Dining Out

Easton Press

First rose of the Season. Laid on my plate at breakfast by Mr. Purefoy. Apr. 23rd/[18]91.

Purefoy Rose

We see these kinds of time capsules very often. It could be a gift inscription from a parent for Christmas or a birthday 150 years ago. Or an anniversary or wedding inscription in a book given by a husband or wife so long ago they are certainly dead.

But the love lingers on—protected, preserved in a book.

When I see these, I often sigh. Life is fleeting. The future endless. Most of the time, there is nothing to be done with the written emotion. Should we tear out the endpapers and begin a collection of heartrending, maudlin or evocative inscriptions?

Unless the words or signatures have a hook that would give them value, the old emotions just go back out into the market in hopes they will last somewhere, somehow, for another century or two.

It is strange that an emotion, a moment in two people’s lives, can be frozen in time. All we need to do is open the cover and look inside.

How do you pick up the threads of an old life? How do you go on, when in your heart you begin to understand… there is no going back? There are some things that time cannot mend. Some hurts that go too deep, that have taken hold.

Frodo Baggins
Religious Scrapbook

Scrapbooks, diaries, photos, letters, inscriptions…

We get so many of them. There are so many people in the past.

Going forward, there will be fewer, however. Not fewer people. Fewer paper remnants. Who writes letters on paper anymore? How many photos are printed and put in an album or a box?

The ephemera of our lives will mostly be in the cloud. And then whatever comes after the cloud.

Then what?

Last Monday was Blue Monday.

Who knew?

It was also the Martin Luther King holiday. We can’t close on Monday holidays. People here are welcome to take the day off. But we have orders that must get out in a timely way. The stores are open for those that wish to visit a bookshop on the days off.

I wasn’t blue. (Which is a bit unusual.) The weekend was packed with more books than usual. Saturday and Sunday were a blur of assessing thousands of books as quickly as my hands, eyes and mind could process them.

I had company coming during the week. I’d invited a bookseller to stay the night on Tuesday. Guests of any kind are so infrequent in the post COVID period up on the mountain. I kind of over panicked about getting the place cleaned up. I no longer have any housekeeping help. Long story. COVID related.

When you don’t have company, you tend to let things slide. I do anyway. It is not yucky or anything. I keep up with the sanitary stuff. But why vacuum or dust? I have plenty of other projects that take precedence to my mind.

On Saturday, a friend came late in the afternoon. He wanted to show the place to his brother. He owns a brewery and brought some Patsy (Cline.) We went out to see the construction first, and then I gave them the warehouse “tour.” We hung out a bit in the now empty building and caught up on our lives and recent events. They invited me out for cribbage? I passed.

Friday was the Beatles show at the Weinberg. A couple of family members came, and we went to dinner beforehand. La Paz—the Mexican place that has been downtown since Wonder Book started. We would go there on Saturday night in the 80s. It was an extravagance, as we didn’t have much money. But the portions were very large, so we got at least one extra meal out of the carry out. When the kids came along, they would accompany us. It tasted the same. The margaritas, queso, salsa, nachos (their version is a “pizza” whose crust is tortillas, the sauce refried beans, cheese, decorated with slices of jalapeño.) It was a lot of fun.

The “Beatles” were as well. This is the fourth time I’ve seen them since 2016.

After I ran out of gas (physically) working on books on Sunday, I went to visit Sue and Howard at New Market Plains Vineyards. My nephew was supposed to come but canceled, so I went by myself. Howard wants old 78 RPM records for some reason. It saves us from paying to have them hauled away.

The winery was closed, but they invited me into the 18th century farmhouse that has been home to generations of Sue’s ancestors. We sat in the parlor with the large oil paintings of long-dead ancestors looking down upon us. We go back a long, long way. Sue’s father was an older bookseller in the area when I first started. Sue and Howard took over that business for a while. We chatted about old times and recent times. Howard brought out a bottle of his special bubbly Chardonnay, which enlivened us all. I couldn’t stay as long as they wanted though. I needed to get home to clean up for a guest visit now just two days away.

That evening, the contractor called and said they wanted to come and start on the unfinished loft above the Great Room.

Loft Before

We’d talked about this project over the past few years, but it had never gone beyond that. The idea is to turn the wasted area into a kind of reading garret with a small love seat with a foldout bed at the far end. Of course, the walls will be lined with bookcases.

