Part 8 ended with a small brood of furry critters discovered in one of trailers where we store bulk books.
On late Friday afternoon, I got a call from a number with a West Virginia area code. I took the call, and the screen said the source was from Falling Waters. I had some good book experiences there long, long ago. Maybe I should retrieve those from memory. It is a beautiful area.
A woman’s voice spoke saying she was replying to my (three) calls left on voicemail at the Humane Society (the recording said the center was “closed” due to …)
I described the situation with the fox pups. When I’d last checked, they were cuddled together, and I thought perhaps the mom had been there. One had a wet spot on its belly like it had peed. I didn’t want to disturb or touch them in case that caused problems. I’d only let a few people peek down into the giant box—called a Gaylord—in a bottom corner of which the gray creatures were nesting atop ancient Pennsylvania Dutch books. I was sure if word got around the whole warehouse would be lining up to oooh and aaah over the cute fuzzy things.
She said there was nothing they could do unless the animals were sick or injured.
“Usually the mom will come back and take care of them.”
After I checked late Friday, I pushed the button, and the chain rattled as the dock door descended to the floor, ending with a clunk.
I went home tired from another long, stressful week of bookselling in the COVID-19 era. But it’s good to be busy when so many are unable to do anything but wait helplessly.
Incredibly, there were freeze warnings overnight—May 8-9. The Polar Vortex was dipping down into Maryland. I was too worn out to drag the couple dozen potted plants back in. I just hoped their proximity to the house would help mitigate the cold air.
I awoke very early Saturday. My thermometer read 63 inside. 33 outside. I gathered up Merry & Pippin, my two Jack Russells, and headed down the mountain to the warehouse. I left them outside in the fenced in dockyard. Going in the back way, I headed for Dock 17 where the Gaylord of old German books rested on the trailer behind the dock door. I peeked through the tiny dock door window using my iPhone as a flashlight. I couldn’t make out much because the glass was dusty and covered with cobwebs. I took a deep breath and reached for the button which activates the electronic chain drive and raises the heavy dock door. I stepped back lest a mother fox come bounding out at me.
I stepped into the trailer and peered down in the giant box. There were only two babies now.
They were about a foot apart on the old papers. They appeared rigid, and their little mouths were agape.
“Dead,” I said.
I supposed the mother came and took one and left the other two behind. If it had been a predator, all three would have been taken.
It was so sad. I was disheartened. I had tried. I’d called three times for help or advice. The creatures had been in the warehouse for only part of a day before they were discovered and returned to the trailer. No one had touched them. I’d shut the door and only opened it once at closing to check on them the early evening before.
I closed the door and walked across the building to open the doors so the weekend skeleton shift could come in.
I couldn’t get my head into work, though there were so many projects I needed to whittle away at.
‘I should bury them,’ I thought.
I headed out to the docks and walked up from Dock 4 to Dock 17. When the button was pushed, the pulley high above began turning and the chain rattled and the heavy door rose. Stepping to the Gaylord, I rose on tiptoes and bent myself in half to reach the bottom. I curled my hand under one. It was so soft—downy fur. The body was so cold and firm. But…
…one front paw moved…barely…it sort of extended forward a bit.
“What should I do?!”
I gathered both the little bodies up and headed for the front. They were so cold—refrigerator cold. There were old clothes of mine in Merry and Pippin’s indoor pen to serve as bedding. Old t-shirts and sweatpants for them to curl up on. The little creatures were wrapped up in a t-shirt. In the office, I searched the internet. “Fox Rescue Maryland.”
I called the official places—the nearest in Gaithersburg. None were open…”due to …”
One Google result looked kind of strange. Frisky’s Wildlife and Primate Rescue. I called the number. It was a recording. The message was pretty lengthy—almost chatty. It was all the way over near Baltimore. But it was the only hope.
I live in the woods. Life and death is in constant flux in the wilderness.
The phone message said to come. Just “not after 8 pm. We don’t wish to meet strangers at our front door after dark.”
