Category Archives: Bookstore stories nyc

To Serve & Be Served

Server:  ” A person whose responsibility it is to provide assistance to another person.”

Tpainters-poets-artist-life-1ypically artists have had day jobs in order to support themselves. Making art, though personally rewarding can also be financially challenging. The actor, writer, painter, poet has worked in cafés, bars, restaurants, shops, bookstores, in order to support himself. To survive one must often work in menial, boring, tedious, and often ego punishing jobs, serving the public, in order to pay the bills, and attend to the basic life necessities, while also pursuing ones artistic endeavors.

painters-poets-artist-lifeNot easy on the surface, but if truth were to be told, having been on the other side, the server, is not as simple and mundane as he or she appears to be. The perception to the “others”, A.K.A. the public is something quite different. It’s an interesting dichotomy. The server, be it waiter, salesperson, bartender, can be perceived as a fixture, a robotic tool of said establishment, whose sole function is to provide the customer with what he wants. If job is well done, meaning a gracious abundance of subservient ass kissing, the one who “waits” may be shown favor with a tip, a commission, a pat on the head by the boss, a compliment hopefully catapulting him to a step up the ladder in whatever his place of employment happens to be. The extraordinary over the top customer service applied the greater the tip. And vice versa. All of this manipulation and theatrics can be stressful and create animosity not shown but felt by servers to the served. It encourages and amplifies the “we against them” attitude.

joseph-cornell-boxEvery great and not so great artist has been in the service business at some time. It’s inevitable considering the unreliable world of artistic self expression you

Madonna-waittress

chose. Joseph Cornell, creator of those magical boxes, worked as a door – to – door appliance  salesman, and a plant attendant at a local nursery in Queens NY. Sylvia Plath babysat to help pay her college expenses, while she poured out her tormented angst in prose, Brad Pitt wore a chicken costume to promote a Mexican restaurant before he hit the big time, poet Frank O’Hara was a clerk at the MOMA gift shop, Mariah Carey, Gwenyth Paltrow, Madonna, and Sandra Bullock all waitresses before making it..to name a few. It’ s an obligatory job qualification to have “served” prior to stardom. The proverbial paying one’s dues, BEFORE you achieve success in your chosen craft, AFTER the switch is flipped, and the dues are paid to you! BUT THAT DOESNT COME EASY and persistence is key.

pressfield-the-war-of-artSteve Pressfield hammers that point home in his epic artist Bible ” The War of Art”. He says to keep at it, do what you have to do, but don’t resist your true calling. Resistance is the killer, and the inoculation is to keep pursuing your passion. That is your true occupation, not the faux reality you endure in order to pay the bills.

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Behind the scenes, the back story of the server’s work life is a completely different life than what the public sees. The public is a mass of anonymous strangers attracted to said establishment for the purpose of consumer indulgence, entertainment, escape, ego gratification, whereas the server, salesperson, shop girl, is working, and it can be a slow, tedious, laborious, unfulfilling, mechanical process. It’s a paycheck, and usually a menial one, no bells and whistles attached. Just cold cash and not a lot of it.  These individuals are not your friends, or your fans. The public may not see them as human, but mere fixtures, necessary in order to provide them with What They Want! If J Q Public sees his waiter, bartender, salesperson on the street the chances of looking directly at them with NO recognition are 99.9%. Because the store “fixture” is not real. Once outside the establishment, in the outer world, the fixture is just another person, with no compatibility or link to the clerk, or waiter once serving said customer within the confines of the place of business. It’s that Matrix thing again. Are you In or are you Out?

