People who work in small independent bookshops often find themselves going to great lengths to satisfy customers, no matter how idiosyncratic their tastes might be. But the truly dedicated bookseller must even be willing to go beyond his or her jurisdiction and tackle non-book-related requests in order to please a customer, or potential customer.
Take the following case.
Some years ago I worked in a Perth bookshop which opened late seven days a week. Around 9.45 one Friday night, the shop was empty and I was in the middle of assembling a dump bin. This was in itself something of a challenge. The dump bin comprised two cardboard trays mounted, one on top of the other, upon a cardboard base. A number of hooks folded out of the base, their purpose being to lock into corresponding perforations in the trays and thereby hold the structure together. But every time I hooked one of these hooks into its slot, a hook I’d already hooked into a slot somewhere else invariably came undone.
As I wrestled with the dump bin, I happened to look up and notice a young man patiently watching. It seemed he’d witnessed the entire performance.
‘Having a bit of trouble there?’
I stood up. ‘Stupid things. Can I help you?’
‘Yeah. Do you have any shirts?’
‘Yeah – out the back or something.’
I explained that we didn’t have any shirts, and that he might want to try Myer when it re-opened for business the following day.
‘No,’he said.‘You see, me and my mate want to get into the nightclub up the road, but the bouncers won’t let my mate in without a proper shirt.’
It turned out they’d been up and down the street, trying to buy a shirt, but, apart from the bookshop, the only places open along the strip at that time of night were cafes, restaurants, and a cinema.
‘Where’s your mate?’I said.
He called out:‘Tony! Get over here!’
Tony appeared from behind some shelves. He was wearing an All Blacks top.
‘This is Tony. I’m Lachlan.’
There were introductions all round, and then Lachlan pointed to Tony and said:‘See? He can’t get in with that.’Tony looked suitably forlorn. I said that while I sympathised, we simply had no shirts on the premises.
We stood there trying to figure out how Tony might get hold of a shirt at five past ten on a Friday night in Leederville. Then Lachlan had an idea.
‘Hang on a sec, he said to me.‘You’re wearing a shirt.’
Being in no position to deny that I was wearing a shirt, I replied:‘That’s
‘And you guys look about the same size. How about we do a swap?’
‘Just for now. We’ll bring it back tomorrow. Plus we’ll throw in half a carton of VB.’
Although it was an unusual request, I felt no attachment to that particular shirt, which I’d bought at Target for $24.95 some months earlier. Besides, maybe my good deed would inspire them to purchase a book. So we adjourned to the rear of the store and exchanged garments. Tony and Lachlan, now both suitably attired for the nightclub, were exceptionally grateful and said I was a‘top bloke’.
‘While you’re here,’I said, as we walked back out into the shop,‘how about a book?’
‘Nah, that’s okay,’said Lachlan. ‘Maybe next time. But you’ve got half a carton of VB coming your way, all right?’
‘Don’t lose that jumper now, bro,’said Tony on the way out. The All Blacks top obviously meant a lot more to him than my polyester shirt did to me.
Or perhaps not. Lachlan and Tony didn’t return to the bookshop the following day, or at any time after that. Whether I was the victim of an elaborate scam designed to rob people of cheap casual menswear, or whether they’d simply overindulged at the nightclub and Tony woke up in a strange shirt with no recollection of how or why, will never be known for certain. All I could be sure of at the time was that I now had an All Blacks top in practically mint condition. I seemed to have come out ahead on the deal.
The All Blacks top is in my wardrobe to this day. Every now and then I put it on to commemorate the night I went above and beyond the call of duty in the name of customer service – even though this didn’t actually culminate in the sale of books.
But two questions remain unanswered.
(1) Whatever happened to Lachlan and Tony?
And more importantly:
(2) Where is my half a carton of VB?