Friday, August 5, 2011

Remembering Borders

Why hello there August! Say, have you seen July? I'm told it was here for 31 days but it seems I missed it. I guess I was too busy going to Pittsburgh, seeing Harry Potter 7.2, checking out Louisville's small comic book convention, going to Lebowski Fest, making soap, getting a washer and dryer, and taking a tour of Louisville to have time to greet July at all.

So, anyway I used to work at Borders and it is officially going to disappear now. Booksellers across the internet are reminiscing on good/all right/not so great times as they say goodbye to a fixture in their lives. Even though it is no surprise, and even though my time with Borders was relatively brief and not recent, I am still sorry to see it go.

From July 2006, my third month there.
I stayed for two more years.
With this news, I'm thinking back on my coworkers and experiences there, remembering customers like the women with their weekly stacks of romance novels, the guy who used his dog to flirt with younger men, the 18-year-olds saying their naked lady magazine is for an "art project," the kids spending their allowance money, the elderly gentleman who carried a huge notebook cataloging his classical CDs so he didn't end up with duplicates, the teachers replacing copies of Cirque du Freak books that their students inevitably stole, the couples stopping by after their date at Gordon Biersch or wherever . . .

Then I ended up looking at some old blog entries I'd made on myspace (that tells you how long it's been since I worked at Borders) and that really brought back some memories. There was a great entry from July of 2007 about a guy who tried to make a fraudulent return. When told by my supervisor that his receipt was not valid, the man yelled, his voice shaking and spit flying from his lips, "Why don't you go f*#% your mother up the ass, and if she's dead dig up her bones and f*#% them!" Then he stormed out. That was during his first visit. The next time, when by some weird chance he again ended up at my register and with the same supervisor on duty, he threw a stuffed owl from a display at my supervisor's head before hurrying out the door.

Then there was a post from way back in 2006 titled, "strange things strange men say to me at work." It described a few awkward exchanges with customers, including one with an older-but-not-old man who asked to see my ring (which is an art nouveau style image of a woman's profile in silver). When I held my hand out to show him, he held it (my HAND) for more than a minute (a long time for a stranger to hold your hand) before releasing it and allowing me to finish the transaction. At the end he joked (admitted?), "It was just an excuse to hold your hand."

Then I remembered the guy my friend Justin dubbed my "Mark David Chapman." Fortunately, this is an   exaggeration and I have not been shot or even properly stalked. Anyway, my MDC was probably about the same age I was, which would have been about 23, although he may have even been a little younger than me. He had dyed black hair that hung heavy with product over his left eye. He was usually wearing a white dress shirt and skinny black tie. Those characteristics should paint a pretty clear picture. He was not one of our regulars. The first time he said anything to me, I was hurrying toward the back to take my break, which is a time when customers tend to ask for help. So when he said, "Excuse me," I was prepared to refer him to the information desk, but I was not prepared to hear, "I just wanted to say that, I, uh . . . think you're really pretty." So I said like, "Uh, thanks," or something, and I went to the back room to take my break.

Later in my shift, I saw him again and he told me he wanted me to have something. It was a small slip of folded paper and as I unfolded it he explained that it had his number on it. It was a special order slip for a CD from some band I'd never heard of (electonica, if I remember correctly) and so it had his name and contact info. I said thanks and he left. I had no intention of calling the guy, but I kind of admired his guts. As Matt would say, you've got to shoot to score, right?

BUT THEN. I came in one day and a couple dudes I work with said that some guy came in looking for me, asking my name and when I would work again. I was mildly amused but not yet annoyed. Then one day I was at the registers and there was a line and right in the middle of a transaction I heard my name. I looked up and there was MDC on the other side of the queue line, peeking over the display of bookmarks or junky beaded pens or whatever, grinning like an idiot saying, "Hey, Michael, that's your name right, Michael? HI!!!!" So I held up a finger to him, finished my customer, and asked for a break. Then I pulled him aside and explained that I was flattered but it wasn't really appropriate to interrupt me at work, because I was, y'know working and he got completely embarrassed and announced that he would never come back. I said that was his choice, he was certainly welcome in the store, free country and all that, but he insisted. And then he never came back again, at least not while I was there.

Of course, there was also the eccentric cast of coworkers that made up store number 225: from the loud eater to the gym-obsessed dude learning Italian (mostly the dirty bits), from the fab goth horror writer to the creep who ended every sentence with "ladies" (see Demetri Martin), from the pot smoking vegetarian grandma to the too-pretty-for-words-how-does-he-do-his-make-up walking manga character in the cafe, from the over-qualified doctorate holders to the shockingly dumb. They were sometimes annoying, sometimes fabulous, but pretty much always interesting. We had some good times. I wish all of my former workmates (even the ones that were less than a pleasure to work with) the best of luck in the future.