I was a chatty customer this weekend. Mister Bubbles, the volunteer retail clown. At Barnes and Noble Friday night I was waiting for help at the Help Desk, and overheard a cashier asking a customer a series of questions he preferred not to confront:

“Are you a member of the B&N League of Frequency,” or whatever they call it. He said no. She asked him if he would like to become a member. He said he would not. She asked him if he would like to donate a book to Books For People Without Books, or whatever they call it; she held up an example book he could purchase on the spot. He said no. And then the clerk said – and I am not fabulating this:

“So that’s no to all three questions.”

He just nodded.

I understood his despair. It’s the curse of the corporately-mandated query. Earlier that evening I’d rented something at Hollywood; the clerk had asked if I wanted to add “Rental Protection for a quarter,” which means I could indemnify myself against paying the cost of the disk if I use if for skeet shooting, or put it under a table leg to shim it up. I always say “I will live dangerously.” If “rental protection” meant I could return the movie for a full refund because the plot was transparent and the acting appalling, or because the art on the box did not sufficiently convey the fact that the movie was not a sci-fi alien invasion film but a sci-fi alien invasion film that involved a kick-boxer whose name would be known to me if I had immersed myself in the current state of kick-boxing, well, sign me up. But it’s just a means for a dying distribution network to extract a few more coins on the way into the grave. I feel stupid even renting a DVD these days, but it was for my wife. I monopolize the Netflix account, alas. Because she has a real job and doesn’t have the time to queue up movies she might possibly get the chance to see.

On a related note – I am divesting myself of my nonessential DVDs. Thought I’d sell the ones I don’t want and use the money to buy some Blu-Ray versions of things I do want to have forever and ever amen until the next format change. (Although I suspect that the next format will be no format.) I gathered a few disks, grabbed the sleeve inserts (this will sound ill, but it’s wise: when I put all my DVDs into slipcases, I threw away the boxes but saved the sleeve inserts, so I could A) consult the bar codes for future Delicious-Library-style management, or B) sell them. I put the sleeves in accordion folders.) (Arranged by decade. It’s a frickin’ sickness, I tell you.) 

I had the usual trepidation going into the 2nd hand DVD store – what if they don’t want them? Whatever will I do? They didn’t want them, actually. Most of them. One of the DVDs earned me two dollars; the rest they took off my hands for FIFTY CENTS. Overstock, the guy said. I had to laugh. And then I had to say, well, okay. I took the money and bought my daughter the Blu-Ray “Tinkerbell” disc for $12. How much would they give me if I returned it tomorrow?

“Four dollars”, the clerk said.

Which is fine. I’d wondered how these guys stayed in business, and now I knew.

Anyway. Back to B&N. The clerk asked if she could help me, and I held up a book I’d bought the week before. “I need to exchange this indistinguishable entry in the cat-warrior story for another one,” I said. She said I should pick it out and take it to the counter and they’d handle it all. So I did.

“Before you start,” I told the cashier, “the answer to every question you will ask is NO.”

“Well THAT puts me in an unusual situation,” he said.

I suggested that they have someone with a clipboard pre-screen customers in line to get their answers in advance – or, perhaps, let it be known that every 437th customer will be asked if they want a thousand dollars and a good bottle of wine. Because then people would pay attention.

He said he’d pass it along to corporate, and I needed to swipe my card again.

The next day I went to the grocery store, where I encountered some things I’ve never heard about before. I live a sheltered life and do not dine in exotic restaurants, but even in all the Thai / Chinese  / Vietnamese places I’ve been to, I’ve never seen this on the menu:

Somehow I suspect it’s more jack than fruit.

Then there was this, which gives you an idea what the grocery store shelves will look like after we’ve joined a galactic federation of alien species:

When you die of food poisoning, that red thing is what the pathologist sees under the microscope. You can see why the creature gives birth via eggs; that red thing would tickle.

This is amusing:

I’m sure there’s a reason for citing it, but “boiled in water” seems a rather skant attribute, like “raised with oxygen.”

Finally, I must tell the cereal retailers something I hoped would be clear: RAGEOUS IS NOT A SUFFIX.

New Matchbook, here; see you over at buzz.mn for some more retailing news a bit later. And the Screedblog has some fresh nonsense around noon. And there's the Twitter business, of course. Have a fine day!