Sunday, August 29
I’m at Reagan Airport. I have a 10 p.m. flight to Buffalo, New York.
Why so late? The airline points were extremely low for the flight. I have over a million miles, but I’m still bargain hunter.
I’m at a bar. I can order touchlessly.
“Order in 3 easy steps.”
Easy for Leonardo…
After 4 or 5 tries, I showed my screen to the bartender. It said I wasn’t “signed in.”
(I swear I’m not completely incompetent or a Luddite with tech stuff.)
“I’ll take care of it for you.”
Not much choice for draft.
Bud Light (ughhh.) Stella (sold out.) Blue Moon (they put an orange slice in it.) Goose Island IPA (I’ve never tasted the “IPA” in Goose Island.)
I go for Goose Island. It is cold and wet. But no IPA.
I asked for two at once and the bill. I wanted to make it easy for her. They were already closing. Wiping down. Putting stuff away. 8:26 p.m. They close at 10.
There were lots of police cars around the terminal. Lights flashing. I assume it is heightened security due to the bombing half a world away. 500 years away.
It was a long day.
I should get away more often. I get SO much done beforehand. So many old problems carts were cleared off over the weekend.
I pulled the trigger on many items I couldn’t decide how to price or market—some for several years.
Now with reliable and motivated staff at the stores and warehouse, I can be creative and feel my decisions will be executed properly.
Material sent to the stores will be handled and displayed in a protected and attractive way.
Magazines have always been a problem. They are so fragile. Someone came up with this display.
I always feel an obligation to an object that has stood the test of time and has come into Wonder Book’s arms. I want it to find a new home and get it there in the same condition that it arrived in.
It was intense hard work—it felt good. But now I am exhausted.
Weeks ago, I thought and thought.
“Where can I go?”
More to the point, “Where can I go and feel confident I can get home again?”
I’m going home.
August began in an alien world. Iceland.
August will end where I was born and spent my first 13 years. A familiar world.
I will visit my childhood house. A place I still consider my home.
I am the last of the family that lived there from the 40s to the late 60s.
My elementary school. The library where my older brother Tony—who passed away just a few months ago—introduced me to Doctor Dolittle and the Winston Science Fiction Classics and… books. Eggertsville Library… I remember soon leaving the children’s section for the grown-up books.
I will see what else is left in Amherst and environs that I might recognize.
I was last there 6 years ago. That was a magical trip.
Then the magic was over.
How does that happen?
For some reason, going home makes me very sad—for many reasons.
There are three bars at this cluster of gates. My gate is a quarter mile away. The only thing at that cluster of gates is Peet’s Coffee. Coffee is not a good idea at this time.
I am so tired.
I got so much done today.
Books. Paper. Maps. Prints. Framed artwork. Well, mostly “framed cr**” in today’s batch.
All four vans are ready for tomorrow. Monday. Three are loaded with boxes for each store. One is empty and will go where it is needed.
My two beers were $26. I left a $6 tip. $32 for two cr** beers. At least they were big.
Have you ever listened to Jesse Winchester?
He is amazing. I don’t know what got me thinking of him. Dolorous, I guess. The ennui of sitting in an airport. Waiting to catch a flight home. A home that is all ghosts now, save for me. The melancholy that this visit will not be as glorious as the last. It will likely be my last. So many happy times growing up there. Well, this song floated up on those thoughts.
“The Brand New Tennessee Waltz” (see above)
So have all of your passionate violins
Play a tune for a Tennessee kid
Who’s feelin’ like leaving another town
With no place to go if he did
Cuz they’ll catch you wherever you’re hid.
More to the point:
Oh my, but you have a pretty face
You favor I girl that I knew
I imagine that she’s back in Tennessee
And by God, I should be there too
I’ve a sadness too sad to be true
But I left Tennessee in a hurry dear
In same way that I’m leaving you
Because love is mainly just memories
And everyone’s got him a few
So when I’m gone I’ll be glad to love you
… I’ve a sadness too sad to be true
Listen to “Biloxi”, “Yankee Lady”, “Mississippi, You’re on My Mind”…
And maybe one of the most perfect jewels of a song:
“The Skip Rope Song” (see below)
What made me think of him?
I’m repeating myself. At least I’m aware of it—this time… LOL…
It’s late. I had an exhausting day working with books. I’m on my second big beer. And I’m going home alone.