manet-Un-bar-aux-Folies-BergèreSo, servers inhabit a secret world. It’s the world of the watcher, the observer, the critique, the analyst, the smiling facade, the “service with a smile” greeting, provide entertainment, gossip, and subjects for the unwritten novel, painting, poem, or actors audition. Oh yes, servers gain a ton of information, knowledge, and crazy insights from observing JQ Public on the job. Because as invisible as the server appears to be, he is always WATCHING you. Subtle, and contained, the server sees everyone and knows faces, behaviors, attitudes, requests, of any one who he be holds in front of him and if you visit the same establishment twice you are known, a returner, and fair game for a speculative observation and eventual discussion as soon as youdepart. And not always in a positive or flattering way. Imagining that you are unseen, makes you vulnerable, the casual shopper, the drinker, the diner, being waited on by a somewhat ethereal being. Who only waits on you robotlike, when in reality they see you a bit too closely, and remember you the next time you appear, and often gossip about you with co workers, friends, your appearance, idiosychrocies, your mannerisms, you were rude, you were nice, your style or, lack of, your cheapness, your generosity, your sex appeal, it ALL is noticed, kept in reserve to be channeled out later for entertaining chatter, humor, discussion. God help you if you are a celebrity! Because fact

the-watchers

is, these menial jobs, minimum wage, can be very boring. The down times are slow and tedious with clock watching an ongoing mission, as very minute passes freedom gets closer and closer, so people watching, or shall I say customer watching becomes a team sport, better than a movie, real life exposed, on the down low, customers unaware, oblivious to the fact that  they are being watched, and inevitably  will reveal some unusual behaviors,  unaware that the clerks  working, surrounding them are even remotely aware of their existence, existing only in the sole fundamental capacity to answer their questions, give them what they want, show them the restroom, order another drink, flatter their dress choice, tell them what book to read, swipe their CC, bottom line….. to SERVE THEM!

BUT-

orwell-on-waiters-in-londonWho is serving who? There is an unspoken communication between customer and salesperson. The mere attitude either can make or break a sale. A smile can turn a 15% tip into a 20%. The artist, the actor is thinking of their off job activities, their real life, while swiping JQ’s credit card, the designer is rearranging his living room furniture while leading Miss Thing around the 4th floor at Barney’s, and the smiling greeter at BB&B is plotting the next chapter of her novel, while folding towels.  The charade is profound and is all a great act. Book stores are a prime example of the charade! They have Always been a mecca for artists. A job in the literary world, flexible hours, opportunities to observe the parade of humanity, abundant food for your art, and a chance to grab new books, the minute they hit the shelves! Patty Smith and Robert Mapplethorpe in her best selling novel, ” Just Kids”, talks about how they survived in NYC by working at Scribners Books on Fifth Avenue.  Robert Orwell worked the line while “Down & Out in Paris & London”, every actor on the planet has bussed tables, bar – tended, and hustled, while painters are re known historically for taking on shitty day jobs to pay the rent.

clerks-movie-art-serviceBook clerks, like other clerks in service fields, as perceived by the public are invisible entities seen only when absolutely necessary. Unrecognizeable to the public, they are there to give the customer what he or she wants.  But, the bookseller, sees you, in ways you will never know. He sees you by the books you buy, the books you pick up and look at, the books you ask for. These books will tell your story as you read, other people’s stories. What’s your problem? Weight, depression, loneliness, divorce, s+m, romance! games! Interests? Growing cannabis? Pop Culture? Career change? WWII?  Your secrets are revealed when you step Into a bookstore!  The booksellers will soon know what they are. The cashier behind the counter, who may have a zombie stare, is watching you. What book did you pick up off the display? Are you a liberal? lonely-hearts-clubConservative? Gay? manic? single? Unhappily married? bipolar?  It’s all revealed by the books you are attracted to, and the booksellers see you. To the public, booksellers are akin to pieces of furniture, who will speak if spoken to , but to the sellers you are exposed in a harsh brutal light showing your flaws and your secrets, and unaware you continue to wander the shop exposing yourself like the patient on the therapists couch.  The high wattage bulb is turned on and the customer becomes unwittingly a species under the microscope, ripe for close and personal examination.  The middle-aged man who sits on the same chair for hours every week, a pile of magazines  his pretend friends, the lonely woman on Friday night, seeking the bookstore as her only  sanctuary, the modelesque blonde student hunched On the floor, a chosen corner, pretending to read while sleeping  off her heroin high, the guy who plots his days by the stars, updates his favorite astrology book, his hope for future happiness. Every Week, the crazies, the junkies, the suits, the men who escape the homeless shelters by day, the depressives, the lonely hearts club, all come together to the bookstore for escape. A retreat from the oppressive

