Barnes and Noble

It’s like The Club Dumas

book coverYesterday arrived my copy of Black Market, Cold War: Everyday Life in Berlin, 1946-1949 by Paul Steege. I’m in the midst of a big reading kick about that particular topic, so I’m looking forward to getting started on the book.

I worked in a bookshop.  In fact, for a solid chunk of the time I worked in a bookshop, I worked in the stock room.  So I’ve seen quite a number of printing and binding errors in my time.  Like books that have been bound upside down, that sort of thing.

I’ve never seen a binding error like this one.  Open the book to page one, everything’s fine.  Start reading.  Keeping going to page ninety, everything’s fine.  Then suddenly:

book page

Yes, starting on page 91, the whole book turns upside down. And yet the pages are still in the correct order, not reversed, which means that in order to rotate the book and keep reading, from that point forward I have to read the right-side page first, then the left-side page, then turn the pages from right to left. Here we see chapter six beginning on the left side, and chapter five ending on the right:

book page

I’ve got no issue turning a book upside down to read. The only issue here is how distracting it’s going to be going from right to left, which is to say, that’s going to be pretty distracting. But it’s an interesting enough problem that I’m inclined to hang onto the book, particularly considering that I’m far too profoundly lazy to be arsed enough to pack the book up and send it back to get it exchanged.

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Bye bye bye

I’m saddened by the end of Borders. I’m saddened as a lover of books. I’m saddened, as someone who’s going to have my own books on bookshop shelves within a year, that there are now one third fewer major bookshop chains in the United States. I’m saddened as a former Barnes & Noble employee at such a vivid illustration of the decline of the brick and mortar book business–though not surprised, as articles from places like Publishers Weekly had been appearing on our break room wall since at least 2003 about the precipitous state of business at Borders.

My first job in the book trade was with the Borders Group, at one of those Day By Day Calendar Company kiosks you see appearing in malls during the last quarter of every year. (Er, though I don’t know if you’ll see them appearing anymore.)

The Gainesville Borders is where I met Clark Howard.

It’s also where I bought Lisa one of her favourite presents I’ve ever got her, an omnibus edition of Harold and the Purple Crayon.

I swung on by the Livejournal community for Borders employees this morning. Amidst a lot of anger, despondence, and descriptions of atrocious behaviour by customers, I came across one post by an employee who’s putting together a farewell in-store playlist for him and his colleagues to rock out to during whatever days and weeks they have remaining. That sounded like a little fun injected into this whole thing.

So here’s my list:

“The End” by the Doors
“The Final Countdown” by Europe
“There Goes the Neighborhood” by Sheryl Crow
“Yesterday” by the Beatles
“Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac
“Secondhand News” by Fleetwood Mac
“We’re Not Gonna Take It” by Twisted Sister
“My Life” by Billy Joel
“School’s Out” by Alice Cooper
“Torn” by Natalie Imbruglia
“Communication Breakdown” by Led Zeppelin
“Gudbuy T’Jane” by Slade
“Those Were the Days” by Mary Hopkin
“Bad Day” by Daniel Powter
“We Gotta Get Out of the This Place” by the Animals
“Bye Bye Bye” by N*Sync

and of course

“Closing Time” by Semisonic

So what do you think? Am I missing any?

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Kindling

In about a year, I’ll have a novel published* both in a physical edition and as an ebook. It’s entirely possible–nae, even likely–that the ebook will sell more copies than the physical book. (Always assuming, of course, that we sell any copies, and my fear of that isn’t going to go away entirely someone actually does buy a copy of the book.)

In (tentatively) summer 2013, there’ll be a second book, and whatever the sales ratio was for the first book, for the second book it’ll be even more in favour of the ebook. And if I’m lucky enough to be bringing out book number six or seven or eight in, say, 2025, it’s entirely possible by then that the model will be almost entirely devoted to ebooks, with either no physical edition or an insignificant print run for a niche collectors’ market.

I’ve never read an ebook. I’ve never held an e-reader. I’ve considered getting one for a long time, not least because the testimony of people who own them seems to be overwhelmingly positive–including people who were already avid readers before their e-readers came along. I think I’d want them just for fiction, and perhaps biography–their principle attraction, to me, is that they’d be more comfortable to read in bed. I mainly purchase nonfiction books for reference purposes, and I wouldn’t want to lose the ability to flip through their pages when I look something up.

