Napping Into 2024

Paper Trail

Paper Trail

Friday, January 5th. 3:37 a.m.

The waning crescent moon hangs in the black sky. It is all alone in the firmament. It is angled like a Cheshire cat smile. I have awakened a few times in the last hours and cast my gaze from my pillow out the window. It has risen from the bottom left center of the upper pane to the top right of the glass. Very soon it will leave my view and rise above the roof.

I don’t want to be awake. I tried to return to sleep several times. Now I have surrendered to consciousness.

Only for a while, I hope.

My body still harbors the Plague, I believe. It is festering semi-dormant, waiting for a chance to take control again. I fight it by resting. It is a struggle enfeebled by the weakness and tiredness that lingers.


No. More like:


Goddam COVID. It has stolen almost 4 years of so many things. Now it has stolen my Christmas and New Year’s, and it still won’t let go. Coughing, tired, weak…

The dogs have no trouble sleeping. Giles and Merry are limp puddles of puppy flesh next to me. Either will occasionally snore or rise, circle and lie down again in a different position.

I am engulfed in so many layers of cloth. All the warmth is comforting. When I hunker down, only my nose and mouth are exposed.

Winter has finally hit. 22 degrees. The coldest this winter has been by far. Maybe a snow storm Saturday.


The week ended with surprisingly good results.

It began with a bit of despair. Nothing was working right. If I tossed a book toward a box, it would bounce out. If I called anyone, there would be no answer or a machine. Incoming calls were invariably spam.

“I don’t want to do this anymore.”

I say that mantra more and more often. Some parts of the work—a lot of them—are just no fun.

But the week has ended with many projects surprisingly accomplished.

Thursday began with a rush to get ready for an early morning delivery of 12,000 pounds of Pennsylvania limestone. This matches most of the natural stone on the mountain. The stone I bought is squared off to make stacking less problematic.

When the call came at 7:30 a.m. I knew I had about 25 minutes before the big truck would arrive. I rushed the dogs out to their pen. I moved the cars so it could turn around on the upper landing.

It is so quiet up here I could hear it crunching on the gravel a half mile away. Then I saw headlights beyond the bottom of my driveway. The engine roared as the driver downshifted to come up my steep drive. I stood off to the side about 30 yards down it and pointed to where I wanted the pallets set. The truck continued past me and up to the landing.

Truck with Stone

There was a big forklift on the tail and the driver began unloading the stone and hauling the pallets back down the drive to be closer to where the new wall would go.

Stone Load

Why another terrace wall?

The land spoke to me and showed me a stretch between two large boulders. The landscaper wanted the work.

Why not?

The pallets were set just off the driveway. The truck maneuvered, turned around and lumbered back down the mountain.

I texted the landscaper that the stone was here but didn’t hear back, so I walked down the slope and pushed orange stakes in a line that I wanted to wall to follow. I took pictures so I could communicate remotely. I got ready and started down the drive. I got halfway down the quarter mile slope.

“Uh oh. Here he comes.”

I backed up the steep slope so he could get by with his truck and trailer.

We walked back down together and discussed the new wall.

I was surprised he wanted to do it. He had already done 2 walls and finished my newspaper paved trail that is the only way to get a vehicle to the north side of the house.

Paper Trail

Maybe I’ll rename it the “Paper Trail.”

There are maybe 500 1990s and early 2000s Washington Posts under all that mulch. Someone dumped them on us… somewhere. Maybe they came in with a big load of books as anonymous boxes. It was interesting to see the old headlines. Clinton scandals. Gore/Bush. The Redskins were good… The path turned out great.

The newspaper used to be so big back then. Each weighed a pound or two. I did 3/4 of the project. I was glad my landscaper was willing to finish it. I don’t know when I will feel up to doing it. And I understand my body shouldn’t be pushed for a while lest I relapse.

3 walls in a week!

New Wall

2 walls are kind of random. They were built of random stones I dug out of new garden beds or leftovers from other wall and path projects. It was more of a “cleanup” than a formal plan. But they turned out great.

(A gorgeous dawn. I am rewarded with this view on so many days.)

Gorgeous Dawn

At work, there was an urgent Books by the Foot order. Ernest was off, so I took a van to the Frederick store and culled a lot of “Well Worn Literature”, “Distressed Art”, paperback sci-fi and mystery. A couple of hours later, I hauled the load back to the warehouse.

The Gaithersburg landlord called to discuss a new tenant moving in above us. A veterinary dentist. She needs more water run up there. That means a contractor will be working in our space for a “few weeks”?!


