The Rag Man – Barnes & Noble Creeps

Loooong ago in 2001, I was working in my first large bookstore (after a stint at B. Dalton) when I started to notice one regular. Now, I was new so I wasn’t familiar with this seemingly nice man who would sit in the comfy chairs all day.

“We call him the Rag Man,” explained a bookseller after the second day of my noticing him.

“The Rag Man?”

The Rag Man would come in looking clean and pressed and would have a chat with a bookseller or two about education or new novels. He was a white guy with thick glasses, lucid and well spoken. Nothing that stood out. Then he would sit in the comfy chair, pull out a dirty rag from his pocket and start waving it or rather, flicking it. Flicking it while staring into space. He’d flick it at his chin. He’d flick it at other people who walked by. All while staying silent for hours. *flick flick*

As I’ve written before, Barnes & Noble is terrified of law suits so there was nothing we could do. Once in awhile a customer would point the guy out but not to complain, just to laugh with someone about it. This went on for about a year (it had been going on years before I got there) and his presence was pretty uneventful.

Of course everything would implode when I was the manager in charge.

One sunny afternoon, there weren’t that many people in the store as it was a weekday. A bookseller I’ll call “Jason” went to the bathroom. When he came back he had this strange look on his face and I asked him what was wrong.

“Umm. I don’t know how to tell you this.” he said.

“Tell me what?”

“You know the Rag Man?”

“Yeah. I saw him come in about an hour ago.”

“Well. He’s in the bathroom.”

I was worried Jason was going to tell me that the Rag Man was messing up one of our stalls and said so. Jason shook his head.

“He’s…in the middle of the floor of the bathroom. On the floor. Um…”


“He’s using his rag…for something.”

That’s when it sort of dawned on me.

“Is he, you know. Doing something inappropriate with his rag?”

“Yes!” Jason was relieved he didn’t have to say it. “He’s laying ON the floor, on his stomach, while…doing that. His pants are all the way down. I didn’t know what to do. I need to pee but I’m not going back in there. I don’t even think he noticed me.”

Jason wasn’t comfortable telling the Rag Man to scoot so I had to take charge. These were the days where everything was on paper and you had to follow steps and procedure with every incident in the store. If you couldn’t find the steps, you had to partner up with another store manager and make decisions on how to move forward. So I grabbed all of our HR manuals trying to find the chapter that says, “Customer masturbating in a bathroom”. It wasn’t there. So I was on my own. The idea of a child walking in on that scene, made me say, “screw procedural steps” and call 911. I was very delicate on the phone with the 911 operator, letting her know we just want this man out of the store and I’ll probably be able to get him banned.

Talk about shock and awe. Rag Man was still in there when the cavalry arrived. I’m talking at least fifteen cops and men in suits. The obvious one in charge, shook my hand right away as his men ran to the bathroom. He was beefy and bald, wearing a button up shirt, and looked like he should be chomping a cigar. I heard commotion and ran to the back of the store in time to see the police dragging Rag Man out of the bathroom and along the floor with his pants around his ankles. They had taken his beloved rag and he had no intention of going quietly.

All of the officers seemed to know this guy. Turns out, Rag Man had a warrant out on him though we were never able to find out the details. All we knew was that we never saw Rag Man again and we never got over the fact that we now knew the purpose of his rag. *flick flick*.




Nicolina Torres
Nicolina Torres

Nikki worked for Barnes & Noble for 15 years, in seven stores. She is the author of This Red Fire, Young Nation, and Girls Who Wear Glasses. She prefers to live in the country and is a new aunt to a potential bookworm.

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