New Year’s Week

The Climate of Palettes

The week between Christmas and New Year’s Day is always a strange period. The kids are out of school. Most workers are home.

But it is the week when 2021 turns to 2022. A weird year going, and the unknown ahead.

Many kids have been home for school during much of the last two years. Some schools have re-closed recently. Omicron.

Many of the people who are still working are working “remotely”—that is, they are in their homes as well.

Many are not working at all. What happened to them? Disappeared?

But Wonder Book has always been open New Year’s Week. It has always been a busy time.

The stores are busy even on the weekdays. Mail order is very strong as well.

With e-commerce, rapid “fulfillment” is urgent. It is beyond urgent. If the packages don’t ship right away, people get unhappy. If they get unhappy, they let the selling platforms like Amazon know their displeasure. If a selling platform gets unhappy with us, the results can be catastrophic. We CAN’T close down.

Tiger by the tail…

Riding the whirlwind…

That said, there are LOTS of people out right now. X’s granddaughter tested positive. Y’s girlfriend, Z’s sister… LOTS of people are positive in Maryland. I’m writing this Wednesday morning, December 29. NYC’s positivity is 19.33%! One out of five tests is positive.

Good news and bad news:

COVID CASES USA
488,988 DEC 29 2021
201,030 DEC 29 2020

DEATHS
2,101 DEC 29 2021
3,628 DEC 29 2020

I’m wearing a mask again. Mostly for show. No one knows if they work. Kabuki.

But we want to do anything we can to reduce everyone’s exposure everywhere.

I’m lighting votive candles. I’m burning incense. There are farmers very close by who sell goats and sheep for ritual slaughter and food. The buyers are almost always originally from foreign lands where such things have been customs for… ever.

I’m kidding about the incense. I do light candles. I enjoy the show.

Candles

(I am not Catholic, but I think “saint” and Mary and Jesus… candles are cool. Whenever I visit a cathedral or church, I try to pay and light a candle. I’ll kneel and say an Our Father, give thanks and remember lost family and friends. Yep, I like candles.)

And no. I couldn’t slaughter a creature.

Maybe if I was starving…


Last Friday was Christmas Eve. After work, I had a cocktail with an old friend. We’d both lost a brother in the past year. A lot of things had changed. We caught up on a lot of things.

Strange how people and relationships change.

Why?

The fickle finger of fate.

Or maybe they are just crazy. I am unchanging… LOL

I decided to go back to the warehouse to check on things. A big fox was digging at things in the field next door. I stopped and watched it awhile. When I got to the parking lot, there were still two cars. The closing manager came out and asked me if I knew who owned the other car.

“Probably someone who went out with friends.”

He left. In seconds, the alarms went off. My phone rang. The security company told me there had been a breach. I gave them the pass code, so they wouldn’t send the police. The alarms were still screaming:

“WONK WONK WONK… Intruder! …WONK WONK WONK… Intruder! …”

Where were my key and disarming card? I’d changed clothes to go out… Where?!

“WONK WONK WONK…”

I got out of my truck and circled the building. Sure enough, there was a young woman tapping away at her phone outside the front door.

A new employee. I introduced myself and asked if she was ok.

She’d been locked in. Lost track of time and was likely in one of the remote Books by the Foot storage rooms. And we had closed early due to the holiday.

“Don’t worry about it. Go on home. I’ll take care of it.”

Eventually, I found a spare key and card and went in and disarmed the sirens.

Then I had to laugh. It is an enormous building. These events are very rare. In the old days, I would occasionally turn the bookstore lights off and someone would yell, “Hey!”

All locations have plenty of security lights which remain on 24/7, so it is never dark.

I was too “tired” to drive to go see family. We’d had dinner together on Thursday night. I’d go up on Christmas Day and return there on Sunday. That is plenty of family “duty.”

I went home in the dark. I turned on the lights in the “Barn.” I fired up the chainsaw and cut up some big pieces of oak. I went out and cut up the deadfalls I’d dragged close to the house. I returned to the “Barn” and started the wood splitter. I split all the wood that needed splitting. Then I choked and pulled the cord on the blower. I blew the sawdust out of the “Barn” and off the driveway. I went around the house and blew the dead leaves out of the eddies where they’d been hiding from the wind.

It was a very calm and satisfying evening. I changed into flannels. Lit some candles. Heated some leftovers…


We used to have a great corporate customer for art books in Books by the Foot. We couldn’t get enough of them. We sent out requests to fellow booksellers. We saved anything that was close.

Then the company went bankrupt. We have 25 or 30 pallets of “Well Read Art.”

Well Read Art Pallets

Should we pulp them? We need the space. They will never sell.

I went through two just to see what was in them.

It was hard work. Art books are heavy. Climbing into a Gaylord. Bending down into the bottom of them. Lifting books. Tossing them into recycling Gaylords. Leaning out and putting them on carts. Physically hard work.

There were some pleasant surprises. Unusual monographs. Unusual titles.

LOTS of junk like the Time Life series. Lots of old Janson textbooks. If you took an art history course in the 70s, 80s, 90s—your textbook likely looked like these.

