Colin: So how did you end up here?
Molly: I was fired from a health foods store.
C: Why? Were you pilfering cabbages or something?
M: I wish it were that interesting. They had a point system for attendance; it was a road to disaster. They wanted you to fail.
C: Did they call the people who shop there “guests”?
M: No, but one of their things they put up on the wall… What’s that called?
C: A mini-basketball hoop? A mission statement?
M: A mission statement, right, was “We satisfy and delight our customers.”
C: Hmm, with food? From an outsider’s perspective, that sounds like something more than food.
M: Exactly, but every time customers come in you have to satisfy and delight them.
C: (Horse mouth sound)
M: And they have these criteria, so everyone there was always concerned about meeting the criteria, and mystery shoppers.
C: So, wait, the store hires mystery shoppers to take a look… at their own store?
M: Yea, and there are four phrases that employees have to use, like, “I’m glad you came in,” and “Thank you for shopping with us.” And if you get a score of a hundred on your mystery shopper you get a $25 bonus, but if you fail, you get a talk-to. So, one of my jobs as a manager was to talk to people who did poorly on their mystery shoppers.
C: Did everyone hate you?
M: Probably a little bit. I liked learning about the nutrition and wellness, but most of the time I felt like I was full of it. People would come in and ask for something for an ailment, and there are all sorts of federal laws, but on the other hand, you’re supposed to recommend something, so I’d say, “Well, a lot of people take Cayenne capsules to promote ‘healthy’ blood pressure levels,” but I couldn’t say that it would do anything. I learned to be very careful with my words. It’s strange. Next time you go into a health foods store and ask for help, just listen to the words they have to use. Since there’s no regulation in the natural foods industry, you can’t make any claims. But you can say what other peoples’ experiences have been.
C: How can there be zero regulation in the natural foods industry, but plenty of it in the processed foods one? Because they know what chemicals they’re putting in there?
M: That’s another creepy thing. Cause all these overweight people would come in and say “I want a pill to lose weight,” and I’d think, “Then go to the produce section.”
C: Or the gym.
M: Or both. Working there just sort of ended up being the next thing in a series of things I was doing that weren’t fulfilling.
C: Is this one of them?
M: I look forward to coming here, to see my coworkers and the book covers, and the occasional engaging discussion. Don’t put that in.
C: So far none of this is going in.
M: But anyway, they have this point system, and every six months, if you rack up more than six points, you’re fired. So if you’re seven minutes late you get a ½ a point, for example. And if you call out you get a full point.
C: “Call out”?
M: Like can’t come in. You call in sick, or there’s an emergency, or….
C: You’ve got something cooler to do.
M: So it’s all considered points. And points are bad. It’s like golf.
C: I wonder how many ways working in produce is like golf.
C: Alright, so you got a lot of points.
M: Yea, but they were all for a good reason. Like one time I was 45 minutes late because I was jackknifed by a semi, so I wrote this letter to management about how ridiculous it was that I was being fired just so they could hold up this point system. It was awful. Even my boss was crying.
C: Oh, so they didn’t want to fire you? Or they fired you and then couldn’t believe what they had done.
M: That’s the thing, it wasn’t even my workplace firing me, but regional management; someone who didn’t even know me.
C: The point system has that far a reach? Wow.
M: Yea, someone in Chicago was like, “You’re done.” Plus, I didn’t want to be a part of this giant thing. My quality of life has greatly improved.
C: Do you golf?
M: I don’t.
C: Well there you go.
M: My brother, however, loves golf.
C: How’s he doing?
M: He’s okay. He doesn’t golf that much.
C: That could be it. Maybe he thinks the golf isn’t hurting him, but then again, he’s not golfing…
M: So for instance, I went into work the day after Christmas with Strep, and I was really sick, and this is the problem: everyone’s so afraid to get points they come to work when they’re sick.
C: Is that how it works in golf?
M: Probably. So after that I got a call from my boss, saying “Don’t tell anyone, but when you go into work tomorrow, they’re going to fire you.”
C: Who’s they though? The people in Chicago came?
M: No, they act through the HR person.
C: Okay, so say we were required to say three things to customers to keep them satisfied. What would they be? And would they be related to bookselling? Like, “Yes, I’ve read that book”? That might be one.
M: “That’s a great book, my sister loved that.”
C: My sister loved that.
M: Or if it’s a man, “My brother loved that.”
C: So it’s got to be somebody close to you.
