So many beautiful books this week.
More and more…
Home in bed.
I turned the A/C on. It is over 90 outside.
Another week has flown by. We got so much done.
Amazing how far behind we continue to be.
And the world is turned upside down. And it is being shaken til its pockets empty.
Things aren’t getting better. The news today was a gut punch without warning.
Thursday night, I put comfort on the TV. Young James Herriot. It helped for a while.
But I awoke feeling sick.
Sick to my stomach.
Sick at heart.
It is not over.
Maybe it was the Myers’s Dark Rum and pineapple juice—a Bachelor’s Mai Tai… LOL
Only the books make any sense.
I love my life in the woods on the mountain.
My daily routine is so often the same.
I wake. Sometimes I wake several times.
Letting the dogs out to relieve themselves is usually the first priority. I only let one at a time out. I learned long ago my devoted, loving, smart, obedient Jack Russells often lose control if they are both out at the same time—unleashed.
It is the call of the wild, I suppose. A whiff or a sound or a peek into the woods, and they bolt. No matter how I call or command or plead, they are off—gone for as long as they want to be. When they were younger, it was hours. I often despaired of their survival. But they’ve always returned—one time reeking of skunk.
I’ve become so careful. One dog comes in before the other has a chance to go out.
They haven’t escaped this year, if my memory is correct.
Wednesday, August 25th. One dog was out. One was in bed with me.
There was barking outside.
I put my journal down. I went to the door and let him in and let the other boy out.
After a while, barking.
I let him in and put both in the pen inside. I took my shower. There’s no one up here except flora and fauna, so when I was done, I wrapped a towel around me and led one dog out to the pen next to the upper driveway. I latched the pen, leaving the food outside it so he wouldn’t eat it all. I turned and began to cross the driveway to go get the other dog.
A big bear was sitting calm as can be atop a boulder 20 yards away on the lower driveway.
I stood and looked. Bears live up here—I see about one a year, usually in spring when they emerge from hibernation. If I’ve failed to get the bird feeders down before Easter, the ravenous creatures will do anything to get to the seed. I leave no food or trash out that may attract them.
When I make my presence known, they always amble away promptly—but at their own pace, sometimes balefully looking back over their shoulder at me.
This one didn’t. It just sat there, calm as can be, staring at me.
I just stood there clutching my towel for modesty’s sake, staring back.
Then I returned to the pen. There’s always a leash or three hanging from the chain-link fence. I clipped the leash on and calmly walked Pippin back into the house.
It bothered me the bear would not run off. I read news stories recently about some disease that makes bears unafraid of humans.
Was this bear sick?
Still, I wasn’t frightened. I could get inside before the bear could get to me.
I got my phone to get a picture for Instagram. I stepped out on to the driveway and took aim.
It hopped off the boulder and retreated about 10 yards into the garden. It turned and looked at me. It was not threatening. Just a calm beautiful creature.
This is it hopping off—ruining my picture:
I moved 10 yards closer.
It backed another 10 yards away and stared calmly at me.
Now I was at the edge of that driveway near the boulder.
I heard a loud rustling high above me.
There’s tall oak there. It has a long bare trunk before its canopy begins.
I instinctively knew the noise was a bear cub maybe sixty feet above me. Invisible.
There is a firm rule. Black bears are almost always harmless unless you get between a mother and her cub. I was just a few feet away from doing that.
I backed away and went inside.
I opened the bedroom window, from which I had removed the screen. I like looking at sunrises or storms or the valley melting into darkness without the visual interference of a screen.
I sat on the bed and observed the oak tree not far beyond the porch roof.
Soon I heard scrabbling in the branches, and two young cubs climbed down to the first branches below the crown.
They were at first tentative, and I worried they wouldn’t dare to climb down the long bare trunk.
If I came home tonight and they were still there, who would I call? The dogs would spend the day inside.
But then they began their acrobatics.
The base of the tree is out of sight—obscured by the porch roof.
I waited, and soon the family wandered back into view and toward the bottom of the gardens and disappeared.
All FOUR of them. I’d never seen the third cub til then.
I assume the first dog out that morning surprised the family passing through, and the cubs scrambled up the tree.
Why they didn’t engage the mother bear or vice versa, I don’t know. The dogs and the bear are fearless.
Providence, I suppose.
I’d been in a funk the whole week.
I’d worked so hard at various projects to keep from obsessing over… the usual.
My close encounter reset me some—but just “barely.”
I was a little late into work that morning.
I was worried we were going to default on a project I’d committed to for a Movie & TV Set Designer we have done a lot of work for over the years. I’d committed to finding books for a scene for a movie. The set would be a 6th grade classroom in 1975. The movie is based on a famous book by a famous author. If you’re reading this story, 99.9% of you are familiar with both. I just can’t tell you the name.
