Out of My Control

Evangelico Graveyard

This way out.

This week’s book story is broken.

In two.

Part was written early in the week.

The rest this morning.

I planned to blend them, but this morning my second laptop with the first half went missing!!!


Not at home. Went to work. Couldn’t find it. Sent Annika and Travis to the Georgetown Rare Book Fair with a van. Went home. Looked EVERYWHERE.


Panic. Then surrender.

Back to the warehouse.

There it was. Right where it belongs.

Someone found it (in a stupid place.)

So, I hope this won’t be too much of a mess.

At least you’ll get a peek into my madness.

I blame the new meds.

PART 1: Downsizing—The Purge

I haven’t slept better in a long time.

I am eating better.

I’m working better.

It is good to be home. I have reset my mind to stress less about the myriad of burdens I’ve added to bear. I will just do what I can from morning til night and trust in what talent I have to get as much done as possible.

It is early Wednesday morning. Almost exactly mid spring. I slept from 10 to 5. After finishing the plant pots on the side porch—they need to be arranged on the wooden wine crate plant stands by container size. If you pair a small one with a medium size one, you can get two on the bottom “shelf” of the wooden boxes. This maximizes the number of plants on display. But first, I actually washed all the dishes and clay saucers they sit upon. It had been a few years. The forest rains debris, especially in the spring when the trees drop pollen and tassels and helicopters and… stuff. I turned the hose on the dishes and wiped them—top and bottom—with a rag.

Potted Plants

Some look a little sad. I hope with sun and air and some Miracle-Gro, they will green up and be happy again.

The real good news is that there are a half dozen amaryllis that I overwintered that are in bloom!

Blooming Amaryllis

Tonight perhaps, I will tackle all the plants and boxes that need to be displayed on the front porch.

Last night… I got home a little late. I stayed at the warehouse to do carts til about 6. There were few people there—just the skeleton crew of the evening shift. I was alone in the sorting area. Cart after cart.

“When should I quit?”

When the last thing I came to on a cart was a gorgeous 19th century, half Morocco bound, marbled boarded set of Le Morte d’Arthur, I took it as a sign.

“Go home.”

When I got to the house and changed into yardwork clothes, I had to decide what was a priority. Part of that decision is, “What am I in the mood for?”

Well, part of it was staging the rest of the plant pots and washing more of the dishes and saucers they set upon. But the evening also involved adding manure on a garden bed, carting a dozen or so extra wine crates to the barn. Blowing organic debris. Weed whacking…

The upshot of all that is the mess in front of my entrance is now in order. The ugly dirt and tree debris gone.

Where what had been a couple of iron rings of firewood for winter is now a display of thirty or so cacti and succulents.

When it was darkening and exhaustion slowed me, I went inside. I chopped up a head of romaine and half a Vidalia onion. The thin pork loin had been heating in the oven. (I grilled a dozen or so a couple weeks ago and froze the extras.) I poured some Paul Newman Hot Salsa over the salad as a healthy kind of dressing. I spread a little Jack Daniels Barbecue sauce on the lean pork. I carried the plates into the big room and put Sherlock Holmes on the TV—the Jeremy Brett BBC series.

It was a satisfying end to a long productive day.

It had begun in bed. I barely wrote in my journal while I was in Venice. There was a lot of stuff to catch up on. Stuff too personal to put in here.

Before I’d left that morning, I forced myself to dump out and spread about 20 bags of mulch in the gardens right before the front porch. Those beds were begging for the dressing. But first, I put some rags and a torn cotton sheet that had come into the warehouse down as a weed block. I buried those old “clothes” with mulch.

Then down the mountain to see what there was that needed the most attention.

A favorite team member was back after being out for several weeks!

I lit up when I saw this person.

There was a misunderstanding about the book show this weekend. It has turned from an unwanted sideshow into a major production. I’d hoped to break even financially. Now the start-up costs are so high… Well, maybe I will be happily surprised. Next week’s book story will certainly feature images and experiences of the first book show Wonder Book has done since the last millennium.

The misunderstanding made me grumpy.

Out on the dock, I priced a LOT of video and stereo equipment. I priced a lot of framed stuff.

So much stuff pouring in begging to be re-homed.

I have some new innovations in mind for the Gaithersburg store. A new giant cooler for the gourmet and retro sodas had been installed in Hagerstown while I was gone. That freed up a tall cooler that could replace the tiny fridge in Gaithersburg.

