Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Liquidation Diary: Home Is Where the Heart Is

One of the most wonderful things the book superstores brought to the masses was the bookstore as a place to hang out. Not hang out the way I used to hang out in bookstores when I was growing up. Since the small bookstores I frequented had books crammed everywhere and no room for any kind of seating (except, maybe, for a step stool or two, and one wouldn't presume to sit reading for hours on a step stool that somebody else might need to reach a tall shelf), going to the bookstore with the intention of kicking back, drinking coffee, and reading for a few hours wasn't an option anybody ever thought of. Sure, cities with large independents--Seattle, Denver, and yes, Ann Arbor--had bookstores in which you could do that. But Borders brought that experience to the rest of us, and it was wonderful.

Of course, after years of stepping over people sprawled in the aisles and repeatedly asking them not to move the comfy chairs so that they were blocking cases, and after one too many times coming upon study groups who had cleared off an entire display table so that they could spread their books and papers out, the bloom was off the rose. But even then all it took was one Harry Potter midnight release party and next day early opening to make it all beautiful again.

The stores I've worked at have always had large contingents of regulars. And since the news came down about our store closing last week, I have had countless people seek me out to tell me how important Borders has been to them. Most touching have been the young families whose children have quite literally been coming to our store since they were babies, working their way from board books through pictures books, up to chapter books and beyond. Many of those kids are getting ready to take their SATs now.

There's also another type of person who makes a place like Borders their home away from home. They're the lost, the lonely, the homeless, and, yes, the crazy. Today one of the regulars seemed to have taken a double dose of her crazy pills. Despite her unorthodox views (she's all about 2012 and sun spots and Atlantis) and unfortunate anti-Semitic streak she's nice, if overly chatty. This morning she followed me around with a magazine, showing me a picture of a Hummel figurine and telling me--well, never mind about that, I don't think I could possibly convey the narrative she'd built around this particular Hummel baby. Suffice it to say it involved Atlantis and Native American legend, and it went on forever and was frighteningly kooky.

Later, as I was trying to get some work done (those "You Pay" signs don't place themselves, you know), I kept having to step over a homeless guy wearing a backpack who was parked in front of the gun books, making giant piles on the floor and furiously scribbling in his notebook. By the time he'd moved down the aisle to the military history section and had expanded the number of his piles to four I'd reached crazy overload.

"Do you really think it's right to make work for us like that?" I asked him, more sternly, probably, than I should have.

"What? I'm going to put them back."

"You're not going to put them back in the right place!" I shouted. Yes, I did. I shouted at a poor homeless guy because he was making a mess in a store which is already beyond help or hope.

Later, I was telling the story to a coworker and she pointed out that the disruption of one of their most familiar and comfortable places makes it that much harder for people who live on the edge of society or sanity. That made me sad.

On the other hand, it infuriates me that people who don't have the excuse of unmedicated bipolar disorder want to continue to hang out at the store in its last days. I know the store has meant a lot to a lot of people, but I don't understand why they want to spend time just hanging out in the mess and the chaos and the misery. Because it is miserable, and we're miserable. 

It's time to let go, people. Make your purchases, get your deals (because there are some really good deals coming up, and I can't begrudge anybody a great deal on a book), but then go home. Don't have an impromptu storytime in the kids section or sit on the floor of the cafe reading magazines for an hour. Just go home after you get your your actual home.


EnriqueFreeque said...

It's probably hard for some of your regulars to just let go, and give up what had been like a comfort-ritual for them, hanging out in Borders. I can sympathize w/your frustration, nevertheless.

I said my goodbyes to Borders back in March, when my weekly haunts in Chino & Montclair closed. I thanked my favorite booksellers there for being so cool -- which is so nice to hear many are now doing for you. It's very sad (it was a real loss for me) losing those long-term connections.

Anonymous said...

Good times!