The main thing that had held me up until now was the lack of a universal format. We’re all familiar with format wars from Blu-Ray/HD-DVD all the way back to VHS/Beta. I’m not interested in falling victim to the same thing.

But now, I feel like my hand is getting forced. If I’m going to be writing for a primary market, I feel it’d surely be a good idea for me to have some actual experience of that market. I’d be sceptical of an author who had never read a printed book, only listened to audio books. Of a playwright who’d never seen a play, only read their scripts.

So I guess I’m soliciting input. Do people prefer the Kindle? The Nook? The Sony Reader? I’m only looking for a tool with which to read; I’m not interested in displacing my smart phone or my iPod. As a Barnes and Noble loyalist, and an Android user, my all-things-being-equal inclination is toward the Nook. But all things aren’t equal: for one thing, I feel confidence that Amazon will still be around in ten years, but I can’t say the same about Barnes and Noble.

Thoughts?

I

*How many times can I link to that post? I think we’re going to find out.

Wordful Wordless Wednesday

B&N Holiday Preview ad

Thank you, Barnes & Noble, for not only letting me know about a number of new titles that would make great holiday presents.

But if the picture is too small for you to make out the light grey script next to each book, you should totally click on the image to see it full size.

Because I must also thank Barnes & Noble for letting me know just whom each book should be given to. I could never have figured out, for instance, that the new George Washington biography is “for the history buff”; that the wine guide is “for the wine connoisseur”; that the John Grisham book with a picture of Justice on the cover is “for the lover of legal drama”. And I could never ever have figured out that Barbara Streisand’s new book would make a good gift for Barbara Streisand fans.

And I’m curious; why does “the cook” get two books? Do they really need that much help? That sort of feels to me like getting my a wife a vacuum cleaner and a drier for her birthday. I got you two presents, honey!

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Delkery

That was my tweet the other day, prompting a short flurry of conversation. The initial suggestions were bakery and deli, but I rejected these. Panera, the Atlanta Bakery and the Corner Bakery (and McAllister’s, which was shortly added to the list) might be considered a subset of delicatessens and bakeries, but they share a quality between them that other delis and bakeries don’t have. I suggested several names for this type of place–gourmet deli, hipster deli, pretentious deli–before Diane combined deli and bakery to get the title of this post.

But what is that quality that these four places have in common? Is it being gourmet? Is it being upscale? They’re definitely not actually gourmet, though I suppose they qualify as “gourmet” in the sense that marketing has taught us to use it nowadays. I guess upscale is as good a word to use as any, but I still question whether or not “upscale” has any actual meaning. How would we define upscale?

Let’s broaden our scope a little, to include other upscale places. Starbucks. Barnes and Noble. Borders. What do all these places have in common with the delkeries? They’ve all been constructed over the past twenty years to be places where the customers are encouraged to spend their free time.

There’s no reason to spend longer than twenty minutes in a sandwich shop or coffee shop–you stand in line, you place your order, then you either eat/drink and leave or take your food/drink with you. A bookshop might require slightly longer–browsing through the books, after all–but browsing should really be done standing in front of the shelves, not sitting in a cafe with a latte and a stack of books you haven’t paid for sitting on the table.

But the corporate offices want you to stay long enough that you end up spending more of your money, in bits and pieces over several hours. (Though speaking as a former Barnes & Noble employee, the staff generally don’t want you sitting around, getting underfoot, making more work for them without really spending enough to justify it.)

So they have crafted their stores with leather upholstery, non-intrusive lighting, ambient music and pretentiously-named, slightly overpriced food. And we walk in and look at what’s on offer in the bakery case and we feel refined, and cultured, and in comfort, and for a little while we feel slightly above our actual station as members of the Great American Middle Class. So we settle into our chairs with our mocha and our cranmelon scone and we chat with friends or do our homework or work our way through a stack of magazines we haven’t paid for.

I love the Corner Bakery, and I love Barnes & Noble, and while I don’t love Starbucks (because I can’t stand coffee), I was overjoyed when the Starbucks adjoining the B&N where I used to work started serving “gourmet” sausage McMuffins, because they were delicious. So I’m just as much a part of the phenomenon as everyone else–but it’s still a phenomenon I find fascinating. And something, I think, that’s really only come to be in the past two decades.

