It’s Happening

The Examination of Phrenology


It is my birthday week. Bastille Day. I’m not excited about it. It is one of the timekeeping or calendar events I don’t look forward to. But the family may go out to dinner with me. And maybe I’ll have one with a new friend.

My old friends are changed. They don’t come out much anymore. Maybe it is me, but I don’t think so. COVID—it pushed many back inside. It pushed some into different mindsets.

After a very good and productive weekend, I awoke Monday to a deep malaise. I don’t know why. Chemicals in the brain? I forced myself to work physically. That usually helps.

Before going down to the books, I pruned the redbud just beyond the porch roof. A squirrel had appeared for the birdseed. That has only happened one other time in the 12 years I’ve been here. That time, a tulip poplar sapling had grown enough that a squirrel was able to leap onto the roof from its tender branches. I took that sapling down. This time, it has to have been the redbud that was giving the rodent access. When I first moved in, it was a skinny volunteer only a couple feet tall. But it had found a good spot next to the stone walkway (I now call that the Long and Winding Road, as it has been extended all the way down to the dirt drive that crosses south to north about 50 yards below.) I got the pole saw out, and using the pruning hook on it, snipped off branches that were encroaching toward the roof. I also trimmed off some high branches that were growing into my view of the eastern horizon from the second floor.

Pruning before books. Odd start to the week.

At work, I saw many of the spaces I had made over the weekend were already filling.


Management gave me a long list of expensive decisions to be made. I sat at the conference table and studied them. What are they thinking? I don’t mean management here—but the governments’. Just wave a pen, and the money appears?


I rode down to Gaithersburg with Travis and did some more culling there in the old “new arrival” section. So many were books that never should have been sent to any store. Who?

(Some were me—what was I thinking!?)

Still, it was depressing to cull all the books that never got a chance. Tubs of books for Books by the Foot. Tubs of pulp. I made stacks of things I knew they had room for on their shelves to be stocked. They had cleared 3 bookcases. We will move some mini-categories into those. Grownup coloring books, for instance. They only take up a couple of shelves and were “hidden” (on my approval) in crafts. Moving these and a few other small “lost” categories will give them all exposure. It will allow the categories they are removed from to expand. When the project is done, this area will have 6 or 7 empty bookcases. What category can we move there? They will also have several bookcases for true new arrivals. A full bookcase for new arrival CDs has already been made there.

Hard work. But that didn’t help the doldrums disappear either.

Back at the warehouse, I decided to make a delivery to the Frederick store. One of my tough jobs over the weekend was to go through 5 carts of collectible books that had been deleted from online inventory due to extreme age—”shelf age”—they had sat around too long. All had been moved here from the old warehouse in 2013-14. It is likely some didn’t sell due to being mis-stocked during the move. Others may have had their listings corrupted during numerous software updates. A percentage of them I decided to send to the Frederick store’s glass cases. These I put much reduced fixed prices on and set them in boxes. At the store, they can be put on display and sold either for their contents or their prettiness. The store looked great, but I was grumpy when I left.


I decided to look for a trip. I tried American Airlines using points. To get to Quebec, I could leave from Philly and be there in two hours. And the points weren’t dreadfully high—close to pre “Inflation” rates. I’d need to get a hotel too. I went to Hilton to check dates. I spent an hour on this. The sites either kept locking up, or they would tell me the matching dates weren’t available. I gave up.


I left early and went to Lowe’s to get another 45 bags of mulch. They said someone was in the outdoor area that would load it in my pickup. I waited. And waited. I called the front end using the number on my receipt.

“I’ll page them.”

I heard the page, but no one came. I was meeting a friend for Happy Hour at Madrones across the parking lot at 4. I’d paid at 3:20. It was 3:50. I started loading the bags myself. I was sweaty and a bit dirty when it was done. No one ever showed up. I called the front desk again to be sure they wouldn’t think I was stealing a load of mulch. It took some explaining, but they finally said I could go.


I met my friend and his wife and had two beers. I was too dehydrated for a martini. We chatted, but I don’t think I was great company.


Home… I got the pole saw and started cutting off sprouts and suckers on trees near the house. Maybe the blade is dull. Is this the one I loaned to a neighbor? It wouldn’t cut the offending branches well. Maybe it was me. I did more outdoor chores until I was tired, wet and sore. I went in and got leftover salads from the fridge.


