Sunday, July 31, 2011

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Day 12

Today had no business being as good a day as it was. Last night was a profound fustercluck that dragged my opening to a stop. MORE power outages and "offline tenders". To top it off The viper felt the need to be there. Even still It was kind of a warm wonderful day.

I am overwhelmed on an almost daily basis at the amount of goodwill that has mixed with our oxygen. Yesterday Artsy Blogstar bought pizza for the entire staff. Just because he's kind like that. The other day a woman was brought to tears because i allowed her to 1.) use the restroom that was closed off, and 2.) held our last copy of Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistlestop Cafe for her while she did so "Please, please i'm begging you, it means so much to me". You don't have to beg lady, i'm doing it. She was so emotional. It was uncomfortable for me but still overwhelming. Afterwards i needed to decompress so i went into the breakroom and harrumphed that i needed to move back to New England where people realize emotions are for burying deeply. And today Mr. Smith...remember waaay back in day 1 I promised more about him. Well today is the day.

Mr. Smith wears a magenta shirt on Saturdays, "for the ladies". He uses his borders rewards card religiously. Even though for some reason i could never quite fathom, he never brought in the free coffee coupons. He was in our store, and specifically our cafe EVERY day. He would approach impolite customers and say things like "you know that was terribly rude, they work hard and being impolite to them says more about you than it does about their service". He will tell loud people taking up the cafe aural space to "Please be quiet, this isn't the environment for such loud conversation maybe you'd be less obtrusive in a bar". He would tell people using Wi-Fi and drinking a soda from the sandwich shop next door that "The internet doesn't pay for itself, you know. Buy something, maybe even just a small cup of coffee, because if you don't they will go out of business and then whose wifi will you use." He said all the things you dream of saying to all the people you want to say it to. He's British, the accent lets him get away with a lot. Even still, speaking as a manager Mr. Smith was the direct cause of a lot of uncomfortable conversations with the victims of his absolutely true, but stinging, barbs. "This man just said this to me.!". Oh the scandal! How dare he speak the truth to you and break the social contract of silence that all assholes seem to live by.

Mr. Smith always had a funny comment, be it about politics, or the store, or staff or another customer. He always had a helpful suggestion. Suggestions that 12 years ago when our stores were more autonomous, i could have put into effect. But because of the photocopy corpate policies and one size fits none goal of the company in latter years, i could infrequently put them into place. They were always good too, none of them were hairbrained. "you know what might bring up sales in the cafe, if you did displays of books where the 5 pound bags of coffee are. I'm not going to buy a 5 pound bag of coffee, but if you did an interesting display i might just purchase from it." What a great idea....shadow boxes as something more than storage for coffee. I wish we had thought of that befo....oh. Wait.

He was always complimentary to me. We have a bond, he and I. He likes the people I hire. He likes them a lot. I think...don't tell him I told anyone...but I think he probably said that to the previous supervisor as well. I have quite literally never heard him say anything that wasn't absolutely glowing about our staff. Except one time he suggested one of our baristas wear a longer shirt because her lower back was showing and it might inspire interest in something other than coffee. His daily visits were only half an hour or 45 minutes, sometimes twice a day. The visits were long enough to read a paper, short enough to have conversations but not get stuck in them. He was always very aware of time, the time he was taking from you and the time you were giving to him.

Today Mr. Smith brought us coffee and donuts. I'm only now seeing the irony of that.

When I found him later I helped him find some books. I thanked him.

He said, "you know, this hurts me. "

That is all you need to know about Mr. Smith.

When I was finally done fixing the paperwork from last nights mishigas The Viper wanted me to the front of the store to "Greet".

"So you see how the greeting program works is When they come into the store you say hello, when they leave say good bye". Actual words said to me.

I think to him we must appear so...amoebic, completely unevolved like we just crawled out of the primordial soup and cant tell if we peed ourselves or we're swimming. Does he look at me and see an oversized man child who just wants to pick his nose and paint walls with the content of his diapers? How could you look a full grown adult man in the eye and say "When they come into the store you say hi, when they leave, you say good bye". He must be terrified that when he goes home at night we're going to start climbing the shelves and throwing books and feces about, screeching wildly. He must envision himself Charlton Heston astride the sands looking at a profile of a fallen Area E: "You damned dirty apes! You Maniacs! You blew it up! Ah, damn you! God damn you all to hell!" (POTA purists in the audience i recognize it's not an exact quote, you can have my poetic license when you pry it from my cold dead hands). Do you think he and the other liquidators get together and have philosophical conversations about Infinite amounts of Booksellers with Infinite number of typewriters reproducing Shakespeare? Does he sneak pictures of us in strange work clothes, smoking cigars speared by a toothpick, and talking on a comically oversized phone just to make a calendar with classic quips like "buy all the bananas you can, buy em high and sell em low!".

So I said fuck that.

I stood, we'll call it, doorway adjacent. I said hello to people, but I made it known I was there to help. Damnit i've got 5 maybe 10 good shifts of doing what I am good at for a living, and I'm not missing a second of it to impersonate a retired person in a red vest at walmart. Not happening, I got shit to do. I was on point, I found stuff that was just so strangely placed. I knew secret stashes. I made some people really happy. My favorite moment was when a young woman and a young man came in together, he was buying an e-reader and she was looking for Kindred by Octavia E. Butler, who is one of my favorite science fiction authors. We didn't have kindred, but when she left she had Parable of the Talents, Seed to Harvest, and a book from African American Studies. I explained to the gentleman she was with how to get kindred as an e-book. I wish Octavia E. Butler was alive so I could hug her. I fixed some paperworky stuff at the register, I took a cash pick-up. I just did my job, my real job, not that discount store automaton impersonation.

On balance today should have sucked, but it takes a bit of salt to make chocolate pop. A little pepper with Strawberries makes the flavor more vibrant. I think seeing the hot mess I was walking into galvanized me to force a good day out of this, to find the right recipe. And with the help of a regular customers goodwill, I did it.

Then I got the hell out of dodge at exactly 4 pm. My momma didn't raise no fool.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Day 11


So yesterday, I have to be truthful, I wasn't happy with my entry. It felt...embittered. Thats a tone I'm trying to avoid. The lovely things about Borders are the important things. The stuff that aggravates, while sadly it defines our days currently, will pass. Ten years from now the memories of the infinity and diversity of indignities will be like Animorphs, all the rage but now forgotten in the face of Diary of a Wimpy Kid. The victories and the laughter and the smiles will live on.

I'm not trying to be obtusely sunny. It's just that in my experience it's true.

I was going to delete yesterdays post and only make it available to people via email, but in consultation with my most enthusiastic supporters i've decided not to. I don't like the tone, but it was real. It was a real reflection of a bad day. It's what happens when an intrinsically optimistic person has their patience and their optimism challenged for a full 10 hour shift at the end of a week of shifts that did the same thing. It's what happens when a store full of good humored, kind and thoughtful (if not always patient) people are treated like livestock.

I singled out a man whose job I hate and made a caricature of him giving an intrinsically one sided view of him. But ... and I have to thank Rob for this, I realize it's not my job to be journalistic about it. I don't have to give the point of view of him as something more than the job eating ogre that he can be. If what I feel when I sit down to write is anger, not just for me, but on behalf of my team, then that is what comes out. That will be the document of the time.

I guess everyone has bad days.

In keeping with the concept of Glastnost here, i have to repair something I said yesterday. I made reference to the infantilization of two of our IPT (inventory processing team, for those not down with borders lingo) by The Viper. I got the two wrong. I had thought it was Zen Master and History Linguist Student, but it was in fact Zen Master and Massively skilled and talented graphic artist and blogstar whose ability to hang signs he brought into question. I think this brings me back to the point that this is a document of my perspective and I do my best to channel what other people give me throughout the day, but occasionally I'm going to misremember.

