It’s four in the morning, the fourth of December; I’m writing in bed because I’ve nothing better to do.
The orange dragon-eye of the woodstove glass doors glows in the next room ten paces away. Our eyes meet over my raised knees, my torso raised on pillows. I am buried in cloth of many colors and types. It defines cozy.
It is black outside the windows, but in the distance, thousands of tiny lights dot the valley. Does anyone look up here at the lonely bedroom light, the sole lumination this night on this mountain? If I can look out, surely someone can look in. But it would be like looking in the wrong end of a telescope. A tiny spot seen as if far away and shrunk. My view out is expansive. My site is a single speck in a sea of blackness.
The week was stolen by work and problems and appointments. My good intentions to finish the next installment at the weird bookstore were dashed by circumstances. I was gifted plots though. Rare cat books, of all things. When I get to it, it will write itself.
This is one of the records I would listen to when I snuck up into my older brother’s garret in the big old oak paneled home in Buffalo—actually Snyder—New York.
I was so proud of my work last weekend. Nose to the grindstone—or more aptly, my nose in thousands of books. I got so much done. I felt I was banking my time. Getting ahead would free me some in days to come.
There were some fabulous finds.
A law book. It has the sprawling title:
In the Fourth Volume of
Dr. BLACKSTONE’s Commentaries on the
Laws of ENGLAND,
By JOSEPH PRIESTLEY, LL. D. F.R.S.
Quis tam ferreus, ut teneat se,
Causidici nova cum veniat lectica Mathonis.
PRINTED for the SUBSCRIBERS,
ROBERT BELL, at the late Union Library, in Third-Street,
PHILADELPHIA. M DCC LXXII.
They don’t make title pages like that any more.
That Saturday afternoon when everyone left, I drove up into the seven-acre field we own adjacent to the warehouse and cut wood.
I don’t need the wood. I need the work.
It felt good. The labor and concentration and tangible results created a kind of reset. Cleansed though sweaty and covered in wood chips and sawdust.
Sunday, I arose with the dawn.
More great (and mostly not so great) books.
I took a break and wandered around the lonely warehouse. Only a couple people were there this day.
I took some pictures of random assemblages of old cloth and leather books—fodder for the Instagram accounts. It is a game. How many “likes” ❤ will any given image garner?
This one scored over 1400 on #booksbythefoot. It wasn’t staged. I just rolled a cart laden with somebody’s vintage book order in front of storage bookcases and shot it.
That account has grown to 13,175 followers as of 5 a.m. #wonderbookandvideo 6795. My own sad account—779. Well, no matter. I’ve grown accustomed to the fact that my work is greater than I. Wonder Book defines me.
I could have a worse master.
That night, I went to dinner with a friend. Oddly, it was the same friend and the same restaurant where we had our last meal out before everything was locked down last spring. The restaurant remained closed until just recently. It reopened under the same ownership, I understand, but with a new name and a slightly different menu concept.
I had Wiener Schnitzel, of all things. And a couple, few Old Fashioneds.
It was a bit dystopian. The once warm and friendly place was now thinned of tables. The long bar had no seats to it. A masked manager came and took my temperature. The wait staff was masked and bundled up and wore light blue rubber gloves. Somehow, we spent a hundred and twenty bucks—before tip. It was…fine…
I will not be surprised if things are shut down again at any time. So maybe this was my second “Last Meal.”
Monday, my plans and good intentions were shot when an excellent warehouseman and driver left soon after arrival. He called later and said he wouldn’t be returning—doctor’s orders.
The contractor called and announced he was coming down to install about 50 bookcases. That will fill the last room (I think.) There will be no more bookcases put up unless we add on to the building.
So that day was lost to unexpected duties thrust upon me.
I went home that night and roasted a large turkey. It smelled good and warmed the house. I made stuffing but cooked that separately. By the time it was done, it was too late to eat any.
Tuesday began December.
My sleep intermission was some time in the wee hours. I reached for Elizabeth and read some. I’m reduced to old browned paperbacks. I suppose I should search—or have searched—for nice hardcover first in jackets and complete my collection. But…time… And I suspect there may be some errant copies around somewhere in the various places where I store books.
Miss Studley just doesn’t get it, does she? But I know you do.
This one doesn’t take place in Manhattan—at all, so far. But the bibliophile detective is in constant touch with his various NYC contacts, soliciting information from the best doctor, lawyer and police lieutenant in the City. I’m not done yet. He may get back home before it is all over.
It is fun to travel with him. He’s in rural New England, and the flavor of the times saturates my memory—times my parents and older brother lived through.
