2 book stories. One a weekend fling. The other a weekday workout.
I’d managed to get out another book story on Friday. It was about books we’d sold to movies and TV shows as props. I’ve now done about 117 consecutive Friday postings. I’ve had plenty of help. My editor virtually holds my hand every week until she is able to push the send button and tell me:
“Chuck, the blog is up.”
And then I can quickly read it, and if there’s nothing egregious, let it go out there.
Then…there’s almost always a bit of a Friday afternoon let down.
Last Friday was worse than usual. Things were not going well on the home front. I’m pretty dense, but eventually you learn when to give up beating your head against a wall.
So, as I do almost every Saturday when I’m not traveling, I dragged myself and my two Jack Russell terriers down the mountain to the sprawling Wonder Book and Books By the Foot warehouse. There I could play with books to my heart’s content, and no one would bother me.
The warehouse is closed on weekends. The only ones working are me and whatever ghosts are currently haunting the place.
There was no Premier League soccer on. It is the International Break. That was disappointing. I found the Italian Open Golf Tournament online. That would serve as my background noise for the next few hours.
I began plugging away at book carts with my name on them.
A signed Willa Cather jumped into my hand. Somehow I knew it would be signed when I slid the thin volume from under a stack of old worthless books.
That raised my spirits a bit, but soon a wave of ennui swept over me. I became sad about many things. I wanted to do something “different.” Too many carts. Too many bad books. Too much “What did I do wrong again? I wasn’t chatty enough?”
There were four bankers boxes of “Ephemera” that I had walked around in the business office for a couple months. They were filled with stuff people had found inside of books here. There’s always cool stuff in those boxes, but it really doesn’t pay to go through them. We get SO MANY. It is futile.
Why these four weren’t put in the storeroom with the other boxes I don’t know.
Maybe it’s because that room is full!
Ha! We will never go through all those…
But it would be mindless diversion to knock off these four. It would be like eating popcorn.
I like popcorn from the air popper with some truffle oil and Tabasco sauce drizzled over. Then toss some garlic salt atop it, and you’re ready to go.
Italian golf had ended. I put on college football.
I went and got the four boxes and rolled them out next to the paper recycling Gaylord where I usually station my self on weekends. I staged 4 empty bankers boxes alongside a stool and rolled an empty book cart next to me. Those should cover the exigencies for this particular sorting task.
One box I would toss stuff we could sell into. These would be postcards and bookmarks people had bought at bookstores or museum gift shops. Those we sell at 95 cents each or 3 for $2.00. (They’ll be on sale in November. 10 for $4.99!) The leather and metal bookmarks sell for a little more. I would also toss in cheap salable things that had come out of books. The store managers could decide what pittances to offer these things for.
Another box would be bookstore bookmarks—the kind bookstores give away for advertising and as a sort of thank you to customers. We’re putting out new styles soon. They will look sort of like this:
I would also toss other bookish ephemera in that box. Old hand written bookstore receipts, promotional stuff from publishers… Some people collect this stuff. I feel a bit of obligation to my bookselling colleagues—most of whom have long ago shuttered. I just can’t throw away their vestiges.
Well, the way too numerous Borders and Barnes Noble bookmarks get tossed into box #3—that’s paper recycling. Newspaper clippings, notes, coupons…trash.
Box #4 is for “Bag & Hang.” This is for neat ephemera and pamphlets and photos and “stuff” that are cool enough to sell but would get destroyed or would be invisible if shelved with books. So, we put the stuff in plastic bags and pin it to the walls and wooden end caps of bookcases in the retail stores. More eye candy for visitors’ senses to be struck with…
On the 6-shelf metal cart I would place stuff that doesn’t belong in boxes #1-4. The “Good Stuff.”
I sat and began. It was really kind of ridiculous with all the big stuff I could be getting into at the warehouse. But there I was lifting out handfuls of paper scraps and tossing bits and pieces here and there.
There’s a Maupassant short story about some obsessive who can’t help himself and goes and picks up worthless stuff off the ground as he walks along. “A Piece of String”, right?
Well, I always bend to pick up a penny or whatever. Especially at 7-11 where I often stop for my morning coffee if I’m too lazy to make it at home. It would be unlucky to NOT retrieve a penny!
It took a couple hours Saturday before I burned out. When I returned Sunday, I went through the rest.
