Journaling

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Many of us make New Year’s resolutions. They’re famous for being broken or not acted on at all. On December 31, 2013 I made a resolution to start a daily journal. Our “MOVE” was just starting to build steam. Over the next 6 months we transferred about 3 million books, thousands of shelves and everything else in our old 74,000 square foot warehouse to a new 130,000 square foot warehouse a few miles away. The old landlord was demolishing the building so Walmart could move and expand one of its Frederick locations onto our lot. He gave me a deadline to be out by June 30, 2014. It is amazing what you can do with a virtual “gun to your head.” I thought the process should be recorded. Had anyone moved our kind of stuff on that scale before? Maybe part of it was an attempt to maintain sanity during the “MOVE.” Well, I kept the resolution and journal through the move and then on through the recovery and, well, through today.

Here they are:

I thought this week’s blog would be two blogs. A mini one about the pile of journals and then a real story as well. But then Wednesday, May 16, 2018 turned out to be interesting enough I thought a journal entry for that day might make for an interesting story. I usually scratch them out longhand early in the morning. I’ve rarely missed a day since January 2014. They usually look like this:

But to save duplicating the effort, I wrote this entry on the laptop beginning the next morning. Typically I write a little about the current morning and night before and then record the previous day:

Thursday, May 17, 2018. 6 AM 69/61°F. Rainy. The 4th straight day of rain. It rained all night, and it’s raining now. The birds are churring and singing and cooing and whistling. They and the gray dawn got me up for this. I was semi-awake anyway. I’ve been since 2:39. I know the minute for that’s when I turned on the light and looked at the clock. A dream woke me or I awoke from a dream. The words were there, so I wrote “Dream 2:39 AM.” It is a full page on a yellow legal pad. Maybe the 7th Dream poem since mid March. Maybe a dozen—15 pages on 3 different pads. All in manuscript. I’ve been meaning to transfer them to the laptop but the blogs and the journal and Treesong* and work and…have kept me from it. Maybe this weekend on the Eastern Shore since it looks like golf will be rained out there for at least Saturday and Sunday. The forest green outside seems to glow more in the gray fog and mist.

[box type=”shadow”]*A novella[/box]

The poem is about … and continues the theme of the blackness of night and not seeing anything in the night—eyes open or shut. Seeing in the dream but not in consciousness. For last night was pitch black because of the clouds and fog. The rain was a constant hissing and spluttering on the roof above the bed. And wanting to escape back into the dream where I was happy. Anyway I got it down as I know it would be gone if I waited until morning. I turned off the light rolled over and tried to sleep. A few more lines came, and the light went back on for a bit. Maybe 3:30 by then. Sleep would not come easily. And I think it was half consciousness half dream until the birds began.

 

But back to the previous day…

Wednesday, May 16, 2018. I wrote in here first thing. Then took care of M&P* before heading into work.

[box type=”shadow”]* Merry & Pippin, my Jack Russells
[/box]

It was gray and drizzly. Joey* was there to train on interviewing applicants. He had a stack of filled out apps in front of him. We chatted about the Caps loss a bit. I checked emails on the laptop. A couple from family reminiscing and still talking about spreading Joe’s ashes on Monday.*

[box type=”shadow”]* Joey = my son

Joe = My oldest brother Joseph Thomas Roberts III passed away in April. He was 79 and had been bed bound for over a year. I thought it would be nice to spread his ashes in the Chesapeake off Annapolis. He’d graduated from the Naval Academy in 1962, had a big formal wedding with crossed swords. I was a 7-year-old ring bearer—with a fake ring on the pillow because they thought I’d lose it. He went on to be a Marine helicopter pilot in Viet Nam. He returned from there a changed man, left the military and…had lots of ups and downs for the rest of his life. I wish he’d stayed in the Marines. That was his passion. I met 6 nieces and nephews at the Boatyard Bar & Grill—Best Crab Cakes in Maryland. We had dinner and walked a block to a marina. One nephew had a friend with a boat. He took us out past the town and then past the Academy, around the point and into the Severn River still along the USNA sea wall and then back out into open water to spreads his ashes. The funeral home had divided them for us into baggies—each weighing about a quarter pound.[/box]

… Then I found Clif to check on the house call we were doing.

“11 AM?” “Yep.” “Be there at 11 or leave here.” “Doesn’t matter, I don’t think.” On Tuesday Kelly* handed me a phone memo rather than tape it to my office doorjamb.

