There will be two stories this week. A new chapter in the Round and Round stories concerning the weird bookshop is here: Christmas Ghosts.
Sunday morning, December 19th.
It is cold and drizzly outside. The woodstove has the temperature inside near 70. I’m bundled in bed with the laptop propped on a pillow against raised knees. Its bottom edge rests on my diaphragm.
When I was a kid, Sundays were a day of rest. My dad rarely went to his office in the hospital or to his lab. We would go to the Methodist church in Amherst or Rockville if my protests were overruled. There would be a big breakfast of eggs and bacon. My mom would often make toast in the oven. She would put a pat of butter in the center of the slice and the toast would come out with a golden square melted in its center.
Then we would retire to the “Music Room.” There was an upright piano in there, but the big wooden console TV dominated attention. I would pull a pillow off the sofa onto the floor. My chest raised upon it with my torso and legs splayed on the floor behind me, I would read the Sunday paper while an old movie would play on TV. Usually, it was one of the Blondie movies with Arthur Lake playing the hapless Dagwood Bumstead. I would first read the comics. The Buffalo Courier Express or The Washington Post. Then the Parade Magazine—with the gossip filling the page inside the front cover. Then onto whatever sections of the newspaper proper that Dad had finished. The A section or Style or Sports. The Sunday papers got hugely fat. The Post was so thick with advertising inserts and large real estate sections and want ad sections it couldn’t be folded. I would retrieve it from the front stoop—a big slab of paper. Perhaps another old movie would come on. I recall watching Wuthering Heights for some reason. “Heathcliff!!!”
On cold wet fall and winter days, I’d stay inside and watch football. On nice or snowy days, I might go visit friends. I would just go and knock on the door. “Is Billy home? Can he come out and play?”
I don’t rest on Sundays anymore. I’ll be going in to work soon. I’d be bored doing anything else.
Yesterday, five of the six English Soccer matches were canceled. COVID. That put a damper on my Saturday book sorting. I listened to podcasts instead.
Saturday Night Live went without an audience and had a barebones show. I can’t recall the last time I watched it “Live.” But it often makes headlines on the next Sunday. Occasionally, I’ll watch a clip on a news site. It is not as funny as it used to be. Too much cynicism and politics.
Schools are closing. I wonder if the world will start closing and all my travel plans will fall like dominos. They did in 2020.
The island paradise of Bali, which was being overrun by millions of tourists, may have benefited in some ways by COVID. Its ecosystem certainly has:
Back in 2019, the Indonesian island of Bali welcomed around 6.2 million international arrivals. This year, they’ve logged 45.
Almost all of that small handful of tourists reached the island by private yacht, as the island’s Ngurah Rai International Airport has been closed to international flights nearly all year. While the airport officially reopened to international flights in October, so far it’s handled only domestic flights, primarily from Jakarta.
I wonder what happened to all the western masseuses and other new age therapists and artists and seekers of truth who had set up shop there a la Eat, Pray, Love?
I worked on carts yesterday. Nothing real exciting. (Which means nothing I’d want for myself.)
But I also got into a kind of random pallet of boxes that was in a landlocked area behind the three sorting stations that are lined up along the southern wall. I needed a diversion from carts, carts, carts. It would be a huge mess and a major disruption to try to get at that pallet through the sorting stations. The sorters have sort of customized their large work zones.
One has sort of turned it into a dorm room with toys and pictures and the “found” items displayed like a curio cabinet. I’d be messing up their “space.”
It was a mistake because when Sunday 5 p.m. came there were a lot of carts untouched. And lot of carts were a mess with really cool books or problems or… that I didn’t have time to organize.
One find had Larry McMurtry’s signature on the front free endpaper. It was in the first Borzoi/Alfred Knopf catalogue.
McMurtry was a fine bookseller as well as an author as well as a book nut.
There were a lot of other fun finds.
There were extra carts with my name on them, as well. Someone started carting up the Michael Osborne collection. The first cart was mundane. Travel guides and hiking and biking trail guides, novels… his personal books. Then I started finding books on book collecting, typography, paper making, publishing… That was great fun. But a lot of it is problematic. Pamphlets, brochure, trade catalogs… groan…
And then there are the items in one of his specialties. Urban planning, city design… important books, but not my cup of tea.
