May Into June

Watercolored Unicorns


Travis and I are flying down the Interstate to Gaithersburg in the van. Their boxes of books to be priced and stocked are backing up. We will try to figure out why. I will cull some categories, so they have room. But I think it is something more than that.

Always something. So many moving parts.

The weekend was ferocious. Mid 90s Saturday and Sunday. Fortunately, the warehouse stays cool. I was told the Postal Service put 10-foot thick floors in for some reason, and that’s what mitigates the temperature.

On Sunday afternoon, a huge storm came through. Hail battered the warehouse roof. I hurried out to the Jeep. I’d left the door ajar. The seat was soaked, but fortunately the 4-volume Jefferson was in a bag.

4-Volume Jefferson


I was drenched from the 10-yard dash from the office door and back again. The lights flickered again and again. The power went out, and I sat in darkness and silence. Would it return? In a couple minutes, the transformers began humming and the hundreds of warehouse lights came on with their heavy “clicks.” It kept happening for about a half hour. Off. On. Off. On.

My weekend was the usual. Carts. Carts. Carts.

There were some good finds. I made two research carts for Annika and a few tubs for Madeline. But mostly it was just the usual… trying to stay ahead.

If anything slows down or stops, it causes a backup upstream. Then things get… complicated.

I wonder, should I come up with a new kind of calculation?

Carts per hour? CPH.

Carts per day? CPD.

I did so much. The decks were cleared. I was proud of my accomplishments. My arms tingled warmly from all the book lifting and cart pushing. I looked at all the open space I made in the sorting area. But I knew that like a hole dug on the beach, when the tide comes in, it will all fill back in and appear as if nothing had happened there.

Cool finds like these quirky things:

The book on Britain and Atomic Energy has a good deal of correspondence between two scientists who worked on the Manhattan Project.

The Operation Crossroads (Atomic Bomb test at Bikini Atoll) book has a photo and Atlantic Monthly story about a sailor who got radiation poisoning there. The photo from the early 70s shows him in a wheelchair with one hand swollen many times its natural size.

The old notebook contains the handwritten Constitution and minutes of numerous meetings of The Frederick Society for the Suppression of Vice in 1896.

I did go out for dinner on Friday. Kind of a last-minute thing. I called. Reservations weren’t available til 8:15. Before my “Coming Out”, that would have seemed much too late. As it was, when everyone had left the building, I stretched out on the big red plush sofa in my office and transposed poems from manuscript to email. Then I printed two copies. One for the office archive. One for home. I marked the manuscripts “Done”, tore them off the legal pad to drop into a different milk crate at home. That passed the time until it was time to go. Monocacy Crossing is in a semi-rural setting on Rt 355 just south of the Monocacy River. A big sloping gravel parking lot rises from the road entrance. Outdoor seating. (Too hot for that.)

“Where’s my phone?”

I’d put it in the charger when I had changed from manual labor to mental activities supine on the couch. When it was suddenly time to leave, I rushed out, failing to pat my pockets to be sure I had the necessary things: wallet, key card, phone, comb…

What if I have the wrong place? Or time? Or there is some problem or change?

Nothing to do but stand near the entrance to the parking lot and wait.

It all worked out well. Well, better than well. Memorable for its perfection. A long lingering evening. Veuve Clicquot. Mussels in butter and white wine. Deviled eggs with an intact shelled crab claw set in the yolk that some magician had transformed. Steaks. I had my filet prepared “Pittsburgh” style. Seared nearly black outside and very rare inside. A bottle of Caymus. Then home with memories of another day’s rebellion against the years of plague and woke insanity.

Back to Monday… I knew I had to drive to DC that evening, so I filled up the Explorer on the way in. $4.79 at the 7-11 I pass every morning.

Last week, I noticed the Frederick Ford dealership had 8 new vans in their lot. There wasn’t much else. These were spread out to fill space. Some of the “Wonder Fleet” is aging. A 1997 Dodge Ram is only permitted to do short runs within Frederick. The 2004 Chevy has its paint worn off the hood. I pulled in to check them out. They were Transits. I was driving one of our Transits. 2019.

Sticker shock: $52,000. Plus $7500 “Adjusted Market Value” written in ink on a small sticker above the Moroni sheet. $60k for a van. It was a bare bones vehicle just like the one I was driving. When I got to the store, I looked in the glove compartment. The 2019 Moroni was retailed at $39K. I know I got a deep discount off that. Did I pay $32K?

Monopoly money… And now—fear of crashes.

