The weekend was all hard work.
Friday’s snow did not melt. In fact, the temperatures were brutal. Lows in the teens. Highs in the twenties.
It is a getaway week. I fly to Cairo on Thursday at noon. From there to Luxor. I’ll be walking along the Nile Friday afternoon.
I worked on the docks and warehouse floor all day. Carts mostly. Very difficult carts with lots of very old magazines.
So many carts.
I let one of the managers load up a bunch with friend and colleague Michael Osborne’s collection. It was busywork to keep someone working rather than sending them home.
Unfortunately, they got into the “problematic” material. Vintage magazines and journals and trade catalogs and… material that would be wonderful on display at a book fair but which is “unquantifiable” online. And so many are so thin. Books are “three dimensional.” A thin magazine is not. I can often rule out (or rule in) a book with just a glance at its spine. Not so with the skinny stuff. That means I need to pick up and inspect hundreds of items on each shelf.
Torture. And not what I wanted to do when the goal was to have as many carts emptied as possible so the team would have lots of resources to work with while I was gone. It stressed me out. I “punted” a lot of material onto wooden bookcases—for future inspection.
I creamed other carts for bookish objects and quickly evaluated those materials. Then I consolidated the tough stuff onto “all tough” carts. They ended up looking like this:
There were some cool finds. A group of bawdy Ozark sayings appear to have some original material. There are 6 volumes and appear to be carbon copies with many penciled notes as well as manuscript added jokes and limericks. The folklore collector cited sources like “Aunt Sally” and “Granpa Hatfield” or the “Williams boy”… They’ll need some research, however. None of the naughty stuff I saw was anywhere near naughty by today’s standards.
I’d left my laptop at home. (Dummy!) On my way back to work, I stopped at Home Goods. I’ve been trying real hard to downsize. I’ve succeeded pretty well. Using up stuff in the cupboards and freezer. But I know from experience they start having huge markdown sales on the stuff left from Christmas. They get some very exotic food items packaged as gifts. Last year I’d gotten some truffle pasta. I’d used up the last of it. Since I’ve returned from Italy, I’ve been cooking more pasta and risotto and the like. It is easy to heat water atop the woodstove. When it starts to boil, toss in a little salt and set the pasta in for 7 minutes or so.
It wasn’t crowded on Saturday morning. They had a LOT of cool stuff. I was tossing things into my cart with abandon. They segregate the markdowns in little sections with big “Clearance” signs hanging from the ceiling to attract attention. I was finishing up at the last one when a masked woman intruded and asked if she could look where my cart was parked—directly in front of me. I pulled it back and squeezed into the shelves I’d been inspecting. There were only about 3 feet of markdowns. She was poking into the space on the side of my cart.
‘Weird,’ I thought.
Then she addressed me, “I’d like to look at those shelves too.”
“I’d really not like to have you that close, ok? In my space. It’s a big store. I’ll be through here soon.”
Her eyes widened in anger, or was it panic? Then she walked off.
Crazy person. But she’d looked normal—well-dressed and coiffed. Probably thought I was hoarding all the good deals.
I wasn’t. There were multiples of almost everything being closed out.
I headed up to the checkout area.
I guess I’d gone a little crazy.
I went back to work with the back of the truck filled with many big white plastic bags filled with cool and exotic stuff you can’t find elsewhere—not even Wegmans.
On Saturday night, the phone said Sunday it was supposed to snow in late morning then turn to rain and then go up into the 40s.
I woke very early on Sunday morning. I thought I’d lie in and do some work in bed. I had plenty of time before the snow would begin.
My steep driveway had not melted off completely as it usually does. I had to dodge ice patches going up and down left from Friday’s storm.
When I looked at my phone around 6:30 am, it said it was icy rain RIGHT NOW! The thermometer read 32.
I stepped outside, and there were drops on the windshield. Frozen drops. But the pavement wasn’t icy—yet. I changed in a hurry and took off. No shower, coffee, journal writing. I got to the valley, and it was raining lightly, but it was 34 degrees on the truck’s dashboard.
At the warehouse, it began to rain in earnest. I let the dogs out. They don’t mind. They can shelter under the trailers. They enjoy it if it isn’t too cold. Romping and chasing each other through the snow and puddles. And for me, it is a free bath for them. I’ll bring them in periodically to loll on the old clothes I use as bedding for them in their big wire pen.
I’d check the phone periodically during the day. 34 and rain—with the promise that the next hour would be 4-6 degrees warmer.
But rain and 34 in the warehouse might mean ice and below freezing on the mountain.
