September 10, 2021
I lay in bed in the dark. The laptop propped upon my knees and belly casts a cold gray white glow in the room. Outside my windows—blackness.
The windows are open, and chill air flows through my room. It passes invisibly over me. Should I rise and find a blanket?
Millions of leaves rustle outside in the dark. Soon they will begin to fall. Autumn is nigh.
A screech owl is out there—nearby. Its plaintive cry adds mystery to the forest night.
I can hear the eternal existential question in its song.
“Why? Whyyyyyyyy? WHY? …”
Perhaps I should close the machine up, curl on my side, wrap the purple sheets tighter around me, build a wall of pillows surrounding me and lay there and wonder, “Why?”
Why are there monsters in the world? What do they want? Are they just badly wired? I wish they would just go away and leave me alone.
It will be sunrise in just over an hour. 6:46 today. Each day it is a little later.
The dawn is moving south each day. In October, the sun will rise in the gap in the forest up here that gives a view of the valley below. My celestial calendar.
I am very tired.
My sleep is irregular again. I’m really not sure how many hours I sleep. Often I lay in the darkness bidding dreamland come again.
I can only recall a brief snippet of a dream from earlier this morning. I was trying to convince a store owner to take 4 box sets of DVDs on consignment. 3 were in Spanish, and looking more closely, I saw the fourth was in Russian.
“Don’t pay anything. If they sell, you can write out a check for $5 each.”
Then I awoke.
Odd. We don’t consign material anywhere. Never have. My old long dead mentor cautioned against it. “Why? The paperwork and keeping track of the books would be a pain in a**.” If we did consignments, I wouldn’t think 4 foreign language DVD TV series would be a success.
I wonder what a dream interpreter would read into that scene.
(I dozed off. I don’t know how long. My hands were on the keyboard, but the screen had gone dark.)
I rise for relief and to let a dog out. Passing the bay window, I see the dawn beginning. This morning it is starting with burnt orange tones. Or is it burnt sienna? I try to remember my Crayola 64 count crayon box.
64. That is way too many. I’m kidding. The more color in a child’s life, the better.
I wonder if most kids get boxes of crayons nowadays. Or are their colors on digital screens?
Returning to bed, I see the indoor/outdoor thermometer reports 59 degrees outside. 69 inside. Chilly, but not cold enough for me to bring reinforcements to my bed. It is the breeze more than anything.
It has been a lost week in many ways.
Lost in paperwork and conversations, the days melted away, until now it is Friday.
I am wondering what today’s story will be.
Last night, I planted a new garden. It is in what I call the “Hollow.” That is a bowl shaped piece of ground between the upper and lower driveway. Over the years, I’ve put a few things in. Rhododendrons, a Japanese Maple, Hostas, Lilies, VooDoo Lilies, other stuff… and lots of daffodil bulbs. A spot on a steep slope caught my eye. I tossed big shovels full of composted cow manure down there. I had four leftover bags of topsoil I wanted to use up. I tossed them down there. I looked around and dug up volunteer hostas and lungwort. I put them in a tub and carried them up the slope from below. I smoothed the soil and manure and dug holes for the plants commensurate with the size of their root system. Maybe 2-dozen young plants and 4 potted hostas I’d purchased weeks ago. With luck, the spot will be a joy to look upon when I get in or out of my car near there.
One problem is that the Hollow catches a lot of leaves in autumn.
I will just have to be sure to clear them off until the plants become strong enough to push through the blanket covering them.
Saturday will be September 11, 2021—the twentieth anniversary of the terrorist attacks using domestic passenger aircrafts as flying bombs.
I’m having a few friends over for a cookout. It is just a coincidence.
I will be my first entertaining since COVID, I think. I’ve done a little cleaning and picking up every night this week.
There is still a lot to do.
I haven’t gone “native” up here during COVID. I guess the term “go natural” might be more apt since there is no one else up here.
Maybe “feral” … lol.
It will be odd having people up here again.
I think I will grill tuna.
September 11, 2001
I was in the backroom of the Frederick store. Our online selling was still in its youth. I was still managing the Frederick store on a daily basis. I would go in early to sort and price books. Back then, we bought most of the books at the stores. We would have had one van then. The old 97 Dodge which we still have. I would sit on a stool and go through box after box. There was a radio back there. It had a stainless steel antenna that could be extended about three feet. I would often have Imus in the Morning on as background noise. He and his crew could make me laugh out loud. He had interesting interviews with all manner of folk, from politicians to musicians to news journalists. Sometimes he would go over the top and say something awful, and I would change channels.
Book after book was lifted from boxes. I’d inspect it and decide its fate. The stores. The internet. The dumpster. (At that time, no one would take books to recycle. Believe me, I tried. Charities wouldn’t accept them either. They wanted me to buy their castoffs!) Those going to the dumpster I would toss against the metal back door in bad weather. Those thousands of doomed books left their marks upon the door.
That day the weather was lovely, so I had propped the door open. Today, I would toss the junk books out into the alley behind the store.
The news broke in. Tentative and confused at first. Then clearer. Then terrifying. I continued working with the books as the scale of the assault became apparent.
I called my wife at her law office in Pennsylvania and asked her to bring the two little boys home from school.
One report was saying a plane had crashed into a Pennsylvania mountain on its way to Washington D.C. to crash into the Capitol. Our house had an excellent view of the ridge where Camp David is. It is the only Pennsylvania mountain ridge on the way to DC.
