I slept through, I think.

I didn’t wear my nanny watch, so I don’t have data.

When I half woke—less than half—I wondered at the time and reached over and pressed the top of the round Honeywell Atomic Clock. The button turned on the beam, and 4:51 a.m. was projected onto the white ceiling in dull blood red.

Close enough, but maybe I’ll doze a bit longer.

A postcard came to hand. I turned it over and perused it.

‘I should send this to Jim in Nashville,’ I thought.

I dreamed it actually.

Consciousness came and reminded me he’s been dead nearly 21 years.

I dozed a bit more, and the orange dawn dimly dyed the room.

“I should write some before I’m fully awake. The journal or the laptop? Laptop.”

I reached over the dark bed, and all my hands felt were reading glasses and clothbound books. The cold dark gray silver slab was not there?

“Did I leave it at work? The Jeep? Or in one of the boxes I brought home yesterday?”

Giles had not yet stirred on the bed next to me, but he should go out.

I rose and crossed the room and headed across the house to the south door. Giles thumped to the floor behind me and trotted behind. We stepped out onto the wooden porch and then down onto the pavement. The air was a bit warm. Giles ambled to a favorite spot to release his night water. I stepped to the Jeep which I had backed in to unload stuff. All the downsizing I’ve been doing, and now new things are coming down from the old house in Pennsylvania. Old things actually. Space needs to be made up there to facilitate the recovery process. Hospital bed, walker, wider paths through rooms.

I was making progress downsizing here. Now spaces are filling in.

I found the laptop. It was on the back seat beneath a yellow plastic tub filled with foodstuffs I’m inheriting to make space up in PA.

I took the cool smooth metal slab and carried it in and across the house to bed.

I passed Jim’s posed photo. I came across it going through old papers and ephemera. I didn’t know what to do with it, so I laid it atop the backrest on a loveseat across from the woodstove.

Jim's Photo

Maybe that’s why I dreamed I should mail him a note. Maybe I will. If I got a response, it would answer many questions, open many doors.

After he died in October 2002, I got a few emails from him. Shocked at first when I saw the return address. When I opened them, it was just Tony using Jim’s PC in Nashville.

I must have been exhausted last night. I had my usual weekend cycle.





I got so much done.

So many books. I also did thousands of 45 rpm records. We get so many of these. It has been a while since any went to the stores.

Now they probably have too many.

When I arrived in the dockyard Saturday morning with the three dogs, I saw Larry had dropped a load off overnight.

Larry's Load

Interesting in a 1950s way.

“Mid century,” we call it.

Is that an Audubon?

Bird Print

I should get it inside before the August sun rises higher and beats down upon it. There are some other possibly photoreactive things as well.

The key card unlocked the back door for me. We had a truck backed to Dock 2, so I pushed the button to open Dock 1.



It was fine when I left at 4 on Friday. We close at 4:30. Did someone break it then? It is always expensive and inconvenient when a key dock door breaks. If someone isn’t paying attention and lets the motorized door rattle down on an obstruction, all kinds of problems can happen.


I pulled the truck away from Dock 2. I pushed the button. The motor fifteen feet above me buzzed loudly. With a “clank”, it started turning a pulley. Slowly, the 8 by 10-foot door rose parallel to the wall. Cool air and morning light poured. My first task of the day after letting the dogs loose was lifting things onto the loading dock.

Three boxed VCRs. Those are actually very popular. They don’t make new ones anymore.

Some perfect antique lead soldiers still attached to their cards.

I went through a long phase of collecting vintage and modern metal figures. I have armies of them boxed and on display.

Some Tiki-looking table lamps. Very retro.

Boxes of glassware wrapped in paper. “Smurfs” written on the paper.





Then I began pricing and sorting.

Thousands of books.

Thousands of things.

I worked like a machine sans any buzzing or rattling.

I slipped out to Costco just a half-mile away. I got some healthy heat-and-serve stuff to take to Pennsylvania to the housebound hip fracture patient recovering.

