Borders is gone and it seems like so many people have an opinion about what went wrong. Well, I have no idea how things could have turned out better, but I do have some fond memories of Borders and the wonderful people they employed. This is what finally prompted me to write a love letter to Jeff.
There is a man that changed my life in a very distinct and profound way. I’ve never told this man how I’ve felt about him, nor have I actually ever met him. I feel compelled to write this now that Borders is finally closing. This is my letter to you Borders Jeff:
People talk about spending their formative years inside dusty old libraries poring over tomes with cracking spines. They make it sound so grandiose and romantic. I guess for a kid with a big reading habit this might be ideal but it wasn’t my mug o’ beer. My literary education took place in a building littered with hipsters, pseudo-intellectuals, and cups of Seattle’s Best coffee- all set to a soundtrack that would have made Lilith Fair attendees cringe. Sounds like a place that vaguely resembles hell, right? Well, I loved it. Borders was a Mecca for a suburban kid who lived in a tourist town with no sense of identity or culture. I fondly remember being in a high school freshman English Lit class and we were asked to name our favorite novel (Interstellar Pig, anyone?), when the cute girl in class raised her hand and announced that The Unbearable Lightness of Being was the book that changed her life. I scribbled the title down in my black and white marble notebook, vowing to get the book and impress her with my vast literary knowledge.
The next weekend I convinced my Mom to take me to this newly built store called Borders. I insisted that there was a book I needed if I wanted to get ahead in my Lit class (in retrospect, I guess it wasn’t a complete lie). I burst through the doors and was amazed. This place had it all- music, movies, and books. It was nerd heaven. I set upon my search for The Unbearable Lightness of Being and scoured shelf after shelf but there was not a copy to be found. How could this be? I mean this place looked like it housed every novel ever published! To say I was bummed would be the understatement of the millennia. Finally, seeing my sullen state, my Mom went to the counter and asked if the title was in stock. The clerk directed us to the ‘Employee Picks’ section and there, sitting on the shelf labeled Jeff, were a few copies of The Unbearable Lightness of Being. I snatched it up along with two other ‘Jeff’s Picks’ because if Jeff had the same taste as Dream Girl, well, then I was in (this was before Nick Hornby taught me life’s greatest lesson, “It’s not what you like but what you are like that’s important.”).
After a few months my infatuation with Dream Girl waned and I never did finish that pretentious piece of drivel known as The Unbearable Lightness of Being (I do understand that I simply do not have the mental capacity and fortitude required to understand such a great literary work so please, please, please no hate mail) but out if this failed romance came a new love affair. It was a love affair with Borders, and more importantly ‘Jeff’s Picks’. Over the years I spent countless hours in Borders as I devoured everything that Jeff put on his shelf. He introduced me to authors like Welsh, Selby, and Thompson. This was shit that none of my friends were reading. Here I was, a kid who thought Jurassic Park was edgy and now I’m reading Last Exit to Brooklyn! Those few months were some of the most liberating times in my life. It opened up a whole new world to me. Borders became a safe haven for me- a beacon of comfort, if you will. Later in high school when my friends and I would meet up to go out for the evening, we would always meet up at Borders to formulate our plans. It just seemed like a welcoming setting. Everyone always felt at ease in Borders and there were nights when our grand plans dissolved and we would sit around the Borders café discussing cinema, music and fiction.
After high school, I left to for college and the fondness I felt toward Borders and ‘Jeff’s Picks’ got filed away in my subconscious. I would return home once in awhile but my time was spent catching up with friends and family so my Borders trips became a thing of the past. Then in the fall of my junior year, everything changed. I found myself at home for a weekend to celebrate my mother’s birthday. It was a Saturday night and I realized that I was without plans so I decided to take a ride out to Borders. I guess I did it purely out of raw nostalgia but as soon as I pulled into that parking lot everything felt right with the world. After entering I instinctively made my way to the ‘Employee Picks’ and, much to my shock, I was staring directly at Jeff’s shelf. How could he still be working there? I immediately went to the counter and asked for Jeff and was met with a look of confusion. The girl behind the counter said that she didn’t know of any Jeff that worked there. I quickly presented her with the fact he had his own shelf on the ‘Employee’s Picks’ display and she simply said, “Oh, he must be new then.” Frustrated with the conversation, I returned to Jeff’s shelf and saw that he was feeling a bit festive and updated the picks with his Halloween favorites. The usual suspects were all present with books by Poe, Lovecraft and King but what really caught my eye was a novel simply titled, The Girl Next Door. I picked up the book out of respect for Jeff and the years of education he had given me but what I got was an experience that would forever change how I looked at fiction. I can look to this book as the turning point in my reading evolution. After all these years of giving me great suggestions, Jeff had saved his greatest gift for last. That was my last trip to that particular Borders but it still holds a very special place in my heart. It will forever be remembered as the place where I learned the beauty and power of the printed word.
I hope that Jeff stumbles upon this one day so he can see what a profound influence he (and all of those down-to-earth bookstore employees everywhere) has had over me and my reading. It is greatly appreciated and I am forever in your debt!
I encourage everyone else to share their Borders memories with us in the comments section. Lets get a fun lil’ dialogue going!