Sugar Mountain

Sugar Mountain Deconstructed

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

It’s so noisy at the fair
But all your friends are there
And the candy floss you had
And your mother and your dad.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

There’s a girl just down the aisle,
Oh, to turn and see her smile.
You can hear the words she wrote
As you read the hidden note.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Now you’re underneath the stairs
And you’re givin’ back some glares
To the people who you met
And it’s your first cigarette.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.
Now you say you’re leavin’ home
‘Cause you want to be alone.
Ain’t it funny how you feel
When you’re findin’ out it’s real?

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
With the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Oh, to live on Sugar Mountain
with the barkers and the colored balloons,
You can’t be twenty on Sugar Mountain
Though you’re thinking that
you’re leaving there too soon,
You’re leaving there too soon.

Neil Young

What made me think of that song? I dunno. I was casting about for a hook for this week’s story, and that song started playing in my head. The mind does strange things sometimes.

You’ll see how it came to be the title, how it ties in, later in this story.

I hadn’t thought of that song for a long time. I haven’t listened to all five minutes and 41 seconds of the 1968 version for an even longer spell. But this song is a small solid section of the tapestry that is my life. I likely first heard it when I was 13 or 14. I think there existed only this bootleg version and, therefore, one would not hear “Sugar Mountain” on the radio until much later.

My record (was it a 45 rpm?) was Mono and the sound much tinnier than this stereo version released much later:

Being “20” seemed far away to me then. Now it seems…impossible. Who was that kid? How did he get from there to here?

Did I “leave there too soon”?

In some ways, growing up was thrust on me. My dad died suddenly in my arms when I was 20. I was shouldered with the responsibility of taking care of my badly handicapped mom. She had been sick most of my life. I had to do things no “kid” should be expected to. Looking back, I did ok. There are a lot of things I wish I’d done better. When she died early Christmas morning 17 months later, the Fates snipped many of my threads of youth as well. Christmas was changed, unalterably I thought, when I walked into the morgue at Walter Reed Army Hospital and said goodbye to her as she lay on a slab. Christmas had dark overtones until my first kid was born. Children change everything. They rescued Christmas for me. They are the best thing that ever happened.

I was taking guitar lessons in my mid teens when I heard “Sugar Mountain.” I vaguely remember the guy who taught me in Silver Spring, Maryland. He taught me how to pluck out Neil Young’s “Only Love Can Break Your Heart.” I actually got pretty good at guitar—mostly self taught. I was in a garage band for a few years. I played in a college foursome. 2 guys. 2 girls. I played throughout my life. I stopped picking up my old Martin D-28 four or five years ago. I don’t know why. I really should start up again…

Last week’s story ended with my return from the Boston ABAA after many weeks of pretty intense traveling and going out and about. Things have settled down a bit. The books I was compelled to buy in Boston have begun trickling in the mail. There is a little “mountain” of them stacked up in the conference room here.

Boston ABAA Packages

It will be sweet when I sit down and cut them open this weekend. Books can be like candy to me. At the heart, they are my basic sustenance. But sometimes one can get too much of a good thing. That happens often here. That is, sometimes things get overwhelming when there is too much pouring in. When it is too much really good stuff, all I can do is harden my resolve and…deal with it.

Dealing with it…includes my teeth set hard together and my soul shaking at the impossibility of it all.

This happened last weekend when a pallet of books that had been set aside since early summer 2017 proved irresistible to me. The week after I returned from Boston was not only hectic in that it was a catch-up week. There were meetings and meetings and appointments and more dreaded meetings. It was also a week of lab tests and doctor visits—just routine—but clustered up together. My last appointment was yesterday. Everything looks great. Maybe I’ll last until they come up with a Fountain of Youth pill. (Hurry up, Technology, please.)

I met with accountants, brokers, bankers…end of the year stuff mostly.

I also met with my estate attorney. That certainly puts everything into perspective…groan.