I had a good doctor’s appointment on Friday. Everything normal except the new meds are causing some side effects.

“I’ll talk to the cardiologist about some adjustments.”

Weird. If I hadn’t gone to for a wellness check in April, I would never know I have something millions have that has no symptoms… I was happy in my ignorance. I’ve been unhappy ever since with the knowledge.

But maybe I would have dropped dead sometime between then and now.

But then I hadn’t dropped dead all those years prior.


It won’t let go.

I went to the eye doctor a couple of weeks ago. Routine follow up. My distance vision is perfect. I complained about rubbing my eyes a lot. He asked to look at the reading glasses in my shirt pocket.

“1.25? Try some 2.00.”


What will I do with the 2 dozen or so 1.25s spread around the house and office?

I pride myself on being a farsighted bookseller.

Reading… I do it all day most every day. Mostly titles.

This summer was going to be different.

August turned into hospital visits and trips abroad were canceled.

Maybe September will free me to go… somewhere.

I dunno. I’m dog bound for the foreseeable future. Doggone it.

Last summer was going to be different too. For different reasons. It turned into something weird, bizarre, Kafkaesque—on a couple of fronts.

Another lost summer.

There aren’t so many that any should be wasted.

Ernest and I are going southeast to Gaithersburg.

For me, it is a mental health excursion.

Things have gotten “beyond the depths of disappointment” on the family front.

Work is booming, but I’m also being tugged at in so many directions.

I’ve got to get away.

Thus the excursion to Gaithersburg. It will last only a couple of hours, but that will help.

I hope.

I’ve blocked a couple of numbers, so I won’t see any distressing texts.

Too much stress on the family front.

Frustration poured over, and I wrote some angry words.

I had gotten a great text on Sunday night.

“Any plans for tomorrow? I’m going to cook delicious Chinese food tonight. Do you want to come to my house for dinner?”

Wow! That would be fun! But I didn’t recognize the number. No record of a call or text from that number ever before. I waited a while, making sure I wasn’t forgetting or missing something. I decided to take the typical dumb guy approach.

“Who is this? 😂”

“This is Sarah, did you not save my number?”

I waited til Monday morning to reply. I checked the only Sarah I know—barely know. Nope, that wasn’t her number. At 11:18 a.m., I texted, “This is Chuck. 👍”—just in case it “I” who’d been invited to dinner.

I’ve never heard back.

Was poor Sarah a victim of an intentionally wrong number? Or did she eventually find the right person, and they shared delicious Chinese food?

Darn. I like Chinese food…


We need 18 feet of cooking books for Books by the Foot. People love cookbooks.

I’ll do some hanging of clear plastic bags of ephemera and stuff. The contractor installed homasote panels painted yellow. It is almost like corkboard. It makes using pushpins far easier. Certainly it is far easier than pushing pins in to solid wood. I want the end caps at the stores to be bursting with color and variety.

Frederick End Caps

Like this.

Wonder Book has never been subtle about marketing.

There were some very nice comments about last week’s story. The dental puns seemed to have struck some tender nerves. Perhaps I should try more humor and slow down the whining and woe is me’s. (Woes am I’s?)

Anyway, I finished up my dental work over the weekend. I felt indentured to the collection until the last one got pulled from its cart like a loose tooth. The hoard was certainly a White Elephant. And not at all pearly white. The work was far from painless. But I’ll be able to look back on it and smile and be grateful I still have all my ivories.

Yesterday, Tuesday, the contractor installed new comic bins at the Frederick stores.

While not nearly the scale the comic presence there 25 years ago, it is certainly a “statement.”

Comics are back in a big way—at least at the Frederick store. Cheap ones. Vintage ones in great condition on offer for lots of money.

The word COMICS used to be on our building’s facade. Big boxy letters in yellow plastic that would light up from dusk to dawn.