House clean. New business.

I'm sitting at a local hangout tonight with some friends I haven't seen in too long. I truly am surprised when we get together how much I enjoy being around them. One of them is a former key holder from my days at an express (which I liquidated) and the other has recently gone through a liquidation of a major video rental place where he had worked for 10 years. Inevitably the question arose: so what are you going to do.

I have no idea. Zero. None. I'm certainly not going to sit here and declare working for Borders to be the best career that anyone could have and that without them all hope is lost. It's just I feel uniquely designed to work for them. We were discussing how when you love the core of what you do, perhaps not the nonsense, perhaps not the intensity, and certainly not the strange customer service anomalies that present themselves, but the strip-everything-away-and-leave-the-base-metals raw fundamentality of what you do, then work, even if hard, is not like "work". He loves movies, he loves talking about them and leading new people to new movies. I love books and I am never happier than when standing next to a person with a stack of three titles i've lead them to on a bizzare often times manic treasure hunt based on the tiniest little threads of commonality. Michaelangelo used to say, perhaps apocryphally, he could see the sculptures sitting inside the stone, and he just helped them to get out. If i may compare myself (humbly?) to one of the greatest geniuses humanity has ever know, I see a customer for what they want to be, not what they are. I can tell when a person has that initial conversation with me what they aspire to read, even if they cannot.

How is this skill useful anywhere else? Who else is going to pay me just for being approachable and intelligent? I don't know if it was ever written down as policy, but I think with the shift to make books and Borders Plus cards it was inevitable that we would need to begin hiring people based on their sales skills not their book, music, or coffee knowledge. It was going to be a store of thin white men with slicked back hair, dark tans, and whitened teeth all in red polo shirts "what do i have to do to get you into this plus card today". It was inevitable. The goals once met, would be set higher and progressively higher. Had we not folded, had we remained on our current path i've no doubt in my mind I would have become outmoded. I could already see it begin. I can sell a kobo. I'm good with ereaders. I like them. But the plus card, god i was miserable at that. It was only a matter of time before I would have to start applying spray tan and lose about a baristas (probably natalie, or rose...maybe nick c) worth of weight, or be asked to leave.

So if i'm outmoded at a Borders...Where am i relevant?

I'm encouraging comments on this one, i mean i like them for all my posts, but this one in particular it's important to me be a two way street. I know I'm not the only one with this feeling. This idea that i'm a hard cover in an ereader world cannot be unique to me. So Whose got some ideas on dealing with this? We're 23000 bibliophiles trying to translate our skills into something new. What do you see yourself doing a year from now? Have you abandoned hope of finding a job that lets those qualities shine? Did you not really care about it any way and just think of books like sacks of flour, bed sheets, or widgets? I need your help to process this. And maybe you need mine. If there is one thing Borders has always been great for it's smart people who elevate each other. I see no reason for that to stop, just because the lights are off and the shelves are empty.

If i'm going to be irrelevant soon, I at least want some good company!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Day 10

Today is a rough day to write about.

I don't' want to be the guy who takes to the internet with every little thing that torques his bean daily. I don't want to devote my time, you're brainspace, and resources which can go to highlight things that are far more pressing or more positive just to tear down a man who chose a career path that I find revolting. I don't want to write a "jackhole customer of the day" blog, plenty of people have done that, probably better, and have already gotten book deals for them.

Today is a rough day to write about because it sucked. I'm tired, sales have slowed, we have inventory tonight, customers continue to be mean and I'm sick to death of the viper. But I don't want to write about all that. I really don't. But dammit they make it so hard!

Okay maybe a little.

Look when I said way back in day 2 that he was probably a nice man, I meant it. Deep down I don't think he means any harm. I just think he lives in a weird world where he is both central and unnecessary. The writery part of my brain thinks of him as almost mythological. His personality seems to need validation from those around him, but his position holds him far away from us and forces him to do things we deplore. Of course he could choose not to do those things in a deplorable fashion.

"Hey lady, clean my toilets." That is how he greeted one of my co-worker this morning.

"The Pressures on you, Sweetheart". That sexist bullshite is how he greeted another. I flinched like she was going to get hit him instantly. She didn't. That is Ahimsa in action if ever i've seen it.

"This is me angry, this is as pissed off as i get" Okay...and?

"I don't care about that-" Right but I'm "not talking to you, I'm talking to Linda right now"

Yes, I'm positive my 50+ year old IPT Zen master and a 25 year old history and linguistic student can master the fine art of putting a 20% off sign above science fiction, yes i'm sure they can duplicate that success in romance..and true crime...and popular fiction.

I'm aware that when the delivery bell rings, I have to open the door. That is why I have a key.

"So What kind of toilet paper do you use?" 10 minutes of this. 10. Minutes.

"Look I got cookies. Don't miss the cookies. Look at all the cookies i bring you" Okay that last one isn't a quote but based on texts from a reliable source I'd say it's a really close estimation.

I think his strangest behavior is his insistence that he be liked. Not just tolerated, or dealt with professionally, but liked, yet he's unwilling to do what it would take to actually be liked. It's almost as if he wants you to forget everything you've ever learned about human interaction, and to rewrite your source code with his standards, which are really low. He wants to be liked, but he wants you to like him because he's just a tool, not a super-ultra-mecha-power tool with kungfu grip. He wants you to like him on his terms and that's just not how the world works. When you do something nice, wait for organic thank-you's, don't force some processed ones. A Small niceness is appreciated, but once you point out that you did's not a niceness any more, it's a bribe or a guilt trip.

There are things you give up to work for Borders. You give up nights, and weekends. You give up days off in a row. You give up Holidays with family. You give up the respect generated by a better "class" of job. To work for borders you give up raises for the last three years. But what you get back in many ways has value that is hard to measure. It's what they called in the more gentle 90's, intangibles. It's being able to borrow nearly any book in the store. Its working with people who aren't just interested in talking about their work drama, their life drama, their boyfriends life drama. Its having an enthusiastic and pervasive love of something that you share with each and everyone of your co-workers. It's being 36, hopelessly out of touch musically but still being exposed to "Me without You". It's hearing the new Decemberist album before anyone else. It's having a job you don't want to run from at the end of the day, but instead you want to browse, because today's pallet had some amazing cookbooks on it. It's a hot chai on a cold day during your 10 minute break. It's an iced coffee on hot day, all day. It's having friends who are 19 and friends who are 66. It's Promo posters all over your CSR's "space" declaring her love of Nathan Fillion. It's interviewing that young woman you know is going to be an amazing barista, and finding out you were right.

And it's hard work. My feet are tired. My arms, ache. My back hates me.

And this liquidation process multiplies everything by 6. So my feet are 12 tired, and my arms are 12 tired, and my back 6 hates me.

And the Viper, the Viper who has done nothing to earn our trust or our kindness and who when all is said and done is here to sell our jobs away. He wants to buy a dozen costco cookies have that be his intangibles. He wants that to somehow engender the same loyalty and enthusiasm that Borders crafted an entire culture over decades to get (only to slowly dismantle it over time, i must admit). He wants to set up shop, not be the biggest ass he can be, and bask in the glory of our adoration and low expectations.