I put Midnight in Paris on for the fifth time in a week.

Not depressing.

I kind of think something is telling me something.

Maybe Paris is in my future.

Or maybe time travel. But I don’t have Golden Age Syndrome for Paris in the 20s with Hemingway and Fitzgerald and Stein…

I mean I’d like to visit, but I wouldn’t want to move to back then. I like the modern medicine and air conditioning…

The movie made me feel a little better, but I still went to bed feeling the week was going to stink.


I had a good sleep for a change.

When I got in, I remembered my friend Ken Karmiole was going to visit this afternoon. Ken is at the top of great booksellers, a great friend and a highly trusted advisor. That would be fun. I haven’t seen him since the 2019 California rare book fair.

Ken… I would have a lot more money if I’d never met him. But then, I wouldn’t have a lot of great books. I have learned so much from him over the years.

In the past 12 years or so, if my phone rang and his name appeared on it, I knew it was going to be an expensive call. Often, I would be on the road or at a house call. He always had my number—not my phone number—my book “number.” It was a rare event if he called about a book and I didn’t have to have it.

Clif came up to me and said, “What time do you want to go to the Cosmos Club Wednesday?”

Oh yeah! I’d forgotten. That’ll be interesting.

I checked the warehouse gardens, and there were ripe peppers and tomatoes already! Unfortunately, every tomato had big critter bites in them. Just one bite per fruit. Still, this is very early for them.

The contractor texted and said he and his crew were going to the Hagerstown store to install more bookcases. TODAY! Another giant glass display case had come in last week.

“Clif, let’s get enough stuff off the truck so we can take it to Hagerstown!”

Truck to Hagerstown

I got a text from my broker that the “Farm” had sold. For sure! Well, almost certainly. It will become a Maryland Deaf Community Center. Settlement should take place next week. That is a happy ending for my failed Book/Brew Pub venture. It was a COVID casualty. Who knows, I may try it again if the right opportunity comes along.

I tried again, and the plane and hotel reservations for Quebec went through easily. I’m going in August.

Ken arrived, and I gave him “The Tour.” Then I let him loose in the collectible book rooms. I doubted he would find anything. He sold his Santa Monica shop a couple of years ago and now carries only a handful of books (less than ten) for sale at a time—really good books. Let’s say he is very selective. Very.

(The ABAA bookseller who visited last week picked out nearly 100 books.)

Ken appeared in my office a couple of hours later. He had actually found a book he wanted.

Edward's Against Chauncy

Jonathan Edwards. I didn’t know we had that! Good for him.

Maybe he just bought it out of pity.

I took him to dinner at The Tasting Room. I had a Filet Mignon Pittsburgh style there for the 4th time in a month and a half at the bar there.

I went home and had some peanuts and tossed golf balls down the driveway for the dogs to fetch.

Dogs, Drink, Fairy Book

The day was much better than I’d counted on.


I was surprised to see the loading dock had filled with books.

“The West Virginia library delivered yesterday afternoon. 14 pallets. I think they are all ex-library.”

“What?! They’re worthless. We will have to pulp them all. Why didn’t they call me? They’re going to be unhappy that we can’t pay anything.”

I peeked in a couple of boxes. None are stamped “Withdrawn.” We can’t do anything with them. Even if we pushed them out, some people might think we are trying to sell stolen books. Such a waste. Their time. Our time.

A little later, I was headed down I-270. Clif is driving. We are picking up books at the famed Cosmos Club. When we’d picked up books there a few years ago, I’d planted a seed with the librarian (Yes, they have their own librarian) that the members might like to do a book drive as a fundraiser. We would buy any books the club didn’t want for itself. He says they’ve gathered 100 or so boxes. That will be a quick pickup.

Maybe someday I’ll get invited to dinner there…

This afternoon, there is a meeting with the contractor and others involved in the new warehouse buildings project. I’m told we will break ground this month. I hope it all turns out well. This process started in August 2020 when the loan on the warehouse ballooned and I switched banks. That was during the COVID panic. The old bank was asking for crazy, time-consuming stuff—like, “What are your projected sales? We need documentation…”

My projected sales in the middle of a plague? I can’t predict what sales will be like in a month or six. We might get shut down again at any time.

