Before there were computers and the internet and phones that are “smart” (and have someone inside them—usually a woman—that can tell you where to go), there were typewriters and printing presses.
Thank goodness there are still printers.
Unless you were in a bookstore buying a book in person, you would likely be looking at print catalogs listing booksellers’ offers of “Books for Sale.” Everything was “manual”—analog.
At the 2019 ABAA California Antiquarian Book Fair in Oakland last week, I was chatting with a colleague about typing on manual typewriters. She told me her first jobs had been secretarial and that typing fast required 8 strong fingers. 8 very strong fingers. That got me to thinking that perhaps that is why I am a 2-4 finger “hunt and peck” typist. Wimpy fingers? More likely laziness. I just never learned to type properly.
To offer books for sale via mail order, a bookseller would need to type out the listings and have a printer convert your manuscript to type of some kind and…so on.
Some catalogers back then were very industrious. Almost machines—cranking out constant lists and quotes.
There are still cranky booksellers. Now they bang their offerings out mostly online.
We used to create “Books Wanted” lists. We would type out lists of books our customers were looking for. Almost always those lists were sent to be printed in the AB Bookman’s Weekly. We rarely had enough “wants” to fill a page, so we usually paid to advertise per line.
Booksellers around the country would see what we were seeking in the journal. If they had something for us, they would send us a “quote.” This was usually sent on a postcard. Sometimes the postcards were handwritten. Quite often they were typed.
I remember one chronic quoter would literally cover the blank side of a postcard with typed words. I think he was from Western New York—where I was born.
There’s something about manually typewritten words. There’s a 3 dimensionality to the paper. Keys might be struck softly or firmly. The metal letter striking the paper could be pressed in quite deeply. “Periods” might even punch through the paper if the key was struck hard enough. This bookseller was obsessive, and I imagined him punching away at his typewriter all day long cranking out postcards in hopes of selling his books. The back of his postcard would be covered with description and title and author and publisher and…words, words, words. When I would get to the “bottom line” (i.e. his price), it was often just a few dollars postpaid. He would have spend a LOT of time just typing up my postcard. How many others did he bang out a day? He had no idea if any would sell. I would wonder how much he made per hour.
Maybe he made up for all the labor in volume. I felt sorry for him and would often order out of…I dunno. His effort should be rewarded sometimes I felt.
(Yikes! It is 4:52 Thursday afternoon. I hear someone ranting outside the office. It is a trucker with 22 pallets of remainders. We are refusing his shipment. He is irate! “Eff this! Eff that!” Our cutoff is 4:00pm. After 4:30 there’s only a skeleton crew here—and no one who can handle the forklift or power jack. I went out. After I calmed him down, I felt sorry for him. He looked panicked. This guy says he wants to get home—to North Carolina—for Valentine’s Day… I told him if he would unload himself I would stay. Truckers RARELY unload themselves. So, now I’m banging away on my laptop with 2-4 fingers out on our vast 21 overhead door loading dock. It is cold and noisy. Poor me. He has never used a power jack before. I don’t like that machine. It can be positively “jumpy” and take off much faster than you anticipate—both forward and backward. But I’m not letting him use the forklift. And I’m not jumping into this breach. Not my table… Fingers crossed nothing gets broken.)
The old days of cataloging is not what this story is about. But this is the only way I can explain “TCO.” In the days of manual typing and cataloging you could save time by using timesavers like “Ibid” or “dittos” or acronyms.
Say you were cataloging a lot of Erle Stanley Gardner Perry Mason mysteries you could type out every title as:
“The Case of the …”
Or you could use “TCO …”
This would also save space. Like I said, we usually paid AB Bookman by the “line.” The shorter your listing, the more likely you would save a line. Even if you paid for a whole page, the fewer letters you used, the more books you could list for sale.
Letters = Space = $$$. Fewer letters = saved $$$.
TKAM = To Kill a Mockingbird
GWTW = Gone With the Wind
So this story is The Case of the Missing Journal.
It begins the first weekend of February. Friday, February 1 I got a book story got out. That one was Approaching Zero. It concerned, among other things, snow and icy roads. I came in the warehouse and worked alone Saturday and Sunday. Just me and three acres of books—about 4.5 million? I’m not sure. I haven’t counted recently.
My long dead partner, Carl Sickles was the sweetest kindest man. However, he could tease. Any time a new employee was to be left alone to close his little bookshop for the first time, he would take him or her aside and seriously confide: “Now be sure you count the books before you leave!” His tone and demeanor were so unusually serious it would take the newbie a few moments to catch on.
