Chuck Kills

Chuck Kills

He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom.


Chuck Kills.

That got your attention, I bet!

That’s actually just a designation for certain book sorts we do here. Periodically, we have to eliminate sections of shelving to make space to put up fresh books. This includes older and more collectible books. These have a much longer shelf life compared to the cheaper barcoded modern books. After years of being markdowned and put on sale in other ways, we have to make the tough decision to “kill” their section.

Don’t worry though. The remnants are surveyed by experienced book people. Ultimately, many come back to me. In a recent large purge, the decision was made to put them ALL aside for me to review. I’d agreed, but I hadn’t been warned of the scale!

Chuck Kills

Five huge Gaylords filled with books carefully stacked. Some day, I will go through them and decide what to do with them. Likely most will go the stores at lower prices. Some may go back online.

Why didn’t they sell? Maybe they weren’t described well. Maybe their internet files got corrupted. Perhaps some are just lemons.

I’ll make lemonade.

Ernest is driving us back from the Gaithersburg store. I was surprised to find someone new there. She wore a small Wonder Book t-shirt, which I approved of. She wasn’t much on answering questions but has perfect pointing skills.

New Gaithersburg Employee

We pulled a lot of tubs of history for a large Books by the Foot order.

It was a good physical workout. Climbing stools to reach the upper shelves. Dropping to my hands and knees for the bottom ones.

It is raining nicely. The high today will be 68. The weather this spring has been wonderful. The mini drought seems to be over. The world looks a bit out of focus, but the greens of the flora seem brighter.

It is Wednesday.

Spring ends. Summer begins today.

I’m still tired and sore from Monday and Tuesday. Both were massively physical days. I don’t know how many tons of books I moved. When it comes to it, I can be called on to do just about anything at Wonder Book.

As I always say, “The book stops here.”

A remainder company we deal with stuffed us with four truckloads in a week. Maybe 140,000 books. It was so unnecessary. We ordered many of these books months ago. The deliveries could have been spaced over many weeks.

I was frustrated with it last week.

This week it made me mad.

“Cancel the rest of the orders until I let you know we can take more.”

Management had doubted me Monday when I said, “We have to make room. We might get surprised, and we aren’t ready for it.” I spent all day unstacking pallets of books with the forklift.

This company has an unusual way of shipping the books as well. The books are put into mini lidded Gaylords with a pallet placed under each. They are 4 or 5 stacks high.

Mini Gaylords

They make kind of a bookish Dagwood sandwich.

The books are taken to different areas and rooms according to spine color.

It is a very labor-intensive process.

I had my annual dentist appointment up in Pennsylvania in the early evening. I arrived early enough that I could go to the Pennsylvania Dutch grocery. Their deli has amazing Amish “salads”: bean, cabbage, potato, cucumber… You can’t find the like anywhere else.

At the dentist, I sat with my mouth open for an hour while the chatty hygienist carried on a one-way conversation. At least there was nothing wrong this time. I didn’t get back to Maryland til late in the evening.

I was tired and sore.

On Tuesday as I was driving in, I got a text, “A truck is delivering another load. There’s no one here who can drive the forklift…”

Any plans I’d had quickly vanished.

I spent the day emptying one truck and filling another.

Because we were desperate for space, I made the decision to pulp a number of big Gaylords filled with “charity cookbooks.” Those are the books put together by clubs and organizations to raise money. Members volunteer recipes. Most don’t sell well and usually go outside the stores at 5 for $5. Occasionally, they will have a “hook”—ethnic, regional… that make them more interesting. The older ones can be quite valuable. Often they can be one-of-a-kind, as not many were printed and most were discarded over the decades. People didn’t realize the cultural value of recipes submitted from members—say of a small Louisiana community from the 1890s. A slice of domestic life long gone.