There will be many more of his books to come. I’m going to have an archive created for them. We will announce it when more are processed. It will be in the Collector’s Corner feature at www.wonderbook.com.
He deserves it. The books and their collectors deserve it.
It is Christmas week. Monday. I’m driving to the Gaithersburg store with Travis. Montgomery County is masked again. They haven’t closed all the schools like Prince George’s County.
Governor Hogan tested positive today. Senators Warren and Booker are positive. All were triple vaxed. I’m getting the feeling it is no longer “will I get it” but “when will I get it?”
We are taking precautions in the warehouse and stores. We’ve gone to “Masks Recommended” for staff. We reinstituted social distancing guidelines. Will this never end? I think Maryland is 90% vaxed.
I don’t think “vaxed” should be the word though. Perhaps “shot with an experimental possibly-COVID-mitigating concoction.”
Still, I am triple vaxed, and perhaps when I catch COVID, my symptoms will be milder due to the shots.
Our Christmas party here will consist of boxed Subway lunches for everyone. Kind of lame. We used to do pot luck and people would bring in cookies and other holiday treats… so sad.
I’d get sliced hams and roast beef and…
Will my travel plans be canceled? Again?
The world has been poisoned, and there is no end in sight.
Vaccinations, herd immunity, having had COVID—doesn’t matter.
I’d had a doctor’s appointment that morning. Things appear fine. Just the “COVID belly” lingers.
I’ve lost 5 pounds in the last few weeks. 15 more would be good. Just 2 years ago I looked like this—Scotland.
And I was shot for the 7th time this year:
- COVID 3
- Shingles 2
- Flu 1
- Pneumonia 1
Seems like a different era.
My doctor is too kind and gentle. He should berate me more.
Travis and I culled about a dozen big tubs of modern literature for Books by the Foot. Mostly duplicates. We brought down some pretty books to be displayed up front. Eye candy for yourself or as gifts.
Or you could buy gift cards. Get 20 $5 cards and give them to kids or friends or as tips. Be a “book evangelist” and introduce them to a real bookstore.
The store looks great. All the stores are beautiful and stock is better and more varied than ever.
When I got back to the warehouse—problems.
Only 5 days til Christmas. Now the shipping slows down—it is likely too late to order and have a book arrive on time unless you go for overnight delivery.
It is the brick and mortars’ week. If COVID doesn’t keep people away.
One of our shipping companies—a major player you have all heard of—lost hundreds or thousands of packages of ours. Some glitch with our account number or something. They don’t know. We don’t know. But we will find out when the screams begin that Christmas gifts never arrived. We will get reimbursed, we think. But that won’t mend the wounds. We will be blamed that the gifts didn’t arrive.
Oh well, goes with the territory.
I checked on my wine order from the slope of Vesuvius in Italy. When I paid for it, they said it would ship next week.
The reply: “In the spring, we believe. We are filling a container… supply chain disruptions.”
Late in the day, I took an empty van to the Frederick store. The roads were not packed. The crazy, often elderly, drivers—who only venture out this time of year—weren’t driving 15 in a 45 mph zone. Or frozen at a green light.
41 Christmas’s I’ve driven to and from my bookshop on West Patrick St (a.k.a. The National Road, The Old Pike, US Rt 40) in Frederick, Maryland.
December 21—the Winter Solstice.
Sunrise 7:26. Sunset 4:49. The shortest day.
The Solstice will occur at 10:59 a.m.
I awoke early. The dogs pressed firmly against my back. It is cold inside. 58 degrees. I didn’t set a good fire last night. Placing logs upright in the firebox makes for weak heat. I know this. I should turn the furnace on if only for minimal heat. Just push the button.
Nah… that would be surrender—admitting defeat. I will tough it out.
25 degrees out in the dark. The high may be 46 today.
The fire is blazing now. The glass doors glow bright orange. I turn off the bedside lamp and watch the golden lights dance in the dark upon the wall and ceiling in the next room like a warm aurora borealis.
