Friday, February 25, 2011

Cry My Beloved Bookstore

I just had one word to say when my wife called and told me the news. "No." I said. Well, OK, that's a grammatically correct rendition of what I said but it doesn't exactly catch the phrasing and tonality of my one word response. Truth be told, it was more along the lines of something like this:


With a nasally-whiney sort of inflection like you hear from that often observed little snot-nosed brat being dragged out of the store (take your pick, any store will do)  by his mother clutching his earlobe as she drags him back to their car while yelling into his other ear, "You don't need it, I'm not gonna' buy it, so get in the car and shut up!" That's the kind of tonality I'm talking about here. And, by the way, I'm on that mother's side when it comes to dealing with misbehaving kiddies even if it means a little pop on the butt. But the exclamation I'm trying to describe here is the kind that erupts from the shock and awe of sudden disappointment. In my case, deep, deep disappointment. My Borders store is closing.

I knew tragedy was brewing but I didn't expect it to rear its ugly head so soon, so abruptly, and so close. I had received the email from Mike Edwards, CEO of Borders,  a week or so ago assuring Borders customers that, sure, they were reorganizing, and sure, there might be a few stores closing here and there, but Mike said he was confident the restructuring process would go smoothly and enable the company to get back on its feet. So I shouldn't have been surprised when my wife called to tell me she had just gone by my store and there were signs plastered all over the windows declaring 60% discounts due to STORE CLOSING!!  But surprised I was and saddened as well.  I had dared to hope Mike wasn't talking about my store when he said Borders would be closing underperforming stores. Never for a minute did I suspect that my Borders store would be classified as underperforming. I was doing my part to keep the enterprise profitable. I mean, come on Mikey,  there's only so much I can do on a retiree's income for cryin' out loud! Granted, since I retired I've gotten more books on loan from the library and from my son than I ever  purchased from Borders but I've got to say this in my defense...every single time, I say again, every...single...time that Borders offered 50% off sales, I was there, man, I was there!  Borders Rewards card in one hand, VISA debit card in the other. Nobody was going to beat me to the draw during 50% off sales events, NO-BODY!  But my wife said 60%!!  That's Six-Oh! Geez, I thought, maybe I screwed myself (and my store) by taking advantage of those fifty percenter deals and it resulted in... underperformance?  God, I hoped not but I started to feel guilty that maybe it was all my fault. Hence, my disappointment. And my sorrow.

Nevertheless and responsible or not it started to dawn on me that I needed to go there, to that hallowed ground, to see what's up for myself.  Sadness? Oh yes, sadness in massive quantities. But despite tragedy there were reports of significant bargains being available (ie. six-oh) and thus, bittersweet emotions were swirling through my head.  I sort of had those feelings I imagine one would have upon being invited to attend the hearing of the will after the death of their favorite uncle.  An uncle who also happened to be rich.  I mean he (the imaginary rich uncle) was a pretty swell guy and we (imaginary me and my imaginary rich uncle) always got along and everything in a cordial rich uncle/poor underachieving nephew sort of way but if there's a lot of stuff being bequeathed to friends and relatives at this will hearing, why not just mosey down there and see if  any bones get thrown in this doggy's direction, right?  I mean, it can't hurt or anything just to go and have a look-see, can it? It's not like disrespectful or anything, it's just keeping eyes and ears open for good deals. As soon as I hung up the phone (like you can "hang up" a cell phone, right?) or as soon as the phone call ended, I put aside one of my current reads, The GUN, by C.J. Chivers (purchased at 50% off at Borders) aside and proceeded to change out of my miracle-whip & mustard stained T-shirt and put on something a little more suitable for public dress appearance and headed down to Borders.

Not only were the store windows plastered with bright yellow, red, and black posters loudly proclaiming slashed prices off everything, they even had a sign carrier positioned out on the road divider on the street in front of the store, waving the same signs at every passing motorist. Or at least I think that was the intent, to have him wave to every passing motorist but he wasn't doing any such thing.  Much of the time I observed him he was leaning on the sign with very little movement at all and the rest of the time sort of half-assedly moving the sign side to side or up and down but in a rather unenthusiastic fashion.  Underperforming was the word that came to mind and I briefly thought perhaps I should report the situation to CEO Mike but on second thought I evaluated the situation to be a Catch-22 sort of thing for an underperforming sign bearer to be working for an underperforming Borders store. So why bother?  One thing was for sure, this dude would never cut it working for the Liberty Tax people...he did a pretty good imitation of a statue but failed miserably to show any excitement for his mission.

