How I Quit Working at Borders

Now that Border’s has gone all Chapter 11 and has shuttered all their stores. I’m reminded of the brief stint I had as a Border’s Employee. It was one of the worst experiences I’ve ever endured. I don’t say that in an ironic “oh my god this job is SO boring” kind of way. I say it in a panic & anxiety causing fit of remembered rage.

I also remember the speech I got from my training manager Tim. He was short, barely five feet and balding extremely early. He had the full Picard haircut. During our training, back in the year of 1999 he sat with one knee raised, leaning on a palette of books and told us, “don’t worry about the book business. There’s lot of digital books and reading online nowadays, but one thing that people will never stop wanting, is books. The smell, the feel, the weight of books, is something that has stood the test of time and will continue to do so for long into the future.”

Thanks Tim, here in 2017 I read on my iPhone/Kindle and Borders is only the harbinger of things to come. Things change.

Tim wasn’t my problem, he was actually very nice. So of course he immediately left our store, shortly after arriving. That’s when I met Ian. Ian was tall, lanky, unshaven and smelled of hipster, well before I or anyone knew what the hell a hipster was. He wore skinny jeans before it was cool and was a bit too pale.

I had been at Border’s for about 2–3 weeks. After recently getting laid off from my job with the Military (which is another story) and in desperation I applied for anything I could get. I nailed the job at borders and was so happy to be employed again I wasn’t even resentful at being a cog in the corporate machine and a retail jockey. I was trained in music and books, learned a little, read a lot, used my employee discount a lot.

Yes for a bit there, I really actually enjoyed working at Borders. But then Ian came. Like a cold winter it came on slowly.

You see, Ian didn’t like me.

This wasn’t at first apparent. You expect that someone gets to be a manager at a company by either knowing someone (he didn’t) or caring a lot about your company and performance (he didn’t). He was petty, but he masked that behind a facade of professionalism.

It started when he accused me of not working fast enough. I used to stock the music on this rickety metal wheeled cart. Much like a rack from a library. I filled it with hundreds of CD’s (remember those?) and put them away on the shelves and it took about an hour or so to empty a whole cart. I later found out that it took most people about 2 hours to actually put away a whole one. Ian said I wasn’t fast enough. This complaint never stopped.

At first I took his criticism to heart and I stepped up my game. I got to the point where I could get a entire cart put away, accurately, in 30 minutes. A store record.

But then… my breaks were too long.

I got two 15 minute breaks a day. Back then I smoked so that was 2 cigarettes and back inside in 12–13 minutes. I had no urge to take any longer. I was always back early.

One day Ian walks up and says in a condescending tone that sounded a bit shrill and forced, says “I noticed your break ran a little long”. I shrugged and put it up to my own mistake. The next day I set my alarm for 10 minutes and came back right on the dot, five minutes early. Again Ian strolls by, faux casually, “Looks like your break went a bit long again”. I animatedly defended myself, referencing my watch, the time, the physics of the universe, the passage of only 10 minutes. Ian shrugged and said I must have made a mistake.

The next day I actually checked out with Ian, “hey it’s 8:05 Ian, I’m heading out to break” , he shrugged noncommittally.

I returned 10 minutes later and said, “It’s now 8:15 Ian” he looked as his watch and said “well you left a little before 8pm, you’re still running late” I pointed out his error to utter apathy and indifference. This complaint never stopped.

Though this may not be the most interesting of stories, so far, but it’s important to note. I wasn’t being insolent. I wasn’t slacking off. I wasn’t doing anything other than keeping my head down and trying to save up enough money to move back home. It became very clear over time. That Ian… really fucking hated me. I never quite did figure it out. Maybe it was because I was from California and he was from Jacksonville, born and raised. Maybe it’s because he didn’t like my earnest hard work and polite refusal to swallow his shit. I don’t know.

Once when Ian had scheduled me 10 shifts in a row that ended late (midnight) and started early (7am) — a term we called the ‘reacharound‘ — I finally went to the General Manager and complained about my schedule. She gave Ian a ‘talking to’ and shortly after came back and said it had all been a scheduling mistake. I felt disinclined to argue with no evidence so I accepted this explanation. Ian pulled me into his office about 15 minutes later and gave me his most honest speech ever.

He closed the door to his office, I glanced at the screen on the wall that showed a view of the stores security cameras and flirted briefly with the idea that maybe Ian had seen me do something embarrassing. But dismissed it. “You went to the General Manager” he said, sharp and accusingly. “Yes?” I replied with a questioning tone. He paced a few times in his cramped office before straightening his shoulders and with no preamble said “I don’t like you Adam, I want you to quit, or preferably be fired, and I’m going to make it happen”.

I was in shock, I finally asked why, why was I meant to be fired. His only reply “I don’t like you”. I told him that was fine, that we could not cross paths, that we could still get our jobs done and work. I had to move away soon and I’d be out of his hair forever in a month or two. “Not soon enough” was his only reply. I gave up at that point even pretending to listen or care about what Ian said. I left his office with my head hung in shame. A deep shame in myself, shame for my willingness to let this happen. That I was so helpless, so desperate for work and money that had no other option than to just walk away and come back for another day of this.

There are plenty of other details I could use to explain how Ian tortured me day to day. How he changed my schedule to match his so he could ride me meticulously. How he wrote me up for being 6 minutes EARLY several times (true). How he verbally and emotionally broke me down and abused me. How he gaslighted me at every turn. How he actually made invitations to his birthday party for every single employee down to the cafe staff and general manager but not for me.