The results? The 4 bankers boxes I emptied turned into money (potentially) and recycling paper.
I filled two bankers boxes with postcards and commercial bookmarks and other things for the stores to sell for under $1. Maybe 1500 pieces. 20 pounds or so.
I filled one box with bookstore/bookseller bookmarks and other bookish ephemera. I actually sold it guessing there were over 2000 bookmarks in it. $55 postpaid. It weighed about 9 pounds!
The trash—newspaper clippings, ads, junk mail…got dumped into a pulp Gaylord. It will be recycled and become paper once again.
The box of “bag and hang” stuff got about 1/3 full. There were prints and old photos and other ephemera that will be hung up for sale in one of our stores.
The cart got the fun stuff. 3 Barnes and Noble Gift Cards. (I don’t know how much money is on them.) A $5 bill in a blank envelope. About $50 in sheets of US stamps. Three restaurant gift certificates totaling $125. 4 sterling silver bookmarks including a 4″-tall Mr Toad (“poop poop.”) A couple mid 19th century tin types…and some other weird stuff.
Was it worth 4 hours of my time?
No. I’d go crazy doing many more of those boxes.
Why was the valuable stuff dumped in the boxes by data entry employees? I dunno…poor training, confusion, laziness…
We will try to convey to them—again—how to sort this stuff so it gets used—discovered—and sold or given away to people that want it.
Cold Light 10/17/19
The wind wakes me
I’m chilled and ill beneath the covers
My eyes open in deepest night
And outside I see the cold light
The white round moon bathes the woods
Dark shadows whirl and whip the forest floor
The branches and leaves up between heaven and earth
divide light and dark from above
It is a wild dance in the wilderness without
The sight and sound makes me colder still
I curl and hide in the sheets
and pray sleep will see me through dawn
I have a lot of books to get rid of. Several hundred. Would you make a house call?
Sent from my iPhone
I get a lot of emails like this. After many turned out to be way too distant to consider, I learned to save the extra dialog and ask where they are.
“I’m in Michigan,” could be the response.
“I’m sorry that’s too for us to go,” I’d reply. All done.
Occasionally, that wouldn’t be the whole story, however.
“But the books are in Maryland.”
Or the seller’s response could be vague:
“They’re in my mother’s house.”
So, now I dash off a reply that usually goes like this:
“What town are the books in?”
Usually followed by:
“What kind of books are they?”
In this case, the reply to these questions got my interest right away:
The books are in Frederick the address is … Frederick MD. It’s my Dad’s house we are downsizing his house. Mostly history civil war, ww II, photography, farming, etc (non fiction)
That told me pretty much all I needed to know. I set up an appointment.
Which I needed to cancel a few days later. I apologized:
… I’m so sorry.
Last week just got away.
We were swamped with thousands of boxes from many sources.
I can come by Wednesday if you want.
Do you just want me to inspect? Or, if I make an acceptable offer, remove the books the same day?
So I set up another appointment for Friday the next week. Which I needed to cancel:
I apologize …
Two people called out, and I need to deliver payroll to the three stores.
I can come anytime Monday if you still want me.
This doesn’t happen often.
We’ve just been crushed with thousands of boxes of books and numerous illnesses and vacations.
I’m very sorry,
She was very nice and didn’t give up on me. I didn’t quite get legal and say:
“I hereby swear and affirm…”
But essentially I swore and avowed I would come Monday at 10. “No matter what.”
“See ya then,” she replied.
It would be good to get away from the warehouse and other more personal distractions and disappointments weighing more and more on my mind.
A “few hundred books.”
That’s three hundred. The rule of thumb here is “30 books per box.”
I could pack and carry ten boxes in half an hour. It would be therapeutic. A veritable “walk in the park.”
I asked Clif to put twenty boxes in a van for me. Twice what I would need.
“You can never have too many boxes on a house call”—is an axiom I’ve extolled to various helpers here over the years.
I put the address in my phone, and I was directed to an area west of town that is not far from where I live.
To say Frederick has boomed over the last few decades would be a gross understatement. Wonder Book has grown with the city and county and state. I can’t complain—financially.
When the phone told me I had “arrived,” I saw a very familiar scene. The father’s house was a nondescript brick rancher likely built in the 1950s.