I went out and looked and then recalled that I’d had it removed. Sometime in the past, I considered the “comic book era” over. We transitioned to Graphic Novels and Manga trade paperbacks. I was certain the next generation would be much more interested in digital stuff. We kept a small section of traditional comics, mostly out of sentimental reasons. They were all $1 each.

We did the same thing with vinyl (LPs, record albums.)

I’m glad we let them keep a finger hold in the stores for all those years after they began losing money. I could brag and say it was foresight, but actually it was more like sentimentality and a near pathologic refusal to “let go.”

And we actually still rent movies! (At Frederick and Hagerstown.) Hard to believe. They are just barely bumping along. Some people like the Blu-Rays because they give a much better picture than you get streaming. At least we aren’t renting VHS tapes anymore.


We still sell them (at Frederick and Hagerstown only.)

Well, Ernest and I are heading back to Frederick. It was a good workout. There’s excitement in store at all the stores. If you love ephemera or simple treasure hunting for cool little stuff, you’ll discover on your next visit thousands of new “things” hanging throughout the stores in clear plastic bags. Be sure to check every nook and cranny. The best treasures often require a bit of digging.

It was a difficult and stressful day.

So many problems.

Family conflicts.

Sick employees.

Unexpected departures.

Never-ending workload.

I find it wearing more on me.

I used to thrive on stress. And juggling as many balls as I possibly could.

Now I just want to get away.


When I got home, there was some was good news. The deck on the puppy chalet had been repaired.

The statue of Osiris I inherited from Barbara (via Ray and Jay) had been set up behind the house where the wild woods end and the gardens begin. He is looking down on the house. Watching over it as it were.

Osiris Statue

I dug up some new potatoes.

New Potatoes

Boiled them for 15 minutes. Rolled them in olive oil. Truffle salt. Pepper. I pinched off some wild garlic chives along the forest edge. I used shears to snips hundreds of tiny green tubes on top. I did the same with a couple of jalapenos I brought home from the warehouse gardens.


I finally put the first books on the shelves in the garret. I chose this lovely set of The Faerie Queene to be the first.

Morte d'Arthur

If I can just get motivated, I can get the rest of the books up there and finally reclaim the great room from all the flotsam and jetsam that have cluttered it for so many months.

I just need to summon the fortitude to push the project through.

I started the wall on what may be the last garden bed I put in. The couple of acres around the house are pretty much terraced and walled. It would be folly to expand the beds into the forest.

My contractor has told me “no more walls.”

When he builds a terrace or wall, it involves heavy equipment and heavy lifting.

When I build a wall, it involves placing one stone atop or next to another.

Maybe I should buy a Bobcat.

I went through a few more boxes of collectible books from my old collection brought here from Pennsylvania. The boxes can be semi-alphabetical as the library on the third floor of the old stone mansion was alphabetized, so naturally they’d be boxed in a bit of order.

One box yielded a number of Thomas Hardy books. He was one of the first authors I started collecting when I first became a bookseller.

It was good the see the old green buckram tomes again. But it was kind of depressing as well.

I can’t allow myself to get sucked into that.


I can let those go now. Someone else can collect them.


Inspiration, move me brightly. Light may song with sense and color. Hold away despair. More than this I cannot ask. Faced with mysteries dark and vast…

This is the songwriter’s (Robert Hunter) of The Grateful Dead classic.

It is Friday morning.

Rain was pattering on the forest leaves when I awoke. Now fog has crept up the mountain.

Next week the highs will be in the 70s.

I’m alone.

The big dog, Giles, was taken to be boarded for a few days. It had been arranged for quite a while after the fall that broke the hip. I was supposed to fly to Warsaw today. We had him boarded anyway. A test to see if he manages it ok. He is rambunctious and prone to lunging when a door opens and he sees he can go out (or in—doesn’t matter which.) I left the little dogs in the newly roofed pen at the warehouse overnight. They spend weekends there anyway.