This is a more modern example:

Charity Cookbook

Annika finds only a handful on OCLC (WorldCat) and no other record. BRAG= Buffalo Rights Action Group. It was co-produced with Church Women United of Buffalo Council. This is a great find. I don’t think anything like this got sent to the pulpers. I hope not.

I took pulping the charity cookbooks as a personal failure, and it made me angrier with the company forcing truckloads of books onto our loading docks.

Another day moving pallets and struggling to find spaces.

But I was amazed with what we accomplished. Everyone pitched in.

That night, I was tired and sore and barely had enough energy to heat some leftovers. After all the nights out recently, the fridge is full of leftovers.

The cramps came later in the wee hours. Excruciating. Pulling and pushing heavy loads of books had fired up muscles that hadn’t been so heavily used for a long time. Some Gatorade and a magnesium pill made them go away, and they haven’t returned this week.

I didn’t mention the weekend!

The warehouse project continues. Painting is coming along. There will also be a darker shade of gray in addition to the lighter strips. That was my idea. Gray goes with everything.

New Warehouse

I drove around the work site on Saturday. I picked up another 25 big stones to take up the mountain to create another garden bed. That will save me a few pennies, as they won’t have to be hauled away. I walked inside the massive buildings and spun around slowly in awe.

That day was all cartloads of books for me to work through. It seems like there are more and more with my name on them.

Saturday night, the whole family met for a Father’s Day dinner. More leftovers.

When I got home, my drive was blocked by a fallen tree.

Fallen Tree

With superhuman strength, I lifted it out of the way. Actually, it was hollow.

Sunday was all books again. There were a lot of great finds like this Anais Nin. (At first, I thought the Nin was signed, but I soon realized that the signature is a facsimile! Oops! Wishful and “rushfull” thinking.)

By day’s end, I was exhausted. But I was proud of the 100 or so boxes I created to send to the stores, the carts I created to go online, the tubs I made for Madeline and Annika to research, and even the dregs which will get one more incarnation up in Books by the Foot.

I even “killed” off a few old dusty pallets of “stuff” I’d saved “for the future.” It feels like the future is now, so I’m releasing more and more things to the stores and eBay.

On my weary drive home with the sleeping Jack Russells in the passenger seat beside me, I made plans for Monday and Tuesday. There’s a lot of paperwork for me to catch up on.

Why did I awaken at 1:35 on Thursday morning? (Or is 1:35 considered night?)

It is still raining. Maybe the weather is trying to make up for the month or more of dryness we just went through. It is raining but not storming. I closed one bedroom window against the cold but left the other cracked open six inches or so. The sound flowing in through it is an endless “ssshhhhhhhhhhh…” Soft wind and rain whispering through the forest around me.

Cold. 57 degrees. The faux fur blanket I thought was seasonally superfluous is welcome company, encompassing me up to my chinny chin chin.

(I must have dreamed we talked and came to an agreement, an understanding. I couldn’t have seen you earlier. But the memory is so vivid.)

I came home alone in the rain. Some chores. I heated the leftover Osso Buco from the Father’s Day dinner at Il Porto.

(That place has been the venue for some memorable evenings but, most memorable, is that long, long ago it was the storefront for the Rescue Mission’s charity shop. As a beginning bookseller, I would scout it regularly. Reverend Shell was the proprietor, I guess you would call it. He was tall and ginger and a bit beefy. He was kind to me and would sometimes call when new book donations came in. There were always a few recovering alcoholics in the back room stripping plastic off wire so the copper could be sold. Once there was a run of Arkham House there. Short unassuming hardcovers, unmistakable. Whenever I go to Il Porto, I always look up at the ancient patterned tin ceiling. It is unchanged, save for a coat of paint, from my first visits over 40 years ago. Unchanged from whatever incarnations, the retail spot on the corner of Market and South has occupied the space long before I came to Fredericktown in 1980.)

(No. We wouldn’t have spoken on the phone. And it wasn’t texting. It must have been a dream.)

What a strange day.

