Little Suppressors

Dealing with the bookstore clerk who hates you


Conservatives like to tell war stories -- and refute them, A la the Swift Boat Vets -- and some of those stories concern bookstores. And the people who work in them. Who tend to be . . . well, not exactly the most conservative-friendly people in the world. The bookstore leftist is more standard than the bookstore cat. And conservatives have often found these stores to be hostile territory.

In recent weeks, reports have circulated that customers -- or would-be customers -- are having a hard time finding Unfit for Command , John O'Neill's anti-Kerry book. Conservatives have suspected that stores are keeping it from them, or that clerks are deep-sixing them, or that something untoward is happening. Paranoia is in the air.

But sometimes paranoids can be on to something. I don't scoff at these suspicions, mainly because of my own experience -- most of it in Ann Arbor, Mich., my hometown. (Ann Arbor is a bookseller's paradise, and, in some ways, a conservative's hell.) I worked at a store called "The Little Professor". The manager there -- a nice guy, actually -- wouldn't put out conservative magazines and gun magazines. He flat refused to bring them to the floor, acting as censor. My brilliant (and conservative) friend Eddie Krause came up with a new name for the store: "The Little Suppressor".

It may be hard to believe, but it took something like an act of courage to buy a conservative magazine in an Ann Arbor bookstore. I used to dread it -- the clerk was almost invariably cold, and he often bristled, and sometimes you got snotty remarks. It was a relief just to get through a purchase without incident. And I know many who could give the same testimony.

In truth, it could be dicey to ask for a bag -- yes, a bag. That made you a despoiler of the environment, you see.

I know a journalist who lived in the Ann Arbor of the West, Berkeley. Purchasing his "National Reviews" and "American Spectators" at Moe's, he would say to the clerk, "Well, just keeping an eye on what the enemy is doing" -- anything to get by. These tactics may not be brave, but, gosh, are they human.

As the Swift controversy heated up, the two bookselling giants, Borders and Barnes & Noble, were besieged by callers angry that they could not find Unfit for Command. Conservatives hollered, "J'accuse!" Both companies pleaded that it was the fault of the publisher, our beloved Regnery -- the supplier had not printed enough copies to meet demand. Liberals, for their part, also besieged the companies, demanding that they pull the book from their shelves.

Come with me, now, to, "The Borders Books Employee Union Web Site." Herein lie some revelations -- or confirmations. In notes to one another, Borders clerks have been griping about having to sell Unfit for Command , to the troglodytes who seek it. Although not every seeker is a trog: According to one clerk, "We did have a college professor come in looking for [the book]. She teaches a writing class and wanted to use it as an example of a 'false book.'" Or maybe she just wanted to read it and wanted to avoid grief from the clerk?

But let's get to the nitty-gritty. Writes a Borders Books beauty,

We're "finding" [note those quotation marks] that most of the few copies we're getting are damaged and need to be sent back. So sad. Too bad, Bushies! Regnery needs to be more careful. I'm hearing from people at two other stores that this seems to be common.

Why should we help destroy what's left of our country?

Back for a second crack, our man exhorts,

You guys don't actually HAVE to sell the thing! Just "carelessly" hide the boxes, "accidentally" drop them off pallets, "forget" to stock the ones you have, and then suggest a nice Al Franken or Michael Moore book as a substitute. Borders wants those recommends [sic], remember?

I don't care if these Neanderthals in fancy suits get mad at me [fancy suits?]. They aren't regular customers anyway. Other than "Left Behind" books, they don't read. Anything you can do to make them feel unwelcome is only fair.

Another Borders beauty writes, "I wish [conservative customers] really knew how little respect I have for them." Oh, we know, babe -- we know.

Not long ago, readers of "National Review Online" sent in to me their experiences of trying to buy Unfit, and of dealing with bookstore clerks in general. Care for a (very) small sampling of their observations?