Are you kidding me? I created Hogwarts in a strip mall in Manchester CT. I trained untrainable people in the craft and science of coffee. I terminated a friend because of Occurrences. I stared down the violent twitchy guy in Manga and got him to go away. I have mentored people who went on to be General Managers. I got punched in the nuts while dressed up as Arthur. I have done fantastic things with this company, little and big sad and sensational. I have given this company more than I received for reasons that are my own. And you want me to be impressed with cookies? Thats what YOU bring to the table? Thats what ellicits the same level of devotion and pride I give to my company?

No, I'm sorry.

Transport 150 4th graders, each with a full cup of butter beer, onto a quidditch pitch in the middle of july with a 100 dollar budget, and then we will talk.

or Perhaps just try being truly nice, with no expectations of profit from it, you'd be amazed the mileage you'd get from that.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Day 9

Technically today was a day off too but I want to express something.

One of the (many) positions i've held with Borders was something called a CRC. Those of you who predate the current Millennia will remember this position. It stood for Community Relations Co-ordinator. We were the people who brought the fun in. We handled book signings we dressed up as the Borders Explorer, We smiled happily at drug reps as they shovelled buckets of cash into our pockets in an effort to get doctors to prescribe their own special breed of fat cure, that probably isn't even legal any more. We booked the bands. We set up poetry readings. We donated money to local charities. We bought media in the local press. We were members of the management team, yet outside it. In my store We had the cubicle that everyone gathered around. In my store we also had the best collection of action figures guarding said cubicle. We did all of this in an effort to ease ourselves into a community, to become one with it, to make our store resemble it's surroundings as best as possible. It was a Usonian position.

We had to drink a lot of Kool-aid too. I never really did. Borders had all this mumbley jumbley about how "small bookstores were not our enemy" and "competition should make them stronger". I never quite bought it. I should say, In my heart of hearts I believe the people in charge of the brainwashing division believed it to be true, but it just wasn't. No matter how much our marketing department wanted it to be so, it was not so. We crushed independent book stores. We may as well have set them on fire. Its not an aspect of working for Borders I'm proud of.

I feel guilty for that, but I mitigate my guilt.

Here's why: Independent anythings were dying long before we came around. The independent anything began dying in the 80's. My downtown (which has since had a resurgence, i should add) was decimated by a mall that opened on the other side of town. A mall filled with chain stores from the midwest that were selling goods imported from china for a cheaper rate than the local independent stores could manage. I lived where they manufactured many of the brands of shoes you have probably worn in your life, and still they couldn't be sold at a rate that could compare with what JC penny's was selling it's knock-off brands for, or worse, brands that were rising in popularity but decreasing in cost. All those shoes that were made in my state, are now made in China. When you buy them a handful of people from my area benefit, not the hundreds that did in the 70's or 80's. Furniture that the urban affluent pay scads of money for because it adds a "new England charm" to their Flat, left new england to begin being manufactured in the south because they would work for cheap, and now are being manufactured in south asia because they will work for cheaper. Maybe the guy who owns Ethan Allen is making some cash, but the people who lived in the now ghostlike northern Vermont towns where it was manufactured for decades, are struggling to find new means of support.

This is the consumer culture we have signed up for. One that expects to pay less on the back end without thinking what it does to the front. One that can't see or be bothered to care that every time it accepts a cheaper shoe, or chair, or dvd player, or toy it is also accepting pay cuts for someone and eventually for themselves down the road. We recognise no correlation between the value of a consumed good and the value of it's production. We like that a kindly old wizard somewhere in oz just tells a container of Nikes to click it's heels three times and say "theres no place like Target" and then magically it appears there.

This continued rush to pay less and less and less is just a result of an ever widening gulf in our disposable incomes. The increasing cost of a wide variety of things doesn't appear to be keeping up with wages, at the very least that is the perception and perception dictates reality. And that perception leads to an expectation of lower prices. An entitlement to lower prices.

Heres the truth: Competition ultimately declares a winner. But only one.

So...lest I sound like one of the heartless bastards that i've been railing against since i started 9 (incredibly long) days ago, I have to make it known that I currently support independent business. In 17 years i've bought 1 thing at walmart and that was an emergency. I've stopped shopping at Target since they decided to line the pockets of anti gay crusaders, same with Chick-Fil-A. I'm a shopper who shops with my ethics. I'm in a minority, i know, but i try to leverage the damage I have done as a representative of one of the big fish. Thats why I don't carry any guilt around. I've outsourced my guilt to small business owners.

If someone said to me 23,000 of your fellow booksellers have to lose their job so that independent small business can flourish and grow and hire them and many hundreds more back into bookselling, I would be the first person to say all right then. Lets make THAT happen. Me and many of the thousands of booksellers who used to work for mom & pop shops but now work at borders, would marvel at the idea. Imagine a book store for every need. Millions of books at your fingertips catering to any thought your mind could make up. A place where you could meet like minded people and get recommendations for titles to further an interest you may have. I feel like a mystery today, think i'll mosey on down to "TitleSleuth" (you're welcome) and see what they have to offer. I really would like to buy a cookbook about the cooking method of ethnic Winkies, why "Livre de cuisine" has precisely what i want! I think I need to read up on this whole "facebook" thing so I better run on over to "Megabooks" for all my computer information needs. But that isn't going to happen.

Best case scenario you're going to target to buy the new Grisham, Something garish by Guy Fieri, and Facebook for dummies. I say Target is the best case scenario because at least your sales tax dollars will flow back into your states coffers and at least you'll be buying them from a human being who works in your community, is probably from your community, and returns a fair bit of their income in the form of rent or just eating at the diner after drinking at the bar in your community. But really, the "saavy" buyers are going to go on amazon, save the 7% tax, and buy your monoculture books from an algorithm. Maybe a human will package it, that is if they haven't found a machine that can do it.

I happened to be riding a big fish when it swallowed a smaller one. Now my fish is being eaten. It's the form of commerce we have culturally decided we like. Everything that rises must converge. Eventually we will just wait for the walmazon rep to message us, we'll tell him what we want and magically our computer will puke one out for us. Maybe things will be better, maybe they wont. But it is coming. Brace yourselves. If your job gets swallowed by a bigger fish come find me. I'll give you a hug. You don't deserve to suffer the indignities of a commercial system that refuses to recognize your part in it all.

A lot of the Monday morning quarterbacking that is going on for all this madness seems to hinge on the idea that those of us who worked for borders, or for the smaller bookstores when borders consumed them, could have left at any time. Didn't need those companies for their livelihood. Should have seen which way the wind was blowing and pointed their sails appropriately. "No one was holding a gun to your head" is a phrase I see a lot. That somehow because a rotating door of upper management made bad choices, and I didn't see it and bail, that I deserve the turmoil that I live with, or at the very least I should shut up about it, because this is how it works.

If this is how it works, lets break it and see what happens.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Day 8

I really need to point out that I am not endorsing class-ism of any kind in this post. But I kinda am too.

Because I realised something about Borders tonight, something that I guess i've always kind of known and just never acknowledged and something i've always kind of benefited from and never took the time out to appreciate. Our customers protect us from absolutely horrible people.

There is no "typical borders customer" by any reasonable standard. But there is a sensibility that seems to bind them all together. They seem to be curious people, not...strange...but people interested in knowing. They wonder. They travel about the store seeking information and news; be it from or about books or perhaps a bit more annoyingly at times from or about staff. They want to know. They like to chat. They are enthusiastic about the stuff we sell. Especially the manga fans. Very importantly, they are evident. Which is to say they make themselves known, to the staff, to customers. They are frequently educated or being educated or just learned. They are often Nerds, Geeks, Dweebs...whatever little word little minded people come up with to cluster all the people that intimidate them into a single group so they can stereotype more easily. Our customers are moms and dads who want their kids to read. Our customers are kids who love to read. Our customers are Women looking for books about baseball and men looking for books on fashion. Our customers are atheists and Muslims next to each other laughing at Archie Comics. Our customers are feminists, liberals, conservatives, and chauvanists. There is one thing our customers are not...they are not ordinary. Okay, obviously some of them are, but the core customer, the customer who saw the standard we planted when we said "we claim this space in the name of ...awesome" and became standard bearers themselves, that's who I'm talking about. They weren't always appreciated, but they were always needed.

