Full Circles with Detours and Reinventions—Journal of a Plague Year, Week 14

WG Construction

A number of readers have commented that I should look for a publisher or an agent.

I have decided to go for it!

I am certain this will be a bestseller.

It may surprise you that it will be an “extreme” gardening book!

The subject will be on gardening in the tightest of tight places.

The tentative title will be:

“Crack Gardening”

That’s got a hook, don’t it?

If flowers, herbs and vegetables can flourish in the Wonder Book and Books by the Foot warehouse parking lots and sidewalks, why not share my knowledge and expertise with others?

A national movement could be started to beautify and get produce from all the abandoned shopping malls, strip centers and other forlorn parking lots across the country.

So far the crops here are all “volunteers”—i.e. self-seeded from plants that shed seeds last fall.

But I suppose I could cultivate cracks that appear to have potential using composted manure or other enriched soil. Then I could seed the cracks with proven “crackers.”

Crack Gardening

This year there are a number of snapdragons, tomatoes, dill and Italian parsley. (Is it ok to say “Italian”?)

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Actually, the parsley is by far the most successful accidental crop this year. Some are well over 5 feet tall and going to seed!

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But there are still seedlings sprouting all over.

Last fall there was so much dill and parsley seed in the seed heads that I shook a lot into a box and took them home. I cast them along the edge of the driveway. I have a decent amount of dill growing, but the parsley has gone rogue. Here’s a “wall” or screen of it along the drive where I put a new stone border in the last couple weeks.

Driveway Parsley

I’m sure I can’t use it all. Here’s some potential for parsley’s nutritional value from Wikipedia:

Nutritional value per 100 g (3.5 oz)
Energy151 kJ (36 kcal)
Carbohydrates6.33 g
Sugars0.85 g
Dietary fiber3.3 g
Fat0.79 g
Protein2.97 g
VitaminsQuantity %DV
Vitamin A equiv. beta-Carotene lutein zeaxanthin53% 421 μg 47% 5054 μg 5561 μg
Thiamine (B1)7% 0.086 mg
Riboflavin (B2)8% 0.09 mg
Niacin (B3)9% 1.313 mg
Pantothenic acid (B5)8% 0.4 mg
Vitamin B67% 0.09 mg
Folate (B9)38% 152 μg
Vitamin C160% 133 mg
Vitamin E5% 0.75 mg
Vitamin K1562% 1640 μg
MineralsQuantity %DV
Calcium14% 138 mg
Iron48% 6.2 mg
Magnesium14% 50 mg
Manganese8% 0.16 mg
Phosphorus8% 58 mg
Potassium12% 554 mg
Sodium4% 56 mg
Zinc11% 1.07 mg

Parsley is a source of flavonoids and antioxidants, especially luteolin, apigenin, folic acid, vitamin K, vitamin C, and vitamin A. Half a tablespoon (a gram) of dried parsley contains about 6.0 µg of lycopene and 10.7 µg of alpha carotene as well as 82.9 µg of lutein+zeaxanthin and 80.7 µg of beta carotene.

Some of the dill plants are already mature and going to seed. This one is over 4 feet tall and beautiful!

Big Dill

Fresh dill has many uses. For my basic bachelor canned tuna meals, my “recipe” is:

Open a can of tuna—Genova solid is the best I’ve found.
Drain off the olive oil or spring water.
Shake the tuna out of the can and into a bowl.
Add Hellman’s Mayo or Miracle Whip to taste.
Dill relish to taste.
Jarred chopped Italian hot cherry peppers to taste.
Snip lots of fresh dill in.
Fresh ground pepper.
Stir it with a fork til kinda blended.

Take the bowl with some crackers, toasted bread or even oven baked street tortillas to the TV room.

It pairs well with a dry white wine—like Sauvignon Blanc. I avoid twist top bottled wine. Plastic and metal tops are some kind of plot, I believe. I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist, but there’s something…unholy…about twist tops.

Put on some edifying DVD and have at it.

I will have to chop some parsley in next time and certainly garnish with it—for aesthetic reasons if nothing else.

Alternatively, I grill tuna steaks outside—usually only if I’m having company. I generously chop dill atop it. When it is nearly ready, I’ll lay on a couple dill fronds. (Are they fronds? they look “frondish.”)


Do you think that is a good book idea?

I have always wanted to see my name on a book. This may be my best hope.

Here’s another culinary tip. This one is bookish. It came from this 1960s charity cookbook.

Who's Who in the Kitchen

LBJ’s Guacamole!


2 small ripe tomatoes, peeled
3 very ripe avocados, peeled
1 teaspoon dried red chili peppers with sees, or 6 dashes of Tabasco
1 large onion, quartered
1 teaspoon salt

Put tomatoes and onion through a food mill. Set aside to drain well. Just before serving, mash avocado to a pulp with a fork. Add salt and dried pepper. Mix in onions and tomatoes thoroughly. A little lemon juice may be added to prevent darkening.

