They’re Gonna Put You in the Movies

Hannibal's Library

Do I miss you?
Air flows in and out of my lungs
Do I miss you?
I feel blood pulsing through my body
Do I miss you?
My face on the cool sheets feels the same
Its touch was exactly like that when I was a child

Do I miss you?
I miss my mother and father
Do I miss you?
I miss my brothers and lost friends
Do I miss you?
I miss my youth
My heart though it has many years
feels the same as it ever was

It is the middle of October. When will I build the first fire in the woodstove? It won’t be long. The mornings are often in the 40s now. The first freeze is not far off.

I have not been a frivolous grasshopper. I have been an industrious ant. I cut and brought in a lot of firewood. It is satisfying on many levels “to build a fire.”

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It is good work, and I don’t need a gym membership.

The sunrises have moved into the gap in the trees on the mountain.


If the morning is not cloudy, I’ll have some stunners for the next couple weeks. Then the sunrise will have moved south out of view heading to its solstice. There it will stop and come back. The sunrises will begin appearing here again in six months.

The solstice. Winter. It will be winter. And winter is creeping toward me as well. I don’t want to go there. I am in no way ready.

The book boom also continued this week. This is the season for many library and other charity sales. So this week was much like last week—only harder. Ernest was away killing fellow Civil War reenactors Friday and Monday. He is the only one here beside me who does secondary triage—that is, he gives books the sorting formulas think may have special value a second look and sends them where they’ll get the best treatment. That meant that I had to do his work as well as mine those days.

Tuesday was no relief. Ernest returned, but we had promised to pick up the leftovers from the huge Arlington Library sale. We do this twice a year. It is held in an underground garage beneath the library. Only our low profile vans can get down there. We had to make sure they were on site and filled with empty boxes. Two other potential van drivers were absent. So Ernest and Clif had to each take a van and a helper down across the Potomac. We had committed.

So, Tuesday I had to be both Ernest and Clif at the warehouse. It was yet another grueling day of moving pallets and making space and keeping the sorters supplied with “raw” books as well as clearing out their finished products and crushing empty boxes. There were also vans to be emptied and deliveries to be received and… I don’t remember it all except I was very tired at the end of the day.

But it is satisfying honest physical work. It’s another reason I don’t need a gym membership. I’m glad I do this from time to time. It keeps me grounded.

When they returned mid-afternoon Tuesday, I was told there were two more loads still underground in Virginia. That was deflating.

“Not done yet.”

Le Parc Bistro has Martini Tuesday Happy Hour. They are special for only $5 each. I took part in that as a solo at the bar. I saved a lot of money. I never thought I’d be in a bar chasing happy hour specials. Alone. But there I was.

Wednesday I kept Ernest and Clif local. We HAD to catch up here. Doing van swaps with the three stores and catching up on their warehouse work. I went to the Frederick store to pick up the 24-foot truck that was still there from the weekend. We have an urgent Books By the Foot order for 120 linear feet of Popular Softcovers.

Popular Softcovers

This is for a cruise ship line. I suppose they put them out for people to read. Do they have ship libraries? I don’t know. I’ve never had the urge to take a cruise.

So, I took a load of plastic tubs—we get a LOT of tubs full of books from people selling their unwanted books to us at the three stores and not wanting their tubs back. We get so many that we are often overloaded. We will put the excess tubs and milk crates out on the street.


We will place a Craig’s List ad “Free Tubs.” Hoarders will make them disappear within a day.

We recycle. Freecycle. Upcycle. Cycle everything we can.

The tubs…I took them in the store and went to the General Fiction section. Former bestsellers seem to multiply in the stores. Oprah picks, The Kite Runner, The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo series… I walked up and down the fiction aisles and pulled duplicates off the shelves and dropped them into the tubs. Store helpers rolled them out and put the tubs into the van at the curb. It is kind-of-fun mindless work. It is also very therapeutic. The store doesn’t need 7 copies of an old Nora Roberts bestseller. I made a lot of room on the shelves for new arrivals. I hope not too many of those will be Nora Roberts former bestsellers.

Thursday. The same people were absent, so Clif and Ernest had to take two vans down to Virginia again. I would be Clif and Ernest at the warehouse yet again.

But first, I had some personal business to attend to.

Thursday morning I sat in a Social Security office. I never thought I’d be a guy sitting in a social security office.

