Monday, September 12, 2011

The Last Day

The first book i ever bought with my own money was a copy of The Lord of the Rings at a yard sale for a nickel. Late 60's paperback edition. The edges were yellowed, and the book had been living in the room of an old man who had died just a couple of weeks before i bought it. I went home and read it, i was in fourth grade and it took me about a week. I can remember my mother haranguing me to bring wood in instead of reading. I didn't watch television (except for the Cosby Show and Family Ties and Saturday morning cartoons, natch) That week, i just read. The strange and exciting watercolor world that Tolkien made felt so real to me. Middle Earth might as well have been a previous epoch, sometime between cave men and the Knights of the round table. A time we'd forgotten, but Tolkien remembered. I remember staring at the color photo of him on the back, and when i read the book i could swear i could smell the pipe smoke and the dampness of his tweed jacket. For some reason it seemed to me there was never sunshine in middle earth, except for when Gandalf needed to vanquish trolls, so i always called cloudy days "hobbit days" and I'd go outside, find the longest stick i could, and imagine adventures, and just as likely non-adventures as that seemed the hobbity thing to do. I would find a secluded chunk of roadside wood, find one of the endless supply of boulders the ice age had left for me, sit down and ponder the details. What would my hobbit holes doors look like? What kind of teapot would I have.What are the Titles of books i'd have lining my hobbit shelves. Because as of then, as of the moment i gave my nickel over, books were going to be as much a part of me as my heart.

We had a small chain of bookstores near me called Mr. Paperback, they may still be around, I'm not sure. But they always left me feeling sort of ... sanitary. And that wasn't something i wanted from books. My public library was a place of astonishing beauty. The gilded age was kind to the Bangor Public library, miles of marble stairs, nooks and corners, dark turned and carved wood everywhere. As soon as i was old enough to be trusted "in town" alone, i would find my way there, I would lay under one of the giant oaken tables and read until my mom showed up to take me home. Of course that was another thing puberty ruined, suddenly being under a table was "creepy". But by that age i had my own card and would take out a book for a day or two and go sit by the Kenduskeag stream as it flowed under main street in Bangor and read. Heinlen, Asimov, Burroughs, I was a big fan of a young readers series called "Not Quite Human" about an android boy and his non android father and sister. I believe Alan Thicke had something to do with some bastardization of it disney barfed out. The first in an almost endless string of disappointing movie adaptations of beloved books (Demi Moore, you are no Hester Prynne). Then when i got a job, i began haunting the local used book shop, Pro Libris . For Christmas when i was 14 i asked for money and a trip there to go shopping. Buying "The Last Unicorn" for 75 cents and having a conversation with the hippy guy who ran the place about it...a real conversation...about books. Someone else peered into the world of literature and talked about it like it was real. Like the characters were in real peril. Like the outcome, had consequences for all of us. Like the writer knew something we didn't, and desperately needed to tell us. Over the years i developed my palate at that bookstore. Where Mr. Paperback was kind of clean and clinical, The library was classical and ancient and learned, and Pro Libris was hidden and clever, and far far too interesting to be tidy. Every time i went into these two building, which couldn't have been more different, i found new rooms to explore, new types of books that demanded my attention. I spent an entire rainy afternoon reading a 1910's anatomy book and marvelling at the detail in the plate illustrations. The weight of the book on my lap, the smell of the elder pages, the Ah-Ha-ian touchability of the illustrations had me at "this book is property of the Bangor Public Library, Reference, not for Circulation". Years later i bought it at a book sale. It saddens me that some young boy or girl won't be sitting on the ledge of the 8 foot tall window looking out onto the rainy Bangor streets with it in their lap, but then...if i didn't buy it, it may have ended up being prints on a doctors office wall somewhere. Lame!

So heres the thing- when your bookish in a small town, it doesn't make you friends. I can't honestly say i was disliked by a lot of people, but i had my share of bullies. I'm fortunate that it never came to blows, largely because since i was born in November i had a good 10 months of development on my classmates, so i was bigger than they were until 9th grade, and by then honestly...who cares. Back then being a nerd wasn't just putting on glasses and a retro t-shirt and finding something you like a bunch. Back then being a nerd or a geek was a stigma. Especially in small town Maine. People weren't tripping over themselves to be friends with the kid who wrote (a really awful) Doctor Who Fan Fiction in the 5th grade as his read aloud story project. In my home town if you were more interested in Hobbits than Hoops, or snow monsters than snowmobiles, you were treated as capital O, Other. I remember getting assigned to read To Kill A Mockingbird and I raised my hand to request another assignment as i had already read it, my teacher...My English Fucking TEACHER, actually said to me,

"Drew (thats my last name...well, not the quotation marks, despite what various reporters may think) Why have you already read this? Why don't you just stop being such a nerd".

This particular teacher happened to be the basketball coach in my school as well. My town won a lot of basketball. State champs a lot. I wish I could have been proud of it at the time, because i am now. The AP English teacher wouldn't let me take the AP English class because she didn't think i could "hack it" which i think was just her way of telling me she didn't like it in our other classes when i challenged her. I took the AP exam anyway which at the time was graded on a scale of 1 to 5, i had one of two 5's in my school that year. See when you were a kid then, a bookish, nerdy, becoming overweight, nonathletic, kid you were making a stand for intellect and creativity whether you wanted to or not. You were on the front lines of a war that,I have to say with some mixed emotion and surprise, we won. Big Bang Theory anyone? Some day, maybe at a highschool reunion i want to ask Shorty McAngry (one of the aforementioned bullies) 1.) if he's in recovery yet cuz i'm sure it's comign, and 2.) how much he liked Thor this summer. Fucker.