The weather on the mountain is often odd. In summer, it is almost guaranteed to be cooler than the valley. My vehicle thermometer usually reads 10 or 15 degrees lower at home than on the roads below. In winter, it can go both ways. Perhaps the wind can be a factor. It will often be cold but not freezing around the house, but when I get to the valley, the fields are covered in white frost. Cold air sinks, I guess.
All day I kept checking the phone for the promised rise in temperature. It kept saying the temp would go up 4-6 degrees in the next hour.
Nope. 34 degrees and cartoon rain falling on my phone.
It wasn’t til about 5 that the number on the phone ticked over from 34 to 36.
“Ahhhh…” It was a good chance my steep drive wouldn’t be ice.
I got so frustrated with the difficult stuff I decided to mine two more “Distressed Art” Gaylords. That’s easy. And hard. The books are often heavy (Art books—right?) Bending into the Gaylords (the top edges of which are about 4 and a half feet off the floor—counting the wooden pallet they rest upon) is a strain. We cut a “gate” into them with a saw. The big flap of corrugated can flip inward or out. When empty, we can seal the gate with the three inch wide brown paper tape. It is dispensed from a machine with a water reservoir to wet the glue side. That way, the giant cardboard box is completely reusable. When there is enough space, I can climb into the Gaylord and mine it from the inside.
“Chuck in a box.”
It’s physically hard work. Mentally, it was simple.
I’m glad we didn’t pulp them without going through them. About 20% is unusual enough to put online—individual artist exhibitions, monographs, unusual artists’ “catalogues raisons” and “important” art books.
Another 20% can go to the stores—at very low prices—many under $1.
Another 20% get returned to Books by the Foot to be used because they have good spine colors or can be used for other subject orders besides art.
The remaining 40% will be recycled into pulp paper. There is no other option. If we can’t get $1 for them, nobody else could use them—unless someone wants lots worn Norman Rockwell titles from the 60s. LOTS of Rockwell. And old textbooks whose reproductions are mostly or all black and white. Colorless images kind of defeats the purpose of art books.
I’m recalling now we got a lot of these from my friend and colleague Kevin Mullen (Mullen’s Books.) He specializes in rare art books and is often required to take everything when an institutional library deaccessions their hopeless out-of-date titles. All libraries need to make space for new publications. I think we just put everything in Gaylords when he was bringing so many—hundreds of boxes at a time. I was begging him for them then. Our corporate client was buying hundreds of linear feet of them for commercial and office oriented installations. Then they started a long corporate collapse.
He became confused when I started telling him, “STOP!” He continued bringing them til I told him, “STOP! STOP! STOP! I WON’T PAY FOR ANY MORE!”
That got his attention. We still have a superabundance of Well-Worn Art Books. Likely 2-dozen pallets. 26? 30? More?
Come Sunday afternoon, I was beat. But I had accomplished a lot. I would have patted myself on the back if my arms hadn’t been so sore.
It was a weekend of intense work in the warehouse for the other two guys that come in regularly as well. The young kid who only comes on weekends got all the vans unloaded and loaded for Monday. He put a LOT of spare plastic tubs and crates on the big truck. I drove across the dockyard, and we set them on the ground just outside gate. People bring us books in all manner of containers… or loose. We will put an ad on Craig’s List and the hoarders will come and make all these disappear.
It is good to recycle these rather than put them in the dumpster. I just hope we are not enabling anyone’s pathology.
Travis, who has been with Wonder Book for about 10 years, has worked in the company in almost every capacity at one time or another. He has settled into a Friday-Monday schedule, so he can help out on the old family farm the rest of the week. They breed and raise beef cattle til they are old enough to market. He is still young with a long beard and long hair. He is knowledgeable in all fields. He pre-culls books from sections we need to eliminate. He will put books he thinks the stores can sell on carts. He will roll carts to Dock 1 and drop them in boxes to be priced at the stores. He writes the price he decides they should be sold at on each box’s sides. Other books appropriate for Books by the Foot get carted at pushed there. The kid takes an empty Gaylord back to the sections Travis has finished and empties the shelves for recycling. OH! And all the kids’ books from sections that are being eliminated get saved too. We can always find uses for those either by giveaway or on offer By the Box.
Then Travis gets into the media Gaylords (DVDs, CDs, computer software, video game cartridges, etc.) We buy many tons of these from a mega-charity broker. In their sorting warehouses, the big charities toss these things into Gaylords. They do the same with purses, shoes, clothes… So Travis often finds oddball things like stuffed animals, bric-a-brac, fake Hermes scarves… these were the result of someone’s bad aim or poor concentration. He also goes through all the media we buy at the stores or get brought to us from house calls and charity sales. The sorting process is complex, and I really don’t understand it myself.