I’ll stand by those excuses.
We used to play CDs in the warehouse all the time. The CD player near me often had Winchester’s too few works on it.
That’s why CDs and albums are important.
Now we just play ambient music over the whole warehouse. Good songs. But they are in the background. And they are never in the context of an “album.” Random hits…
Would you have ever listened to Jesse Winchester if I hadn’t had his albums and then his CDs?
Maybe Apple Music would have suggested him to you.
I doubt it.
A magic place for me.
I had a great childhood. I have always thought so.
Well, I have a long walk to my gate.
I hope I have a rental car waiting for me. I always use Hertz. It’s automatic.
But Hertz closes at 10 p.m. in Buffalo.
So my travel agent booked a car for me. A first.
I’m going home.
Tomorrow, I will look at 1 million books an old friend wants to sell.
I’ll tell you later.
I checked into the Doubletree. It was after midnight. I was surprised when I pulled up that it was the same hotel I stayed at 6 years ago. That magical fantastical trip when I was given new eyes. Have you ever been given new eyes?
I didn’t choose that hotel intentionally. Maybe subconsciously. Just an accident. When I pulled up to it late Sunday night, a wave of sadness flowed over me. It hurt. I checked in and was given a warm chocolate chip cookie.
I pulled around the side of the large building and parked at a side entrance. I opened the door, and the skies opened. I was drenched. When I got up to the room, I tossed my wet clothes aside and fell into bed and ate my cookies.
I slept hard that night. I awoke and had breakfast. I never eat that unless I am traveling.
Then I got into my Kia “Something” and put the address for Old Editions—my old friend Ron Cozzi’s new—2017—bookstore. I left Amherst and was in Tonawanda in minutes. The phone told me I was there.
This is his old shop—6 years ago.
This is his current location that he moved into last year.
I pulled in front and knocked on the door. He is closed on Sundays and Mondays. No doorbell. I knocked on the door. Nothing. I called.
He let me in and gave me a tour.
The public spaces are breath taking.
He unlocked the rare book room.
“WOW Ron. This is just stunning!”
He led me through a warren of big storerooms. We ended at his office, which houses his personal collection as well. There’s an emphasis on chess books (he won numerous championships and actually played Bobby Fisher—facts about which he is very proud) and books about Western New York and Niagara Falls and the Erie Canal and Roycroft. There is a three-foot statue of Gutenberg I immediately coveted.
But I didn’t even ask. I knew it is not for sale.
He had called me a month or before.
“Come buy my books, Chuck. My wife keeps telling me not to leave them with her.”
I’ve known Ron Cozzi since the 90s—maybe the 80s. But until 6 years ago, I only knew him from meetings at book shows. In the old days, I’d be an exhibitor with him in Florida (“Spring Break for Booksellers”) or the huge (then) Baltimore antiques and book shows—maybe some others. We reconnected some years ago when I decided to start going to book shows again as an attendee. I’ve learned so much from that. Before that—from the last show I did in 2000—I felt no reason to go look at other people’s books. I had millions of my own. I think he might be about a decade older than I.
I thought to myself, ‘He did this all himself—moved a bookstore and warehouse in his 70s.’
We meandered back to the retail side of the building. Big room after big room of storage and staging.
“You should buy all these, Chuck.”
“Ron, I have all of these—boxes, I mean—boxes and boxes of books that are waiting, waiting.”
When we got to the rare room, I began shopping. It was difficult. There is so much. Where to begin?
I was a bit dazed and queasy from the rough weekend and late night. About noon, I got a text:
“You may have been exposed to COVID. You should get a test.”
Is that why I’m queasy? Do I feel warm?
Visions of me lying in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask over my face flooded my mind.
If I’m positive, I can’t fly back to Maryland. Can I just drive the rental home?
“Ron, I need to go get tested. Do you know anywhere?”
He gave me the name of an urgent care place. I walked in wearing my mask and explained the situation. They only offer 24-48 hour results.
“Is there a rapid test place nearby?”
They made a photocopy of a handwritten list. The nearest was right next to my hotel in a Marriott parking lot. It was a drive-through tent. There was no line of cars, but when I got to the entrance, the heavily masked guy asked for my barcode. I had to pull through and register on my phone. They had about 8 choices of tests. The quick test “Accepted by Canada” was like $250. I chose the cheapest antibody test at $65. Insurance doesn’t come into play.
