On the Fly

Dream Life

Another getaway week/day.

Amazing what you can get done with a veritable gun to your head. Deadlines that can’t be extended give you a timeline that can’t be avoided.

I actually vacuumed and changed sheets last night! Once every few months—as needed—just like clockwork. The new vacuum sucks up dog hair like crazy! No bag. A clear plastic container holds the debris. It unclips easily and then I can take it outside and shake it out in a garden bed. Dog hair mulch!

Thursday, I got caught up with months of paperwork for the accountant. Soooo many statements that I had to check and annotate… Dreary.

The Irish collection Charlie and John picked out will be fully packed today. When the container is ready to be shipped to Galway, out they will go. All 9 pallets.

I joked with the packers that they could ship me along with them!

But I’m heading out that way, anyway.

Edinburgh tomorrow. Return via Glasgow next week. In between… who knows? The Highlands.

But I bet I’ll get to Galway this year. I am due. 6 years since my last iconic visit.

Charlie gave me a bottle of Connemara whiskey before he left.

Connemara… one of the world’s most magical places. And the Burren! I could do handstands there!

Connemara… I almost printed a broadside with my own po-em. Alan James Robinson created the artwork to my specs.


When I go to Connemara again
The wind will whisper Irish poems
I’ll not understand a word
But I will know the song

When I go to Connemara again
– perhaps tonight –
Time will speed, slow, stop
Then return to the beginning

I close my eyes, open my heart
and I am back in Connemara
I can recall each word we spoke
Though that language is now extinct

When I return to Connemara again
I’ll taste the sea air, see the mountain sun
and I will be there forever
– as I am now –

…needs work… 🙁

I wonder. Should I publish it? The painting Alan created is pretty. I could lose money on it just as I have on the other limited editions I created in collaboration with Alan.

But I guess profit is not the object when one is creating “art.” LOL…

Well, Alan is creating art.

He is currently working on a masterpiece. A large format Moby Dick! My concept. His execution.

Moby Dick Concept

I think it will be 30×40. White and silver wash on a blackboard.

Still needs some tweaking. I’m asking him to “lose the tail.”

I’m hoping it will be his masterpiece. Kind of an A J Robinson riff on Rockwell Kent with a bit of Wonder Book in the mix.

I’m in a Dulles bar. Martinis preflight. The airport is packed. But they still haven’t opened Garage #2. Garage one… I had to park on the 5th level—in the open air.

Flying will become a pain in the a** again.

But I didn’t need a COVID test to go to Scotland! Heathrow in 7 hours. No COVID vax card either. Still masked, though. I got on the elevator in the parking garage, and I wondered why the others were masked.

I hurriedly masked up for their protection.

It’s an airport! No masks in the bar, though.

Airport Martini

COVID is NOT transmissible in an airport bar! Modern day miracles. I think Dr Fauci agrees. It has something to do with the ambient alcohol floating in the air.

What did I do today?

I delivered a check to the engineers for permit #123. I’m kidding—kinda. Yesterday, I went to the lawyers’ office and signed 4 city documents and wrote out four (more) checks—all for the new warehouse buildings we have been planning since August 2020.

I am putting a “forest” on the Wonder Book warehouse lawns. Why? I like trees.

Tree Farm

But it is an offset for taking down the scrub trees on the 7 acres vacant lot in the middle of an industrial park. I would say this is all about revenue but… I am proud to create a forest. Maybe I will name it!

Wonder Woods.

We are planting a lot of trees in the lawns. A LOT! And that equals a LOT of money. Maybe we will save money on mowing in the long run.

I dropped off a stack of tax stuff and statements at the accountants. I went to Walmart and bought a new belt. I’ve lost 20 COVID pounds! I also bought detergent.

I went to the Frederick store to check in. And Books by the Foot needs 52 linear feet of Modern Library for a client. That request would have been a fantasy some years ago.

Now? No problem.

Books by the Foot List

Nobody reads many of the “classic” authors Bennett Cerf felt should be preserved for all time in the short hardback format. It is therapeutic for the store. It creates space for fresh stock. I pulled some “Well Read” (that means “worn”) art. Sports…

Who invented this system!? …LOL…

It IS fun.

Then back to the warehouse. I double-checked my passport. My airport. My tickets. Everything.

There were 7 or 8 carts of books Charlie and John picked out at the warehouse that I needed to put prices on. So, I went back and separated things into stacks and put a Post-It on every stack.