I awoke from my second sleep and headed in. I looked up from the drive, and my pet Beech tree has changed her raiment. I carved out the surrounding space when much larger dead and dying trees overhanging her threatened her. It was dangerous, as many of them were snagged on other trees or had other problematic issues for felling. By fortune or unconscious design, she now abides in a kind of outdoor temple. I have no doubt there are spirits in the forest. There’s no harm in such fantasy. If I’m wrong, what’s the harm?
She has figured prominently in the Tree Song stories—which I really must return to.
The day was devoured in dialogue mostly. New opportunities with businesses on the internet. Lots of discussion internally as well.
November sales at the stores were disappointing for the first time since the state allowed us to reopen.
And I asked one of the women if she had an extra hairband.
I’m really NOT going in for a haircut in this climate. I don’t want a coif to be my doom.
I’m still getting the hang of it…
That night, I butchered the turkey and heated some with the stuffing (Stove Top cornbread and Jimmy Dean Sage sausage—how lame.) I heated jarred gravy in the microwave. I toasted two slices of Wonder Bread (really) and made an open face sandwich.
I awoke December 2nd at some odd hour and read a bit. I was curling up for a second sleep shift when Cathedral Bells chimed next to me. My iPhone glowed to life.
“This is … we have a burglar alarm at the Tilco Drive address. The patio door has been opened.”
Patio? We have a patio? There’s a patio off my office. My office was once the Postmaster’s domain. He had built a fortress-like patio outside the exterior door. It is cinder block columns between which iron spikes rise to about ten feet. The door from the patio is a large steel affair that looks like what you’d see in a bank vault. If locked, it is extremely daunting. If I’d left both the gate and door unlocked…
“Call the police,” I instructed the alarm company down in Georgia.
I hurriedly dressed and bounced down the mountain. It was after 3 a.m.
“Today is going to really be crap.”
I got to the warehouse, and two police cars were pulled up to the entrance. I didn’t think it was a good idea to walk in on them. I did disable the screaming alarm with my keycard and waited outside.
They soon appeared.
“Which door was open?”
“That one way down there.” He pointed to the far end of the sprawling building. “That room is full of really old books. When we opened the door, the dust flew all over. What do you do with them?”
That door leads to two annex rooms where we store the “Vintage” cloth and leather for Books by the Foot. They must have thought they had stumbled into some time warp.
(Those rooms feature often in the Instagram images in case you want to see what they look like.)
They left. I went to my office and checked. The heavy bulletproof glass door was locked. Outside, the steel gate was locked tight.
Looking across the parking lot, I recalled that when we moved here in 2013, there were two enclosed and roofed patios for the use of postal workers. One side was for smokers. We had simply slapped siding over the existing cinder block walls and converted the patios to storerooms.
I slept some and then dragged myself into work.
“I think the storeroom door blew open last night. Call the locksmith to check it, please.”
I had an appointment to meet with a lawyer. My friend and long-time mentor Chris picked me up in his very long and sexy black Mercedes. We went downtown and parked at one of his buildings and walked to the law office. I need to set up two LLCs for the new buildings that are in the works.
Did I ever dream I’d be a developer?
But the 7-acre field is just a vacant lot in the middle of this industrial park.
Who knows? We might need more space for books. Plus, I’m bored and need something to keep me busy—and keep the demons and spooks away.
He insisted on lunch afterwards, and we went to Gladchuck Brothers. I had lunch there twice a month for many years in the 90s—maybe some in the 80s and 2000s as well. Our video reps had large entertainment budgets, and we would hold our ordering meetings there. Two or three managers, the rep and I would sit around a large round table and order movies for rent.
“How many copies of Stand By Me should we get?”
I usually had fried oysters on a Caesar salad.
Chris and I had fried oysters. One of the Gladchuck brothers came over a chatted about old times. It is a gorgeous timeless restaurant. I remember the place was always full of old people. That was long ago. I’m catching up with them.
They have homemade chocolate eclairs on Thursdays only.
“How many do you make?” Chris asked. “They always seem to be sold out when I order them.”
“64,” he replied. “Do you think I’d sell 64 of any dessert in a week in a restaurant this size?”
Each year, they bake a massive gingerbread house and set it in the front bay window. This year’s creation is not up to previous scales. Plague has made the house smaller, I’m almost certain.
Back at work, I started going through some books I had carted from a buy that came in a few months ago. Another buy—more recent was carted up as well.
‘I’ll have lots of work this weekend if I don’t get started,’ I thought.
One great book after another opened in my hands. There were plenty of not so great books that I put on carts to go north to the Books by the Foot department.
This binding looks familiar.
