Book Shows and Bug Spray

Setup Booth

The mountain is greening so quickly. It has been a lush spring with plenty of moisture. The fern brakes have emerged and are maturing. Soon these lovely patches will be dense swaths of green, but when you get closer, the fronds are dainty highly detailed “leaflets.” I’ve always felt ferns were one of nature’s most beautiful creations.

All the gardens are lush and vibrant—mostly shades of green now.

Only a handful of daffodils are left. “Pheasant Eye.”

Pheasant Eye Daffodil

Up here the last of the season.

It is so hard to get away.

House, work, animals, plants, commitments…

But mostly it is my head I must struggle with.

“Have I done everything I need to?”

That stress enables me to work “miracles.”

I’m amazed at how much I got done this week, especially today and yesterday.

I must carry some ancient burden of guilt; some ancestors failed to prepare enough, and doom ensued.

I wonder at all the lifting and toting and shoveling and planting, loading and emptying, washing, packing, putting away, putting out, watering, feeding, turning the water heater off, putting stuff in the freezer that won’t last…

I owed a lot of people money for books from recent activity, and some seemed anxious. I sat at the conference table and handwrote checks and envelopes.

Chuck's Bills

Very 20th century.

Now I’m onboard British Air to Heathrow. Six hours. I hope I can sleep some. Then on to Milan.

I was amazed my body rose to the occasion for all the demands I put upon it.

The last aches that I attribute to my bout with COVID beginning in December, just before Christmas, seem to have passed.

Impressed with my body’s actions.

What did I forget?

Well, nothing to do about that now.

Set the alarms. Turn on the cameras.

Passport? Dollars? Euros? Phone? Adaptor? Chargers? Journal? Laptop? Legal pads? Meds?

I should go away every week.

Imagine all I would accomplish!

“… full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

I will miss the gardens. They are offering surprises every day. The birds. The books.

What books will I miss seeing?

My librarian finished the downstairs book room finally.

It is gorgeous.

But she made a lot of space.

What shall I do with all those empty shelves?

I’ll think of something.

The truckload of composted manure?

I shoveled so much, yet the pickup is still half full or so.

Such heavy work. The stuff absorbs water and gets heavier. It’s been raining. And humid.

I took to shoveling it into an empty plastic tub. That holds about three “scoops.” Then I’d carry the tub to remote inaccessible areas and dump it out. Those beds will be so enriched.

It is such easy labor—if body and mind and spirit cooperate, are willing.

I was willing.

Who knows how many more springs there are?

Who knows how long this body can schlep 50 pound tubs of s*** over and over again?

It is a privilege to be given such an opportunity.

There were a couple dozen tomatoes and peppers I bought a week or two ago. I just hadn’t the time to plant them until—there was no more time.

“Now or never.”

Warehouse Garden

That bed behind them with fireworks of snapdragons? God did that. I planted some snaps years ago. They die off. Reappear here and there after self-seeding. Sad specimens usually. Often in the wrong place.

This year they are having a jubilee.

I strode into the 8 or 10 beds along the south wall of the warehouse. With a heavy hand-adze in hand, I struck the earth time after time, creating holes for the baby tomatoes and peppers. I had some bags of compost nearby and, after tearing them open, sunk my hands into them and withdrew the luscious organic matter and placed it in the holes I’d dug. Then I gently worked the root ball of the pepper or tomato into its new soft, moist home. With luck, enough rain and avoiding an errant rabbit nibbling its stalk down to the soil, I will have the first tomato and pepper before July’s end—if I’m lucky.

I wasn’t dressed for gardening; my clogs were awkward footwear in the uneven soil and stone. The sun was out, and my face was dripping sweat. Employees passed by, going to their cars to eat lunch, likely wondering at their employer bent over the garden beds in his nice spring work clothes.

A couple of managers came out to ask a question. (Really, is there no peace?!) Both are old friends. Both started here as teens—over twenty years ago.

I reached toward the woman’s face with dirt-covered hand.

“You’ve got a bug on your forehead,” I kidded.


So in the last couple of days, I accomplished a week’s work, plus I knocked off some projects I’d avoided for a month or more.

Yep. I should go away every week…

London, Heathrow

A four-hour layover isn’t so bad at Heathrow. I have access to the British Airways Lounge. Though I’m not hungry, I can’t resist a bit of English bacon and a “banger.” There’s nothing like it in the United States that I’ve found.

Free booze? I can resist that. I landed at 6 AM.

My laptop and phone are charging. I’m seated at a high top, overlooking parked planes and a few runways.

I’m tired.

Maybe 4 hours of sleep after two whirlwind getaway days following three days at the Capital Rare Book Fair.

The fair… it was fun, but so much work.

It began Friday evening.

(Actually it began months ago. The prepping—mostly putting aside what we thought were appropriate books was a distraction. The dates—May 4-6—dominated our calendar in many ways, looming like a trip overseas or something.)

Friday finally came. Actually, we loaded the SUV on Thursday afternoon. Thank goodness the 35 or so boxes fit into that so we wouldn’t have to take a van to the heart of DC.

The University Club was a lovely setting. It is on 16th Street, just a few blocks up from the White House.

University Club View of White House

Travis and I went down for a 10:30 load out. Annika left on her own. Traffic was heavy, but I’ve seen it much worse.

When we pulled up in front of the noble edifice, there were other booksellers unloading their wares in the driveway, which arcs in from the street to the front door and then out again.

