You smooth your new slacks. The tag says “Express,” but you bought them at TJ Maxx, the one just across from the Barnes & Noble, at the Kirkland mall. You are not allowed to wear jeans at Barnes & Noble, or sneakers, or logos of any sort. This is in the “Welcome to Our Team” employee handbook you received last week. You raise your head when Daniel, the store manager, begins to read over the numbers from yesterday. This is your first morning staff meeting and you do not know what these numbers mean. Some are big, like 27,000. Others are small, like 3.022 percent. The other employees nod or offer commentary. A girl with green dreadlocks in an apron reads the café’s numbers. She promises to upsell better today. The Music and DVDs manager reads his numbers without looking up, even though he is not reading off of anything. You like him because he is the Music and DVDs manager. You like him because he looks as uncomfortable as you even though he’s not new. Daniel announces employees who sold memberships. “Ethan sold five memberships, Jenny sold three.” You know who Jenny is because she slowly looks around and coughs like it’s an accident.
So begins Kjerstin Johnson’s story “Employee Discounts: A Post College Job at Barnes and Noble,” which won the Doug Fir Fiction Award. Even though it’s a work of fiction, as a former college-age minimum wage earning bookseller, I can tell you that it reads very, very true. The selling of the memberships, oh god, the selling of the memberships.
Photo: Monica Arellano-Ongpin