5 a.m. Monday
All is dark and completely silent. Dark until I open the laptop and the off white screen lights up. Too bright. I dim it more than half. Silent until my fingers press the keys. Each touch produces a soft click.
Though I slept well, long and deep, I am tired. And I am a bit sore from the weekend’s exertions.
I could roll to my side, curl up and try to snooze an hour or so. There’s no need for that. I am tired, not sleepy.
The bedroom windows are like black flat metal panels. There must be fog out there, blocking any star or moonlight, blocking the distant 24-hour lights down in the valley.
I have no exterior all-night lights. There are four sets of motion detector spotlights, but they only come on when an animal wanders through. That is infrequent. At least, I rarely notice if they come on. They all go dark in 5 or 10 minutes unless the motion continues.
My last dream took place in a Singapore hotel. I was a fifth member of a bookselling team. The others were Asian. We were trying to get on the same elevator, but it was always too crowded. Finally, we decided to break up and meet in the showroom many floors up. Up there, I saw our pallet of books being hauled in. There were loose books atop it, and I was concerned some may bump off.
The dream ended about then because I awoke.
What causes me to leave the sleeping dreaming world and open my eyes to consciousness?
Sure, it can be a noise or flash of light. Or some physical discomfort or need. But absent those, what is it that gently brings you from that other land? To a land where just now all that is real is the dim light of the computer screen and the very soft arrhythmic clicks of my fingertips seeking and softly pressing down on a letter or symbol. Consciousness also tells me I am warm and comfortable wrapped in bedclothes.
When I finish these words—very soon—I will pull the lid down on the machine propped against my raised knees and anchored in blankets above my diaphragm. Then all will go dark and silent.
I will have a decision. Should I rise? Turn the teakettle on. Check the temperature in and out. See if the fire needs more wood. Let the dogs out—one at a time. Attend to necessities and otherwise begin the day.
Or should I stay in silence and darkness and see where my mind takes me?
(I rested a bit. Straddling reality and sleepy visions. Now I will offer you a typical “Journal Entry.” I am on Journal #18, I think. I haven’t yet numbered and stacked the journal last filled on January 4th. I first began writing regular journal entries in notebooks on New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2013. That’s just over 9 years ago. We had recently gotten permits to begin moving into our new warehouse. We had settled the purchase of the building in September, but the city was finally able to inspect what had formerly been off limits to them—a U.S. Government Post Office Distribution Facility. They found many, many things they felt were not up to “their code.” We were required to do a great deal of very costly work just to get an Occupancy Permit. We had been moving stuff over from the old warehouse since September, but we weren’t allowed to do things that would even hint we were “occupying” the vast empty structure. I thought the MOVE should be recorded for posterity and perhaps my sanity. Thus, the journal. The Move was the biggest, busiest thing I had ever done. Our old landlord had set a deadline to be completely out of the old warehouse by June 30, 2014. They were anxious to demolish it and put up a new Walmart. What I knew would be a marathon transitioned into a marathon-like sprint. Once I started the journal entries, they became a habit, a habit which continues to this day.)
(Typical “Journal Entry.”)
Monday 60/39 6 a.m. A dusky dawn on the horizon.
I slept well and hard. I let the dogs out. They were in an ebullient mood. I followed Pippin out and carried in a few pieces of wood. Smaller ones to get the fire blazing. It was mostly coals. It was so warm yesterday—in the low 60s—there was no need to build a big hot fire overnight. It was cold, but not too cold to go out bare foot. I opened the dampers and put the wood in. I crossed to the big bay window and opened the left sidelight. The air was cold on my legs. I dipped the big yellow scoop into the 50-pound bag of sunflower seed. I reached my arm out and around to fill up the plastic window feeder suctioned cupped to the window. What was left in the scoop I tossed onto the roof in a fanning motion? The seeds rolled and rattled across the shingles. I filled the teakettle with well water and set it atop the stove to heat. The round glass range burner lit a deep red—magenta. Pip was let in, and Merry ran out. I went out again and brought a bigger log in. Maybe 10 inches in diameter and 16 inches long. I carried it in my right hand and the crook of my elbow, so my other hand could carry another smaller piece. I could’ve brought in a lot more if I’d thought to use one of the empty black canvas totes on the floor next to the woodstove. The dog’s water was changed and a morning meal prepared for them. I emptied one of the fancy cans of food I’d bought on sale at Marshall’s. Usually $4.99, but on sale for $1.99. $4.99 is crazy! I put a scoop of dry pebbly food atop it.