[box type=”shadow”]*The receptionist[/box]

“They have to have the books out before Thursday. They’re moving. It’s close. Near Sugarloaf…” She handed me the slip: name, phone number “700 books many old.” I taped the note to Clif’s desk and when I ran into him later out in the warehouse, I asked him to call and see if we could pull it off.*

[box type=”shadow”]* We get a dozen or more requests for house calls every week. We can only handle very few in-house. Most get farmed out to scouts who do them for us—charging me for their time and transport costs.[/box]

A little later I got an email from the Gaithersburg landlord. Some guy there has 40,000 LPs?!

From: Helen …

Subject: Shady Grove Center

Date: May 15, 2018 at 12:27:25 PM EDT

To: “chuck@…

Good Afternoon Chuck, It’s Helen from the Shady Grove Center landlords office. I know of someone who has come into the possession of approximately 40K LP’s. They are presently located in our shopping center. Are you interested in taking a look at the collection?

Helen

301 ……..

I emailed back and set up a time for 1 PM on Wednesday in the landlord’s business office. Odd, I’ve never done a house call in one of my own store’s shopping centers before. Then I performed the morning rounds.*

[box type=”shadow”]* Rounds: routine of wandering through the 3-acre warehouse. First our business office—”We doin’ ok?” Then through the various departments: data entry, sorting, shipping, loading docks #1&2, then up to the Books By the Foot area of the warehouse. I nose around to see what’s going on, if they need anything, if any new ideas projects pop into mind or if I need to crack the whip a bit—for the common good.

Our docks: We have 21 loading docks lining the east side of the building where our vans get unloaded with “raw” books bought every day at our three brick and mortar stores. Empty vans are loaded with boxes of books, dvds, cds, LPs, cool stuff labeled how they should be priced. Store supplies, paperwork and instructional material are also loaded. This takes place at docks 1 & 2.[/box]

11 AM arrived and Clif and I headed out in one of the Wonder vans—the big Ford Transit. I had my laptop and planned to do some work on this week’s blog while he drove. I thought I might write two. A very short one on the journals and then a full-size one on the closing of Daedalus books. “Remains of the Daedalus.”*

[box type=”shadow”]* Remains of the “Day”-dalus. Daedalus was a huge Remainder bookseller—haha.[/box]

But the phone chimed a couple times. The back roads were kind of winding. And the woman in Clif’s phone kept spontaneously spouting directions. “In a quarter mile….” We got all the way down near the C&O Canal and then crossed the Monocacy. The river was high, swollen, brown and rapid from the recent days’ heavy rains. A number of streets in Frederick were closed Tuesday due to flooding.

Then we turned north and onto unlined farm roads. Sugarloaf rose ahead—that evocative lone prominence in the otherwise flat valley of this part of the county.

“Your destination is 450 feet on the left.” It was a big old brick farmhouse built right up to the road. A white porch on the second story looked back on pastures and fields behind it. It was the only house within sight. Bushes and trees crowded around its front. There was no driveway. A paved rectangle abutting the road held a “Pod”, a dumpster, and a car pulled in.

There was just enough room for Clif to back in. As I walked to the house, I looked out back and there was an equestrian ring, some white fenced pastures and outbuildings. Horse country. Up a few wooden steps to the side door. It was ajar. I knocked.

“Come in.”

I guess you’d call the room a parlor. The place was mid-19th century. A lot of them have odd room layouts. The floor was cluttered with boxes and small pieces of furniture that were clearly on their way out.

“You’re from the book place?”

“Wonder Book.”

The voice came from an elderly man. He was so thin and bent he couldn’t seem to look up but, rather, was addressing me while facing the floor. He was leaning on a cane. He wore a t-shirt and shorts. His arms and legs were painfully thin. His knees and elbows were swollen knobs. Arthritis was fusing all the bones in this fellow. He had to be in his 90s. He reminded me of the aged Yoda in Star Wars.

He chuckled at the floor. “I’m glad you came. Stypeck* said he couldn’t come for couple weeks. He lives not too far away.”

[box type=”shadow”]* Alan Stypeck founder and owner of DC’s iconic Second Story books.[/box]

“Allen Ahearn* did too. Just the other side of the mountain.” I said.

[box type=”shadow”]* Allen Ahearn who with his wife Pat (deceased) founded Quill & Brush and co-wrote many important reference books about rare books and book collecting. Read the story of their magnificent home at the foot of Sugarloaf mountain here.[/box]

“Yes. Yes. How’s he doing?”