“You can make a claim and get reimbursed.”
I drove in, and a heavily wrapped woman stuck sticks up my nose to my brain. (My last day in Iceland required a rapid test. Now my first day in Buffalo I’m being tested for cause.)
“You’ll get a text or email in 30 minutes to an hour.”
I headed back to Old Editions and began shopping again—rather more subdued.
The test dropped in. “Negative.”
“Let me take you to lunch.”
I don’t do lunch. I’m trying to lose the 2 COVID inches I’ve gained. But I know some people need that meal.
He took me to an ancient Italian restaurant. It was probably there when I was a kid. (There are a LOT of VERY old restaurants in the areas I went to.) The waitress had a very raspy smoker’s voice:
“What can I get ‘youse’?”
I don’t recall “youse” being part of the local argot.
The lunch specials were all reasonably priced but looked so heavy—1500 calories?
I looked at the regular menu and chose an appetizer—beans and spinach. I assumed it would be like fagioli.
I was wonderful.
I didn’t eat the pint of butter it was floating in.
“Let me show you my warehouse.”
As we drove, Ron began talking of wanting to buy a warehouse rather than renting the one we were driving to. Other tipoffs led me to believe he wasn’t anxious to leave the trade after all. Many booksellers I know and have known don’t want to let go.
Maybe they feel like I do, ‘What else would I do?’
There is an enormous Wurlitzer factory—now defunct.
A stunning building. They made pianos and organs and invented, I think, the jukebox. The city had given the building to a developer to repurpose. It looked like it was off to a good start (despite COVID.) Two big microbrew pubs. Ballrooms and banqueting facilities. A large chocolate factory and ice cream shop—Platters.
“They’re the people I bought my building from.” So Ron’s bookshop used to be a chocolate factory!
The warehousing was in back. We walked across an ancient battered loading dock. Down a long spartan cement floored and walled hallway painted industrial gray with big sliding wooden doors every 40 feet or so.
Ron undid the padlock and slid his door open. He flicked on the lights, and they slowly, slowly buzzed to life.
“You should buy these, Chuck. There’s some great stuff in here. We can’t find an $80,000.00 Bible misplaced in the move. I think it is in one of these boxes.”
“I’ve got all that, Ron. And no place to put more.” I chuckled. “Except the Bible…”
For some reason, the lights made the photos green.
We headed back. I made a few choices off the walls in the rare book room. The afternoon was getting late. I wanted to go home.
“We can go out to dinner tomorrow, Ron. Nothing fancy. Maybe some place old school with Beef and Wick.”
I headed to Snyder, down Main Street and found my old street—Washington Highway. It is no highway but a treelined unlined residential street. My childhood house is fourth up on the east side. When I was a kid, the street was lined with huge elm trees until Dutch Elm Disease came and killed one after the other.
The house was gray painted stucco, and the woodwork was a dark forest green when we moved to Maryland. The railing above the wraparound glazed porch must have rotted away and has never been replaced. I drove around the neighborhood. My old elementary school—I used to walk there every day—often through 5-foot snowdrifts… LOL.
I went back and parked a few houses away. I walked past the homes, recalling the names of the owners so long ago. There were a lot of kids on my street. Two Catholic families had 8 or 10, if I remember correctly. Then I walked down to Main Street. I recalled my beloved Siamese cat being chased by a neighbor’s dog and being killed there. Across Main is Daemen University. Creepy name, eh? It had been a monastery, I think. We used to sneak across to a grotto with a pond…
Back across Main to the enormous and architecturally interesting high school my three brothers graduated from.
I left half way through my first year in Junior High.
I knew every backyard on the block. In those days, kids explored everywhere, and we were never chastised (that I recall.) In summers, I would leave in the morning and wander all day until dinnertime.
Well, enough of that…
It was dinnertime. I searched for a couple of restaurants I remembered. Gone…
Then I searched for roast beef and few places popped up. One was called Alton’s. My brother Tony was “Alton Ochsner Roberts.”
The menu said, “Since 1982.” It felt much older. I sat at counter atop a rotating stainless steel and blue vinyl pedestal.
I ordered a chocolate milkshake and roast beef on kummelweck—”Beef on Weck“
They were both amazing. And huge. I often try to pace myself and only eat half and take home half.