“Tuesday, boss. Leave the door unlocked.”

I bit my tongue. My guest was coming on Tuesday. But when a long put off project can finally be begun, you don’t postpone it.

And you don’t say no to contractors. They might never come back.


Monday, I was all set to go home and clean up for my guest. I’d done a little, but I needed to make his bed. Vacuum everywhere. Put stuff away… dishes, sink…

My older son surprised me by saying he and his spouse were coming up to shop for books and wanted to go out for dinner. They had the holiday off. Five of us met at the venerable Mountain View Diner which has been in front of the Wonder Book Frederick location since we opened there in 1990. It has been there much longer, but I can’t find any info online. It is a classic diner with lots of stainless steel booths with brightly colored plastic cushions. It evokes the 1950s. Not many left remember that. I don’t, for example. As with many classic diners, they offer a selection of Greek specialties.

When the kids were little, we would often breakfast there. They’d get silver dollar pancakes. I’d get two eggs over medium, home fries, bacon, rye toast… We would play table games. Usually sliding 3 quarters between each other across the table until you got close enough to try to get one to hang over the table’s edge. If it fell off the table—no points. I had some breakfast for dinner on Monday. When I got home, I didn’t have much energy for cleaning. Plus, I wanted to see if Tom Brady could do it one more time. (He couldn’t, but I stayed up til the end in case his last pass of the game was the last of his career.)

Tuesday, I got a late start as the contractor wanted to touch base. It is a pretty straightforward project. Not much you can do with a long narrow room. He’s figured out a way to keep the bugs from wintering up there. It is just ladybugs and stinkbugs. They somehow find their way into the rafters and through the insulation. Always have. Can’t have that.

Then down the mountain to work.

My guest hadn’t estimated the time of his arrival. He was coming down from Westchester County, so I guessed early afternoon. Should I go home and finish cleaning up? The only thing I had to do that day was attend a meeting with a potential tenant for the second 52,000 square foot warehouse. A blue-chip company that needs a lot of extra space. It could be perfect. My guest called and said he’d run into a lot of traffic near Philly. I went to the meeting. There were about twelve of us around a big conference table at their place. Brokers, contractors, engineers, a technical advisor, me and a bunch of their people. We went over the blueprints. It would be perfect for them. They wondered about a three-year lease with multi 5-year options. Yikes! It is a big expense to get someone into a new building… 3 years is not much of a commitment in these types of matters.

Then they wanted to give us a tour of what they do. We’d passed a stylized map of the world which showed their 8 or so locations around the world. The facility was mostly a factory for very high-tech information-processing machines that were, when finished, as big as a small garage. Hundreds of employees were busy doing things in the several buildings with numerous construction phases we passed through. We all had to wear protective glasses. It took a long time. I surreptitiously texted a couple of people at the warehouse to be on the lookout for my friend.

The meeting wound down after an outdoor inspection. It could be perfect for both parties, and that is what contracts should be.

We shall see…

One quirky feature they had was vending machines throughout the assembly areas. The kind with a big glass window through which you can see the offerings hung on screw-shaped bars. You put your money in, push a code number, and the screw turns. The item you chose drops to the bottom of the box. You push a small gate to access your treat. These took no money. And the items vended were small tools and work gloves—items that were in regular use… ingenious. Management could track just how many drill bits were going out and to whom.

One of their technical guys was a fan of the Wonder Book store. Had been for many years. Giving him my business card, I encouraged him to come visit the warehouse.

I got to the warehouse just as my friend was walking in the front door. I gave him the “tour.” He wanted to go shop at the store with all the glass cases of collectible books before it closed. He followed me across town. We breezed through the store quickly. The contents of the cases didn’t seem to interest him enough to get into them.

That was ok with me. I was ready for dinner.

“Let me drive you downtown to see Frederick city. It is beautiful.”

We toured the Market St corridor with all its Georgian buildings. We paused to look up the Carroll Creek Promenade. In winter, the creek is filled with brightly colored “boats” sponsored by businesses and charities. There are several dozen, and the effect is stunning in winter’s dark nights. I pointed out many of the fine restaurants and boutiquey shops. I found a parking place near a good one. When you step in, it is very much like being in a Parisian bistro. Posters, tiny tile flooring, old looking wood. Beautiful.

We had an excellent meal. The owner was a little too chatty. “…the building is from the 1770s…”

Many Frederick buildings are that old.