The side door was opened, and I called Merry in. The water was boiling. Some Harrods tea from an antique looking tin was spooned into the stainless steel strainer. The strainer was set atop the big Winter Wonderland mug and hot water poured over it.
I carried the mug to the bed and climbed in to write in my journal and look at the iPhone for news and to see if I had any messages over night.
The phone says I took 8856 steps yesterday. It says my last steps were between 8 and 9? I think perhaps that’s when I set it into its charger. The device predicts it will only get as high as 49 today and that it will rain much of the evening.
Instagram. My READ THIS OR DIE “book” post got 27 likes overnight. Followers have stagnated at 5072. Books by the Foot has 25.2K followers. Wonder Book 12.8k. Insta used to be fun. Now it is stagnating. So many posts have become bitter, political or dirty. It used to a happy place to see fun pics. Some day I’ll give up. Another habit. Although a recent BBTF post got 872 likes…
I got up to refill the tea. While it steeped, I put the big log into the fire box. Not many birds this morning. Just a few mourning doves. There are a few hundred daffodils open below the house. I can see a couple dozen hellebores blooming as well. It has only been in the last couple of years I’ve started transplanting them up front.
(I usually recap what I remember about the day before.)
Sunday. Got into the warehouse early and let the dogs out into the dockyards. They spent the night in their pen.
Put food and water out for them. Set up the laptop to watch Chelsea vs. Tottenham and continued working on carts. Chelsea has been terrible. Their new manager has a terrible record. Why they got rid of Tuchel, I don’t know. I set up my stool and started on carts. I’d done so many on Saturday—the easier ones mostly—those loaded with books primarily. Now there are just trouble carts. Ephemera, non-book stuff, papers, pamphlets—torture.
There was a run of Samoan books and pamphlets from the late 60s and early 70s. I’d posted four telephone directories for sale on Saturday, but no one bit. I’d hinted there were “some more I could send pictures of directly.” Someone asked for images. I set the pamphlets—touristy stuff mostly—on two cart shelves and took pics. “32 for $80 net ppd.” “Yes!”
Well, one tiny problem solved. Thousands are remaining in front of me.
For diversion, I stickered a lot of bric-a-brac.
Where did we get two Versace plates?
I’m guessing eBay for those.
Clark texted, “They’re expurgating the James Bond books,”—with a link.
“I know; Enid Blyton too.”
Later, he texted, “This may make physical media more relevant again. They’re bound to begin cleansing the streaming movies—if they haven’t already.”
That would be nice. Recently, I started playing CDs in the warehouse sometimes. Pandora gets repetitive. And I remember I like listening to entire albums versus random songs.
Chelsea lost and looked terrible.
I was thinking of visiting Howard and Sue at their New Market winery, but I was tired by day’s end and didn’t feel that good.
“Can’t come today. Going home.”
I got a lot done over the weekend. 5 or 6 fixed price carts for data entry.
Lots of priced boxes for the stores.
4 very full boxes of ephemera and plates for Terry to bag and hang.
I handled thousands of pamphlets, paper and stuff on Saturday and Sunday. A goal of mine is to look at things only once and make a decision for its fate. The walls and endcaps at the stores are full. We have boxes of stuff in bags to hang here in the warehouse. I need to think of ways to use the ceilings. If only it wasn’t for gravity…
Annika will have an overflowing cart to research.
Madeline got some tubs of nice looking stuff that she might send to the glass cases in the Frederick store.
I just ran out of gas at a certain point. The work was so hard and meticulous. Every bit of paper or stuff required my brain to process and decide where it should go and for how much. Mind-numbing.
Home with the dogs. I was the last one out—about 5:30. Ridgley left in the early afternoon. Dylan at 4. Travis at 5. Paulo brought a full van up from Gaithersburg in mid afternoon. I wandered outside on the mountain a bit. Then inside. I heated the Po Boy salad from the Lightfoot dinner on Saturday. (Just the fried oysters—not the greens.) Some pizza in foil from last weekend. Opened a bottle of Rioja and settled in to watch a couple of episodes of The Prisoner.
8 a.m. Time to get up and shower and see what this week brings.
(End “Journal Entry.”)
Tuesday 5 a.m.
It rained all night.
The fire is out. I guess I wasn’t motivated last night and just set two largish logs in on top of a bed of coals. I thought the coals would ignite the logs, and the fire would burn until I woke. I’ll need to get some kindling and set it around the logs. But first, I’ll push some paper and part of a pizza box at the bottom of the fire box. When the kindling is in place atop it, I’ll set a match to the paper and things should go from there.
