Encounters in a Bookstore #628: Sandy by Liz Mathews

Chances are, by now you’ve heard of a weather event called Hurricane Sandy. As I write this a solid two weeks after the fact, some people are still without power. Some will be cleaning things up (life, home, town, etc) indefinitely. If you have a chance to help out in any small or large way, there are lots of folks out there who will appreciate it.

In the bookstore where I work, Sandy herself was not particularly destructive. We did close early that Sunday, and then remained closed both Monday and Tuesday, but there was no great loss of merchandise or property. Perhaps the power went out, but we weren’t there. Maybe the ceiling over the magazines leaked, but it always does. One manager did injure her leg getting the hurricane kit off its shelf in the receiving room—but she was seemingly healed up in fine form to reopen the store at 9am that following Wednesday.

The effect that Sandy had on our bookstore’s mentality was…well, it was predictable, given the neighborhood the store is located in. On the Sunday Sandy was rolling toward us, we had the weather radio on in the cash office, and were well-aware that the subways were going to shut down, and that school was canceled for all the kids the following day (at least the following day). Naturally, the children were happy about this news, as I cheerily shared it to most who came through my cash register. Parents, who were already buying decks of cards and stacks of books and packs of batteries occasionally returned through my register, with board games and DVDs—anything to keep the kids entertained as the terror of not having a nanny for a day dawned on them.

Maybe I’m being harsh. But for more than a few, the prospect of a hurricane was upsetting for reasons other than potential wind damage. I could see it in their eyes.

Post-Sandy, I wound up having the week off from my full-time job, so I opted to work a couple extra days at the store. When I strolled in on Wednesday at 11am, the first thing I encountered was a sea of strollers in the children’s section—so many that reaching the break room was almost impossible. “Oh, this is what it looks like most days down here,” a coworker glumly stated as she picked up a stack of books scattered across the floor.

But it was different, too. For the rest of the day, and the next day, as well, a sea of people waded into the store, and bought things they didn’t need, and got perturbed when we didn’t have wi-fi (our company servers were underwater on Long Island), and couldn’t process their gift cards (our company servers were underwater on Long Island), and were unable to look up that book with the bright yellow cover and Helvetica font that maybe contained short stories (our company servers were underwater on Long Island), and lacked the ability to update the outdated phone number we had associated with their membership cards that they’d never bothered to update in visits past (our company servers were underwater on Long Island). It was like working during the holiday season on a Sunday, three days before Christmas. It was like that, compounded with the fact that our company servers were underwater on Long Island, and even more. At the end of my two extra shifts at that store, I could see why so many of my coworkers despise the place.

But let me not end on a bitter note. There were absolutely lovely customers as well. Many were understanding, just out for a stroll in the neighborhood and a new fun read after being cooped up at home for days straight. Others had heard through various forms of social media that the nearby Armory/shelter was in need of donations that would help evacuees pass the time—these customers spent upwards of $50 on crossword puzzle and sudoku magazines to donate to strangers, the Rite Aid for pens their next stop before heading to the Armory to drop it all off. Please know that there are a number of do-gooders, as well.

I cannot complain about my own experience before, during, and after the storm, not really—even though I have, and still will. Similarly, I think the bookstore where I work came out on the profitable end of the whole thing. So many of us were lucky. But some of us were not. So many of us were lucky, but some of us were not.

Liz Mathews composes ads for many things science fiction and fantasy. Her writing can be found in magazines, catalogs, newspapers, brochures, and books; and on bookmarks, postcards, cable television commercials, and even doorhangers all across the United States and in some parts of Canada. She lives in Brooklyn but considers the cornfields of Iowa home.