When Travis and I arrived today, the Gaithersburg store was fine. I just needed to give it a little attention and motivation. Travis and I culled tight categories. I pulled some orders for Books by the Foot. Part of a 50-foot order of well-worn lit and 12 feet of biography. I took bio from subjects that needed spaces. Lit—I hit the weaker selling areas of generic poetry, drama, criticism, anthologies—which were packed.

It was a gorgeous spring day. After the weekend’s torment, the sun was out, and the perfectly cool 60s made it a pleasure to walk around the grounds… and BREATHE!

Owen had dropped off a load of vintage hardcovers he’d driven from Ohio.

I took the old Dodge over to the Frederick store—a.k.a. “Rt 40.” Most of the category shifts and adjustments are done. The place looks great.

What’s next?

I left the van at the curb to be unloaded and returned to the warehouse.

Aaron appeared with a truckload of books from Capitol Hill Books. He brought the finds I’d made at their booth at the Georgetown Rare Book Fair. I was shocked. The invoice was far too low. He buys 100s or 1000s of books from me. He shouldn’t have matched the discount I offer him. I’ll make it up. I started by walking him back to the northeast corner where we receive remainders. I’d ordered this Orwell biography for store and online stock. Very topical nowadays.

Orwell Biography

There were plenty left.

“Here. Fill up this box. It has to be a good seller.”

I wanted to get to DC early. Maybe have a Martini at the Dirty Habit Bar in the Hotel Monaco and then write some on the laptop or walk around. I headed out at 3. Traffic was miserable, but not the disaster it often is. I found a parking garage. You need to be careful in DC. Many garages close at 7 p.m. I read the small print. I was sure this one read, “Open til 12 a.m.” The price was “$18.” An hour? Ended up being $18 for the whole evening. The only bargain I’ve seen in DC for years. The city is still in thrall of plague fear and social unrest.

I know my way around that part of town pretty well. I have had some great times around there—museums, concerts, plays, food, drinks…

One of the last great meals I had down there was with a new friend and Michael Dirda with his wife Marian. It was in the year before COVID. She was close to retiring from the National Gallery of Art and gave us a backstage tour of the bowels of the venerable building. It was filled with treasures. An absolutely amazing afternoon. We were able to get up close and personal with some amazing masterpieces. Some were down there for conservation. Others were being staged for new special exhibitions. Just… amazing. Afterward, we all met at the Dirty Habit—the bar and restaurant of the classic Hotel Monaco across the street from the National Portrait Gallery and the Capital One Arena. It was a great day all around. Then COVID happened. My friend disappeared, and I don’t think has come out yet.

So, I sidled up to the bar and found a stool between two others who were tapping away at laptops. I’d fit right in.

“Gin Gibson. Up. Very dry.”

“Any gin preference? “

I looked at the bottles behind him.

“Botanist,”—from a Scottish distillery.

It was pretty as a picture.

Gin Gibson

A text came in from my son. “We’re on our way. Looks like lots of rain coming.”

I checked my phone.


I drank up, paid and headed back to the huge hole where my car was parked.

Down, down, down into the bowels of a battered DC parking garage. I set the laptop on the floor and grabbed my raincoat and made my way to the surface. I would walk instead of drinking and writing. The Portrait Gallery was just across the street.

“Open til 7.”

“Closed Mondays.”

“Maybe I’ll try Rosa Mexicana.”

“For Lease.”

Damn! That was a GREAT place. They made a table-side guacamole that was unforgettable. Pitchers of sangria… Great times. Gordon Biersch—the big brewery restaurant—gone too. So many other places I used to know—Gone. Dark, blank dead windows. “For Lease.”

I headed down to the National Gallery. Not much time but I could visit Ginevra.* I stop in to see her whenever I am able.

* Ginevra de Benci by Leonardo.

Hmmm. The back entrance now says “Exit Only.” COVID, I presume. It is a pretty long walk around the building to the front.

“Closed at 5.”

“Next time, Ginevra.”



Back to the Dirty Habit. No seats at the bar. They had service in the fancy lobby.

I ordered a wine. “How much do I owe?”

“Nothing. It is happy hour.” But he did nod toward the tip jar. Something free in DC!

My son and son-in-law appeared.

“Get something to eat?”

There were plenty of tables in the Dirty Habit restaurant area.

“Are you going to have dinner?” we were asked.

You gotta pay for the table, I guess.

It was delicious.

In keeping with the “Coming Out”, I had a glass of Veuve Clicquot.

