What was I thinking!?
It was after 3 pm on Wednesday afternoon. I had kept an eye on the snow gale on my iPhone. It predicted “100% chance of snow” from about 10 am through 1 am Thursday.
I’d made statements all day long to the stores and the warehouse that they could close any time. At some point, the managers at the warehouse decided at 3:30 pm to shut down on whoever was remaining. People had been trickling out all day.
An attendance email is sent to all warehouse managers every day. This lets them know who to not to expect to see. At 7 am, the email listed 4 people out as “Scheduled Absent”—i.e. they had notified management that they planned to be away that day. Just after 8am, the memo was re-sent with 13 names. After that, there were no more notices as to who was not coming in or leaving early. I’m sure after that people were tracked, but no more emails went out.
Tuesday evening, I had cut wood that had been dragged on to the driveways and porches. If I see easy to grab deadfalls, I’ll bring them from nearby woodland and pile them close to the house. That way when I cut them up, they are close to the four big cast iron rings by the front and side doors. Or, if those are full, I can stack them on the raised wooden side porch or the cement front porch. After I’d cut and moved that stuff, I got the leaf blower out and blew leaves and sawdust and debris off the drives and porches into the gardens and woods. I didn’t want any “stuff” which might interfere with the snow blower or plow—invisible—hidden underneath a deep covering of snow. I also brought carts of firewood from the barn and filled the iron rings. When they were filled, I stacked whatever remained in between and around them. I then parked a full cartload at the steps of the side porch. I checked the ATV, which didn’t have the plow attached yet. I noted that the 10-gallon small engine gas can was only about 1/3 full. That contains the 40:1 gas/oil mix for the saws and blowers and other small equipment. The ten-gallon can of straight gas was only about half full. I have 4 more, but they have sat unused for 2 years. Last year was the “Winter That Wasn’t”, and I didn’t use the backup supplies much at all. It is now likely stale, and I need to figure out what to do with stocks of old gas.
I made a mental list for the next day—The Snow Day:
- Take and fill both cans of gas
- Winter boots
- Heavy jacket…
When I awoke Wednesday morning, I loaded all the supplies into the big Dodge Ram truck I got in 2019. My 2010 Ford F150 had severe ailments. It was rusting through. Old. Stinky. (A repair firm had left the windows open in the rain, and it got moldy, and I could never get the smell out.) I chose a big black 4-wheel drive Heavy Duty beast. 4 doors. Easily seats 6 (if ever.) I added big nubby tires to assist with road grip on snow and ice.
I put the two bright red metal 10-gallon cans in the bed and headed down to work.
Traffic was light. The schools were closed. (They are always closed now.) There were no school buses on the roads. (Same.)
I stopped at 7-11 to fill the gas cans and top up the truck’s gas tank. Near the warehouse, I stopped at the Irwin Stone Yard and bought 8 bags of 3/4″ Delaware River Stone. They’d provide about 500 pounds of ballast. I can use that stone as decorative and functional paving on a couple of existing patios in the future. The young buck that followed me out into their sprawling cut and raw stone yard easily hoisted the 70-80 pounds bags up over his shoulders and tossed them over the high side rail of the truck and into the bed. It hurt watching his feats.
It was after 9 when I got to work. It hadn’t started snowing yet. The entry hallway was stacked with boxes and tubs holding internet orders to be delivered for in-store pickup. Christmas Eve is just a week away. People are anxious to get their gifts.
Out on the docks, there were a few dozen 4-wheel, 6-shelf, 3-feet long metal carts laden with online orders that needed to be packed and shipped. These are the final frenzied days when last-minute orders flow in.
“Will it get there on time?”
We do our best.
I met with Clif.
“You do the Gaithersburg run. It’s just supposed to rain down there. I’ll go to the Frederick store. When we get back, we can decide if it is a good idea to go over the mountain on I -70 to Hagerstown.”
Soon it started snowing. I looked at my phone again. “100% chance of snow from now until 1 am Thursday.”
[It is 7:30am Thursday that I’m writing this. The sun is just rising behind the trees.]
[Ice frosted the trees last night. The sunrise toned that ice in tree tops golden.]