I was sore all over by quitting time, but it felt good to get so much done.
Off to another running start. Ernest is driving a Wonder Van east on I 70 to go to the Ford dealership in Mt Airy. We need to pick up another vehicle. Then he will head to Hagerstown to pull more Travel and Cooking for Books by the Foot and bring back the store’s full van of buys from the weekend.
I have bought a lot of vehicles at the Mt Airy Ford dealership over the years. I’ve become friends with a salesman there—Desmond. I trust him.
We are due for a new van or two. The 1997 Dodge and the 2004 Chevy are getting a little long in the tooth.
He hasn’t had any vans for sale. NONE. COVID.
This lot used to have dozens of vans and trucks in stock.
It is a cold bright sunny day.
I’ve got a list of things I need to do before I leave.
Lawyer. Accountant. Estate lawyer. Banks. Landlords. Personal bills. The November and December bank statements (about 50 pages each. An office manager has already gone through them and made copies for the accountant.)
Oh, my negative COVID test. I’m required to show proof of it with a PCR test within 72 hours of my flight. I’d made an appointment at CVS for 1 p.m. Monday. 71 hours prior to my flight.
All the time catching up on warehouse work. Stores needs. Paper pushing. List making.
At 1, I drove a van out to the drugstore and pulled into the drive through. There were about 10 vehicles in front of me.
“Please keep your mask on in your car.”
A kit was pushed out the sliding drawer.
“Please close your car window while you’re performing the swab.”
The CVS employee was on the other side of brick and glass, like a bank teller.
I stuck the cotton swab up each nostril—counting 15 each time. Sealed it in a test tube. Sealed that in a plastic bag. Drove forward a few feet and deposited it in a metal container attached to the wall. As instructed, I wiped the lid of the container I’d touched with a disinfectant napkin they’d provided.
“Results in 24 to 48 hours.”
The Frederick store was just a few blocks east. I pulled up to the curb, masked up and walked in.
It looks great. Nothing to criticize—unless I get really picky. Still, I keep an eye out for projects and improvements.
Books by the Foot still needed Travel and Architecture and Design.
I assumed the bookseller position of veneration (and manual labor)—on my knees on the black and white linoleum tile floor. It is like a vast checkerboard. The bottom shelves are usually where you find the stuff worthy of culling.
“What’s this? An early 20th century Aubrey Beardsley in dust jacket on the bottom shelf in the English travel section?!”
I carried that to the premium section and predict it will sell today.
Clif is not back til Wednesday, so I returned to the warehouse and assumed some of his duties. Stacking pallets of pulp with forklift…
The buys are still way down. The cold? The holidays? Omicron?
More spaces are opening up in the warehouse. This is good. During the crush of the influx of books in the fall, a lot things got stuck here and there out of desperation. We are able to make sense of things—proper configurations.
I know the books will start coming in again—but like an old-time farmer hoping for rain, I can only look to the horizon and wonder when.
Another truckload of remainders came in. Maybe 40,000 “new” books that would have been pulped if we hadn’t bid on them.
We found all 92 copies of Michael Dirda’s Browsings and had them carted.
He wants a couple dozen. I quoted $1.50—which is near cost including shipping. I’ll ask him to sign as many of the others as he is willing and then put some in the stores and the rest online. I think they are all first editions.
I’ve exchanged emails with my friends in Luxor. I asked about the weather. Will the guide prefer US$? (They did when I went to Cairo.) And other practical matters.
I’ve been studying the guides—often in the WC.
Tuesday was much the same. Errands. Chores. Lists. Carts of old books.
I pre-signed a lot of blank checks, so there’s no chance they will run out.
I kept an eye out on my phone for the text with my negative COVID test results. It is the only missing piece.
At home, I began laying out clothes and setting out “necessaries” on the sink.
Tuesday night I took the dogs up to Pennsylvania to be babysat.
When I got home, a coyote was yiping and whining and crying somewhere out of sight up in the woods rising behind my home. I walked to the stone wall and howled back at it. I mustered all the primal defiance I can and howled at the darkness. Evil alien creatures.
Still I’ve not seen—only heard—any for several years. Then, the only one I’ve ever seen up here had followed Merry and Pippin home from one of their very rare “escapes.”
I’ve started taking a big heavy machete with me if I need to walk out in the dark. I don’t like the idea of carrying a gun.
Trouble in paradise.
