Life as a Bookseller Told Through the Movie Labyrinth
By Vanessa Palencia
Those of you who spend their weekends in the bookstore leisurely browsing the shelves for the next story you’ll immerse yourself in, you are lucky. You are innocent. You are naive. You don’t see what we see, so I’m here to tell you how life is like for those of us who work in this store, or at least, the store I worked for.
When you open the door, the mixed smell of freshly brewed coffee and crisp paper hits your nose. The atmosphere is deceivingly calm and quiet, making the whole place feel remarkably inviting. The endless rows of books and cool air allows you to forget the present and become immersed in another world; romance, horror, comedy, or supernatural, you have the power to choose.
Large, dark cherry wooden chairs are hidden in every corner, and soft yellow light from the afternoon sun slips its way in. This place is paradise for most and home to others. However, most people don’t seem to notice the alternate world that exists within this bookstore. They see another retail store and don’t realize that the employees have assumed the role of an ordinary human. But they are so much more than that.
As employees, we see the pain inflicted on the entrance of the heavy pine-colored door where others just see careless scratches and dents. We smell the age old vomit struggling to escape from the downtrodden carpet, courtesy of an intoxicated woman with stringy, dirty blonde hair wearing a mini-skirt and ripped, lacy black tights. We hear the piercing rings of phones blasting, commanding us to answer them where others only hear the melodies of a passionately played piano. From the thick layer of dust hiding behind every unwanted book to the thin layer of white paint stretching itself to cover the graffiti in the women’s restroom, from the sweat-stained aprons hanging in the stuffy prison they call a break room to the small particles of human waste clinging to every dead strand of rope on the janitorial mop. We see through the illusion.
Like every other retail store, there is a vie for power and affection from the superior store manager who, like us, seeks attention from a higher power: corporate. With butterscotch blonde hair, a dominant presence and crooked teeth, she is a female version of Jareth, the Goblin King from the movie Labyrinth. We are her goblin slaves and the store is her labyrinth kingdom. With sweat beads forming on our temples and sandpaper tongues exhausted from luring unknowing customers into purchasing a flimsy, emerald membership card for an astonishing $25, this place is quicksand; easy to fall into, but difficult to get out. The store is like a modern day war between success and failure. Stepping into the cemented janitorial room that reeks of rotted pine-sol reminds you of endless days of broken bank accounts that got you here in the first place. During your 30 minute breaks, you get to leave it all behind and go out into the sunlight, where you are reminded of all the hopes and dreams that brought you here. You are reminded of the good things for only a moment before the labyrinth sucks you back in. The one place where imagination and creativity are suppressed and corporate monotony and stiff smiles are celebrated.