My point in all this is that when you go out into the world with a love of books, when you've fought the battle of nerdsdeep (when you get that joke), when your most vivid memories of your childhood have words printed on them. You cannot do anything grander than sell books. Books to me are something i endured great ridicule for, because they gave me great pleasure. Books as a thing, more than any single thing, have made me Cory Drew. My heart has pages, my soul is a dust jacket, my mind an index. When this is who you are, being a bookseller is not a job but a privilege.

Today was my last day as a bookseller, for now. An old colleague of mine came in, and I hand sold her a book for thirty-three cents. She was looking at the table and said in her most beautiful Iranian accent, "is there anything here worth buying?" to which I looked around and found her a copy of a book I knew she'd like. The loris lurked about me threatening to shout me down with some of the "punishment tasks" she'd arranged for me as i stuck up recently for my friends and neighbors in the face of her nit-picky face out derangement. But i'll be damned if on my last day, in a company that in some small way I HELPED BUILD i was going to go my last day and not recommend something. In the end I will not succumb to the melancholy witchcraft of liquidation. I do this job because i love what it is. I do this job for the little awkward nerdy boy and girl out there who need to find their Lord of the Rings, their 1910's anatomy book. I do it because, to not do it is an empty book, blank and without the promise of a pen. Liquidation may take my job, but it hasn't taken the words that are me, and it never will.

I am privileged to have worked with all these people who, like me, have given their hearts over to letters. We book people are inextinguishable fires burning in the dark and stormy night of a world too busy and too electrical to find boulders in a secluded chunk of wood and consider teapots. And when we fires gather there is a brilliance that creates angels and sages, devils and the dumbstruck. We are heat and light and God and the Laws of Physics declare that to be a thing eternal. Perhaps we scatter, perhaps we dim, but time and idea and Hobbits will bring us together again in new forms; we will burn as brightly, and with new colors.

I will miss it, I will miss you all. All things though, must end in order to begin.

So I'll end, where I began...

"The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began,
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many path and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say" -JRR Tolkien

Okay, Lets see where this goes...

Saturday, September 10, 2011

September 11th

This day to me is my television. Less like a window letting me see, it was really a glass wall keeping me out. That is still how i feel. Throughout the events of September 11th and the days that followed, I felt like I was trapped in a fishbowl looking out onto a world I couldn't interact with. No matter how many news broadcasters told me how the ash felt, I couldn't feel it. No matter how many wives and husbands told me how it felt to have family in the world trade center, i couldn't hold their hands or hug them. As the stories of what happened on flight 93 emerged I just... heard... them. I felt like i was being restrained from getting into the midst of it and experiencing it with all those horrified brave people.

From my two room apartment above a farm house in Vermont I watched the world unravel, and felt entirely separate from it and helpless. I had no "9/11" connection even though it seemed like every news cast was trying to convince me I did,and that somehow if i did it made my personal tragedy greater. I didn't know a fire fighter. I didn't know a first responder. I gave blood in some sort of half-assed attempt to feel like I was helping. I put a flag in my car window. I cried a lot. I cried when George W. Bush gave a speech from the rubble. Two weeks before that I was hoping he'd be impeached for general sucking. There was a moment when no one was around that I sat on my floor hugging my couch cushion like it was a loved one, and just openly wept. Anguished weeping. The kind you do, i would learn in coming years, when your dear friend, or your nephew, or your grandmother-in-law dies before you're ready to deal with it. Which is always.

Ten years later, I'm grateful I was separated by time and space from this, the stories of those who lived through it tax the limits of my imagination. I don't know if I would be a strong enough person to live with it. But wanting to be there is such a human response. Its so human to want to be there for people who are in agony. It's so human to just want to help weeping ash covered new yorkers get to clean water, safety, family. It's so human to want to catch those poor falling people. Its one of those things that I think decries evolution. It's hardly in anyone's self interest to reach into the midst of chaos and grip on to someone who needs it. I know I'm not the only person who felt this way.

Human beings, so many of them, died and were injured that day. And for a moment we perceived the world as humans. Not as Americans, or Christians, or Muslims, or Canadians, or Republicans or Democrats, but as Humans. Just wanting to reach out and hold our brothers and sisters despite the danger it would put us in. There is no gain in that. Sadly that moment was all to brief. Within days all the various stake holders, which means all of us, flew to our corners and began to apportion the guilt, the pain, the responsibility. and as human self interest has taught us we protected our slice of this terrible pie and began to find ways to profit from it, perhaps not with money, but with power...or emotional leverage. In that all too human way we began using the acts of hateful men to further push away those who are different than we are, racially, religiously, politically.

For me the legacy of September 11th will always be that singular moment, when the worst that could happen brought out the best in humanity. Men and women sacrificed their lives that day for other men and women. Every person who could be, like me, was pressed against the glass of their television trying desperately to get in there and help. The heroism of first responders and ordinary people elevated us far higher than any tower can ever be built. Jews, Muslims, Christians, Atheists, Bhuddist, all looked the same covered in ash or rubble, holding each other up, helping each other down the stairs of a collapsing building. These people didn't do this for profit, they did it because there was a human being trapped in a swirling hellstorm, and they could help them. So they did. This wasn't a Religious moment or a nationalist moment. It was a human moment. One we would do well to try and recapture.

Stay safe. Remember those who gave or lost their lives that day. Say thank you to someone. Help someone because you can and because they need it. And lets hope it doesn't take a tragedy of unfathomable proportions to remind us how powerful being human is.

I love you guys. Thanks for reading.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Day 50, 51, and 52

Woah. What a whirlwind of days.

Day 50 was my day off. I spent a disproportionately large amount of it trimming my beard in preparation for my interview at a major national organic grocery chain. I also spent almost the whole day thinking it was Wednesday, and not Tuesday, so if one of my co-workers hadn't corrected me, i very well could have showed up to my interview 24 hours early. So...thats the kind of week it's been.

