I am writinmg this drunk, because I don’t know I could write it sober.
Please excuse all grammatical errors, run on thoughts, yada-yada. I’ve had six beers, courtesy of a well-timed day-job happy hour at Dog’s Head Tavern in Bethesda. I paid for none of the drinks I’ve had tonight: I think my love for working in Borders was well known. Even the new sales guys, who I barely new, bought me a drink or two. Maybe they just did that so I wouldn’t regal them with funny storiews of working in Borders.
In any case, I hope you will excuse all of the un-whatever errors within this post. Unsharpened? Uncorrected? I told myself back in December that if for whatever reason this store, my store, 18th & L, would close, I would put in my two weeks immediately. And so when I saw that tweet from The Wall Street Journal with a list of closing Borders, and I scanned it, I honestly did not expect to see my store’s number on there. And yet, there it was: 0050.
My heart broke.
Don’t get me wrong. Borders as a company, as a brand, probably deserves to die. Mismanagement well chronicled by far smarter people than I have chronicled the company’s failures. Email me in a couple days and I can point you to some good articles. My favorite is the financial analyst who said Border’s decision to outsource eCommerce to Amazon was a “jackass move.” WIN, sir! Win.
Except fail. Because while I could leave Borders The Company in a heartbeat, leaving Borders The Store is not quite so easy. I’ve worked at that store, on the corner of 18th & L, for just shy of three years. April 10th, 2011, would be my third year anniversary. Man. I’m almost on the verge of tears here. I mean … I’m not. But fuck man. I loved working there. Loved the store. Especially loved the staff. Greg. Lisa Wilson. Sallie Brown. The Gay Robs. Hell, the straight Robs. The cafe ladies. The register bitches. Even some of the managers. The surly intellectual magazine snob Josh. The store detective, C******* (my first boss). Adam. Korye. Cathy. Lynsey. Margaret. Erin. The Rachaels. Stephen in the stockroom. Michael. Ty. April. Man, I’m losing track of names here. I LOVE YOU ALL. Well, most of you. The asshole who was charging people for gift cards and then stealing them for himself? You can go fuck yourself.
BAKHTI! FAHAD! JIM!
Let me tell you a story. It’s a long story. I don’t know how coherent I’m going to tell this. Bare with me. (I;m listening to Queen. Queen makes everything better. Don’t know they’re acytually helping, but I’m trying).
Many years ago, I was in my 20s. I’m now 32. Anyway, I wasted my twenties. What I wouldn’t give to go back to my freshman year of high school knowing what I know now. I’d've been awesome. Anyway, twenties = wasted. Bummed through too many years of college before dropping out. Worked too many dead end stupid horrible jobs before realizing I really needed that degree to be anything in life. Had a great two semesters back at Towson where I realized how much more successful I’d've been in college if I’d spent some time in the Real World first. Oh well. Got my degree, eight months later, found a job in Bethesda. Office work. Salary. Decent benefits. A bit on the drudge side. Sometimes I take it for granted.
Realized driving from Timonium to Bethesda every day would suck. Found an apartment in DC (Woodley Park). Realized I could make it work if I didn’t have a car payment: sold my car to my dad. No more car payment, no more car insurance. Decided I should get a part-time job, too. Done with pizza delivery, started looking at bookstores. Filled out apps for Kramers, Olssen’s, Borders, Barnes & Noble.
Borders called me first. Spoke to Rebecca. I miss her terribly. Tall blonde Swede. Got pregnant, moved back home to Sweden. Comes over to visit DC sometimes. Cute kid, too. Great boss.
Started at Borders two weeks after I’d started at my day job. Started in Loss Prevention. Did that for a few months. Pretty boring, never caught a shoplifter. Had to wake some homeless people a few times and kick ‘em out. Never liked that. Felt bad.
Started in April. By late May, all of the booksellers — students — had quit to go home for the summer. Boss asked, “Hey, you wanna be a bookseller?” I said “Yes.” Got to stop wearing the stupid red shirt. Learned how to work the computer systems. Became very familiar with the store sections and layouts. Started making closing announcements.