It is up to 61 now. Balmy.
The big stainless steel pot atop the stove is hissing and roiling. It adds moisture to the air the fire dries out.
Around here, the winter projects will begin. The bulbs are all planted. The gardens are put to bed til spring. They are buried in dry dead leaves. In early spring, I will blow them off. Some plants can grow through a leaf blanket. Others would be smothered.
I can trim the small lateral branches that some trees grow out of their trunks. When in leaf, they are unsightly and can obstruct vistas. “Vista Pruning.” It is much better to prune when the leaves are off the trees. Less mess.
I have a lot of books to unbox and shelve. I have culled a great many I no longer want and put them on sale at www.wonderbook.com Roberts Collection.
And there is firewood to be cut and split.
And maybe I can force myself to write some more…
The Solstice has passed. The sun stopped its southward migration and is now headed northward until June 21, 2022.
The holiday meal is here at the warehouse. Subway lunch boxes. 56 of them. The office paged different departments to come and get it—so there wouldn’t be an unsocially distanced stampede.
“Books by the Foot…”
“Pulling and Shipping…”
“Data Entry…” (split into 3 groups)
Me… I think I’ll pass.
I got a box in the mail from a bookseller friend in Monterey, California. When I visited last spring for the spreading of my brother Tony’s ashes, I stopped in and bought a nice little stack of books. I queried about framed item they had in the shop.
“We’re not sure we want to part with it.”
“Well, send it along if you do.”
It didn’t arrive with the books… so I thought it wasn’t meant to be.
I opened the box just now and… WOW.
I love it!
WOW! It pushes all my buttons—almost.
The gift brought tears to my eyes.
This week will fly by.
I wish I was in London. I’d like to be having a cask ale with departed friends and family. John Adams. My brothers, Tony, Joe and Jimmie… Dad. I never had a drink with my father, though I was present for many thousands of his drinks at home and friends’ and restaurants and bars. I was too young.
We could all gather at Ye Olde Cheshire Cheese on Fleet Street.
I wonder if going to London will ever be the same?
It was just two years ago I was there and the world was fine. Just about every type of human was doing better than they had ever done before.
I visited the “Cheese” and sat in the room where centuries of writers have visited.
How was this plague unleashed upon the globe?
We have had to make some more tough decisions on pulping pallets of books. This has been a rare event over the years. Now we are stuffed. I went hunting for the expendables.
The pallet of Christmas books! Nothing exciting. They don’t sell anytime. No one would buy them 3 days before December 25th.
Me: “Clif, go ahead put these on the pulp trailer.”
An hour later, Jessica: “Where are the Christmas books, Chuck? We have 2 orders.”
Me: “Clif, pull the Christmas books off the recycling truck.”
We found a huge pallet of a 12-year-old book. Oprah. Essentially, how to live like her.
Me: “Can we use this for any style in Books by the Foot?”
Me: “Pulp it.”
I wonder why I bought it in the first place.
(We got the November statement. The recycler said we sent 73,000 pounds of scrap paper to him. I’m kind of proud of that.)
I’m even prouder we likely “recycle” 10 times that amount of poundage as intact used books.
I’m celebrating the season with a new vacuum cleaner. Last night, I rolled the thing around the house. It actually picks up the thousands of tiny Jack Russell hairs Merry and Pip shed on the oriental carpets.
I should replace all the kitchen appliances. They are 25 years old and pretty dreary. I have the measurements. I just need to go and do it. But then my cooking nowadays usually involves heating leftovers or melting frozen pizza and such—wrapped in foil—frozen leftovers. I don’t use the dishwasher. I think it leaks. I hand wash my few glasses and dishes. The microwave—if I get a new one—I won’t have to clean the current mess. The fridge… is pretty primitive. And it has fits sometimes—making loud humming and buzzing noises.
I watered all the indoor potted plants. All 75 (or 77) of them. I’m already looking forward to getting them outside. It is like a jungle in a couple of rooms. A prickly jungle.