The dreariest meetings recently? Interviewing dumpster people.

Sadly. Tragically. Our recycler will no longer take our scrap plastic. We generate mountains of it. It mostly consists of defective LPs, CDs, DVDs and VHS we have sorted out from the viable media. Until now we could just fill Gaylords with plastic stuff. When these giant boxes are full, we could roll them onto a trailer backed to one of our docks. The recycler’s trailer would be filled with pulp paper Gaylords, sorted mass market paperbacks, sorted trade paperbacks, viable CDs and DVDs overstock, and scrap plastic. He has warned me this would almost certainly happen over the last months.

“The market for plastics is dead. I’ve been continuing to take your plastic out of loyalty and because you send other, valuable material that offsets my losses. The market is negative now. So negative I just can’t take it any more.”

I’ve asked around everywhere, and there is no market for it. We have no choice but to get a 30 yard roll-off dumpster pushed up to one of our unused docks. We will have to begin pushing our scrap plastic into that now. From there it will be sent to the landfill.


He assures me that if and when the market gets to “flat,” he will begin taking the material again.

We went through this before some years ago. It changes the workflow here substantially. We will have to put scrap plastic into tubs and manually tip it off the dock into the open dumpster on the ground below. That’s a lot of extra work. And expense.

My assistants were having trouble finding dumpster providers. I decided to search for and contact some myself. My recycler friend was not pressuring us, but I wanted to get him off the hook. We are actually located just a half-mile or so from the county dump. A Google search showed 5 or so dumpster firms nearby. I called them. A couple were quite bizarre with screaming kids and blaring TVs in the background. But I persisted and over several days met with some nice folks and a couple very odd characters.

Turns out our old trash company that takes the minuscule amount of “trash” we generate had the best rate. I could have saved a lot of time and rubbish intercourse. But then I wouldn’t have learned so much about cubic yards and tonnage and pickups and drop-offs, roll-ons and roll-offs…

It is the day before Thanksgiving. Our roll-off was rolled off just now. I’m thankful for that.

I’ll include a picture of the roll-off when it is filled. It is truly a mountain of stuff that meant enough to people to buy and collect but not enough to take care of. Actually, a lot is just obsolete technology.

There were also a couple grumpy and unhappy people who work here that needed attention. I REALLY don’t like those interactions. Those meetings went on and on, but the upshot was that they were right about many things they had concerns about. With so much going in other parts of the business, some crucial aspects weren’t being attended to. The meetings which were so painful will result in better things for many of the other people here as well.

On weekends, I come into the warehouse almost always. I do this for a combination of reasons:

  1. I can do things uninterrupted by calls and employees and visitors and scouts… I can spread my messes out too since there’s no one that they would inconvenience.
  2. I don’t really need to work weekends “financially,” but I “need” to clear off carts and other things that are put aside for my attention. Interruptions during the week are so frequent it is hard to get these sort of things done efficiently. If I don’t keep up with it, these carts will multiply.
  3. I don’t have anything else going on weekend days usually. It is either “work” or clean up the house, do yard work or watch TV. I dread those things more than “book work.”
  4. I “need” to go in. I’m drawn to it. It’s my avocation, my passion, and I think there’s a bit of pathologic addiction to playing with books all alone in this vast space. It is a solitary vice.
  5. I make good money and find some really cool stuff working weekends—LOL.
  6. It is SO MUCH fun…usually.

So, last Saturday I decided to reward myself for suffering all the meetings. I would go through this collection and see things no one else here has seen. I’d leave the carts and other books set aside for my inspection til Sunday.

I got a pallet jack and rolled the little mountain of books to a place where there would be plenty of room for me to sort.

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The boxes confused me. We reuse boxes constantly. Indeed, we haven’t bought boxes for the used books coming and going for many, many years. These boxes were mostly uniform and had the same writing on them. The notes like: hobbies, mysteries… clearly came from a charity sale to ease the setup by category.

Where did this collection come from? Not a charity sale.