Serve as a dip with toasted tortillas.

I mentioned in an earlier story that my dad went to school with him in a tiny central Texas school. South West Texas Teachers’ College.

1928 Southwest Texas State Teachers College Debate Team
Left to Right: Elmer Graham, Prof. Howard Mell Greene (Debate Coach), and Lyndon B. Johnson

And that I was in the receiving line at the foot of the steps of Air Force One (was it AF1 in 1964?) when LBJ visited Buffalo campaigning.

I recall vividly the tiny me shaking the President’s hand as I looked up and up and up…until I could see his face and the cowboy hat atop his head.

I also got to meet Ladybird. “How ARE yewwwww?” Was she dressed in a bright pink suit?

Bobby Kennedy was also there—running for the Senate in New York. There were a bunch of other notables and we got to travel in the motorcade (aboard a bus)…

Anyway, a little later, my dad took me to see his own childhood home in San Marcos, Texas. There he paid me the exorbitant sum of $1—2 Franklin silver half-dollars—to eat a raw oyster. I think candy bars were still a nickel and 10 ounce returnable bottles of Nehi Grape or Orange were a dime.

It wasn’t worth it. I gagged and somehow got it down and never trusted him on a food dare again.

Years later we traveled back to San Marcos to sell the house my dad was born in. My Aunt Alice was dying of cancer. My grandmother Boppa was in her 90s and had a touch of Alzheimer’s and had to discontinue housekeeping. Alice’s husband Tom was a kind of Atticus Finch character. A son of a Texas Ranger, he was in his 60s then. He showed me around his law office and explained the meaning of the word Jurisprudence printed on the spines of the long runs of law books along his walls.

Back at his house, he whipped up guacamole. As I was a Yankee 20-year-old, I was quite reluctant at the appearance of the green mush until I tasted it.


I got the recipe.

I started making it at home in Rockville after I drove the big 24 foot U Haul laden with family “heirlooms” solo across the country. I had never driven a truck before—much less a stick shift. It was a real adventure for this sheltered Washington Post Doonesbury worshipping kid.

Dad died in my arms about a month later—just before my 21st birthday.

Things sure changed then.

I still love Guacamole.

I will have to make some soon when the first tomatoes with “taste” ripen. There’s no comparison. Store bought tomatoes are tasteless.

I’ll try LBJ’s version and see if it lights me up.

The world around has changed greatly in the last week.

I did indeed go out for dinner and drinks last Friday.

I started at my friend David’s brewery—Smoketown—adjacent to the Carroll Creek Promenade. It was the first time the public had been permitted back in to openly drink his draft beer.

I had a couple Patsy’s—an excellent IPA with nice bite to it. It is named after singer Patsy Cline who was born in nearby Winchester Virginia. She got married to Gerald Cline, a Fredericktonian, after they met at her concert at the Brunswick Moose Lodge in 1953. There’s a humble house not far from the warehouse with a bronze plaque out front that says “Patsy Cline Lived Here.” Brunswick (a.k.a. Smoketown) is the rusty railway town where David started a brewery in the old firehall. This firehall also hosted concerts by Patsy, Duke Ellington, Roy Clark, Guy Lombardo, George Jones…

Smoketown is a bit pejorative but apt as Brunswick was a rough railway town. For years, the joke was: “Brunswick—Hills Whores and Bars.”

Now it is a growing residential exurb for the Washington DC Region. The MARC commuter train stops there and ferries workers to DC (when DC is open—which may happen soon.)

There is also kayaking on the adjacent Potomac River and C&O Canal, and the brewery is often frequented by bikers (bicyclers) and hikers using the wonderful Canal Towpath trail.

Anyway, my friend and I left Smoketown headed down the Promenade. It was a beautiful spring evening. A lot of people were out strolling, but it was by no means crowded. We were looking for a restaurant to celebrate the first evening of indoor seating since March. I’d called 5 or so:

No answer.

“Next week.”

“Two hour wait.”

We wandered around the old town and every place was still carry out only or had lengthy waits.

One place had two empty tables behind a rail on a raised curb between the sidewalk and the storefront. It was Summitra—a Thai place. There were only two tables in total. An employee in a mask and gloves was making a carry out transaction at the door.

When she was free, we mumbled to one another through our masks and eventually we were seated.

It was a wonderful meal. Appetizers, eggplant with garlic sauce and vegetarian Pad Thai.

Summitra Meal

It was so exciting that I rushed my cocktail order a bit. I chose a House Specialty from their vinyl-bound cocktail menu—usually not a good idea. I wasn’t sure they’d be able to make a Vesper. I ordered a Muay Thai – TKO. My mind tends to get foggy wearing the mask I’ve found. I think I read Mai Tai.