He assured me they wouldn’t make a mess or interfere during store hours. We negotiated back and forth over it. I agreed to let them come in after we close at night. He’s been a good landlord to us, so I didn’t want to be uncooperative.

Then I went to work on a cart of books Annika researched and wanted me to see. Some were books I wanted to review before the pricing was finalized.


The signed “Barbie” autobiography will be going for… a lot of money.

Marx, signed Edmund Hillary, signed C. S. Forester, a signed economic rarity on interest rates, a nice Chagall with the right points, a fine large format linen backed map of Peking in 1907…

Annika's Cart

Why would someone inscribe a book to the author? We can’t find anything on the guy. Maybe it was the publisher sending him the first copy?

Davis Grubb, whose best-known work is The Night of the Hunter. The movie is excellent too. Robert Mitchum plays a real creepy character posing as a preacher.

A book written by a groundbreaking woman who was the first woman to serve on a state supreme court (Ohio.) She went on to become one of the first two women Circuit Court judges (appointed by FDR.) She went on to make significant contributions to the legal profession as well as women’s rights.

This Constitution of Ours

It is a pretty unusual book. None for sale online. Only 4 copies on WorldCat. No auction records. A lot of institutions should want to add this to their collections for multiple reasons.

There were plenty of other treasures as well. And I only got to one side of the cart before I was interrupted. The store managers had arrived, and we were meeting to go over December 2023 sales as well as all of 2023.


All three stores broke records. The Frederick store had its best month and best year likely since the Millennium. (I need to dig out those old records and see just how good the “good old days” really were.) A couple “Glass Ceilings” were busted.

For so many years, the 3 stores were loss leaders—functioning mostly as a source for acquiring books for internet sales. They also served as visible flagships for the company as far as public awareness. It is gratifying to see the public embracing them again.

It is gratifying that used bookstores can still be relevant in 2024… ummm, 2023.

By then, the day was winding down and so was I.

When I neared home, I saw the landscaper coming toward me on the lane. We chatted through the vehicle windows.

“Mister Chuck, you’re gonna need to put up more walls. We only used up one pallet of stone.”

Sure enough, there were three untouched pallets left.

The land will have to tell me where to put in more terraces.

I was too tired to do much but heat up some leftover wings and watch an Inspector Morse episode.

New Year’s Eve




The noise awakened me from my doze. I could hear the fireworks heralding the New Year, but when I looked out the windows and scanned the valley below, I couldn’t see the bursts of color anywhere. In winter, I have a nearly 180-degree view. The leaves are down, and I can see lights twinkling below through the bare branches in three directions—east, north and south. To the west, the mountain rises and beyond that miles of wilderness.


They went on for maybe fifteen minutes after I took myself and the dogs to bed.

I was very tired. I put in a massive day at the warehouse. There was big backlog of books. But the “problematic” materials had also accumulated on carts and in piles.

I spent the first part of Sunday out on Dock 1, pricing framed stuff and stereo equipment and odds and ends that come in with the tides.

Pricing at Dock 1

I’m pretty much recovered from COVID. I still have a dry cough which flares up every few hours. My bones shiver sometimes when the cough is deep.

And I’m still a bit “tired.”

I pushed myself until about 6 o’clock. That’s a late day for me.

Cart after cart after cart after cart…

Box after box after box after box…

I don’t know why I was so driven.

Weekends are good because there’s almost no one else working in the building. I can spread my work out and not be in anyone’s way. No one is calling or texting or pulling me aside.

I got a lot done. A LOT.

But I wasn’t passionate or excited about it.

I wonder if suppressed biblio-passion is a COVID symptom.

Then I loaded the dogs in the Jeep and went home. It was after dark and traffic was light. I could actually stop at a restaurant or bar if I wanted to, but I just wanted to get home. Stoke the fire. Open bottle of Prosecco. Relax.

It looks like I’ll be spending this winter with Inspector Morse. I watched a couple of random episodes earlier in the month. I was hooked. I saw a boxed set at work and decided to watch the series from the beginning. I need to check and see just how many hours the entire run covers.

I don’t know how I missed these until now.

He likes books, operas, crossword puzzles, “real” beer… and solving crimes in and around Oxford.

My fall 2022 trip to Oxford was wonderful. It is a beautiful place. And the books and libraries there astounding.

Monday, New Year’s Day

Back in the saddle.

Still tired and with a little COVID cough left.

Ernest and I are headed west on I 70. We just passed under the bridge for the Appalachian Trail. We are headed to the Hagerstown store to pull some Books by the Foot orders and do some general culling.

On our way back.