I walked around. Is everything in order?


The staff at every level is amazing.

Nature? Nurture?

I wish… I could start over. Well, start where I am, but at 35 or so.

If wishes were… whatever.

The layover at Heathrow. 6 a.m., and the place is packed.

Almost no one is wearing a mask. I strip mine off.

There’s a Harry Potter store. I don’t think I need anything.

Still, it is cool how a book became an industry.

I’ll be on a plane to Edinburgh soon. I haven’t walked around the city for years. And then it was with two little kids in tow.

Last Friday, I shuttled Charlie and John down to Gaithersburg. They were excited about the improvements we made there during COVID.

It is so much bigger. And the aisles are straight. And things make some sense.

I said goodbye.

“Next time in Galway.”

Back to Frederick.

At the same time, the contractor was in Hagerstown banging and screwing new bookcases…

I wasn’t able to get up there and check on the progress that day.

As CEO of a major (used book) corporation, my duties still include schlepping. When I got back from Gaithersburg, I schlepped vans to Frederick. Twice. I schlepped books around the warehouse. I schlepped myself around looking for things that should be attended to.

In Hagerstown, my son and Clark were working with the contractor. The people of western Maryland and West Virginia and Southern Pennsylvania deserve an upgraded Wonder.

I only wish I could put Wonders everywhere.

We will be tearing out old junky fixtures and replacing them with standard all wood 8 foot fixtures.

We will be opening spaces.

Bright. Airy. Inviting.

We brought a locksmith in, and he opened a door that had been locked for the 17 years we have been here. I don’t know how long it had been locked before. This was a long abandoned Peoples Drug (CVS now.) There was still prescription counter here. We tore everything out all those years ago.

We will put in two giant glass cases.

Glass Cases

That’s why we needed the door unlocked. The regular entrance has a foyer and the big glass boxes could never negotiate that turn.

More wooden LP flip bins.

We are replacing all the buzzy blinky fluorescent fixtures with bright LEDs.

Well, it is all about the books…

All the books. All the money and investment. All the work. All the time. All the bits of whatever is left of my life.

I hope you will like it.

We first opened in Hagerstown in 1995. It has bumped along ever since.

Now it is time for it to fly.

So, the first phase was last Friday. I couldn’t see it in progress.

I had to schlep…

Well, two Martinis at Dulles are $125 dollars!

No, that’s the gas.

They were $38. Plus tip.

But I’m double vaccinated and ready to fly.

In the back of the plane. But a window seat. British Air. So civilized…

High over the Atlantic. Heading toward Greenland. The first service comes by. I asked for two red wines. It will save her a return trip.

I have my mask off. COVID doesn’t spread when I’m having Cabernet. The woman next to me is very intense. Lots and lots of motion settling in. When the cart came, she unwrapped a Clorox wipe and swabbed her folding table. Top. Bottom. Sides. Underneath. Now it is safe to have her wine. It stunk.

Last Saturday

I came in early with three dogs and started doing carts. So many carts. I want to do everything I can to get ahead of things for my departure.

A Taiwan cookbook from the 70s. $39.95. I “know” this will sell for this amount.

Five carts of slipcased LECs* and Folio Society. And other slipcased beauties. 30 shelves of books for me to go through.

*Limited Edition Club

Such beauty. I am privileged.


I guess at prices of some. Folio Society books are easy to price. Creating carts with little stacks with price points of my own invention. I put a Post-It atop each little stack. The cart gets rolled from Sorting to Data Entry. There, people will put them online for domestic and international sales. Each of my millions of readers will have a shot at them.

The Irish booksellers had pulled a few items from these carts with my permission. I am very “protecting” of fresh raw treasures.


I get into a rhythm. The books flow through my hands—right and left.

These go this way. Those go that.

I get into a “zone”, and my consciousness is not in charge anymore.

My hands pick up the books, and thought is bypassed.

Instinct controls the action.

It is the ONLY way for me to go through so many so fast.

A book on Paris in a canvas jacket. I peel it off.



The book looks the same as it was when it was sold at the Old Corner Bookshop in Boston 110 years ago.

That will go to the Boutique.

Annika’s photos will sell this book, I am sure.

“Words cannot describe nor…”

So the day goes.

A pair of fence repair guys arrive outside. They call me, and my silent symphony is interrupted. I need to go outside and meet with them and describe the problem.