Day 51, well the horror started before I even left my house. Borders was kind enough to send out a message to it's facebook fans letting people know when the closing date of all of the stores were. Heres the funny bit though, they hadn't told US yet. So lo and behold my surprise to see that we were expected to be closing in 5 days. Wha? No....that can't be right? So i called My GM and spoke to her, she spoke to the loris, and it turns out that it is in fact not true. We will not be closing on Monday it's another Jedi Mind Trick to get people to panic and come out and spend money.

That was until about 9:00 that night. When the Loris asked to speak to me in private. I followed her to the cash office and she said to me.

"We just heard that Monday IS going to be the last day for this store." She seemed genuinely surprised.


"Your Gm has asked you not to tell anyone until tomorrow, because she would like to."

As well she should. This is still her store, even though it's unrecognizeable, it's still her staff, and there are still people here who deserve to find out from their GM and our GM deserves the opportunity to tell these long serving people in her own way. This is a matter of closure both literally and figuratively. So i basically went into media shutdown mode for about the next 12 hours.

But honestly, what scumbags. Ultimately i suppose it's the liquidators who make this call, but according to the Loris, who i'm not entirely sure I believe, they always give 7 to 10 days notice. Well if they gave that notice to the home office, they sat pretty tightly on it. And sent it out to the customers first via facebook. Which, I'm sorry home office you know i love you, makes them enormous assholes. 5 days? Really? I've worked for this company over 8 years, and i get 5 days? I get informed by facebook? This is peoples lives here. It's bad enough we are being forced to sell off our floor tile, but honestly, no one in this organization or theirs has enough respect for us to make sure the lines of communication for at least this ONE issue, are clear! This is not how you close stores. Every bit of goodwill a company has garnered can be undone by what is either stupid drop-the-ball shenanigans or a blatant disregard for the hundreds of years of service we field workers have. I have to believe this is the result of liquidator malfeasance because i cannot believe that anyone whose ever cashed a grey paycheck from ann arbor would be this thoughtless, i won't believe it.

But no, no, by all means give Mike Edwards and Jim Friering $125K. They totes deserve it.

An interesting side note here, The Loris said to Moonshine, that i was so angry she though i was going to strangle her. Ha! I would never strangle someone. I've seen Dexter, waaaay too much evidence if you strangle someone.

Day 52 brought with it my much anticipated interview at the National Organic Grocery Store (henceforth called NOGS). First of all, my beard looked perfect, my doc martens instantly make me a tall guy, and my braces kept my pants exactly where they should be. I was instantly comfortable in the interview. I traded fun stories, talked about my back ground, watched as the committee of three kept looking back and forth, trying to be subtle about their approval of me...or maybe not, three really genuine people, so maybe they weren't about the political nonsense of an interview. Either way, i shook all three of their hands, showed myself out and 2 hours later got a call with an offer. The offer didn't exactly live up to my hopes financially, but i really want to work for NOGS, i like everything about it, and guess what...they still give raises, remember those. So yeah, I am now the new Coffee Bar supervisor at NOGS. I start toward the end of september, so i even get a little vacation out of the deal.

Now I'm in this weird place where quite literally the only thing keeping me going to work for the next 5 days is my fidelity to my co-workers, and a little extra money. Also, i want to see this through to the end. I've said from the beginning i want to be there on the last day, as the key gets turned. I couldn't be at borders for the beginning when it was glorious, so i'll settle for being there at the end when its...not. And I'll help some arrogant jerk take their crap away in the early morning hours. And I'll work with my co-workers one last time. And then I'll wait for that last grey paycheck from Ann Arbor, and I'll cash it. And I'll try not to let the last few days ruin 40 plus years of good, hard, work.

I'll try.

Monday, September 5, 2011

Day 48 &49

Day 48 was my day off. Luckily one of my Borders kin who had gone away to grad school came back for the weekend and we got together last night at a local watering hole and had a few drinks and more fried potato-y things than is appropriate for mixed company. Of course it was during that day off that something really dramatic happened. All of our product from the back of our store, moved to the front, leaving the back half an empty shell of a bookstore.

I wasn't prepared for that when I came in this morning. Whole sections of walls are missing their shelves. I pondered for a minute how they stayed up without their shelves to hold them, I was so confused. Of course I only had a minute to ponder because as I walked into the office our CSWizard says to me "I know you don't even have your headset on but the Russian Mafia wants to buy our refrigerators, and some lady wants to make espresso or something...I don't know." And then of course my co-supervisor for the morning tells me that we have a catastrophic LP issue (which wasn't but you know...with the Loris lurking on every branch, little things become big) and that I need to verify the safe and the Deposit. Eventually though I went up and I dragged our stores Wacky Den Mother up to the fixture zone with me, she was indispensable. We managed to deal with the Russian Mobsters, the espresso lady, and some Mennonites too. It was so busy.

It never got better, as far as the sheer demands on my time went. The day was a sort of absurdist experimental film. I began thinking it would be so neat if I could slice of pieces of my personality and have them fully form versions of me. Okay, this customer gets my patience, this customer gets the "wheeler and dealer", this customer gets the hard-ass, this customer gets the jokester. There is a joke about the different versions of Cory, they all have numbers and each one has a different personality. When Cory #2 comes out, you're getting the "I'm all business now, don't trifle with me" cory. He's an infrequent guest, truth be told, but it's evident. I truly felt for a while today like I needed to find a way to manufacture all these extra me's. And its so far beyond christmas busy at this point. You know what though, as laborious as this labor day was it was kind of an okay day. I kept finding these little glimmers of serenity and happiness and they were called, my co-workers.

Those who know me would say I have a coffee...habit, but those who really know me understand that while most people are 80% water, i am only about 40% water, I'm 30% coffee, and 10% Doctor Who. It's not my fault, I come by it honestly. My mother was Juan Valedez's first stop when he came down off the Columbian mountains. My baby bottle's were stained brown from coffee! Seriously...I like coffee. Somehow Artsy Blogstar could tell I'd yet to have my daily cuppa (or 12) and out of no where he was like "so...I'm making a run out, would you like me to get you a coffee?" Like offering a dying man water, Like throwing a life preserver to someone bobbing in the ocean. I might have weeped for the sheer excitement of getting a hit...i mean a sip of coffee. Especially since LP, the Russian mob, some lady with an espresso jones, a Menonite family, and the Loris all consumed the time I'd normally use to brew a pot in the break room. He might as well have shouted "Here I come to save the Day" in deep baritone and swooshed by all red cape and yellow t-shirt. Seriously...I like coffee.

The next little glimmer of hope that helped was while I was making a call to a mostly pleasant, though demanding, woman about some shelves that we had double sold on her (oops.) As she was starting to get loud with me and was beginning to get all pointed and blamey with her conversation (as well as telling me I was wrong about the state of the shelves when she bought them) I heard a familiar sound off in the distance. I sort of stopped paying attention to her incessant repetition of what she perceived of as the facts, and started trying to ferret out what I was hearing. It was the gnarled and dirty voice of one Mr. Tom Waits. Instantly I was some place happy. I was wandering through piles of old books and phonograph records with Tom, looking for those secrets, those moments, those things that just holler at you from the past and say "look here, I'm something amazing that you would have missed if you weren't right here, right now". Tom and I are old friends. He's a hard man to be friends with, his voice is kind of the porcupine of voices, but his stories...his stories just bring me to some other world. Some other place and time where magic lives in an old pair of shoes, an ex girlfriends sad letters. We don't get a lot of Tom in the overhead, since most people here his more current stuff, cover their ears, and run for the exits. So that particular moment made that particular moment not only bearable but enjoyable, and it fixed my brain. I realized that she was talking about the shelves she bought in the kids department, and I thought i had sold her the majority of the shelves in the art department. Only one shelf was mis-sold. I laughed when I got back on the phone, "Oh...sorry, no- most of your shelves are safe it's just this one, I'll give you your money back" and we parted ways amicably. And I wandered over toward young adult to listen more clearly to what Tom had to say. Oh and I whispered a prayer of thanks to the Delicate Flower, as he was the bookseller responsible for bringing me this moment of serenity.

There was a moment where I was so deeply in the weeds I couldn't see daylight any more. I had people circling me while I walked around, and then they'd follow me back to the "fixture zone" and then they'd start forming some weird kind of faux line all the while trying to get eye contact with me without regard to where they stood in the "line". It was like they were trying to cover their bases for when they got screwed from their position. Weird. Anyway, so I get on the headset and I make a plaintive cry to anyone who hears me. It was an APB, and an SOS all in one. No one answered and when they did it was more or less, "Sorry Cory" and then out of nowhere our CSWizard shows up! And she just starts Expeliarmus-ing and expectopatronus-ing like a defense against the dark arts professor. She started clearing up all the smaller purchases while I was working with someone who was concerned about a blender or something and then another person with a hand truck packed up to about 5 feet with random office supplies. We took care of business though, let me tell you. In about 20 minutes we took care of easily an hour and a halfs work. She was a superstar today.

So you know how the Loris has been going on for the last week about how we are 2 weeks behind? And how we don't know what in the name of Kal-El she's talking about? Well Today Moonshine dropped some learnin' on her.

I have to say something about this whole process, I don't know how it feels in other stores, but in our store i feel like we as a management team have been incredibly deferential to The Loris. We more or less treat her like she is a DM in our store. Probably more than we should. But we don't really understand this relationship. It doesn't really compute. So we put up with her bossing us around and them blaming us when things aren't how she wants them. What are you going to do? The two managers in the store hate her, with a burning fury, and the 2 supervisors, just kind of deal with her as best we can and then complain.

I spent no time with her today, none. I had done over 4000 in fixtures (at half price no less) by lunch so I didn't have time, but as I was getting ready to go for my break and sat down and had a little pow-wow with moonshine. Turns out the Loris said to her in her "everything thats wrong here is your fault" tone i'm sure, We're so far behind. Moonshine had reached her tolerance for that nonsense so she just flat out told her that she had no idea what she was talking about. That she hadn't laid out any plan, or given any instruction as to what was to be done when, what the store should look like week one, week two, week three, and no timelines or ideas as to who was supposed to do what. The Loris just said "well thats just not true-" I'm paraphrasing here, It's how it sounds in my head and I wish I could figure out a way to get her Kansas City Missouri accent down in HTML but...,"I showed you pictures of how it should look."

So I picture Moonshine taking her glasses off,breathing on them, wiping them on her shirt ala Rupert Giles of Buffy fame, and then taking a deep breath and smacking her across the face with her open palm. It didn't happen that way, but I dearly wish it did. I'm sure Moonshine does too. She did however have the presence of mind to say something like "I saw the pictures of the empty store, I know what empty looks like, and I know what full looks like, but I don't know the steps I'm supposed to take to bridge the apparently vast distance between. We've never done this before, we aren't he Liquidation experts, you are, you need to tell us whats up." Apparently the Loris just kind of stared at her and did the weird smiling thing (which I have dubbed showing her teeth) she does and went away. I think she wasn't yet pickin' up what Moonshine was layin' down.

You've no idea how happy that whole interchange makes me. I didn't see it, I didn't hear it, but just to know it happened thrills me to no end. I've told her on several occasions during specific incidences that she needed to be more precise. I've seen my GM say pretty much the same thing to her by saying "if you tell us what to do we'll do it". But as far as I know this is the first time it was addressed in a general kind of "you know why this place looks like hell according to you, because of you" manner. Frankly I think it might have been anyone of us, even some of the booksellers, who eventually snapped and said it to her. The fact that it was a senior member of management, and the fact that it was one of the hardest working people in our store, had to give the Loris pause. In fact, from the details of the story, it sounds like it literally did. It's funny because it really only could have been Moonshine that said it to her. I'm sure everything the GM says to her the Loris just assumes she's being bitter and feels like she's having her toes stepped on (which I couldn't blame her if that was true, but it isn't) and I'm fixture Maven (her words, not mine) so I don't think she trusts me because I play for the wrong team now, and the Inventory supervisor is just trying to bide her time and get out with as few scratches as possible and I can't blame her for that. So it really had to be Moonshine. And it was. And it made my friggin' day!

You know whole months, even years, will go by where I never take the time to thank my co-workers for being there for me. I assume that the only thanks they ever need or want is payment. I and maybe We assume that doing a job well is expected, and that only going well above and beyond is worth recognition. At some point in Borders past they decided that the only things that were worthy of praise were things that could be measured, and they abandoned concern or care for the things that we do for each other every day. Not every bookseller is awesome. We know it's true. We all work with people maybe we'd rather not, but in this circumstance saying it is just a waste of time and energy. I think though, for the people who make our days liveable in this inhospitable morass, for the awesome booksellers, Its so important to take a second to thank the people around us for the things they do that they may not expect any thanks for. So Wacky Den Mother, Artsy Blogstar, Delicate Flower, CSWizard, and Moonshine...thanks, you guys made this day happen.

But boy am I glad it's over! :)

Saturday, September 3, 2011

Day 47

There is no way I can possibly describe how profoundly sucksational today was.

So I'm not going to bother.

You guys know this blows, and today didn't blow in any new and exciting way. And, truthfully, the weight of this process is becoming palpable, and for today, just too much of a burden. So instead I'm going to discuss an idea that seems to have become something of a thread in the tapestry of the blog. The idea of honesty and integrity, and how this process proves to me, if anything ever could, that maximizing profit and maintaining integrity cannot co-exist.

Today I was asked to hang signs. Three of them Boldly and garishly proclaiming that we are in our FINAL 10 DAYS! These signs are a lie. We are not in our final 10 days. We are in our final 30 days, maybe final 25 days, but not our final 10. That is a lie. flat out. It is intended to "drive sales" this weekend. In other words, to panic people with the idea that the time to get an awesome deal is coming to a close, so you better push those other bottom feeders out of the way so that you can get yours!

It's just a lie. Like Sears and Roebuck calling a spool of thread and a needle a sewing machine. Or Bill Clinton proclaiming he "Did not Have Sexual Relations with that woman." Except...well...there is a germ of truth in both of those things depending on your perspective. There is no perspective whereby our store closing in 10 days is true. Unless of course the Loris is lying too.

I think...or rather i wonder if...this is something intrinsic in the people lying, or the people being lied to. There is a single truth to capitalism, where all else is debatable, and that truth is that A method to drive profitability only works, if someone supports it. Or conversely it doesn't matter how cheaply you sell, say a Kobo, If no one is buying it. A good capitalist repeats actions that create results. And they expand the scope of those actions until such point that they stop being profitable.

Sissella Bok details something called "The Principle of Veracity". In Short, we benefit by living in a world where we can trust that what seems to be, is. We benefit by knowing that if we walk into fire, we will burn. We all live that principle every day, whether know it or not. But there are many people who hide in the wee cracks and crevices of this principle, and exploit our intrinsic acceptance that things are, what they say they are. They do this through a serious of interrelated complicated obfuscations, or through a simple smile and a wink. Sometimes they let you in on it, but they omit the entire scope of their duplicity, so you suddenly see the truthiness (Thanks Stephen Colbert) of what they are saying, and you buy in, only to be swindled by the bits they omitted. Whats interesting is that when money is involved we absolve these tricksters by invoking one of the other things about capitalism that is not debatable: Caveat Emtptor, "Let the Buyer be ware".

So then whose fault is that you get swindled? The snake oil salesman, or the buyer? If we accept that things are as they seem then why do also accept that people who exploit that basic tenet of reality, when money (or power) is involved, get off like Mister Miracle (Jack Kirby Reference, Dig it if ya can!)? And more importantly why do we support the activity with what could be arguably the only vote that matters, our money. If collectively we've decided, almost before we had words as a species, that trust is the singular greatest commodity humanity trades, why do we allow, and in many cases encourage, the people who violate that trust to benefit from the violation?

It's not just Liquidation companies or Banks or the hundreds of retailers who lie by omission about the truth of the manufacture of their goods, or the waitress who tells you the coffee is "fresh". It's politicians too, and religious figures. Why do we line up to be lied to.

In politics it's even more evident, and I won't delve too deeply here because it don't think it's necessary, but take the tea party. They are lying to their constituents. They can no more create the Randian wet dream they sell to their frothing supporters in America than Barack Obama can create the left-moderate "socialist" utopia that he campaigned on. Dennis Kuccinich and Ron Paul have 2 things in common, they are selling an idea, and that idea is foolishly impossible. You cannot rewrite the setting of this story. Unless a single concept regardless of political stripe passes a tipping point, we cannot hope to achieve what these politicians say is possible if you just give them your vote(money). The Result of such polarised distraction is that we rip the fabric of what we have to bits because the status quo is always going to fight change. Leftist will always fight rightists and they are boxing; a zero sum game.

Okay, maybe this is democracy and bit by bit we can hope to affect change one way or the other, but thats not What politicians campaign on. Thats not what we vote for. Tea Partiers don't vote for a politician to nudge, they vote for them to bombard. And perhaps in ten years we'll be saying the same thing about the New Populists, or Socialist for America, or some other party. My point is that we, as a buying public, eat this bullshit up! We get super frothy for a complete fiction that supports our idea of what is awesome. If someone tells us that what seems, isn't, and it's an isn't we like...then we abandon the principle of Veracity for the emotional spike of confirmation. And then we reward them. And then they do it again. The bell rings, the dog froths. God loves you as he loves Jacob. 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42: 4, 8, 15, 16, 23 and 42. An endless cycle that grows and spins and consumes the consumer.