I reached a milestone age last summer, and I’m required to do things whether I want to or not. There could be penalties if I do not. I tried to do it online Wednesday after returning from the store, but the screen said “something does not match our records” and got locked out. So I couldn’t get a “MySocialSecurity” number (which is NOT the same as “my” Social Security number which I’ve had since I was a kid.) I needed that new number in order to get a Medicare A and Medicare B number online. I called the 800 number and left my name. I was recorded so that I would know the return call was legit because it was my own voice asking for me. I was told I would get a call back in an hour. So I hunkered in my office where I could deal with the US Government in a calm uninterruptible place. Indeed, within an hour, my iPhone chimed Cathedral Bells. The screen said “US GOVT.”

My own voice asked me if I was “Charles Roberts”?


A woman then picked up and asked how she could help.

“I need to get a Medicare number. But to get that I need to get a ‘MySocialSecurity’ number. I tried to do it online several times, but the screen said something didn’t match with the records and that I should call.”

“I can’t help you with that. You can walk into any Social Security office.”

“Is that the only way?”

“You can request a telephone appointment.”


“Hold on.”

A few minutes later she came back on and offered a date in November.

“I can’t wait that long.” The company health insurance open enrollment ends October 31. I need to have one insurance or another or my coverage may lapse, and I would be exposed. Of course, that would mean I would certainly catch some dread disease.

So, I got to my local SS office 10 minutes before opening on Thursday. There were about a dozen people in line outside already. The door opened. I got in the back of the line for the kiosk to get my number. I was Z 74. I was called up to a window and asked what I was in for.

“I need a Medicare number.”

“Ok. Sit down and your number will be called.”

After an hour, I was still sitting on a bench. There were four rows of benches. There were about 25 people sitting with me. When a number was called from a window, the armed guard at the desk repeated it in a booming voice.

A guy at a nearby window was loudly trying to get his benefits. His mom was with him. He was incarcerated until September 25 and had only a birth certificate and two pieces of government mail. (A letter from corrections and from the Maryland Comptroller.) I really didn’t want to observe this drama, but it was unavoidable. Their arguing voices filled the room and some of us looked up at each uncomfortably.

There were all kinds of people in the SS office. A deaf woman was signed by the guard and led back to an office.

I don’t want to interact with my government. I just want it to leave me alone.

But here I was.

Would my mission be accomplished today? I thought 50/50. Maybe I was being too optimistic. Maybe too pessimistic.

The folks working here were trying. I’d bet they didn’t want to be here either.

I was told there were no “appointments” available, but a nice man met me at a computer terminal.

“You’re pushing it,” he said. He meant I was getting close to the penalty date.

He got me started and then said I was on my own. The computer took my info, and in a little while, I was told I was successful.

…It worked! Maybe.

I had my “mySocialSecurity” account.

I left and headed to work. Clif and Ernest were on the road by then.

I still needed to get my Medicare numbers (A&B.) So, I went to my office and went online. I was allowed access now. I filled out forms online. “Electronically signed” my form and success!

Well, not quite. I had successfully “applied.” My application was (and continues to be) pending.

Before going out and facing the warehouse floor, I stepped into the office. As I do every day, I asked:

“Are we doing ok?”

“You’ll like this,” I was told.

I was handed an envelope and a folded letter. I unfolded the letter, and there were two twenties inside. I read the brief, unsigned, with no return address letter. The money was for books the sender stole years ago.

Anonymous Letter

Karma…I guess…

It was quirky and funny but a bit heartening too.

…once more into the breech…

On Friday I picked up the payroll from the accountant and signed numerous forms and checks there. At the warehouse, I signed the paychecks for the Luddites who don’t have direct deposit—including yours truly. The direct deposit checks don’t need to be signed.

An email dropped in. It was from my recycling friend who sells us bulk books and media from mega-charities in the region. He also buys bulk kids, LPs, media…and other stuff on occasion. He sells a lot of loads to Africa and Asia. He has a guy in the Philippines who will buy all our unwanted LPs in Gaylords.

“Chuck, I’m sending a truck to pick up 6 Gaylords of kids books later this morning.”

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What?? He’d been inquiring over the last couple weeks, but we hadn’t sealed the deal. We need the space—even moving 6 pallets will help.

Do we have 6? I think so. We just need to find them in the sea of pallets here.

Nothing like a little additional surprise and excitement on a morning when I’m already wearing many hats and masks.