Because frankly, I think they freak out trashy people. By trashy I don't mean an income level or an education level, I'm a college drop-out who grew up in a trailer in rural Maine who works for a dying retailer. I have no room or incentive to judge on those criteria. Trashy people to me are the people who aren't curious, who live a life of self imposed ignorance. Who walk around all day looking for ways to hurt others a tiny bit, just to make themselves feel an equivalent amount more superior.

Our core customer plays a huge role in keeping this human detritus out of our stores. By being themselves they make the narrow-minded flee. They are the people version of hanging a clutch of garlic on your door to keep vampires at bay. They emit a pungent smell of intellectual curiosity, individuality, and diversity that makes the disinterested Neanderthal scum bag twitch. By being a haven for the strange, the unique, the...awesome, Borders has created a culture that is counter culture, while still being ubiquitous and sometimes pedestrian.

I know this to be true, because like the wind, I cannot see it, but I can see it's affects. I can measure it's affects not because of it's presence, but because of its absence. In liquidation our core customer has been diluted and lost their strength. They are mere garlic powder sprinkled on the floor. The vampires have overcome it, and are ravaging what little life blood is left in the place every day. Not sparkly vampires either, the real ones...monsters that suck.

Here is my anecdotal evidence. In any given week i think I'd have maybe 1 interaction with a customer that just left me shaking my head. Once a month, I'd have one that made me really angry. Twice a year I'd have one that just left me speechless. Today alone I had three that left me positively agog.

And I'm callin' these mo-fos out!

Lady with your zany yellow on top black on the bottom joan jett 1983 haircut and your teen study bible. How are you gonna stand across that counter, after already brow beating a bookseller and a key holder, and try it on me? Do I look like I'm just going to take your b.s.? Because we have reading glasses right there, I recommend you try some. This lady had the stunning audacity to say we were scamming her when she bought her br+ card a month ago and asked if we were going out of business, to which one of our best br+ booksellers said no, thats just a rumour we plan on being around for a while Someone wants to buy us. The look of surprise on her face when I refused to let her decide the narrative of this interaction was priceless. I stopped her immediately from pursing that course of conversation. I told her I empathised but we were the real victims here not her. She wanted to use a coupon. Okay, I was going to let her return the card, but screw it...I let her use the coupon instead. "you expect me to believe you didn't know...." Frankly lady I don't give a damn what you believe, as long as you believe it somewhere not here. While she was still about I walked around the store complaining loudly about her using her own words. She heard me several times. She also went back up to the bookseller who sold her the card and tried starting it again. The bookseller shut her down. How do you like us now?

And how about that lady with her screaming child. Not a minor tantrum I mean screaming. Loudly, for around 15 minutes. At front of store. Hitting his mother. Proclaiming for all, and I mean all, to hear, that he hated starbucks (???) and he hated her. Kids throw fits, I know that. And sometimes you just have to let them do what they are going to do, to work through it. But not for 15 minutes. I don't understand, you're bigger than he isn't raining...take him outside. Let him question your worth as a human outside- away from the hundreds of people milling about trying to save a buck . I mean this child was not a nice person. And he had a brother who at one point was running drills around the queue line ducking under tables and leaping over the barge stacks like some kind of methed up munchkin. 15 minutes she allowed this to happen. Any sane parent, even a moderately bad one, would have broken after 10 minutes of this and dragged their child away. But this woman just stood there...actually laughing at the child. See where I'm going with my trashy theory?

And then there is the barely sentient bit of toe sludge who decided to leave a comment on a sign we put up, as if signs are any kind of two way communicative street. So i'm going to be the first person to admit to breaking the seal on a bit of snark going on in the store. I wear a lanyard that says "will alphabetize for food" as far as i know I'm the first person at our store who wrote anything controversial on my name badge. Well the idea took off and the results are occasionally bitter, occasionally short tempered, and occasionally snide. So fire us! I'm also the first guy who wrote a sign that was less than, shall we say, professional. I made an "employees only, no public restrooms" sign and wrote in the corner "here there be dragons". I thought it was a cute old timey map reference, someone either really agreed or really disagreed because it's been cut off since then. I also wrote a series of comical yet the tiniest bit demanding signs along our cafe to ask folks not to leave their product on our line of tables that block off the cafe from the rest of the store. The signs can be a bit insistent but also tell a little story and at the end are quite positive and ask our customers to enjoy shopping. But I have a deft hand with snark, if i do say so myself. Sarcasm is a weapon I wield with immense precision and skill. I'm a 59th level ironic paladin. Some of my co-workers, and I love them and I absolutely respect their right for self expression, perhaps tip over the line into sounding bitter. A feeling they have earned, but one that perhaps is best tempered with a smidge more humor. All of that being said, I think the sign in the picture above maybe strikes a discordant blame-y kind of note, and I don't think that is accidental. I don't know who posted it...I don't care really I think it's a totally responsible and accurate sign, but I can see how a customer might be made to feel badly upon seeing it. It certainly tweaks the nose, as was, I assume, it's intent. It's reminiscent of the "your mother doesn't work here, please pick up after yourself" signs that every break room has that only really make you feel like a jerk if you do let your mom pick up after you, and can't shake the habit when at work.

All of that having been said, The handwritten response below the sign was uncalled for. Firstly, the entitlement of it is just gargantuan in scale. As if this person, because of some accident of birth or because they spent the gas to get there, deserved a deeper discount. Also, the economics of it show a small brain incapable of thoughts more complex than "this make me sad: customer smash". The idea that if we were discounting more aggressively we would somehow make more money and therefore continue to be a going concern is just...dumb. I mean walmart and target have trained a great many people to not bother thinking past the decimal point, but for goodness sakes that doesn't even make a modicum of sense. Not for a minute. And lastly, and I think most egregiously, even if the sign offended you, you do not have the right to suggest that we somehow deserve to lose our jobs because you are dissatisfied with your savings. You un-evolved, heartless, pathetic, trashy litte coprophage. I hope you soon know the sadness and fear that comes with knowing that despite your best efforts you are standing on the brink of financial and personal devastation and every product that every persons buys drags you further and further toward the abyss. I hope you know that. And I hope some vile piece of scrap human mocks you for your fear and hardship and I hope that crushes whatever little brain and heart you have into a sinewy mass. And then I hope someone kicks you in the junk, just for good measure.

I remember working at Barnes & Noble, one down the street from a borders that i eventually got to work in, only for a week though. Our customer base was...privileged, I guess is the word I will use (if that reads snotty to you, I'm not going to correct you, but I won't say it either...oh wait, I think I just did).One such guest remarked to me that she didn't like Borders, they had a lot of "different people" there. The pause before different clearly indicated she meant weird.

So I am going to thank our core customer right now. I think you scared off most of the truly vile. I think your insistence on being who you want to be despite what the unclean masses might insist, is the thing that sent most of these angry, resentful, cheap people fleeing to some other retailer for their books. I think you collectively held hands and decided "it's not going to be THAT kind of bookstore". I think without knowing each other, without even trying, you helped create an environment that was fun, entertaining, occasionally weird, never precious, and never sterile. Most importantly you made a silent statement to the foul asshats of the world, "this is our place, these are our booksellers, we like it this way, if you don't, go find someone else to harass!" I truly thank you, and I hope you don't feel cast aside and unloved. I hope you find a new place to weave your bizarre unintentional magic, and I hope I know where that place is. I look forward to shopping with you.

