In honor of Labor Day, a short work history

The magic elixir getting many an office dweller through the afternoon

So, it’s Labor Day weekend. A holiday celebrating the American worker for his or her contributions to our wonderful nation.

And you know what that means . . . three day weekend! (Actually, four in my case. Not to brag.)

I got my first job at a craft store the summer before I started college, ringing up skeins of yarn and picture frames and artificial flowers to the tune of a sweet $6.50 an hour. It’s funny to think of that now, remembering how I’d be on my feet for eight hours and earn only $52 before taxes.

That was lots of work for not lots of cash, but it felt like tons of money to a kid who’d never earned her own.

It was a fun job. A crazy job. A silly job. A job at which I once accidentally smashed a glass shelf and saw my life flash before my eyes, and a place that kept me buying so many stickers and cupcake liners that I basically worked for free. (The same was true at Borders only, you know, books.)

My time at Michael’s stretched on for years, mostly part-time, as I got an internship at the newspaper where I now work and beyond. I was logging some serious days, though “serious” meant something different to me at 20 than it does at 28. (And, I’d imagine, what it will at 30 or 40.)

I finally quit the craft store because I got an internship in D.C., and my summers were filled with reading Jonathan Safran Foer on long commutes and impromptu phone interviews that made my stomach hurt and seeing the city and walking unsteadily in heels. And trying to be a grown-up. And not quite succeeding.

Though I was only there three months, my time with the Washington Examiner — now shuttered, sadly — was one of those nebulous “formative experiences” you don’t appreciate at the time . . . but when you’re looking back, wondering how you ended up where you are, it comes rushing back. Those were days that mattered. They taught you something.

At the end of my summer internship, I jumped to Borders. I was there for years, reading and assisting and stocking. That was an awesome job.

And for a while, I worked two jobs. I started as an assistant editor at the paper where I’ve worked full time since college graduation, once spending my days laying out editorial and nights working part-time at Borders’ information desk. I probably would have gone on that way, working two jobs and running like a madwoman, except I got promoted to editor at the paper and we got a new manager at Borders. And he wasn’t too impressive. And he kept messing up my schedule.

All in all, I’ve been a member of the work force for a decade. Ten years of my life spent behind cash registers or information desks, computers and notepads. I’m fortunate to say that I love what I do each day and am continually thankful for the opportunities I’ve been given but, well . . . let’s just say Labor Day comes at a good time.

And what have I learned through it all?

Working — especially in an office — gives you experience with, um, varying personalities. To survive, you master the art of diplomacy . . . and frequently get used to biting your tongue. For office dwellers such as myself, you keep a schedule. You stick to the schedule. You get organized, keep track of deadlines. In time, you decipher the vague requests and commands of superiors to get the job done right and quickly.

You develop habits, like afternoon coffee (or tea — a must!) with coworkers, or slipping out for your lunch break at 12:15 sharp. If you weren’t a creature of habit before, you may find yourself slipping into unalterable routines and like things “done a certain way.” I’m so particular about my desk — and my computer — that I can tell if a single pen has been used or misplaced, or if my stapler is at an odd angle.

Silly things. Dumb things that happen when you’re seated in the same spot for eight hours a day.

Or maybe it’s just my OCD typing.

But really, I like my job. I like working. I love having somewhere to go, people that depend on me, a feeling of accomplishment when a reader drops me an email or says hi at a coffee shop. Despite growing up in the same town in which I still live, I didn’t feel a great sense of community until I started work at the community newspaper. It’s given me a sense of belonging — of acceptance — I might not have otherwise discovered.

There are bad days, of course. Rough days. Insanely frustrating days. But on the whole? Since money is necessary and all, I feel fortunate to work with great people doing a job I enjoy . . . and hope to have the ability to do so for a long time to come. (Or roughly 30-ish more years. I’m on the 2045 retirement plan! [Imagine the fun of seeing that on your 401(k). Only three-plus decades to go!])

So happy Labor Day, friends! Whether you’re off on a long weekend or still hitting the salt mines, keep being awesome you.

I’m off for a short vacation and my bridal shower in New York, armed with my camera and fiance! We’re on the road and (hopefully) loving life right about now. Hope everyone enjoys their official end-of-summer soiree, and I’ll see you next week.