What came looked like a giant glass of guacamole.

Muay Thai - TKO

It was sweet (not my usual choice) and deceptively potent. It was very good.

So good I ordered a second. This was its sister version: Muay Thai – UFC.

This came out looking kind of brown.

It was also sweet and potent.

I regretted it…the next morning.

I felt a little twinge of concern. I’d washed my hands. I’d worn my mask. They seemed extremely serious about their protocols.

But I’d had dinner served to me! And I had cocktails mixed for me—albeit gimmicky ones. Was this risky behavior?

Here’s the TKO ingredient list:

Vodka, Gin, Rum, Bourbon, Noyeaux, Blue Curacao, Sour Mix, PJ, OJ Top with Tequila PATRON Silver.

What was I thinking? It was kind of like a Zombie I used to get when I was young in the old Hunan Garden in Rockville.


I wasn’t.

Still, it was kind of an alcoholic Proustian Madeleine memory.

Another Friday.

Ernest is driving the van to Gaithersburg.

That store opens tomorrow!

We could open at 5pm this evening, but it seems hardly worth it for just one hour.

The county announced Monday that Phase 2 (modified) would begin at 5pm Friday.

Why 5pm?

Why Friday?

I’m sure there are metrics and numbers and scientists involved.

I’m sure glad, whatever the equation, the bookstore will come to life. It has been odd visiting the shuttered place where I started in 1980 and that was started 5 years earlier by Eleanor Sickles as something to keep her busy since her nest was empty.

There was a skeleton staff there often doing maintenance work.

I don’t know if it had ever been closed except for occasional snow days in all those years.

COVID-19 had shut it down by government mandate since March 23 at 5pm.

BUT…there was a problem when the reopening announcement came Monday.

We weren’t ready.

Tim has been extremely busy this spring. We needed another 25 or 30 bookcases to get the last categories off the floor.

We also needed “spit guards”—plastic sheets to separate customers from employees hung around the counter in order to open.

I sent a text to my old friend: “Urgent…”

He called me that evening while I was sitting at the top of the driveway throwing golf balls down the steep asphalt drive. Either Merry or Pip would hurtle their Jack Russell muscle-bound bodies down the slope. If the ball careened off the drive and into the woods or logging ditch adjacent, they would skid to slow down and then pivot sideways. They do a little Superman leap—rear legs extended rearward, fore legs extended forward—before disappearing into the fern brakes. They rarely lose a ball. Must be scent.

“I pulled some strings. I don’t have any help. Doug is out. My second and third guys are unavailable. But I found someone. I’ll be down there late morning tomorrow.”

Hmmmm…it’s kind of disconcerting when things go right that you thought would go awry.

Tuesday I took a van down and met with him and the landlord’s contractor.

We walked through the silent store, deciding on the final steps necessary to allow the public in.

Tim began erecting bookcases.

WG Construction

These are the first changes to this store since the 1980s.

WG New Shelves

Ernest and I are driving back to the warehouse.

The Gaithersburg store looks mostly ready. By tomorrow morning, the final pieces will be in place.

I’m glad the place wasn’t completely dormant the last three months. I think there are 75 or so new bookcases. The LP and CD room will have some more bins and shelves, eventually. Until then, there will be a lot of boxes of new arrivals on the floor for you to root through.

I know customers like being the first to see things.

There are thousands of new (old) books on the new shelves as well. Most categories got substantially expanded.

If you’re a regular down there, please make a comment here or email me directly with your thoughts.

On the domestic front, I’ve been gardening a lot. I did go out again Sunday with a friend. We went to Oscar’s, which had announced early on that they were never reopening. I’m glad they changed their minds. They offer 40 or so craft beers on tap. We sat at a high top outside. There was seating inside as well, but it was a beautiful day. They also had a long table at the curb and were still doing curbside meals for people driving through. About 20 feet away, a group of heavily inked young people emerged from a tattoo parlor and smoked on the sidewalk. The cigarette smell wafted by.

But during the week, I went home and dug and planted.

I lifted up a stone and a strange creature was curled in a void in the soil beneath it.


It had an odd head. I think it is a “worm snake.” It quickly slithered back into the earth. It is exciting to see a creature I’ve never seen before. I was a zoology major in college, and the diversity of animals has always fascinated me. I have a “Life List” of animals I’ve observed on the mountain in the last 10 years.

I brought up more stones.

I made this plant stand!

Plant Stand

It’s very heavy and not exactly level. The hard-to-kill plants atop it are still in recovery from wintering indoors.

The lilies are starting to bloom up there.

Blooming Lily

I planted a lot more lilies this spring. I need to remember to prop up the giant ones out front. They grow about 8 feet tall. Looking up at the giant flowers above me, I call them “maneaters.” Not exactly like Audrey in Little Shop of Horrors, but kind of intimidating in a perfumy way.