Day 7

Is a day off...finally.

My feet and my mind are taking a break. Pawn stars, it is.

Thanks so much for all your comments and for following me and for sharing, it all means so much to me. It's whomever shared me with wil wheaton thank you so much.

More from the book battlefield later.


Monday, July 25, 2011

Day 6

7am was brutal. Truth be told it was more like 7:08 am, back in the day I would have gotten half an occurrence. I just can't be bothered to care about promptness that early on a Sunday to fix the damage the book weevils did to my store over the weekend. So 7:08 it was, and they were damned lucky to have me. For the next four hours I imagine borders as a sort of massive scale model of an atom with bookseller particles bumping seemingly at random around the store faster and faster as our state of matter changed from closed to open. By the time we were opening it looked like a store again...sort of. I was impressed at what we were able to get done in a short amount of time.

Then there was puke, twice. And electrical outages...many times. And rebooting all of the cash registers twice after every outage. I think i rebooted a register 24 times all together. There were hordes of people walking around saying "well they raised the prices to do this discount" and "10 percent isn't even worth coming out " and i heard "no wonder they are going out of business" many more times than one should have to hear. I closed off the bathroom to the public with some caution tape and a lovely sign so naturally at one point a young woman approached me (thanks to clever deflection from a bookseller, which he will pay for!) "please it's an emergency I just got my period" Okay Okay...emergency is enough. I don't care what manner. I'm not particularly skeeved by period talk, but my goodness what kind of life have you had the misfortune of living where simply saying "it's an emergency" and "bathroom" in the same sentence wasn't enough to get you permission?

Then there was the announcement from our liquidator, the Viper.

"Uh, good after noon, uh borders shoppuhs uhhhhh we want to thank you for coming out today and there are some great blah blah blah blah blahdey blah blah yackety shmackety, etceterah etceterah".


"We Just want to thank you all for being loyal customers over the years and continuing to support us as we close our doors"

Record scratch.

Crickets chirping.



A.) when did you become part of we, Mr liquidator? Oh right, never. You're a separate entity and if you want to maintain any kind of pleasant relationship with these folks you will be aware of that every damn second of every damn day. Southern "charm" works great in the south I'm sure....not so much in Jersey.

2.) The vast majority of these liquidation lemmings haven't been loyal! Hell they haven't even been customers before. I don't want to thank them for fact i want to step on their pinky toe for leaving piles of books scattered like cairns on a hiking trail. My skin jumped off my body when you tried to give these people the warm fuzzies for this.

Apple.) Who the hell are you to appropriate our feelings? How dare you. How dare you thank these people on our behalf how dare you offer up any sense of loss about this business and pretend like you think it's demise is anything more than a sweet pay check for you.

Oh right... you guys own the place, you can dare to do whatever the hell you want. My bad.

So all of this...there was all of this...but then there was Sunday night.

Hell Yeah.

My GM was wearing a cow boy hat, thats how i knew it was going to be a good night. There were probably 20 or more of us past, present, and occasional employees of borders taking over the western end of a country bar down the street from our store. Nascar on every screen saddles everywhere. We tried, by we i mean myself, some friends, and Mr. Jameson to get our gm up into one of those saddles but it never happened. Most of the people who had worked that day were there, plus a lot more. We were all drinking and laughing and just enjoying being around each other. Also i was sneaking fried food off peoples plates when they were distracted by shenanigans. Full disclosure: I was also kind of drunk so I probably wasn't anywhere near as stealthy as I think I might have been.

At one point I grabbed an uninhabited corner of the bar, Chris, the bartender, gave me another beer, and I just took a second and looked and watched . These magnificent people, who have plenty of reason to be angry and sad, Laughed, and flirted, and squeezed nipples (you know who you are) and told stories and had genuine moments with each other. There was never a time in all of that where the thought of closing disappeared,much the contrary, but we were laughing in the face of oncoming doom. That is what keeps us, us. Thats what made Borders. And you can't liquidate that.

Dare you to try.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Day 5

H.P. Lovecraft is writing my life.

I'm staring into the hungry and ambivalent maw of the weirdness that is liquidation. So much weirdness it makes me feel slippery. I just can't quite get a handle on the geometry of the room any more. I've lost my mind, clearly, and life with an ancient incomprehensible unfeeling elder deity is selling books during liquidation.

The following events did not all happen today, today was the day I realised they were a strange pattern.

Weird thing 1.) While at the cash registers I see the next person in line. A seemingly lovely old lady with a bargain bead kit for one of her, no doubt, ungrateful grand children who probably just want to play Angry Birds. I call her down to my register as I had a moment to stand and ring. She lumbers over to me and places the kit on the floor, my first clue that some eldritch magic was about to be laid down. "Hello" she says in her best cigarette coarsened Jersey accent.
"I'm so sorry to hear about your impending unemployment".
Blink Blink.
"Have you thought about what you're going to do when the store is closed..."
Blink, headscratch, blink.
"well, if you are a future entrepreneur (or in jersey: On Trep a noooahr) I may have exactly the right solution for you." She begins intoning this strange pyramidal sales pitch about an instructional meeting for Ameriplan that is invite only for special folks that she can tell would be good for it. Then after telling me how exclusive and rare this opportunity is she pulls out a fistful of invitations that had been lovingly photocopied and the pertinent, apparently erroneous, details scratched out and written correctly in blue ball point ink. I'm instructed to give them to my co-workers. She picks up the kit from the floor and inquires to it's discount level. hands it to me and says she will come back later when it's a deeper discount.

Weird thing #2. These light blue blurs kept moving in the window that overlooks the front doors. I didn't notice them right away, but when i was leaving the building for lunch (hell yes, i left the building, one hour some place where the laws of physics still apply is balm for the soul) I saw three very well distributed people in khaki shorts and light blue shirts buzzing around the front door handing out leaflets to people. I thought I recognised one but it wasn't tripping any alarms so I just enjoyed my lunch. On return I realised I had spoken to one of them before, he was a personal trainer from the LA fitness in our plaza. He had wandered FOS (front of store) giving people coupons and whatnot over a year ago and I had banished him. I'm pretty sure my GM even called them to tell them to stop it. Well now they had dusted off their summer couture, sent out their prettiest minions, to shove their propaganda into the faces of the torrent of people pouring into the store. Of course the end result of this was reams of these flyers scattered about like they'd been caught in a whirlwind.

Weird thing #3. This one made me bug out a bit. "Cory, can you come up front {name deleted due to privacy and, quite honestly, lack of memory} is here to see you about the hotel." I couldn't have heard that makes no sense. "Say that again?" pause. "Can you come up front {that guy} is here to see you about the hotel." These damn ear pieces.

Sure enough {not expected} was standing in the front of store, his legs spread a bit, his hands clasped in front of him. His overpriced uniform quality sport coat hanging slightly too large on his shoulders, and a gold name badge pinned precisely in a 1x3 rectangle above his pocket and next to his lapel. He looked militant. Unless hounds-tooth is the new camouflage and the military suddenly had a "corporate hospitality" division, he was clearly a hotel front desk worker. He was so incongruous to his surroundings. His stance was calm and sturdy and his face was all business. What was going on around him though, was chaos and destruction. I walked up, offered my hand, he shook it and gave me his spiel. They knew that often-times when a store goes out of business there is a liquidator or team of liquidators who were looking for long term hotel stays. He gave me the hard sell man. He started talking up their amenities and rates and how great their buffet is. I let him keep talking because frankly it was so scripted that I felt like if I interrupted him he'd never remember where he left off and would have to start it all over again. Turns out he wanted the liquidator, remember him? The viper? So i fetched (intentional word choice, I'm fetching a lot these days) The Viper and poor {Idunno} had to start his one act play all over again. I walked away, moments later they were in the inner sanctum, the bull pen, the secure office, haggling over authority {Officer Expanded continental Breakfast} didn't have. I just walked away.