I have been in very, very many of these ranchers throughout this region. It was the design of choice for so many post-WWII homes that were built quickly and economically. This was one the simplest versions you could imagine. It was clearly an “old man’s” place. There was a lot of rusting equipment that had been parked in the same place for years. They were outside blocking what I would assume was a fully stuffed one-car attached garage. An old red pickup truck was backed up around there as well. I was pretty sure that vehicle would stay put until it took one final trip away with its next owner. I parked at the end of the driveway. It had been a gravel drive at one time. Now it was mostly grass with little patches of gravel peeking out here and there. I hopped out and walked across the dew damp lawn to the front door. I had to walk around the wellhead protruding from the front lawn. Aesthetics were not what this place was about. Around the back I saw a little barn and some pasture with old barbwire fencing circumscribing it.
This would be listed for sale as a “farmette” most likely. Although nowadays any acreage around here might be marketed more profitably. Maybe it will be listed as a “house and three building lots.” When I got to the stoop, there was a large worn rectangular piece of quartz embedded in the earth that served as the first step. It was about 2 feet deep and 3 feet wide. That was more economical than pouring a concrete slab. There had to be something there or that spot would be a muddy patch. The quartz was worn smooth by decades of footsteps pushing up to get to the stoop or stepping down to get outside.
A woman, about my age I would guess, opened the door and leaned out halfway.
“Thank you so much for coming!”
She opened the door to let me in. I crossed the threshold. The finish on the wood was worn away on the floor just across the doorway.
Thousands of steps had come and gone through that door and no mat or throw rug had been placed to protect that highest traffic few square feet. There were no carpets anywhere to be seen. The wood floors were worn and scarred everywhere. Things had been pushed and piled to the perimeter of the living room. I saw into the kitchen. It was mostly junk all over the floor waiting to be removed. I don’t think there would be an auction. This stuff would be donated most likely.
Looking out the back window there was a large metal dumpster filled to over flowing in the yard.
The house itself wasn’t in great shape. If it wasn’t to be knocked down, it would certainly be “made over” by whoever bought it. Likely a contractor would take it and sand the floors and update its floor plan to the 21st Century. Maybe there’d be a second floor added. Modern windows. And dormers. And siding.
Maybe it’ll become something like this.
The woman led me down the narrow hallway to the corner bedroom. The old man had converted that room into a library and office. On the way, we passed the bathroom. An older woman was sweeping up debris in there into a dustpan.
“Here are the books.”
I groaned inwardly. I saw long runs of Time Life World War 2 and Civil War series. People would subscribe to these series. Every month they would get a new volume in the mail. It would come in a thick corrugated box. We get these so often. It is not unusual to find that many volumes are not even unboxed. The collector just never canceled the subscription. Books kept coming in and wouldn’t get unpacked. Those packages were really tough to get into. There was no easy way to tear them open.
So many people subscribed that now we see far too many. We often just put them outside on tables at the stores and try to get a buck apiece for them.
I used to be able to sell them all day long for $7.50 each. Maybe more if they were perfect, and I was feeling “aggressive.”
Now they are a burden—even when they’re delivered. I would have to schlepp these losers out to the van across the front yard.
But they’re nice productions and really help with understanding whatever subject and events the series is about. I used to enjoy flipping through them when I had spare time in the sleepy used bookstore Wonder Book used to be.
It’s just there are too many out there. And the series is so big. I think a complete World War Two series is about three feet long. And many of the people nowadays just don’t care about old wars or ships or planes or civilizations or…
Those sets I could see from all the way across the room. As I got closer to the shelves and could read titles, I saw it was a “man’s” collection.
There were books on guns, hunting, fishing, military weaponry, crime and murder, planes, ships, cars, trains, ancient history, castles, travel…
This kind of stuff used to be eminently salable.
Now, not so much.
Plus much of it was not scholarly—university or trade publications—but rather what would be called “popular” treatments created by promotional publishers. These type of books were not generally created by a single author—an expert historian or what have you—but rather put together by a committee in a book shaped “package” and designed to be sold in stacks piled on sale tables in bookstores at an irresistible price. Like $9.99 or $19.99 or $12.99.
These kind of books don’t have a price on their dust jacket flaps. They would be priced on the front cover with large removable label stuck to the jacket.
I sighed and explained why my offer would be low.