With a pumpkin spice latte, of course. It’s time!

My Borders isn’t closing, but I still feel sad

The summer before my senior year of college, I left my internship at a D.C. newspaper and looked for part-time work in my hometown. The natural choice was Borders, a place where I could get paid (paid!) to talk about books all day. The salary was decent; the staff seemed friendly. The lovely aroma of fresh coffee immediately permeated my pores and gave me the extra jolt I was seeking. Both a refuge and solid employment, my gig at Borders seemed like the perfect opportunity.

And it was. The only reason Borders wasn’t my first job ever was due to the 18-and-over employment policy. When I applied for jobs fresh out of high school, I was a 17-year-old kid who wanted spending cash. Getting to work at Borders came three years later and, excited beyond words, I started my part-time shifts with the idea that I would work there until I graduated from college and had to seek out full-time, career-related employment.

Well, I got a full-time job. In 2007, I was hired as an assistant editor at the newspaper where I still work and write. But when the time came to break ties with Borders, offering myself fully to the paper that was my “big girl job,” I just couldn’t do it. The idea of leaving the bookstore was unfathomable.

Most of the time, I loved the people. Even when they were rude and terrible and ignorant. Even when they sought a book with no description other than “it’s blue” or “it’s written by a famous person.” The jolt I received when I actually could find that book — that crazy, elusive, damn-near-impossible book — was a high unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I loved giving recommendations and receiving them from others, watching with understanding as customers’ eyes lit up when describing a favorite read. It felt like magic.

If I thought I knew lots about reading before, working at Borders opened up a whole new world for me. Authors previously undiscovered now littered my shelves, their tomes procured with the awesome employee discount. On the nights I would go straight from my 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. full-time gig at the paper to the store, staying until 11 p.m. or later, I discovered the lovely aroma of coffee and chai tea. I made great friends at Borders, all of us united through our “in the trenches” mentality.

More than anything, I just looked forward to being there. The smell of fresh books, stripped open from heavy palates, was intoxicating. I loved store events like our midnight release party for Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, when I hosted a party for more than 1,000 people and worked until 4 a.m. I loved chatting with other readers and feeding off our mutual love of literature. I met a boyfriend there. Ran into countless friends there.

In our town, which has no other bookstore, Borders is the epicenter of life.

I didn’t want to leave. When I visit the store now and see many familiar faces — you know, minus the whole “you don’t have a bun in the oven, do you?” debacle — I feel a jolt of sadness and whimsy for life back at the bookstore. After receiving a great promotion at the paper, I finally quit my part-time job there in October 2008. I visit often and still feel like, if called upon, I could hop behind the information desk or man a register without trouble. It’s just the sort of job that sticks with you.

On Feb. 16, Borders filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection and announced they would be closing 200 stores (click for full list of store closings). When my dad emailed me that spreadsheet, my stomach dipped down to my shoes. The idea of Borders — our Borders, the site of countless dates and late nights and chats and coffee runs — closing was hideous. It actually made me feel sick.

I’m happy to say, friends, that our Borders in Southern Maryland is safe.

But so many others aren’t.

I understand why this happened. Countless articles have come out about why the chain, once so prominent, is teetering on the edge of extinction. The recession; the rise of e-books; the abundance of cheap books online; Borders failing to keep up with market trends. All of these things make sense. They suck, yes, but they make sense.

But what I can’t understand is a town without a bookstore. If our Borders in Waldorf, Md., had closed, we would be without any book retailer in three counties. There are no independent bookshops peddling anything more than old, dusty paperbacks, and there’s only so much you can find at Target or Wal-Mart. Friends, without a Borders, we would have been book destitute.

And I would have been devastated.

Though we’re out of the red zone, I feel terrible for the cities that are losing their Borders locations — and the employees who are suddenly out of work. I feel bad, too, for the publishers and distributors and authors who are still trying to make a living in a tough business during a tough recession — and how Borders’ closings are affecting them.

I feel sad for the couples who can’t meet at Borders for coffee on a first date or the families who covet their time at the store paging through the children’s section. And who hasn’t spent a lazy Sunday wandering around the store’s bookcases, admiring recent releases and feeling the weight of a hardcover in their hands?

Is everything with the chain sunshine and roses? No, of course not. Sometimes customer service sucks, and I get that. But it doesn’t make me love Borders any less.

I’m hugging my own store a little closer these days. And if yours dodged the bankruptcy bullet, I hope you will, too.

Black Friday madness — and my return to retail

It’s Thanksgiving Eve! A glorious day I sit in anticipation of a four-day weekend, lots of delicious food, time with my friends, family and boyfriend and the opportunity to… shop. This Friday is Black Friday!

Working around Black Friday at the bookstore, 2006!

Working around Black Friday at the bookstore, 2006!

After slaving away in crowded, congested stores since I was a freshman in college, Black Friday is typically a day I look forward to with a mixture of anticipation and fear. It’s a little fun, yes — being insanely busy with bustling people everywhere, the time filling itself without much help from you, selling tons of stuff and hopefully keeping your chain store afloat a little longer. I usually wear red and green, throw on a pretty bell necklace and maybe don a Santa hat (emblazoned with my name in glitter, of course).

Black Friday — so called because it’s the day merchants find themselves “back in the black,” i.e. out of the “red” or debt — has its origins, it seems, in Philadelphia in 1966: the day after Thanksgiving brought so many shoppers to the city and congested traffic so badly, police and locals likened it to the chaos of Black Tuesday, the day the stock market crashed in 1929. Retailers, cab drivers and others in the service industry thought only of the “headaches” Black Friday brought with it, not the potential sales and money-making opportunities.

According to trust Wikipedia, Black Friday is typically not the busiest shopping day of the year — that honor is typically bestowed upon the Saturday before Christmas. Makes sense. Lots of last-minute shoppers out there! Black Friday was the busiest shopping day of the year last holiday, though.

With the economy being what it is, I’m sure this year will be even crazier than usual. And though I left my part-time job at the bookstore in October, I did agree to come pitch in on Friday — I’m working 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., the entire shank of the day. My dad, sister and I are planning on hitting Target, Kohl’s and Best Buy early before I have to meander over to grab a paycheck myself. I haven’t worked at the store in nearly a month, and I’m pretty nervous! It’s one thing to make your triumphant return, and it’s another entirely to make that return on Black Friday. We shall see.

But before I have to worry about working, I’ll be shopping!

Shopping around the Christmas tree

In my office last holiday season.<br />Note the Dwight Schrute magnets!

In my office last holiday season. Note the Dwight Schrute magnets!

Anyone else thinking about starting their Christmas shopping?

I know the economy isn’t exactly in, uh, great shape right now, but the holidays are quickly approaching. October begins the really busy season for most families, and mine is no exception. Birthday season for my uncle, grandmother and cousin Ciara starts this coming Sunday and runs through Oct. 29, and we have my grandparents’ 50th wedding anniversary to celebrate Oct. 25! Then comes Halloween, of course, followed by Thanksgiving and the inevitable rush and crush of the holiday season overwhelming all in its path.

Like many people rushing headlong into the digital age, I plan on doing a lot of online shopping this year. It’s more convenient for me — a woman chained to her desk — to browse around during the day, creating “shopping carts” and whatnot on my favorite sites. Then I get to go home and buy all the loot at home in the evening! And everything comes right to the door.

Plus, it’s just better, in lots of ways — I can find exactly what I’m looking for. If I’m just shopping for me, I might not be too particular — but buying for family and friends requires a little imagination. If I want to find an Incredible Hulk T-shirt in black for the boyfriend, it just may be easier to track one down online than to wander around the mall with the other deranged holiday shoppers.

Speaking of deranged shoppers, we already have our Christmas cards out and stocked at the bookstore (and they’re on sale, too). Even stranger? I’ve already sold quite a few boxes. Everyone complains that retailers “rush” the holidays — and I don’t necessarily disagree, in many cases — but the truth of the matter is that people want to see holiday merchandise. We’ve already received shipments of our glittery tabletop Christmas trees, though I don’t think they’re on display just yet.

Of course, working in said retail, I wind up buying a lot of gifts where I work. Hey, I’m already there — and I get a pretty sweet discount! The lack of book discount a serious consideration I’ll be making when I decide I’m too tired to keep up my schedule anymore. Sadly, that day is probably approaching soon.

Until then, I’ll start socking things away . . .