I was getting a van ready for Arlington. We will need to get two vans swapped to Gaithersburg. One to Hagerstown. We will need to get two vans from the Frederick store and replace them with an empty van and the 24-foot truck.

The excursion to Arlington is an inconvenient one.

So it goes. Just another day in “Wonderland.”

I’m already dreaming of a Martini after 5 with my two friends who are Egyptologists (for real!) They go back to Luxor for 6 months next week. I need to pull the trigger and plan to visit them in January. I gotta do it while they’re still there, while I can.

Travel…I discovered I had a million frequent flyer miles on a credit card I hadn’t been paying attention to last winter. I used up some going to Madrid, Dublin, London and Paris. Last weekend I sat down and booked trips to London, Rome, LA and Boston. (LA and Boston are for ABAA book fairs.) London? I never tire of it. Dr Johnson famously said: “If you’re is tired of London, you’re tired of life.” I’ll be staying at the iconic Paddington Hilton. I’m thinking of taking a train to Oxford for a day or two. Next time I’ll get to Lands End and Tintagel. I’ve pretty much covered everywhere else in the British Isles and Ireland. I tried driving to Lands End once. It seemed doable, but it turned out to be a “forever” drive, and I bailed.

Oh! London will have the Chelsea Book Fair while I’m there.

I’ve gotten used to traveling alone. It’s not as fun. But then I’m not hindered by things like someone else’s tiredness or hunger…

But this week’s story is about the movies…

I can’t remember which was the first TV show or movie we supplied books as props to. The one that stands out in my memory right now is The Proposal starring Sandra Bullock in 2009. Bullock played the role of a powerful New York publisher. We were called on to supply all kinds of books—affordably. They wanted long runs of “new” books for scenes involving the offices and warehouse. The plot also involves immigration. We were called on to provide the kind of books you would find in an immigration office—back when immigration offices had books and bookcases. It was a LOT of books.

The Proposal
See our books in the background!

It was exciting and a lot of fun to be a part of a big Hollywood production. I made a point of actually going to a theater to see the movie. It was pretty funny. Sandra (I feel I know her now) was stunning. But most important, I saw our books on the big screen!

Since then we have supplied many movies and TV shows.

Sometimes books are ordered by third parties, and we don’t know who the end user will be.

Some prop masters deal with us directly. Often they just want background books—with generic looks the match the scene.

Sometimes we are asked for more specific kinds of books. Earlier this week, we sent out 18 feet of children’s books for Stephen King’s Castle Rock series. But they couldn’t be just any kids books. These had to be pre 1985. I assume the episode takes places in 1985. If we included any books published after that, they would be an anachronism. The producer and director wouldn’t like that. The prop master wouldn’t like that. We would look bad, and I wouldn’t like that.

We might get fired!

Sometimes the prop master wants even more specific books—character specific books. Maybe the most memorable was the Hannibal TV series. In that case, we were asked to supply books that Hannibal Lecter would have in his personal library. We began brainstorming:

Cooking, wine, madness, genius, megalomania, psychiatry, torture, murder…

Hannibal's Library
Lots and lots of our books!

It was fun putting that together. I actually watched a number of episodes. It was fun seeing our “work.”

In 2014 a prop master got even more specific. Joaquin Phoenix was to play a boozy, jaded philosophy professor in Irrational Man. So what kind of books would he have in his library? Actually, it was pretty easy—and fun. I went to our brick and mortar stores and pulled well-worn literature and philosophy—the kind of comfortable stuff a professor would have in his personal library. There were some other criteria as well. No bright colors and no BLUE! Maybe the kinds of things I have in my own library.

Irrational Man
More of our books!

No problem.

We were also tasked with creating character specific libraries for his love interest and, I if recall correctly, her 15-year-old daughter.

We’ve done a lot of other films and TV episodes. It is fun and a challenge to supply them. Often we are under a very swift deadline. Designers often want their collections “yesterday.”

I can’t remember many of the films and TV shows we’ve done, but here’s a few others—Chappaquiddick, The Ant Man and the Wasp, House of Cards, Madame Secretary, Veep, Law and Order… (see end of blog for more)

I don’t watch much TV anymore—except English soccer on mornings I work alone on weekends in the warehouse. (Go Chelsea!)

Sometimes designers will send images of our books on a set.

Here’s some from the first season of Castle Rock:

Castle Rock
Castle Rock

I think these are a pastor’s library. For season 2, we also provided a character’s collection of horror books. We included some Stephen King, of course. But I can’t show you those set photos since those episodes haven’t aired yet.