I stopped plowing about 8 pm last night. I was cold and sore. Those machines are heavy things to manipulate. I was using muscles I hadn’t exercised for a long time. I watched Cary Grant and Rosalind Russell in His Girl Friday while I had soup, some leftover Chanterelles I’d lightly grilled Monday. I’d taken a couple Royal Farms fried chicken breasts from the freezer that morning and left them to thaw in the fridge. My friend John Adams told me not long before he suddenly passed away that this was the best carryout chicken around. Friends who know about such things advised him about that. Those I’d heated in the oven. I made a couple Old Fashioneds using my brother Tony’s recipe. I opened a bottle of Mouton Cadet. It is not a wine I’d usually buy, but I’d found these in the Wine Library in New Jersey a few years ago. I’d usually stop there on my return trips from Manhattan—from book fairs and such. They were promotional bottles for the Ryder Cup and had a golfer and Ryder Cup logos etched into the black green bottles. I bought two cases of them. I thought they were cool souvenirs. Plus, they were on deep discount. About 6 bucks a bottle, if memory serves. It is a decent “beginner’s” Bordeaux.
I was tired and sore when I crashed about 11pm. I awoke around 1:30am for unknown reasons. Well, I know the reason—COVID Sleep Disorder. I turned on the outdoor spotlight. It was still snowing.
[So, on Thursday morning, there is a fresh layer of snow atop what I’d plowed last night. I’ll find out how much when I bundle up and go out to plow again. The digital thermometer reads 60 degrees in. 26 out. I didn’t bother stoking the woodstove too much last night. I was sore and tired, and the fire had the house into the upper 60s. But 60 feels pretty good under layers of blankets and other bedclothes. I am, after all, a Mountain Man amongst my other titles.]
Back to Wednesday afternoon at work.
WHAT WAS I THINKING!
At the Frederick store, I told the managers to close when they felt they should. “Contact the office so they know and can post it on social media.”
“What time is the warehouse closing?”
“I don’t know. The managers decide.”
“What time should we close?”
“Talk to the office, please.”
(If I get involved in this stuff, I usually mess it up.)
Driving back to the warehouse, it was snowing harder, but the roads were just wet.
I went in and looked for projects to work on.
One after another people came to me and asked: “Is it ok if I leave?”
“Sure! Just let the folks in the office know.”
I asked the folks in the office: “What time should we close? Make sure the stores know they can close whenever they feel they should.”
More and more people trickled out.
The folks in the office told me the warehouse would close at 3:30pm. We had early pickups scheduled for the thousands of books going out.
I’d look outside every once in a while. The parking lot didn’t look too bad. There was traffic out on our street.
I got involved with carts of old books with my name attached to them.
I checked the orders going out—the pricey ones I’d set prices on or the ones the computer judged. These are set aside for my edification and approval. I took a nice jacketless copy of Agatha Christie’s Three Blind Mice and a sweet One Hundred Years of Solitude to Annika to double check. The Mice was low but not too low. The Garcia Marquez was a sweet copy in jacket and about 90% too low!
I know she lives south of Frederick and was glad she said she was leaving at lunchtime. I-270 can turn into a 20-mile parking lot with any kind of accident or ice.
Back to work.
A charity which specializes in sending children’s books and textbooks to Africa had brought a truckload of old books and other by-product books they can’t use. These were beginning to be staged on carts for my inspection. 99% of old books are just “old books.” I’m looking for the 1%. I pay them a premium on everything and add on if there are treasures. They have been very pleased in the past with what we pay for their “trash.”
I lost track of time but saw more and more people wandering toward the exit.
“3 o’clock. I can start getting ready. The Captain should be among the last to leave.”
I walked out to my truck where I had left my boots. I was wearing clogs. (It is a health thing, not a political statement. I have a heel spur that is brutal sometimes.) The sidewalk had been shoveled much earlier by our landscaping/plowing company. I stepped off the curb into about 8 inches of fluffy snow.
I turned the truck on to soften the ice on the windshield. I changed into winter garb. I took some books into the research room. Annika was still there.
“I thought you were leaving at lunch?”
“I decided to stay with everyone else.”
Too late for admonishment. “Be careful.”
I left cutting through the old town. I heard on the radio there were backups on many of the highways. I know all the back roads.
The woman in my phone was quite upset when I kept ignoring her advice. I was hoping she’d clue me in to areas to avoid.
The streets in town were quiet but covered with snow. My 4WD with the ballast in back did just fine. Taking circuitous routes, I got to US-15 north of town, a 4-lane dual highway—far beyond where I would anticipate trouble. The snow was now falling in soft golf ball sized bundles. The highway was crowded. Tractor-trailers were creeping along amongst all kinds of other vehicles. A lot of people would likely have a bad afternoon and evening. I just needed to get off 15 onto my country roads. Then it would be smooth sailing.
The big road in front of 7-11 was pristine. No tire tracks defaced the 8-inch plane of snow. I had “miles to go” before I…would get to my steep lane up the mountain.
I wondered when the pickup would give up. How far would I have to trudge to get home?
