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  • I worked in a bookstore after college while trying to figure out what to do with my degree. A process that was taking much longer than expected and I was soon facing my second christmas there. Like many stores, the bookstore hired seasonal crew to help with the holiday rush. That year the manager hired a friend of hers. Let's call him Tom.

    Tom had what charitably could be called poor hygiene. In other words, his breath smelled, his teeth were a brown-gray, and he kept his long greasy hair pulled back into a ponytail which had the effect of showing off his dandruff. He also reeked of pot. All of this might have been manageable if he had at least worn clean clothes, but somehow he never did. The loud shirts he wore all had food stains on them, his jeans had holes, and his Birkenstocks were crumbling away.

    My first conversation with him consisted of his explaining to me the many ways in which I was not smart. When he wasn't going on about how great he was, he would talk about getting high. I tried to be civil with him. Barely. Truth is I avoided him whenever possible. He was good friends with the manager after all and I didn't want to get on her bad side. The only thing that made him tolerable was the knowledge that he would leave at the end of December. So of course he was hired as a regular employee and stayed on.

    A few months later I was restocking titles in the science fiction section when Tina, another employee came over to talk to me. She told me that the manager had asked her to speak to me about a situation. After some prompting on my part, she related that Tom thought I had a crush on him. Not only was I overly nice and friendly to him, but I was also constantly hovering around, trying to chat him up. He was worried about what to do because he was straight after all and nothing was ever going to happen no matter how much I wanted it to. 

    He was so worried that he told his good friend the manager. She in turn asked Tina to talk with me about it and to "let me down easy." I remember staring at Tina for a minute or so not believing a word she had just said. This had to be a really bad joke. It wasn't, she was serious. The manager was serious. Tom was serious. He thought I had a crush on him.

    I remember thinking "Tom? What? I have a crush on THAT?"

    I remember trying to say it out loud, but not being able to. My brain just sort of stopped. I was caught in a repeating loop. I was thoroughly disgusted, I was amazed by his arrogance, I was appalled, I was disgusted some more.

    I started laughing. I couldn't believe that the most repulsive person I knew could mistake my mumbling hello in his general direction as an impassioned plea for his love, or worse, his body. I started laughing so hard my sides started to hurt. After several minutes of this I regained some control. I was giggling more than laughing and was leaning against the bookshelves for support. Tina smiled, but I think that she was worried that I was drawing attention to what she had hoped to be a private conversation. People were beginning to stare. She tried to end the situation by asking "So it's not true, you don't have a crush on him?"

    Instead of calmly saying no, I started laughing again. I started guffawing. I laughed so hard that I lost my balance and fell on my ass. Falling made me laugh even harder. I think Tina said that she would take that as a no, but to be honest, I have no idea. I was laughing too hard to hear.

    I owe Tina for that day. She was thoroughly embarrassed, but she stayed with me, nodding and smiling at bewildered customers, while I was literally rolling on the floor laughing like a maniac.

    After a very long time, I managed to pull myself together enough to get up. Tina said that she would explain that Tom had nothing to worry about. She also told me I was lucky that Tom and the manager were on a lunch break. Maybe I was lucky, maybe I wasn't. Tom was even more self centered and arrogant than I had thought. Seeing my reaction would had taken him down several needed notches.

    That incident made me realize that I needed to leave. Even if I had wanted to make a career of retail work, I didn't want to stay there. 

    By the next holiday season I was gone and a large chain discount bookstore had opened up on the same block. The much smaller independent bookstore I had worked for soon went out of business. Later an even larger Borders Books opened up across the street and the discount bookstore closed down as well. The Borders is also now closed. Having been replaced by nothing, it remains an empty building. 
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