We put it in a van and headed to the Gaithersburg store. I hadn’t driven with Clif for quite a while. We chatted as we headed down 270. (Well, mostly he chatted.) While he and Patrick were installing the bigger cooler, I wandered around the shop brainstorming.

This is such a good thing. For books and people. It is a terrible location, but if you build a better bookshop, the world will beat a path to your store.

“If we downsize this… move that… shift this… We can put in some display cases and get some collectible books and objects in this store!”

I think it just might work!

Back to Frederick. More chatting.

I worked on carts for a while.

It feels good to be back in the saddle.

Then I headed out to Costco. We are getting low on snacks. We put out snacks every morning to people to grab on the way in. If we ran out, I think there might be a rebellion. I also wanted to stock up on fruits and vegetables for the new improved me. I’d run out of lettuce the night before. (I have had so much lettuce in the last week!) Dried fruits and nuts. Apples, cukes…

It has paid off. I’m down about 10 pounds from 2 weeks ago. I’m sleeping better. I don’t crash on the couch…

Back to the warehouse and back to carts.

Lifting, pushing, standing, sitting, turning, rolling, bending, labeling, boxing.

100s of books for the stores, online, Book by the Foot.

The joy of discovery.

The satisfaction of rescuing the unwanted.


The trip home from Venice.

6:38 I pulled my bag on board the Alilaguna ferry to the airport. The trip will take an hour and a half with numerous stops. The first is just across the Giudecca Canal—Zattere. I’ve taken so many rides I’m used to the all the boats’ landing procedures. To slow down as it approaches the dock, the boat throws the engine into reverse. The engines groan and complain as they stress to change. You can hear the water churning aft. The glide forward becomes a jerking vibrating backward shift. The boat is manipulated closer to shore and then a line is tossed. There’s more shifted, and the draft bangs into the dock, and you’re jarred quite a bit.

I was the only one to board at the Giudecca Stucky stop. Zattere added five more people. San Marco another dozen…

There was an ambulance pulled up to a waterside mansion across the way. The bright yellow boat with a blue flashing light bobbed in the water while medics were inside evaluating the situation. They are the fastest boats I’ve seen in the city.

St Mark’s Square was empty as we pass. There was no line at the Doge’s Palace.

At the next stop, San Zaccaria, there were 6 people to pick up.

And so the journey continued north along the waterfront. Since I was the first aboard, I had a seat in the bow.


Two more stops. Lido and Murano. Then the airport, and the marathon trip home really began.

I covered a lot of ground this week despite the days of cold, wind and rain.


Friday May 19. 6 a.m.

My “nanny watch” tells me I slept 7 hours and 35 minutes. For some reason, it didn’t record a breakdown like it usually does. (The night before it reported, “Time in Bed 9hr 2min. Time Asleep 7hr 46min. Awake 1hr. REM 2hr 23 min. Core 4h 25min. Deep 58min.”)


My sudden lifestyle change has me sleeping more and deeper than… for a long time. The COVID era wrought havoc on my sleep as well as so many other things. Its effects linger on in my body and mind.

I’ve got FOUR dogs this morning!

Merry and Pippin were returned last night. I was also enlisted to babysit Giles and Mitch, so the family can go to Bald Head Island for a week. That trip has been an uninterrupted tradition since around 2000. I haven’t gone for many, many years. Beaches lost their appeal for me a long time ago.

I’m still not sure how to handle the “squad.” The two big ones will certainly be out in the big pen (the Doggie Chalet) all day. Merry and Pippin?

It will be a beautiful spring day. Partly cloudy. High around 72.

Four in the pen? Or two to the warehouse?

I’ll decide when I get up and going.

It will be a crazy weekend.

Wonder Book will be exhibiting at the Georgetown Rare Book Fair today, Saturday and Sunday. It is the first book fair we’ve done this millennium. I did 50 or so in the 80s and 90s.

I had my arm twisted. Annika wanted to do it, and I reluctantly agreed. If it is a flop, well, it was her idea. If it is a success, well, “we made a great decision.”

It has certainly been a distraction from our main mission. #bookrescue.

I’m having a big mug of Harrods English Breakfast Tea on the nightstand.

A week ago, I was in Venice.

I returned home Sunday via boat and plane and auto. I got an email the night before from American Airlines urging me to be there 3 and a half hours early due to expected backups. That meant a wake-up call at 5:30. Catching the Alilaguna ferry at 6:38 which would dock at the airport around 8:15 for a 12:15 flight. When I got to the airport, there wasn’t even an AA check-in desk yet.