Wait. I’m not “alone” alone. Merry and Pippin, my two Jack Russell terriers spend these kind of weekends “helping” me.
My week was going to be dominated by a trip Thursday morning to San Francisco for the 2019 ABAA California Antiquarian Book Fair. Months before I had booked the flight. I must have been stupider a few months back. Why did I think a 7:30 AM flight from Baltimore with a change in Chicago was a good idea? Maybe there were airfare $$$ involved.
On Friday night, snow was predicted. I live on a mountain with a very steep quarter mile long driveway. If there’s ice or slushy snow…well, driving down can be risky or sometimes just “no go.” I’ve learned to park at the bottom of the drive and walk up if the future looks slippery. It looked bad. So, I had parked my SUV at the bottom. Sure enough on Saturday morning, I awoke to about 4 inches of snow. I plowed and drove the old Ford F150 pickup with big nubby tires down the mountain. It had been a “dry” snow, so I felt safe driving over the thin layer left by the plow. At the bottom of my drive, I passed the red Ford Excursion I’d left there and continued down the rest of the mile or so of gravel drive I share with my 2 “neighbors.” When I returned that evening, it had snowed again. It was a “dry” snow, so I drove up and plowed down again. With each pass down and up the driveway on my little Polaris ATV with a plow attached I went by the red Excursion. Sunday I went to the warehouse again. The driveway had melted and iced over. Safe enough for the pickup, but the Excursion was still stranded at the bottom of the drive.
On Monday morning, I looked for my current journal. I wanted to record some things and felt amiss that I hadn’t made an entry for a few days.
I started keeping an almost daily journal on New Year’s Day 2014. We were in the midst of the “Move.” We had to move from our 72,000 square foot warehouse because it was going to be demolished for a new Wal-Mart. We’d found an 130,000 square foot abandoned Post Office distribution facility. The moving process began in September 2013. It looks nine months of near constant work to get everything out of the old building. I wrote a story about the journals a while back. Journaling. I became sort obsessed with the journals—kind of like these stories. I often “needed” to write in them. I haven’t stopped journaling since that first entry.
I couldn’t find it in my bed—where it spends most of its time. I looked around the house and couldn’t find it in any of the usual places. I thought maybe I’d left it in my office. I sometimes take it to work if I can’t finish some thoughts at home.
When I got to work, I looked around the office. It wasn’t there.
Hmmmm… Maybe it’s under the covers at home or something.
On Monday night, I went home and looked for it in earnest. I tore off the bedclothes. I looked in all the vehicles (2 Jeeps and 2 Fords.) Nothing. The weekend had been so hectic with the snow and a kind of manic need to get things done so I could go to California. I must have set it down in the office area? That office consists of my office, 2 other offices and a conference room all placed around a communal large two room space. There is stuff everywhere. Tubs, boxes, piles—of books, mostly… All of it makes sense—usually. I could have set it down someplace “safe” on my way out and forgotten it. On Monday, a lot of my weekend work—mostly collectibles sorted into tubs—is always brought into the open office area by the desk and computer station where biblio research is done. If some of those tubs of books got set atop my journal… Maybe it was in that pile of tubs?!
On Tuesday, I searched my office and the conference room in a panic. I rooted among the 100 or so tubs of collectible books awaiting evaluation—mostly via online searches for comparable copies or finding the global population in university libraries and institutions on World Cat. Or, sometimes resorting to seat-of-the-pants bookselling—putting a price on a book based on experience (and hope that I’m not going too high…or too low.) I looked under the couch in my office. I pulled off the cushions. I was looking for one book among thousands and thousands. I considered it very unlikely it had gone out in the main warehouse. But at this point, who knows. I had written my name and address on the front free endpaper. I had added “Reward if found and returned.” IF it was out there, it would eventually get caught as any manuscript material gets set aside for me to review. Still it could be months or worse before it showed up that way. I went home looked everywhere again—under the bed. EVERYWHERE.
It struck me then. It was gone. I had started this journal volume in early October. Four months of my life had gone missing.