M: You want to have a certain mystery about you, but you also want to let the customer know that they can come back and see you again, without knowing too much about your personal life.
C: So we’re just letting them know that we came from somewhere.
M: Right, but that you can also talk to them about books.
C: Right, that you’re still willing to do that. I like that.
M: Which is probably important to them, too.
C: That we have families?
M: That they should maybe reach out to their family.
C: Haha. That’s right. When people come to the bookstore, a lot of them leave thinking they should reach out to their families.
M: The other one would probably be, “Would you like that gift wrapped?”
C: Just in regard to anything? Like if someone buys a pen, ask if they would like that wrapped? “Would you like a surprise for later, sir?” “Would you like me to hide that in your home?” So that’s number two. I like this. So, so far we’ve got “Be elusive,” “Be awkward,” and what’s number three… insistent? “Leave here with something!”
M: Kill them with kindness! You know, “Thank you so much for choosing us and not Amazon.”
C: So we now have desperation, awkwardness, and… what was the first one? Reticence.
M: Yea, but you end on desperation, so they come back.
C: Haha. Very important step in the Common Good Books Employee Handbook: “Leave them wanting less.” What’s the best job you’ve ever done hand selling a book you knew almost nothing about?
M: Well, what if this gets out there and then no one wants to talk to me anymore?
C: I’ll change your name. Just say “That girl who works here.” There’s a ton of girls who work here.
M: That’s true, and we don’t wear nametags. That’s another thing: this is my first job where I didn’t have to wear a nametag.
C: This is my first job where I didn’t have to wear shoes. I do. But not back here.
M: That’s true, there is no policy about shoes here.
C: Not that I’m aware of.
M: It really is like Lord of the Flies here. There are no rules.
C: Aside from the cannibalism. Well, I mean, it’s less a rule than…
M: It’s 50 Shades of Grey for sure.
C: That’s what it’s like working here?
M: No, the book I’ve sold not having read.
C: What did you say about it? Or what have said about it. Surely this has happened more than once.
M: The best was when I had to explain what “erotica” was to a woman my mother’s age.
C: How’d that go?
M: I just kind of said the word “erotica” again, but in a whispery voice, and pointed to the handcuffs and said…
C: “It’s like a costume party for adults.”
M: I don’t remember, but she bought it.
C: Sounds like it. After finding out what the word did and didn’t mean… I wonder what it doesn’t mean.
M: Haha. It kept her engaged.
C: Oh, that’s good, we’re back to that elusive thing again. Like, “Oh, you don’t want to know what’s in here.”
M: That’s actually probably how I sell books mostly. It’s one of the things I took away from the store,
C: Besides the cabbages?
M: That sense that I don’t know anything about these pills or what they’ll do, but you group it with some words like “quality” and “standards” and you’re set.
C: So you take a book and say things like, “You can tell this book is bound, and not only that, it is hard bound. Somebody did a lot of work here. And if they did that much work on the outside, I can only imagine what’s been done on the inside!”
M: “And then you look at these quotes, too, on the outside, from other people who’ve read it.”
C: Haha! “I don’t need to tell you what this book is like, look at what Vince Flynn over here said this book is like. He said he ‘Couldn’t put it down!’” I’m gonna try that. I try so hard most of the time to say things that originate with me, but from now on I’m gonna say, “Well, did you read the blurbs or not?”
M: Another elusive thing is that I keep getting asked if it’s appropriate for a teenager.
C: 50 Shades of Grey? It’s not.
M: No, anything. Like even Eric Larson’s books
C: Do people think you are a teenager?
C: Maybe they think your brother is a teenager.
M: Either way.
C: Speaking of small people, let’s talk about the Hobbit mountain. What inspired you to take on this project? Because I walked into work the other day and Martin somewhat gleefully told me to go to the back and have a look, and my first thought, honestly, was that some neighborhood kids had broken in and we’d been had.
M: Well, there’s a few parts to this mountain….
C: (Looking back at mountain) You sure?
M: …that made me want to make it.
C: Oh, I see, sure.
M: So Martin the other day was talking about The Hobbit, at which point I started doing my little happy dance because I just love… anything…
M: I love Hobbits. I was at this dinner at my neighbor’s the other night and there was this baby who looked like a Hobbit.
C: Oh, did you notify the parents?
M: I’m really glad I didn’t.
C: “Your baby looks like adults look when they’re small.”
M: He was just learning to walk and he had Hobbit feet.
C: Meaning what? Covered in hair?