I spoke the “hundred dollar” token offer words.
“If you’ll get them out of here, I’ll take anything!”
“I’ll go get boxes.”
“You can back across the lawn right up to the door. Just don’t run over the well or birdbath.”
That was a nice offer although I thought it unnecessary. But I did back the van across the grass and got its rear doors close to the concrete stoop at the front door.
“Can I help?” she asked.
“Sure. That’ll make it that much sooner I’ll be out of your hair.”
Things got a little strange then. She began packing—very quickly. She would then slide the boxes into the hallway. I’d pick up the box and carry it out to the van. For the most part the old man’s books were coffee table books. Some boxes were filled with only 10 or 12 books. And each book was HEAVY. Coffee table books printed on glossy paper can easily weigh 5 pounds.
My 20 boxes were disappearing fast, and when I peered into the room, there were still lots and lots of books on the shelves. LOTS.
Were they multiplying?
‘I’m not going to have enough boxes,’ I thought. ‘There are a lot more than a few hundred books in that room.’
She continued packing and pushing boxes into the hallway. Then her mom joined her, and I began racing to keep up with them.
They were both so friendly and helpful. And fast.
I was running out of breath. My simple easy “knockoff” house call was turning into vigorous exercise. I began sweating in the chill bright October morning.
The floor of the van began filling. I began pushing the packed boxes further and further into the recesses of the spacious van.
“You can use our boxes!” one of them said brightly.
I continued racing to keep up with their packing production.
“We’re out of boxes. Do you want us to put them in these plastic trash bags?”
“Sure,” I puffed.
I considered bailing out and telling them I’d return with help. But I was here. And I had my pride to consider. If I couldn’t keep up with two older women…(I’m NOT being sexist!)…but it was a bit daunting. And I AM a “professional” book packer. And box toter.
The bed of the van was full. I began putting stuff atop the first layer of boxes.
I began laughing to myself. ‘I should demand a recount.’
The old man had also used stacked milk crates as “bookcases.”
“Can I use your crates? I can return them. We get lots of them.”
On one visit into the room, the mom sidled up to me confidentially.
“Would you want something like this?”
It was a Playboy. A BRAILLE Playboy. No pictures…LOL.
When I was a little kid and discovered Playboys under my older brother’s bed, he had told me he got them “mostly for the articles.”
This version was ONLY articles.
Then I noticed some of the bags I was carrying contained lots of books and journals on draft horses and Missouri Mules. That explained some the rusting farm equipment.
The room was finally looking emptier.
Out of fatigue and frustration I’d begun slinging the trash bags—each with about 25 pounds of books in them as far into the van as I could.
Then we were done. I was pretty tired. These women had run me ragged. There were well over 100 boxes, bags, milk crates…filling the van.
I had spied the unmistakable shape of a typewriter under its plastic covering.
I hadn’t noticed anything else worth buying there.
I asked if I could buy it.
“Sure,” I replied.
The vintage manual typewriter—it was a big old chunk of metal in great shape. A Royal. Kind of like the model my dad clanked away at.
Typewriters sell very well in the stores. Plus they are great eye candy in the shops.
I asked if I could borrow a pen.
I added the typewriter cost and another $50 to the check. After all, they had helped a LOT. And I had used up a lot of their trash bags.
I was a bit out of breath. My hand shook as I tried to carefully write out the words and numbers on the check.
I felt I had just run a race. A race where I’d carried over 100—30 to 60 pound packages across little house, down a couple steps and across a little bit of grass and up into a van. Only to retrace the same route empty handed.
I thanked them and headed out to my van. If they hadn’t helped and hadn’t suggested backing across the lawn to the front door, I’d still be in there grunting away.
Nah…I woulda bailed and returned with help. Or, more likely, I would have sent Clif and a helper and stayed at the warehouse and done the work I’m supposed to do.
But I had canceled twice. And I didn’t want to give up the process midstream to two sweet women who were able to outwork me.
I was kind of foolishly, dizzily satisfied I’d done this project when I climbed up behind the steering wheel.
I drove out across the front yard being careful not to run over the well cap or birdbath. I turned onto the country road. When I got to the stop sign, I looked across at the construction site of new housing development being built on former farmland.
I get it. It is inevitable.