To make a long worrisome story short, the new truck did great! The few miles of pristine snow-covered country roads were no problem. Not a skid. No spinning tires. Just like driving on carpet.
Winding upwards along my mile long private lane—untouched by any other vehicle’s tracks—I kept wondering when I’d need to pull off and hike the remainder.
When I got to the foot of my quarter mile paved drive—the steepest part—the truck just went up as if there wasn’t nearly a foot of untrammeled snow to climb over.
When I got to the top, I breathed a sigh of relief and thanked the deity.
I let the dogs out to do their thing. They love playing in the snow. I tossed some golf balls for them to find in the deep snow. They must be able to smell them.
Plus, the snow bath cleans the dogs up.
I loaded the woodstove and opened the dampers. I turned the heat on in the big room where the wall is covered with a TV. The woodstove’s heat takes a long time to push through the two doorways to get there. My old HVAC units died last summer. The new system is digital and simple to operate (I’m lying.) It is a touch screen and everything about it is counterintuitive.
Maybe it is me. I’m the Luddite problem.
Then I went out to the barn and gassed up the blower and the ATV.
I’d never used the big blower. It is two years old but “new.” We hadn’t had enough snow. I taught myself how to adjust the levers, prime it, choke it, pull the cord, adjust the choke, set the throttle, put it in gear, engage the auger and impeller.
The plow just pushes snow. Up on the wide flat paved “landing area” that causes big mounds which block pathways to the dog pen and the house. It can also push stones down the steep slopes along which I have carefully installed as decorative borders.
The snowblower would throw the snow up, out and into the woods.
It worked like a charm. Even though it is self-propelled, it is a heavy beast to drive and maneuver. I experimented taking it partway down the steep slope.
It went down just fine. Trying to drive it up was another matter entirely.
I started up the ATV. I pulled out the plow from its storage area and set it in the middle of the graveled barn. I drove to it and wrestled to get it hooked up.
Then it was just a matter of pushing the snow down the quarter mile of steep paved drive. At the bottom, I raised the plow and sped back up to the top. (It is too steep to push snow up hill.)
Here’s the before image.
Repeat…about 20 times.
Here’s the after.
It was still snowing heavily.
Steering on the ATV is “manual.” It is like wrestling two very reluctant handlebars. More unaccustomed exertions.
But all in all, things could have been much, Much, MUCH worse.
The radio reported people parked on highways for who knows how long.
Thursday morning, I got up and actually felt great. Maybe I needed some forced labor to reset my funky issues.
I plowed and plowed and plowed.
The dogs helped.
I enjoyed the Zen-like labor.
Occasionally though, the cautionary angel on the shoulder she resides reminded me about the day before:
“WHAT WERE YOU THINKING!!!???”
The week began last weekend.
Carts. Carts. CARTS!
The story of my life.
Someone had put a Who’s Who from my birth year onto a cart. I looked up my dad’s name. His career was winding down then. There were a lot of reasons. Age. Health. My mom’s continuing debilitating health problems.
I wasn’t to blame. Also, I’m not in this edition. I wasn’t born yet!
I suppose many people try to live up to their parents’ examples. I knew I never could with Dad. He was a genius. Graduated everything at very young ages. M.D. PhD. All kinds of further alphabet soup after those two doctorates followed his name.
I would have to grind things out my own way to not be a lesser son of a greater sire.
He died suddenly 10 days before my 21st birthday. That defined my future. The definition was: “Uncertain.” And “Likely not very good.”
One thing I vowed early on was to finish strong. Two brothers and my dad all had excellent careers that petered out early in their lives. If I ever found anything to do with my life, I would make sure I finished strong.
We had gotten a big sheet of black velvet for the photos of boutique items. The idea was that the soft deep black might help create images with more definition, so more focus would be on the books and not the bleed out of a white or gray background.
I wanted to do something different and hung the velvet and took a LOT of images.
Poor Annika. She would arrive Monday morning with a whole lot of new entries to our Eye Candy experiment on Books by the Foot. A section named (tentatively): One of a Kind at The Boutique. It’s too wordy, I know. I’m working on it.
The audience there is in most cases not classic “book people.” Those buyers for the most part are interested in pretty antique books. This is the only market for most of these books. But, who knows, my tastes evolved from comic books and cheap paperbacks. Anywhere there are books, there is hope for entry-level collectors to discover the joys of book collecting. Once that takes root, they can become as book-hopeless as I.
On Sunday evening, I joined the family in Northern Virginia. My younger son had a championship soccer game. He is STILL playing!
The Washington Premier League Championship.
Yet another trophy for the still young man.
