Tuesday, March 1, 2011


You meet them when working in retail: The Little Old Ladies from Hell. They come in all ages and sexes. Sometimes they're sweet and clueless. Other times they're mean and demonic. You can always tell if you're dealing with them, because they have a knack for either causing everything to come to a grinding halt, or for throwing it all into diabolical chaos.

Sometimes they fill the store. This has happened more and more as Borders deteriorates. It's as if a bus were dropping them off at the front door. I imagined that bus, a smoking mass of scorched and molten metal, being belched out of a sulphurous sink hole in the desert, bringing them directly from the infernal realm.

They wander the ransacked shelves during the liquidation sale. Like many of our other customers, they are lost and dazed. Lonely people, like Eleanor Rigby.

There's one Little Old Lady from Hell in particular who is especially annoying.

She calls the store just about every day, and keeps whoever was unlucky enough to answer for a minimum of twenty minutes. She starts out with a legitimate question, then shifts to the story of her life and what's on her mind – which isn't much, or very interesting, but she can go on forever.

At home she has a picture of Jesus that she talks to. Starts the day telling him good morning, and keeps going. Drives her husband crazy.

The second day of the liquidation sale she showed up, talking loud. She can't just babble to herself like the schizophrenics who come in. No, she needs someone, like her picture of Jesus, on whom to focus her yammering.

Her concerns were different this time. Instead of her usual subject of undefinable spiritual angst, she was going on and on about Borders.

I did my best to ignore her as she lambasted people in the check-out line.

Later, I was turned loose to try to make the shelves not look like a disaster area. And there she was, blocking my path, with a book in her hand. She has learned that if she asks us about a product, we customer service drones have to talk to her.

Waving the book – something from the Christian Inspiration section – she looked at me, opened her mouth, and tried to speak:

Where . . . I . . . can I . . . I can't . . . I want . . .”

I frowned, started to walk away.

This book! I can't find what I want to say! Where can I find . . . more?”

Ma'am, everything we have is on the shelves. If there were more copies of that book, they would have been next to it. And now that we're going out of business, we can't order anything. We can't even have other stores put things on hold for you.”

But . . . but . . . .”

Ma'am, if you aren't here to buy anything, I don't have to talk to you. I have work to do.” I turned around, reached for a shelf that looked like it had been rearranged with a baseball bat.

She gasped, then it burst forth:

There's something wrong with America if Borders Books is closing! Is it Obama? I know he's got to be behind it! It's the end of the world! Civilization is over! A third world war is going to start in 2012! What are we going to do?”

What I did was walk away, straighten the books on the shelves that I knew would just fall over again when I was finished with them.

Later, she trapped a biker by the door and harangued him for over half an hour.

I sort of feel sorry for her. Her picture of Jesus doesn't have the answer, and there's no bus to take her back to Hell.


  1. Now there's an idea. Instead of shutting down Borders stores, they should get government grants to act as mental health facilities. Between the crazy old ladies, the Cat Piss Men, and the staffers who figure that working there is their big chance at working in the publishing business, these would fill a valuable service by keeping them off the streets.

  2. Working at Borders, I kept getting opportunities to be an unlicensed psychotherapist. Not to mention the requested for legal and medical advice. Nobody ever asked if I was qualified to do such things. I often had to insist that I was not.

  3. We had a theory at our store that eventually our only customers would be people who were too old or feeble-minded to use a computer to shop online. Now that we're closing I'll never see it come to pass.

    Some how I'm not saddened by that ...