We’ve never won any awards or been listed in the credits. Maybe someday.

I can prepare my acceptance speech. “I want to thank all the little people that made this possible…” LOL I AM KIDDING. I do as much grunt work as anyone in the company.

The other day, a regular who brings us van loads of books he gets from estates a couple times a week asked me as we were walking to the office to get him a check: “I was watching TV the other night. Did you do Prodigal Son?”

I replied: “I dunno.”

When we got to the office, I asked: “Did we do a show called Prodigal Son?”

The Books by the Foot manager (who thank goodness returned recently from maternity leave) answered: “Yes! 70 feet of medical, psychology, science and crime.

She sent me some images:

Prodigal Son
Prodigal Son

Hmmm…looks interesting. Maybe I’ll watch one of these.

We are back from Arlington. It’s 12:30. I think everything is being taken of. The panic of this morning was not needed. Well, maybe it was, and that’s why we will be able to take care of all the stores.

I need to drive the big truck to the Frederick store. Clif and I are the only ones here who can drive it. He was off Friday. I was grumpy about it. Turns out it was his birthday. I stopped being grumpy and buckled down. He just texted a picture of himself holding a 3 liter glass “boot” of German beer from the Schmankerl Stube. I warned him about the Doppel Bock. I had a very bad experience there many years ago.

Clif & His "Boot"

We may need to do another run to the Gaithersburg store. They are “hungry,” but I’m not sure that warrants a van unless they still have a full one.

So, maybe I’ll get ahead of some of the carts of books this afternoon.

It’s such a beautiful day. Maybe I’ll just go out and lie on the grass next to the Dockyard.

A colleague and friend and biblio-advisor called as I walking in. He warned me. When his name appears on my phone, I know it will likely cost me money. But he called holding a wondrous book. A bucket list book. He says it is “right.” Therefore, I know it is “right.” If it comes together and I get my hands on it—well, I can forget that car I was eyeing for another year or so…

So, should I go out and bask in this autumn of my life? For the winter is coming—inexorably. Glacially.

Nah, I’ve got a duty. I’ve got books to rescue.

…and I need to get this book story done. I wouldn’t want to break the “streak.”

Oh, I do have a fantasy I want to share. I’m sitting alone at a bar. I’m sadly nursing a Martini (Gin Gibson—up, very dry.) Maybe it is in Le Parc Bistro in Frederick. I’m surprised someone takes the barstool next to me. It is Sandra Bullock. Normally, I’m shy. But I’ve prepared for this moment.

“I loved your work in The Proposal,” I’d say confidently.

“Why, thank you. Is that a Gin Gibson? I’ll have one of those.”

“Did you like the book props in The Proposal?” I’d ask.

“They were just WONDERFUL,” she’d gush.

“I did those. That was my work.”

Well, I’m sure you can guess how that would end…

Happily ever after!

I asked my Books by the Foot manager for a list some of the of films and TV shows we’ve done. Here’s what she sent me:

The movies are a little harder since designers are more secretive with them. But a few that we’ve done are:
· Ant Man and the Wasp
· Black Nativity
· Chappaquiddick
· First Reformed
· Infinitely Polar Bear
· Irrational Man
· The Proposal
· Split
· Vox Lux

TV shows are a little more forthcoming:
· American Gods
· Bull
· The Blacklist
· The Carrie Diaries
· Castle Rock
· Extreme Makeover
· General Hospital
· Hannibal
· House of Cards
· Insatiable
· Law and Order
· Madam Secretary
· Marvel’s Crime
· Masters of Sex
· Mozart in the Jungle
· Orange is the New Black
· The Politician
· Prodigal Son
· Rise
· Sleepy Hollow
· The Tick
· Veep

I’m sure there’s more that we either didn’t know about or have forgotten, but this list is a good start.

4 Comments on Article

  1. David commented on

    My first cousin, Todd Lieberman, produced The Proposal. If you like period pieces you’ll like his upcoming movie The Areonauts. Tah!

    1. Chuck replied on

      That is cool!
      Ask him to do more book movies!
      Thank you David

  2. John commented on

    Just this week, my wife and I admired the “prison cell” occupied by the serial killer on Prodigal Son.

    Fascinating account — thanks for sharing.

    1. Chuck replied on

      That is a cool scene. Makes me want to watch it.
      Thank you so much for reading and commenting!

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