It has been over twenty years since I rediscovered my love for soccer. (I’d had some bad coaches and teachers—still it was my loss, my fault.*) I loved the years I coached and then followed both boys around the country watching them play “Football.” (That’s what the rest of the world calls soccer.)
* But BEWARE of bad teachers and coaches and crap histories. Rise above those who would indoctrinate you, those with agendas, both personal and public.
Monday evening, it was nice enough to grill outdoors. I cooked up two big hunks of tuna and a lot of wild chanterelles.
Tuesday morning, I awoke to a stunning dawn.
On the way home, I stopped at Walmart for a prescription and bought some supplies in case the predicted snow would keep me housebound for weeks.
I passed by a display of calendars for 2021. I glanced and moved on.
Days mean nothing in the Plague.
I haven’t changed the calendar hanging above my office desk since May!
At home after prepping for the storm, I wandered downstairs to pick up stuff I’d torn apart when the contractors were here installing the new HVAC. In August!
I knew a big cardboard box had whisky I’d bought from Manhattan. In the days when I traveled there 3,4 5 times a year, I would often stop at Park Avenue Liquor Shop (on Madison Avenue.) I would sometimes have them ship a box to me. It was too awkward schlepping all those bottles back to the hotel and then to my car. Looking at the date—it was March 2015. I’d gone with my great friend, doctor and best customer to the NYC ABAA Book Fair. Everything changed later that spring. Some wondrous times and some dreadful times. I guess this cache just got put aside and forgotten.
I wonder how Park Avenue Liquor Shop is doing? Unlike many businesses in Manhattan, I’m guessing they’re very busy.
I was saddened to hear the 21 Club was closing permanently. I’d visited there with a friend in 2019. It was an amazing evening. I’ve written about the 21 Club several times here. It was an amazing place. I’m lucky I had visited a number of times for dinner and had Marintis (Gin Gibsons) numerous times at the venerable bar.
Then I saw the Cliff House in San Francisco is gone too. When I’d visit my brother in San Francisco for book or trade shows or family trips, we would often go there for the sunset. Cocktails on high while the seal colony barked on the rocks below.
Wednesday, the radio announced Normandie Farms was closing. The owner was sad, but the Plague and the vagaries of local politicians made their position untenable. They regretted especially terminating the staff—many had worked there for decades—would be out of jobs.
I’d go there on fancy occasions long ago with my parents. It was out in the country then. Urban sprawl crept up and surrounded it. But it was still the same when I went there with a close friend. She loved the signature popovers they would always serve as the “bread.” We would always take a few away to enjoy another day. The best leftovers give you a repeat experience at home. Then things changed, and we stopped going—anywhere.
It is Friday morning. December 18th.
Next Friday is Christmas!
I awoke (for the second time) at 6 am. Letting a dog out, I saw we had a dusting of snow overnight. It is just enough to hide the defects. The black patches of asphalt and puddles of dirty ice are powdered-sugar covered. All the ground is white. There is just enough light for the birds to begin congregating on the snowy white porch roof outside my bedroom window. They alight silently upon the eight inches of white which lies upon the roof like a long low cake. Frosted this morning by a bit of powdered sugar.
When I was heating my sad bachelor dinner last night, the radio was on. Did I really hear the Governor announce that no one may leave or enter the state of Maryland without a negative COVID test? I did. Just another blow. I am used to it. I had vague half dreams about meeting the family at the Mason Dixon Line and tossing gifts across it. Or sneaking across the border on back roads I know so well.
This is how he began:
“Today I am issuing an emergency order which requires limiting travel to essential purposes only. Marylanders who do travel outside of Maryland or individuals who do travel to our state will be required to obtain a negative COVID-19 test result or to self-quarantine for ten days,” Hogan said at a news conference at the State House in Annapolis.
I turned off the radio and went to watch a movie. Cary Grant as a tough guy radical in a screwball comedy.
Current events mirrored The Talk of the Town. Corruption. Mass hysteria. Riots. A Supreme Court nominee…
Checking the phone this morning, he clarified things.
“It doesn’t impact people that are driving to and from states in the region. We’re talking about people flying out of state or traveling to places that are outside of our region.”
“We’re not going to be out there, you know, checking people or having law enforcement come after people for traveling,” Mr. Hogan said. “We’re just gonna rely on the good faith of the people that are gonna listen to these orders because they’re critically important for keeping people alive, and we’re going to try to ensure as much compliance as we can and just get people to cooperate.”
But I heard what I heard…
Cary Grant—It was the third of his movies I watched this week. Last week was Bette Davis. Comfort fare.