Plus, I had paid down about half the loan in the last 7 years. They had no risk in renewing the loan on the property. I just knew they wouldn’t cooperate with financing the new building project. Plus, I was extremely busy trying to survive. There was no time for filling out pointless forms.

I refinanced with a local bank. Those people knew me and Wonder Book and told me they were excited to take over the financing. It has been a great relationship.

The building process… after two years, I am numb to it. I have no idea how many permits and other hoops we have had to jump through thus far. My “team” has navigated it all. My participation has been mostly to sign applications and write checks.

We got permits for everything from archaeological studies (no burial grounds etc) to making sure there were no rare trees (it is a vacant lot in an industrial that formerly was just a farm meadow) to the FAA approving that the 30 foot building was no risk to air traffic.

Clif and I are on Massachusetts Avenue. It is DC’s Embassy Row. Fancy neighborhoods. The Exxon station shows regular gas at $5.94.

The directions were for us to come in to back entrance—the service entrance, I thought. But it was actually the members’ parking area, and the books were being stored in the auditorium.

Cosmos Books

I imagine the speakers here were often overshadowed by the attendees!

Cosmos Club members have included three U.S. presidents, two U.S. vice presidents, a dozen Supreme Court justices, 36 Nobel Prize winners, 61 Pulitzer Prize winners, and 55 recipients of the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

We began rolling handcarts laden with boxes of books out to the van. In 45 minutes, we had it filled from to back, side to side, top to bottom.

Well, it was much more than we had planned for. The van is completely full, and we need to return tomorrow for at least half a vanload more. It was a lot of hot sweaty hard work.

Cosmos Vanload

But I actually enjoyed it. It was a cool place to be. I was within close proximity of rubbing shoulders with the famous and powerful and wealthy—albeit as a tradesman.

The librarian told me the members were excited to donate their books. It was easy for them to do. Their books were guaranteed a good outcome, and their club will get some money. (Not that the Cosmos Club needs it!)

Ah, the romance of the used book business…

I decided to come back via Connecticut Avenue even though it takes a little longer. I made so many pilgrimages down that road over the years. Tuesdays were “Daddy Day” when the kids were very little. I would drive them down to the museums or the zoo. I would go down for shows or concerts. I’d stay at the Hilton—where Reagan was shot. Restaurants… Connecticut was THE gateway to DC to me.

I would always stop at Calvert Woodley. Gourmet food, wine, liquor… and it had its own parking lot. I had Clif pull in to get him a sandwich and for me to look around. It used to be so exotic. They had deli foods and cheeses you couldn’t find in Maryland. Unusual wines and liquors you couldn’t find anywhere else—all at great prices.

Now Frederick has Wegmans and maybe 10 upscale wine and liquor stores.

There is no need to go there anymore. I picked up a few things—just for the memories.

Tomorrow, I have a meeting with my estate attorney and life insurance agent. We will hammer out some more stuff about after my death. But all in all, I’d say the week is much better than it looked.

We are racing up 270 now. I wonder what is in the 150 or so boxes behind me? We didn’t stop to peek. We just rolled boxes out and slung them into the van.

I did save this old fat Faerie Queene. It was out loose, and I was afraid the fragile binding might get split if was squeezed into a box.

Cosmos Faerie Queene

What is next?

We passed a trash truck just starting to catch fire below a bridge just before the exit to the warehouse. A few minutes later, and the Interstate would have been blocked.

When we got back to the warehouse—with a little stash of gin and cheese—I looked up in the field above the warehouse.


It’s happening!!!!

I had to rush to get to my “building team” meeting.

Six of us gathered around a conference table. These were all highly experienced professional builders and engineers and brokers. I told them about the… “ummm… it’s not a steam shovel… what’s it called?” And showed them the picture.

“Excavator,” and they all had a good laugh.

I mean… I haven’t had occasion to put a name to that kind of big equipment. Why should I know the name? I was just a leetle embarrassed.

I guess I still think like a little kid concerning big machines. Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel was a favorite.

Mike Mulligan and the Steam Shovel

You can get a copy of the first edition here for $12,500.

The meeting got intense. All the many months of slow walking, we were suddenly in a sprint.

We’ve got to do this and sign that. And schedule this. Meet the banker. Do the ALTA survey. (What’s that?) Call… Email… Meet… Deliver… Submit… File… Schedule…

“They’re delivering more roofing. 2 tractor-trailer loads Friday. 5 on Monday. Do you have room in your dockyard?”


