Give Me a Cart of Old Books


Oneirology: the scientific study of dreams.

The week has been full of dreams. Elusive ones. But dreams that feel good upon awakening.

Perhaps the subconscious mind is trying to offer comfort in these—more than ever—uncertain times.

Old Book Cart

Give me a cart of old books at the end of complex day and week.

Unsorted but for age.

Sourced…this time from a charity that used to dump anything not a textbook or children’s book. They rescue those to send to Africa.

Give me a cart of books. Or nine. (There are 9 lined up for me.)

I can stand before them. At the end of the day. Near the end of a week notable for the bizarrities continuing in this poor battered country.

Give me a cart—or 9—of old books. Sourced from…somewhere. Somebody brought them to us because we will pay something. It costs money to throw books away.

I can rescue them all.

I anthropomorphize tomes betimes.

All would be destroyed without the machine I invented.

While I’m whiling away the end of the day looking at every book’s title and pulling off those I can offer to readers or collectors and setting those onto an empty cart, I put them in price piles. When I’m done, I’ll put a Post It price atop each stack. Some may be annotated “1st Edition” as well.

I’m working in an unusual spot for me. Near the far northeast corner of the building. It is the Books by the Foot region. The carts were loaded there for my inspection.

It’s good because I’m waiting for someone who needs to enter via a seldom-used door leading in from the Dockyard.

We have had a cat appearing in the warehouse during quiet times. I’ve seen it on weekends emerging from the Men’s Room. I assume getting a drink of water. Others have seen it when closing or opening. It trots away in this direction. The northeast corner of this vast warehouse. I’ve been awakened by calls from the alarm company a couple times recently:

“Motion detector.”

Since no door has been breached, I assumed it was the cat.

There are some people here allergic to cats or simply ailurophobic. Also, I’m quite sure it isn’t current on shots. Probably not neutered.

I think it has been here several years—living peacefully in a trailer. Able to climb in the small gap between the dock door and the backs of the trailers that are always open.

Only recently has it found someway to sneak inside.

I’ve seen a big black and white tom hunting in the fields surrounding the warehouse for years. It simply trots into the high grass if I approach.

I called a cat-rescue person someone told me about, “Tip Me Frederick”, a week or so ago. She called Thursday morning and said she could bring traps that afternoon.

I’m working and waiting near the door to let her in. I believe the cat is living in one of the trailers around Docks 16-18. That way she won’t have to carry the trap across the building.

The cat rescue lady appears on Thursday near closing. She is very nice and sets traps inside and outside. A little dish of tuna, salmon and meow mix is the bait.

After treatment, she will relocate the black and white tom to a barn somewhere, she tells me.

It is good work she does.

While she’s setting up the traps, I work on a cart laden with old mysteries. The teens and twenties and before and after. Mostly ex-library.

But a blessing. Not for the money. Money no longer means much. (Well, not exactly…)

There is joy. In discovery. In rescue.

Book rescue. Cat rescue.

Someone in the world will want these.

The cat rescue lady tells me to call her in the morning. She seems confident the cat will be caught.

Then she leaves.

I push the cart of priced books distilled from the 9 carts up to the southwest corner of the building where they will be put on the internet for the world’s biblioeyes to see.

Then I go home alone.

Most friends don’t want company while the Plague rages.

I am home. After an ugly day. After an ugly week. After an ugly month. After an ugly year.

I put on Pandora. “Delibes” station. I sit in the bay window, darkness creeping eastward across the distant valley. The sun setting behind me. The mountain it is dropping behind casts a shadow. That shadow moves east. I can almost see its motion—creeping over fields, farms, roads and homes. Pandora gives me a couple tunes (“Clair de Lune”) and then Lakme‘s “The Flower Duet.”

And then commercial after commercial after commercial. Horrible things. Jarring ads.

Too much.

Pandora’s desperation for revenue has reached the tipping point for me.

I rise and push the button on my iPhone hooked to speakers. Goodbye, Pandora App. The years with you have gotten worse. Like a bad relationship, I wonder if I’ve done something wrong.

Pandora is deleted.

I’ll get my music from some other internet oligarch.

Or perhaps I’ll start playing my dusty collection of CDs at home. Or, God forbid, LPs. Full circle.

What is WRONG with you?

And you?

And YOU!?


I don’t ask for much.

I pay plenty.

You greedy beasts—all you want is more.

More of me, my info, my enslavement.


I stay away from social media.

I stay away from news which is little more than blatant Op Eds or worse.

What is WRONG with you?

And you?

And YOU!?


I write in silence while something warms in the stove. Soup, canned, heats atop it.

My reward—an Old Fashioned with a half-dozen crushed brandied cherries in the bottom of the tumbler is near at hand.

The first Old Fashioned.

I write this story til the timer goes off. The valley is dark now but for distant twinkling lights man made.

My writing got a but sloppy and fuzzy with the cocktails’ assistance. I’ll clean up the typos tomorrow.

Goodbye, 2021.

2021—you’re already worse than 2020.

We were ignorant of the poisons planted from without and within for most of the first three months last year. So 2020 wasn’t ALL bad.