“Fine. He found a house in the country just outside of Silver Spring.”

Small world…

A man in his 40’s appeared and introduced himself as the son-in-law. He gave me a tour of the rooms that had books in them. Most were in…I guess you’d call it a sitting room. That room had a wall of built-in bookcases. A woman in her early 80s was seated in there. The wife. About half the books were pulled off the shelves and stacked haphazardly on the floor.

“The books on the floor are going to Florida with us, but you can take all the ones left on the shelves.”

The son-in-law took me to the other rooms the held books. Most of the rest were on a sun porch. The old man had moved in there and was seated in a cushioned wicker chair. Even seated his back and neck were so bent he was mostly facing the floor. Clif had brought boxes in. I had him start in the sitting room. I then assumed the booksellers ‘ position of adoration by dropping to my knees to start packing the piles on floor. Most of the books out here were Heritage Press—old classics in slipcases.

They were in ok shape, but they don’t sell like they used to. From the vantage point of the floor I was able to look up at the man’s face. He had a wry smile and his eyes were young and twinkly. We chatted while I packed. He told me about his horses and how one had knocked him down some years earlier and precipitated a knee replacement.

“The doctor told me after he probably shouldn’t have done it with all the arthritis.”

They’d lived in Manhattan and then Chevy Chase and came here about 30 years ago.

They were moving to Florida.

“Everything has to be out tomorrow. Don’t know why we put it off to the last minute,” he chuckled.

It looked like they’d done a lot of work already. Most of the rooms were half empty of furniture. But there piles of odds and ends on the floors in nearly every room.

I went to check on Clif. The woman was engaging him.

“Now what’s that book there in your hand?”

Uh oh. I knew what that meant. She was picking more books to keep as Clif tried to pack.

“Put that one here, please. I thought I pulled off all the horse books.”

I told Clif: “Let’s carry some of these boxes out.” As we walked out to the van, I advised him: “Pack fast or she’ll keep interrupting you.”

“I know.”

I went back toward the sun porch and was intercepted by the son-in-law.

“You take records?”

He led me outside, down and around back to a modern finished office that was apparently not accessible from the house proper. The grass on the lawn was high and wet. The pastures and horse ring were even more lush. Out there the grass was a couple feet high and highlighted with thousands of little yellow field wildflowers.

“I should know what those are, ” I thought in passing. “Too early for buttercups.”

There were some more books and a small stack of sad LPs. There were some nice looking prints still hanging on the wall.

“Do you have any plans for the framed stuff?”

“If it has blue tape on it my uncle’s taking it. Anything else we’d probably put in the dumpster.”

“Is it ok if I look at them and make an offer on some?”

I asked Clif to take care of that room. He had boots on. My shoes would have quickly soaked through.

Back on the sun porch the old man had nodded off. I got to my knees and quietly continued packing. He awoke and chuckled catching my attention.

“Stypeck took 200 boxes out of here. But that was years ago. They were my uncle’s. We kept a lot of them here. That’s some—what you’re packing there.” He pointed his cane at the stacks I was kneeling in front of.

I finished there and went back to the sitting room. The woman was still seated in the center of the room surrounded by the piles of “keepers.” I went to the far end of the room and continued pulling books off the shelves. When the books are “free”—that is, we are just called in to remove them so they don’t get dumped—I don’t look very closely at what we’re getting. The cursory inspection had indicated just nice books as would befit the circumstances. Art, nature, gardening, travel but nothing antiquarian or exciting… But then I came across some thin hardcovers and pamphlety things. I’m drawn to blank spines. They’re mysterious. I started putting some things aside to pack separately so they wouldn’t get mixed in with the chaff.

Suddenly the house was full of people. A 24 foot box truck had backed onto the shoulder of the road perpendicular to our van. Four young men had appeared and were wrapping furniture in bubble wrap and old bed linens. A neighbor appeared and engaged the woman about a horse he had gotten from her.

“I put her next to the geldings to get her acclimated.”

The old man was up and about again—shuffling small baby steps through the kitchen and dining room. This home in its final hours was abuzz with activity.

Another neighbor arrived—a woman with long gray hair.

I was introduced.

“He’s the book guy. He takes all of them.”

In the dining room there were about 25 framed things set on the floor leaning against the wall.

I flipped through them and set aside some things I thought were too nice to be tossed. There were a couple surprises.