kafka-was-the-rage-book-anatole-broyardchaos of the city, it is a welcome escape. In “Kafka was the Rage”, by Anatole Broyard, his autobiographical expose of a bookshop owner in the 1950’s, Greenwich Village. Broyard rents a shop on Cornelia Street, stocks it with books, and begins his adventure in book selling. His passion was writing, so this seemed like a perfect fit. To own and operate a Greenwich Village bookstore! But, unexpectedly, he gives it up, after experiencing the infinite parade of lonely city dwellers , who used him as their personal therapist, and used the bookshop as a retreat from life, their sudo home, reading books , not purchasing, and hanging out, in their make believe “home away from home”. This was a rude awakening for Broyard as he lost money, and became discouraged by this unexpected turn of events. Broyard was a watcher, a voyeur, who chronicled his experience in his first book, “Kafka was the Rage”, describing what he witnessed as he served the public, and simultaneously gathering material for his first novel! ‘He served and was served!

overheard-in-the-restaurantActors, and artists, want to spend their time in their pursuit of their craft, but life gets in the way and bills have to be paid. Often very intelligent talented people have to spend hours and hours in jobs they are over qualified for intellectually, while striving for the ability to work 100% at their artistic goals. So they wait tables, tend bar, sell stuff, they SERVE! But while they serve, they watch, they get material, they develop telescopic views into people and lives they would not have been privy to any other way. They develop communication skills with the vast spectrum of society, the losers and the winners. They get street smart, while toning their diplomatic skills, becoming clever, intuitive, people savvy, and tuned in to humanity. The public is an infinite body of nameless faces, personalities, styles, shapes, and characters. The servers have to accommodate whoever walks in and presents themselves. This takes skill, tact, strategy, and intuition, because you never know who is going to show up and present themselves and you better be ready willing and able to deal with whomever that is! And it could be a deranged maniac! Keeping things calm, giving them what they want, keeping them satisfied, delivering, using that server strategy, until they go away. And the next encounter arrives.

journey-to-your-passionBut after work, on break, on Facebook, the servers get the chance to express how they really see you- JQ PUBLIC, creatures of shops and cafés, observations, are shared, because Servers are not invisible mutants, robots, furniture, servants, or potted plants! They are doing a job, but it’ not their REAL job! Their true identity originates elsewhere. The authentic life is outside the confines of the store, bar, cafe, hotel, restaurant, the menial paycheck, with the subservient catering to the publics whims and needs. It is about making their art, acting in the show, writing, painting, running, dancing, dreaming, expressing the passions that make life worth living, the creative juice that runs on full gear, the way they get through the day, knowing that this is NOT It…that there is so much more that identifies who they are! And that knowledge keeps them going until, they can throw in the apron, the name tag, the cap, the uniform forever, and live the life they were meant to live completely!!!!!!!

My New Favorite Poster

Writer, screen director, raconteur, bon vivant, a personality like no other. Let’s call him John Waters, because that’s who he is. He used to drop in the Greenwich Village bookstore I worked in, during a past life, to check on his new book, browse, and inevitably he would attract autograph hounds and fans who recognized him.  HeContinue Reading

Bookstore Freaks

I agree with Anatole Broyard in “Kafka Was the Rage”. Soooo he opened a teeny tiny shop on Cornelia Street in the late 40’s at the start of the Beat Generation when Kerouac was King  with the pure purpose of selling books. Being the literary affectionado that he was only to find that the “book lovers” hangingContinue Reading

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