I wanted to get home. My health episode Wednesday night still hung over me like a doom.

The flight was over 8 hours. I had grand plans to write. I couldn’t get very motivated. I’m stuck on the next chapter of Round and Round (#39.) The bookseller will return to Avalon and…


We landed in Philly after 3. Customs was a breeze. But the Sunday afternoon traffic on I 95 was not. Brilliant idea.

Three hours of tough driving later, I stopped at the warehouse. I knew I wouldn’t work. I just wanted to see it. I wandered through the vast empty building. Millions of books watched me pass by. It wasn’t silent though. The building buzzes and hums and groans and “ticks” and creaks. Out on the docks, the dock’s motion-activated ceiling lights pop on as I approach. They flash on with a brilliant burst.


When I bumped up the mountain, I saw there were a couple of lights on in the house.

“Break in?”

No. I must have left them on in the rush to get away.

I was soon in bed. Crashed before 8. A 20-hour day of travel.

Friday, May 12, Venice

Following advice from my friend from the night before, I screwed up my courage and decided to force myself to learn how to use the Venetian “bus” service. The ACTV ferries. I walked up the shoreline from the hotel to the Palanca stop. I changed the ticket vending machine to English. I figured out how to get a two-day pass for 35 euros. I inserted my Master Card. “Pin number”? No idea. I tried a couple more times. No luck. The ferry I wanted was heaving into view. When it docked, I asked, “Can I buy a ticket on board?”

I could. But only a single day for 25 euros. The woman and I swayed and bumped while I stood on deck and she tapped away at the handheld credit card device.

I had chosen the right route. After a half dozen stops in Venice proper, we headed out into the enormous “Lagoon.” My first goal was Isola di San Michele—the island of the dead. The name of the stop is Cimiterio. I like graveyards. I wanted to see what a “floating” graveyard would be like. We docked, and about 10 people got off. A couple appeared to be tourists, but the rest seemed to be Italians going out to visit graves, I thought. No one lives on the island, though there are thousands of residents. There were a half dozen gardeners malingering not far from the dock. Then I was in the vast complex. Soon I was all alone. There are walls demarcating different types of boneyards everywhere. It is a kind of deadly maze. My goal, beyond the overall experience, was to visit Ezra Pound, Stravinsky, Balanchine and Brodsky.

Evangelico Graveyard
This way out.

They were all in the non-Catholic plot (Evangelico.) Eventually, I found that, and the search was on. Stravinsky was easy. His flat stone had hundreds of coins on it. Balanchine memorial was upright. Ballerinas had left point shoes atop it, which were starting to decompose.

Balanchine Memorial

I couldn’t find Pound. There was no one living I could ask anywhere around. I checked my phone. It appears to be a very humble in-ground stone. Could be overgrown.

(There’s a poem appended to the end of this. If you get to it, just read it like a paragraph with each line broken out.)

I walked back to the dock area. The island is cypress and stone. Many of the paths are gravel that crunch with each step.

The next ferry stop was Murano. I was told I should see this island of glassmaking. It was charming. Dozens of quaint glass boutiques line the walkways along the canals. There are some fancy boutiques. The museum pass I’d bought (a great deal—10 admissions for 25 euros) included the glass museum. It was interesting. Amazing the ancient pieces that somehow survived. Glassmaking was sent out to this island in case of fire. They didn’t want to burn the whole city down. There are so many different kinds of glass. Many of the processes were innovated here. I could almost… NOPE! I didn’t buy a trinket. At Wonder Book, I know what happens to all the tourist trinkets people bring home.

I took the ferry back to the city.

I walked all day. There were churches and basilicas and scuolas and museums. Below is Scuola Grande di San Rocco.

The bus ferries saved a lot of steps.

Back to Giudecca. I ate at Bacaromi annexed to the hotel. It was wonderful, although only a couple of tables were occupied. I had spaghetti in squid ink sauce with scampi and Risotto alle Secole. I may have made a tourist mistake having two pasta dishes. But so what? I am a tourist. Wonderful. And served so hot!

Saturday. My last day. I had some hours left on my 24-hour “bus” pass. I’d had a taste of ferrying on the Grand Canal (“the most beautiful street in the world”—Charles VIII of France’s ambassador in 1495.) I figured out the route and took the line that goes the length of it. It was a stunning ride. Passing beneath the Rialto Bridge was iconic.