University Club

I had Travis stay on the curb—just a bit contrary to the confusing posted signage restrictions.

Having no idea how long we’d have to wait, we started unloading onto the sidewalk. Travis began wheeling 4-5 boxes at a time up the drive and in through the front door. I kept pulling stuff out of the SUV.

“How is it?” I asked when he returned after the first load.

“Well, you have to go up 5 or 6 steps and then left down a hall.”

‘Whew!’ I thought. ‘The original plan was for me to come do this part by myself!’

If I’d done that, I’d have been there all day.

As it was, I’d finished last week’s story on the drive down and also caught up on my emails.

I had boatloads of work back in Frederick. If I’d stayed, I’d be there til 8:30.

Annika arrived in her vehicle, and it wasn’t too long until everything was inside, stacked up in front of our booth.

Booth Before Setup

‘It’s a closet,’ I thought. We had the smallest booth downstairs by far. ‘Did one of our neighbors poach into our space?’ I wondered.

It was my responsibility. I hadn’t involved myself in the process at all. Maybe we were saving money?

It was now about noon. Travis had to get back. I needed to get back. Annika would have over 5 hours to set the booth up. I could return around the time the fair opened at 5:30.

So Travis and I headed back through the DC traffic. It was to be the first of four trips I’d make downtown over the weekend.

Back at the warehouse, I plowed through carts of books mostly. I needed to process as many as possible before I left for Italy the following week.

The blog got published.

I changed out of warehouse attire and into khakis and an Oxford shirt. I had my brother’s ancient Orris blue blazer. I grabbed an even older tie from a small hoard I’ve put aside. These are from long defunct DC area clothing stores like Raleigh’s, Garfinkel’s, Woodward & Lothrop…

It was rush hour, but most of the traffic was coming out toward me. When I got to the city, things became a lot more… interesting. The navigation on my Explorer was being creative with the route. I’m sure it knew secrets and obstacles using its satellite view.

I finally got to the area and didn’t see any parking spots or even garages. I pulled up to the front door of the University Club and asked for valet parking.

The fair was open, and there was a good crowd. It only took a couple of people to “fill” our booth.

Setup Booth

Annika had made some sales to other booksellers during the setup. A British bookseller put aside a signed Obama first, which paid for most of our booth’s rent.

When our booth was occasionally empty, I’d slip in and rearrange stuff. I never could resist fiddling with the stock—putting something more prominent, straightening piles of ephemera…

I wandered around, visiting some old friends and perusing their stock, but I wasn’t in a buying mood. Plus, I’d bought some cool stuff the night before from bookselling friends who had stopped by on their way to DC. See last week’s story.

The first night is called a preview. Admission is higher, but tuxedo’d staff carried trays of wine and canapes.

Maybe the wine helps loosen some purse strings.

It ended at 8:30, and my friends invited me up to the fancy bar. But I was exhausted and also needed to get back to the dogs.

Saturday, the show went from 11-5:30. Annika had enlisted Alicia to help out at the booth.

Booth Staff

So I was kind of a third wheel and spent time wandering around again, perusing.

‘I should be back at the warehouse, crunching through books we already own,’ part of me thought.

But maybe we were getting good exposure for the stores and website.

And we were selling some books and ephemera.

After closing, the organizers—Fine Book Fairs—had arranged for willing booksellers to have cocktails and dinner at the legendary Cosmos Club.

I’ve been there a few times but only via the service entrance—picking up books.

It was marvelously classy.

Cosmos Club

Then another late night drive home. This time it was pouring rain and foggy. White knuckles all the way.

‘Why am I doing this?’ I kept thinking.

Sunday was a bit slower, and near closing, we didn’t have much traffic at all.

I remembered why I stopped doing shows around the year 2000.

SO much work—before, during and after.

The “after” means the frantic packing and toting outside of thousands of rare books by 50 or so booksellers all tired from three days of hard work and anxious to get on the road home.

That’s always a mess.

“After” also includes the unpacking and restocking of all the books we didn’t sell.

Taking books out of boxes and putting them back in only to take them out again is just counterintuitive to the way my mind has evolved concerning bookselling. Should I handle one book ten times or ten books once?

Our booth was filled with really cool stuff. Annika did almost all the prep work, and it was a collection Wonder Book could be very proud of.

It was a beautiful book fair. The attendees were lucky to have been presented with so much wonderful material by consummate professionals.

The organizers produced a beautiful event.

If you love beautiful and meaningful books, it is worth the visit even if you don’t buy anything.

We loaded three vehicles on the curb on 16th Street and headed home.

I picked up the dogs at the warehouse and was so happy to fall into bed.

On board British Air from London to Milan.

After we were all finally boarded, a flight attendant walked through with two small aerosol cans of “bug spray.” “Italian regulations to prevent the spread of disease. It is completely harmless. If you have contact lenses, you might want to keep your eyes shut…”


Smells weird.

More chemicals in my body.

It’s designed to kill “something.”


It is just after 7 AM at home. It is after 1 PM here. It has been a long travel day, but I’ve managed worse.

We are flying over the Italian Alps.

Italian Alps

Well, it is time to see a part of the world I’ve never experienced before.

Now we are flying over lakes with cities wrapping around their shores.

All the work and stressful creativity, and this is part of my reward.

I spent Thursday afternoon and into the evening walking my exhausted and sore body through the beautiful city of Milan, Italy.

I’ll tell you more about it next week.

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