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.


  1. Tracy will definitely miss getting her Steamer drink just before going to class across the street...

  2. Hey Cory,

    I just wanted to say I keep hearing about this blog (I used to work at 26, and I think I remember seeing you before at the Borders Express at Echelon?), and I was like, "Who is this Cory kid??" and then it all clicked. I used to wait on you at the cafe! Which probably means nothing to you, but it's been bugging me for days. Anyway I transferred to Freehold for a few months (and that store - well, the manager - was hell on earth) and then left the company a couple years ago for a "real job" but I would go back to a bookstore in a heartbeat. I'm glad you're writing this. It's all so true and so sad. I've seen some other regulars pop up at various B&Ns around the area but I think we can all agree: it's not the same. As much as the cafe drove me bonkers, I still have memories of closing down our Cafe Borders, smashing dozens of extra plates into trashcans because nobody wanted to claim them, dragging home boxes of unopened Snapples and Nantucket Nectars, hiding a few last containers of chai to bring home (I remember we shipped 20 cans of that to a customer from Colorado, who is probably still drinking it)... a bottle of the pomegranate juice/syrup/whatever that stuff was sat in my fridge for months because I couldn't bring myself to throw it away.

    I'm sorry you guys have to go through the horrors of shutting down the store, but it will get better. There's a light at the end of the tunnel eventually. I'll be stopping in at some point to dig through what's left and I will clean up aisles and tables as I go :)

    - Andrea

  3. Great post amid sad times. I practically grew up in a Borders cafe, visited dozens of them up and down the east coast following a band I'd discovered in a Borders cafe. I can't even calculate the number of hours I've spent in Borders cafes. So when I got a chance to work in one it was like the ultimate get to share that experience with others. I am so sorry you (and so many others) are witnessing its demise. I will always remember the experience for what it was.

  4. Bravo, Cory. I can't imagine how difficult it is for you to face this every day. I hope that writing this blog is as cathartic for you as reading it is for me. Stay strong and don't let those asshole "customers" diminish your good Borders memories.

  5. I worked for for almost a decade and can say with relative authority that they're evil. I mean big E evil. Or at least chaotic neutral. But probably evil.

    The sad part is, working for them, growing to hate them... I still shop with them. Sometimes the price difference is so profound that on my current budget I have to make a deal with the devil. (reminder- amazon is the devil)

    When our local borders was liquidating it's inventory, I went in to pick up a little bit of something; but both books I settled on, even at hack'n'slash prices, were still more expensive than the big evil's every day low price. And I would have had to consent to my book being sharpie markered, and I'm 'one of those people'.

    Consumer culture is weird now, when deciding where to shop has to be a fight between prices and ethics.

    Best of luck to you and your crew, and I hope you guys go out with a blast!

  6. Keep on writing! This blog must be a great outlet for you and it is really cathartic for me. My Waldenbooks was set to close in 2009 but we were saved and then we got the ax again this spring while I was out on maternity leave. My store closed June 30th, just before Borders announced it was shutting all of its doors. The sad thing is I was set to come back to work the following week. No closure for this girl! But your blog is a great help!!