Then it was:

“No masks. Masks are bad.”


“Just a couple weeks to flatten the curve.”


Masks are mandatory everywhere.


The world is shut down.


…where we are now. “Worse than ever.”

It is the end of January 2021.

Nearly a year of COVID bookselling.

Horror stories surround us.

It has been nearly a year of Kabuki theater. Maybe the last and worst performance was this week. Plenty more to come, I’m pretty sure.

A tiny crocus is blooming in the garden just outside the warehouse door. I noticed it just as I was leaving today. A surprise. January 22nd is quite early. Very early—if memory serves.


In the past, I would look at this as a hopeful omen.

Now, I just wonder what the little thing is thinking poking its head out so early. A January flower…

Goodbye, 2021.

I don’t believe in you.

The prognosis seems to be that this year is already decided and done.

The vaccine that will save us all?

I have no idea when I’ll get my first dose. March? May?

And then there is the second dose…

Right now Frederick County—January 22—is in the top part of Tier 2 (75 and older.) I’m in Tier 3.

So far, 12,150 people have had their first dose (4.6%.) 1,226 the second (0.4%.) The county has had 14,693 cases. 221 deaths. The population is 264,000.

So, maybe I’ll get shot in February once? More likely March. The second dose…who knows?

On the radio this morning, some schools in the region are still not opening much.

Some teachers’ unions want shots first. They’ll likely want the kids shot.

The radio said officials don’t believe kids will be shot until 2022. (That is IF they’ll be shot. They don’t have a kids’ vaccine developed yet. They’re not sure they want to give the kids vaccines at all.)


Dr. Fauci’s latest is that the vaccines may not be as effective against the new mutant strains.

Always a ray of sunshine. And he loves the camera.

“100 days—100 million doses,” the new group in charge commands.

That’s about May 1st. Is that 100 million single doses or double doses?

America’s Doctor also had these thoughts about theater.

Fauci: Americans can go to theaters once a vaccine has existed for ‘almost a year.’
‘I would think by the time we get to the end of 2021,’ he said.

I’m sure some cities and states may continue their reluctance even then. Restaurants are still closed for indoor dining in adjacent Montgomery County.

He believes masks are here to stay this year as well.

I’m not making any plans anytime soon.

So it continues. My COVID bookseller’s existence: Wake, write, work, home, eat, read, bed…




I wonder how many stone-ringed gardens I’ll create in 2021? How much wood I’ll cut?

How many book stories I’ll write?

I wonder how long my hair will get. (I’ve gotten used to the ponytail.)

I’m not tired of work…it is still fun. The discoveries. The people we make happy.

Like this email that came in this week:

Hi Chuck, I am so grateful for Wonder Book. I live near the Gaithersburg store, in Washington Grove. Some months ago, I started a project to get used books to a women’s correctional facility in New Mexico that has been requesting books. All of my neighbors have been leaving all their unwanted books on my front porch. About half go to the jail. The other half, those that are not appropriate for the NM ladies—Lonely Planet Guides, English-Vietnamese dictionaries, books like Post-Scarcity Anarchism, etc.—go to Wonder Book, so that we can get WB credits. Those credits are often used to buy books for a kids’ library that one of my neighbors, Betsy, runs out of her garage (with tiny chairs and tiny tables.) A win-win-win all around!

A couple of weeks ago, I found out about another Marylander who goes to Sierra Leone periodically and takes books with her for a school and community center. Betsy volunteered to use up all of her outstanding WB credits for this project. So this week we went to the Gaithersburg store—where you have fantastically helpful employees!—and we bought $200 worth of kids’ classics that we thought the kids in Sierra Leone would enjoy.

When I got home, I thought that our haul lacked one type of book: books featuring Black kids. Those books were all mixed in with the other kids’ books in the store. So I got onto your website, drilled down to Books › Juvenile Fiction › People & Places › United States › African American, and lo and behold, there they all were, together in one place. I ordered another 20 books and they arrived at the Gburg store two days later. No shipping costs, and $1 off per book because I picked them up at the store. I was thrilled. In a few weeks, they will be in the hands of those kids in Sierra Leone.

See all the good you have a hand in?


And the books we rescue.

Book Rescue

Sometimes we are out of room on the shelves, but we just make do as best we can.

The only option for them if we turn them away is destruction.

No, it is not true. I am getting tired of work. I’m getting tired of my home.

Both wonderful places.

Too much of a good thing.

I’m a farmer!

When I got home last Friday, this was set in my barn.

Tree Farm Sign

That is so cool.

My property is a conservation zone. There are many things I can’t do. (Like cutting down lots of trees and putting livestock in…) There are other things I’m required to do.

It’s not a lot of work. The forest generally takes care of itself.

Still, I’ll be proud to put up that sign.

I’m proud to be a woodland steward. I get inspected every 5 years by a Forestry agent. He visited last fall and said everything looks good.

In many, many ways, I live a small life. I create almost no personal waste. The leftovers go to the dogs or get composted. Any paper I generate I take to work to send to the pulper. My electric bills are miniscule. I heat with wood (usually from dead trees.) It is moderate enough that I rarely turn on the air conditioning.