I’m not motivated to get up and go down to the front porch, where I know there is plenty of dry kindling to break up and bring up.
It is 59 inside and 37 out. But I’m bundled in an old hoodie and flannels. I’m lying under four or five layers. Embroidered on my hoodie’s left breast:
The hoodie is black. The lettering is in white. It was a Christmas present from Terry maybe 20 years ago. The cuffs are a bit frayed. The cotton faded a bit. But it is still serviceable. I sometimes wear it to work, but mostly it is left on a bathroom hook to throw on when I want comfort clothing.
Sometimes, you have introspection thrust upon you. I know not to let myself go in too deep, to go down the rabbit hole of wondering why.
Where to begin?
Last Friday, I guess.
I had submitted the blog to my editor and was immersed in interesting books out on the warehouse floor. My cell phone chimed. (The ringtone is “Cathedral Bells.”) I saw the caller was Chris.
“Damn, Chris. I’m sorry. I got involved with work and forgot all about it. Are you still there? I can leave right now.”
I was supposed to meet him at his cousin Dick’s estate at 1. It was 1:20.
I hurried out to my car and headed up to Thurmont.
I’d only met Dick Kline a few times. He was in his late 80s and frail. His home is indescribable, but I’ll try. It faces out onto a lake. His own lake. Actually, it is a flooded quarry. The miners dug too deep a century ago and hit a spring. Dick told me the names of some of the iconic buildings that used the fancy stone from the quarry, but I can’t remember the details. A couple were down in DC.
The large wooden home was in part built around an enormous pipe organ. Dick had rescued it from a huge old vaudeville theater down in the city. On one visit, he played it for me and a few guests. Then he turned on the computer, and the organ played itself a concert—a Broadway medley. He’d had an expert come in who was able to program the ancient organ. Old and new technology. The organ had whistles and bells and a car horn (ahhh, oooga!) and cymbals, etc. The organ room is maybe 50 feet by 30 feet with a 20-foot ceiling. Sitting on couches, we were immersed in the sound. The chords resonated through my body. Most of the organ works were invisible—a couple hundred pipes hidden behind a high wall in the front of the room.
Dick passed away a couple of weeks ago. 89. He had given the organ to a guy in Utah last summer. It had been dismantled and trucked across the country where it is being restored, and the new owner will build a building around it. I got the feeling from Chris that when the organ left, much of Dick’s heart went with it.
Chris wanted me to look at Dick’s books and records. Of course, I’d checked them out already on my visits. I’m a poor guest until I’ve seen your books. I was pretty sure there was nothing special there. I was right. It was a good reading library of classics and history, but there was nothing very collectible. The same with the large record and CD collection. There is not much market for classical and organ and show LPs. CDs… we buy them by the truckload from mega-charity brokers as well as the public. If you visit our Frederick or Hagerstown bookstores, you’ll find thousands out on the sidewalk. $1.59 or 5 for $5. We leave them outside 24/7 because the sidewalks are covered by a canopy at those two locations. There are more expensive ones inside. And we have thousands online as well. Same with LPs. Most classical LPs go right out to the sidewalks at the same price. Gaithersburg has no canopy, so we roll out 6 or 7 carts when it isn’t going to rain. The LPs go out in milk crates.
“There’s nothing here, Chris. If the auctioneers will sell them, you should let them.”
There are some wonderful things in the house, though.
“Let me know when the auction is, and I’ll try to come. What are you going to do with the old booze?”
Dick had a large medieval-looking sideboard in the organ room. There were some ancient bottles of whisky I’d coveted when I visited.
“Do you think they are worth much?”
“I don’t think so. There’s no date or vintage on them. But there’s no zip code either. I think they’re the 50s.”
“Take a couple.”
We went outside. Last Friday was a beautiful day.
“You should buy the Rolls, Chuck.”
The 1978 chocolate brown Rolls Royce glowed in the sunshine.
“Feel the leather seats.”
The creamy white leather was as smooth as suede. The car looked perfect.
“I couldn’t handle the maintenance.”
I like cars. But I only want cars that work all the time. And my mountain road would beat the hell out of it. The car deserves a better owner than me.
So I went back to the warehouse with my booty. I’ll get Chris some special Dewars as a thank you. Dick’s bottles will go on display in my office.
Larry brought a load of books in late in the afternoon.
“Where’d these come from?”
“An interesting guy. He did a bit of everything. I think he may have been a spy.”
We went to the conference room, and I wrote out a check. He left and then reappeared in a few minutes.