I wish Dickens were alive today.

Nothing examines this idea more plainly and more practically than Borders ill fated Borders Rewards program. Man people were all over the map on this one. The Principle of Veracity was used both as an offence and a defence. For starters, I'm sorry Borders I love you and I know it seems like I don't but I complain because i care, it was a stupid idea. They fixed it a bit with the plus card by offering a general discount. But the principle benefit of the card being coupons that expired in 10 minutes that were sent via email that most people were too stupid to fix their spam filter to allow in, this was such a flawed notion. Basically, the concept found cracks in veracity and jack hammered them deeper to make them more cozy. From that point on it was a race to out exploit one another.

Borders manipulated the system by the aforementioned short lifespans and limited distribution system. It's like inviting people to your wedding, you know only 1 out of 5 people you invite is coming, but the rest will send a check because you invited them. They would print "40% off" real big and "if your name has an x in it and you're birthday is on Blurnsday in the year 2642" and "one item only" in super tiny print that peoples printers or iphones were somehow incapable of seeing. They created all these labyrinthine twists and turns so as to not overextend the discount, but also to create a "product" that had "value" in the form of a "rewards" membership. They gave people "Borders bucks" that were harder to catch than Santa Claus. Apparently the only way we could afford this program was by hoping vast numbers of it's members got lost, and only the sharpest came out with a prize. Not surprising since we gave the bottom line away with almost every coupon. These methods are all lies in their own right. Okay, they put the information there, but Why make it smaller than the exciting 40% off bit, if not to down play it? Down playing is a lie.

Customers, oh...customers, the creativity with which they attempted to exploit the program was BOUNDLESS. These people were Van Goghs of exploitation. Jackson Pollacks of sheer mendacity, it was astonishing! How many times did someone print up 6 40% off coupons when it clearly states on the coupon (and by clearly i mean orders of magnitude smaller than the 40% off part) that the program offers one coupon per membership? How many times then did you hear back "well i'll just do it as separate transactions then."? How many times did you see a mom or dad dole out one to each of her children and have them stand in line and shout their email address out to their tiny accomplices. That right there, is a lesson at a young age in the profitability of dishonesty.

"Can't you just give me the coupon? I printed it up at home but forgot it."


So many ways to "screw us over" with that program. And vice versa. We engaged the customer in battle and the pawns in this sad little downwards spiral chess match, were the booksellers and supervisors who had to get in the face of the customer and cede the square to them, or stand their ground. What an awful position to put us in. Why should I have to go to some lady and get into a shouting match with her because we created a crappy program that relies on people using their unreliable home printers to create a document that makes promises? For the longest time I didn't understand why Borders wouldn't just computerize the whole deal. "Hey congrats infinity percent off a book, just swipe your card" Boom, just like the grocery stores. No questions, no muss no fuss, when the discount was used on that membership...poof...gone. We have the technology for this even with our Nixon Era registers. But I think I figured it out. In my opinion they were hoping that people would fall through the cracks and not take advantage of a reward. This allowed us to offer ludicrously large discounts (considering our negligible profit margin) to vast numbers of people so it expanded Borders value message. I still don't know who was wrong in this scenario, but i know someone was, most likely we all were.

Don't even get me started on the Return policy."Oh you're returning the Rough Guide to Cancun because you got one as a gift from someone as well- and i suppose you ordered that Senior Frogs, Spring Break 2011 t-shirt on line...Stay Classy." I love too, how every time we pushed back suddenly it was for the children, or it was a gift, or something meant to make us feel guilty. And you know, those of you who had to allow such things or not, that you let some complete malarky go through. You know that you did. I was one of the "soft touch" managers, I know I was. I used to be pretty hard core about the return policy, but eventually I just got tired of being shouted at for Borders hourly rate, so I began to be more liberal. And you know what, every bloody person I let steam roll me for a return outside of the policy only increased the problem. They were profitable, so guess what: they did it again. I'm not going to go into how Borders was instrumental in creating the idea that returning a book to a bookstore was an okay notion. All the bookstores before the big box store emerged had a pretty strict no returns policy. Not to mention a "we're not a library, buy it if you want to read it" policy, and a "weirdo please stop rubbing one out on our couch to some creepy manga" policy. In this putting the genie back in the bottle was an unlikely scenario.

I'm not an economist, I'm not a philosopher but I am an observer. And what i've seen over the years is a slow and steady degradation of the value of product and people who provide it. There is some notion that retailers are the "middle men" between the buyer and the maker, and as such they need to be eliminated. As if processing and merchandising product and making it accessible and desirable and doing it with a polite demeanour and a knowledgeable staff able to introduce you to further product that may enrich your life, has NO value. This idea that the retailers are the enemy is such a common idea that both local and national news have regular segments on getting the biggest bang for your buck, and recommend going to independent businesses and offering them a dollar amount for a product and dickering with them. As if a price for something is arrived at by some magical notion, not a simple equation that tells you how much you have to take out of a building to keep it's lights on and feed yourself. As the gulf between wholesale and retail increases, further opportunities exist for exploiting this gulf. Walmart can sell me a pair of jeans for 7.49 and still make a profit because those jeans cost .74 cents to purchase. Which means they can sell a copy of Mocking Jay for 6.74 cents less than it's cost, and still make a profit of a penny! So if you figure Mocking jay probably cost them about 10 bucks they can charge a little over 3 dollars for that book and make a penny. Obviously nobody wants to make a penny for profit, but nobody is expecting a copy of Mocking Jay for a little over 3 dollars either. So the "a little over 8 dollars" they sell it for, while not profitable on that book when combined with the sweatshop jeans creates a tidy little bucket o' cash for them. Win win, right, good for everyone. This increased gulf means that walmart can advertise low low prices and that customers begin having new expectations of what something should cost. And those expectations get lower and lower every day. And as such...we demand less and less from our employers for pay. It's cool, I undertand I can't get a raise this year that I have plainly earned, I can get a lovely plasma tv for $299 though, so all is not lost. I can have the affectations of a middle class life on the income of the impoverished, so all is well, and what I can't afford...I'll buy on CREDIT!