People want to move to the “country.” But if you turn most of the cornfields into townhouse developments, it’s not country anymore. The “country” will be pushed further west. And each new townhouse, each new McMansion will bring an additional car or three to these winding country roads.
Well, this guy wouldn’t have to see it happen to his place. He’d had his farmette. He’d done his good work. He’d had a quiet satisfying life with his draft horses and mules and plowing and planting and mowing.
And his many books about manly things.
When I got back to the warehouse, the rat race was going strong. People were loading and unloading vans. Inside folks were bustling this way and that. Each had a task, a goal, a mission. They were all going somewhere. Doing something.
I assigned the books I’d bought to Ernest. They were his kind of books. He likes history and military things of all vintages. He often reenacts Civil War events with other troops in full regalia. He is a Yankee. When I walk past his car sometimes, I see a rude pup tent through the glass in the back end. Sleeping on the ground in the heat or cold or rain…not my thing for sure.
He will get the best results out of these particular books. I suspect he will send a lot to the stores. Promotional books don’t do well online.
It’s 6 am on Wednesday. Tuesday I felt dreadful all day. Self-inflicted emotions mostly.
I came home early Tuesday and cocooned. I felt empty, sad and ill. I climbed into bed and wrote into the evening.
Writing has become a sanctuary as well as an escape as well as an obsession as well as a …
When evening came, I watched the Washington Nationals baseball team win their way into a World Series. I was just a little kid when my parents moved me to the area. There was a baseball team then. I was a huge fan of anything baseball then. I would listen to games on a transistor radio. I would decipher the box scores in the Washington Post before school.
The local team then was the Senators. Then baseball disappeared for many, many years in the nation’s capital.
Now there will be a Washington DC team in the Fall Classic. The first to do so since 1933.
I don’t care about baseball like I did when I was a kid. But I have enough muscle memory that this is a very cool thing.
Wednesday. Predawn, and I’m in bed with the laptop propped on a couple pillows tapping away at this. The thermometer reads 61/54. 61 degrees in. 54 out. I haven’t lit a fire yet this fall. It’s warm enough for me under two comforters which are topped by two Jack Russells pressing against me as well as a sprawl of pillows all around me.
I’m feeling a lot better. I had a good night’s sleep.
I will just give up on things that aren’t going to happen and do what I do.
The teakettle screamed a few minutes ago. The French Pressed coffee is cooling on the bedside table.
I’ll hit “SAVE” and get ready for the day at the book warehouse.
What else would I do?
It is Friday. I’m feeling better physically and in other ways.
This blog is already being edited.
I’m pretty far into the Round and Round Murder story (Part 15.) It won’t get out today. I’m not sure what the cats are doing in it nor why Paradise Lost is part of the crime. Hopefully, I will find these things out, and the story will be interesting. The bookseller and Althea have some investigating to do. Perhaps the books in the store will assist them. Althea has said she will be leaving. I wonder what that story will be. Perhaps she will get murdered as well?
There was a little more excitement this week receiving and making a delivery of books.
A colleague who has a rare bookstore on an island in Maine is downsizing to focus only on the higher-end material. He had a helper drive down 223 large boxes from Maine. I wish I had time to go to an island in Maine and get them. I hope this helps him and us. I haven’t had a chance to see what he sent us yet.
Then I decided to deliver 3 boxes of mostly rare books that Aaron (one of 2 Aarons) at Capitol Hill Books came and picked from our warehouse and glass cases at the Frederick store. I haven’t been “downtown” for a while, and shipping them would be expensive.
It was a rainy cold miserable day. And I was feeling even more miserable. But I got down there and toured the ancient shop. They are doing great things there. It is great to see fresh blood in the DC book scene. It is right next to Lexington Market. We went across the street and had Martinis and beers and some snacks and talked and gossiped about books and book collecting and book selling. When I left, I felt great until I began to feel miserable again.
Yesterday things got a little better. I went out and had a couple drinks with a friend. Before I left though, I found this atop one of the carts with my name on it.
Wow! I AM IN LOVE!
I’ve always wanted an original Savoy Bar Book. I’ve got a couple reprints and facsimiles.
And it reminded me the I’ll be at the American Bar in the Savoy Hotel in London in a couple weeks.
So things can’t all be bad.
Actually, things are pretty good.
Could be better.
But, then, they could be much worse.