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When I met Tad

Autographed title page of TO GREEN ANGEL TOWER by Tad WilliamsI’ve been writing this blog for four years now, and it seems I’ve never talked about the road trip Lisa and I took in college to meet Tad Williams. This, clearly, needs rectifying.

My junior year at the University of Florida, the final volume of Tad Williams’s Otherland tetralogy was published, and to support it Williams did a book tour of both US coasts. Eagerly I checked the itinerary to see how close he was coming to Gainesville.

It’s difficult to overstate the impact his Memory, Sorrow and Thorn trilogy* had on me when I was in middle school. I read the first two volumes, The Dragonbone Chair and Stone of Farewell, when I was twelve, but had to wait another eighteen months before the conclusion, To Green Angel Tower, came out. (The trilogy was my introduction to the idea that a single multi-part story could have its respective volumes published years apart, and it was pretty frustrating to get to the end of Stone of Farewell and find myself left on several cliffhangers. Of course it shouldn’t have been surprising, because The Dragonbone Chair had ended the same way, but it still was.)

MS&T opened my mind up to just how high the fantasy genre could reach when written to its potential (as, admittedly, it so rarely is). It’s a work with such a profound sense of wonder, and yet that’s mixed with a thorough realism in every aspect of its storytelling. There’s the imagery–the textures, the sounds and smells that the text summons to mind are so much more real than anything else I’ve ever encountered in fantasy, or, for that matter, in most non-fantasy works. There’s the mechanics of the society in which leave this characters live. But most of all, there’s the psychological complexity of the characters, the way everyone is so fully drawn, a product of their background and their personality and their own understanding of the world around them. Even the trilogy’s supremely powerful over-villain–who is, after all, an elemental ghost who might or might not even still have a proper consciousness to understand what’s going on–is given an exceptionally sympathetic hearing as to why he’s embarked on a plan of wiping every single human being from the world.

There’s the way the world achieves such a sense of depth by rooting its societies in real world cultures and history. There’s the way the history of Osten Ard blends slowly into mythology, just the way the real world’s history does, and there’s the way, when the truth behind that mythology gets revealed piece by piece, we can see where it formed the basis for the stories, but also where the truth was twisted and the true lesson lost.

As a teenager dreaming of becoming a writer, Memory, Sorrow and Thorn probably had a greater effect on me than any other books. Throughout junior high and high school I probably wrote half a dozen different works that could have been accurately titled An Obvious Cipher for Simon Snowlock Goes on an Adventure in a Land Remarkably Similar to Osten Ard.

Well. An impromptu paean in praise of Memory, Sorrow and Thorn. But the upshot is, I was tremendously excited at the prospect of this book tour, and thoroughly devastated when I saw that the farthest south Mr Williams was coming was Washington, DC–a sixteen hour drive north from Gainesville, Florida.

But!

This Washington, DC appearance fell right in the middle of spring break, so instantly I hatched the plan that Lisa and I should drive up there for the signing. Lisa needed her arm twisting a bit, not least since she’d be the only driver–I honestly don’t know if this is something that’ll have become apparent to any readers who don’t know me personally, but I don’t drive and never have. But she agreed, and was even able to secure the loan of her parents’ car after she decided we could use the opportunity of passing through South Carolina on the way for me to meet her extended family, especially her grandma and her favourite cousins, Jamey and Dede.

The trouble started soon after we entered South Carolina and had a tire blow out on I-85. This was the days before cellphones had entered our lives, so we had to walk up the highway to the nearest exit to call Lisa’s cousin, Jamey. So my first meeting with Lisa’s favourite cousin, who is exceptionally protective of her, came when he had to change our tire on the highway, because I didn’t know how.

A day or two with the rest of Lisa’s family went perfectly fine, and then we were off up to DC. And now the story gets interesting.

The plan was to stop for the night one to two hours south of DC, in Virginia. So with about eighty miles to go we started stopping for hotels. Lisa, who’s never prone to spend money, decided her upper limit for a room was $40. The very first Motel 6 we checked was $42, so at her insistence we continued north.