I made an offer on them to the son-in-law and he agreed. He told me was an estate lawyer in Florida.

“You see a lot of this then don’t you?”

“Yep.”

“I do too.”

Then we were done.

“Did we get everything?”

One last walk through.

Then I remembered some sad half dead potted plants in the sunroom.

“Can I take those? I like to try to rescue houseplants.”

Then we were on the road. No reason to back track since we were heading south and east to Gaithersburg. We skirted the south side of Sugarloaf Mountain, came onto Comus Road and were soon on I-270 heading toward DC. Helen called me from the landlord’s office. It was 1pm. Where was I?

“I’m on the way. Should be about 15 minutes.”

Clif turned into the Shady Grove Shopping Center where all this began almost exactly 38 years when I asked the owner of my favorite used book store there for a summer job. When his son was closing the shop about 10 years ago, I offered to buy it to try to keep it afloat. Sales still aren’t very good there but we buy a LOT of good books there every day. People bring in a handful of books up to a truckload—usually twenty or more “buys” every day.

The plan had been to combine the house call, the record collection inspection with a van swap.*

A three-fer.

[box type=”shadow”]* Whenever a van gets full at any of the stores, they call the warehouse and we send a replacement.[/box]

I moved the prints and potted plants into the van we were taking. I was concerned they’d get broken if they stayed in the van we were leaving. Then I crossed the parking to the business office. Helen introduced me to Juan Carlos. He was a tall thin dark haired dark complexion man in his early 30s. He led me back out into the parking lot and into the storage unit space the landlord has installed a few years back. He stopped at one of the many metal roll up doors, unlocked the padlock and lifted the door with a rumbling rattle. A room about 10’x10′ appeared. Its side walls were lined floor to ceiling with 12″ deep bookcases. The shelves were divided every couple feet, so the thing had the appearance of cubes. They were filled—completely—with LPs. LP’s are almost always 12″x12.” The cases were crafted to hold record albums. They were very heavy duty. They would have to be. Records weigh a lot.

I asked the usual questions to try to figure the circumstances. Were they records he had collected? Or some cast off hoard he had acquired at auction?

“I ‘fleep’ houses.”

Ah, they were abandoned with the real estate.

“I guess the guy died. I could make a lot and sell these one at a time but that would take long. I know there’s good money here. Look Sinatra…Michael Jackson.”

I went in and pulled out LPs from high and low shelves. In addition to the rows lining the side walls two rows back to back filled the middle. They were clean and in excellent shape. But there was a good bit of duplication and a LOT of 12 inch singles. 12 singles don’t sell well at all—either online or in the brick and mortars. It was mostly 80s stuff. Disco. Pop. I didn’t see any Beatles, Stones, Zeppelin…

“There’s another unit like this. You want to see?”

“Just like this?”

“No. Mostly boxed.”

I didn’t need to see any more. I could tell JC thought he had a gold mine here. Even if he got them free. I don’t know what he had paid to move, shelve and store them here. All I saw was a lot of work, 10% sell through at low prices. 90% would end up in the dumpster. Nobody’s recycling LPs now. I’ve looked everywhere. You can’t even give the culls away.

“Let me get your number, and I’ll call you.”

I didn’t want to give him the bad news face to face. And there was a tiny bit of niggling still that might make an offer.

As I crossed the parking lot to our Gaithersburg Wonder Book & Video, I thought: “Nah…white elephant.”

I found Clif and we headed back northwest on I-270 toward Frederick. The van we took was full floor to ceiling. I’d set most of the prints between the front seats. The potted plants we’d stuck atop some boxes on the tail.

It started raining again.

“I wonder if we’ll get flooding again.”

When we got back to the warehouse, a truck was backing in. It held 40 Gaylords all double stacked. We buy books and media by the truckload from a DC charity broker. Stuff they can’t handle.

[tabs slidertype=”simple” fx=”slide”] [tab][/tab] [tab][/tab] [/tabs]

8 were full of kids and Dr Seuss books. 1 was “Old Books,” 30 were media (DVDs, CDs…) and one was ostensibly “White Spines” hardback books for Books By the Foot.

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This stuff would all likely be pulped or destroyed if we weren’t able to buy in volume from them.

The day was mostly gone by the time we got that unloaded.

I texted Cap*: ” Time for a beer today?”