Oh, “and we don’t take in adult deer or raccoons…”
Putting the towel on the front seat, I set the phone to the address and headed out. I fired up the heat and turned the seat heater on. I had little hope. Would anyone be there? Would the pups be alive when they got there?
I headed onto Interstate 70 toward Baltimore—speeding east into the aging morning sun. About 20 minutes into the ride, I heard a faint sound from the seat next to me. I raised the edge of the folded over shirt and glanced. One of them was slowly waving its paws in the air. Its mouth was opening and closing. Its tiny maw was pink.
After a few turns off the highway, the iPhone announced: “Arrived at your destination.”
I turned left and entered a narrow lane. It was nearly a tunnel of old pines planted close together.
The Jeep emerged into a little woodland. Signs directed me to the shelter.
I parked and headed for the building. It was a home of indeterminate size because of all the trees growing around and above it. Contraptions of all kinds surrounded the building. Many appeared to be cages or other containers. There was a hint of other buildings behind the house. I stepped up onto the porch which was filled with framed photos of wildlife, statues of St Francis of Assisi and…stuff. A table was covered with printed material and signs and instructions. Before I could figure out where to start, the glazed storm door opened, and a small spry dark-haired woman stepped out onto the porch. A little Shih Tzu type dog put its paws on the glass and peered out at us.
“What do you have there?”
I held out the towel.
“Foxes… I think…”
“And you don’t take…”
“I’ll take them.”
She took the towel from me.
“They’re very cold, but they started moving a little when the car warmed up.”
“Oh my! I’ll need to get them on a heating pad and fluids right away. Take a pen from here. Fill out this form. Put a donation in that box. Drop the pen in that jar. Sanitize your hands with that. I’ll be back in a few minutes.”
‘Raccoons,’ I thought. ‘Some zoologist I am. But the faces looked so doggish.’
But then I’d never really looked closely—not wishing to disturb them and add my scent which might drive the mother away. When Colleen opened the t-shirt, I noticed for the first time their tiny paws. They had long tiny dexterous looking fingers. Not fox paws.
I filled out the form. Stuffed 4 5’s into the box.
I dropped the used pen into the “to be sanitized” jar and was squirting disinfectant on my hands when the door opened.
“They might be ok. Their mouths are still pink. It is when the mouths are whitish that things are real bad. What happened?”
I explained the warehouse and the discovery and the calls to the humane society and…
“When I checked on them this morning, I was sure they were dead. But when one moved a bit, I couldn’t…do nothing.”
“You did the right thing.”
She started talking about her history…
“My husband was in Vietnam in 1970. I had two babies. He got back in 1973 after three tours. He was out on his motorcycle, and a woman turned in front of him. It took me a long time to get over it with…” How did she say it? It was all so surreal. The masks and creatures. This shelter way back in the middle of nowhere. She had been angry with God. “I’d been a Catechism girl…”
“Now I’ve been doing this since 1970.”
That means she would be over…no way!
“I’ve got great grandkids now. But there’s a girl here now. Started the day she turned 16. Her dad came with her with the birth certificate. I think she will continue this work. What do you do?”
“I work in a big book warehouse over in Frederick.”
“What do you do there?”
“Sort of everything. I kind of own it.”
“Do you get books on primates? I have primates I’ve adopted from owners who can’t keep them any longer. That’s why I can’t catch this virus. It would wreak havoc. Many of them are old.”
“I do.” I retrieved a business card from my wallet and set it on the table. “We do a sort of ‘book rescue.’ We take in all kinds of books; books no one else will take.”
She gave me a stack of fliers and info.
We said goodbye. She had lots of creatures to feed and tend to and rescue.
I headed out between the pine colonnades and was soon back on the highway.
I got back and started my weekend work hours later than I’d planned.
I was glad I had done it. I couldn’t have lived with myself not having tried at least.
I castigated myself for only giving $20. I vowed to send a check from work for a couple hundred. Maybe I can help Colleen with a book drive or something. I bet people would love to donate books to her and then we would buy them.
If you can help her out, please do. She does great work. She was open when no one else was.
I’d like to go back out and take a tour sometime too. When this…plague is over.
So surreal. Masks and monkeys and fear and love.
Wildlife rescue for 50 years.
Book rescue for 40…
The warehouse continues to settle into the new COVID patterns. There have always been thousands of moving parts here. But now there are new layers over old layers everywhere. Plague related layers. Almost every procedure here has been affected. The one touch per day policy means most things are now a day behind. Time is a prophylactic. Most books “rest” a day or more. Boxes that are loaded in a van remain overnight.
The frantic searches for ammonium chloride (Lysol) and sodium hypochlorite (Clorox/bleach) have ended. They’re not plentiful, but we’ve scoured a good supply. Some of the folks that work here pick things up when they’re out shopping and see stuff we might need. Almost everyone has a little spray bottle of disinfectant and a roll of paper towels. So many things get wiped down before and after use. From book carts to bathroom stalls, work stations to keyboards.
How any gallons of disinfectants will we use in the coming months? How many rolls of paper towels?
We discovered our new payroll system has the ability to allow employees to clock in using their smart phones. No more touching of the same touch screen by people arriving and leaving work.
We don’t know how to reopen the break room. There seem to be too many danger points from the refrigerators that would contain numerous lunch bags to the sink to the tables and chairs and microwaves… Too many things to touch and be retouched. One “bad” touch could…
Each day has its successes and setbacks. New problems arise. New solutions are innovated.
And we wait…we wait until we can start buying books again. I imagine a lot of people are anxious to sell the books they’ve found they no longer want after cleaning up basements and attics and garages.
The stores…when they reopen, there will be many new protocols in place. I’m sure there will be many innovations we haven’t anticipated yet.
Necessity is the mother of invention.
The rest of Saturday was the usual for me. Carts of mostly old books. Elsewhere in the warehouse noises of 8 or 9 people moving books around on shelves played a kid of rhythm. Not like a babbling brook but akin to that constant inconstant vibe of movement.
I headed home, and a friend came up. We walked around the mountain gardens a bit and then grilled tuna, small taters and brussel sprouts. The first cookout of the year. A bit of normality in the woods, far from the masks and fears and worries and uncertainty below. Spring progresses in its eternal pace.
The near freeze didn’t seem to damage anything. The cactus I inherited from my friend Barbara Mertz (a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels) continues to bloom.
After dinner, we got lost in the world of Miyazaki’s Princess Mononoke.
Sunday was more of the same. I topped off the recycling trailer using the forklift just in case a swap came in early Monday. Part of the New Normal is resuming duties I rarely do anymore.
It was Mother’s Day. The two boys stopped in to see her in Pennsylvania the day before. I invited her down to let their dog romp in the dockyard with Merry and Pippin. I ordered carryout from La Paz downtown. I’ve been going to the ancient Mexican restaurant since I opened in 1980. Back then Mexican cuisine was quite rare even nearer to DC. I was instructed to pull to the curb as near as possible and call. They asked what kind of car I was driving. There are three former townhouses that are now restaurants clustered together. People were lined up for all of them. Staff in aprons and masks were bringing out bags of food and getting credit card receipts signed. A young woman approached me?
“Chuck?” her voice was muffled by her face covering.
“Sign this, please.”
30 seconds. Tops!
After picnicking in the dockyard, I drove up into the field and cut more wood.
Suddenly there was a different vibe in the warehouse. I did my typical tour, and there was nothing of urgency for me to act upon.
There were lots of internet orders getting ready to be packed.
Books by the Foot was bustling was various orders to ship all over the country.
There was tweaking here and there.
“Let’s move this…put that there…wipe down these carts and take them…”
In some ways, there was a feeling of let down. For two months, we’d been in a whirlwind of panic, survival, reinvention, recovery and now, in the New Normal, I was almost back where I’d been in my position before this madness.
One big difference though. There is still the aura of potential doom all about us.
And masks everywhere.
I went down to the Gaithersburg store to meet with the landlord and the contractor. Walls were down! The store is completely torn up.
Being closed has been perfect for this project. But that is creating even more expenses in addition to the ongoing expenses of things that need to be paid even though we are “out of business” for the foreseeable future.
Monday night, I went home and did some gardening and transplanting. I love getting my hands into the soil. I created some new beds for “nursery gardens.” That’s my term for small beds where volunteer seedlings are transferred so they can mature in fresh soil and with space.
I was almost disoriented. I wandered around searching for things I HAD to do. Those tasks were few and far between. I couldn’t bring myself to slow down and work on things I “should” be doing. Instead, I wandered.
I’ve been spending comfort time in the Books by the Foot antique book rooms in the northwest corner of the building. It smells so good. It is a Proustian thing. In the old, old days, I would frequent book barns and other remote book selling venues. Those are almost all gone now. Those “old book smells” take me back to my early bookselling days.
That afternoon, I went up yet again and cut more wood.
That evening fate selected the BBC version of The Tempest to be in the random stack of DVDs I was drawn to.
It is one of my favorite Shakespeares. It is full of books:
Me, poor man, my library. Was dukedom large enough…Prospero
Now I will believe that there are unicorns…
O, brave new world that has such people in’t!
This rough magic
I here abjure, and, when I have required
Some heavenly music, which even now I do,
To work mine end upon their senses that
This airy charm is for, I’ll break my staff,
Bury it certain fathoms in the earth,
And deeper than did ever plummet sound
I’ll drown my book.
Hell is empty and all the devils are here.
You taught me language, and my profit on’tCaliban
Is I know how to curse. The red plague rid you
For learning me your language!
Ban, Ban, Ca-caliban
Has a new master: get a new man.
Freedom, hey-day! hey-day, freedom! Freedom, hey-day, freedom!
And this most bookish of quotes by the monster Caliban:
Why, as I told thee, ’tis a custom with him,
I’ th’ afternoon to sleep. There thou mayst brain him,
Having first seized his books; or with a log
Batter his skull; or paunch him with a stake;
Or cut his weasand with thy knife.
First to possess his books, for without them
He’s but a sot, as I am, nor hath not
One spirit to command. They all do hate him
As rootedly as I. Burn but his books.
He has brave utensils—for so he calls them
Books…they were magic in Shakespeare’s time. They are magic now.
During this crisis, I have worn the same blue jeans every day.
I have worn them to work, to cut wood, to garden. That’s about it. There is nowhere else to “go.” I remember as a very young man my jeans were part of me. As a young man, my hair was long. It is long now—almost to my shoulders now. Even when haircuts are permitted, I may not get one for a while. Some sports players grow beards and don’t shave them off until the championship is won or they’ve been eliminated. Perhaps my hair and jeans are my “Crisis Costume.” It is a pain to comb it out every morning.
(Oh! I do wash the jeans occasionally.)
At work, I wandered through the building. Again, I was in kind of a daze. I’d been sprinting for nearly two months, and now things were functioning. I was not called on for extraordinary innovations or tasks.
I headed for the old book rooms for contemplation. It’s so quiet in the back rooms. I was surrounded by thousands of old books. Most are over 100 years old. Sometimes you don’t see the forest for the trees. It occurred to me that I was responsible for the sheltering of these and some 4-5 million other books. Over the years, the stores and mail order have saved many books. Many of the books went on to change some lives. Books have certainly changed my life. If I have rescued books, books have also rescued me. It is a symbiotic relationship.
When I returned to the office, I was met with: “We need…”
We are running low on books sorted for the data entry people. We are seeing the horizon on books left to sort for data entry. We have been looking around the warehouse for other products to market. We have 10,000s of comic books. These are difficult to sell singly online. Grading is hugely important as well. Some comics are worth LOTS of money. If they are perfect, they can be worth a fortune. This Batman #3 could be worth $300,000 in near perfect condition. Why? There are none ever recorded in that shape. My copy is in pretty rough shape, so maybe it is worth $1000-2000.
You need someone with expertise and a good eye to deal with rare comics. I used to do it in the old days. Now we have vast collections of comics just waiting to be evaluated… I just can’t take on any more than I am.
But we have started training someone on the more modern comic books…
And then I learned: “He’s not coming back til June.”
“He” is our in house LP expert and sorter. We have LOTS of LPs.
I’m the only option for sorting them now. The stores will need them, and it will provide needed material to keep some data entry people busy for online sales.
So, Wednesday, I became the new (old) record guy. Here’s a before and after image.
It’s kind of fun. I can still evaluate LPs off the cuff pretty well. You run into so many iconic images. It is like time travel.
How many of these can you recognize?
I used to have a vast LP collection. Same with comics.
Working on LPs gets me further behind with the books set aside for me. Oh, well. I’ll just work harder…
So the brief “pause” I almost immediately accelerated into a sprint again.
A sprint that began the first weeks of March. A sprint sometimes in the dark. A sprint that sometimes meant working so hard to keep the fear at bay. A sprint that was run so time would fly away.
A friend wanted some fresh air and a workout and asked if she could go stack wood Wednesday afternoon.
Maybe I’ll see if she will “whitewash the fence” as well a la Mark Twain.
LOL But I don’t have a fence.
Guess which bin she did and which is my handiwork?
The announcement came that Maryland’s Governor Larry Hogan would speak tonight at 5PM.
Will he open the state?
The Frederick News Post ran a story on Wednesday that 85% of Frederick County’s COVID-19 deaths took place in nursing homes. Why wasn’t this figure broadcast earlier? Just who is the plague killing? How many victims are homeless or have substance abuse issues? Of the 5% or so under 50 years old, how many have serious health issues before contracting the disease?
I don’t understand.
I don’t want to catch it. Mask. Gloves. Washing…no problem.
When he spoke, he indicated the state could reopen Phase 1 Friday at 5pm.
I like Hogan. But he’s been full of surprises during this. First, we were given 5 hours notice to close our businesses. Now we have 2 days to prepare to open stores that have been closed for well over a month.
The stores can open!?
The sprint accelerated yet again…
Not so fast.
Montgomery County is continuing its “stay at home” policy indefinitely. So our Gaithersburg store won’t reopen. Good thing though—we are still under construction to expand.
Then came the announcement Frederick County Executive would make an announcement at 3PM. County Executive Gardner said only some retail could reopen…I’m not sure if we will be able to for a couple more weeks.
The New Normal…
Still, we hustled the rest of Thursday putting up plastic screens in the stores and coming up with COVID-19 policies and protocols…just in case.
The fleet of vans is setting sail to the three stores. They have been docked for over a month. Early on, I asked the insurance company for a break on the liability since the vans would be parked in the fenced in dockyard. After much hemming and hawing, we were granted about a $1000 credit…for 7 vehicles…for well over a month. That comes out to a few dollars a day.
I’d also asked for a break on the hugely expensive Worker’s Compensation “Insurance” (which is really a mandatory tax.) I explained we were paying our employees to stay home. Those first 4 weeks we were paying out of pocket. (That money will never come back.)
Finally, after some bitter complaints (like “How can an employee be injured at work when they are at home?!”), we were given a reduction in rate.
Insurance companies have been real heroes during this.
Like their warm fuzzy ads say: “We are there when you need us.”
There have been some nice books finds recently. Toni Morrison and Maya Angelou.
And this gem.
Caryn found it amongst a batch of worthless French softcovers. For some reason the French published books in these dun colored paper wraps for over a hundred years. Most arrive crumbly and worthless. Most go to Books by the Foot.
“I think this might be a first,” she said.
No way. It looks too perfect.
Now, I’m not so sure. I can’t find anything wrong with it. It is beautiful. It contains the poems that were suppressed in subsequent editions. It is hard to tell though. Almost all the pages are uncut. Which is a good thing in these circumstances. Still, it is impossible to leaf through. I haven’t had time to inspect using a butter knife or something.
I’ve been kind of busy.
I’ll get around to it.
The Flagship store—Frederick, Maryland—Established September 1980—will open Saturday, May 15, 2020 under strict COVID-19 and Frederick County protocols and guidelines. We have pledged to do everything possible to keep our staff and visitors safe and comfortable.