Wednesday I had to prepare for Thursday’s getaway. I would need to leave about 5 AM to be safe for the 7:30 AM flight, so I wouldn’t be in to work at all. Still, every other thought was about the missing book. That evening I drove the dogs up to Pennsylvania to be babysat by family. Wednesday night and Thursday AM I got almost no sleep. Paranoia set in. Had it been stolen? Why? Blackmail? There’s nothing juicy in it. Unfortunately, there hasn’t been much juice in my life for quite a while. Still, I couldn’t rest. I grabbed a blank journal from my walk-in closet and wrote my name, address, date and reward offer on the endpaper. The lost one had nearly been full, anyway.
It was time to go to BWI airport. I hurriedly showered and packed and rolled down the mountain. Things had melted enough that the Excursion was no longer stranded at the base of the drive.
I managed a little sleep on the flight to Chicago. I switched planes and got to San Francisco. On both legs I’d worked on last week’s blog—Round and Round Part 6. I took the Airtrain to the car rental building. I’d been on an economy kick and reserved a tiny car—like a Fiesta. I was told to go to the Hertz Gold rows and choose any car I wanted. They were all full size, four door things. I’d been upgraded! I picked a nice shiny black thing. A Hyundai Sonata. I don’t know why. I’d never driven a Hyundai. Maybe I was in a Hyun-daze. At the exit, the guy asked me the mileage.
“Where is it?” I asked searching the unfamiliar dashboard.
He leaned in and read aloud: “132.” It was a new car!
I left the airport and headed north. In about 20 minutes I was pulling into my brother’s driveway on Dolores Street. I sat and chatted with Tony. It was now early Thursday afternoon. I’d wanted to get in town for the bookseller’s reception in Oakland on Thursday evening. I emailed the folks in the office back home asking them to keep an eye out for a plain brown leather book—my journal.
I knew it was going to be a long night. I was already pretty frazzled. I decided to Uber from San Francisco over the bridge to Oakland. The Uber App said it would take 25 minutes and cost $38. It lied. The poor driver that picked me up was obviously unhappy when I said Oakland. Apparently they don’t know where their fares are going when the call goes out. It took him an hour and a half to get me to the Art Deco Terrace Cafe across from Lake Merritt. To get home to San Francisco he would drive back empty across the jammed bridge. He couldn’t “choose” a SF bound fare. I added 20 bucks to his tip out of pity…and guilt.
The reception was lovely. The food was bountiful and wonderfully catered. There was plenty of wine. For several hours I bonded with bookseller friends. There were about a hundred old booksellers present…ummm…sellers of old books. I was introduced to some new booksellers. Some booksellers with whom I had not been previously on speaking terms spoke and old wounds were mended. After that, several of us Ubered to the big Marriott Hotel adjacent to the Convention Center where the show was to be held. In the bar, the bonding continued and continued. At some point—I’m unsure of exactly when—I summoned an Uber and was whisked back to my brother’s in SF. I vaguely recall the trip was quite rapid. There was very little traffic that late at night.
Friday morning I awoke much the worse for wear. I blame it on the lack of sleep and “LJSS”—Lost Journal Stress Syndrome. What else could it be?
I’d made reservations that day for parking and admission to the Muir Woods across the Golden Gate in Marin County. You can’t get in that park without reservations. Too many people want to go, and there’s just not enough space for parking.
I shrugged off the cobwebs, guzzled coffee and got in my Hyundai. The woman in my phone told me where to go. Soon I was on another planet. The Redwood forest is…otherworldly. I was fortunate to have the place mostly to myself.
Maybe it wasn’t crowded because it was February and pretty cold…and it was raining. I had dressed for “San Francisco Weather.” Why shouldn’t I? The climate’s always the same—dry and 60 degrees. I walked and hiked for a couple hours. I decided I wouldn’t go to the Friday Book show opening. I would explore Marin County instead.
I drove and drove and drove. My brother Jim had spent some of his happiest times in Bolinas and Stinson Beach. I’d visited him there as a teen. He was a rock and roller. His group, Seatrain, seemed poised to take off under the guidance of George Martin—who had left the Beatles not long before.
This cover was shot in Marin. My brother is seated. The two dogs were his. Cow and River. One of my favorite songs of his is “Out Where the Hills….”
In Marin the hills do frequently indeed roll down to where the sea comes in.
From there I headed north. I went all the way to the tip of Point Reyes National Park. During the recent government shutdown, a colony of Elephant Seals had occupied a human beach. The rangers weren’t quite sure what to do with them. I’d seen pictures where people were allowed to get pretty close to them. When I arrived that had changed. But I was directed to an overlook where I could see them.