The huge swinging gate to the dockyard has been hit by a truck. Maybe more than one. It doesn’t swing well. It scraps and sticks to the pavement and rises too high for its latch.

(For that matter, I don’t swing very well anymore either! LOL.)

It changes like a teenage boy. (I was once one.)

Some times it swings high and cannot be secured. Some times it swings low and must be dragged—scraping across the pavement.

Very inconvenient.

We tried internal repairs, but the 12-foot wide, 7-foot high chain-link gate would mysteriously readjust itself one way or another and create new problems.

It is a big heavy piece of equipment.

The pros fix it in half an hour.

The dogs can frolic in the dockyard and cannot escape.

The dream day goes on. I am alone in the building. Dylan, the young guy, is emptying shelves in a distant part of the warehouse.

Rare book dreams all day long.

Some go in yellow tubs to Madeline (here since 1982.) Some go on carts for Annika.

Some I put aside for another day.


Some will go in The Boutique. There were 5 carts of culls sent to us by a rare bookseller couple. I needed to go through them to pay them fairly. I would LOVE to take these home.

Booksellers' Culls

But there’s no room.

The LECs will need special treatment. Their condition is perfect. Frankenstein. Thucydides. Gone With the Wind, Nibelungenlied

Later in the week, I put them on shelves. I’ll figure how I want them treated. This way I can look at them a little longer too.

Booksellers' Culls

London Heathrow. 5:30 a.m.

It is good to be back.

My laptop says it is 1:30 a.m. at home. I only slept a little.

I’ll have a few hours to get through customs and find the gate for Edinburgh.

The place is packed. Not a mask in sight. Where are all these people going?


Finally. Free. I hope for good.

Harrods. Fortnum & Mason. (I splurged on caviar at their too stylish bar a few years ago.) Dior. Hermes. You name it—it is represented at Heathrow.

To think this place was virtually dead 2 years ago. Closed. For how long?

Now it is back to normal. Everything is open. Faces exposed. (I gotta get my mask out of my backpack to board the plane.)

I got a text on Tuesday. It was a local number I didn’t recognize. It was from my state government.

Government COVID Vax Text

Time for #4.

I don’t think so… That will take some convincing.

But wait! I could win a million just for getting shot?!

My government is bribing me to get shot?!

Hmmmm… a dilemma.

Bucks or scientific skepticism?

I’ve spoken with a lot of people that had weird and lasting reactions to the shots. That news was suppressed. So much has been suppressed in the last few years. I didn’t have reactions to my shots. Well, the second Pfizer had me yawning all day.

I am tired. It is 4:30a.m. at home now.

If all goes smoothly in Edinburgh, I’ll check in. Wash up and head out walking. You have to power through the first day, otherwise your internal clock will never get caught up.

I’ll send this story off across the ocean.

I really apologize. I feel it is kind of lame.

I regret leaving the gardens this time of years. The first wave of daffodils was in full bloom when I left. 10,000? more? in bloom right now. The second and third waves are yet to come.


I will need to mark where to plant new bulbs next fall.

The surprises of the new beds I put in last fall make the work worthwhile.

It’s not work. It is passion.

And the firewood. There is still so much to cut, haul, split and stack.

That’s not work either.

So much transplanting to do. Redbud treelets. Hellebore. Lungwort. Hostas…

And bleeding hearts! Those are all babies.

That’s not work either.

I’ve got a lot of books to shelve as well. Many are from the old place in Pennsylvania. Books I collected when I was much younger. My son packed them for me. I’ll be surprised to see what I liked so long ago.

The Amaryllises inside continue to surprise. Random pots of cacti or succulents will have a stalk rise and then open.


A big happy surprise.

Alas, the sunrises will be gone when I return. This was the last, and I had to stretch out a window to get it.

Last Sunrise

And a bird photobombed me!

Well, it is a dream life—in so many ways.

A job that is not work.

Yard work that is not work.

All kinds of difficult tasks that not laborious.

Cheers all!

From Edinburgh!


Here’s to spring!

4 Comments on Article

  1. Mary Hill commented on


    Have a great trip! Looks like lovely weather in Edinburgh.

    Good travels,

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      omg the weather has been amazing!

  2. Richard commented on

    Been a while since I said hello. Still reading and enjoying. I saw the whale and thought bookplate!

    Slàinte Mhath!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      thank you so much!
      book plate … maybe

Leave a Comment

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