Losin’ It

Chuck's Purchase

May Day, Wednesday

A third of the year is gone!

Andrew is driving us down to Gaithersburg.

More and more lately, I just want to escape the pressures of the warehouse. But that means I just get further behind on the work constantly accumulating there.

Yesterday, Ernest and I went to the Frederick store and pulled a few thousand duplicate or “old date” kids’ books—for Books by the Foot!

Amazing that we are running low on kids’ books to sell in bulk. We used to have such a backlog of them. But I was adamant that we would not pulp them—ever.

You could hardly notice the dent we put in the stock at the Frederick store. But there’s only so much we can remove from the stores before it hurts sales.

Too much.

Not enough.

Kids' Book Pulls

That’s a lot of kids’ books. They’ll go to good use.

It is a beautiful spring day.

I’d rather be home spreading composted manure or transplanting. There’s so much in bloom. There’s so much emerging from the earth.

I’ve done a good job up there. I’m proud of it.

Life is too short. Time flies by too fast.

I had guests last night. Alan James Robinson and his friend Ellen drove down from Massachusetts. I haven’t seen him since COVID began. And he has had some severe health issues. Some COVID related. He looked good—considering.

He brought down a bunch of the “If There Were No Books…” portfolios.

If There Were No Books... Portfolios

We thought it would be a good idea to get them finished—just in case something happened to me or him or… something.

We hugged and talked and went out for dinner. At the house, we sat in the bay window nook and gazed out at the valley below.

As the world darkened, the wind rose. A storm was coming. The treetops far above us began swaying. The wind picked up even more. Suddenly, the big sky before us filled with maple tree helicopters and ash tree catkins. It was an amazing sight. The air was filled with organic particles.

The phenomenon took all our breath away while we talked…

We go back to the 1980s when I discovered his work at Quill & Brush. Allen and Pat Ahearn were his mentors then. I was a fan and struggled to find the money to buy some of his Poe letterpress prints.

Our relationship evolved over the decades to now I sponsor and commission him. We have collaborated on many projects.

He feels healthy enough to start drawing again, and I told him I would buy anything he did.

When they were packed and loaded and ready to drive back this morning, we hugged.

As they disappeared down the mountain, I wondered if we would meet again. It was clearly a tough trip for him. Something he couldn’t have done alone at this point.

I went inside, and a wave of melancholy washed over me.

I sat in the bay window, looked out at the morning sun brightening the valley and wrote:

And tears welled up. I don’t know why. Chemical imbalance perhaps.

Back to Andrew and the Gaithersburg trip.

I did a quick inspection in Gaithersburg and pulled a bunch of kids’ books and then headed back to my warehouse job.

There wasn’t a lot of duplication or old dates to pull in the kids’ section there, but I did what I could.

That is a good thing. It means the kids’ books are selling at nearly an equilibrium volume.

75 degrees and sunny at noon.

I’ve been losing things lately.

I hope it doesn’t belie early onset… something.

About 6 months ago, a company we buy a lot of books from asked for an evaluation for a couple old Bibles. They help people downsize in order to move to smaller quarters or down south or because of… attrition.

Annika researched them, and they weren’t worth much. Most Bibles aren’t. In the 19th century, I imagine almost every home had a Bible or three. I relayed the info and then didn’t hear back for several months or more. I forget. (Another symptom?)

Then they emailed and said the people wanted the Bibles back.

I could blame Annika, but I’m pretty sure I put them “someplace safe.”

It’s been several more months now, and I still have not found that safe place in the vast warehouse.

I asked them a month ago how much the people would want for the Bibles. I’d gladly overpay rather than admit defeat. (And embarrassment.)

I haven’t heard back.

Then there was the missing knapsack.

I bought a heavy-duty knapsack for a small fortune before I went to Iceland in July 2021. It has been on every trip with me since. It went to New York City with me at the beginning of April. There was no sense of urgency to empty it. I recall it being in the Explorer, which I drove back from the train station.

Then, “Where is it?”

Not in my office, where it often resides, awaiting the next adventure. Not the conference room. Not in any of the four vehicles.

I checked for my passport—it’s the most important frequent resident. That was safe in a desk drawer. I’d removed it since it wasn’t needed for a trip to New York City—yet.

I looked everywhere in the house. I checked the cars again. I kept an eye out for it for a week or so until I gave up and decided it had been stolen from my car. There was nothing of great value in there. Just papers.

Eventually, it turned up hidden behind my big suitcase in the walk-in closet. I must have rushed it in there when I clearing up for the housekeeper.

One chilly morning, I carried a hoodie down to the warehouse. The car ride was warm enough, but the warehouse was too cold to do sedentary work in a cotton Oxford. I looked everywhere, to no avail. Eventually, I drove all the way back home to get another. I found it about a week later behind a yellow plastic tub of neglected paperwork on a chair in the conference room.

Most panicking was the misplacement of my phone last Sunday. I’d worked so hard all weekend and was happy to go out for pizza when Pippin was brought down from Pennsylvania to be reunited with his brother Merry and wacky newcomer Giles.

I took a video of the 13-year-old boys playing like puppies in the dockyard.

Then my memory of it vaporized.

I’d rushed home with the three dogs. I changed quickly and went out in the dusk to empty mulch from the pickup onto my little “yard.” The “yard” is just a patch of bare space below my bedroom window. No grass grows. I make it so nothing grows. It was there I trod upon a rattlesnake a few years ago while watering new-planted things in adjacent gardens. I gingerly raised my bare foot from it and backed away. Why it didn’t strike me, I don’t know. Providence?

So I dress the spot up with mulch every couple of years.

I was in an extra rush because my Washington Capitals were playing in an elimination game that night.

They lost.

They didn’t look very good.

“Where’s my phone?”

I couldn’t call myself.

There was no signal from the laptop.

I couldn’t reach to have someone call me.

I looked and looked. I carried the laptop around, hoping the “hotspot” would be detected.


It wasn’t here.

Nor in the car.

Nor around the truck or in the yard where I had spread mulch earlier.

Did I leave it in the car I went to the pizza place in? In the pizza place?

I drove down to the warehouse where the wifi would let me email to see if I’d left the phone in the car. The restaurant was closed and wouldn’t reopen until 11 AM.

I’d only rushed in and out of the warehouse when I returned with eggplant parmigiana leftovers to gather the dogs into the car. Still, I panic-searched there, to no avail.

I headed home. It was midnight. I had hoped I’d left it in the restaurant or in the car, which was now in Pennsylvania.

I slept fitfully. How different would my life be if all the data on my phone was gone?

I headed down early. An email came. The phone was not in the Pennsylvania car. I had to wait til 11 to call the restaurant.

We had a 75-box pickup for library sale leftovers from Hood College. That’s on my way home, so I borrowed Ernest’s throwaway warehouse phone and followed Clif and Eric to Hood.

By then, the restaurant had someone to answer the phone.

“No. I don’t see one. I can ask the bartender when he gets in…”


I went home.

Strange to be there in the middle of the day.

I went inside and called my number.

“Cathedral bells.” (That’s the name of my ringtone.)

I quickly tracked down my phone. It was on an iron shelf attached to the (cold) woodstove. It is nearly the same color, so kind of camouflaged. I must have set it down there in my rush to strip off work clothes and change into yard clothes for my rushed near-dark mulch spreading before my rush to get in front of my TV and watch my hockey team go down in flames.

A week ago, the last place I would have sat the phone was the woodstove. It has been phone-melting hot for months.

So my day was a complete frazzle.

I decided I’d be worthless working and took my pickup to the Mason Dixon Dairy farm to get a load of manure. (I also had a task to drop a load of brochures off at the Rt 15 Maryland Tourism Center.) The dairy fuels much of its operation by “squeezing” the methane out of the manure produced by the dairy herd. The by-product has nearly the same consistency at peat moss. It doesn’t smell bad. It is weed free, as the process kills all seeds.

Processed Manure


It felt like I had a ton of s*** in the back of the truck driving back. I covered the load with a tarp, but you never know when you’re doing something wrong, so I took back roads most of the way home.

The trip took me near the house I moved to in 1980 when I started the bookstore—from scratch.

Chuck's Old House

We lived there until 1990 when the first child was born. I kept the house til 2000. I loved it so much. 8 acres. A woodstove. It was paradise but certainly a struggle, as we had no money.

So life has been spinning in rapid tight circles. Life in confusion.

(Last Saturday a group of friends rented a limo, and we went down to DC for whisky tasting at Jack Rose’s saloon.)

Jack Rose Saloon

(After we stopped for a “guy’s meal” at Clyde’s. We’d do these expeditions almost annually before COVID. The trip wore me out, which may explain Sunday’s phone confusion.)

Tuesday was old friend Alan and the portfolios we worked so hard on for so many years.

Wednesday, there was a men’s business function in the woods about a mile from my house. Old and new friends. “Networking.” Great food and drink.

Men's Business Function

Thursday, old bookseller friends arrived on their way to the DC show.

They wandered through the collectible rooms at the warehouse and the Frederick store. They found a lot of good books they could buy for resale.

Dealer Finds

We had enough time to drive up to my house so they could see the improvements. We walked around each with a tumbler of 31-year single malt until it was time to head back down to meet a 4th bookseller. My old friend and mentor Ron Cozzi from Old Editions—a magnificent shop outside of my old hometown Buffalo.

I bought a few good books from two of them.

Then we went to dinner at BJs. Their happy hour specials are so good there some nights I was able to treat the five of us to food and drinks for $76. I left a $20 cash tip, as the waiter had done a lot of work for so little money.

Friday, May 3rd

What a day. What a week. Dinner with friends on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Days filled with constant spinning dances in the woods and warehouse, bookstores, dairy farm, my long ago home and places in between.

The first dawn, around 5, was mauve. It has brightened to burnt orange. An upright crescent moon has risen to the top right of my bedroom window. Soon, it will be invisible above the roof.

The windows are open, and there is a soft cool breeze. The trees have leafed out dramatically. The view from bed is now a green wall with just a bit of blue sky above the canopy.

The soft rustling in the forest is a sound I haven’t heard since last year’s leave fell.

The morning bird concert is more cacophony than concerto this morning. There’s a group of blue jays squawking their harsh calls. The first bird the phone recorded was a phoebe. That’s a bird I know, though they don’t visit the feeders. They like to build mud nests around the house. In a few minutes, the phone recorded a dozen birds. Turkey. Red-bellied woodpecker.

A veery… What’s that? I looked it up. Yep. It could be here. “…across North American forests.” Have I seen one? It looks familiar. Next time I will know.

If the week has been beyond hectic, then today will cap that off with a trip to the University Club in DC. Annika talked me into exhibiting at the rare book fair there this weekend.

I’m less reluctant than last year. My mind is more resigned to it.

She has done most of the work. The SUV is already filled with the boxes she packed. Move in is at 10:30 this morning, so I have an early deadline for this story since I’m driving. I’ll help unload, but mostly stay out of the way, as I’m sure she has a plan for setting up.

It is likely too far to drive back only to return to help work the show from 5:00 to 8:30 tonight.

It will be a long day. It will be a long weekend, as the show goes on Saturday and Sunday.

I’m resigned to it but not looking forward to it.

I have so much work to do. Plus, I’m going on a trip before too long. Northern Italy. With luck, I’ll visit my friends Ray and Jay in Turin. Ray has a grant or fellowship or something at the university there, which has a large collection of Egyptology.

The stress of going away weighs on me for weeks before the actual departure.

At least I can’t complain that I am bored.

10 Comments on Article

  1. Marisa Young commented on

    Enjoy reading the blog. Loved the video.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you! – For reading and taking the time to comment.


  2. Tawn commented on

    I enjoyed “Empress of the Nile,” Lynne Olson’s biography of Egyptologist Christiane Desroches-Noblecourt. We have books by Noblecourt in the WB40 Ancient Egypt section.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Tawn!

      Olson was contacting friends when she was writing the book.

      Great to hear from you!


  3. Lauren Baker commented on

    Feel your pain on losing stuff, especially the phone. I’m in the same boat, plus can’t even email someone without the phone. The trick I have learned is to try and relax, take some deep breaths, then try and remember when you last had it. Try there, then stay relaxed and try to track from that point. Easy to say but hard to do it. Panicking or getting mad at yourself affects your brain and makes it worse. The busier, stressed or hurried you are the more you lose. Slow is smooth and smooth is fast.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I’m pretty good at not misplacing the phone or laptop …

      Just trying to do too much I hope

      But thanks for the suggestions!

      And thank you for reading and writing!


  4. Dan Blackwood commented on

    I’m glad you got to spend some time with your friend Alan Robinson. Sounds like you have a special relationship with him. He is very talented! I hope his health improves soon.

    One question perhaps for a future post. How is organizing the books in the warehouse different than in the stores? You have said in the past there is a different warehouse system optimized for online sales. I’m just curious how it works. Thanks!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      He is a great artist and friend

      That is a great idea. I’ll work on it!

      Thanks for reading and commenting


  5. Gregory commented on

    Hi, Chuck. I enjoyed your stories about losing things. They made me feel a bit better about my own absent-mindedness.

    It doesn’t sound like you have a memory problem; the problem may be in your habits. You might try to put the phone in the same exact places (even when inconvenient) all the time (e.g., your right pocket, on the hall table at home, at work on the corner of your desk). But it’s hard to form a habit with a hoodie you use only occasionally. Good luck!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Gregory.

      Juggling too much on a getaway week w a 3 day DC book show tossed in.

      Thanks for writing!


Leave a Comment

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