Well Read Art Pallets

Pulp.

The nicer books I sent to the stores. You’ll find lots of art books at low prices. There will even be many nice coffee-table-size art books outside at less than a dollar.

2 Well Read Art pallets down. 28 to go… LOL.


Tuesday

I had forgotten I’d promised Brian Cassidy I would come to get 40 boxes from him in Silver Spring.

Usually I would send someone down to get them.

We are shorthanded, so I threw myself into the breach. They had to be out by the end of the year.

He is moving out of his old place and opening a new venture with Rebecca Romney called Type Punch Matrix.

I think their planned launch was delayed and maybe the original location changed—COVID. Maybe not. I’m in a fog. COVID fog.

Anyway—with the provenances of Romney and Cassidy, their future looks golden. Gilt edges? AEG*?

* AEG: an old bookseller abbreviation for All Edges Gilt.

I’m in a fog.

I spent a good chunk of my life down that way.

I took the SUV as it was only 40 boxes.

Brian met me in the parking lot. I got my hand truck out and followed him into the old downtown Silver Spring office building. Up the elevator. We each rolled a load down. When we got to my Ford Expedition, the wheel came off my “two-wheeler.” That left Brian to do the rest of the schlepping.

…which was ok because I had to load and pack the boxes.

No problem. I’d clamber into the SUV and stack the boxes to the ceiling.

But he kept coming and coming. Again and again…

“I’m going to have to tighten things up.”

I clambered into the SUV and tightened up the packing and stacking.

Again and again.

We got them in. About 50 boxes?

I could have squeezed more in. One. Maybe two boxes… LOL.

Brian's Packed Boxes

I decided to go back the long way. I drove up Georgia Avenue and went under the Beltway.

I used to take my mom down Georgia almost every week to the old Walter Reed Army Medical Center (WRAMC.) She had lots of appointments. She had frequent stays. I spent one summer there interning in the AFIP (Armed Forces Institute of Pathology.) I was a college freshman. Pre Med. They put me in charge of urine and stool samples. Fond memories.

My mom died there on Christmas morning 1977. I was called in and found her on a slab in the morgue. They lent me a pair of scissors to cut a lock of hair.

Poor Gertie. She had a tough run. A lot of it self-inflicted. She smoked constantly.

I was able to take the wheelchair out of the trunk and the potty and bucket out of the master bedroom.

Dad had died suddenly in the Rockville house in July 1975. 9 days before my 21st birthday.

I went through Wheaton. I pulled into the Wheaton Triangle and Barbarian Comics is still there!

Barbarian Comics

Can’t be the same guy. He was oldish when I was young. He had a lot of good used books. I can still recall some of my finds there. I also had a comic subscription there. I’d drive down every Tuesday to pick up the new releases. There used to be 5 or 6 booksellers in the Triangle area. I bought out 2 or 3 when they closed.

“Good for you, Barbarian! A survivor!”

Up Viers Mill to Aspen Hill. Then to my first girlfriend’s house. Happy memories. We still wish each other “Happy Birthday” and exchange occasional newsworthy emails.

Across Arctic Avenue where Peary High School is now an enormous Jewish preschool-12th grade complex. It was a terrible high school. Dreadful teachers and administration, but for a couple. But then I’m sure I was not a model student. Mixed memories.

On and on down Arctic til Bauer. Then Briarwood. Then my house on the corner of Levada and Briarwood. I lived there from 1968 til 1980. Mixed memories.

Chuck's Old House

I drove the route I used to walk to Earle B Wood Junior High. Mixed memories.

Then back to Frederick. Happy memories of the 41 Wonder Years there.

Clif was unloading a truckload of remainders. 30,000? Mostly for Books by the Foot. But we will be sending a lot of these Bibliomysteries and Michael Dirda books to the stores and online.

I went home in the dark and got the pole pruner out. Using the security lights, I trimmed a lot of suckers and laterals from the trees near the house. The Redbud that was an accidental “planted by God” seedling when I moved has grown ten feet and was starting to encroach on my view from the second floor bay window. I trimmed some of the upper branches.

Dawn

Nice to wake up to this each morning.


Wednesday

Clif was scheduled out for the next week or so.

I’ll be wearing his hat as well as my own while he’s out.

It IS my job.

I took a van to the Frederick store for a swap. Books by the Foot needed 30 feet of travel. I set to pulling dupes and old stock—on my knees—the “bookseller’s position of veneration.” How did we ever get 9 copies of the coffee-table book OVER LONDON?

I culled and culled mostly dull old coffee-table books about Asia and Europe and the US.

But there was a big problem.

Too many customers. They always seemed to want to be where I was working.

‘Go away!’ I thought.

“May I help you?” I said.

And I did. I handsold a lot of books. Like the good old days.

This IS my job.

Tired and sore. Working like I was a kid again. I went home sore but satisfied.

I put new sheets on the bed and had incredible dreams—long narrative stories.

They took me millions of miles away to strange places and alternate realities.