We must have had 75 copies of The Scarlet Letter in large format paperback editions. I pulled about a dozen tubs like this.

Literature Pulls

Same with titles like Ethan Frome, Heart of Darkness, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn… If a book was ever a “classroom classic”—assigned reading in school—you can bet we get far more than we can sell for a few bucks.

And that’s just the trade paper size formats. We have many hardcover and mass market editions as well.

The hardcovers and mass market we are able to market in bulk via Books by the Foot. Hardcovers are sold for their subject matter or the appearance of their bindings by the foot. Mass markets are sold by “by the box”—often to prisons but also to schools and resellers. This helps keep things in equilibrium and prevents us from being forced to pulp them.

The balance of having enough but not too many is a constant exercise in a finite bookstore.


Shakespeare? There are multiple bookcases devoted to his works, biography, criticism… as well. Several bookcases in the mass market paperback as well as hardback sections.

All the stores have large $1.59 or 5/$5 sections. Hagerstown has the largest bargain sections—inside and out on the sidewalk—THOUSANDS. People are always standing outside looking for one-dollar sleepers. Kind of like the bookstalls in Europe.

Frederick has a lot outside 24/7.

Why do we leave them outside all day and night? It is too labor intensive to haul them out and in every day. Vandalism problems are very rare. If a few disappear—well, if someone needs a book that bad… just please don’t try to sell us our own books. Besides, it is grains of sand on the beach. We’d rather try to get a buck for them than pulp them.

Gaithersburg’s 5/$5 are on carts they roll out and in every day. There’s no overhanging facade on that building.

Now I’m beat. I still haven’t recovered my stamina.

I surrendered and asked the landscaper to finish my “newspaper paving /mulching” project on the mountain (vide above.)

The way I’m still feeling, combined with all the other uncompleted projects, made me look at the space with dread. So I bit the bullet and will pay to make it go away.

When he first came up, he was a little confused about all the remaining boxes of newspapers outside. But I think he has gotten used to us being “quirky” from the work he’s done at the warehouse. He mows, trims and plows snow there.

He just smiled his brilliant white-toothed smile with the thin mustache above it and laughed.

But he “got” it.

(Sigh of relief.)

He also moved a lot of stone I had pulled out of the garden beds and made a wall out of them.

Actually two walls.

“Do you want to do more stone work?” I asked. Landscapers often look for work when the grass stops going.


I went to Irwin Stone the next day. It is very close to the warehouse. They have a huge lot with all kinds of stone.

I picked out 4 pallets of Pennsylvania limestone. They gave me plastic tags with my name on them to identify my choices.

12,000 pounds of stone is supposed to be delivered on Thursday. 6 tons. I’m hauling stone up a rocky mountain. Seems counterintuitive, but then I guess that’s the way my brain works.

I’ll need to mark where I want the new terrace to go.

How many walls have I put up here? I’ll need to count them.

I texted him, “Are you interested in planting flower bulbs in the warehouse gardens?”


I just couldn’t see myself outside doing it. Too beat. And they need to get in the ground.

So another “Chuck” project has been reassigned. He planted 600 or 700 in beds I established at the warehouse in the last couple of years. Spring should be beautiful at the warehouse.

(There are still hundreds I need to put in on the mountain. They must go in soon. They need to establish themselves underground. Plus, if the ground freezes… well, that would be a waste.)

It is Thursday morning.

It is dark outside. Sunrise isn’t until 7:30 or so. I am cocooned under 5 layers. 3 are quite plush.

Today will be hectic.

So many balls in the air.

The stone is supposed to be delivered this morning some time. I need to be here to show them where to put it.

Then the landscaper is coming. I need to be here to show him where the wall will begin and end.

We are meeting to go over December sales as well as all of 2023 at the three stores. I need to be there.

The contractor may be coming to install glass cases at the Frederick store. These will be devoted to showcasing our vintage and collectible comics. I’ll need to be there for that.

(My phone is ringing at 7:30? It’s the stone guy. He wants to come now? Well, that’s ok. I’ll get one chore ticked off the list. Gotta get the dogs penned and maybe move some cars around so his big truck can maneuver…)

You already know the rest of that story.

The week also saw me scrambling to find a commercial HVAC contractor. The heat in the office stopped working, and it was getting cold. I decided to call and email the company that had come at the end of November. I had been disappointed in their estimate for four of the broken gas heaters out on the loading docks. They hang from the ceiling and blow warm air on the folks working below. The quote came in to REPLACE four heaters for $24,000. I had hoped to be able to repair some of them.

