27 September 2011

Tactical Error

In one his last public appearances before his death of cancer at the age of 56, musician Warren Zevon told David Letterman "I might have made a tactical error in not going to a physician for 20 years."

Now, as I sit trying to figure out my next step in this oh so short life, I'm thinking the same thing. Except it was college I made the tactical error with. Unless I get a huge break, some sort of odd good luck (does that really exist? Depends, I guess, on how you view the world), I'm never going to have enough money to live comfortably, let alone just live.

On one hand, I got some friends who want me to go back to school to either get an associates degree or BA. How I pay for this in the age of cutbacks is beyond me. While going back may help me a bit, it sure is not a guarantee of a better job with extra money. Which also proves nothing in life is a guarantee. Still, after 30 years of working, with all my experience, I still looked as a failure because I  never went to college.

I am, of course, the one to blame for that. I had the chance, but I squandered it. Now, I'm paying for it. And will continue to pay for it until I deem at what time it is safe to leave.


No Jobs man...

I've read that both Macy's and Toys R Us will be hiring thousands of temporary workers for the upcoming holiday season. Which is good for some of my fellow Borders workers who were making maybe $8 to $9 an hour. But in reality, for me, those jobs are not going to work out for me.

Mostly, because I was pulling in close to $14 an hour. And that means if I was to take one of those lower paying jobs, when they lay me off after the holiday season, my unemployment insurance will be revalued at that lower pay scale rate.

But then again, I'm not sure I'll be able to find a job that paid me what Borders did. Or even more. It sounds defeatist, but my instincts tell me I should be happy with a $10 at most. I read every day about the poor job outlook, and how more companies are letting employees go due to an economy stalled because no one wants to take any risks anymore. And let's not be fooling ourselves, most of our problems stem from Washington's huge American Schism. This unfocused, pointless debate about debt ceiling, or jerks like Ron Paul calling even minimum wage damaging to economic growth is dooming us to a cycle of recession after recession.

Corporate greed  has also taken over, forcing the middle class to tighten their belts. I've abandoned so much in the weeks before Borders went under, and have continued with it since being let go 2 weeks ago. But I fear I loose so much more before I end up just giving up and taking a job at Target (which brings up the question: Target or death? Sadly, I'm not thinking Target).

In the end, as I'm told by many, its up to me to change my life, no one can do it for you. And while I agree with such a statement, I realize the tools for that change does not exist in my life. At 49, I've screwed up my life so much, I'm losing the will to wake up in the morning.

I know this self pity is pointless, but Jebus, this is how I feel. Don't discount it as whiny, childish crap. It's real, it exists.

Fuck on a fuck stick.

23 September 2011

Books: How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe by Charles Yu (2010)

I am not going to say I completely understand what this book was about, though it’s safe to say had I not read some Jasper Fforde or Kurt Vonnegut, I would be completely confused. Still, the novel is clever, and funny and filled with a lot of 20th Century ideals about science fiction.

Every day in Minor Universe 31 people get into time machines and try to change the past. That's where Charles Yu, time travel technician, steps in. He helps save people from themselves. Literally. When he's not taking client calls, Yu visits his mother and searches for his father, who invented time travel and then vanished. The key to locating his father may be found in a book. It's called How to Live Safely in a Science Fictional Universe, and somewhere inside it is information that will help him. It may even save his life.

The novel is not linear, nor is really plotted out. But, I think, that’s the point. Charles spends most of the book hiding in his time machine, not really working, and dwelling on his childhood relationship with his father. And that is about as far as the plot goes, but by adding a sort philosophical conversations about time travel, about life, about the choices we make and don’t make, author Yu gives us a glimpse into the soul of how we see our past. Thus we have an often razor-sharp, at times hilarious, and very touching novel about a son searching for his father .

22 September 2011

15 September 2011

The 180

This guy attempts -pretty clearly - to demonstrate why some critics (I'm guessing real film students as well) why The Dark Knight's best action sequence makes little sense.

In the Cut, Part I: Shots in the Dark (Knight) from Jim Emerson on Vimeo.

Books: One of Our Thursdays is Missing by Jasper Fforde (2011)

In most ongoing series, if the author does not change things enough, the series has a tendency to become bogged down in too much ennui, Piers Anthony Xanth novels as an example. On the other hand, too much change can lead to fans abandoning the series, like Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series which introduced too many character’s that took over for the main ones of the earlier books.