“I forgot this. It was on the front seat. Do you want it?”
A huge leaf from the 1611 King James Bible. And really nicely framed too.
“I wasn’t sure.”
“I’ll pay you for it next time.”
The sun is up—somewhere behind the fog and clouds. I got up to get the fire going. Why? It will get to 55 today. The bay window is on my way past the woodstove. There were about a dozen mourning doves and a dozen goldfinches pecking away at the roof. There wasn’t much seed left from yesterday. I got a scoop of sunflower seed, opened the window and tossed it out. If they had more than bird brains, they might wonder about these seeds from heaven. The male goldfinches are already showing a bit of yellow beneath their dun winter plumage. Come summer, they will be half canary yellow and half black.
I looked out on the grounds beneath me—sloping away down the mountain. Things are greening up all over. It is February 28th. Spring is rushing it this year. I don’t want it to fly by. I want to savor it.
There were a few woodpeckers clinging to the suet cages hung from a chain strung between two big maples.
I got one of the big black canvas totes. I called Merry out of his pen, and we went downstairs and out onto the front porch. He went on about his business. I broke up a bunch of twigs—dry because they were on the covered porch. The fire came to life quickly. I let Merry in and sent Pip out.
I turned off the furnaces. They almost never come on, anyway. I keep them set at 58. It would be ridiculous if they came on just because I did a bad job with the fire last night.
Then both dogs trotted back into their big pen. I set a bowl of kibble before them—their “first breakfast.”
Monday was a bit of a bust. I did organize my calendar. I carefully noted the dates of trips and events into July. I don’t want to double-book anything. It has happened before.
I had trouble getting anything done. I didn’t want to look at any more books. I had been oversaturated on Saturday and Sunday.
My phone chimed in the early afternoon.
(Beth. Damn! I forgot to reply to her email about Malice Domestic.)
“Hi, Beth. I’m so sorry I didn’t get back to you. What are the dates again?”
I checked my just rehung calendar, and two of the four dates were open.
Then we caught up on family and mutual friends and other events. It is strange how Barbara still reaches out to so many ten years after her passing. Barbara Mertz (a.k.a. Elizabeth Peters and Barbara Michaels) is being honored at the annual mystery writers and fans convention this April, and Beth thought I might like to be there. She wanted me there. We chatted over half an hour—there was that much catching up to do.
“Well, I’ll see you in two months. It is on my calendar. Send me the details when you get them.”
I’d made plans to meet Cap at Madrones for Happy Hour. I wanted to pick his brain about the guided tour he took to Cornwall last fall. The time was set. 4 p.m. The restaurant was mostly empty. On Monday, the beers are half price—for 20 ounces. I ordered a H.A.Z.Y. IPA. Cap soon joined me, settling on the cushioned barstool next to me. He gave me the details about the tour and the contacts for the guide they used. A Mr. Uff—as in “oof.” Then we chatted about other stuff. Cap had been my doctor for 37 years before he retired in 2017. He knows a lot about me. I told him about my recent appointment with the doctor that he had referred me to.
“I told Andy about John and Emory and other people I knew or knew of who had died suddenly of heart attacks. I told him my dad had died suddenly from one.”
“My dad did too. I still miss John. He just made you feel good being around him.”
“Andy said maybe I should start seeing a cardiologist. He described the ‘widow maker’—when a certain half-inch long section of coronary artery locks up. You die like a light switch going off. He said that is likely what happened to Emory—when people just don’t wake up. Electrical problem. John’s wife had told me that’s what happened to John.”
We chatted for nearly an hour about family and friends. I had a second beer. I ordered some Happy Hour lettuce wraps. Cap nursed his beer and didn’t want to eat. His family was taking him out for his birthday later.
Another Monday special is the $12 burger special. Any burger for $12. I ordered the Madrones Burger “LE GRAND.” Bacon, brie… lots of stuff. Well done. I sliced off about a quarter of it. The rest I would take home for a dinner later in the week. Cap reached for his wallet.
“You only had a $4 beer! I’ll get it.”
It was just over $30. You gotta love Madrones Happy Hours.
We bid adieu.
It was raining harder and getting colder. The daylight was dimming. There was no question of doing anything outside.
I was in a funky mood. An iconic bookseller, Michael Ginsburg, had been struck by a car killed earlier near Boston. The internet came alive with antiquarian booksellers from all over the country contributing memories and condolences. He was 84. He started selling books in the late 50s, I think. He had mentored and taught many of the league over the decades. I barely knew him, but had my own very personal memory. He had called one morning out of the blue—March 2020—the dawn of COVID. A couple of book people had publicly posted a horrible comment about me.
“Don’t respond. It’s ridiculous. A lot of us know you better than that…”
At home, I decided to make a martini and watch another episode of The Prisoner. Then I saw the boxes and tubs on the floor between the conversation pit and the big screen. I’d been bringing them home from my office. Most hadn’t been touched for nearly ten years—frozen in time since the Move.
“Well, no excuse.”
I sat on a pillow on the floor and started emptying a box. Meanwhile, the crazy genius of The Prisoner was playing on the wall in front of and above me. It still holds up. 1966, and it is as timely and as modern as today.
Memories started coming out of the box. I must have packed it in a hurry when we were moving out of the old warehouse in 2013 and 14. My office was the last to go. We had a deadline from the landlord. June 30, 2014.
There was ephemera and personal stuff. One thing after another came out of the box.
Some were treasures. Snapshots of Muhammad Ali with the negatives and drugstore sleeve.
Photos from Robin’s retirement dinner. Most of the attendees are still at Wonder Book. Clark, Staci, Terry, Clif, me.
Carl Sickles’ funeral program. 2005. He was my first book mentor. His belief in me rescued me from an unknown fate. I became a bookseller because of him. He was 80 when he passed but had a bad stroke about 7 years prior.
Trip ephemera from Europe with the kids in the 1990s and early 2000s.
A Washington Darts / Brazilian Santos program and ticket stub from 1970. The high soccer coach had organized the trip. I got to see Pele play! I would have been 15.
An envelope with 8x10s of Pele. I’m not really sure what they are.
I had put them aside because I didn’t know what to do with them. I still don’t.
Notes I had written to my younger son. I would leave them on the kitchen table for him to see when he came down to breakfast before school. Encouragement about school and his soccer career. He was named the top player in the region his senior year.
A 2003 Harry Potter calendar with notes of events and appointments and other stuff I’d done.
A lot of it is stuff I can sell now. Ephemera… I made a box of that to take back to work.
I took a small stack of papers from trips and such and set them in my big wooden “memory box.” It is shaped like a stack of books. Once things are safely in there, I know I will never need to look at them again.
Then the other stuff… I’ll need to look through it again and make decisions. There isn’t that much. But it is so hard to make decisions on things that still resonate.
I’d forgotten about the employee who went to prison. He wrote me letters. Ballpoint on yellow legal paper. He thanked me for my testimony and other support.
Meanwhile, another episode of The Prisoner was wrapping up. Its title is “The General.”
Anyway, the General is all knowing and can answer any question and has come up with a way to teach the people in the Village “three years of academics in 3 minutes…” The General turns out to be a room-size 1960s depiction of a computer. The villains show the Prisoner (Patrick McGoohan) how wonderful their machine is. They type out questions on an 8 1/2 x 11 sheet of paper on a manual typewriter. The paper is fed through a slot which transposes the question onto a plastic data strip (for lack of a better description.) That 10 x 3 inch strip of plastic is taken to the General and fed into it. Lights flash and dials turn, and soon the General spits out the answers.
“I have a question for the General,” McGoohan states. “It is a question he can’t answer.”
“It can answer any question!”
The villains reluctantly give in. He types his question, punching the typewriter keys four times with his forefinger. He shields it, so no one can see what he’s written. He puts the paper in the machine. Then he takes the transposed strip to the General and feeds it in. Immediately, the machine is in distress. A dial shows it is overheating. The technician does all he can to stop it—flipping switches and turning dials, but soon smoke is pouring out of the computer. Then sparks shoot out like lightning. The technician is tossed backward on the floor. He is covered in soot. The other villains rush to his aid, and they too are overcome. When the General is clearly dead, the chief villain goes to the Prisoner.
“What was your question?!” he sputters.
“One word. W. H. Y.?”
They all look at him—stunned.
I watched the closing credits. Ian Fleming is listed having played two minor rolls.
Its 9 a.m. Time to get up and shower and go to work.
The fire is going, and the house is now into the low 60s. The juncos and titmice have replaced the other birds on the porch roof. Nearby, the amaryllis is blooming gloriously.
This week’s story is finished by Tuesday morning!
Well, my editor had given me an early deadline this week, anyway.
I’ll go make some new memories. Some new plans. Discover some new stuff.
See new old books I have never seen before.
Going in to work, I pass dozens of crabapples in deep pink bloom along the highway.
Please, spring, don’t rush by. One step after another. I want immerse myself in your new life as much and as long as possible.