens of thousands of dollars, and be able to come in and buy all the issues I really want."
Me: "Good luck."
ACM: "That was a reprint issue. It's worth, maybe, fifty cents in mint condition."
Me: "I didn't want to tell him that, and then have it only be worth thirty-five cents, and have him be mad at me."
Random Lonely Person: "Hi."
RLP: "How are you?"
Coworker: "I'm good. How about you?"
RLP: "Well, my middle niece got married last week, which means I Am Old. Ha ha. The wedding was pretty beautiful, though. And she wore a green dress, and..."
Me: "I'm going to go get something to drink, do you need anything?"
(In the background: "...even though it doesn't look good on anyone, but that's my sister's family for you, no regard for color...")
RLP: "I mean, I guess if you're a frog. Ha ha...."
I am gone for about fifteen minutes.
When I get back, they are both standing in the same place.
RLP: "...a lot of people don't realize that it's a callback to the third episode. Well, I gotta go. Hasta la bye bye."
CW exhales deeply.
Me: "You didn't even know that person, did you?"
CW: "Never seen him before in my life."
Me: "Stop asking strangers how they are. Their responses will never improve your life."
CW exhales deeply.
Random Clod: "Are you sold out? Should I go to your other store?"
Exasperated CVS Employee: "That's not our other store. That's Staples. We're CVS. They might have the computer you're looking for over there. We don't sell computers. We're a pharmacy."
RC waves her hands: "Can you call? I don't want to go all the way over there and find out they're sold out, too."
ECE: "They are right over there. It is a one minute walk. And they are A DIFFERENT STORE."
RC: "So you're not allowed to call your other stores? That's ridiculous."
ECE walks away.
RC starts walking towards the cashier who is about to ring up my transaction.
RC: "Excuse me, I--"
Me: "Nope. You don't get to be crazy at this person until I leave the store."
RC huffs. But she also waits.
Random Clod: "You guys don't have Monstress?"
Me: "It's right behind you."
RC: "This is volume two."
Me: "Yeup. Volume one should be behind it."
RC: "I need volume three."
Me: "Sorry. It doesn't come out until September."
RC: "But I need it for my anniversary, which is Thursday."
Me: "It's not out yet."
RC: "Can you get it for me?"
Me: "How can I get you something that doesn't exist yet?"
RC: "It's for a special occasion, though. Can you make an exception?"
Me: "How would I even do that? The. book. doesn't. exist. yet."
RC: "So you can't get it from another store."
Me: "Not until we fix our time machine."
RC farts and then starts flipping through She-Hulk trades. He is, thankfully, not making any noises.
Settle an argument no one is having:
You walk into a store where a section is closed off. There is a ladder with boxes blocking one entryway. A stool with boxes blocking the only other point of ingress or egress. All of the counter space is covered with paperwork and piles of books. The person working in the store says "Sorry, that section is closed on Mondays. It will be open again tomorrow."
A. Push the boxes off the stool and start to pick at the piles that you've been asked not to touch.
B. Say "That's ok. I'll only be over there for a minute. I'm looking for something in particular."
C. Laugh. "This is so totally my life. Look, I can't come back tomorrow. Can you just move all this stuff, so I can look. You probably don't have what I'm looking for anyway."
D. Scoot the stool over, and act incredulous when the person loudly repeats "THAT SECTION IS CLOSED TODAY."
E. Paw at the nearest piles and ask "Is it anything good? Is it on sale?"
F. Loudly belch and announce "That's what I think of THAT."
G. Argue that the section is not, in fact, closed on Mondays, but is closed on Tuesdays. Letting the clerk, who's never seen you before, but has worked here for the better part of a decade, know "I've been coming here A LONG TIME."
H. Tell the employee you're good friends with the owner, dropping the name of a former owner who's been dead for enough years that his close friends should probably be aware.
I. Lean on the "DON'T LEAN ON THE TABLE!" table, so that the whole pile of hardcovers and trade paperbacks slide toward you.
J. Loudly grunt and leave.
An absolute Woogums and his female compatriot come into the store, and he starts giving her a Very Incorrect Tour of the place.
"They organize the back issues alphabetically because that's one of the things corporate makes all the stores do."
"But this is where they keep all their indie and underground books" Woogums says, pointing to the nostalgia section.
"Are these trading collections or graphic novels?" asks his even less-informed but also less-infuriating friend.
"Graphic novels." He says.
They are hardcover collections of old newspaper strips and EC comics.
"Everyone in this place knows me." he says, waving to me.
I have never seen him before in my life. And, Diamond willing, will never see him again. I do not wave back.
"This place used to be all porn and indie comics but the corporate office made them turn it into more of a superhero store." he says.
"What are you talking about?" I ask. "There is no corporate, and most of our our collections and graphic novels are what would be considered independent, as they're not put out by Marvel or DC. This entire section here. That section over there. Most of our all-ages books are Scholastic or other smaller presses. We have a European comic section. This entire shelf here. We're not really a superhero store, although we do, of course, carry the most popular DC and Marvel comics."
"You didn't used to, though. You didn't carry any at all."
"Weird." I say. "The owner, who shopped and worked here since the early 80s told me that when he started, about 90% of their sales were the Chris Claremont X-Men comics, with the rest being spread between Superman, Batman, and Cerebus. If anything, there are less superhero comics in the store now than there have ever been. Maybe you're thinking of another store."
"Must be." he says, and goes back to talking to his poor companion. "I think you'd really like The Watchmen."
I grab Mjolnir from its drawer and debate hucking it his head.
He continues to misinform her before he leaves without buying anything.
I start to ponder that I am too judgemental and grouchy when one of the guys from the print shop comes in.
"Do you believe that guy?" he says. "He just came into our store and demanded we print a color copy of a hundred dollar bill. That's ILLEGAL. Color copiers are designed to detect currency, and when they Xerox guys come in to repair or upgrade copiers, it reports how many times a person attempted to copy currency, and they have to report it to the government. And when I told him, he said that The Other Guy always let's him do it. But we're all here today, so I asked him to tell me which Other Guy and he huffed at me and walked into your store. Do you believe that?"
Entitled Harvard Student: Are you waiting to get into the print store?
Employee of Print Store: I work here. Unfortunately, the person with the keys has a family emergency. If you come back in about fifteen minutes, we'll be open, and ready to help you.
EHS: But I need something now.
EPS: Sorry. There's nothing I can do.
EHS: Isn't the whole point of a print store being open on time, and Helping People?
EPS puts her headphones on and starts looking at her phone. Like a boss.
EHS: What. Do. I. Do?
EPS: You do what I'm doing. You wait. Quietly.
Other Employee walks down stairs.
EHS: Oh my god. Do you have the keys?
He jingles them.
EHS: Thank god. I've been waiting here for an hour.
OE: It's 10:05. We open at 10.
EHS: I am in a hurry. This is, literally, life or death.
OE: Choose death.