So, it is Christmas Week!
Maybe I’ll drive up to Manhattan. I’ll stay at the Waldorf like always. Have breakfast at Oscar’s. I’ll have a Martini at the 21 Club. Then head up to the Carlyle for another in Bemelmans Bar. I will shoulder through the crowds on 5th Avenue and struggle to see the Christmas window displays in all the department stores. Is there opera on? What’s on Broadway? I’ll see what the exhibitions are at the Morgan Library. The Natural History Museum will be impossible. Too many school kids packing the steps and lobby.
I’ll check out Teddy Roosevelt atop his horse there. I’ll thank him for all the national parks and so many other things that kept this country from commercializing or developing nature. I could watch the skaters at Rockefeller Center. I would definitely go to Bryant Park for the skating rink and the Christmas…ummm…Winter Holiday Village. That is mostly tacky junk—thousands of mass produced ornaments all made in… I would go in the NY Public Library as I always do and drop in on the original Pooh dolls. I’d hit the gift shop there for bookish things for others—and me. Maybe I would walk over to Madison Avenue and stop in at Park Avenue Liquor Store. Some exotic thing might catch my eye.
No, I guess much of that is not there any longer. And I couldn’t travel to New York if I wanted to. It is illegal to cross some state lines now unless you have the proper documentation.
Maybe I’ll go down to DC. I haven’t been to the Smithsonian for a long time. The last time I was at the National Gallery, I was given a backstage tour. I saw amazing works of art hidden in drawers and being conserved in labs. I’ll have a Gibson in the Willard’s Round Robin bar. Dickens was there. Christmas in many ways means Dickens.
While in DC, I could walk around the beautiful Mall. Lincoln, Jefferson, Washington…
Turned to crap now.
Last year, we had the Winter That Wasn’t. Now this year, we have a few days til the solstice, and we’ve already had more snow than all of last winter. It has already been cold a lot. The forecast is for the cold to continue.
Perhaps this year will be the Christmas That Wasn’t.
So many will be home alone. In fear. In compliance. In despair.
I am more worried than I have been much of the Plague year. I don’t want to catch cold or flu or Red Death in this cold climate.
When did I last go out for dinner? For a beer with friends? To a bar—Happy Hour specials or not?
I have my mask and hand wash to comfort me.
And my books. And my workplace.
It’s after 8 am.
I should bump down the mountain and head to my work. There are some books I want to finish this story with.
I hope the overnight snow dust doesn’t camouflage dangers beneath. Anyone who drives in mountains can tell you going down is far trickier than going up.
I’m at work.
Another Friday. Only a few paychecks to deliver these days. The system is now automated.
A text just went out to all employees—including me—”New MD Rule: After visiting states not adjoining MD, must get neg CV test or quarantine 2 weeks. Tell manager ASAP if doing.”
It is Christmas Week.
That time of year.
Be of good cheer!
I will try.
I came across the most beautiful book in the world this week.
Ok. Maybe it was the most beautiful book I came across this week.
I found a couple variant editions of Silver Pennies.
I love these books. Inside and outside.
I even featured it in one of these stories long ago.
I hope I’ll watch It’s a Wonderful Life.
And A Christmas Story—based on Jean Shepherd’s In God We Trust: All Others Pay Cash.
(I’ve never seen the movie My Summer Story…)
I grew up in Buffalo not too far from Cleveland and not too many years after Shepherd’s peculiar Christmas. Much of my childhood was snow and fights with bullies and running away and…Christmas.
And two, three or more Christmas Carols.
These books have survived many wars and Plagues.
They’ll survive me.
I remember just where I got them. From a friend who no longer…
Maybe they’ll survive the Cancel Culture.
Maybe future generations will read these books. Maybe they will read classics and real histories. In addition to the incompetent polemics so prevalent now.
Maybe teachers will begin teaching history and facts again in addition to their personal dogmas—likely dogma they’ve been indoctrinated with by their teachers and…others.
I had some great teachers. I had some horror stories. I’m so lucky my parents read to me. I’m so lucky my three brothers all gave me books for Christmas. I’m so lucky I stumbled into the “summer job” at the old used bookshop.
Truth is beauty.
A year ago I had just been in Rome. I toured the Keats-Shelley house and walked past it—purposefully—a number of times.
When old age shall this generation waste,Keats “Ode on a Grecian Urn”
Thou shalt remain, in midst of other woe
Than ours, a friend to man, to whom thou say’st,
“Beauty is truth, truth beauty,”—that is all
Ye know on earth, and all ye need to know.
Maybe one morning we will awaken in our own version of Bedford Falls—whatever that may be.