I’ve had Beef on Weck in Maryland—not even close. Wegman’s sells—or used to sell—kummelweck rolls in Frederick. They’ve stopped during COVID.
The milkshake was so thick a butter knife could stand in it. And the stainless mixing cup holding the milkshake that couldn’t fit in the glass was more than half full when it was set before me—its outside frosted with ice.
I couldn’t take it home. So I ate it all.
I need to hurry this along. Friday deadline and all.
I had no plans on Tuesday. I did some online searches. A lot of attractions are closed on Mondays and Tuesdays—COVID. The Albright Know Art Gallery is closed for a year for renovation. I had tried to get tickets for the Roycroft Campus tour. You had to call, and no one answered Monday or Tuesday morning. Though East Aurora is about 20 miles away, it was about the only choice.
The parking lot was empty, but it wasn’t supposed to open until 11. The Roycroft Inn across the street had a number of people eating breakfast or having coffee on the gorgeous wrap around veranda. I headed across the street and pushed open the massive door.
Stunning. You can take a virtual tour yourself. The building is like a museum of Elbert Hubbard Arts and Crafts Movement woodwork and murals and furniture…
There are even some Dard Hunter stained glass light fixtures in one side dining room.
I had coffee and wandered around the building. It was like stepping back in time.
There are numerous carved sayings and aphorisms and advice.
One hanging plank said simply, “Fletcherize.”
I had to look that up. Dr Fletcher was the guy who recommended chewing your food 100 times.
I called and got on the 11:30 tour.
The guide was about my age and had been born and grew up there.
“When I was a kid, the Buffalo Bills training camp was at Mr Knox’s farm nearby. In 1962, a new quarterback arrived from San Francisco. Anyone know who that was?”
“Jack Kemp,” I answered. He was a hero when I was growing up. I’d listen to the games on my transistor radio (Made in Japan—a pejorative then) pressed to my ear—laying out in the grass.
(Kemp later went onto a distinguished career as a congressman, Cabinet member and Vice-Presidential candidate.)
The guide said the local kids would ride bikes out to training. He said only a handful of people would come to watch. After practice, the players would play ball with kids.
The tour was wonderful. It took us through several buildings. There were lots of printing presses. A little museum was full of Hubbard and Roycroft artifacts.
The busts are of Thoreau and Longfellow (I think.)
I’ve gained a lot of respect for Elbert Hubbard in recent years. I saw so many sets of his Little Journeys over the early years… I considered him kind of a hack and self-promoter—and maybe he became one later in life.
Now I see some of beautiful books and art… I even wrote about one in a recent Round and Round story.
The “Campus” is gorgeous. Any book lover should go and take the tour. I would go back and stay at the Inn… we will see.
I had a mid-afternoon martini in the Inn—just because.
I headed back to Buffalo. I stopped by the Frank Lloyd Wright house. Closed today. I picked up some beechnuts from the lawn before they’d be mowed over.
Maybe I’ll plant some. I have a thing for beech trees.
Then I went to Forest Lawn Cemetery. I sought out Anna Katharine Green’s grave. She’s the mother of detective novels—if not the inventor—although Poe’s “The Murders in the Rue Morgue” is the first detective “story.” Also President Millard Fillmore and a few others…
Ron wanted to take me to dinner. I headed out to his bookstore and shopped a bit more. I made a pile on a glass case and asked for his best deal on everything.
Ron has always been a tough negotiator…
We headed out to Lockport a few miles away. Its name is derived from the huge locks there for boats to step up or down on the Erie Canal.
The place he had found was from my childhood. Wagner’s. It is one of the many “Bar and Grilles” in the region that were once homes.
Beef on Weck again. Labatt Blue on tap.
Afterward, we walked around downtown a bit.
Wednesday, Ron wanted to drive me around. He chose Niagara Falls, which I was at first hesitant about. I’ve been there so often. When I was a kid, we would have to drive up there any time we had visitors. It scared me, for some reason. There were always reports of people being swept away—by accident or on purpose. As a small child, I thought it would reach and grab me. Later, I had a shy bladder in public restrooms. I would think “Niagara Falls” and that would help.
I was sad too. My last visit there—life was so different.
Oh well, you can’t go back again—to some things.