I began by opening a box and seeing this.

Opened Box

Box after box…old leather and cloth books. Mostly smaller formats. Many beautiful.

I quickly ascertained it would be best to sort these onto two carts. One cart would go to Books By the Foot. These are the attractive old books that I felt very confident were not collectible and would not be anything readers would want in the shops or online either. The other carts would be for the collectible books. We call those “Madeline” books—since she has done research here for many years.

Madeline has a little mountain behind her desk chair as well.

Madeline's Mountain

All those yellow tubs are filled with books “triaged” just for her (and one or two others) to see if they have value and try to put our selling price on them. Mostly by looking up “comps” online.

I soon came to the conclusion there were a significant number of books I might want to look at a second time. So one side of one cart was Madeline. The other side was “me.”

Box after box…

Opened Box

Where did these come from?

I found some envelopes in a book and that jogged my memory. There were addressed to a Dr. Aaronson in Chevy Chase. I googled him and found a very brief Washington Post obituary for him in 2016.

I think…I think…Nelson picked these up. They were clearing the psychology professor’s estate. Did Nelson tell me they were mostly old cloth and leather and that I should look at them? Did we put them aside til I had time, and they got lost in an eddy here for well over two years?

Box after box…

Some boxes on the pallet were old psych and education textbooks. Some went online. Some went to Books By the Foot. Some were so…blah and beat up they went to recycling.

Box after box…

It was really hard work. A lot of the books needed to be inspected inside. A LOT. I checked to see what edition it was or if there were other enhancements like autographs or illustrations inside.

A really blah book about the founder of Macalester College in Minnesota came to hand. My son almost went there to get an education (and play soccer.) The dreadful and expensive school he chose still pains me. I raise my middle finger to it whenever I drive by it on the way to NYC. I put a curse on it too. It’s worked. They’ve had miserable seasons since he graduated. My original curse was for seven years of famine. I will mostly likely renew that in a few years.

I opened the book up, and there was a long inscription on the front free endpaper from the author.


Wait! It was inscribed to Warren Burger—the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court—who was an alum. Still…

Wait! Under the dust jacket flap on the front pastedown was Warren Burger’s embossed and gilt bookplate. Years ago, someone got into Burger’s estate and supposedly slapped his bookplate or business card on every book in the house. I’ve seen cookbooks, modern kids books, women’s books with his bookplate slapped on them. But this copy has a real tie to Burger, so it’s ok. I flipped through, and a scrap of salmon colored paper fluttered out. I picked it up, and there was handwriting on it. It took some help to decipher, but eventually I made out:

“Laws are the wise restraint that keep men free—Conant.”

I googled and found that actually someone else made that quote: But James B. Conant was a “transformative” president of Harvard. Since those words are read at every commencement, the note could have been scribbled by an attendee.

I naturally googled Burger’s handwriting.

Looks pretty good to me.

Burger's Handwriting

Box after box…

It took hours. So many difficult books. When I was done, I was exhausted. There were some tubs for the internet. There were some boxes for the store.

Sugar Mountain Deconstructed

There were two full Brodart 6-shelf, 4-wheel, 36-inch long metal books carts loaded. One cart full for decorative purposes only—Books By the Foot. One full cart for “Madeline”…and me.

Books by the Foot Cart
Books by the Foot Cart
Madeline/Chuck Cart
Madeline/Chuck Cart

Stepping back, the two carts were identical in appearance. Except on one cart, a lot of the books had little slips of white paper protruding from their tops. I’d put those in. Printed at the top is the word: “Signed”

Maybe 1200 books. All very attractive. Half “worthless.” Half with potential.

How many did I put side for me?

Maybe 150.

What am I thinking!? That is a little mountain of books. My office is already pretty stuffed. Home too.

But…but…Emily Dickinson and…an 1830s trip to “Saint Francisco” and…Oscar Wilde…and…dozens of other desirable and beautiful books.