Weird thing #4, the Weirdest thing.

Today i walked around my cafe with a very nice gentleman who will probably be receiving a copy of my resume. You see this man is the owner of a small but growing chain of coffee shops in the area. I was selling him the various organs and bones of my cafe. And I do mean selling, like the verb, like they wanted us to do with plus cards.
"Oh yeah, these two compartment fridges are totally modular, you just stick your cambros in here and you can hold whatever you'd like. Their perfect for a kiosk because they hold a lot of stuff in a small footprint."
"Yeah these cup holders, you can just take them out with a few screws, cut a hole big enough and slide them in under your counter."
" This oven is awesome it can cook a sandwich in under 2 minutes."
" Sure you can have the mugs, do you want the demitasse as well?"

Who the hell was I? What kind of abberant spirit had leapt into my body? Is this because i played with a ouija board when i was 12? This wasn't me...I don't sell this stuff. I am NOT THAT GUY.

Since then it has landed on me. I wasn't $$$$$elling. I was just...proud. I was proud and wanted this man to be impressed with our stuff. I was proud of what borders tried with it's cafes, okay not so much the SBC thing, but before. I loved cafe borders, I loved running one, i loved dining at one, i loved going to one for open mic night or poetry slams or looking at the art that changed every month on the wall. I was proud of Holiday Traditions, and our old powdered chai. I still am desperately proud that our cafes were cherished by our communities and our customers and used by our staff and i feel their loss like a family member. And I wanted this man to know that something good had happened here, and it had value. And he should want that value. I was defending something that was being assailed from all angles by carelessness and confusion and greed.

The last night we were a Borders, my gm said to me as she was leaving, "I just want to ...just once...go into my cafe and knit and have a cup of coffee and enjoy what it is". I felt the breath pulled out of me when she said that. Because, and she had been a cafe manager too, so i know she was feeling this as well, it wasn't just the end of this borders and this cafe, it was the end of something...grand. And she was going to watch it end. I couldn't join her, Its too much for me to think about. even now, as i type, I'm getting a kind of emotional that surprises me. The whites on my screen are glaring and striped because of the water in my eyes. How many blind dates, how many future marriages, how many moms and dads, how many socially awkward chess players, how many vulnerable and brave poets, and singers, and drum circle enthusiast and painters how many misfits and buttoned up joe averages had come out of the cold world that didn't give a damn who they really wanted to be into a warm safe caring place that had the audacity to let them let their flags fly, whatever the stripe. To those of you who weren't there, this probably seems like an overstatement. But for those of us who lived it...who lasted through all the mis steps and sbc shaped icebergs hitting the ship, we know it was real, and we know it was magic. And I don't care how many piles of hopes and dreams people left on our tables at the end of the night, i'd reshelve them all again, just to have that feeling back.

The old lady with the photocopied invites to a pyramid scheme, the 6-pack ab army in their sky blue and khaki war paint, The hospitality soldier and his impotent haggling. They were all these exotic new forms of slime mould growing through the ever increasing cracks in the professionalism and pride of work that once protected us from such things. They seeped in and grew in the wood and began splintering it until they could crawl and breed comfortably in the humid charnel of our former craft.

Like one of Lovecrafts demons, tomes, or tablets, to look upon this is to go insane.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Day 4

Oh. My. This one has swear words...

I'm just going to go on record as saying tonight was my most impressive night as a bookseller in my life. And also my least. Why my least? Because i laughed in a customers face tonight...and i don't do that. I'm a professional. I am a customer service maniac. I will try desperately to make you happy in my store until i've simply exhausted all options. My philosophy is if i make your life better, you will come back. I'm quite sure many of my staff think i'm the "easy" one. But tonight...i just didn't care if I ever saw a single one of these "customers" again.

Arriving at work to a full parking lot is a new experience for me. I mean, i've seen busy after noon full, and Busy Friday full, and Christmas Eve full. But i have never seen Oh-my-god-get-to-borders-in-the-next-hour-or-your-car-will-explode-taking-all-your-loved-ones-with-it-full. I don't think I have ever contorted my face into the look of utter revulsion and disbelief I had on when I entered that store. I was aghast at the sheer vulgarity of the display.

The piranha were feeding hard tonight munching away on what exposed meat they could find hoping to strip the bones clean. It was a frenzy. I have never seen so many people at a Borders store that wasn't having a midnight release of Harry I have never seen so many people at a Borders Store. I was surrounded by the tiny fish and their razor sharp questions before i even managed to sign in for the day. How did they know? could they smell it on me? Did they see me coming in and talking to Nikki? If so...did it seem appropriate to approach me en masse when i clearly was just arriving? I was confronted by so many bizzarre feelings in just the time it took me to walk through the door.

The line stretched over 100 feel to the back of the store. My co-manager seemed...You know how when a bubble is just about to burst and it loses that rainbowy sheen it has and it becomes this weird, barely there monochrome state and then it just...isn't any more. Thats how she looked. Like at any moment she was going to cease to be. I haven't worked with her much since the whole thing began and when i tell you that she is a consummate bookseller, and a woman of incredible skill and precision, you can imagine what this kind of chaos and laisez-faire shopping does to someone who gives such a huge damn about order. It hurt me to see her, the whole time i just wished that she would go home. Just leave. Let me deal with the madness you go home and thicken your skin for tomorrow.

But there were moments tonight where i was on fire. I mean there was a time where i was walking from the front of store to the back all the while being followed like the Music Man through town, and people were just shouting out questions and i was flinging answers to every corner of the store. I was seriously on my game. It was so much fun, no Atlas...We don need no stinkin' Atlas! It was all "DaFoe, Lit, D" and "Verghese, LIt V" and "LIfe Science, Ritter, R" and "Thats in picture books ...god help you if you want to go in there" I was even able to find a computer book with no pc and just a first name of the author and what it was about. I even hand sold a title while walking. You're Welcome author of the Believing Brain. I mean If bookselling was ever cool, it was cool tonight. I felt like fonzie.

Until SHE breached my tipping point.

"So this is only 10% off?"
"Thats right"
"But what about my BR+ Membership, i have the $10 off $35 dollar coupon"
"Sorry, NO coupons but you'll get your addition 10% for the next two weeks"
"NO COUPONS? Well i can at least use my teachers discount"
I pinched the bridge of my nose. A lot of people who read this blog know me and i garauntee you maybe one of them has seem me do the universal sign of "will you shut the fuck up already" and none of them have seen me do it to a customer.
"It WAS a classroom discount, not a teacher discount, it would only be good on books for use in the classroom, but it is defunct now as well. So no Teacher Discount either."
"Its just a flat 10% then? Thats ridiculous. There has to be someone i can call..."
This is when i laughed. A loud, breath leaving my body by force i couldn't control, HA!
"NO" (still laughing) "There isn't a number you can call - WE ARE BANKRUPT!" I raised my voice a bit too.
"I'm well aware of that, but you need to get rid of your inventory"
"Don't worry ma'am, it will go, thank you for your concern."