Japer Fforde, it appears, is trying to keep his ideas from getting too boring by shuffling the deck from time to time. In the fourth book of the Thursday Next series, he jumped ahead two years, from alternate 1985 to 1987. In the fifth book, Thursday Next: First Among Sequels, he moves even further in time, to 2002. Now in the sixth novel, One of Our Thursdays is Missing, he shifts from the first person narration of our hero to the “written” version of our hero.

The BookWorld has undergone a transformation from Great Library format to a Geographic format. Sounding like a theoretical version of a Dyson Sphere, the BookWorld now has all the forms of writing organized into clusters of islands that are divided into genres. Related genres are located near to each other and trade text, plot devices, metaphors and so on. All is not well, however, with a genre war about to erupt. Jurisfiction agent Thursday Next is due to chair peace talks in a week’s time only she has vanished in suspicious circumstances. Worried about the consequences of the impending battle Jurisfiction turns to the written Thursday Next who is living in a small corner of speculative fiction, maintaining her five book series and trying to keep her readers and fellow characters happy. She is asked to investigate the mysterious break-up of a vanity book that was being transported across BookWorld, leaving a trail of narrative debris in its wake. Soon the Men in Plaid, agents of the Council of Genres, are trailing after her, her understudy is upstaging her, and her Designated Love Interest is revealed to have a murderous back story. Written Thursday has to live up to the reputation of her real world counterpart and save the day or risk being erased from the BookWorld.

What Fforde has done, by changing the personality of Thursday, yet still have Thursday narrate the tale, thus not changing the perspective of the series, is rather brilliant. It’s the same Thursday, really, but very different one at that. In some ways, this Thursday is like how Doctor Who changes the Doctor, different actor, but still the same Doctor. Confusing I know.

Fforde explains it better: “Oddly, I preferred Thursday when she was still unsure and afraid of the BookWorld. Where everything was dangerous and perplexing and death, disaster, danger and mayhem lurked at every corner. The Thursday we saw in First Among Sequels felt a bit too superhuman and a bit world-weary so I wanted to get back to a Thursday who had more problems than experience. The written Thursday fits the bill perfectly.”

The series continues its puns (a hotel called Inn Uendo), its take on all the genres of the written word (poking fun at Photography, where B&W and Color remain bitterly divided and others) and what it means to live in a world where everything has a purpose, where nothing’s meaningless. Fforde also gives the written Thursday a chance to visit the RealWorld and gives the reader a new way to look at our lives.

The only issue I have, is perhaps small, but shows while Ffords creativeness appears to have no boundaries, he has a tendency to get bogged down it as well, which effectively makes the novel less I-need-to-turn-the-page-to-find-out-what-happens-next. But your still astounded at his cleverness, how me makes reading, its concepts as such, more enjoyable. As a matter of fact, I would say that anyone who wants to study literature, but does not understand those concepts, might actually learn something.

12 September 2011

Slowly, then all at once

Ernest Hemingway said that about a man going broke.

In an article on CNN about Borders Book demise, it uses that quote to sort of tale where a once great book company petered out after 40 years. After 14 years of working with them, being part of the system that began falling apart as soon as I joined them, you hear things, you learn things.

The first part of the article talks history of the company, the love of its devoted staff and how being purchased by Kmart helped the company expand by giving it a financial flow. But it's demise was sown when that company spun Borders and Waldenbooks (which it already had) off into their own company and went public.

"When you become a public company, you have certain obligations, and in my opinion, when those responsibilities and obligations are not managed correctly, (they) lead to what we have now," said Robert Teicher, who was the chain's longtime fiction buyer.

"When Borders expanded, they brought in executives from supermarkets and department stores (all of whom insisted they were readers), and the result was a shuffle of titles and more downsizing against a backdrop of financial engineering, which only seemed to make matters worse," Public Affairs founder Peter Osnos wrote in The Atlantic.

The company spent millions launching a website in 1998 only to hand over the shipping to rival Amazon.com three years later, which is sort of like giving your house keys to thieves. By the time the company wrestled Borders.com back in 2008, the damage was irreversible. They also spent untold amounts of money renovating stores and then decided to create a model for the "store of the future," with different fixtures and carpeting -- none of which, according to long-time Borders Store 1 GM Joe Gable, could be retrofitted to Borders' 500 stores.