Over the next four hours, we got off at over a dozen exits. Everywhere–and I mean everywhere–was full. I have no idea why. UF’s spring break is a week before most non-Florida schools, so they weren’t full of college students. Given that it was the first week of March, Washington might have been hosting the ACC Tournament, I suppose, but I still have a hard time seeing that filling every hotel for ninety miles down I-95. We did find one hotel with rooms available for just $20, but seriously, if we’d stopped there, I doubt I’d be here to be writing this now.

Finally we stopped somewhere–I honestly don’t remember where, even though it’s probably within ten miles of where we now live–less than twenty miles south of DC and pulled into a hotel car park. An SUV pulled in just ahead of us and stopped, like we did, in front of the main entrance, pulling up to the kerb about twenty yards in front of us.

As had become our habit by this point, I got out of the car, ready to cross in front of it and head inside to see if the hotel had any rooms available. As I got out, I noticed that the SUV was reversing towards us, presumably to centre itself more directly in front of the entrance. Nine hundred ninety-nine times out of a thousand, I would have just hopped quickly in front of the car, since clearly the SUV was going to come to a halt before it reached us. But for some reason, this time I waited for it to stop.

I am so glad I did.

The SUV, as you’ve probably guessed, didn’t stop. In fact, it picked up speed. Lisa, she told me later, was sitting at the wheel of her parents’ car, frantically slamming the spot on the steering wheel where the horn was located in her own car. And then the SUV slammed hard into the front of Lisa’s parents’ car, with Lisa still inside.

She was fine. Her parent’s car had its front third crumpled in like a squashed cake, but it was still drivable. I won’t go into too much detail on the ensuing few hours, other than the mention that the hotel–which was indeed full–gave us the sofa-bed reserved for the night clerk to get some rest on, and that the address we got from the driver’s license of the SUV’s driver (before he conveniently remembered, after protesting for half an hour that it was silly to call the police when the accident had occurred in a private car park, that he had a nine year old asleep in the back seat and needed to get her home) turned out to be false.

The next morning, shaken but undeterred, we got up to drive into DC, though when we got into the car it turned out the damage to the bonnet had folded it up too high for Lisa to see over. I sat on it to flatten it out, only we did not discover until we were rapidly picking up speed along the on-ramp onto I-95 that in doing so I’d popped the bonnet free of its latch, and any time we exceeded 25 miles an hour it swung up to completely cover the windshield.

So we pulled over on the side of the on-ramp to try and figure out what to do. Within, literally, moments, a pair of Virginia highway patrolmen (VHiPs?) had pulled up behind us to see what was up. They produced a length of rope and we were able to tie the hook on the underside of the bonnet’s front to the latch it was supposed to catch just above the grille, though at any sort of speed the bonnet would still rise just enough for us to become convinced it was about to come flying up.

Lisa was, understandably, quite rattled, and driving into DC was not a fun experience for her. We got off I-395 at one of those exits that emerges out from under the National Mall; as we approached the intersection with Constitution Avenue, the light turned red. Lisa just continued blithely trundling into the intersection.**

“Red!” I said. (I said, “Red!”)

So Lisa came calmly to a stop. In the centre of the intersection.

We then started trying to navigate DC’s rather busy streets, many of which are one-way, on a Wednesday morning. At one intersection, I asked why we were just sitting there, and not turning onto the street.

“Because there’s too much traffic right now.”

I looked up and down the street. Both kerbs were packed bumper to bumper with parked vehicles, it’s true, but,

“There is no moving traffic on this street right now,” I pointed out.

Anyway. We found an egregiously expensive parking garage and made our way to the downtown DC Barnes and Noble–coincidentally, the same Barnes and Noble where I would one day work, just for a day, four years later, the time I worked the National Book Festival, the day I decided to start this blog–where the signing was being held.

And for an hour, all the stresses of that trip lifted. We’d had a pretty horrible past eighteen hours, and the reality of that settled back on my shoulders as soon as we left, but while we were in that bookshop it all went away. I realised as soon as we sat down that, if I wanted to ask a question during the Q&A, I needed to actually have a question, so I started frantically trying to frame one that contained at least a modicum of intelligence, and I think in the end I succeeded.***

After the discussion was over, we joined the line to have our books signed, my hardbacks of Stone and Farewell and To Green Angel Tower held eagerly against my chest. I hadn’t brought The Dragonbone Chair because it had literally split in two down the middle of its binding, the victim of my constantly proselytising MS&T throughout my teenage years, and indeed, still today. (Nikki, Diane and probably Sabrina can tell you all about that.) I regret not having taken The Dragonbone Chair with us to this day.