It is a lifestyle. It is also a bit of a game.

It is Friday.

Another book week ending.

This weekend will almost certainly end up looking like this:

Slider image
Slider image

That was how last week ended.

It was very satisfying. But there are so many, many more books waiting for my attention.

I met a friend for Sunday night dinner at a place called Distilled. We sat at the bar and chatted with the bartender. Cocktails, appetizers, entrees. Lots of leftovers to carry out.

There was football on. Interesting to see the “old” quarterbacks still performing in the postseason.

I was kind of young when they started. When they are gone, I won’t have any connection with the game anymore. Most of the new players seem to come and go or move from team to team.

The week was…just a week. I left early to plant bulbs before it got too dark. I am almost done! Maybe a couple hundred minor bulbs left. Those are easy. I can usually just push them under ground with my thumb. (Boy, that’s cold. Actually. it just gets numb after a while. Then I go in and warm the hands under heated water.)

The BBC never followed up for my Worldwide TV interview. The fifteen minutes of fame (or notoriety) is likely over.

This is probably the most political Books by the Foot statement we’ve ever made:

Meet the Press
Meet the Press: Television Set 1 (Designed by Clickspring Design) Style(s): Modern Law Sets, Choose Your Subject: Politics, Professional Glossy Look
Meet the Press
Meet the Press: Television Set 2 (Designed by Clickspring Design) Style(s): Modern Law Sets, Choose Your Subject: Politics, Professional Glossy Look

That set got demolished when one host was replaced with another.

A few charming books came in.

A limited edition of The Etchings and Dry-points of Childe Hassam arrived. The frontispiece was an original and signed in pencil by him using his monogram.

Slider image
Slider image

I have a Childe Hassam!

I’m sure I’ll never get an oil.

A match to the TS Eliot that came last week. This one an identically bound, signed limited Four Quartets.

Caryn found a Grimms’ Fairy Tales and The Story of Ferdinand—signed by Sendak and Leaf respectively.

Slider image
Slider image

Annika has found lots of interesting things, but no big sleepers this week.

This little group of signed Octavia Butlers is impressive.

Octavia Butlers

The reorganization and shelving of my collection at home is proceeding. I’ll be impressed with my exquisite taste when it is finished…LOL.

Slider image
Slider image
Slider image

We sent out 25-30 boxes of food to the Rescue Mission—500-600 cans, I think.

Donated Cans

I got a text at 7 am this Friday morning. One of the early managers checked on the cat trap.

A big handsome black and white tom was calmly crouched in the trap. The rescue lady picked him up later in the morning. He will get surgery and shots and likely be placed in a barn somewhere.

Rescued Tom

Rescue…we rescue what we can.

Book Rescue

6 Comments on Article

  1. Kevin Mullen commented on


    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      LOL…find me a great book!


  2. Michael Dirda commented on

    FWIW: I feel much the same weariness as you do, Chuck. I’m even getting tired of reading and writing–but, except for cleaning the house or cooking (which I dislike), what else can I do, stuck at home? Marian has been on crutches now for three months, just had a second surgery to take the metal out of her leg that was likely causing her incision not to close, and is frustrated at being trapped in the house and unable to garden or see people except on Zoom. At least you get to talk to the Wonder Book employees and meet people for dinner. Here, we just do our work and try to stay sane. A fair number of people we know have died or had serious health crises in 2020, so, despite our pandemic fatigue, we have been relatively lucky so far. At the moment, we just want to get vaccinated and Marian to start physical therapy. Both can’t come too soon.–md

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Give Marian my best
      I hope you can both take some joy in the kids and grandkids
      I am typing up old old verse from Mss put in piles long ago.
      Why not?
      TV is tedious
      But I started I, Claudius last night.
      I haven’t seen that for years.

      I AM very lucky to have the warehouse to go to. And the occasional home run book still stimulates
      But I want to go somewhere.

      Let me know if I can send you anything
      There are only 2-3 people in the warehouse on weekends if you want forage. A lot of old books are pouring in.

      Sometimes it feels like I’m the only one doing this?
      A “mission” and a duty.
      My hopes for recovery and vaccine for you both.
      Let me know if there’s anything that would make Marian happy.
      I’ll hope some rare papers come in…

  3. Thomas Wixon commented on

    Thanks for your kindness to the Tuxedo Tom. Books come after Cats on my favorite list. As an Instituted Acolyte I read Morning & Evening Prayer (Catholic) & today St. Paul talked about “But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body. For not all flesh is alike, but there is one kind for men, another for animals, another for birds, and another for fish.” Even plants & animals. So we can’t be so bold as to say our furry friends will not be given a place in God’s kingdom? There is a reason not to be unkind to animals as well as people. You & your friend are participating in a blessing. Agnus Dei, Miserere Nobis.
    Br. Benedict

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Br Benedict?
      Tell me more.
      It turns out the cat was neutered already. S i may be a runaway or abandoned. I believe it has been around the building for quite a while – although not inside.
      I just reached out to check on him and I’m waiting to hear back.

      Thanks for writing !

Leave a Comment

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