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  Ellen Davignon: Lives of Quiet Desperation

Stan the Man

December 15, 2001

OK, a little show of hands, here: how many times have you been into Mac's and neither you nor we have been able to find the book or magazine the computer insists is here? Once? Twice? Surely not more? No, come on, NOT more than three times!

It's a great point of pride with us, either to have the book you want/need/lust-after, or, at the very least, be able to lay hands on for you as quickly as our supplier and Canada Post will permit. (And yes, I know that it is all-too-often later than sooner but it is not from lack of trying on our part and even the most jaundiced customer will have to admit that our Special Order's department has been known to work miracles that are right up there with the water and wine incident.) Our Bookbuyers are well-read themselves and on a perpetual quest for the new and titillating. We try to keep up with the National Post and Globe bestseller lists and keep the corner of our ears open for titles that pop like corn on the CBC morning AND evening shows. We have regular "Oprah alerts!" and, it goes without saying, even the newest clerks are trained to take note of what it is that local inquiring minds are demanding to know and to pass that information along for dissemination.

Once the books are in the store, we like to think that it will be a simple matter to find them. The computer says, "Yes, indeedy, your book should be in Psychology in Aisle 1, shelved alphabetically by author, I think on the third row down from the top." SHOULD be in Psychology (also known as Self Help.) SHOULD be. SHOULD.

Isn't it funny how you say a word over and over and it stops having meaning? Should, should, shoud, shud. "The book shud be there." And like saying it over and over, looking for it over and over fails to turn it up. "Hmm, that's funny, it should be right here, Dabney would come right after Czerney and just before Dafoe." And you gaze helplessly, at the offending space where it should (shood, shud) have been.

Books get out of order. Staff get careless and shelve by the first name instead of the last. Customers will carry a book for a while, decide they don't want it and will put it back in any empty space. We call this "bleeding," for lack of a better expression and when we look for a title in Spirituality or Philosophy, chances are it will have bled all the way down to Health, finally coming to rest on the Relationship shelf simply because it is entitled The Soul of Sex.

So we check up and down the aisle hoping to find the slippery little devil and sometimes we do, feeling relieved and pleased for our customer, and sometimes we don't. And when we absolutely cannot find a title, upstairs or down in overstock, we throw our hand up in disgust and proclaim that the book "has walked." In other word, the book has been slipped into a packsack or under a coat and carried out of the store without benefit of a cash transaction.

It grieves me to tell you that it happens more often that we like to think about and, coincidentally, is more apt to happen this time of year than any other. Gives the expression, "Going down to Mac's to pick up a book for Dad for Christmas," a whole new meaning, doesn't it? We do have the monitors and we are all trained to keep an eye out for suspicious behaviour but in spite of our best efforts, books still wander away, leaving holes in our inventory and staff members whining, "Well, gee, I don't know, it was here just yesterday…."

One evening, a few years ago, I followed a fellow around the store, ostensibly shelving books but cleverly arranging to be wherever he was, at the same time. He was a short man, round of face and stocky of build, and he seemed not to be shopping but rather, just wandering up and down the aisles, pulling book and returning them and then looking around. Not taking my eye off him for a moment, I snagged Christina on her way to help a customer.

"That fellow in the blue jacket, " I murmured out of the corner of my mouth, "No, don't look, but watch him, he looks suspicious…." In spite of my admonition, Christine looked anyway, and laughed. "Oh Ellen, that's Stan Winters. Chris hired him to work security till after Christmas." So much for my instincts!

Stan worked several Christmas for us and we - and our customers - came to know him as a fixture around the store. He took his job very seriously and though I don't believe he ever caught anyone as he sauntered around the place in a John Wayne kind of way, we liked having him there and our inventory tended to remain intact when Stan was on the job. We kidded him a lot about his gunfighter image and he sassed us right back, knowing that our teasing was all in fun.
Stan had a heart attack a little over a year ago, died with his boots on, and we miss him still. My greatest regret is that I never showed him the poem I wrote for our Christmas party a couple of years after he came to keep us and our stacks safe and secure.