Dreamlike. After four very hard and intense workdays, I floated through the hours as if I was a puppet and some greater power was operating my strings.

Wednesday. The Equinox.

I mentioned Ernest and I had gone to the Gaithersburg Wonder Book.

That was just the mundane middle of a kind of surreal day following Monday and Tuesday’s “industrial” level bookselling.

Wednesday began with a new journal. The last was filled through the back pastedown on Tuesday morning before work. Serendipitously, I’d found a blank one while sorting books on carts Tuesday afternoon. It was the same Barnes and Noble style I use most often. This has burgundy covers, though. A novelty. The first few pages had been torn out. That is actually not uncommon. Most journals are begun with good intentions and then soon abandoned. (Most are never begun at all. Whether a purchase with good intentions or a well-intentioned gift, no pen or pencil is ever is pressed to “Page 1.”) If you visit a Wonder Book store, you’ll likely have the choice of several dozen unused used journals for sale. Who knows, you may even find one with the first few pages torn out.

I have not had either of those issues with my journaling. The new (used, with its first few pages torn out) burgundy journal is number #23. Journal #1 was begun New Year’s Eve—December 31, 2013. The bright spots on the spines indicate the months and year(s) each book covers. I wouldn’t want my life to get out of order!

Chuck's Journals

A decade of my life’s memories stacked high on the floor in the walk-in closet. Pretty obsessive, ain’t it?

This new book might last til December 31st—the tenth anniversary of my journals’ inception.

That set the tone for the day. I wrote my greetings in the new book. I put my name and address and phone number on the front pastedown. I added, “Reward. $250 if found and returned.”

I invoked the deity to give this volume good and great events to record. It will likely take six months to fill this book.

Wednesday had definite plans. I had to get an important document notarized and delivered to the engineering firm. Something the “city” needed to approve of so the tenant on the second new warehouse building could make improvements before they move in. I also need to go to the big post office downtown to pick up a valuable document. The tracking on the package had given us that info Tuesday afternoon. Tracking had that package in Baltimore and Washington over the last couple of days. Now the computer said it was in Frederick waiting for me to pick it up.

Odd. I never have to pick up packages at the post office.

And I knew Wednesday would end at 3:30 in Lothlorien. It was then I would pick up Barbara’s desk for safekeeping in the vast warehouse until… who knows, perhaps a grandchild will want to take it to write upon.

(No. We couldn’t have spoken and come to an agreement or an understanding. That could never happen. It must have been a dream.)

It is now 3:35 a.m. I would not consider it morning. It is night. Time to turn off the light and hope the rain “ssshhhhhh…ing” outside will whisper me to sleep. Tomorrow, I mean today, I mean Thursday, will soon have me up facing many tasks. Some of my own choosing. Others will be thrust upon me. Perhaps, like Monday and Tuesday, I won’t have any choices at all.

So, Wednesday, I went first to the post office. I stood in line for 20 minutes while people ahead of me explained their mail problems to the beleaguered postal person behind the plexiglass frame. Eventually, my turn came, and I handed over the printout with my tracking information. The rep disappeared back into the huge old building. Another twenty minutes went. When she returned, she told me it was with the carrier and would be delivered today.

“But it says to come here…”

I left and parked on the same downtown street a half-mile further on. I went into the lawyers’ offices to get the piece of paper notarized.

Then I drove out to the engineers’ offices and handed the document over.

Back to the warehouse. Most of the morning shot.

Wednesday, End of Day

I didn’t want to make this call.

There was certainly no money to be made.

It wouldn’t be fun.

(Well, there was Osiris in the wheelbarrow and Salima looking like a Wild-West cowpoke’s saloon fantasy.)

Barbara Mertz's Statues

It was a duty.

Like going to a funeral where you have a bit of work to do as well.

I should have said some words.

Perhaps I will return tomorrow and sit by the waterfall one last time.

“Speak my name.”