Then across the street to the Capital One Arena. Seats were in the 4th Row center. There was an opening act—Amythyst Kiah. “Kiah has described herself as ‘funny-talking, sci-fi-loving, queer Black.'” There was a woman on bass and another on lead guitar. The drummer was a guy. The music was kind of slow evocative bluesy. The old guy right in front of us was clearly buzzed. He kept raising a fist, saying, “Bring it! You can bring it!”

Very embarrassing…

That was to be a theme all night.

The Who. I liked them growing up. Tommy, their rock opera, was a landmark in my LP collection. They lived hard. Keith Moon died in 1978. John Entwistle, the bassist, died in 2002. But Roger Daltrey and Pete Townshend can still “bring it.” When they came on stage, I noticed they had a full orchestra around them!

They opened with cuts from Tommy!

It was amazing.

Except for the guy in front of us who, when he was standing, was leaning backward at an impossible angle until flopping down into his seat. The people next to him—in front of us as well—were vaping, and the guy got hauled away about halfway through the show. His partner stayed for about 15 minutes before she decided maybe she should go check on him. It was more comedy than inconvenience, though. We still had a great view.

The first violin had a presence during the whole show. She just seemed so happy to be there!

When “Baba O’Riley” started, she fairly flew onto center stage to perform the solo.

She would have stolen the show had the whole thing not been so amazing.

Ringo is next and then Roger Waters…

Driving home was fine. Sometime after midnight, I pulled in. I fell into bed and slept long and hard. Happy dreams.


Clif was off, so I knew I’d be wearing two hats. I took a van to the Frederick store to swap out a full one. I culled a bunch of categories for Books by the Foot. That is fun physical work.

Back at the warehouse, the common books carts were piling up. Pulling salable items off them is fun physical work.

Late in the day, I went out to the docks to check in.


Nobody told me.

There were 8 Gaylords overflowing with pulp paper. The path to the forklift was blocked. It took me and three guys to get things staged, so I could load and stack the Gaylords on the recycle trailer.



I texted Sol and told him, “Surprise! We are full. We need a full load of pallets and Gaylords.”

“I’ll get you swapped out tomorrow!”

He is great. Wonderful service, and there is actually a market for pulp paper nowadays. We get paid for our trash… and keeping 80 tons or so out of landfills each month.

Fun, physical work. Builds character, I am told.

I had a couple of beers with a friend at Smoketown after work. We chatted about books, life, the universe and everything. It is so cool to have someone to talk to.

Home. Puttered, trying to get stuff put away. The last of the cold weather clothes walked down to the cedar closet. I made pasta with olive oil, truffles sauce, herbs…

OH! The olive oil I imported from Lecce, Italy arrived. It is just wonderful. I ordered 24 bottles. 7 arrived broken.

Broken Oil

I’d laid twigs and branches in the woodstove about a month ago. I thought I might have to dig them out and haul them outside, but the night was so cool and damp I closed the windows and had the last fire of the season.


Clif is driving us up to Hagerstown for Phase 5 (or 6 or 7…) of the Hagerstown facelift.

More bookcases are being installed. Unbelievable—all the new bookcases added and there is actually MORE space than before.

That will be a challenge to maintain because as everyone knows, “Books cannot stand a void.”

A 5th record bin will be installed.

Fun, physical work.

We are on our way back from Hagerstown.

A little miscommunication, though. The new shelving is only about 2/3s as high as everyone else here thought. The contractor was sure they were the right size. He was overruled 6 to 1.

So, it is NOT my fault!

But no one complained.

It may actually be better. Sometimes in Wonderland I’ve found less is more.

So, there will be a phase 8, 9…

When we got back to Frederick, we headed right back out. Rt 40 needed an empty van. I wanted to go because a few days earlier I’d spotted Books in Print under the big old wrapping table in the backroom there.

So, when Clif and I landed at the Fredrick store, I headed to the back room.

The room where Door #6 is. The room where I spent years sitting on a stool, pricing books while the radio played.

I lived there for many years until we put 40 books on the fledgling World Wide Web in 1997. That happened in this storeroom well.

We are trying to revive the dead spaces back there. My son dragged out some big tomes.

“What are these?”

“BIP. Books In Print.”

I’d forgotten about them entirely!

They were covered in dust.


All the English books in the world you could buy then were in those.

I dragged them out and set them on the mammoth wrapping table I’d bought from a gift store going out of business decades ago.


Back then, these were a resource.

If a book was not in BIP, it was “out of print”—and therefore more valuable in whatever used edition you had in hand.

I dropped them in tubs. “Pulp.”

Useless artifacts.