Time has stopped—at about 3:30 this afternoon.
I’m home. I brought in wood. Two big totes worth. I wheeled over another cartload from the barn and set that by the porch—my main entryway.
The fire got stoked. I heated water atop it til it boiled. I dropped two nests of truffle pasta in it with a bit of salt. 7 minutes, and it was taken off and drained. I sprinkled the last of the first bottle of the two bottles of olive oil I bought at the organic family factory in Southern Italy in November. It is still the best olive oil I have ever tasted. By far! I need to look and see if I can order it in the US. A bit of truffle salt was sprinkled on that.
After my trip to Italy, I decided I can make decent pasta. It always seemed like such a mystery.
It is simple. Maybe that was the problem.
And using the woodstove to cook it on. How cool…
I stand at the counter and eat it there. I can’t wait.
I put some things away, including just some of the pastas and other Italian food items I bought at Home Goods last Saturday. I indeed went a little crazy. I’ve got a year’s worth of exotic pastas and jarred truffle preparations and other (mostly) Italian delicacies.
The markdowns were so good.
I am an avowed sucker for a good deal.
5 million books in the warehouse is testament to that.
I’m sitting in the bay window looking east. It is black night but for thousands of twinkling lights far out and down in the valley. There are so many more than when I bought this place 12 years ago. I don’t think they can creep up behind me. I hope not. I love it here.
3:30 p.m. today.
A text came in from CVS. I’d taken a test so I could fly to Cairo and then on to Luxor tomorrow—Thursday. I went to the drive-through Monday at 1 pm. I stuck the swab up each nostril and twisted for 15 seconds. Then back to work. The results were supposed to be texted in 24-48 hours.
48 hours rolled around today at 1 pm. I was getting concerned. My flight was at noon tomorrow.
I worked so hard to get ahead of things for being away.
When the proverbial gun is to your head, you can accomplish so much.
I was working on carts loaded with old books when a text chimed on my iPhone. I touched the link. It wanted my date of birth and phone number.
No symptoms—ever. I took my temperature over the weekend out of curiosity. 98.2.
I called and faxed my doctor. I packed up and went home.
I was the first to re-mask when it became clear in December that the numbers were rising. (A few people have continued to wear masks always.) I’d set a policy “Masks Recommended.”
I’ve been masked a lot. But there have been dinners out. And the CDC and Maryland Health are pretty much admitting masks don’t work. Even if both parties were masked, if you spent 15 minutes within 6 feet of someone, they consider that person as a “Close Contact.”
Who have I been in contact with since Monday? If I was positive at 1 pm Monday, I was likely positive at noon. And probably Sunday. Saturday…
What are the newest rules?
I’m glad there are people in the company who know these things. I was told my protocols via text and email.
When I got home, I texted people I may have had official “Contact” with. I put the thermometer in my mouth and walked out to bring some wood in.
No cough. No tiredness, weakness. I worked like a horse all weekend, Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday. I went to the accountant. The estate lawyer. Banks.
I’ll be at home for… ??? days.
Unless I get sick.
Isolation, for sure.
Maybe I can write that novel that has been percolating inside me. The “GAUB”* story.
* Great American Used Bookseller story.
Ummm… not about a great bookseller. It would be a great novel about buying and selling and keeping books.
Damn… I was looking forward to walking across the Nile Friday.
Tonight I will sit and look out at the valley.
And wonder where all this is going.
I’d canceled the flight and the hotel—the Luxor Hilton.
I awoke early and called the doctor’s office. I knew they weren’t open, but I thought my voicemail might be early in their queue.
I’d had a dream and wrote it down:
I checked out of the hotel in a hurry. I went to meet Clark to leave. I followed him down long hallways. But he disappeared. Would I meet him at breakfast? The dining room was cramped with booths built close together. It was very crowded with mature women. I went in and looked for him, bumping into women as I went. I looked around, and there a waitress was seated in a booth with customers. He wasn’t there. I went outside. A small red sun was crossing the huge high building behind me, and light was beginning to fill the urban canyon I was standing in. Am I in Chicago? I couldn’t find my glasses. Had I left them in the room? Had I really left all the clutter in the room I was remembering? What was my room number? Something—19. Had Clark checked me out? I’d go back in and ask at reception which room I was in. I hoped it hadn’t been cleaned out.
It is 6 am. I slept well despite some unusual dreams. Sunrise is still 90 minutes away. The lights in the valley look the same as last night. Thousands of lights on all the time. A tiny car moves in and out of view occasionally.