So the house is quieter, and my morning ritual much simpler.

Yesterday, Eddie Chmelik—the man who gave me Merry and Pip—came to the warehouse to repair some plumbing. He was tickled to see the “pups.” Even though it has been twelve years, he calls them by the names he gave them as puppies. (Otto and… something.) He’s a good plumber, but golf is his real passion. He asked for Harvey Penick golf books. He wants to start giving lessons. I told him we always have some of those at the stores.

“I’ll bring you some. Can you come to the house? The rear hose bib is leaking.”

I’ll be “alone” at work today as well. Clark, Clif, Joey… other key people are out. Shipping. Only one sorter will be in. I’ll be driving the forklift and the box truck and a van. We will need to go to all the stores. Likely more than once.

Once more into the breach.

Back to school departures.

Vacations. Stefani, who runs shipping, sent me pictures of her and the kids in Juneau.

Stefani's Kids

“Feel free to put these in your blog!”

I bet it is cool in Alaska. (Note the Wonder Book t-shirts.)

Temporary people tend to leave at the end of summer as well.

And illness absences.

Yep. Goddamn COVID is back despite all the promises and shots.

I’m not allowed to know who has it due to HIPPA guidelines, but there have been a lot of people out and not due back for 5-7 days.

It will be a busy stressful and lonely Friday.

I go to the cardiologist on Monday. It has been 4 months.

Good news? Or Bad news?

My nanny watch has only recorded three instances of heart racing during that time. I know exactly what caused each.

Lifestyle changes…

I always thought my heart issues were more… metaphysical.

Cooler weather.

Shorter days.

The sunrise slips further south each day.


We will soon be able to turn over keys to the tenants in the new warehouses.

New Warehouses

I had trouble sleeping last night. I read the first hundred pages of Ross Thomas’s Voodoo, Ltd. I found it in the old collection I’m going through from Pennsylvania.

This one is a keeper.

I don’t know why, but Thomas has my number, and I reread him every 6 or 7 years.

I know exactly when and where I got this book.

The receipt is still in it!

Voodoo, Ltd.

March 27, 1993. The Mystery Bookshop on Old Georgetown Rd. in Bethesda. They would have “Autograph Parties” for visiting authors who had a new book out.

I didn’t go to the Thomas party, but I’d asked them to save me a copy.

That Bethesda Triangle area was once a hub for booksellers. In addition to the Mystery Bookshop, the Ahearn’s Quill & Brush was right across the street. Waverly Book Auctions was in the same building with them. Andy Moursand’s Georgetown Books (in Bethesda) was right around the corner. Bartleby’s was there too. Was there a Second Story branch nearby? The Travel Bookstore. Olsson’s. Barnes & Noble. Who else…?

All gone now—except B&N.

Rents got too high. Retail got knocked down so high-rise apartments and offices could be built.

Poem below:

Dark Calls
(Hushbesilent, read as one word.)

Hush be silent
The dark is calling
“Come. Come out.”
Hush be silent
The dark is calling
“I will hold you in the night.”
Hush be silent
“Out the door. Down the steps.”
Hush be silent
Darkness calls
It is everywhere
save this pool lit about me
An arm’s length to the shadows
Hush be silent
The only sound is breath
Hold that breath
and heartbeats are all that’s felt
Blood pulses in the ears
“Switch off the light
then all will be night.”
Hush be silent
All will be night

2 Comments on Article

  1. Gregory commented on

    It must be great to have new bookshelves so that you can see books that you’ve had stored away for years.

    Your texts says that you put Morte d’Arthur on the shelves, but the picture seems to show The Faerie Queen. Of course, there’s room for both!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on


      I brought those home a few weeks ago and they say in a box by themselves..

      I am convinced the books were switched by faeries over those days….

      Actually I got mixed up. They were put on the shelf in the dim morning light sans reading glasses.

      So much for relying on memory…

      Thanks for writing Gregory!


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