An Egyptian mantra equating immortality. To ancient Egyptians, having some descendant, survivor, future stranger coming upon your remains—remains as in a stone inscription or other eternal edifice with your name on it—had intimations of immortality.

This was only a decade later. Barbara passed away after many long illnesses in August 2013.

We were tasked with picking up Barbara Mertz’s desk.

The “heart” of the mountain in The Hobbit was the Arkenstone. I would say her desk was the heart of Lothlorien. Chuck and Wonder Book were tasked with removing it and storing it in the vast warehouse until… perhaps a grandchild with some literary flair will write upon it again. Until then, it is my responsibility.

It had to be late in the day for… some reason. I brought two big vans and four guys. (I am the fourth guy.) Tarps, quilts, shrink-wrap, dollies, hand carts… overkill for one desk.

And now it comes to me. A steward of the desk upon which worlds were written. So many of her (Elizabeth Peters, Barbara Michaels and even Barbara Mertz Egyptology) books were written on that desk.

I didn’t want this burden… this duty.

I’m proud to have it… for a time.

I will walk past it, below it—for we will store it up high and safe. I will be in its shadow and think almost every day, ‘I have done nothing lasting.’

… except, perhaps, as caretaker for this desk.

And millions and millions of books.

Well, a cog in an important wheel is something.

A bad day.

A great day.

A memorable day.

A day when many long-lasting things… end.

I hate endings.

We followed Ray and Jay into Barbara’s office. That made six big guys standing around her desk.

Barbara Mertz's Desk

“Let’s tilt it on its side and roll it out to the driveway. Careful. Don’t lift it by its legs!”

We got it in the van. The drawers followed, and each was wrapped.

Ray and Jay offered me the garden statue of Osiris. It has stood guard over Barbara’s pet cemetery for decades. I will place him on guard on the mountain above my home.

The golden woman, named after the famous Egyptologist FOB (Friend of Barbara) who specializes in mummified animals, was a gag gift for her 85th birthday party. I’ll likely hide… shelter it under the deck.

When those were loaded, I became overwhelmed with emotion. This was the end. Lorien will be someone else’s in a few days. I held back tears but could barely speak.

Maybe not quite the end.

“Come back in the next few days and sit by the waterfall…” Ray and Jay offered.

Some gin with Barbara’s ghost will postpone the end just a little longer.

I will speak her name.

Then it will be over. Barbara’s home alive and dead for 50 years so will be “hers” no more.

It was nearly four when we got back. The end of the day for most of the warehouse people. When I entered the office, Kelly said, “Your package came.”

I took the paperboard envelope into the conference room and sliced it open with a box cutter. It contained just a slip of paper. One of those old-fashioned light-blue lightweight “airmail” combination envelope and notepaper.

Tolkien Letter

Merton College,
18th January 1973.

Dear Mr. Uggla,

Thank you for sending me the interesting cutting from Dagens Nyheter, though the review does not appear to think that I have been influence by Cabell. Like her I read only one of his books, and was moved only by boredom and disgust.

“He that breaks a thing to find out what it is has left the path of wisdom” – Gandalf, Lord of the Rings Vol.1 p.272.

With best wishes,
Yours sincerely,
J.R.R. Tolkien
Professor J.R.R. Tolkien.

Tolkien quoting Tolkien (as Gandalf.)

“Mine. Mine! My Precious!”


A jewel.

I am touching what the great writer touched!

(Cabell is certainly James Branch Cabell. He was an extremely popular fantasy novelist in the early 20th century. He created a fantasy kingdom, Poictesme. His most famous book, Jurgen, was the subject of an obscenity case. His massive oeuvre is now mostly forgotten. For booksellers, his attractive and well-illustrated books are most famous for being unsellable—including the many signed limited editions that appear quite often with the black cloth spines and golden paperboards. I tried long ago, but found him unreadable. Maybe I should try again.)


6/19/23 Mountain Forest Night Storm
Thunders booms far up the mountain
The thick forest muffles the rumbles’ source
Distant lightning flashes silhouette the canopy
Cold white electric light
brightens the black night for an instant
then disappears
Drumming roars punctuate woodland silence
A bit of breeze passes through the trees
A soft patter of raindrops splatter on leaves
The storm moves overhead
Rain intensifies to driving sheets
An elemental show plays all around
Wind, water, fire and sound
The world chills as breeze flows down
Millions of drops strike millions of leaves
The ground wettens soaks saturates then flows
Sweet air tastes cleansed
by wind, rain, fire and storm

Barbara Mertz's Desk

12 Comments on Article

  1. Gary Fowler commented on

    A little tip, a small reciprocal gift for all I’ve enjoyed and learned from your blog: Being of roughly the same vintage, I get leg and foot cramps, too. I’ve been amazed at the quick relief given by a roll-on called Biofreeze. If you haven’t yet found it, it’s worth a try. My very best to you in the meantime, with thanks!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks so much ! I will!

      Unlearn two things from this blog however:

      The Egyptian statue is Osiris – not Anubis. (There was an Anubis there – this perhaps my confusion/excuse.

      The Anais Non signature is clearly a facsimile. Not checking someone else’s work is my “excuse”.


  2. Tawn commented on

    I thought “Chuck Kills” was a wordplay on your name and ongoing battle with those poor little woodchucks you’ve terrorized in the past. Whew, glad they’re okay. Also, I often buy those journals with the first page written in. Here’s a favorite:
    “I peer in the mirror—
    Frown lines, wrinkles…..
    Botox is tempting.”

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That would make a good coffee table book.
      Aborted Memoirs ?
      There are dozens or hundreds of journals and diaries here … I dont know what to do with them.

      Thanks Dawn!

  3. Kathleen Arnold commented on

    You’ve nearly washed me away (or is it the sneaky downpours?). Barbara Mertz’ desk!? Had the pleasure of meeting her in the mid-90s in DC at a talk sponsored (I believe) by the local AIA chapter, and she was delightful. As a fan of all things Egypt since 4th grade (Lucile Morrison’s Lost Queen of Egypt) and the works of Ms. Mertz, I finally made it to Egypt (AIA again!) in 2000. We met Ms. Ikram at the Museum, among cases of animal mummies — another person of great charm and warmth. The 2000 election happened while we were in Egypt. The next day, we were approached by the most alarming Orientalist-style street person who asked “Boosh? Goore?”

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Those are great memories!
      Barbara’s influence seems to know no bounds and I’m proud to share some of the memories I have.
      Thank you reading and writing!

  4. Debra commented on

    Met you today after performing at New Market Plains Vineyards. (Susan told me about your wonderful blog.) Your brother was a great musician and an innovative flute player.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind!
      Thank you.
      I am a huge fan of their winery. We go back along way.
      If you ever want a tour of the warehouse let me know. It is just a minute off I 70

  5. Gregory commented on

    Chuck, just because that tree across your driveway was hollow doesn’t mean you DON’T have superhuman strength! It seems that you have lifted enough books and desks to guarantee your upper-body strength for a while.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      A lifetime of lifting books and boxes!
      Odd, they boxes seem to be getting heavier lately.
      Thanks for writing!

  6. Patricia Reidy Lawrence commented on

    I have been journaling – on and off – since 1979. I just checked and my first book was a gift from my husband when we were expecting our first child. So long ago. It kindled tender memories of the life we shared.
    I never considered looking in a used book store for a blank journal. I think I’ll stop by this week.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you for reading and writing Patricia.
      It is heartening to be able to go back into the past and see who we were in a past.
      Thank you for sharing your sentiments. It is touching to hear.
      The journals should be stocked with the “stationery” … ask if you can’t find them on your own.
      Sadly it is a small and not very popular section.


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