Thursday, August 25, 2011

Day 38

I miss Bob.

Bob was a good friend of mine way back when I first became a bookseller. Subsequently he became kind of a pain in my butt once I became a manager, I guess thats how it's supposed to work, I guess it means we were both doing our jobs right. Bob was older than me, significantly. Maybe into his 60's. He was Kind. He was Strange. He was wise, and completely naive. He cared so much about people who didn't give a damn about him. It used to make me so angry. He had a lot to offer, but frequently it wasn't noticed by people around him.

It was the late 90's and a caustic form of irony had eaten away a piece of America. For some reason it was so passe to truly be enthusiastic about anything at that time. As if enthusiasm indicated a lack of sophistication. A lack of sophistication was the social Scarlet Letter of the day. Bob was anything but sophisticated and he was spectacularly enthusiastic. If he was involved in a conversation with you, it had his full attention. He engaged you with his eyes. He listened and he thought, and he responded, usually quickly because he had life experiences that you were having right now, 40 years ago. He would check on you the next time he saw you, and ask you specifics about what you did in relation to the conversation. Bob worked in education, I think he was a teacher or guidance counsellor, I don't entirely remember.

He and I would squirrel away minutes to spend time talking with each other. He was a comic fan, like I was but he was late Golden Age and Early Silver Age. I was thoroughly modern age, but we agreed that when Neil Gaiman and Charles Vess got together it was ageless. Bob created me musically as much as anyone except my former wife, and a pair of friends of mine Chris and Abby. Bob educated me on Bob Dylan. Not just played it for me, but educated me. He schooled me, yo. He gave me the gift of John Prine. He expanded my beatlemania. He Taught me Buddy Holly and I thought I brought it with Patsy Cline, ha! He saw my Patsy Cline and raised me a Billie Holiday. A week didn't go by where he didn't bring me a mix tape. Yup Tape. From Records. "Cd's are okay if you don't like hearing the music."

We passed so many hours talking. Product assessment he called it. If we were leaning on the counter he called it "construction quality assurance". Bob was missing his middle finger just below the knuckle. If a manager called us to task on our product assessment, he'd flip them the bird, and just smile..."what theres nothing there!". The story of how he lost the finger was never the same twice. My favorite days with bob were the snowy ones. Being in Connecticut we didn't get a ton of snow, but we got it. If it snowed no one came into the store but Bob and I always seemed to be stuck there. We'd put Blonde on Blonde on the overhead and turn it up too loudly for regular days and sit at info, he would actually sit on info. sometimes if all the shelving was caught up and sections were flushed, we'd just start reading. Sitting there quietly sharing the funny bits or the ridiculous bits. Okay, I know there are some of my managers reading this past and current...and other managers, and since the company is dead anyway, just admit love days like that too.

There was never a boring day with Bob, he didn't entertain...he was just ...Bob. Having him there was going to be something..perhaps irritating, perhaps funny, for me it was like having a store dad. But it was never Boring. Which is why I miss him so much now. Because my sweet lord i am BORED! we all are. So bored. There is nothing engaging happening at borders now. We can't interact with the customers anymore because finding them anything is a virtual impossibility and they all want to talk about how bad they feel the store is closing. yawn. The work is dull. It's just moving product, from table a to table b. Clear off shelves, replace stuff on the shelves. Move signs. Make Signs. Fill displays. Unfill displays. There isn't even any new stuff coming in. I have no idea what books are out. I know what I hear on NPR, and thats it. IF terry gross doesn't have them on Fresh Air, I got nothing. You can't spend time with your co-workers because they are stuck at the registers or you're stuck in the "fixture area" haggling over the price of stained steaming pitchers. yawn and yawn.

So. Friggin. Bored. Bob could have fixed that, maybe not while he was on payroll, but he'd drop by just to check in. To catch up. To give me a mix tape. To flick my GM the finger and a raspberry noise. and then a big laugh that exploded out from his tightly cropped white beard. There were people who didn't like Bob, but nobody could be angry at him.

It's so easy to move from job to job and forget the people you worked with. To let them float away into the recesses of your memory never to see the light of day, fill your time with new faces, new names, new music. But I make connections with people and I carry them with me. Not everywhere and not everyone, but Borders it seems like so much of what i'll miss is the people.

Bob died while I was on vacation. He left behind an estranged wife and a wonderful little boy who was going to have an amazing father. He left behind a school of children who had for years counted him as counsellor and protector. He left me behind. Even now, I can't hear "Angel from Montgomery" without getting misty eyed. His funeral was a procession of people standing up to say nice things about him. I tried...but I couldn't, I thought what does a co-worker from his part time job have to offer. And I was angry, so angry, at all the people who had never appreciated him for what he was, anything that was going to be said was going to reflect that. After all these years I'm still angry.

Bob happened at Borders. He was a part of this company and I want more than just the handful of people he worked with at a southern New England store to know he was there. Borders isn't just a company, it's people, individuals. Bob was one of them, and I thought you all should know.

I miss Bob.


  1. Cory: Thank you for telling us about Bob. He sounds like someone who really made bookselling the noble occupation I think it still is.

  2. The one single thing that keeps me from complete and absolute death by boredom is knowing that if I just hang on another shift I can wake tomorrow to "the blog". We all had a "Bob", I think. Mine was Ed. Thanks for reminding me. :)

  3. i guess that bill is as close to a "bob" as i got at 461. he had a great attitude and was definitely a great bookseller and could definitely be a PITA once i became a supervisor. once in awhile, we'd talk music and he'd talk jazz and i would just listen. my dad raised me on jazz, but HIS jazz. bill knew ALL jazz. between him and the jazz student that worked once a week in multimedia, i listened to and learned more about jazz than i thought there was to know. bill left the company long before i did, and i think only a year after i signed on.

  4. Thanks for introducing me to Bob. I miss him now, too.

  5. One of the sad things about the end of Borders is that you were destined to become something of a Bob (maybe even the PITA bit, depending if you could refrain from "Back in the day we did it this way" advice). I guess that could still happen somewhere else, but for you to carry that torch at a Borders (or several as you like to travel & not set roots) would have been awesome.

  6. Not having met the man, I can only guess, but I'd second Jen's assertion that you are a bit of a "Bob" yourself, or at the very least fulfill that role at 461.

    Even though you are a few years younger than I, I'll admit I look up to you in regards to your breadth and depth of knowledge and experience. Having led a very narrowly-focused life, I admire anyone who has traveled down many roads, because I generally have lacked the guts to do so.

    Except the Dylan thing; I'M the Dylan expert, that's non-negotiable!