I added another 2022 trip yesterday. Oxford—for the ILAB rare book conference in September. I’ll book an extra few days to explore. I have had guidebooks in the bathroom for Tolkien’s Oxford and Alice in Wonderland in Oxford.
It has been on my list for quite a while. This forced the issue.
The year is filling up—if it all doesn’t get canceled.
Alan James Robinson sent me a couple of gifts this week.
Melville and Shakespeare. These are originals he created for books in the 1980s.
Two booksellers sent me candy.
I feel so selfish.
Tell you what—send an email to Customer Service with your mailing address, and we will send you a free 2022 refrigerator magnet calendar.
I’ve been immersed watching Route 66. I’m near the end of Season 3. George Maharis has been replaced with Glen Corbett.
Maharis who played Buz Murdock contracted a virus and missed many episodes before being replaced. He played a NYC street tough and often spoke with a Beatnik Hep Cat jive. The series was clearly modeled as a cleaned up pastiche of On the Road. In fact:
Buz Murdock, meanwhile, was an orphan who had worked with Tod’s father as a laborer on one of his ships in New York City. After the death of the senior Mr. Stiles, and the subsequent collapse of his business, Tod and Buz decided to drive across America in search of work, adventure, and themselves. The working-class Buz (George Maharis) is looser, hipper, and more Beat Generation in attitude than Tod, though the two characters share a mutual respect. Subtle indications were given that the Buz character was intended to loosely embody Jack Kerouac in appearance and attitude. Kerouac, in fact, contemplated a lawsuit against Leonard, Silliphant, and Chevrolet for misappropriating the characters and theme from his iconic novel On the Road.
Kerouac—a lawsuit? I thought he was cooler than that, man.
I enjoy the show because it captures actual scenes and slices of life in early 60s America. The Corvette changes towns every episode. The protagonists find a job and a place to stay—all very real locations. There’s always a girl involved (Just like On the Road, although Buz and Tod aren’t the creeps the Kerouac characters were.) The writing is good though sometimes the plots are preachy/politically correct—just like nowadays. The guest stars are often stellar—future icons or icons whose sun setting is setting. One episode I saw this week featured elderly Boris Karloff, Lon Chaney Jr and Peter Lorre:
The roster of guest stars on Route 66 includes numerous actors who later went on to fame, as well as major stars on the downside of their careers. One of the most historically significant episodes of the series in this respect was “Lizard’s Leg and Owlet’s Wing” featuring Peter Lorre, Lon Chaney, Jr., and Boris Karloff as themselves, with the latter donning his famous Frankenstein monster make-up for the first time in decades and Chaney, Jr. made up to resemble his 1941 role as the Wolf Man.
Other guests include:
Joe E. Brown, Buster Keaton, Ethel Waters, Coleman Hawkins, Roy Eldridge, Jo Jones, Inger Stevens, Elizabeth Ashley, Ed Asner, Lew Ayres, Ed Begley, Theodore Bikel, Whit Bissell, Beulah Bondi, Edgar Buchanan, James Caan, James Coburn, Joan Crawford, Keir Dullea, James Dunn, Robert Duvall, Barbara Eden, Betty Field, Nina Foch, Anne Francis, Peter Graves, Tammy Grimes, Signe Hasso, Sessue Hayakawa, Joey Heatherton, Steven Hill, Miriam Hopkins, David Janssen, Ben Johnson, Buster Keaton, George Kennedy, Cloris Leachman, Robert Loggia, Jack Lord, Tina Louise, Dorothy Malone, E.G. Marshall, Lee Marvin, Walter Matthau, Darren McGavin, Ralph Meeker, Vera Miles, Roger Mobley, Chester Morris, Lane Nakano, Lois Nettleton, Julie Newmar, Leslie Nielsen, Arthur O’Connell, Susan Oliver, Nehemiah Persoff, Slim Pickens, Suzanne Pleshette, Stefanie Powers, Robert Redford, Ruth Roman, Marion Ross, Janice Rule, Soupy Sales, Martha Scott, Martin Sheen, Sylvia Sidney, Lois Smith, Rod Steiger, Beatrice Straight, Rip Torn, Jo Van Fleet, Jessica Walter, Jack Warden, Tuesday Weld, Jack Weston, James Whitmore, Dick York, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley.