I’d agreed to the specs she’d given us in early August. The due date was mid September.
We can do anything with books in a month and a half.
I was getting worried. No vintage 1975 kids textbooks were appearing despite the 200,000 or so books the sorters had gone through this month with the urgent request to put anything like that on a cart with my name on it.
Worry. I live on it. Along with its cousin, Panic.
Monday, I went on a house call in Potomac for a friend of a friend. Mostly old textbooks. Many on viruses. Disappointing. I stopped by the Gaithersburg store on the way back to change vans and pull some small orders for Books by the Foot. I also searched the store for books you’d find in a 1975 classroom. But I didn’t find anything.
Tuesday, the set designer emailed asking about our progress. “The shoot date might get moved up a week.”
There was an urgent 75-foot popular trade paperback order for Books by the Foot. I went to the Frederick store and culled General Fiction from “A” through “R.” A young woman who works there culled “S” to “Z.”
When I was done with the trade paperbacks, I looked for 1975 classroom books.
What did classrooms have in them when I was a kid?
A World Book encyclopedia!
No problem there. Books by the Foot has lots of them.
Dictionaries! Time Life books on places and nature! Got them too.
She wanted multiples of the same books. A lot. Like one for every kid in the class.
What do we have a lot of from that era?
Textbooks that old would have been disposed of long ago. We sure wouldn’t save any.
Not new enough to be useful still. Not old enough to be attractive for their vintage bindings.
I would hate to disappoint this person. But I would have to give her enough notice that I had failed so she could look for other sources.
We have lots of Shakespeare in the stores.
More to the point, we have a LOT of old Shakespeare paperbacks.
Another point is that publishers used the same bindings for paperbacks for many years.
To Kill a Mockingbird.
The Catcher in the Rye.
These books looked like that for 10-15 years.
I drove a van to the Gaithersburg store and began looking for appropriate titles and bindings and acceptable quantities.
Edith Hamilton’s Mythology? Everyone had a copy that looked like this:
When I got back to the warehouse, I asked the folks in Books by the Foot to stage the three big tubs I’d returned with.
I took some pictures with my phone and sent them off to her. The subject was “Multiples.” The only text was:
About 10 images below.
My fingers crossed as it whooshed away…
A few minutes later she replied:
GORGEOUS!!!! Thank you!!
Catastrophe averted! The show will go on!
Thank you, Book Muse, wherever you are.
It is 4 in the morning on Friday. My weeks end and begin on Fridays—mostly because of these stories. But things change in the vast book warehouse on Fridays for everyone. Tonight when the place is closed—the last staff and managers exit and set the alarms—the building will go dark but for the security lights. Tomorrow—Saturday—I will go in and spend the two weekend days alone with books. Mostly, I will be sitting on a stool out on the warehouse floor. In the summer, it is not too hot. In the winter, it is not too cold.
I will work with my hands and arms, my back and legs, my eyes and mind.
It is a good job.
What else would I do?
I wonder what I will find this weekend?
It is a black night outside on the mountain. The laptop is propped up on a pillow on my belly. My stomach is grumbling. I heated up Chinese food—leftovers from the restaurant, Modern Asia, which is a neighbor to the Frederick Wonder Book. It only opened to the public a few weeks ago. They make fantastic Pan-Asian food.
They’d been carryout only for the last year. During their closure, they renovated. They took more space from the landlord we share. They converted the bar into a sushi bar. The sushi bar is not open yet. The owner can’t find the help to operate it. It is a beautiful place. Lots of luscious red and gold decor.
It told him, “You should raise your prices.” Many of the appetizers are only $3.45.
“No, no,” he replied. “My customers…”
I couldn’t make out the rest of what he said. Masked. Seeing people’s lips is a big part of understanding their words.
I like the weekends. I am mostly alone with my work. Occasionally, I will interact with the 2 or 3 others who have chosen to work weekends. Everyone in Maryland works when they want to. If you don’t like the hours or the job, you find something else.
Occasionally, there will be a delivery, and I’ll need to open a dock door while a load of books in boxes is hoisted onto the metal dock plate. When they are done, I will push the button, and the chains will rattle, and metal door will rumble as it descends. I will return to my stool and look at book after book. I will make a decision on each as to its best disposition.
That is an awesome responsibility.
For to me, books are living things. Their pages are alive with words and thoughts and images. Their bindings are alive with the years they’ve spent on this planet. Some worn with use. Some crisp and bright as the day they were made; made by hands, oh, this one a hundred-twenty-one years ago.
A long time. But not so long. Everyone is gone who first saw this—at the bindery, at the bookshop, when it was purchased, when it was gifted.
Now it is here. My responsibility. The goal is to get it to a new home where it will abide for a generation or a lifetime or only a year or two.
I’ve been in the stores a lot lately.