Surprise! Another unexpected task in the week that changed gears from dreary to high intensity.

I’m writing this on the marble bar top at Up On Market. It is designed to look and feel very much like a French bistro. Kind of like you would find in Paris…

I’m waiting for a friend to join me for a pre-birthday dinner.

The Weekend was the usual—processing cart after cart.

For some reason, I opened this yearbook and found a 78-year-old kiss.

There was a cool book on phrenology in the old stock I had to go through.

There was a long run of St. Thomas Aquinas in Latin. Books with a Catholic angle are excellent sellers now. I think people are looking for things to hold onto. I’d say Latin is our bestselling “foreign” language!

Thomas Aquinas Latin Books

I don’t know why I opened this anthology compiled by Robert Bridges.

The Spirit of Man

On the free endpaper was a familiar signature!

The Spirit of Man

Mabel Brewster was a friend and correspondent of William Osler’s for many, many years.

Another serendipitous “rescue.”


Bastille Day.

There’s just too much to do to be depressed.

The birds are banging away at sunflowers seeds on the porch roof just outside my window. The ceiling fan is wafting cool air over me. The morning sun is pouring golden light in my window.

I’ll get up and shower and head to work. My life’s work.

It is just another day. Just another year.

16 Comments on Article

  1. Norv commented on

    Nice! So pleased to hear about the Farm’s new future!! Disappointed it did not work for you, but glad to know it will be a cherished place for others. … I used to live west of it a “few” years ago and can still hear a peacock’s call….

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Great to hear from you Norv.
      Happy ending I hope.
      Thanks for writing!


    2. Charlie Downs replied on

      Have a happy birthday Chuck!

      1. Charles Roberts replied on

        Thank you!

  2. Marisa Young commented on

    Belated Happy Birthday!

    Enjoy your blog.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much!
      I really appreciate your taking the time to write.
      And thanks for the birthday wishes.

  3. Gary Fowler commented on

    “Midnight in Paris” has become one of my favorite go-to movies, apparently like it is for you, a fun escape with new layers to discover with every viewing. I think maybe you introduced me to it via this great blog–always my first Saturday online reading. As for the “Golden Age Syndrome,” I’m remembering the Twilight Zone episode “Once Upon a Time” starring Buster Keaton. I wouldn’t be surprised if you know and enjoy that one, too. Birthday greetings, and thanks for sharing your journey!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind!
      I’m glad you like the movie too. The casting is just amazing.
      I vaguely remember the Buster Keaton. I will check that out.

  4. Susan Kavanagh commented on

    As always, an interesting week on your blog. I really had to laugh at your watching Midnight in Paris. I saw that twice in the movies and received four copies of the dvd for Christmas presents.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      LOL…there is something about that movie!
      Thank you.

  5. Susan commented on

    Enjoy Birthday celebrating for as many days as you can. I love my birthday since once many moons ago I almost didn’t make it to the next. During recovery I had many days to think about what was and what will be since that fateful day. Covid is another seminal time stamp to examine before and after. The Books themselves are a constant adventure, what is on them, in them, about them. The stores as living and breathing entities that require tending, feeding, shaping, pruning. And this new building adventure is so very exciting. Perhaps it is the ordinary that has become intolerable for your days. Your life is such a grand adventure to say the least. July 28 kindly lift a luscious adult beverage and toast MY birthday and acknowledge your own. Oh what grand days we have before us. Don’t ignore any of the moments since knowing what will come is never part of the adventure. Warmest regards. Susan

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so beautiful and TRUE.
      Thank you for the sentiments!
      One needs to remember the big things and not let the minutiae coop the heart and mind.
      I really appreciate this.

  6. Ken J. commented on

    Every time I move I swear I am going to get a lighter hobby than book collecting! Like stamps? I have been collecting WW2 books for about 50 years now. Finally built a bookcase on one wall for them! They are like old friends. I used to have a 3×5 index card library for them when younger.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I did that too!
      Sounds like a great collection
      Thanks fir writing!


      1. Ken replied on

        The reason I started collecting WW2 books was because my dad fought in it. I think to honor him, not to glorify war.

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          It is a fascinating period in history.
          Changed the world to this day!

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