I’ll be sad when I finish Season 4. Buz and Tod and now Linc have been good companions during COVID. They always try to help people and do the right thing.
I can escape to another time and place when the future looked so broad and great. And I’ve gotten to see the America I grew up with.
116 episodes… I don’t watch a lot of TV. I don’t stream or binge watch. I seldom put a movie on. But occasionally something captures me.
I got my kicks on Route 66 during COVID. Virtually. I enjoyed the trips when real trips couldn’t be made.
In the recent Philadelphia story, I mentioned going to the Army-Navy football game in Philadelphia. I mostly remember the cold and snow and noise. But I’ve since remembered seeing JFK pointed out to me in the distance. And us meeting my brother Joe in his Naval Academy uniform afterward.
Going through some of my old papers and writings this week, I found a 3-page letter from Joe to my parents.
He wrote from Vietnam saying he wasn’t going to reenlist. He had planned to be a career Marine, but Vietnam changed him. My big brother was not the same happy-go-lucky guy when he returned. He had become hard and distant. A shell had grown around him. He also told us he was converting to Catholicism. His wife and children were Catholic. That was a shock to my parents as well.
He addressed me in that letter:
… Two things I think you should do with all your heart. First, work for every bit of knowledge that you possibly can, strive for more every minute. Secondly, enjoy life every moment you’re allowed to…
The family was intact then and pretty healthy. It stunned my parents. Joe had signed up to be a Marine at 18 without telling my dad. He went to Parris Island boot camp. My dad convinced him to go to the Naval Academy and got the help of a New York congressman to get his commission. After Annapolis, he trained in Pensacola learning how to fly Sea Knight twin rotor helicopters.
His wife was an Annapolis girl. Her father, an Academy grad, captained a ship in the North Pacific during WWII that was sunk, and he was killed. There’s a street in Annapolis named after him. Her grandfather took over the Navy Band after World War I when John Philip Sousa retired.
Joe was going to be a career Marine officer.
He was never the same after ‘Nam. Nor was his marriage and family. I don’t think he enjoyed any of his steel executive jobs he spent the rest of his life at.
It is Thursday morning. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve. A lot of people will take off that day.
Others need or want the work. I fall among the former.
I need to go in and let my work divert and obsess me.
The boys and their partners are going to Waynesboro for Christmas, although due other families’ plans it is not clear when the 6 of us will get together. I’ll likely take Merry and Pippin. Giles lives there. The older boy is bringing a beautiful svelte hound, Mitch.
The old manse will be pretty full. But not like those days of long, long ago when there was a Christmas Eve party/open house every year for many, many years on Christmas Eve.
It was exciting to decorate the grand place. I’d source fine and rare foods and drinks. It wasn’t so easy back then. There were no Wegman’s.
There were often over 100 guests of all ages.
I wouldn’t enjoy that now. I’m more introspective.
I will make a point of visiting all the Wonder Book stores today and tomorrow.
I might stop in Saturday, depending what the family plans dictate. I, the patriarch, have no say.
I will certainly go in Sunday—likely alone. Well, with the dogs.
How better to spend my time?
Rescuing good and unusual books.
Merry Christmas to all—or if you prefer, Happy Holidays.
Let’s hope we are freed in 2022 from this plague and its daggers of the mind.
The cold full moon hovers above
Its pale white light bleaches the forest floor
This colorless tableau haunts the wee hours
Any creature or soul out and about
Would move as pale specters
But no living soul would venture
No creature hunt travel or lurk
In this dead night’s light
Cold, cold winter
Cold, cold light
Cold, cold night
A howling wind raises some dead leaves
The flit scratch and scrabble across the forest floor
Like little night birds or odd small creatures
They are all white, black or gray
Is that boulder a bloody corpse
The black stain on the stone would be blood
The marble white part and body
When the lamp is switched off
The room dims to the cold moon’s light
It pours through the windows
And fills the space
The bright lively bedroom
Fades to black and white and gray