That evening, I was invited to a men’s club event atop a mountain overlooking the Middletown Valley. It was all about meeting and connecting. The food and drink were great. So was the view.

May… has been a complete surprise—in almost all good ways. It has been a dream. Or as I wrote last week, like living in a poem.

Slow motion… yet days and nights filled with excitement and people and places.

Part of me cocooned in March 2020 when the terror started. I stayed cocooned in many ways until April 30 became May 1.

Many old friends are still cocooned. Some have changed. Some are dead. (Not COVID.)

New friends and friends to be, maybe. Reconnections with other friends I’d lost touch with.

Gone are the hoodies and COVID jeans that were pretty much all I wore—even on trips overseas.

I am starting to fit into pre-COVID couture again, and it is a pleasure to explore the forgotten mysteries of my closet.

Maybe I will recycle my COVID clothes. I am recycling the khakis that got bleach stained recently.

Mulching Clothes

I do this with other cotton things that are ruined or undonateable—like when I get a hole in a sock!

This fabric acts as kind of a weed block when I cover it with loose mulch and it eventually disintegrates into the soil.


Maybe there was something supernatural involved. My long missing Book Muse snuck up on me and smacked me across the forehead with her enchanted 2×4.

If so, “Welcome back!”

Whatever caused it, I am appreciative. I will have a lot of happy May memories forever.

April come she will
When streams are ripe and swelled with rain
May she will stay
Resting in my arms again
June she’ll change her tune
In restless walks she’ll prowl the night
July she will fly
And give no warning to her flight
August die she must
The autumn winds blow chilly and cold
September I remember
A love once new has now grown old

Now, will June change her tune?

I am ready for anything. But I do not think I will return to the cocoon.


The week that was to be an easy steady paced getaway week has turned into a whirlwind.

I keep getting spun around and can’t grab onto to anything.

I took a van over to the Frederick store (again.) I culled for Books by the Foot orders (again.)

My phone rang in my pants pocket. Cathedral bells. I looked at the screen. “Clif.”

What does he want?!

“Hey, I’m in Gaithersburg. Someone stole the catalytic converter, and the van won’t run.”

So… we need to get it towed to Frederick. Set up a repair. Contact the insurance company.

A new book scout texted and asked if he could come by with 60 boxes of books.

“Where are they from?”

“I buy storage units and have permanent yard sales. Books don’t sell, so I’d like to bring you everything I get. I was referred by …”

He arrived soon after I returned. The books were ok from the few boxes I peeked into. He wanted to be shown around, so I gave him The Tour.

“Sure. I’m pretty frazzled, though. It has been a crazy hectic day. Someone stole one of van’s catalytic converter.”

“I’m also a full time cop. We see that all the time.”

“What kind of guys do this?”

“Small timers. They get $50-100 from chop shops. Chop shops sell them for $800-900. You might start painting them orange. Makes them tougher to sell.”

This is the third one we’ve had stolen in 15 months. It ends up costing us a few thousand dollars. We put claims in with insurance which will, of course, raise our rates. The vehicle will be out for a week or so.

I’m finishing up Thursday—emotionally and physically drained—on the couch in my office.

Things have not gone as expected.

Some things much better.

A couple of watercolored unicorns arrived from Alan Robinson.

Watercolored Unicorns

So odd… that concept came to me a dream 5 years or so ago. In the dream, I heard, felt, sensed:

“If there were no books…
…there would be no Unicorns.”

We have copies of all the series for sale here.

Alan will watercolor them for you for $125 (I think—check with him—we don’t get a cut.) He needs the work!

And you can order our portfolio of 24 images here.

Contact me if you want my signature as well as Alan’s. I guess I get credit as the “conceptualist” and consultant on image content and layout.

Next week, if all goes well, the story will be from London…


4:30 a.m.

I slept hard. The dreams were good. I cannot remember them, but I recall they felt good.

The first birds are singing in the dark.


“Sing up the sun!”

Where did the week go?

The same place all the others go.

Into the past.

I was tired when I got home last night. But I had a mission. A rescue mission. Though the native red trilliums have propagated well, I have only gotten the white trillium to bear a few seedlings. The mother plant—planted years ago from a tiny root sold in a plastic bag—is big and healthy. It is on the border of the “Green Garden.” That is the oldest and most favorite bed up here. It has the most varieties of shade-loving plants. There are so many shapes and shades of green. It is a pleasure to behold. As a garden matures, some denizens become too successful. They grow or spread and encroach on their neighbors. A hellebore volunteer had matured from seedling to nearly shrub size. It was overshadowing the lone white trillium. To give that plant space to live and hopefully propagate, the hellebore needed to be removed and transplanted. I found the long narrow spade and studied the situation. I couldn’t dig near the trillium stalk. They are so fragile. One misstrike, and “snap” it is dead. It was hard work. I was tired from a day’s hard work. The sky was darkening. I went in from every angle I could. The hellebore roots were wrapped round stone underground. I lifted and lifted and the plant would not come free. Finally, pulling with both hands wrapped around the hellebore’s numerous stalks, the thing came free from the earth. And the trillium rose up with it. It was growing in the hellebore’s root system. Its stalk grew out at a sharp angle underground to get to the light.


I carried the hellebore down the slope and quickly planted it in a new area in front of one of the recent—COVID—terrace walls below the house. I returned to the “Green Garden” and inspected the uprooted trillium. Its tuber was about as big as my thumb. But about a third of it had snapped off. There were plenty of roots attached to the remaining root from which the long single stalk emerged.


I got the cart and took it to the big pile of composted manure. Each shovelful was wriggling with earthworms. I went back and filled the void the hellebore left. I set the trillium and gently packed the soil around the stem.


I dragged the 100- foot hose to it and watered the soil around it. The single spent white trillium flower head will soon go to seed. If I prepare the soil near it and downslope, perhaps some seeds will take. There were lots of tiny hellebore and lungwort seedlings in the way. I couldn’t just kill them. I gently slid the spade under them and lifted them en masse. I took them to the new redbud grove and set one or two in the soil around the treelings I transplanted a couple weeks ago. It was simple. I just pushed a finger in the soft soil and set the tiny root in the hole. Then just a gentle squeeze between thumb and finger sealed the wounded earth.

Back to the now solitary trillium. I brought some shovelfuls of compost and prepared a soil blanket around and down hill from the trillium.


I went inside and turned on the kitchen light. I set a pot of water to boil for pasta. I rolled the skin off 4 or 5 garlic cloves and tossed them whole into the water. I put on a skillet with cheap olive oil and broke the aging eggs into it. The dogs will be happy tomorrow. I washed dishes while the supper cooked.

It was hot and good.

When I climbed into bed, I wrote some of this. I transposed a poem I wrote on my phone during The Who concert. How crazy is that? The screen was black, so the words would not print out. I wrote another poem about a vision I had last Friday. It was full of typos and exhausted wording, but you need to get things down when the Muse strikes.

This Friday…

The day has brightened, but it is foggy and drizzly. May has been a wet month. Putting bird food out on the porch roof, I see the mountain laurel out front is in bloom. There are many of them on the mountain. They mature to about twelve feet tall. There is a grove of them a few hundred yards up my land. You walk into it and there are clouds of flowers in the branches above your head. I guess you would call it a bower? Maybe I will walk up there this weekend. I haven’t been up for a few years. But there is so much to do to get away.

Blooming Mountain Laurel

Actually, the mountain laurel blossoms can be as beautiful when they’ve fallen.

Mountain Laurel Blossom

I will miss May. It was a good month and I give thanks for that.

8 Comments on Article

  1. Mike Hassel Shearer commented on

    Ministry of Truth by D. Lynskey $124.98 on your website and 20 in stock??? It’s $18.97 or less- new on Amazon. Somebody misplaced a decimal point? Otherwise I always look forward to your Saturday mail and getting books I purchase on line of in Fredericksburg on my way from NC to Boston or Michigan to see our kids.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That was a computer glitch. Should be fixed now.
      Thanks for pointing it out!
      The stores should have copies as well. Likely in the New Arrival section or w Orwell in Lit.
      Safe travels!

      1. Charlie Downs replied on

        I was fortunate to see The Who at te original Woodstock on an early Sunday morning. Also saw online that catalytic converter thefts are way up in the US. There is a movement to have serial numbers imprinted on them as well as several other measures to decrease their thefts.

        1. Charles Roberts replied on

          Thank you Charlie
          What a great memory to have!
          Thank you for commenting!

  2. Michael Dirda commented on

    Thanks for the shout-out–but you forgot to mention seeing me in the Gaithersburg store on Friday!
    And what’s this about London? Have fun.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you Michael!
      Bumping into you at Wonder Book Gaithersburg was a beautiful grace note in an otherwise torturous week!
      I’m flying out of Dulles in a couple hours!

  3. Kathleen W Arnold commented on
    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much!
      I didnt know they were endangered. I’ll try to propagate more and more and hope they jump into the wild.
      There are little caches of them up the mountain.
      I have no idea how the first wild one landed in a bed.

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