M: Fat toes.
C: It’s okay, I think Emma’s got it.
M: I realized later that you shouldn’t tell people that their kid looks like a Hobbit.
Emma: It’s Martin, Molly.
(Molly leaves to answer phone)
Colin: Oh, tell him we got the awnings.
Molly: To add to the “No Policies” thing: in a place like this, your life is clearly more important than what you do.
C: (Eating) That’s a great way of putting it.
M: So, No Name Tags and Quality of Life.
C: A third thing is that you can eat, like, whenever. I eat a lot here. I’m like Brad Pitt in the movies. Have you ever noticed that? Like every movie he’s in that’s all he does now.
M: That’s part of his acting. Some new quality comes through by eating.
C: Sure, he has to “act” like he’s hungry. Or maybe he doesn’t have to act because his mouth is full of food.
M: (Also eating) Right, it’s not acting-acting. We’re acting right now.
C: (Breaks to swallow) It’s harder than it looks.
M: So Martin said, “By the way, we need a Hobbit mountain made of paper-mache,” and I said “Yea.” So that got me thinking. And then I’m pretty sure Martin is like a mystical Seer.
C: Me too.
M: He understands what we need in our times of suffering.
C: Right. He knows we then need to make artificial mountains.
M: And honestly I needed that. I’m leaving for this wedding in a few days.
C: You mean your wedding?
M: Right. And if he hadn’t given me that mountain I don’t know what else could have gotten me through.
C: Hmm, I wonder who’s gonna answer that.
M: Should we?
C: Well, we’re eating…
M: The greatest thing he ever said to me was that I’m like someone from his generation, which I took as a compliment. I have no idea what it means but it felt like a really important moment. He took me under his wing. I lost my job and then came in to see Claudette, who made him hire me, even though I have no experience bookselling.
C: Oh, that’s right. You kind of came out of nowhere. How did you know Claudette? The health foods store?
M: No, I know her though Sarah who’s in our band.
C: What’s the name of your band?
M: Heavy Deeds.
C: So you and Sarah and the bassist of Policia, right?
C: Is that how it’s pronounced?
C: Holy cow, for months…
M: You’ve been calling them Policia?
C: Yep. Heavy Deeds is a great name.
M: I told my great aunt who’s a nun that and she made the worst face I’ve ever seen. Complete horror.
C: About something else? Or still the name?
M: The name. We’re actually really uplifting.
C: Do you write songs?
M: No, but I like to harmonize.
C: Do you ever dissonize?
M: I do. But I only create harmony in the workplace.
C: Haha. “I only dissonize on stage.”
M: Again, Hobbit mountain. You could just tell that this store needed a mountain; it needed some sort of weird art project that didn’t make a lot of sense.
C: Right, that’s what a lot of people have been saying.
M: Kathy came in and couldn’t stop laughing. So this is what’s happening, it’s building community. Creating harmony and building community.
C: So where’s this mountain gonna go, and how much more work do you have to do on it?
M: Well, I could add a little more texture and then we need to paint it and add a bunch of little Hobbit figurines.
C: (Standing up to inspect mountain) How did you make this? Did you just run a bunch of newspapers through a sprinkler system?
(Phone rings, again)
C: This phone is like ringing all day.
M: I just started off with one of those broom handles and shoved it in a box surrounded by bubble wrap. I’m not an artist. Then I took a bunch of cardboard and started walking around it with a huge roll of tape, and then I got that gift-wrap paper that we use. My choices were red or brown. I used the brown. And then I made a mixture of glue and salt in that pitcher over there… By the way, I hope nobody has been drinking out of it.
C: Which one?
M: That glass pitcher right there.
C: Oh, well we’ll make sure the staff is cc’d on this interview.
M: I did clean off the spoon, though, with boiling water.
M: Joe says the mountain looks like his Italian grandmother. It is sort of robust and adorable. Martin's son seems slightly impressed, sort of bored. Asked why I didn’t add flour to the mixture.
C: Yea, but he’s a lot smarter than a lot of people. Are you gonna add little trees?
M: Yea, and then I’m going to cut out the moon and stars and dragon.
C: Oh, sure… Wait, what?
(Molly points out dragon on her Hobbit tote bag)
C: You’re gonna make a dragon?
M: I can cut one out. I think that’s what J.R. R. Tolkien would have wanted.
C: Hey, Emma.
M: Is everything okay? I saw you running?
E: Yea, everything’s fine.