Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Perchance to Dream

Come Sunday evening, I will be back in the bookstore. This is more usually for me a time spent eating whatever dear A. has cooked, watching the most pointless television -- and "The Simpsons" -- and dozing over a book. This Sunday just gone, for instance, I was in my nightshirt, eating chicken and noodles, and reading, yet again, the story of The Armada, this time in the sixth volume of Green's A History of the English People. Already, I look back on Sunday as a paradise lost, to be regained, admittedly in two weeks time or thereabouts, but that does not, for the moment, help.

Today I learned that today was in fact the last day when additions and or alterations could still be made to our stock. Because of the need to have a point of comparison, a "snapshot," if you will, of things as we assume them to be, to evaluate the results of this Sunday's inventory count, we must stop entering new titles, changing prices and quantities, etc., today. I had thought that this was to happen tomorrow, but no. No one's fault, I probably just misunderstood. Never the less, I took the news badly.

Last Saturday, the last day of my usual work week, I entered everything we had bought at the Used Books buying desk, save half a dozen or so titles I simply could not get on before the store closed. In years past, I would simply have stayed and worked a bit of overtime. For reasons obvious to any but hermits, overtime is no longer an option for most retail workers in America, myself included. How then we have managed to do as much as has already been done to prepare for this coming Sunday is little short of miraculous. How grateful I am for all the help of my good coworkers! As it is, I think most of what ought to be done has been. What's left behind the desk can be counted, one way and another, and any books we buy between tomorrow and Sunday can still be accounted for, if not entered properly into Stock until after our inventory is done.

This is the time of year when my dreams become troubled. My nights are haunted by the relentless clicking and beeping of the data entry done by inventory service workers, and I hear "SKU check!" in my sleep and start from my bed to find the book with the "bad" tag. Scenarios of disaster whirl through my brain: missing books discovered behind shelving, counts so badly miscalculated as to require the intervention of accountants, transmissions of data gone hopelessly wrong, used books counted as new or new books counted as used...

Actually, my experience of inventories at the bookstore where I now work has been more enervating than traumatic, in part at least from my responsibilities being, thankfully, less than was the case elsewhere. Now I am but one among many, and that is good. But I have passed through many fires in bookstore inventories past and each year the memories of these are all brought back to me, and I quake.

My first inventory as the manager of a small branch store in San Francisco was one such. How this business works, for any lucky enough not to know, is that sometime around closing, the inventory workers begin to arrive. These are people employed by a service to count canned peas, books, pencils, widgets, whatever is sold in the store to which they have been sent. They wear uniform vests, belts with cumbersome calculators attached, and usually rather weary expressions. Almost all of these workers, in my experience, are perfectly nice, hardworking, and surprisingly adaptable. It seems to me that nearly all of them smoke, a point in their favor. Once the store closes, these inventory workers fan out and begin the grim business of counting every blessed thing with a price-tag. This goes on and on and on and on... Sometime in the wee hours, all of this information is collected from the individual machines and transmitted to some central information bank, to be processed, checked, and transmuted into a more accurate and workable inventory for the store. There are always glitches: technical, in staffing, in planning, coordination, and so on, and these, like the anomalous stock discovered on the sales floor, must be addressed before the task is done. At some point, every year, there is nothing left to do but wait. And wait. And wait. All but the supervisors of the inventory service and the required bookstore staff are let go. And so we greet the dawn. The first inventory for which I was primarily responsible did not go well. This was before we had a computerized inventory. We had index cards. Counts were checked using calculators and estimates of the average value of a given shelf of books. The night I was first doing this in a store that I managed, I failed rather miserably to keep track of things. Inventory workers were dismissed prematurely, based on my miscalculations. The "pre-counts" done earlier in the day all proved to be inaccurate, improperly recorded, or lost.

In short, anything I could fuck up, I did.

My employers were helpful, forgiving, not surprisingly a little short-tempered with me. Come the morning, I wished for death.

No inventory since has been as bad, though many have been bad enough. Once, an inventory worker had an allergic reaction to her pizza or somesuch and had to be rushed away by ambulance. Chaos. More than once, the machines used to transmit data failed to function, or the phone-lines went down, or whole areas of stock were overlooked or misidentified. My worst moment, after that first disaster, came while I was still working at Stacey's main bookstore, of sad memory now. A personal conflict between a supervisor from the inventory service and one of her workers escalated into an ugly confrontation that was quickly, and quite professionally, taken off the floor and into the alley behind the store. Unaware of the drama, I blithely chose just the moment before to wander out into the alley for a smoke. Recognizing that I was, at that moment, de trop to say the least, rather than excuse myself and walk past the confrontation and back into the store, I instead tried to move invisibly 'round the two angry women, who were, just at that moment, discussing behavior that was not only embarrassing, but so completely none of my business that I ought simply to have slipped around the corner, walked the block to the front door, and knocked to be let in that way. As I said, that ain't what I did. I was younger then, and frankly stupid, and, as it turned out, not invisible. Just when the poor woman being told to collect her things and go decided to ask again for a reprieve and explain herself one last time by again shouting, "I have an IRRITABLE BOWEL!!!" I was discovered behind them, desperately yanking at the door handle, which for some reason, I had completely forgotten how to work.

"'scuse me," I think I said, stupidly pushing instead of pulling, or vice versa, I forget which, "'scuse me."

By the time I had made good my escape, a deathly silence poured through the door behind me. Sometime later, the supervisor found me in the store and quite nicely asked me to be discreet. A little late, but I did try.

While I expect no such drama to play out this Sunday, I do expect there will be all the usual complications, addressed with the usual efficiency of our inventory service and the superior professionalism of my coworkers and betters. I have learned to keep my head down, or at least to be more cognizant of my surroundings when I go out to smoke. Try as I might though, I know that for the next few nights, Morpheus will visit me in a red cotton vest, wearing a huge calculator on his belt, and calling, from some inaccessible corner of my consciousness:

"SKU check!"

Sigh. And so, wearily to bed and back to the count.

No comments:

Post a Comment