How he accused me of being lazy, slovenly. How I worked 10 times as hard as any other employee there to prove him wrong. If Ian were smart enough to have manipulated that level of work out of me, out of every employee, Borders would never have closed. Needless to say Ian only got worse, more manipulative, more vindictive.

Finally I had my ticket back to California and I went in and put in my 2 weeks notice. Ian took this with a shrug, as if he couldn’t care less. I shrugged too and went back to work. Relieved that it was almost finally over. when my last 3 remaining days were in front of me. Ian pulled me inside his office right after I walked in the door.

Corporate policy at Borders was strict, maybe it had a hand in why they lost the battle of the books down the road, too rigid and inflexible. I don’t know. But if you were 6 minutes late OR early to a shift you could be punished/written up. While this almost never happened to a lot of my coworkers; it was regularly turned into a debacle for me. Ian decided this technicality was all he needed.

“You were 6 minutes late last week” he said smugly. I looked blankly at him. Wondering if I was in for another lecture just days before I was going to leave the company anyway. He continued, “according to our corporate policy, you get a certain amount of points for being late, depending on the severity of the infraction and the total of those points, we can elect to either write you up a third time, or let you go. We are letting you go.”

It took a full few seconds for it to sink in before I replied, “You’re firing me?” I hazarded. He nodded. You could see the barely restrained smile, pulling at the corner of his mouth. He had won. I took another minute of silence. I straightened up, not realizing I was slouching before. I looked him in the eye and extended my hand. “Well, it’s been a pleasure working for you and I hope there are no hard feelings.”

Ian looked at my hand like a live snake, complete confusion filling his eyes. He started to speak, stopped, and started again. “Th — thank you, for being professional about this” he looked around uncomfortably, clearly he’d expected more and was thrown off-balance. He shook my hand for all of a nanosecond. “I’ll let you gather your things and say your goodbyes and let me know if you need anything…”. I nodded and thanked him again and told him I would get my backpack and check out with him on the way out the door. He left his office and headed to the cafe, bemused, seemingly a bit lost.

I quickly closed the door silently behind him, sliding the heavy deadbolt shut.

The sheer petty vengeance of Ian had finally cracked me. I’m a regular guy. I’m fairly intelligent, hard working, and do what I’m told. I don’t make scenes and I’ve been fired before, but this was war. This was all out revenge. I couldn’t stand by and let another person fall under the bureaucratic steamroller that was Ian and his little vendettas. I had to do something. Trash his office? Go through his things? Shit on his desk?! Time was short, and all of this seemed small time and small-thinking.

Suddenly it hit me.

One of the most frustrating things about this experience, is that Ian was in good with the General Manager, even some of the other higher ups .He seemed to know exactly who to schmooze and who to ignore. So while my coworkers all understood and commiserated, the customers, the managers, and anyone who could do anything about it, remained oblivious. I picked up the phone and dialed Intercom #Zero on the handset. This opens a channel to the entire store.

I took a deep breath — and across the very big and loud intercom system, I said:

“Attention Borders customers and employees, I’d like to draw your attention to Ian in the cafe area right now. You’ll notice him for his bright blue shirt and having his head so far up his ass it seems physically impossible. He’s a tiny-dicked vengeful and petty human being who has made the last 5 months of my life and many others, a living hell. He has fucked with me at every turn, sabotaged my schedule to match his, threatened me, lied to get me in trouble and taken advantage of numerous technicalities to his own petty ends while pretending to be a better person than he is. He’s not helpful, or nice and I wouldn’t suggest you ever have any dealings with him ever again, as he is a mean-spirited piece of shit, and I will be overwhelmingly glad to never see him again…”

By this time the store was going batshit. Mothers were covering their children's ears (sorry) and managers and coworkers were staring around them in slack-jawed wonder. Because the security viewers were right next to me I could see this all unfold in front of me. While I orated my final borders intercom speech with the enthusiasm of a trained thespian, to a riveted crowd. Ian and the general manager were frantically checking every phone in the store and trying to break my intercom link. At one point they actually came and rattled the door of Ian’s office and I heard the exchange, “No, I locked it!” — which obviously wasn’t true but they moved on.

I concluded my brief speech,

“…Thank you for being great coworkers and customers, Fuck You Ian, and thank you for shopping at Borders”

– *screech* I shut off the intercom.

I snagged my backpack on the way out and walked out through pandemonium, it was like the fucking Fourth of July indoors, customers leaving, employees frantically explaining, Ian and the Manager screaming at each other. After leaving the equivalent of a customer-service Hiroshima, I pushed my way out the front door. Looking up, ahead, forward. People might have stared, maybe no one noticed me leaving. I don’t know. I didn’t look back.

A few days later I got a call from a legal team who asked me my side of this ‘story’ I told them in detail everything that happened, they said they would get back to me, and hung up. After that I was on my way back to California. On my arrival I got another phone call from some lawyer attached to Borders. They were frantically trying to get me to basically not make this a lawsuit. He said all in a rush and desperate to convince me, “You don’t need to worry about any of this, there’s no charges and the employee in question is under investigation, I just wanted to let you know, you don’t need to worry about any of this…”

My only reply, “Thanks, I won’t” and hung up.