[box type=”shadow”]* My good friend, retired physician and best customer[/box]

We met at 4 at RoastHouse Pub. The place has 20 different rotating taps. It’s never the same offering. Heck, often several taps change in the time it takes to have a couple. I ordered a Cushwa—Me , Myself and Simcoe brewed in Williamsport, Maryland from the list on the TV monitor above the booth where we were seated. It was a delicious hoppy cloudy New England IPA.

“Busy day.” I said and then described the house call to Cap. “He had to be in his mid 90s. It just looked so painful but he was smiling and chuckling the whole time I was there. She was too. I think she was in her early 80s.”

“Just happy to alive in his 90s, I suppose.”

Cap has always had good medical (and life advice for me.)

We had a second each and then headed out. It had started raining even harder. A few minutes later the skies opened. The interstate and Rt-15 were completely stopped ahead. I decided to bail and take a shortcut through town. I had to stop and backtrack four times where city streets were flooded. Never seen that before that I can recall in 38 years in Frederick. I finally found a dry enough maze path to a bridge over 15 and west to the mountain where I live. There was no flooding west of the city. The trip—about 15 minutes on a good day—took nearly an hour.

I put some brown rice in the microwave and played ball with the dogs for a bit. It was just drizzling now. I sat at the top of the drive and threw a golf ball down the quarter mile slope. First one dog and then the other get their exercise racing down, retrieving the ball and galloping back up to me. Over and over and over. They never tire of it before I do.

I thought about the elderly couple laughing and smiling and reminiscing and chatting with old neighbors they’d likely never see again. I thought of them starting anew in Florida. Although they’d downsized quite a bit, they were still taking a lot of “stuff” (and books) south.

I’ve been so broody for a year—maybe two. These folks were just happy to be alive.

“What’s my problem? Get over it!” I thought to myself.

I am—over it—at least the next day.

Hope it lasts.

So that’s kinda like what a journal entry would look like. It’s a bit more detailed than most. There’re images and expository stuff too since I knew I was writing May 18th’s entry for an audience. I’ll aim to write “Remains of the Daedalus” next week since this miniblog took on a life of its own.

What were the surprises? Nothing extremely exciting. A 15th century antiphonal leaf—maybe worth $150. A Durer which I’m 99% sure will be 19th century at best—$35-50 once I pull it out of the frame. Some country house colored engravings and obscure signed prints. Nothing a specialist would touch.

A few nice books but nothing worth researching.

Was it an extraordinarily busy or important day? No. Not even in the top 1000. No big finds as far as quality or value. That was one of the biggest vinyl hoards I can recall but so…below average. We get truckloads like that every couple of months. Just another busy day.

It is always good to get reminded what life is for.

That is pretty special.

Still despite the storms and floods and sweaty wet work, it was a nice day and worth recording.

And I have some plants to try to rescue like I did Bonnie Vee’s last summer:

The large jade plant in the back was rescued from Bonnie Vee and is doing well. The other are just rescued.


Postscript: It is Friday. We’ve gone through the books from the farmhouse. Ernest, who does most of the “Old” book sorting here put some things aside he thought I’d like to look at. I looked at what he’s put aside. A bunch of them had post-its inside the cover. The notes were bibliographic things like “not a 1st, $10-15.” The handwriting was very familiar. My good friend, Allen from Quill & Brush, had been through the house—turns out it was a couple of years ago. Who knows? Maybe Second Story had creamed anything special off too! I laughed and wondered if maybe the old man had been chuckling about that as well as his joie de vivre.

Am I still over “it”? Yep. We will see. One day at a time—like the journal.

And this blog? I’ll print it out and insert it in the current journal. In book jargon, that’s called “grangerization.” (See earlier blog)

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6 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    Great story, Chuck. I remember going to that 20-draft place with you once. Must visit it again sometime.–md

  2. Dear Chuck, do you know Shaun Bythell’s book, The Diary of a Bookseller? It’s been pretty big over here in the UK, and covers a similar range of topics, including house clearances, buying collections,etc. Your blog posts remind me of his writing. Maybe you could get a book out of them, too! (I worked with books at the Frederick branch while I was a senior at Hood College, ’04-05. I’ve lived in England for 11 years now but still try to get to Wonder Book on my annual visits back to see family.)

  3. Phil Yost commented on

    Chuck, Love your stories. In the future, just plain black letters please.

  4. Geoffrey Lee Hughes commented on

    Chuck, Will be most interested to read your reflections on Daedalus.

    Geoff

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