"They spend millions developing this stupid ('store of the future') and then six months later they pull the plug on it," he said. "So picture the money just pouring out. Then they get a new guy in. I say, 'What do we need?' (He says,) 'We need a new idea for a store.' 'Well, what could that possibly be?' 'Let's call it "the concept store." ' Let's have more consultants, and let's develop totally different fixtures -- metal fixtures -- and let's have a different layout, this time instead of a racetrack, people will find things by bumping into them!"

The revolving door that took over Ann Arbor - 4 CEOs in just the last five years alone - was another sign the company was loosing its direction. Longtime staff members were jumping ship mainly, it seemed, because no one wanted to listen, to understand that what Borders needed was not glitter balls or gardening tools, but books.

So, as Teicher noted, you began to see a "devolution" of customer service and selection. Gable added "Not only did they not pay attention to the selection,they continued to downgrade the selection by emphasizing in its place things that were nonbook items. The point was that Borders was completely indistinguishable from B&N and the competition. The books that you could buy at Borders you could buy at Costco -- cheaper."

In the end, Gable concluded "The problem with the new guys is they tried to take the book business, which is complex and boring, and make it simple and sexy."

But beyond the financial blunders -the over expansion, the devotion to CD and then DVDs when it was becoming very obvious it was time to retire them, and the huge turnover within Ann Arbor and even its older stores - the huge, near glacial reaction to the e-readers is very telling. When Amazon introduced the Kindle in 2005, it was the only thing on the market. B&N joined the digital devices by introducing The Nook, a little over two years later. Borders waited until 2010, and partnered with the Canadian company Kobo instead of creating their own reader (even though we did carry the Sony e-reader starting in 2008, but that device was just way over priced).

Last Christmas, Borders offered seven versions of e-readers/tablets. Only problem with that -beyond giving the customers too much choice - was they were all dubious devices that worked a few weeks and died, or did not work at all. It was an embarrassment and forced staff members to hawk products they knew were crap.

So since the liquidation began in mid July, the words of why we where closing were on the lips of many. And no, it was not because of the e-readers or even Amazon. While they certainly play a role in this near Greek Tragedy, the seeds of its death were planted back in the late 1990s. It was a slow to start, but it accelerated in the last few years due a lot to ineptitude on the part of the leaders of this company. They could not, or would not, try to understand what their customers wanted.

Raping the company was the only thing some within Ann Arbor understood. And now, it is done.

Say goodnight, Gracie.

10 September 2011


A nation was brought together as one, but after 10 years we've divided our selves again, along an ideology line this time. We've proven we can come together against a common foe, but we still can't overcome our dislike for individuality -even though we say we want it.

07 September 2011

So Long and Thanks for all the Books

On Tuesday, September 13, my 14 year stay with Borders comes to an end.

While I'm bitter, angry and worried about where I'll go from here, I'm not sure I can just pack these feelings away like an old suit, and go out into our troubled economy and find a new job. Borders was comfortable, safe and I was complacent. My sister put it best by saying I was in an abusive relationship with the company, sort of like a battered wife.

Everyday I would go in, complain about the lack of support from upper management, shake my head at the latest policy change that was going to save the company, knowing that the people in Ann Arbor had no idea what they were doing. Well, beyond trying to plug a gasping slash in its bow with a cork from a wine bottle. I was abused verbally, though never directly -it was the frontline workers fault for not selling a Make Title. And I was told that as a single person, I could not change anything. But I still worked my ass off for them, cleaned their store, sorted the product, shelved it and kept it in order so customers and staff could find what the computer said was here.

I would leave, tired, feeling dejected and wishing I could leave (or get fired) from Borders. And the next day, I would start the cycle again.

For 14 years, 5 locations in two states.

Now, on Monday, my abuser dies (though I'll be back on Tuesday to clean up its mess one last time) and I have find a new job. I realize I need to remain upbeat, positive and a go-getter to show a prospective company that I'm the right person for the position. I have to ignore the fact that there could be 20 or more people vying for the same job (most who are over qualified for it as well), and hope that I have the thing, the right sort of energy that puts me over everyone else.

Borders failures are moot in the end. I know that, but I can't help but think we never needed to get here, to have this company end after 40 years. But it is what is is, I guess.

The best part is I have friends who are willing to help me achieve a new goal -even if at this late juncture, I don't know what it is.

And for that, I'm blessed.