I fell in love with DC early. I grew up outside DC, in Adelphi. White Oak for elementary school, then we moved ot Columbia for middle and high school. Went to Towson for college, spent nearly ten years north of Baltimore. Five year stretch of time where I went no closer to DC than Columbia. True story. There was for a long time a belief that while I would eventually leave my Bethesda job for something in downtown DC, I would always have Borders in the background: me, in my fifties, working part-time one night a week, the mythical “old man who all the younger employees would look up to, me having worked there for so damn long.
Really felt like that would be a possibility.
My responsibilities at Borders gradually increased. I started spending all Sundays in the Cage in the stockroom, keepering upcoming DVD and CD releases. I got to “host” author events. Think I may have been on CSPAN once or twice. Don’t know – cancelled my cable TV service a year ago.
And every Christmas there were the rumors, “This is the year Borders goes out of business.” But at the same time, people I considered to have the inside know would say, “They’d never close this store. NEVER. Makes too much business. High sales.”
But the building was renovated. Sales dropped, bounced back. Management came and went. Everything seemed the same.
After Christmas, deliveries stopped coming. No more big pallets. Books came in like icycles: a drip, a drab. So sad. Thought it was just the company in general. Thought, surely, Borders will survive this. Surely, Borders won’t close THIS store. This store, with the massive lower level where at least once a week, someone coming in for a book in Reference, where they usually just browsed mags, would admit, “I’ve been coming here for years, never been downstairs — wow! There’s a lot down here!” And there was! IS! There still IS a huge downstairs. So much.
My fondest memories of downstairs will be taking the old dusty prop-replica lightsabers – Master Replicas? — and sparring with Bahkti in music. Let me tell you, those things are sturdy. WHAM! CRACK! Whoops, full power on a CD stand, and yet the blade still stood.
One of my favorite songs is Queen’s Radio Ga-Ga. Playing right now. Can we have a Borders Ga-Ga?
You had your time, you had the power
You’ve yet to have your finest hour
Well, no, guess we can’t.
I bumped into Greg tonight. Love that guy. He worked there for nearly ten years, left last April. Works at a well respected magazine downtown. On the masthead. Great guy. Anyone who works there I’ve met, I always ask, “Do you know Greg ____?” And if they don’t, they at least say, “I know the name!” And they should. He’s wonderful.
On my way out of the Barking Dog, I went with my coworker Josh W., who also lives in DC. He saw me as far as Cleveland Park. I bumped into Greg on the mezzennine, reloading his SmarTrip.
I’ve made a lot of friends in DC in the last almost three years. I’ve made some via this blog, many via Twitter. Don’t read my Twitter feed 0– it’s been kind of silly, today at least. @MalnurturedSnay if you want too. But I made a lot of friends working at Borders. Not even just the coworkers, some of the customers, too. I don’t know if I’ll still see them once I’m gone from the store. I hope so, even if just to say hello.
It’s been a long, strange journey. There was a time I thought that store would be around forever. Yesterday, browsing the Barnes & Noblre on 12th Street to use my Groupon, I felt myself some tears: THIS? THIS depressing bookstore is what beat Borders? It was once said that Borders carried one copy of ten books, and that B&N carries ten copies of one book. Mismanagement at the top was what brought Borders down, I truly believe it.
Today I typed up a short letter. It contains thirty-four words:
To Whom It May Concern,
Thursday, March 3rd 2011 will be my last day with Borders. I’ve loved working here, and I just don’t think I can get through liquidation.
Thank you for understanding,
I comfort myself by telling myself that I always land on my feet. Things will end well. Not for Borders, alas.
Please, if you pray, pray for those working at Borders without a safety net, who’ll be losing their jobs soon. If you don’t pray, send kind thoughts your way. And if you enter my store, or any Borders, to take advantage of a liquidation sale, be kind to the staff. This is a heart-breaking experience.
Writing this post … very sobering.