I include it now, in his memory. A few names and faces have changed since that time, a note or two added for information, and a few verses have been deleted in the name of brevity but otherwise here it is. For you and for Stan. Better late than never…

T'was the day before Christmas and all through the place
We were puffing and blowing as if in a race.
Mac's Fireweed was busy with last minute shoppers…
All those pensioners, yuppies; those young teeny-boppers.

It had been a long season, we were all tuckered out
But the last day's the longest, of that there's no doubt
As the procrastinators came looking, and spending
Buying armfuls of gifts as their chances were ending.

And Chris looked so happy, his face was a-glow.
"We're subbing twelve thousand, six hours still to go.
And Dawson's a pistol and Porter Creek's rocking!"
And he laughed and envisioned his full Christmas stocking.

And then, of a sudden, there arose such a clatter
We all craned our necks to see what was the matter.
Christina was busy, "Oh yes sir, what more, sir?"
So Lori and Colleen went for Stan, the Enforcer.

And what did he find, at the end of the aisle
But a short little man with an enormous smile.
He was dressed all in red, from his head to his knees
On his feet were tall boots, just as black-as-you-please!

His teeth, how they flashed in a smile, oh so merry!
His tummy was huge, made us all think of Kerry. (Our bookbuyer on maternity leave.)
His eyes were so shiny, we thought he was plastered
And Stan caught his arm, "Come with me, you old …."(Use your best rhyming instincts.)

"That pack on your back looks to be full of booty
And I'll have to arrest you, it's my solemn duty."
But the fat man just brushed of Stan's hand, and he chuckled,
And tucked his thumb into his belt where it buckled.

"It's Christmas, you fool, surely you recognize me?
You were happy enough when I came to YOUR nice tree….
It's me, Santa Claus, and I'm doing my work.
I'm not swiping more stuff. Unhand me, you jerk!"

He gave us wee presents, all right, left and center,
A-smiling and grinning, happy to be presenter
Of gifts that we were so delighted to get
We forgot, for a moment, the stress and the sweat.

And then, once again, it was back to the races
But this time we went back with smiles on our faces.
And the fat man took off, with a laugh and a wave.
And, well, so he should have, the jolly old knave.

For while we were opening our tiny gifts
He'd been cleaning the shelves in great two-handed lifts.
True Crime and Erotica went in the first haul
To be followed by Penthouse and Hustler and all.

He'd been more selective in other departments…
Best-sellers were taken from all their compartments.
The Giller and Booker shelves all had been cleared
And so had Photography… just as we feared!

We looked at each other, our stomachs were rocking,
There'd be no "little somethings" in our Christmas stocking.
And Chris would be looking for someone to axe
And we all knew that our days were numbered, at Mac's.

When what to our wondering eyes should appear?
But Stan, the Enforcer, and as he drew near
We could see that he clasped a red arm in his hand,
Followed right along by that little fat man!

"I knew he weren't Santa, t'was so plain to see…
At least, not the one that would come to MY tree.
And he didn't bring me my one heart's desire:
A Red Ryder rifle and some bullets to fire."

"So I nabbed him and now I have made him bring back
The books from the shelves and the mags from the rack.
And I hope that you've all learned a lesson from that.
That it ain't always Santa whose red-dressed and fat."

* * * *
It's the night before Christmas, the store is shut down,
It's buttoned up tight, and so is the town.
We're home with our families, snug in our beds,
While visions of bonuses dance in our heads.

And Sherry and Chris are still up, counting tills,
And laughing and chuckling and drinking refills
"Cause no one has told them about the fat man
Or how much they owe to their Enforcer, Stan.

On that note we'll leave it, suffice it to say
We survived to work on for at least one more day.
And at last I will say, "Bless us all, everyone!"
And to Santa I say, "Please don't forget Stan's gun!"

Merry Christmas to all from your friends at Mac's…

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