He drove past the enormous hydroelectric plants. They are on both the US and Canadian sides of the river.
(It is very difficult getting into Canada—I wouldn’t take the risk—you might not be able to get back!)
Driving around, he thought aloud, “I’m at a crossroads…”
I knew that. Driving through Niagara Falls—the town—he said, “I’m thinking of opening a shop here, tapping the market. This is the second most popular tourist destination in the US.”
We got back to his shop, and I made some final decisions.
I don’t need books or framed stuff. But then, like Ron, I’m not ready to stop.
He has some beautiful stuff. And thousands of boxes of fresh stock to dip into. And he is still making house calls!
Go there. Go to Roycroft and Niagara Falls. Go to the Teddy Roosevelt Inaugural house—we supplied a lot of their books long, long ago—make sure it is open first. Get Beef on Weck. Go to the Anchor Bar where Buffalo wings were invented.
Heading home… from home.
News reports said there is flooding on the roads in Maryland. Ex-Hurricane Ida is dumping inches and inches of water in Maryland. I hope the drive to Frederick and up the mountain from Reagan Airport is not “interesting.”
A dreamlike surreal few days grounded in books.
Books are real. Changeless. Immutable. Is that redundant?
As I was waiting to board, neighbors were texting of flooded roads. I hope that will have subsided by the time I get home. I just hope there are no trees down. I’m in no mood to hike up and come down with a chain saw.
The flight was bumpy minutes after takeoff.
I’m in the “Main Cabin” this time. I should have upgraded. I have so many miles to spend before I die.
I’m squeezed in next to a young guy.
I was just served a little bag of pretzels. The salt was invigorating. A worthless tiny bag takes on importance in the context of a cramped space and nowhere to go.
The attendant gave me a full can of Mr & Mrs T’s Bloody Mary Mix. No vodka in the “Main Cabin.” That’s ok. The nearly bitter tang of tomato juice is also invigorating.
Well, it is a short flight. I hope.
I wonder if I’ll ever go home again? To Amherst. Snyder.
I can’t imagine why. Nothing new to see. Nothing new to do. No one left from the ancient times when I was a child there.
The last of my generation. A responsibility?
Well, we all do what we need to get through the day, the night, the week, the month, the seasons, the year.
This airplane is so bouncy… things are rattling far under beneath me.
(When we flew to Buffalo 6 years ago, there were thunderheads. The plane turned and dipped between them.)
We are descending into roiling clouds. A vast gray white blanket of living “cotton.” The clouds below writhe and twist.
This plane looked so big on the ground. Now it feels like a nimble insect trying to maintain level straight flight in twisting whirlwinds.
Now we are in an opaque gray white mass.
We break below the cloud cover.
The Potomac appears below brown and swollen.
“Put your laptop away please, sir.”
When I took my phone off airplane mode, a dozen texts neighbors dropped in. “Roads blocked…”
The rain mostly stopped on the drive home. There were no problems on the GW Parkway, 495 or I 270.
I was anxious to get home. And apprehensive.
I got onto the narrow country road that leads to the mountain. I passed a big county dump truck with a massive plow on front parked—blocking a side road that must be flooded or blocked some other way. About a half mile from home there’s a sign propped up on the side of the road:
I took my chances. If it was serious, the road would be blocked by signs? I went slow and kept a sharp eye out for standing water or down trees or power lines. When I got near the stop sign where that road ends, the twin of the “road closed” sign was on the left facing the other way. I guess the creek had risen earlier and had subsided.
My road was covered with leaves and twigs and other tree debris. When I got on my gravel lane, parts were deeply rutted. More tons of gravel had washed away into the woods. I wish I could talk my neighbors into paving the worst parts. I paved my quarter-mile drive when I moved in, and it is wonderful 361 days a year. The other days are icy. If I know it’s coming, I park at the bottom and walk up. Otherwise, I wait til the sun comes out and melts the ice or I get the ATV and plow out and try to scrape it off. I’m completely happy with that balance.
I crashed into bed after watching some James Bond movie (on DVD—Luddite.)
When I awoke, the temperature was 61 outside. The phone predicts temperate sunny days in the 70s for the next 10 days. Nights in the 50s.
It is as if Ida blew summer away and fall is beginning.
I opened a lot of windows and bumped (much bumpier than usual) down the mountain to work.