Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Code Indigo

I got back into Ottawa about 90 minutes ago. I'm skipping tonight's sleep to try and get my schedule back into some semblance of sanity. Besides, I'd just have to wake up in two hours anyway.

In slightly more interesting news, I have a confession to make. Those of you who frequent Pharyngula or Tall Penguin - both phenomenal blogs - may have noticed the story of a Toronto-area Indigo bookstore that found its entire Bibles and Bible Study section relocated to relevant shelves around the store. That was me and DK [full name withheld to protect the guilty] on Saturday afternoon.

For those barbarians who don't frequent either blog, here's where it gets interesting:

Dr. P. Z. Myers is a professor of biology in Minnesota (I think), and author of the extremely high-profile blog "Pharyngula." He's an ardent atheist and a friend of Richard Dawkins, who wrote "The God Delusion." They were both actually interviewed (under a false flag) in Ben Stein's intelligent-design schlockumentary "Expelled."

But I digress.

Assuming Dr. Myers to be the kind of person who would get a chuckle out of the absurdity of the whole thing, I sent off an email:

Bookstore Mischief in the Frozen Northlands

PR. [redacted] <[redacted]> Tue, May 20, 2008 at 3:51 AM
Dr. Meyers,

Let me open with the a trite cliche: I'm a long-time reader, but a first-time writer.

The attached images are sent not as a triumphant head on a platter (before you recoil, I should mention that it's not to be taken in the literal sense), but as a supremely gratifying act of minor mischief.

Indigo is Canada's most prominent bookstore chain, akin to stateside purveyors such as Barnes and Noble, selling everything from political treatises to new-age acupuncture schlock. The bookstore has always represented - at least to me - the democratic marketplace of ideas, where thoughts and arguments rise and fall on their merits. These arguments were very well classified by shelf: politics, business, inspirational stories, and the rest. But something was out of place, that my friends and I couldn't help but correct. The bibles, which span so many topics in the course of their thousands of pages, were relegated to a shelf of their own, separate from all the composite sub-topics that comprise their entirety.

Whether out of civic responsibility, or out of the resolute boredom of university students with nothing but time to kill during the summer, we took it upon ourselves to rectify this error. Surely it was an error.

To make a long story short, bibles that once filled a row found their respective ways to the shelves of such relevant topics as Fiction, Humour, Sexuality, Erotica, Cuisine, Parenting, Mental Disorder, Parapsychology and the Occult. In the bibles' place, the Bibles and Bible Studies section now holds one solitary copy of Sam Harris's treatise, Letter to a Christian Nation.

If a single person can be persuaded that the answers to their questions lie not in a bronze-age text, but instead in the faculties of their own reason, then I'd consider it an afternoon well spent. If not, at least it felt pretty damned good. The accompanying photos are of the Bible shelf after our labours. Do with them as you wish; my only regret is not having the foresight to have taken a picture before we started.


PR [redacted]
Undergraduate, [redacted] University
Ottawa, Canada (The bookstore itself was at Yonge Street and Eglinton Avenue, in the city of Toronto)

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And that, I'd expected, was the end of it. I probably should have known better. En route to Ottawa tonight, I got a call from DK. I hadn't mentioned to him that I'd sent the email, and he was calling to tell me that we were - and I quote - "in the fucking news!"

The "news" that he was referring to was Dr Myers's blog, Pharyngula, which posted a bemused half-chastisement for the world to see. (the actual chastising was in the form of a short "While I don't condone this..." before going on to extol how the whole stunt was, in fact, kind of funny.)

Ambitious vandalism!

Category: Humor
Posted on: May 20, 2008 8:18 AM, by PZ Myers

A couple of college students in Toronto (what is it with those ferocious godless heathens coming out of that city?) took offense at the patent absurdity of the "Bible and Bible Studies" section of a large bookstore at Yonge and Eglinton, and decided to help organize the shelves by filing their contents more appropriately. They quietly moved the contents to other places in the bookstore, like Fiction, Humour, Sexuality, Erotica, Cuisine, Parenting, Mental Disorder, Parapsychology and the Occult. Then they sent me a photo of the end result.


That's Sam Harris' Letter to a Christian Nation sitting all alone there.

I can't really condone this kind of behavior — think of the poor clerks who have to look everywhere to find and restore the bibles to their little ghetto — but it is funny. It's also godless Canada, so maybe nobody noticed for a few weeks or months. Maybe nobody cared.

Here's the other side of the story.

...For the record, this blog receives an average of 57 000 page views per day. This posting alone received about 150 comments from readers, ranging from acclaim to irritation. The one comment that stood out, the "other side of the story," was a comment from a girl who actually works at that Indigo:

I work in that bookstore and I was the one who came upon those shelves just after it happened. I blogged about it and one of my readers just sent me the link to this site. My manager wasn't really impressed and although the scavenger hunt was fun, it ate up a lot of our time on a busy Saturday afternoon.

To the culprits: By the time I reached the shelves, the copy of "Letter to a Christian Nation" was gone. They were just empty, so your prank looked more like the work of fundamentalists. Not sure it accomplished your goal.

Posted by: tall penguin | May 20, 2008 12:13 PM

While it was a bit of an inconvenience to undo the havoc we'd wrought, she was clearly amused enough to post about it on her own blog, Tall Penguin:

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Spreadin' the Word...

In my bookstore job, I walk the floor for hours, helping customers find books. As I walk through my department I tidy up the shelves and clean up the messes the dear customers leave behind. As I was walking through the Religion department late yesterday afternoon, I noticed that two whole shelves of Bibles were missing. I immediately called my manager to see if perhaps they'd been moved or someone was working on this; unlikely considering it was a Saturday and we do nothing but sell on a Saturday. He said that it seemed likely they were stolen.

Loss Prevention was alerted and the three of us surveyed the empty shelves, wondering how someone could walk off with 40 bibles without our noticing. We each went back to our respective jobs, feeling a little dismayed that this theft had happened. And Bibles even. Granted, it is the most stolen book.

So, I'm walking through the Cooking department, and there on the shelf where the books on cocktails and alcoholic beverages are, are 3 Bibles. I smile. I tell loss prevention and the scavenger hunt begins. I put on my fundie thinking cap and set out to all the areas in the store that a Bible-thumper would think were in need of the Good Word. And sure enough, there they were. Bibles were found in Sexuality, Erotica, the Teen section, War and Sci Fi/Fantasy.

My manager was happy that we'd recovered the merchandise but was understandably a little peeved at someone's thinking that they were doing a good thing. Whether this was a fundie Christian or just someone out to play a little game, we'll never know. But it made for a very interesting night.

While she doesn't seem too upset about it, I think I might send an apology to her. She was clearly an innocent bystander, and I do feel a twinge of guilt for putting the peace and quiet of her afternoon shift in the crossfire.

....And that's all for now. I'd been thinking about starting a blog for a while (God knows I've definitely got the talent to put out something that people would enjoy reading when they should be doing something productive with their time). Being peripherally involved in a blogosphere maelstrom might be a good way to springboard into that.

All the best,
PR. [redacted]

As an afterthought, I'm kind of glad that Dr. Myers had the discretion not to post our names in his blog, or the photo with me and DK standing triumphantly in front of the vandalised bookshelf.

1 comment:

  1. Hello there dear Phaedron Rising. I thank you for your apology on my blog. At the end of the day, it was good fun and made for some interesting blog entries. And hey, you managed to drive up my readership so I hold no ill will.

    And please do come by and say hello the next time you're in the T-dot. Just stay clear of management who could have you fined for taking photos in the store. ;)

    tall penguin