They called back Tuesday morning. (At least they called back.) Try getting HVAC work around the holidays. The estimator explained that the heaters were so old they weren’t worth repairing.


They came out and went on the roof and reset the high voltage breaker on the HVAC unit.

Then we walked around the warehouse, discussing other potential projects.

I had to find a Camp Lejeune lawyer for my goofy nephew. He was born there in 1965. My brother was a Marine. He and his wife were stationed there. My nephew thinks some of his problems may be related. He had contacted one of the mega firms you see on tv. He was intimidated by their size and remoteness. I reached out to my attorney, and he referred me to a firm in Rockville. Poor kid. He has always been like a little brother to me.

I met with the four top managers to discuss the “State of Wonder.”

January 1st marked the increase of the minimum wage to $15 an hour in Maryland. It is already $16.70 in Montgomery County. The money has to come from somewhere. We need to look for costs we can cut and efficiencies we can implement.

And plastic bags are now banned. I think my recycling credentials are pretty strong. If you Google “paper versus plastic bags” you’ll find stories from the NY Times, National Geographic… They’re unsure which is more earth friendly. I’m pretty sure the notion that a plastic bag won’t degrade “for a thousand years” is an urban legend.

Paper = trees, logs, transport, pulping, heavier weight…

But we will do as ordered. It is a $500 fine to offer plastic anymore.

We also discussed things we can do to improve things for the employees and customers.

Business ain’t easy.

So many moving parts.

So ends 2023.

There were a couple of horrible events. But there were many good things as well.

Being bookended with COVID was pretty scary.

2024 will be the 44th “Year of Wonder.”


It has grown from nothing to a pretty big and complex machine.

My son is doing great running the stores. I am very glad I won’t have to dismantle it.

Me? What else would I do?

I wonder what books I’ll see in 2024. There are some treasures coming in the mail right now.

I started another one of Barbara’s old books. Witch. 1973. The protagonist—certainly Barbara—is a suburban mother whose younger child has left for Europe and college. She is looking to move out to the country. She buys a rural house in Virginia which is rumored to be haunted…

It is so good to hear her voice. It was long before I met her that she moved from Bethesda to rural Maryland. She found an ancient stone house which may or may not be haunted. There’s a tombstone of a very young woman on the property. Phoebe Jones died at age 18 in 1822.

I’ve been invited out to Lorien by the new owners. It will be interesting to see the place’s latest incarnation.

I miss the pre-COVID world.

I had so many friends and social activities.

Well, I can’t control that. I’ll just put one foot in front of the other and go.

I’ve got three trips planned and will certainly do more.

I’ll start cutting and hauling wood when I’m up to it. There’s plenty in the barn for this winter and next. But I enjoy the process. That and the gardening keep me grounded… LOL—pun intended.

10 Comments on Article

  1. Charlie Downs commented on

    Sorry about the COVID, Chuck. Just glad you’re getting over it. Have you thought of encouraging customers to bring their own shopping bags to take their purchases home? Perhaps some signage and/or a slight discount on the purchase to encourage it.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      We really don’t want customers bringing big bags in the stores – for security reasons.
      Sad but true.

      Thanks for writing – and Happy New Year!

  2. Ken commented on

    So GLAD you are feeling better! At least napping INTO 2024 is better than napping THROUGH 2024!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Dont jinx me!
      I’ll be very glad when the vestiges of this thing are done with me.
      Thanks for writing!

  3. John Carrigy commented on

    Hope you feel better soon, Chuck. Huge Morse fan too – the spin off series’ – Lewis (Set after) and Endeavour (Set before) are also excellent.

    All the best,

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Great to hear from you John.
      Now I’ll be able to spend more time watching tv … LOL.
      Thanks for writing!

  4. Deborah Lashman commented on

    Herb Sussan was a TV producer who also filmed the effects of the bombing of Japan during WWII, including Hiroshima & Nagasaki when he was part of the Strategic Bombing Survey Crew. His daughter wrote a book about him, “Choosing LIfe: My Father’s Journey in FIlm From Hollywood to Hiroshima”.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That shows just how dreadful things can be.

      Thank you for sending that.


  5. Gregory commented on

    Just to add to the bag comments… I have recycled plastic bags that roll up into a very small ball, which I keep in my briefcase/bag. I use them for everything and don’t have to take either paper or plastic. They work great, and I feel very virtuous! Once the laws get too onerous, customers will start remembering to bring their own bags.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Who knows where this will end up.
      Most retailers don’t really want people coming in w tote bags etc … but then that climate has changed in many places.

      Thanks for writing!


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