The Frederick location, which I opened in 1990, is where my roots are. The Gaithersburg store is where I took a “summer job” in 1980. Hagerstown because I thought the city needed a bookshop in 1995.
The Frederick store is built on three levels. It follows the topography its foundation was laid upon. The eastern third has very high ceilings. It is all books. A ramp gently slopes down to the middle section—now all books again—the CDs were moved west recently. Another ramp leads down to that western third. Movies and music… and books.
Early in the week, I found myself standing alone near the foot of the first ramp. An apparition descended toward me. A frail little old man. He has been frail and old for decades.
It was as if we were in a vignette. Just the two of us in a bubble of light—a space bordered by bands of light and nothing else. He held a book in his hands.
“Not retired yet?” he quipped.
“No. I don’t know what I’d do with myself. You found a mystery!”
For decades, he has been coming in and leaving with one book. I served him from behind the sales counter many times. He has always left with one mystery.
“Espionage. Well, I’m glad you’re here. I don’t know what I would have done without you.”
He passed by me, taking small careful steps.
‘Mister Goodwin? Godwin?’ I thought as he disappeared and I was alone again. ‘He must be ninety.’
Thursday was a whirlwind.
Only this storm was raised to a higher pitch.
The last load of new bookcases was being installed today.
These are some of them.
I find empty shelves bothersome.
We have a lot of books to fill them.
The bottleneck is getting them out of boxes, priced and shelved.
I pulled four people out of the warehouse. We came over in two vans and a car.
“Let’s have a pricing frenzy,” I instructed them.
And we did.
Boxes and boxes were emptied and labeled and shelved any old way. They’ll get taken to the right categories, eventually. Until then, enterprising customers can seek out these random “New Arrival” sections.
People like being the first to see things.
The day ended on a bizarre farcical note.
I’d spent a couple of hours with my lawyer in the conference room. He’d left me with my head spinning. Then I heard a gruff voice out in the hallway.
“Is anybody here!?!”
Well, yes. Dozens of people.
That hallway is walled off from the offices. It leads to the warehouse proper where a dozen or more people would be working at data entry stations. Someone out there would help him. I finished up my work and went to the main office.
“What was the ruckus?” I asked one of the managers.
“Some guy asking about the tubs on Craig’s List.”
We get a lot of plastic tubs and crates from people who bring us books in them. When too many have accumulated rather than throw them away, we put a bunch outside the dockyard gate. I take a picture of them, and Clark puts them up on Craig’s List as freebies. Hoarders come, and the tubs disappear quickly.
(I don’t know if we are providing a free service or enabling a pathology.)
“They were advertised over a week ago. They’re gone,” I replied.
“I told him they were gone.”
I went out the door to get in my car. At the end of the parking lot, an old man was struggling to open the gate in the 8-foot high opaque plastic fence attached to the building that surrounds one of the giant HVAC units.
I walked down the sidewalk toward him.
Was he looking for plastic tubs in there?
“Can I help you?”
He continued struggling with the metal spike that keeps the gate from blowing open in storms. The fence surrounds a big metal machine and weeds.
“CAN I HELP YOU?!”
He turned and was plainly batty.
“I’m looking for the tubs on Craig’s List.”
He started toward me, walking in front of his old battered car—his wife was at the wheel staring straight ahead.
“I can’t hear very well.”
“They are gone!” I annunciated and formed the words in pantomime with my mouth as well.
“Where would they be if they were here?!”
“THEY ARE GONE!”
“Out by the ROAD!” I waved my hand in that direction. “But they are GONE!”
I turned and went back into the office. You can’t argue with crazy.
I watched til they drove past the window.
Then I went out and got in my car. I thought I’d better check the dockyard in case he was rooting under the trailers. I drove around the back in case he was wandering around the field. But he was gone.
It is after 6 a.m. The sun is rising over the horizon, far out in the valley. I need to send this off through the ether to my editor.
Should I try to nap a bit? Or should I put some coffee on?
At the end of the day last Sunday, I decided to get into an old pallet. It was wrapped in plastic and covered in dust. It was certainly stuff I’d put aside long, long ago.
‘Time to make it disappear,’ I thought.
There was a milk crate filled with old felt pennants.
“Put aside until I could figure a good way to sell them.”
I opened a box, and it was filled with old papers.
Time and memories and dust rose up from them.
Some old “cuts” from the newspaper. What were they called? Linotype? They’d give them to us so we could paste together a camera-ready ad copy.
Once upon a time I was Wonder Man. LOL…
And this. A stack of web orders from 1998.
We sold our first book online in 1997. Below is an order not long after that:
Mary Austin. The Land of Little Rain. Still desirable, but the 2021 internet search reveals it is not uncommon.
In the beginning—we were selling books on the World Wide Web. Well, near the beginning.