William Morris. A favorite. Plenty of decorated borders and highly detailed engravings…
This dull looking thing.
I was just going to send it to the north with the other culls. But it had a paper label, and the author’s name looked vaguely Irish. So I opened it. Or I was guided to open it.
I loudly exclaimed a profanity which I will not repeat here.
I showed it to Caryn and asked her to go retrieve the carts I’d sent up north to be sold as objects.
“Look in every one and make sure I didn’t miss anything.”
Near the end of the day, I took a small cartload in to the room where Annika does research.
“Do you know about the Tuskegee Institute?”
“Well, you will. The autographs look pretty intriguing. What about NC Wyeth?” I continued showing her the endpaper drawing.
“I think I’ve…”
“You probably know about his son Andrew.”
“You’ll have fun with these, and there’s a lot more to come. I only did a few carts.”
After 4pm, I changed into rustic clothes and drove up into the weeds and cut more wood. When it was too dark to use the chainsaw, I turned on the truck and loaded it by the vehicle’s various lights.
I listened to the radio as I did. The Plague is worsening—dramatically. Why? We’ve been masked? We’ve followed the rules and guidelines.
And the other crap going on?
The awful, awful people. Demons incarnate.
Thursday, I came in with plans to write this and more. I’d earned it. But a warehouse employee twisted his ankle and had to go get it checked out. I offered to drive him, but he refused repeatedly. We rolled him out to his car in an office chair.
So, I had to assume his duties.
And “We are really low on shelves…”
So, I dragged myself out into the stacks and spent much of the day culling “killed sections.”*
* Sections of items that haven’t sold for multiple years. When we need space, we reduce them to bargain prices for several months before removing (or “killing”) all the items that haven’t sold. Then we reuse the empty space to add new inventory.
I went through thousands and thousands of books. Mostly common stuff. Some I put on carts for Books by the Foot. Others I tossed in bankers’ boxes for store stock. Those remaining on the shelves had no market. Someone will clear them, and they’ll get recycled into paper and perhaps become books again.
I silently cursed for hours. Why am I doing this?
“Was that her voice? My Muse?”
Back in the office: “There’s a package for you. I put it on the conference room table. It was left outside by the mailbox.”
More silent curses. I’d arranged the shipment for this. “Signature Required” is clearly labeled.
I’ll open it tomorrow.
I went and had cocktails with friends—retired doctors. We sat out on one’s patio beneath flamethrowers keeping us warm.
So the week went.
Time…no time for what I really wanted.
Travel…not any time soon.
But I have plenty of virtual traveling in my home.
These are all guides to various sites. Some I’ve been to. Some are well known. Many obscure.
I hope there’s time—when this is all over. If it is all over.
Larry brought some golf prints a while back. St Andrews.
I was there in September 2019. Scotland. Playing golf. Drinking wondrous cask ales. Eating…no haggis.
About five years prior, my buddies I went and played the Old Course. Scenes from that play back in my mind vividly.
When I birdied the 18th hole, I told myself I need never play again.
True story. I have 7 witnesses. One of whom was my caddy. His name was Morris, of all things! Every other hole he would roll himself a cigarette in one hand. His advice on that round was amazing. He knew every yard of the Auld thing. The oldest and most iconic sporting venue in the world. 1552.
When my second shot rolled onto the 18th green, I thought: ‘I have a chance at birdie…’
Tom Morris squatted on the green on the other side of the hole and lined up my putt. It was about 15 feet. He told me in his thick Scottish accent just where to aim and just how hard to putt.
I wasn’t nervous or shaky. I just…was…there…and somewhere else.
I wouldn’t lay up for a par.
The ball rolled and rolled and…dropped with that magical rattle into the plastic cup buried in the ancient turf.
The tourists lining the fence had no idea of the pinnacle I’d reached.
We walked around behind the clubhouse and paid our caddies off in cash. I peeled off many extra Pounds for Auld Tom.
“I hope I see you again. Thank you.”
And we shook hands.
He rolled a thin cigarette in one hand while the others settled up.
I hope I see him again. In the flesh. I see him vividly in my mind’s eye often.
I’ve got to finish this.
Not much time for my editor to get this out.
She gets a bit grumpy if I don’t allow enough time.
But I need to open the package.
Grimm first editions.
“Ahhhh…Hole in One.”
(I’ve never had a Hole in One. Something to look forward to if I ever play “gowf” again.)
I’m glad it wasn’t raining yesterday. It is rainy today. All day and night. Imagine that package getting soaked.
Will I risk going out tonight? Happy Hour? Dinner?
Or will I go home and stoke the fire then find the time to write?
Time will tell…
And now for something completely different: