The Stuff Dreams Are Made Of

Chuck's Falcon

Friday morning. 5 a.m.

I’ve barely started this week’s story.


It was an unusually hectic week. But it seems most are unusually hectic by the time Friday suddenly rises up.

It is a two-story week.

I finally completed Round and Round 39. It has been put off or writer’s blocked for over a year. 39 is the fourth and final installment of the hapless bookseller’s adventures in a mythical land. The story had gotten to a point where I couldn’t figure out what happened next. Not long ago—maybe a month or so—I finally came up with the closing parts of the plot. Yesterday morning, I stayed in bed pecking away at it until it was done—for better or worse. Many of the 39 stories flowed freely. This one was “work.”

I dream of being a creative writer. That’s not easy. I’ve tried many times. Instead, these weekly things have turned into semi-autobiographical travelogues or “how-I-spent-my-week” vanity essays.

Try, try again.

Now, if I lack the creativity to do something “different”, I can go on to Round and Round 40. Those stories can be fun to write. Fantasy. What bookselling should really be like.

I accomplished a lot this week.

Today, the housekeeper returns to put the finishing touches on the great room here. I got through all books that didn’t fit on the shelves and were stacked—rather romantically, some would say—here and there. When she is done, my house will be “in order” again—pretty much.

I wondered at many of the things I’d brought home. Made sense at the time, I suppose.

Some things I just didn’t know what else to do with.

There are more options now.

I was pretty ruthless in taking things back and sending them to the stores or putting them online.

Last night when I got home from watching The Maltese Falcon at Weinberg (the movie was sponsored by Wonder Book—the second film this season of the classics series), I forced myself to carry the last stacks up to the garret or out to the car. Having a deadline spurs unwanted action.

The place is pretty much ready for its final post COVID cleaning.

Then I can move on…

…to what?

An old friend came and shelved the books up in the garret last Sunday.


We’d had a falling out in the spring of 2021. My fault. Long story.

She enjoys that kind of thing. Making order out of chaos. She came when I wasn’t here and locked up behind when she left.

Long, unhappy story.

It is pure blackness outside. And it is silent indoors. The big goofy dog, Giles, is sprawled on the king bed to the left. It is cool but not cold. There was no reason to start a fire last night.

The sunrise should be glorious. It comes in an hour or so. It has been a week of wonderful sunrises. Soon, in a matter of days, the sunrise will be “out of frame.” It will be six months before it returns.

The Maltese Falcon was simply wonderful on the big screen in the classic 100-year-old theater yesterday. There was so much more detail I could see from the fifth row. The actors’ complexions, for instance. Bogart’s subtle facial tics. Props. San Francisco in the 1930s. The “Falcon” itself.

It was much more… three dimensional. I felt I was in the scenes rather than watching a flat TV show.

I’ve only seen The Maltese Falcon on TV. Even on the 80-inch-big screen with digitized reproduction, the “Falcon” is just a small vague black statuette. On the big screen it was, what, three feet tall?

I have my own “Falcon.” I picked it up in the 90s from one of those Universal Studios stores that opened up to compete with the Disney stores.

I actually used to make expeditions to shopping malls long, long ago.

Chuck's Falcon

It is quite heavy, a limited edition. Maybe it came with a COA—Certificate of Authenticity. The kiss of death for being truly “collectible” for those of us in the “biz.”

Thursday was a blur. I wouldn’t budge from bed until R&R 39 was completed—for better or worse.

It was midmorning before I left for work—the three dogs looking bereft at my departure. They likely forgot me as soon as I was out of sight.

I had to rush to the accountants to sign some forms—about 4 inches of paperwork. Deadline. So many deadlines in my life. Every one of them is urgent, crucial and needs my immediate attention. There were only a couple of checks to write. Most of my taxes were overpaid. The money would just rollover to next year.

From there, I left for a house call. My old friends at OPS—Other People’s Stuff—had texted me. They were liquidating an estate in Montgomery County.

“…more books than we can sell. Want to come today or after the sale?”

I knew I likely wouldn’t be buying anything that day. They don’t wholesale. The tag sale will go through the weekend, and we will maybe be called in for the leftovers on Monday.

Still, the hundred or so pictures they sent were intriguing. Lots of toys and limited-edition Easton Press books. All post midcentury “modern” publications. We get so much of that stuff. That generation is aging, downsizing or dying off.

It would be fun to see how this guy spent his money in his latter years. Toys. Things to pass the time.

The house was a McMansion up a private lane on 355—what used to be the main route from DC to points west. It begins as Wisconsin Avenue in Georgetown. It morphs into Rockville Pike. Then Hungerford Drive. There’s another name or two before it becomes the Old Frederick Road. The GPS got confused as I got close, and I passed the house and had to turn around to find the narrow wooded private lane. It was marked only with a small metal sign with the house number. The house was back in the woods. There was a second McMansion where the lane split off to the right.

The trees are just beginning to color. The uppermost leaves are dully reddening.

I crossed the threshold designed to impress. The dining area was the first thing I saw off to the right. Unusual floor plan. In the center of the table was a huge Lego Taj Mahal. Over 5000 pieces.

Lego Taj Mahal

How people spend their time…

Well, I haul rocks for garden beds and spend hours scanning books.

Who’s to judge?

But why? Maybe he had his reasons.

There were bookcases everywhere. Walls of books. All modern. Impressive but nothing I’d never seen before.

“He was a brilliant physicist… Good at everything he did… Three sports in college…”

There was a bookcase devoted to the Supreme Court. The walls in the study were laden with history and biography and politics.

History Library

“Those are signed,” I said, pointing at the clutch of Easton Press presidential autobiographies about seven feet up on one wall. Nixon, Ford, Carter, Reagan…

“There’s more downstairs.”

The basement was sprawling with a much more open floor plan. It was filled with “O” Gauge trains. Hundreds of engines and cars. More in boxes.


“I don’t think he ever got them up and running,” Steve said.

‘Ran out of time. The train never left the station,’ I thought.


How we spend our time.

“The office down here has his physics library.”

Indeed it did. Two walls.

‘These are real books,’ I thought.

I bent to my task and began reading the spines. Many were in a foreign language. English but “scient-eze.” (Is that a word?)

Physics Library

I know a bit about science growing up in a doctor’s house and taking all the requisite pre-med courses.

Many of the titles were WAY out, man—as in outer space physics and particle physics and whatever-the-hell-that-is physics.

Many were sprouting “fuzz” from the dampness. But it was new mold and hadn’t taken root in the cloth yet. It wiped off easily with a fingertip.

They’d be gone before any permanent damage was done.

Everything would be gone so the real estate could be sold. That’s where the real money is. A few million? More? Not much in the scheme of things any more.

Up to the second floor. Another much more open floor plan compared to the main floor.

“You’d need a riding vacuum cleaner up here,” I quipped.

Lots of books. Mostly novels—mysteries and thrillers.

I passed through again. The physics books were the only things I don’t see pretty often. Those weren’t old enough to be “groundbreaking” titles—Bohr, Einstein, Fermi, Oppenheimer…

But then they were at such a high level they may be “post modern” groundbreaking. Out of my ken. Thank God for the internet.

Time to go.

“Nothing here that I want to bid on separately. Let me know about the leftovers—if there are any.”

“Be careful tomorrow,” Steve cautioned in parting. “It’s to be a ‘day of rage.'”

Pre-planned rage. Friday the 13th. Halloween season.

DAMN! She called and is hurting too much to come. Poor thing.

No housecleaning today.

All the prep though. Well, it looks better anyway.

I so wanted to see the big room “shine.”

Soon, I hope.

Fridays are always hectic here.

The fire alarm people are in fixing things. I hate loud noises. Damn annoying.

Stinky liquids being drained from the ceiling near me.


There are some big Books to the Foot orders this morning.

10/13 BBTF Orders

I won’t be able to get to the stores.

I always get a kick when we get a (rare) “Joy of Cooking” order.

I take credit for that. Thinking WAY outside the box. I just hated to pulp them. They were for decades the “heart of many kitchens.” When one appears here, it usually signifies some household—someone’s home—has “closed.” I wrote a blog about it long ago. We’re pretty much sold out. We don’t get that many. Six linear feet of the same book. Go figure.

Maybe I should get out of the “box” more often.

I’m meeting a fellow bookseller in London. We have been pen pals a while. We never met. Now we will find out if we like one another in person. He’s booked three plays in three nights. Two restaurants—working on a third.

I’ve booked Portugal and Turkey. I nearly pulled the trigger on a trip across France, but it was very expensive. The “single” surcharge was nearly a thousand. Thinking about it…

Last weekend was the usual blur of carts. I had a visitor on Sunday. A woman who likes these stories and is a lifelong fan of Barbara Mertz wanted to come see the sausage factory. It would also give me an excuse to take her past Lorien—Barbara’s home—sold in early summer.

Would the new owners have painted the window frames pink?

No. It looks the same.


A new stone walkway was the only change I saw. But Barbara never used the front, and that was all that was visible from the road. What the gardens are like will remain a mystery.

For last week’s story, I didn’t have time to go into the books I got from Swan’s Fine Books.

A couple of Trianon Press Blake’s. A first American of The Brothers Karamazov. (I wonder what people thought of that book when it first appeared?) A signed vellum Rackham The Compleat Angler. A Leonard Baskin imps book with a full-page charcoal drawing tipped in. A couple of other things.

A signed limited vellum-spined Harry Clarke Faust dropped in organically.

Signed Ted Williams and Edmund Hillary and…

An Elijah Muhammad How to Eat to Live in jacket.

A big load of leather came in from another bookseller. His culls. They are beautiful… furniture.

They’ll be appearing in The Boutique on the Books by the Foot website.

A signed bio of Frederick celebrity Barbara Fritchie by a descendant. She may or may not have taunted the Confederate army—waving the Stars and Stripes from her attic window—when they invaded Frederick.

Barbara Fritchie Book

She looks sort of like the Star Wars Emperor Palatine’s mother?

Up on the mountain, the only blooms left are Montauk daisies.

Montauk Daisies

Dead leaves—weakened by the summer drought are cascading down. The first color is showing on the trees up there. Soon, there will be riots of color followed by torrents of falling leaves. Then comes the leaf blowing. Then the cold and constant fires.

Already summer is being put away, and winter brought back out.

In the next couple of weeks, all my houseplants will be migrating indoors.

Such an effort.


Trains and toys… Mulch and stones and old books. Potted plant propagation.

How we spend our time.

Some people are crazy enough to write their innermost thoughts and weekly activity minutiae down AND publish it!

Crazy people.

Clearly the week got away from the original beginning to this blog:


65 inside, 41 out. I slept til 6. That’s unusual. Yesterday, I awoke at 7. Very unusual. Because of the colder weather? More darkness?

The early dawn is a dark, barely red band on the horizon. I will see how it evolves.

The fire in the stove is just warm ash this morning. I lit it last night just to take the edge off the chill in the house. It was raining when I got home.

When I let Giles out of the pen, he just took off. Call of the wild. He returned in a couple of hours, quite wet. I put him back in the pen. He howled. The doghouses have plenty of cedar shaving bedding. I turned the volume up on the TV to drown out his incessant barking. Lucky I have no neighbors to annoy. He was still barking when I went to bed. I wasn’t bringing a wet—likely smelly—50-pound hair-shedding hound into my bed. Plus, I was unhappy he had disobeyed and took off. It will be the leash or tether from now on. At least until my next lapse of focus.

He is in bed next to me now. Curled up. Serene. Unmoving. I’d put earplugs in, closed the bedroom’s French doors and put a pillow over my head when it was time to sleep. Apparently it worked.

Today’s sunrise at 7:14 was a little subdued. Almost moody.

Soon, the sunrise will move south to the edge of my forest. Then I will need to open the northernmost window and lean to the left to get the last views of 2023 first suns.

I brought the first cart of wood from the barn last night. It was drizzling some. I also fetched the two black canvas totes from their summer sojourn in the garage.

Sunday, I had a small fire as well. I used deadfall twigs from the driveway to light it.

An old friend came up on Sunday while I was at work and shelved the books in the garret.


The Forgotten Books

Titles dull enough to drive the eyes away
What tedium is printed between these boards?
A shelf of hardcore academia tomes
None have been cracked til now
The book is as tight as the day it was bound
The author forgotten by editor publisher bookseller
Certainly, because they are all dead by now
A readerless writer whose words were exercise
Plodding paragraphs piled upon one another
Acquired solely by scholarly librarians
whose guilt pried open the purses
“We should really have this bit
of late medieval Flemish economic socio…”
“It will fit onto this shelf,”
—this Flanders field of forgotten labors.

2 Comments on Article

  1. Gary Fowler commented on

    I’ve never before seen or considered the phrase you used, “vanity essays.” It’s immediately understandable and useful. However, for the record, I must insist that it does not accurately describe your blog. Somehow, you’ve pulled off this extended first person narrative without making it about you or about ego, not unlike some of the great autobiographies we’ve both read. Your musings and observations are interesting, informative, and sometimes even wise! Oh– and inspiring, too, for my own extremely small “book rescue” retirement project.
    Please take care, and keep writing!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much for the thought.
      Sometimes I wonder – but your comment helps me feel I’m doing something useful.
      I appreciate your taking the time to write.

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