In Littleton, Colo., a Borders clerk told a customer that the store manager had decided not to stock Unfit for Command -- it was "not in the best interests of the store." (The manager was a Kerry supporter, the clerk allowed.) At a Barnes & Noble in Cherry Hill, N.J., a clerk told a customer that the publisher had "recalled" the book, owing to "errors." The customer doubted it and said so. The woman merely shrugged. Elsewhere, a clerk refused to give a customer the advertised discount. Why? "That book is full of lies."

NRO readers from all over the country report that Unfit for Command and other conservative books tend to be in some bookstore Siberia, while bouquets of anti-Bush books are front and center. (Some clerks at have gloated about this.) As for the rude treatment -- that's par for the course.

"After 9/11, my wife went to a Borders to get the Barbara Olson book "The Final Days", and was told by the clerk what a 'disgusting book' it was. This was just before the clerk admitted that she hadn't actually read the book." Reports another reader, "My sister went to buy The Anti-Chomsky Reader for my birthday, and the clerk went on and on about how great Chomsky was. My sister stopped him by saying, 'Please: I get enough of his views from my teacher.'" Everyone's got a tale, or eight.

How low will they go, our friends the clerks? Well, one conservative was surprised that his mom got him a copy of "Rush Limbaugh Is a Big Fat Idiot" for Christmas. (That is an Al Franken book.) It turned out that Mom had gone to the store looking for the latest Limbaugh book, as her son adores him. And the clerk had explained to her that the Franken book was infinitely better, and would be more appreciated than the Limbaugh book -- which was really bad. "So my mom, who was in her late 70s at the time and has never paid much attention to politics, got me Franken's book instead." Asks our reader, at the end of his letter, "Who would be so horrible as to take advantage of a little old lady buying a Christmas present for her son?"

I think we know.

With the rise of the Internet, and Internet ordering, all of this unpleasantness could be a thing of the past. We can merely click, rather than brave little suppressors. (Actually, it's not their suppression that's so bad -- it's their commentary.) But should we have to deal with them again, may we summon the spirit of this guy:

A while back, I paid a visit to our local bookstore (I live in southern New Jersey) with the intent of perusing the new release "Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man" [these titles are getting out of hand]. I looked on the new-release, bestseller, and new non-fiction racks -- nothing. I wandered around for a while and then headed up to the information desk. The clerk, [unflattering description of looks goes here], smiles at me. Here's a fairly accurate transcript:

Clerk. How may I help you?

Me. I'm looking for "Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man".

Clerk (still smiling). You mean Stupid White Men by Michael Moore . . .

Me. No. "Michael Moore Is a Big Fat Stupid White Man". It's a new release.

Clerk. We don't have it.

Me. Are you sure? It's very popular.

Clerk (tight-lipped). Never heard of it. (Looks past me.) Can I help the next person, please?

Me. Excuse me, but can you check on your computer?

Clerk (very annoyed). Fine. (Bangs away at the keyboard. Scrolls down the screen at warp speed.) No. Doesn't exist.

Me (spying it on the screen). Wait -- there it is.

Clerk (extremely annoyed). Oh . . . um . . . yesss. We only received one copy. It's in the back.

Me. Where in the back?

Clerk (loudly). In the political science section!

Me. Thanks!

I searched this section. The book was nowhere to be found. I walk back to the desk.

Me. Pardon me, but I couldn't find it.

(Clerk curses under her breath and slams her pen on the counter. Slams swinging door. Marches to the back of the store.)

I could not believe what she did next. She grabs a step ladder and climbs up. The book was lying flat on the top row of books -- with the spine toward the back so you couldn't see the title. She grabs the book, climbs down, and slams it into my chest. Her face beet red, she screams, "HERE!!! ARE YOU HAPPY NOW, YOU FRIGGIN' FASCIST?!?!"

I was shocked -- but I figured it was time for some Brooklyn diplomacy. I walk up to the counter again.

Me. Excuse me: Do you have "Treason" by Ann Coulter? In the bestseller section? I couldn't find it . . .


From: "National Review" print edition 9-27-04

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