I do distinctly remember, as we stood in line, saying something about how when we got up there, we should be cool, and not turn into gushing fanchildren. We’d also already had the conversation about how these were books I was going to be keeping for the rest of my life, so I wanted to make sure it was okay that I was going to ask for the inscription to be made out just to Ian.

And we got up to the front and handed over the books and were asked who to make them out to. And asking for Ian alone just … felt wrong.

“Ian and Lisa,” I said.

Lisa jumped. Actually, visibly jumped. The manager who was accompanying Tad–the shop’s CRM, presumably–thought it was an exceptionally sweet moment. “Lisa wasn’t expecting that!” she giggled.

I can’t say that in that moment I knew I’d be marrying Lisa. But it was definitely a major epiphany-moment for me in our relationship.

So we got the books signed, and I picked them up and turned to leave.

“We’re from Florida!” Lisa said out of the blue, just a touch chippily.

I felt a block of lead at the pit of my stomach. What did I just say, I thought, about being cool?****

Tad clearly didn’t know quite what to make of this piece of information. “That’s … er … nice. What brings you here?”

“You.”

This quite took him aback, and a short conversation ensued along the lines of, “You came all the way up here to see me?” “Well, this is the farthest south you were coming.” And then as we were turning to leave again, he said, “No, wait.”

Signed manuscript page from WAR OF THE FLOWERSFrom the bag by his chair he pulled out the manuscript for War of the Flowers, which he was working on at the time, and started thumbing through it. Eventually he pulled out page 105–I assume because most of the page has been struck through–and wrote, To Ian and Lisa, who are utterly mad, signed and dated it.

And there we go. In that instant, it was all totally, totally worth what we’d been through–would have been worth even more than we’d been through. (Lisa disagrees with me on this.)

The CRM was nice enough to buy us lunch, and then we were on our way south again. We still didn’t like the freedom of movement the rope allowed the car bonnet, so we picked up some duct tape somewhere and tried taping it shut. That worked pretty well so long as we didn’t break fifty miles an hour. (Lisa, in an obviously irrelevant aside, is incapable of anything lower than sixty on a highway.)

We left DC probably around two in the afternoon, and at about six o’clock the following morning we pulled into the front drive at yet another new relative of Lisa’s, in Myrtle Beach. Later that morning, her cousin’s boyfriend Brian tied one end of a rope around the car’s front fender and the other around a tree and pulled the car back into shape.

And that’s the story. I ended up with a framed page from a Tad Williams manuscript, the realisation that “Ian and Lisa” sounded better than just “Ian”, and a pair of very angry future in-laws who quite firmly informed their daughter that she was never borrowing the car again.

I

ETA: Dated May 9th, huh? So I guess not during spring break after all, but just after spring term ended. I am an old man of 29, and my memory plays tricks.

Also ETA: In the comments on the Facebook iteration of this post, you can find Tad’s response.

*To me it’s a trilogy, because my copy of its final part is the first edition hardback, bound in a single volume. I’m sure it’s now generally considered a tetralogy, since the paperback of part three was published in two volumes.

**It is at this point in the story that Lisa always wishes me to include that traffic lights around the National Mall are positioned to the side of the road, rather than hanging over it.

***Actually, Tad himself inspired the question during his talk, when he said that stretching Otherland from a trilogy to a tetralogy had allowed him to avoid the problem of having too much story to fit into too little space that he had had to deal with in To Green Angel Tower. So I asked if that meant there was more to Memory, Sorrow and Thorn that he’d intended to include but that we, as readers, had missed out on. His answer contained a discussion of chapter thirteen of The Dragonbone Chair (Simon’s escape through the ancient catacombs beneath the Hayholt), though he did falter and give Lisa a curious look when his mention of the words Dragonbone Chair resulted in her clapping her hands over her ears–we were reading the book together at the time, and she wanted to avoid being spoilt.

