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!"


  1. Again - well said! I just got numb at one point. I've stopped asking " how are you doing today". Stopped all small talk as a matter of fact. Just "NEXT" & then move on. I spent 6 hrs on the register by choice cause I can not deal with "kick the carcass" game these "customers" are playing.

  2. Now I'm trying to think back if I've ever seen you pinch the bridge of your nose while talking to me.

    It was pretty disheartening to see what some cheap(er) books will do to people. I actually hung up on a woman who demanded to know when the "real sales" begin. After I told her I didn't know, she started to get angry, insisting I tell her. Thus ended the phone call.

  3. Thank you so much for posting this! Somehow it helps to know that there are other booksellers out there feeling the same emotions we are. I was wondering where all our regular customers are....all I see now is a swarm of locusts leaving wreckage behind them. But it's easier to swipe the egc's and the credit cards with out ever having to look them in the eye. If I talk too much about the situation, I get choked up. I've been with Borders for 10 years and have loved every minute-- up until now. Thanks again.
    Christina from 136

  4. would the store employees by OK with us former employees coming in and straightening, or line managing or greeting and saying "no, we don't know when the discount will be more/store will close/everyone will work next/if there will be another bookstore here"?
    I want to do something.

  5. God bless all of you as you go through this travesty -- and wishing you luck in your future search for new jobs. I never met a Border's book seller that I didn't like.

  6. A few months ago I took over our store's Paperchase section. No raise, of course, just an increase in responsibilities. But I have loved it. It got me time off the register, working behind the scenes making displays for customers to ooh and aah over. And my managers complimented me on doing a good job. I was happy.

    I don't recognize it now. I come in to piles of s*** on the MSU's and C-tables. Hooks half hung on endcaps or on the floor. While out on the floor straightening customers throw crap around right in front of me.

    Customer service has practically gone out the window for all of us. We will be nice and helpful if you, dear "customer" are in turn, but otherwise, no. We don't care if you can't use our restroom anymore. The way you trash the store we wouldn't want to see what the bathroom would look like!

    It's been nearly 6 years @ my Borders for me. I don't know where I will go now...