Yeah that kind of thinking has worked out well.

Now I don't have the information or the inclination to begin an argument about globalisation and the free markets, we've benefited in profound ways from capitalism around the world, and it's done profound harms. For Every Warren Buffet there are roughly one Billion not Warren Buffets. But what I can say, with no qualms, is that lies are our biggest mark-up. Lies pad our profit margins, and liars, make the most profits. And that, True Believer (Stan Lee has finally made a cameo in my blog, he can stop texting me now) is something we should all find troubling.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Day 45&46

"The very powerful and the very stupid have one thing in common. They don't alter their views to fit the facts. They alter the facts to fit their views. Which can be uncomfortable if you happen to be one of the facts that needs altering." -The Doctor (as portrayed by Tom Baker)

Today the Loris and I had a bit of a stand off.

So for the last 2 days the Loris has been absolutely frenzied. No one seems to know why, but she is moving about frenetically, barking commands seemingly at random to anyone that appears bipedal enough to carry them out. Sometimes she will give you a command and follow it up with another and then another stacking one atop the other like assy flap jacks. At some point it becomes impossible to rewind and complete the initial task she gave you so you're just always doing the most recent command, waiting for the next interruption and new direction.

It's sort of Borders history crammed into a 2 day window, isn't it. How many initiatives trickled down (or hammered down during the *marshall years) from the Home Office only to be abandoned and replaced by another. I never really understood why the people making the decisions didn't understand that micromanaging from the mid-west was never really going to work. Centralised control became less and less about trusting the people beneath you that had been groomed and mentored, and more and more about defining a series of task and, ultimately specific language, that needed to be done. As though we were computers from the 1980's and all you needed to do was write the correct command line and we'd spit out the numbers you were looking for. I don't know if this conversation ever happened. but in my head I imagine a cadre of people who think of books as products sitting in a darkened chamber, fingers tented, saying "Eventually if we pay less and less and we hire people who are willing to work for that wage eventually we will get a collection of unwashed mouth-breathers dying to simply follow orders for a meager pay check, and then ladies and gentleman of the Cabal, we will live like kings!" Hah! The joke was on them. The allure of books and music and working around smart engaging people was enough to keep a quality person applying and being hired. Don't you realize bookish people sort of intrinsically have low self-worth, if you tell me I'm only worth a dollar more than minimum wage to shelve books, I'm going to believe you, because ...I Get to shelve books! Everytime they realized Initiative A was a failure, largely i think because they didn't respect their staffs or our buying public, they would chill out for about three months and switch to Initiative B. And then when that failed, Initiative C. It was a constant stream of "now do this" from Ann Arbor. I also picture one of the Wizards walking into the offices with a bullhorn declaring the new initiatives, and demanding all the poor people who had lifted Borders up for all those years and who eventually ended up in co-ordinator-y style positions at the home office to make it happen, and then sighs of "are you effin' kidding me?" begin a train of verbal dominoes. Anyway the Loris was like that in the last 2 days, only really really concentrated.

She blamed me for 5 things before I even had my headset on. I just sort of stared at her as she performed her version of reading the riot act. I asked questions in an attempt to make her see reason, or try to trick her using logic. Suddenly, I heard Lewis Carroll pointing and laughing at me from some place in the past. She simply wouldn't come to the logical conclusions my questions should have lead her to. Then I realized that my facts weren't relevant because she didn't like them. Reality and fact have become, or perhaps they always were to her, entirely subjective. Objectivity and logic is a quaint old religion, like being a Jedi or Bridge clubs.

Nevermind that the last 16 hours of my week at borders had seen me doing record amounts of work. Yesterday the first 4 hours of my day were the fastest 4 hours I can remember experiencing that didn't involve nudity or liquor. It was just, blink, and they were over. I was in a constant flurry of dragging stuff (that I would call "trash", but apparently are now called "fixtures") out onto the floor trying to make some kind of cohesive sense out of a random assortment of stuff we just don't want to use any more. The latter part of my day, largely, if I'm being honest, became a wash. I just kind of bumbled about not really sure what I needed to do but I still worked, just not real efficiently. By the way, those hard hours...that was for liquidators. Just sit with that a minute.

And it wasn't just me, she gave my GM 24 hours to pack up every relevant document that needed to be retained and send them out. Borders wanted them by the 7th, apparently she wanted them out of her hair yesterday. And guess what, IT GOT DONE! Because that is how we Borders Folk Roll. You give us a challenge we meet it. Its not our fault historically they've given us stupid challenges.

Today was a morass of paperwork and being a sales person, and supervising deconstruction, and correcting an error which should have been caught 3 weeks ago when I told you what I was doing. OH right, 3 weeks ago it wasn't an error, it was okay. But now...because the loris didn't know what she was doing, it is my fault.

Right, the standoff.

So as I'm walking through the door she hits me with "You got my message that EVERYTHING with the Invoices is ALL WRONG"

Mind you, I'm sipping a diet soda waving to a co-worker at the time, I had just acknowledged her, which apparently is all the impetus she needs to leap!

"Uh..that isn't how it was communicated to me, i know there are a few errors, but -"

"No it's all wrong, you have to redo everyone of them by this afternoon. Why didn't you do it yesterday when i left the Message that you never returned?"

So...let me get this correct, you call say "call me back" I don't, then you speak with MY BOSS and tell her what you need done, which she processes to ME, you know, cuz she's my boss and she gets to tell me what to do. And after that I STILL need to call you? Really? That makes no sense in anyway. My boss is your pipeline to me. Thats how it works, if you have the opportunity to say something directly to me then, by all means do, but if time and telephone don't allow it I assure you that my General Manager is more than capable of giving me a directive and seeing it done. Jeez, control freak much?