The first thing I noticed upon arrival at my Borders store was that my wife's reconnaissance was flawed. There wasn't anything like a 60% discount on display, not even on the signs held by Rip Van Sign Bearer out on the traffic island. But I don't think she lied. She probably just took the "20 to 40% off" propaganda and added them together. Besides, my old self-imposed 50% threshold was always limited to one item. At least 20% and maybe 40% off everything would apply to as many items as I wanted so it sounded like a good deal to me. The second thing I noticed was that the parking lot was full.  Obviously, the demise of my beloved bookstore had drawn out the buzzards in its death throws. Not me, mind you, I'm still feeling the grief that comes from losing a friend. I'm there to verify the truth of the shocking obituary. And if I can pickup some good deals on a couple of book purchases while I'm at it? Well, who could find fault with that? That's just good old American pragmatism. Pragmatism with the proper respect. Nothing wrong with that. Inside the store a somber scene awaited me. The first thing that struck me was the silence. Very quiet.  Hushed is perhaps the best description. Respectfully hushed. The old cafe section was roped off like a crime scene and all the lights were off.  I peeked in and surveyed the floor as best I could in the darkness half expecting to see chalk lines outlining the fallen positions of those who fell there. But I knew my imagination was rushing far too close to the macabre and pulled myself back to reality, forcing myself to head to other sections of the store in no particular order.  I have certain sections I always visit but my progression from one to the other is in random order depending on whatever mood I'm in at the time. My bookstore browsing habits are not terribly structured. I do a lot of roaming. The usual customer suspects were there in abundance. Sometimes I feel like I'm in the bar scene of Star Wars,  just one more of the weirdos seeking refreshment, in this case,  reading refreshment. In the fiction section maze I always half expect to run into Chewbacca around the next corner. And if I have to step around one of the intense readers sitting cross legged yoga style in the isles I imagine them to be R2-D2 out of uniform. What I'm describing I guess is just the usual gang of geeks hanging out at the bookstore on any given day. And yes, I'm one of them.  I don't have any piercings (or at least none that I'll admit to) and I don't sit on the floor but I guess I'm still strange enough to fit in with the crowd. I don't shave my legs either so I have something in common with lots of my female reading comrades.

Sadly, my bookstore visit came to a close. They really beefed up the checkout process by manning, make that womanning up each cash register with a clerk to handle the increased volume of sales. Back in the good old days a good part of each store visit was taken up waiting for an available clerk to check us out. Each clerk repeated the mantra that "all sales are final, no returns allowed" that sort of added to the finality of it all. It was all sadly efficient. No underperformance in evidence here, Mr CEO Mike, so maybe you should give my branch a second chance?  Tell you what, if the store is allowed to survive, I promise to come back for 40% off sales.  I won't hold out for five-oh.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

The Basketball Spectators Have Spoken

I must admit, I didn't get it. I just didn't get it. What's worse is I didn't know I didn't get it. I had no clue that all my preconceived notions of what it meant to be a basketball spectator were so far off the mark that I probably should have just stayed home and watched the game on TV.  But there I was, Duh-doot! Duh-doot! in the St Pete Times Forum in downtown Tampa with excellent seats about 8 rows back from the players bench anticipating the chance to watch a basketball game between the University of South Florida Bulls and the Syracuse University Orange. Granted, the Bulls are not doing very well this year and the Orange have a very good team (ranked 17th nationally at the time of this game, I believe) but knowing the Forum was a step up from the Sun Dome where the bulls usually play and especially knowing my season tickets location in the Forum was going to be courtside instead of 21 rows up in the 2nd level in the Dome where I almost need binoculars to see the game, had me pumped for a good game. I hoped the Bulls felt the same.

Those who know me and my wife are aware that we are among the vertically challenged. Not defeated, just challenged.  Dunking a basketball by either one of us, for instance, is not in the realm of possibilities, even if she was seated on my shoulders and I was standing on a ten foot ladder. On the other hand, both of us would literally tower over the Roloffs on TLC's Little People BIG WORLD. The only reason I bring up this stature issue at all is to clarify our predicament as spectators in most sports venues.  If someone especially tall is seated in front of either one of us our view can be obstructed.  Someone short or tall and wearing a silly hat (Green Bay Packer Cheese Heads come to mind) we pretty much have to try to view between the head gaps or resort to hoping we can look up at a jumbotron sort of apparatus to see things. Stadium seating in movie theatres is wonderful! Flat surface seating, like in a gymnasium or meeting hall, might as well stand in the back row because that's the only way you're (as in my wife and I) going to see anything.  In the Forum, designed for hockey games, the first level seating is gradually inclined down to court level. So when we got to our seats for Bulls vs. Orange we were sitting pretty. The drawback was there was a large contingent of Syracuse fans present, most clad in Orange, and many exuberantly cheering, well before and into and throughout the game. The bonus to offset being in the minority was that when we sat down 30 minutes before the opening jump ball, two rows immediately in front of us were empty!  No stupid hats in front of us. No head gaps to peer around and in between. Perfect seats.

Until five minutes before the game started. The two empty rows filled in immediately. Orange fans, all wearing orange shirts. All carrying Budweiser "deeps" (16 oz cans). Mostly guys, a few girls. All young but obviously past student age, I'd guess mid to late twenties.  All pretty buzzed and all exhibiting that high level of exuberance we noticed in most of the Syracuse fans we saw that day. I don't hold that against them; they have a great team that gives them reason to cheer and be excited.  Upon the opening jump ball it became clear that viewing the game, even from excellent seats was going to be a problem. Pretty much every basket scored by the Orange was rewarded by their fans standing, issuing high-five hand slaps, toasting with deeps, and in general whooping it up pretty good.  When I complained that they were obstructing our view they pretty much laughed me off and ignored my protests.  They did manage to settle down a little bit but that was probably a combination of the Orange running up so many points over the Bulls and the crowd in front of us consuming vast quantities of beers. I think they pretty much grew weary of arguing with an old short curmudgeon whining about not being able to see around them. At one point my complaint was answered by the question, "What is your problem?" When I responded that my problem was that I didn't object to them standing and cheering after an especially nice play, but I didn't understand why they had to stand up after every basket!

Syracuse fan (on left) stands even during a time out!
But one of them was kind enough to explain it to me. In very simple terms that even an old man like me could understand. He said, "We're standing because this is a basketball game, Man! Basketball!"  Thus, the basketball spectators have spoken.