An Annual Inventory Story (And Good Book Hunting, January 4, 2019: ABC Books)

So when I worked as the shipping and receiving clerk at the art supply store with the rhyming name (you can try to guess it, but those in the know recognize that all the St. Louis area art supply stores had rhyming names)….

All right, I’ll tell you the name of the store since you could find it in my blog archives. It wasn’t Dick Blick or Red Lead; it was Artmart, which is still in the same location.

So where was I? Oh, yes. The bulk of my job, in addition to the all other duties as assigned which often included custodial/janitorial things, facilitating product returns (when I started the job, they had a store room just about stacked to the ceiling with returned and defective items awaiting return to the manufacturer or distributor, and nobody liked to do it since you had to find a purchase order with that product on it, contact the manufacturer, get a return authorization, and then box up the item or items to return, and nobody had time for that, so they just tossed it into the room–I kid you not, it was floor to ceiling with products just tossed in, and I cleared it out within a month or so), light maintenance/electrical repair, and computer technical help, the bulk of my job was receiving shipments, counting the received items and comparing them to the packing lists, and shelving the items in the warehouse for later stocking (“Why so many?”). So I spent most of eight hours every day for months counting pens, counting pads of paper, counting sheets of paper.

It came time for the annual inventory. The store closed up early, and everyone who worked there paired with another, and we started counting all the things on the sales floor. Every charcoal pencil. Every sheet of paper. Every Pantone color selector book (which costs hundreds of dollars for what is essentially a bunch of paint chip selectors like you get at the hardware store, except Official). I got paired with one of the retail floor guys, relatively new. One partner per team would write down the name of the product; the second partner would count said product; and the first partner would write down the number. It worked pretty efficiently for most teams, but I could count items accurately just by looking at them, so I was impeded by the speed at which my partner could write.

I mean, to count pens or pencils, which were mostly housed in square boxes (and came that way in the shipments), you basically tip the box so a corner is pointing down and shake the box until the pens/pencils fall into a pattern. The shape of the pattern indicates the number in the box.

Take, for example, the stars on the flag, right? The pattern is that the bottom row has six; the second to bottom row is five. Five rows have six, and four rows have five. Thirty plus twenty equals fifty. And, gentle reader, I could match the various patterns pretty much from memory. I was like, “Koh-i-noor 31652, 18. Faber-Castell 110251, 15. Koh-i-noor 5055, 3.” And so on. I must have looked like Rain Man to this kid.

I take pride in a lot of things I did on that job, including my ability to not so much count fast as to recognize the pattern of counts.

At any rate, I related this story to the store manager at ABC Books on Saturday when I stopped by, and he laughed politely as he does to every story I tell and joke I make. I’d wandered up to see if they had a book signing this weekend as their calendar on Facebook is not accurately updated since the social media guru left. They did not have a book signing, and they were finishing up their annual inventory (the store manager explained to someone who wanted to trade books).

I tried to help:

I have been hitting the poetry and drama sections more of late. I got:

  • Our Town by Thornton Wilder.
  • Doctor Faustus by Christopher Marlowe.
  • Under Milk Wood by Dylan Thomas.
  • The Heart in Hiding by Jane Daley Kraus, a comb-bound collection of poetry by a Long Island housewife.

It didn’t really help the counters at ABC Books who had already counted these sections.

Also, I had found an ABC Books gift card amongst my customer rewards and gift card collection. I was not sure whether I had gotten this as a gift or if I had forgotten to put a gift card in with a teacher’s Christmas card. More likely, one of the boys found himself at ABC Books without his gift card and gave it to me in exchange for the equivalent value in books which happens frequently when they have gift cards but are not carrying them.

So the above books and a book for each of my boys came to almost $25 dollars. And the gift card was for….

24 cents.

The store manager asked me if I wanted to use it. The alternative, of course, would be to put it back in the collection of rewards cards, to find it the next time I took a moment to toss out rewards cards from defunct restaurants, and to think again I had a whole gift card to use. So, yeah, I spent the twenty-four cents.

I look forward to reading these short books to start padding my annual total early. When I find them again in my stacks. Some year in the future.