Thats what i said on the inside, I verbalized the following "My Gm told me what to do, i just didn't have time to do it as they decided to sell all the fixtures for half price and raise the discount on the merchandise while simultaneously cutting our hours so i know, selling things, much too busy to fix a few errors."

"well it all needs to be fixed"

"All what, you need to be precise, because What my GM told me to do doesn't seem like so large a task i couldn't accomplish it in a couple of hours"

"Well it's your first priority today"

Ha, loser, my first priority is verifying the deposit. Suck it, Loss Prevention comes first, yo!

Now what apparently triggered her descent into the panic room was that the documents were not filled out entirely.

Quoth the Loris three weeks ago: "You really just need to get the phone number, the rest isn't that important".

Oh but you see, thats not how it "happend". Apparently I misheard her, and so did $$$ because she was there and she was doing the same thing. About 25% of the documents were missing the information that we didn't NEED but had to have anyway. So i had to work with our corporate magician to get the project done. IN AN HOUR.

"oh you're all done, oh you all are just fabulous."I know thats why you shouldn't panic. Psycho.

So two things have happened in the last two days that seem important. The first is that i'm done. Physically and emotionally done. Yesterday morning i walked up to some of my friends working and i said to them. "I hope these cheap bastards buy every damn cd dvd book and fixture we have in here today, because I'm done. I'm sick of it. I want to close." Now the feeling is not that weird, and it's totally understandable. But the fact that i broke the seal and said it is a momentous thing. I have tried to carve a path through this as the person who helped sustain the energy and enthusiasm of my friends when I'm working. I am seen goofing off, because i feel like goofing off is an important step in living through this misery. I try to arrange after work gatherings. I try to be generally up beat and not negative. But yesterday i just kind of...puked that sentiment up. I was genuinely kind of surprised I said it. But man it felt good to say it. And frankly I think it was a sentiment everyone could agree with. I'm just done. Whats left of my store doesn't resemble what i know, what i care about. Today i sat and watched...and even helped, as someone pulled vast fields of slatwall of the wall in the kids room and left it naked and bruised with it's original carpenters math showing. Poor naked wall. It was so strange. I used to build these stores as a trainer. Helping to tear them apart has never sat well with me. But today i was kind of glad to do it, because that meant I was four pieces of slatwall closer to getting the hell out. I will, without a doubt in my heart, miss the everliving damn out of everyone I work with. But i cannot take this ...degradation...any longer. So i just breathe deep and think of England.

The second thing was that the Loris lost my trust. Up until now I really felt she was going to make this a smooth orderly transition, that she was the pragmatic and composed piece of the liquidator puzzle (The fighting Eagle...being neither of those things). But it turns out, no. She is just as slippery as any viper. As soon as she feels behind or out of control she just begins rewriting truth to fit her narrative. I'm sorry but my understanding of management is that if something is wrong, it's your job to catch it. 3 weeks of doing something should have noticed it and corrected it at 3 days. But again, it wasn't wrong then...oh no it what is it? Are you lying or incompetent? Pick one please so we know how to respond. Somehow our store is 2 weeks behind, behind what we still don't know. But whose fault is that? The legion of hard working, ethical, well intentioned and mostly happy booksellers who bust their collective asses every day to help you help us out the door, or you of the thousand directions? You who are the scarecrows third option, going both ways at all times? And you who are, you might have forgotten, in charge. That doesn't mean you just get to tell people what to do, it also means you are responsible for it being done...or not. The second she began forging history i lost the respect i had for her, and worse, I stopped trusting her. She went from being an adversary to being a nemesis. Adversaries play the same game with the same rules, they don't just switch the rules in the middle when they start losing.

We've all encountered this before. But when it's someone who is basically giving you your last rites with an organisation you don't have any compulsion to work through it, no motivation to smooth it over. Every boss you've ever had has done this to you, i'd almost be positive of it. But you need to have a relationship with them, and human relationships are complicated and sometimes very ugly things happen and you just ...get over it...and move on. Because you have to to show up at work the next day and not start kicking the holy shite out of someone. All of us make compromises to be able to be near the people we want to or need to. You can say that becoming a professional should mean that you check your feelings at the door, but it doesn't. If anything it heightens them because this your money! But it's the connections you make to folk who work next to you just trying to pay their bills or raise their children or save up money for a vacation that make work work. And when you take that connection out of the equation you do not have the need to forgive an insult of any magnitude, let alone one where you ostensibly call someone illiterate, incapable, lazy and a liar, in spite of all the evidence to the contrary. It's only made more hideous by the fact that the mistake was yours. And now you just lie about it.

There is a lightness to all this dark though. The feeling of being over it, of having taken almost all you can from a job, and just waiting to be cut free is freeing in it's own right. There is now an excitement in me for the end of days. I know I'll still see my co-workers, I'll make the effort, and many of them will too. It's kind of like the end of the breakfast club, detention is over, but Judd Nelson and his weird nostrils still get to fist pump at the end. I feel like, as with all quests, i have entered the darkness and i'll have to come out eventually, as a meta-observer of my own life, I know the darkness clears soon. I mean that , both professionally and personally. A change is coming, i can feel it, and I'm excited for it. The end of this means a new beginning for something. I hope for all of us it's something more positive, but even if it brings hardship, just treading water through this hardship to get to that one is kind of...lame. So lets get it done, already.

If I were capable I'd insert a sports metaphor here, but...I'm not. So instead ...uh...Go team Borders!

Crush the Liquidators!

U-G-L-Y you aint got no alibi, you Ugly! You Ugly.

Nerds rule. Soulless money sucking corporate scavengers drool!Etc.

* this wasn't a type-o, henceforth I refuse to capitalize that persons name. He doesn't deserve the correct case I can't begin to take from him what he took from all of us, but I can take his capital M.