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I just don’t know what to do… Madeline will not get to her 450 books any time soon.

I pushed one cart down to the Books By the Foot department in our warehouse.

The other cart—Madeline and “me” abides. I haven’t reexamined it yet. I know what’s there. Candy. Sugar mountain.

Maybe I’ll buy another house…for more books.

Actually, I’ve been to more than a couple of estates where the seller had two apartments. One to live in and one for their books.

But why did the doctor collect this way? He had three very distinct kinds of books. Mixed together in the “old” boxes were mostly antique cloth and leather.

About half were “eye candy”, sweet pretty old books.

About half were books with inherent value: autographs, first editions, books with important typography or bindings.

There were 1950s-1970s psych and education textbooks.

He had to have known the difference between old “junk” books and old books with value. He got these books from many places and over many years, I could tell.

A biblio-mystery of sorts.

I’m very lucky to have been guided by a divine hand to this career. I’ve very lucky to have prospered enough to acquire this enormous warehouse. I’m very lucky to have this place I love to go and “play” in on weekends.

So many books are “lucky” to end up here with me. If not…their fates would not have been good in most cases.

Too much candy, too many sweets, a mountain of candy.

Too many books “yearning to breathe free.”

So often I feel them crying to be found. (Is that madness?)

On Monday, a friend and colleague arrived in his enormous pickup. The bed is chest high. The previous vehicle was named Thor’s Hammer. That was apt. I don’t know if he has named the new one yet.

He specializes in art books. He gets collections where many of the nice art books have no inherent value. They’re just pretty books. He brings those here to liquidate them. We use them for Art Books—by the Foot.

“I brought these Shakespeare folios for you to look at.”

He’d sent me pictures. They were enormous! I’m a sucker for Shakespeare. And big books.

I’d told him I wouldn’t want them. I’d vowed that at this point in my life I wouldn’t spend good money on battered books. Nor would I spend good money on incomplete sets.

This mountain of Bard Books was both.

But I looked at them, and my heart melted for them.

“Ok,” I acquiesced. Actually I caved.

“Oh, and I found this in Maine too.”

It was an enormous super elephant folio of late 18th century engravings. Boydell’s Shakespeare.

“It’s missing about 20 of 100 plates.”

I lifted the cover, and a beautiful image of The Tempest appeared.

“How much?”



I put them in my truck. They were too big to take in the warehouse just now.

I drove them up the mountain to my eyrie overlooking the Frederick valley. There was no place in the house proper for them either. I carried the heavy beasts into my (climate controlled) garage until I think of something better.

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A little mountain of Shakespeare.

It is now the day after Thanksgiving. I’m pushing the story out with my editor’s assistance.

Yesterday I had dinner at my younger son’s girlfriend’s parents. Finger crossed…LOL. When I got home, I put a 17 pound Butterball in the oven. Why? It was 50 cents a pound. Why not? The dogs will get lots of scraps. The oven timer went off at 3 am and woke me. The house smelled so good.

Black Friday. It’s Christmas season. Something made me think of Rudolph. It was a favorite when I was a child. I got the thought that this place, this sprawling warehouse, is like the “Island of Misfit Toys.”

The Wonder Book Island of Abandoned Books.

We will close in an hour.

There are many, many “mountains” of books waiting out there on the dock floor.

Then there’s the Safire collection.

And the Ashburn treasure trove.

And remnants of the Gach hoard. And hundreds of other pallets of books, little sweet peaks full of surprises. Most from unknown sources.

As I was walking across the warehouse, Caryn—a top Book Triager—called out:

“This whole pallet is Swedenborg.”

Swedenborg Mountain

She already had almost two carts loaded with mostly antiquarian books. All of them were by or about Emanuel Swedenborg.

Swedenborg Carts

I am now a mystic like the Swede. For I can see a LOT or Swedenborg in my future.


Oh, to live on Swedenborg Mountain—not so sweet. More like a duty.

Swedenborg Close

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