This is just my experience. I watched my brigade of booksellers as they faced down the same indignities. Vacillating between "oh i'm sorry you're losing your job" to "This discount isn't deep enough for me to bother..." I just don't understand why customers think we want their dvd commentary. Just say hello, pay for your books, don't act indignant ever, and go. It's really simple folks, we don't want your condolences unless we know you, and we don't want your indignation because it just makes you look like an asshole. Just pay, say thank you, and go. Maybe an "it's been nice shopping here" on the way out. Beyond that your are courting forces you really shouldn't be.

It must be weird for the customers though, too. I mean, they must feel like they are in some sort of suburban post-shopocalyptic dreamscape where all the old rules have changed. It must feel very non-Euclidean. I can't imagine ever thinking "oh he might work here, me and these other 7 random strangers should ambush him and ask him our various questions". I can't imagine ever thinking it's okay to leave a giant, i mean magic bean enhanced, stack of books on a table that is clearly a display. I can't imagine ever thinking it's okay to ask someone questions while they are in the middle of answering another persons questions. I can't imagine there ever being a time when your average well mannered citizen would just walk in front of you when you are clearly moving down a line of customers to deal with all the questions in an orderly way and demand to know where the MOLE SKINS are.

Pardon me a moment: It's pronounced Mole Es Skeen uh. It's Italian. Good lord if you're going to be pompous about your note paper at least have the dignity to be pompous correctly.

People were clearly unhinged and there was absolutely a sense of looting about the place. I expected to see old oil drums alight for heat and 80's luxury sedans retrofitted into desert mobile armouries. Young adult turned into a combat ring. 2 emo girls enter, one emo girl leaves. We don't need another Hero.

All of this for what? All of this dehumanizing demand. All of this digging through possessions to find a 20 year old gift certificate, for what? 10% really? thats all it takes to get you bottom feeders out of your houses? Is it the Bright orange and yellow signs, that grabbed you? Is it the unfortunate sign holders standing outside next to 50 mph traffic holding signs up on a 101 degree day? Did that kind of inhumane display get you all hard to buy books? Or were you just so excited to throw gasoline on the fire that all these people you are asking your inane questions to tried so hard to put out.

At the end of the night i stood outside and held the door open as we ushered the final customers of the night out. There were a lot of them. I said good night to each one, but the customers i knew who had been with us on many friday nights i said "thanks for coming out tonight, it means a lot to have you see us off." One lady was crying and grabbed my arm. That was sweet. I don't know her name but we've bullshitted aplenty on an open mic friday. We were clearly a bigger part of her life than she was of ours, but that just made me even more sad that i'd never taken the time to get to know here better. She was in the minority. The rest of them got "I hope you like your books" because its simply not polite to say "where the fuck have you been for the last 2 years!"

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Day 3

I feel bad for our liquidator. He seems like a nice man. It must be tough to go from location to location living in the cheapest hotel you can get, working at a place for anything from 3 days to 3 months, never being able to make a connection with the people you work with. That must be why he thinks anything he has to say can in anyway make this situation better for us. Its probably also why he says incredibly insensitive things with no regard for its impact.

He called at 830 this morning and made us aware of his presence, i didn't answer the phone so i've no idea what he actually said, but it was translated to me as "Cory, the liquidator is here he's going to be at our door in seconds". I was immediately reminded of an old episode of G.I.Joe whose drama hung on the impending arrival of the Viper. At the end the viper arrives but he's just a kindly old man from eastern europe who cleans windows for a living, "I'm the viper, i come to vipe the vindows". Digression.

When the viper showed up i ran out to meet him, exchanged pleasantries, shook hands. He asked me how i was doing, I gave him a Mumbly Mumblesons answer that would basically be read by anyone with any social acuity at all as " know, closing my store, looking forward to unemployment...and yourself?" He told me his name asked me about wifi and asked me the same question again. My second answer was a little more concise. "as good as can be expected."

Then, completely unsolicited and with almost no seque, he told me "I get paid very well." The context was about getting a hotel room that he had to pay for himself but not to worry...(see above).

Today was the last day that the Borders-that-was existed. Tomorrow is officially the beginning of the reign of the liquidators. I felt, as the last bits of the ships stern sink into the ocean, i needed to recognize it, to acknowledge that a 40 year old company that once upon a time tried and tried hard to be generous and responsible was vanishing to be replaced by an empty borders shaped husk. Over the intercom, before we open i made an announcement, that today was the last day, that it was a fine company that had brought many people together, and that we were great damn booksellers and we weren't here because of anything we did but because of decisions those without our interests made on our behalf. I ended with what i thought was quite a positive "lets not be any different today than we have been any other day" message. The viper didn't like it. He searched the store to find me, walked outside with me as i unlocked the doors and said "while technically it's true, we still consider this borders for the next X weeks. It's just a different regime (his word) thats all, everything is the same." To which i replied "no it isn't, it's the end of an era and i needed to acknowledge that" .

Later i heard him talking about getting new flooring installed in his house and i heard him say he isn't the enemy and he again made a point to let me know he gets paid well. I do have to remind you that he is actually a nice man. I can only sum it up this way: when one of my co-workers asked me if he was as "douchey as he seems" i gave it a moments thought and said "well...on an atomic level, yes. But within that considered he's actually very nice". Which is to say what he is, is unapologeticaly vulgar, He can't help that, he's a carrion feeder. It's because of that i think when he tells me he has to pay his own way, but he gets paid very well...he thinks i'm actually concerned for him. I can't be, and it's not because he's unpleasant, but it's because at his core what he is professionally is a feeding off of my decay. Perhaps it's good for the eco-system but it's bad for me.

And i feel bad for him because working at a borders is all about connection. Most book store employees are nerds or geeks or other denizens of the island of misfit toys. We are, many of us, a tiny bit socially awkward, or suffer from self esteem issues. We can be bashful, or occasionally seem judgemental and rude because we find making that connection difficult. Its so difficult for many of us to find a place where we can be comfortable, let alone excel and make friends with people who share many of our same values. It's almost impossible to find a place where your knowledge of obscura is helpful to your job and appreciated by your peers. For many of us books and music and coffee are the doorway to that connection. In my store that connection is a big deal. I feel bad that the Liquidator will not ever know that from us, because he rolls in with bs liquidator feelgoodspeak instead of honesty. I feel bad because being one of us is a fantastic feeling. Instead he's just going to blunder about talking about home improvement projects and hotel stays when many of us are concerned about being able to eat past October.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Day 2

Thank you to all of the people who commented and passed along this blog to friends. I'm very moved to know that there are so many people who care about the observations of a soon to be unemployed bookseller, and who are there to lend support.

If even half of the days of the previous year had been like today, I can assure you liquidation would be the furthest thing from the minds of the powers that put us there. Today was a chaotic eruption of walkers-in and walkers around. There wasn't a moment where the cash register was silent. There was never a person standing in line without a person behind them. When our computer system went down, which was apparently intentional, I thought briefly, I was witnessing the entrance of a new predatory species to a here-to-fore balanced eco-system, as the pack gathered, licking their teeth, just waiting for their chance to pounce. People were out to buy books today, they were going to buy books today , and gods and goddesses help you should you get in their way.

Or were they? It was a lot of new faces today and old gift cards. People were wandering our store as though they had never been there. Mostly, they hadn't.

This was every other phone call i answered : "okay, Where is your store?"
"Route 38, next to Ruby Tuesdays"
"okay so what exit is that?". The phone was wringing almost non-stop.

So what brought all these new patrons out? These new deep pockets that could have blown wind into our sales over the past years? I'm going to go ahead and call them "Rubber Neckers" I believe these rubber neckers were no more there to buy books than they were to measure my feet for shoes. I believe they were here because it was news. It was a grim economic freakshow that they all had tickets to. They could wander the store and cluck their tounges in disapproval at how our society could so casually cast aside such a shrine to intellect and creativity. They could approach us and mourn our passing while at the same time verifying whats to come. I don't think those people cared about deals, because the liquidation hasn't started yet. I think they cared about the spectacle of it all. The opportunity to participate in the last days of something. Like funeral lurkers, who didn't really know the person who died, but can't wait to sidle up to someone and say "oh it was such a beautiful service, and she lived a beautiful life." only to later turn to a mutual acquaintance and say "I can't believe they served Brie en-croute at the wake...we're supposed to be mourning for petes sake" Like my fictional funeral lurker I'm sure many of these rubber neckers went home and had conversations like "well no wonder they went out of business, they don't have any staff to help you and their computers don't work and they don't have the Jaycee Duggard book anyway."

Never will it occur to that person that we went out of business because they only came out when there was a news item on the television about us. Nor will it occur to them that they don't have an independent book store to shop at now for the same exact reason. These audience members aren't there to support us, they are there to point and gasp, and the fact that they buy is largely an accident of convenience.

Which is why i am doubly saddened for our regulars. I looked out today and saw Mr. Smith (more to come on him, i'm sure) looking about as though he'd accidentally stepped into to traffic.The really pretty brown haired woman (whose name i don't know because I secretly harbor a crush on her and i'm too bashful to approach), she held her books to her chest as she walked through the store like a first year student on her first day of highschool. Her look of confusion seemed to say "which way to the computer lab." Their last days, in their Borders, (even though regulars get a bad rap sometimes, it's their store too) Marred by rubber neckers. Despite the chaos and the confusion, and the pinball motion of the booksellers, Mr. Smith still took a moment to come up to me, offer a letter of recommendation, put his hand on my shoulder and say "I'm really sorry". He meant it...and it made, for a second, all of those rubber neckers disappeare and suddenly it was a quiet Wednesday morning and i was talking to a kind old gentleman over coffee.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Day 1

The Death of a company is often seen as a side effect of market based economics. Company X does it's job well, it's worthy, it lives. If It doesn't, a much deserved death because as we all know economics has no biases besides money and math is math. For many of us trapped atop the dying beast, it becomes something much more. For a company like Borders Books & Music, It's not just a death, it's the end of a retail company that once upon a time, got it. I'm going to posit that Borders isn't dead because of the E-reader, or because Barnes & Noble is better, or because Amazon crushed us with it's massive digital boot.

We died because our leadership stopped getting it.

I started working for Borders in 1997 in Manchester CT. I was one of a billion staff members at the store and i had just come from Barnes & Noble where i had a very negative experience. I was well positioned to love Borders. When i arrived they treated me with respect "wear what you want, as long as it's not offensive". Really, Wow. At B&N i had to wear a shirt and tie to sell people Nora Roberts books. My first day i worked with a beautiful young woman who was 5'10", 6'10" with the mohawk. I was encouraged to borrow a book to take home and read, or buy one with the $300 dollar store credit account i had, or wait till the end of the month when my $30 store credit came through and buy it with that. When i was sick i was encouraged to stay home (take an occurance, naturally) and go see a doctor oh, and not to forget to put in for the personal time. I was encouraged to start a Sci-Fi reading group and they gave me a copy of the title i chose for each month and also a $25 dollar gift certificate (not card...we didn't have those yet). I was encouraged to take a vacation. Before long i was encouraged to apply for a lead position, which...notably i didn't get. But I was encouraged to apply for a back up trainer position, so when our store trainer was away i could take over for her. I was encouraged to apply for The trainer position when she left, I got that one. When our Community Relations Co-ordinator (the guy who booked our 3 nights a week music sessions, our book readings, and our dozens of special events and managed all of our charity dealings) left, i was encouraged to apply for his job. By the time i left the CT store for New Hampshire i had been a member of the management team for 2 years. During this time the Encouragement never stopped. I remember Meeting Rich Flannagan, long time president of Borders in Ann Arbor, He said to me "CRC is an amazing position there are so many places to go within marketing, but your personality seems like you should focus on becoming a General Manager"...what? You ... understand my personality...and you are talking to me about it? You're the president of a major corporation that just went public...i don't understand...this isn't american retail, this is some kind of oz-like fantasy world where everyone in the company understands it's not about books it's about people. They Get it. I'm a part of an organization that Gets it! Thats why we have one copy of a book about slurs in biblical greek on the shelf...because a customer...a person... might want it. And it will make a bookseller, a person, feel good to find it for them.

The King of Borders-That-Gets-It retired (and passed away not long after which is a sadness worthy of dozens of blog posts) his replacement "turned around" borders which is to say changed our focus and all of her many replacements faced the same direction she did, but never had any focus. The philosophy of our board of directors became, as it must, about the shareholder. it turns out are not people, they are accounts. Accounts which must be embiggened. The Share Holders (many of which were employees but not enough to get a vote on a damned thing) must have their holdings increased. This is the nature of economics without biases. The balance sheet says it all. During this time we grew our "footprint" significantly. While Barnes & Noble was phasing out it's mall stores, we were buying them. While amazon was building it's web business we were ignoring ours ultimately asking if we could tag along with amazon and eat some scraps when they were done. We were eschewing the idea of cool kind of quirky stores in college towns and cities or underserved suburbs each with a unique vibe and an engaged staff, for cookie cutter big boxtrocities in any town with whoever we could get at a lower rate. We sent the book on slurs in biblical greek back to the publishers and exchanged it for Nora Roberts (i don't mean to pick on her but she's ubiquitous and not even remotely unique) latest. We went from having a conversation with our home office to having an Acronym that taught us how to talk to customers, something, frankly we had always been excellent at. We went from hand-selling to Make Books (a program whereby borders picked a book to thrust into everyone's face to show the publishers we could create a best seller "oh I see by your interest in {tilts head to look at title} Mein Kampf, that you would really like The Girls From Ames a touching tale about 12 friends and the lives they lead....") We went through 5 or 6 presidents who increasingly saw what we did as simply moving product. They didn't GET IT.

When we got it, when people, all people, were of primary concern, when we cared about diversity and intellect and imagination and OUR COMMUNITIES we made money. We grew. When we became about the bottom line, about shareholders accounts, and how many copies of "Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet" we could move, We shrank at an alarming rate. And Yesterday, even though I believe the current acting CEO to be kind of old school and sort of gets it, we died. We ended. My big Borders family...many of us who remember the days of getting it, will finally and unfeelingly be cast to the wind to blow away like we were never there, Debris in the wind storm of a market correction.

But we were there. I am Proud to have been a bookseller. I am proud to have worked for a once generous and supportive company that elevated me professionally and personally. I am proud to have helped endless people, no doubt suffering, find books on dealing with depression and anxiety or the death of a loved one. I'm proud to have put baby books and wedding books and college guides into peoples hands and to have been some small part of their lives for a bit. I'm proud to have given Phillip Pullman a leg up, and Octavia Butler and Muriel Barbery, Craig Thompson, and Malcom Gladwell. I am so proud to have learned so much over the years simply by being surrounded by books and having instant access to so much information and ideas. We were there. We got it.

To those who say this is a market correction, that this is overdue, that conventional publishing is dying: I think back to my Borders family, to all the people who have been a part of my life, even if just for a moment as i helped them shop, I say...You are probably right, but i kindly and respectfully add Fuck You.