I started grilling every night this week. I don’t know what I’d been waiting for. Grilling means no pans to wash!

I got in the mood for hot dogs and got these all natural gluten free, isotope free, nitrite, nitrate, dairy, MSG free.

Wardynski's Hot Dogs

But…wow! The best tasting hot dogs I can remember having. They’re from my hometown Buffalo. Wardynski’s. My mom would make plenty of hot dogs, but certainly nothing as exotic as this Polish product.

I also cooked some mussels. 2 pounds for $5 at Wegman’s. I am a sucker for a deal. But then I had to eat two pounds of mussels (in white wine, butter and lots of garlic snipped with scissors.)

Wegman's Mussels

The shells were dumped in a garden. I hate sending anything natural to the landfill.

The gardens at the warehouse are doing well. I harvested the first peppers today. Cayenne, I think.

First Warehouse Peppers

I expanded those gardens as well.

Planted Seeds

Wonder Book and Veggies.

All in the name of stress abatement.

So, tomorrow the whole empire will finally be back where we were in March.


There are changes. Everyone will be masked for the foreseeable future. There are guidelines posted for staff and customers. Some of these rules are internal—created for safety as well as our own peace of mind. Many more mandated by the state and the three different jurisdictions in which we do business.

I am suddenly very tired.

It is as if everything that has happened in the last three months is done. A giant weight is off my back.

The vigilance won’t stop though.

There is still the fear and terror.

Nelson brought a truckload of books today. Larry is out there right now with another load.

There are already many carts in my future. I’ll be in Saturday and Sunday.

There will be Premier League soccer, however!

It will be almost normal. There will be no fans in the stands. But I’ll have NBC Sports playing in the background on my laptop for the first time in months.

When is a book missing a page with thousands?

I’ve seen dozens of first editions of Raise High the Roof Beam by J D Salinger over the years. It is likely his most common first trade edition book.

Raise High the Roof Beam

I let a researcher in training look it up as it would be an easy exercise.

Her results were fine.

Trainee Notecard

It was a particularly fine copy, so I priced it high. $115. I left it for Madeline to put in the glass cases at the Frederick store. Eye candy like that sells to live customers as well as online buyers.

I was surprised Tuesday morning that she had returned it to a pile of books she wanted me to review after coming to the warehouse Monday.

Her note took me aback.

Madeline Note

I’d never heard of this anomaly. Apparently the first 20 or 30 copies of this book were bound with no dedication page! I asked her how she discovered this.

“It just didn’t feel right.”

Maybe there’s a bit of “divvie” in her as well.

Some expert I am.

My divvie self must have been snoozing.

But you can’t know everything.

As a generalist, I know a little about a lot of things.

It’s worked out pretty well so far.

And books are infinite after all. Or nearly so.

That reminds me. I’ve been commissioning Alan James Robinson with favorite author portraits while he has been in lockdown in Massachusetts.

The next portrait is Borges.

We bounced ideas and concepts around. It is amazing to have things in my mind’s eye executed into art by him.

Here’s the prelim. The layout of the Universal Library was my concept.

Borges Prelim

The final should be here next week.

I think it will be one of his best.

Larry dropped off some eye candy this afternoon.

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My weekend just got busier.

6 Comments on Article

  1. Norv commented on

    Gardening? Authoring? Texas? Surely you’ve seem some Neil Sperry books come through your shelves? Inspirations, perhaps? He self-published his latest with signing, dedicating a bunch, and shipping from his home in McKinney. He’s on Facebook if curious. Pretty sure I was in the G-burg store a few times eons ago before you got it. Video chat with a Frederick buddy today leaves me wanting to see N Market configured for weekend dining; I and your readers would get a kick out of a picture. Thanks. Carry on

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Hi Norv,

      Check the News Post for street images.

      I’ll try to include some next time as well.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!

  2. Terru commented on

    Things are definitely improving. I should have gotten a picture of the toad that came to visit the warehouse before I helped him back to the garden! Can’t wait for excess tomatoes and cucumbers to be offered. Wonder Book is definitely back on track…even with restrictions. Only good things to come! Glad to be part of it!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Terry. I hope things continue improving here.
      I appreciate what you do.
      Thank you for reading and commenting

  3. Rick Banning commented on

    Chuck, gardening in cracks? Have a memory of visiting Berkeley,CA, probably 1970something and thinking hey this is great, even the weeds in the sidewalk cracks are beautiful! And visiting Peter Howard’s Serendipity, spending a day looking at small press poetry books on a rolling ladder. Most from the Bay Area. How about a garden on a rolling cart? You could roll it to the room of someone bedridden and leave it for awhile….Rick Banning

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      California even has Aloe growing in cracks in the highway shoulders!
      Hawaii has orchids on the roadsides!
      I wish I’d gotten to Serendipity…
      Thank you for reading and writing Rick!

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