He kept name-dropping things about France and Paris and high-end DC places.

Tedious after a while. I was interested in speaking with my friend.

Of course, the fact that we were the only two patrons in the building at 6 p.m. didn’t help.

The new normal for many restaurants. I feel for them.

Back to the Frederick store where he had left his car.

“The road gets a little bumpy going up the mountain. Try to stay close to the track I drive.”

The contractor had been there all day, and there was equipment outside and tarps and stuff inside. So much for the “clean up.”

I asked if my friend wanted to look out on the valley and chat or watch some TV.

The first movie to hand was a Blu-Ray of Mr. Holmes starring Ian McKellen. Holmes is an aged beekeeper trying to deal with the physical and mental frailties of advanced age. It is a beautiful film. (Blu-Ray offer by the far the best picture you can get—far better than streaming or anything else. I really felt like we were on the Cliffs of Dover.)

Then we went down, and he helped me make his bed… LOL. I hadn’t gotten that far.

I cranked up the heat to get some flowing downstairs. The woodstove sets a high threshold upstairs. I sweated a lot that night.

I checked on the progress in the garret to be.

Loft After


I heard my friend rattling around about 7. I hurriedly set my routine into action:

Dogs, birds, firewood, water for tea, weather forecast, shower.

No time for the journal or to surf the phone for news.

He had coffee. I had tea. Trying to get more and better sleep.

He wanted breakfast, so I led him to the Mountain View Diner. I had 2 eggs over medium, home fries, crispy bacon, rye toast and coffee.

On to the warehouse, and I got him set up in a collectible book room.

We’ve discovered a problem lately. Competitors are using our name “Books by the Foot” to create ads. Doing a search for Books by the Foot, their ads are appearing above our “real” site in searches. If one didn’t look closely, they might click on the ad Books by the Foot—thinking it was us.

Damn! Always something. We are pursuing various avenues to counteract this. That requires meeting… and meetings…

My bookseller friend wrapped up pretty quickly. He found 8 or 10 books, and the sale was nice. I think it may have been a combination of being overwhelmed by the sheer volume here and a desire to get on the road to try to be the traffic around New York City.

That evening, another friend reached out. “Get a drink and some food?”

Reading between the lines, I supposed it was girls’ night out, and he was being left behind.

We had a nice supper. The Filet was only $18 at Roast House Pub. What!? It was a decent size and came atop a platform of warm potato salad. I opted for garlic mash as my side. The beers were great.

I hadn’t been there for a long, long time. I used to go pretty regularly. The usually full small parking selection was mostly empty. There were a few people at the bar, but we were the only ones there for dinner.

“It has never been so easy to park here,” I said to my friend.

Thursday, I went home and ate some leftovers.

Despite my somewhat frenetic social life this week, the one recurring theme was books, of course. Cartloads of books every day. I enjoy it. But it is like digging sand on the beach. Whatever progress you make is quickly filled in.

Many Carts

There will be many more by this afternoon.

There were some fun books last weekend.

I had high hopes for the plainly bound half leather octavo.

Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal

It looked like nothing on a cart of average old books. When I opened it, the iconic frontispiece engraving of Baudelaire was looking back at me.

Baudelaire's Les Fleurs du Mal

Unsavory looking fellow.

I sent it to Annika, and she doesn’t think it is “right.” I’ll hang on to it until I can delve more deeply into it.

Larry brought a gorgeous run of Easton Press.

Easton Press

This was only the more interesting half I assigned to Madeline. There were some signed editions, including two by Ed Hillary.

The first eight issues of The Baker Street Journal in fine condition caught my eye. Then a second identical set appeared. Strange.

I got the last of the flower bulbs in last Sunday. REALLY! Although the ground was lightly frozen, I set myself up on my hands and knees and pushed one after the other into the ground—which was soft composted manure below an inch of frozen crust.

The level of aconites didn’t seem down decrease in the bucket.

Aconite Bucket

Handful after handful after handful…

Tonight, I’m meeting friends. A Pulitzer Prize-winning writer and two Egyptologists. They’ll be discussing a female Egyptologist about whom a book is coming out. I’ll be a fly on the wall. So many meals out. At least I’m not complaining about going away.

That will be next week…

2 Comments on Article

  1. Tom Campbell commented on

    If the female Egyptologist is Barbara Mertz, please let us know the title and author when the book is published.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      It is a French Egyptologist.
      Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *