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Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My View of Bookstores and Bathrooms

Photo from BAM
Corporate Website
   Yesterday, my beautiful bride and I went to one of our favorite haunts, Books-A-Million.  On any normal day we love to buy a cup of coffee (two cafĂ© au lait's with skim milk, please), browse the magazines (she grabs copies of Chronicles, First Things, and the National Review, he grabs France, Analog, and Mental Floss), check out the clearance books, and make silly comments about the covers and titles we see.  As Christmas nears, we add pumpkin spice to the coffee order, search for Christmas presents for our kids and other family members (another book?), and ooh and aaah and giggle at the calendars.  (She always teasing that this year she'll get him that pinup calendar, he always knowing she's just teasing.)Here is where I would like to add an awkward bit to this quaint shopping scene:

   Neither he nor she had ever planned on walking up to the front desk and announcing that they had to relieve themselves in the bathroom.

   Yeah.  I know.  More than awkward.

   But as uncomfortable as it sounds, that is precisely the new twist to this experience.  You see, one of the corporate dingledobs at the big Books-A-Million in the sky has declared that at every BAM store across America, the restroom doors shall remain locked and inviolate.  At no time, shall any man, woman, child, or book-lover be allowed to enter the restroom of their gender without first consulting and procuring the authorization of the Books-A-Million Keymaster.  And yes, said authorization can only be procured by the verbal announcement at the front of the store that yes, you the customer, are in need of the bookstore toilet.  You could, I suppose, lie and ask for the key in order to wash your hands, but this would only be effective if you had little children wherin all within range of your voice would believe that the little brat that's been running amok in the store did indeed smear some sort of sticky substance upon your hands, arms, legs, or other less delicate part of your body.

   I blame the Occupy Wall Street crowd on this one.  I have a feeling that if I Googled Books-A-Million and Zuccotti Park I would find that they are directly across the street from each other.  And we all know what a nuisance those people made with their waste disposal issues.  More than likely they kept slipping out of their tents and into the bookstore to browse the fiction section.  We can speculate this because we know from their statements and poster boards that they have never been in any section of a bookstore that wasn't full of fiction.

   As a concerned customer of my local bookstore, already aware that such stores are losing business to the online giants Amazon and eBay, I quickly approached the store manager as soon as I realized two things.  One, that the restrooms were locked, and two, I had to use the one with the stick figure sans dress.  Oddly enough, the door with the stick figure wearing the dress was not only unlocked, it was slightly open.  I was not, however, that desperate to use the facilities.  Hence my calm, yet determined approach to the manager.

   He seemed less than thrilled to speak with me when I broached the subject.  I was polite, and simply stated my disappointment that the store had begun locking the restrooms, making a point to remind him this was generally only done in gas stations.  He was quick to make the point that it was a corporate policy.  The message was clear.  He could do nothing for me save pull out the key.

   I held my breath.  I was terrified that he would hand me the key attached to the complete works of Shakespeare.  It's not that I don't enjoy the Bard from time to time, I just wouldn't know which one of his plays to start reading while I was in there.  One can hardly be expected to make such an important choice at such an indelicate time.  To my great relief the key was not attached to any sort of book anchor.  Unfortunately, he did not hand the key to me.  He escorted me to the bathroom.  As I shut the door, I was hesitant to begin.  Was he waiting outside?  Was he, in fact, pressing his ear to the door to make sure I was not involved in any destructive shenanigans?  That kind of scrutiny can lead to certain inabilities that would leave the scrutinizer with a silence that would lead him to wonder just what the heck is going on in there?   I wanted to turn around and get out.  But then I realized that he'd wonder why I'd asked to be let in for just three seconds.  Would he think I'd just asked to go in as a prank?  Or worse?  Maybe he'd think I'd arrived too late!

   I did what I had to, making just enough noise to satisfy the man that my intentions were pure and true.  Making sure to run the water loud enough that he would be satisfied with my thorough hand-washing, I took a deep breath and opened the door.

   He was gone.  But another man was standing there, waiting to come in.  He was not a manager.  He was not an employee.  He was just another booklover like myself.  I began to move to one side when it hit me.  Was he really a book lover?  Or was he some graffiti artist, looking to spread his filth across the walls of the bathroom.  Those walls were my responsibility now.  The manager had let me in.  I was the bathroom user of record.  I would be blamed for any damage incurred.  But what did that mean?  Should I block the man until I slammed the door shut, thereby locking him out of the restroom?  A noble act indeed if the man had vandalism on his mind.  A rotten act indeed if the man had only seconds to make it to home plate, so to speak.

   This was all really more than I had bargained for when I decided to go into the bookstore for a coffee and a chance to browse the magazine shelf.

   I let the man in and walked away.  Damn the torpedoes and full speed ahead, right?  After all, the manager should have been standing there waiting for me to come out.  If not, what was the point?  Shouldn't he have checked to make sure I hadn't written free verse poetry on the stall door?  (Though if not there, where else would it be appropriate?)  Shouldn't he have made sure I flushed?  What is the point in asking for the key to begin with?  Would he have said no?  I'm sorry, you can't use our toilet.

current website logo.
I'm not kidding.
To protest the new
policy, write:
or call:
   Next time, I'm gonna be the second guy.  I'll just wait until someone else announces to the checkout crowd that they need to use the bathroom.  Then I'll saunter along behind them, and wait until they come out.

   Seriously, no one wants to have to tell the world they have to use the restroom.

   I gotta go.

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