More museums, churches, shops, alleys and canals.

My museum pass had a visit to the Museo Correr where the Biblioteca Nazionale is housed. There, I finished my day.

I had the room that houses the Fra Mauro (1459) map to myself. This was executed before Columbus. It is an amazing technical document. Cutting-edge science for the period, and a big step toward documenting and quantifying the world as more and more of it was being explored by European seaman.

Fra Mauro (1459)

That evening, I settled for a Caesar salad. I’ve had a great deal of lettuce in the last week. The new regimen.

When I got in this Monday, there was so much to catch up on.

We had a “Teams” meeting about the lease on the second building via Zoom. They started priming the exterior.


Off and on, I would go and do carts.

“What’s this?”

It was a leather-bound volume. One clasp was missing, but the other intact. Clearly a religious tome of little interest likely. I squeezed the boards, so the clasp would loosen.

Yep. 1803. Pennsylvania songbook. “Gesang.” Then the endpaper providentially fell, and some color caught my eye.




This would have been lost, but for our “system” and the serendipity of a falling “leaf.”

At home, the rhododendrons are blooming. In the house, I’m continuing its resurrection from COVID and the loss of two housekeepers.

Work has stopped on the “garret.” My contractor’s assistant has been ill, and now he needs a procedure. So part of the house is unfixable.

In the evenings, I’ve been working on spring yard chores. Blowing debris, whacking down “weeds”, moving manure… til darkness and exhaustion and exhaustion take me.

Lettuce, fruit, salsa…

Hard, long, good sleep.

On Thursday, I had a couple of booksellers in. Last year, there were 7 or 8 swarming over the warehouse and bookshop. I didn’t reach out this year.

One arrived in the morning. He picked out 4 shelves of antiquarian books. Mostly medical stuff.

Dealer Books

He left me two books.

Dubliners and Paradise Regained.

Dubliners and Paradise Regained

Fine firsts.

In the late afternoon, Ron Cozzi arrived from Buffalo—my birthplace. I’ve known him since the 80s. He has mentored me in many ways. His big van was full of treasures for the Georgetown show.

“Chuck, I wanna show this. This set has a leaf of manuscript by Thoreau… This little photography book has original images of the last surviving veterans of the Revolutionary War…”


It’s been a good life.

Hard work. Stress. Worry. Successes. Failures.

An old friend returned to Wonder Book after a 16-year absence.

The next week will be another blur. Four dogs. A three-day book show, and so many books and plants and stones and…

Poem below. Graveyard humor.


Semper Vivum—Isola di San Michele

All the bells toll at five
Their sound rolls across the sea
to this lonely island of the dead
I walk among the stones and cypress
Gray, green, white and brown
It was silent as I walked
but for an occasional seagull squawk
until the church towers rang at five
over the water where they are alive
Silence from the crypt and grave
I pass the voiceless names
I read the names and dates and calculate
the years they had from start til end
and wonder how many more I will spend
The sky above is gray and white
The sea is calm and makes no sound
All is silent; dead silence all around
I walk on gray-white gravel
Each step a crunch like brittle bones
Dead flowers wilt fade dry
Left months ago when someone dear
last dropped by to shed a tear
and speak silently to a stone
with a loved one’s name upon it
no response; mute letters and numbers
I return to the landing and await a boat
to take the unmarked road that I will float
to the islands of the living where I belong
There is color and life and song

8 Comments on Article

  1. Gary Fowler commented on

    Glad you’re back safe, and thanks for the brief video tour of Gaithersburg.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thanks for the concern and taking time to write!
      I really appreciate it Gary.

  2. Jack Walsh commented on

    As I was reading Part 1, I kept wondering where does he get all the energy to do ALL of this!
    I believe we are about the same age and I find myself sitting and reading a little longer as time passes. I envy your energy.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Maybe it is desperation Jack!
      Time catches us all eventually.
      Thank you so much for writing!

  3. Ken Jacobs commented on

    I enjoyed the poem! Wishing you a great success in the book sale!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is really exciting to hear Ken!
      Thank you so much!


  4. Livia commented on

    Welcome back, Chuck! Another enjoyable article, as always…

    I am back home as well, after a long journey and being pickpocketed in Rome! 🤨

    Take it easy…


    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      I hope it wasn’t bad.
      Thanks for writing!

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