All gone when I woke though—but for ghosts of images—people, places… long gone.


It is Thursday afternoon.

More and more staff are out. Almost all are out due to COVID “contact”—someone they are close to or live with tested positive.

We are struggling to keep afloat.

Tomorrow, New Year’s Eve will be a mess.

We are rushing to cross train people in many departments.

COVID.

When the plague began affecting bookselling, I began giving these stories numbers. “Bookselling in the COVID Era Week 11.”

Now we are at “Week 96?”—maybe the worst since we were closed in spring 2020…

I just want to recycle books. Do my job.

Well, I guess this IS my job.

I may be answering customer service emails tomorrow.

I know the answer, “I don’t know…”


Friday

Early morning. I awoke at 4 with a stuffy nose.

Do I have it?

No fever. 98.2.

Maybe it’s because I let the pot of water atop the woodstove dry out. I have been too preoccupied to haul up the humidifier from the basement.

I don’t know what I’ll find when I go in to work this morning. How many will be out?

We have a very deep bench of qualified people at the warehouse, but what is the tipping point—the point where we can’t run the “machine”?

Right before things went entirely crazy in March 2020, I wrote a story about “the keeper of the books.” I had chanced upon a Borges story about the last one—the lone “keeper of the books” in long ago China.

I wonder if I will be alone in the warehouse this weekend?

I wonder if this story will go out. What if my editor is out? Her backup is out.

Some nice books came in this week.

I’ve been accused of liking very big books.

A Vision of Order

But I like little ones too.

And Clark—the guru who keeps things humming here—gave me Christmas gifts. He didn’t need to.

But wow!

Happy New Year, booklovers. Though the world has changed, the books have not.

The books abide.

10 Comments on Article

  1. Michael Dirda commented on

    Chuck,
    Well, I guess you did win that bid for remaindered copies of some of my books. I’ve been so busy the past month that only now am I getting caught up with the blog, so I started at the most recent post. In the next day or two I’ll skip back to the Italian trip and work my way forward. In the meantime, let us hope that 2022 really is a happy new year.–m

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Michael.
      I too hope there is recovery in 2022.
      Two titles supposedly came in.
      About 100 Browsings
      200 of a Sherlock Holmes pastiche anthology to which you contributed (?)
      I’ll track them down when the dust (literal and figurative) settles
      I appreciate you asking the time to read the stories and especially am heartened and enlightened when you find something to comment on.
      Hope to see you soon!
      Chuck

  2. Terry commented on

    Have a safe, happy and healthy New Year!
    My last test was negative, I will be in next week.
    The person who exposed me is not doing the greatest. But still home, she should have full recovery soon.
    Everyone will be wearing masks next week, you were just ahead of the rest of us!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Fingers crossed for everyone!
      Thanks for writing Terry – see you soon!
      Chuck

  3. W. White commented on

    Too bad I don’t live anywhere near Wonder Book. Those art book pallets look interesting. Of course, I think just about any art or architecture book looks interesting if it is only a dollar or two. Oh well, maybe the next time I am in the D.C. area. It’s been a while and will be even longer if new virus variations keep popping up.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      There are some nice art books in these lots.
      There are many that are hopeless.
      We actually get low priced culls or donations from art libraries. It has to be pretty decent to survive the library markings.
      I hope you can visit soon!
      The books will be flowing out for the foreseeable future!
      Thanks for reading and writing!
      Best
      Chuck

  4. Tawn commented on

    Yes, I had that Janson book for my Art History class in college! My husband grew up in Rockville and knows the streets you mentioned. I own most of Mike Dirda’s books, including Browsings, and enjoy his Thursday column in the Post.
    You were so young when your mom died on Christmas Day. I hope some Christmases since then have been happier ones. Best wishes for 2022.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks Tawn.
      Those years were a wake up call.
      Wonder Book rose from those ashes.
      Christmas was difficult until the kids came along. Then it was like childhood all over again.
      Thanks!
      Chuck

  5. Hi, First of all I enjoy your store very much and enjoy reading your blog. II started an art blog. : https://jeaneanpainter.com/.
    I find it useful to write during this very wierd time. I am a painter and will put the word out to my fellow painters that there may be a plethora of art books available. You say you might be throwing them away? That seems a shame. I will also let my former gallery NOMA Gallery and the Griffin Art Center about the books. I always wanted to have a small library in the studio at the Griffin Perhaps they will take some off of you especially if they are free. At any rate, thank you and I am very glad you are still around. We need to help and support great book stores like yours. Jeanean

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you Jeanean!
      I appreciate you reading and writing
      Congrats on the Art Blog.
      Any books we pulp are hopeless for donation or selling for $1 and up.
      (Libraries and charities sell the cheap or donate them to us!)
      Many are from places like the Walters …
      There will b e more going to the stores and I think they will be pretty nice.
      Not sure where they are in the “pipeline” currently – so many distractions …
      If you ever want a tour of the warehouse let me know.
      We have 10,000s of new art books we rescue from being pulped that you could inspect.
      Best
      Chuck

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