****If you ask Lisa what she was thinking, she will tell you, “We’d come all the way from Florida. I’d wrecked my parents’ car. He needed to know.

Those people who couldn’t get jobs at Barnes & Noble

Borders employees are claiming they are being pressured into signing a non-blogging contract.

Also, this post is from infoI Work at Borders, but it’s just as perfect for anyone who’s worked at a Barnes and Noble, too. I laughed.

Though in light of the article linked to at the top of this post, it’s fascinating what a huge majority of comments on the post are anonymous. You rarely see any anonymous commenting at either of LJ’s two B&N employee communities.

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Shop Discover

I’m pretty excited about the ShopDiscover feature on my Discover Card rewards–it’s been there for a while, but I’ve only discovered it (hehe) recently. Basically, so long as I access their websites through Discover and pay using my Discover Card, there are about 150 retailers where I get from five to twenty percent cash back on any purchase I make.

And honestly, these are places where I already make all my purchases anyway. iTunes is included, and any regular reader of this blog knows how much I download from iTunes. Barnes and Noble is, too–today I ordered a book I’ve been wanting for a while, The Blackwell Encyclopaedia of Anglo-Saxon England. It set me back $53, but B&N’s cashback offer through ShopDiscover is ten percent.

Really for me the only catch is that now I’m making these purchases on a credit card instead of through my debit card. But Lisa and I are mostly pretty good at keeping our credit cards paid down, so it shouldn’t be too much of a problem. (Admittedly, at the moment my Discover balance is pretty high because it paid for most of our preparations for our England trip.)

I should mention, by the way, that I’m writing this post for ShopDiscover’s blog promotion.

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One for the booksellers

Owen Harper (Burn Gorman)A few days ago I joined Library Thing, a book cataloging/social networking site (like last.fm but for books instead of music). Since then I’ve been entering all my books into my library, which has involved unpacking dozens of boxes that in some cases haven’t been opened since we moved up from Gainesville in 2004.

You can find my new Library Thing widget by scrolling down the increasingly crowded sidebar on the left of your screen. (I don’t know why only certain titles are displaying their covers while others aren’t. Especially since the widget is set to only display books that have cover images in the database.)

But what I’m finding as I unpack these boxes are stacks upon stacks of mass market paperbacks that have no front cover, and I look at them and read the back cover and think, “I’ve never seen this book before in my life.” (I suspect a lot of them–certainly all the romance novels about 17th century pirates–were smuggled out of the Barnes & Noble stockroom by Lisa.) Then I’ll type the ISBN into Library Thing and the cover will come up and I’ll say, “Oh, that book. Yeah, I know that book.”

(Rena informs me booksellers are no longer allowed to take home stripped books. Magazines were one thing, but this is just ridiculous.)

In other news, Australia has now passed the United States as the world’s fattest nation-state. I now eagerly await England’s coming dominance in the Ashes as three-hundred-pound Australian batsmen lumber ponderously back and forth between the wickets.

I

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Amen to that

I have a theory about asshole customers: I think they only act that way because no one ever calls them on their bullshit. The poor kids behind the counter can’t stand up for themselves lest they lose their jobs and other patrons look the other way claiming ‘it’s none of my business.’

Fuck that. When I see some self important asshole verbally degrading a teenaged kid with dead eyes behind a counter, it ruins my day. So, I say some shit. Besides, I feel that if I stay silent, I am almost giving an abuser permission to act like a raging asshole. Ignoring their behavior suggests to them on some sick level that what they’re doing is Ok.

Amen to that.

As someone who worked in customer service for five years, I can tell you that people show us a really dark, hidden side of themselves–a side they wouldn’t even be willing their families. And they think it’s not only acceptable, but even encouraged to treat other human beings that way. Interacting with customer service employees is the Great American Middle Class’s one chance to treat another human being like they’re a piece of garbage, and it’s disgusting.

My resolution: from now on, I hope I’m going to try to speak up whenever I see someone act as if normal rules of courtesy don’t apply to other human beings just because they’re wearing a nametag. I hope I’m going to make both the customer in question and all the people around us aware of how revolting their behaviour is. I don’t know if I’ll always have the courage to follow through on this, but I will know that just because it would be awkward is not an excuse not to defend a fellow human being who can’t defend themselves.

I

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