What will happen? Isolation, I’m certain. How long? Alone in the dark in a black forest atop a mountain. Even my dogs are away. These will be lost days. I suppose I will read and write. I’ll unbox all the books and shelve them. I’ve taken in about 20 boxes in the last couple of weeks. Mostly Folio Society editions. Books I’ll never read.
You can find these on the Collector’s Corner feature Roberts collection here.
Beautiful, but I’ve found so many old, old books. Most have very little value—except to me.
And they are so beautiful. They sing to me.
I’ll transpose old poems and writings onto the laptop, so I can print and save them. For what? A very uncertain fate. But they deserve the work. Just like the books that pass through my hands if I can give them a shot at survival…
The fire glows in the next room. I can stare at the orange eye curled up in bed.
It kind of looks like a monk or cardinal tonight.
It is completely silent. Rarely, the wood in the stove will rearrange itself or crumple with a kind of crinkling noise into bits of black charcoal. All will burn and become gray-white silent ash the texture of talc.
Still no symptoms. 98.2.
On my phone, I’ve already seen all the news I care to. No good news about anything. I’ve looked at all the Instagram pictures I care to.
Hardly rockstar numbers, but it is a game I enjoy. It doesn’t take much time. It’s fun to see what images people like and which fall flat. I don’t do any other social media.
Lost days… beginning January 13, 2022.
And the dawn comes.
I’m bored already. I’m used to a life of running.
Well, I may as well go out and haul in some wood. I never filled the big iron rings on the porch entrance I almost always use for entry. The bone chilling cold of the teens is gone. It is in the 30s and supposed to get up to 46.
Maybe I’ll cut up wood today.
Up early to email this story to the warehouse.
I don’t think you can transmit Omicron via email, but who knows? It is so contagious. It is everywhere. The Maryland positivity rate is 25.45%—down a few points. 1 out of 4 tests are positive.
I got so much done Thursday. I brought 6 loads of wood over and filled the iron rings. I dumped a couple of loads on the driveway. There’d been an avalanche in the barn during the fall due to poor stacking on my part. I mitigated that. I went around the house and grounds twice with the leaf blower. Once in the morning when there was still snow here and there. Once in the afternoon.
There’s a mountain of leaves eddied up under the back porch. You can’t even see to the other side of the porch. A solid mass of dry brown leaves. Side to side. Front to back. Dirt base to floor joists. I started to crawl under it to blow them out the other side. It was a bit muddy. Maybe today I’ll get a tarp. I need to lie down to get under the joists and then wriggle to the other side. I did a lot of cleaning and dusting. The new vacuum was FULL of dog hair. And that’s after only one use! It must have amazing suction. I took it outside and shook it out in the gardens. Perhaps the scent—along with their urine and poop will keep the deer at bay while they are away.
I wiped and dusted a lot of furniture and wood flooring under it that hadn’t seen a cloth in years. Pruned some branches that were encroaching on views.
I spread some composted manure on beds. The contractor had dumped this pile of poop on New Year’s Eve. It has the texture of peat moss and is odorless.
I organized and moved and hung things. Put stuff away. Carried stuff downstairs and brought stuff up.
I wrote some.
I started getting texts from Maryland Health. The State knew I’d tested positive. It wanted to share my info “anonymously.” In the early afternoon, I got a phone call. I was interviewed for about 15 minutes. “Dates and types of vaccinations?” “Visited nursing homes… schools… sporting events… ?” “10 days’ isolation after you’ve last experienced symptoms.” I haven’t had any symptoms. Ever. “Do you need food?” “You can only leave your house for medical reasons.” …
I wonder how many health workers are calling how many Marylanders.
Daily testing volume: 63,123.
That means 16,000 positives.
I did a lot of emails—keeping up with work and stuff.
Late in the afternoon, my doctor’s office finally called. I’m sure they are swamped.
“The CDC says 5 days isolation after your positive test if you have no symptoms…”
I can go back on Saturday! Tomorrow!
Trapped in Paradise for only two days.
Today I’ll shelve books.
Here is a before picture:
My Luxor and Frederick friends (they live 6 months in each place) sent me a picture of our mutual friend Barbara Mertz (a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters/Barbara Michaels) when she visited them in 2004.
That’s the Nile behind her.
I still think of her every day. My best buddy.
“We’d all be having a martini in her name there at the Winter Palace Friday evening. Reschedule and come soon.”
That reminded I have a box of martini glasses I’d inherited when she passed away. Most were gifts from me. I’d bring them over as gifts to the Great Woman from trips I’d taken long ago.
I have plenty of shelf space now.
Cheers, friends and readers!