The wind had come up, and the rain had picked up, and I was cold and wet as I aimed my Hyundai south and recrossed the Golden Gate Bridge. I started to have a runny nose and a scratchy throat. I went out for dinner with my brother Tony, and we caught up on old and new times. He is about a dozen years older than me, and when I was young, all three brothers were more like uncles. Now he is my last brother, and we are both old enough to be “brothers.”
Saturday I finally slept in. I told Tony I wouldn’t be coming back that evening. Why? I was leaving SFO at 12:30 AM Sunday. What was I thinking taking a Red Eye? Must be another money saving affectation. Torture myself to save a few bucks…brilliant. We said our goodbyes, and I took the Hyundai over the Bay and into Oakland. I got to the Book Fair about 1:00 PM. I walked and walked. I’ve described ABAA Book Fairs before, but let me repeat myself. They are amazing. It is quite expensive to exhibit at them, so booksellers bring only the best material. Only ABAA and ILAB* members are eligible to exhibit, so potential buyers can be confident about the books’ descriptions and evaluations.
It is also great fun just browsing. These shows can be like going to a museum—but everything is available for purchase. AND, if you ask nicely, booksellers will usually let you handle (carefully!) many of the wondrous things. I ambled up and down many, many long aisles. There were over 170 booksellers displaying. I chatted with friends. Some of these friends are mind readers and know exactly what book to place in my hands.
“You should look at this one. It is especially interesting because…”
Then I’m lost. My eyes start spinning like Mr. Toad in The Wind in the Willows and…I gotta have it.
I’m not sure how many books I bought. Maybe 15 or so. Why don’t I recall exactly? Well, I didn’t have to carry any. I wouldn’t feel comfortable talking many of these on a plane. If my baggage got “inspected,” bad things might happen…
Also, the sniffles that had started the day before in the very cold and wet parks had turned into a full press sinus thing. I was more dazed and confused than usual. But I soldiered on. I didn’t want to miss anything. I walked and walked for 6 hours. But that is just whining. The exhibitors had to set up. Work their booth for three days and then break down and pack their booths. That is HARD.
The show closed at 7. Some friends had arranged dinner reservations at the iconic Chez Panisse in nearby Berkeley. I took a couple of them up in my Hyundai. There were 6 of us at the table. 3 Californians, a New Englander, an Old Line Stater (me) and an Australian Egyptology specialist. It was great fun despite my not being able to think straight. Fortunately, my taste buds were not affected by the disease, and I was able to enjoy some cuisine that is on a different plane from most of even the best restaurants I’ve been. It was a wonderful and memorable evening. I had brought a 1984 first edition Alice Waters’ book. I had everyone at the table sign it for me. Had I felt better I would have asked the staff to autograph it as well.
By 9:30 we were all full and tired. I had to catch my Red Eye. They had to work their booths Sunday.
The woman in my phone guided me to the Hertz place. I made the flight. I was able to sleep some. I awoke in Charlotte. (Another money saving boondoggle.) I switched planes and landed in Baltimore around 11 am. It was Sunday. I went to the warehouse and caught up a bit from the days I’d been absent. I went to Pennsylvania and retrieved Merry & Pippin. As I was driving back to Maryland from Pennsylvania, it started snowing. When I got home, I parked at the bottom of the driveway and trudged up the mountain in the snow. Merry & Pippin kept looking at me wondering what was wrong with me. I was sneezing and coughing and…walking in the snow in the dark—there are no lights up there when my house is dark.
Monday I awoke to 4or 5 inches of snow. I wanted to get to work early because there was so much to do. It was still dark when I went out about 6 am to plow. I went into the “barn” and started to lift my leg over the “saddle” that is the seat on the ATV. My leg paused midair. For there in back of the ATV was the missing journal!
If I remembered how it got there, it wouldn’t have lost all that time…I think. My best guess is that one of the times I was plowing the week before, my journal had been in the red Ford Excursion I’d left at the base of the driveway. I likely retrieved it thinking I might want to write that night or morning and put it in the back bed of the ATV. Something must have distracted me during the plowing, and I had forgotten the thing.
I had looked EVERYWHERE.
Everywhere except in the back of the snowplow in the barn.
Thus, The Case of the Missing Journal was solved, and I was reunited with months of my life. As with a child who has done something very dangerous but has escaped—I was like a parent. I was so relieved I simply could not yell at myself.
The California books should start arriving very soon. As will as the bills…