Plus, what else could happen?
I can’t remember much else about that day. Did we open the stores? I suppose so. What else would we do? The little warehouse we occupied across town would need to pull and pack mail orders.
Maybe we closed early. I don’t remember.
Today is very much like that day. Crisp air. The sky bright blue. I remember some things more vividly because I wrote a lengthy poem that day.
(I will append it at the bottom of this story.)
I hope we never have to go through anything like that again.
Well, I guess we are…
The president announced last night he was planning to force employers like us (over 100 employees) to require unvaccinated people to get shot of have weekly tests.
Why us? We are a private company. If he is getting tough, then go to door to door and do it that way.
I can’t imagine the unhappiness here, checking into people’s personal lives.
Plus, there are HIPAA factors and other legal things we are NOT supposed to do—like treat one person one way and another person differently.
It is just so depressing. The vaccine, herd immunity and people with antibodies from already having the virus was going to set things right.
That was the promise. That was the science.
Now they want a third shot too.
Israel has one of the world’s highest COVID-19 vaccination levels, with about 78 percent of those ages 12 and older fully vaccinated, mostly with the Pfizer vaccine. At the same time, Israel now has one of the highest infection rates in the world, potentially a sign of waning vaccine immunity as the highly contagious delta variant spreads, Science reports.
They began pushing a third booster shot in July. Now nearly 60% of the people hospitalized in Israel were already fully vaccinated.
Some there are saying a 4th booster is likely.
We are masked again in Montgomery County. The executive there is likely to push for vaccine passports to get into restaurants, etc…
I’m beginning to envision a future much like what we went through in the past year. I hope not.
Late afternoon last Friday, our scout Larry brought a load in. He likes to arrive near my quitting time.
Maybe he doesn’t want me leaving early… lol.
“It’s a William Morris collection from a church.”
“A William Morris collection. 77 boxes. And more tomorrow.”
I took a peek in a few boxes. They were mostly modern. But many were from unusual publishers. I paid him a rather large rate per box.
It was time to go.
I met some friends at Black Ankle Vineyard. I have always had a prejudice against local wine. Whatever these folks are doing… it is great. We sat out on a sprawling patio. They brought a picnic of cheese and still warm bread and grapes and…
It was a perfect evening. The weather, the ambience (there was a duo of acoustic guitar players playing songs from the 70s mostly), the food, the wine and… friends.
Saturday, I went in and avoided my usual carts. I went right for Larry’s William Morris collection.
It is rare for me to pull books from boxes anymore. My time should be spent on the difficult books that others have pulled from boxes (along with more common books) and have set aside for my attention. There are plenty of them every week.
Oh, but it was so much fun. Just cool books throughout.
One for data entry at this fixed price.
One for the stores at this fixed price.
One to be researched by Madeline or Annika.
One for me.
I’m downsizing! Bringing in books from my collections for Wonder Book to sell online.
I am NOT supposed to be taking any more home.
But here you have it.
Well, I’m not buying ALL of them!
I just have them on hold.
Thinking about it…
I spent all day and didn’t finish the pallet.
I did manage to create 6 or 8 full carts of fixed price books from William Morris part 1.
Larry texted he was coming at 3:45 p.m. He was late.
He backed up, and I went out to meet him. I was in a grumpy mood despite a full day of only fun books.
I was tired. I’d worked hard all day. It was Saturday. I was ready for something else.
Like cocktail hour.
“This is rest of the William Morris collection. The old stuff.”
He opened the double doors on the back of his battered gray van.
It was a mess. Busted boxes and loose books everywhere. He began stacking piles of loose books on the metal dock plate.
I began drooling. Figuratively. Well, maybe actually before long.
“We should just put them on carts,” I said.
I rolled a cart to the edge of the dock for him to load directly from the van.
He set boxes on the dock, and I began unpacking them onto carts.
Somehow I didn’t begrudge staying later than I’d planned.
The books were wonderful. Press books. Limited editions. Fine bindings.
When he’d left, we had filled 4 carts!
Plus, we’d palletized another 30 boxes he thought were mostly newer.
I sat on a box and just played with the beautiful creatures.
The next day, I couldn’t get into them—too much.
I had to empty my “traditional” carts so there would be plenty free on Monday.
Then Monday… problems. Tuesday problems. Wednesday, Thursday… reviewing legal documents.
I haven’t been able to return to the collection.
I can hardly wait!
I did spend some time in Annika’s room reviewing books she’s researched. She spent a week at CABS school and then there was a week off, I think, and then I was away…
Somehow a run of Eugenics books made their way here.
A fascinating, if horrible subject.
Some famous people supported Eugenics. For example:
Margaret Sanger favored:
Eugenics approach to breeding for “the gradual suppression, elimination and eventual extinction, of defective stocks—those human weeds which threaten the blooming of the finest flowers of American civilization.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes:
The Supreme Court ruled in an 8-1 decision that compulsory eugenic sterilization was constitutional. Holmes wrote the majority opinion in his characteristically crisp prose.
In 1911, while acting as the governor of New Jersey, he signed a eugenic sexual sterilization bill into legislation (Trent, 1994.) Under this legislation, criminals or adults considered to be ‘feeble-minded’ could be forced to undergo sexual sterilization.
I’ve always contended one shouldn’t be hasty to judge the actions of historical characters who were acting in the context of their times.
Still, eugenics is ugly business.
Well, these books are pretty ugly. But they are important. To destroy such things would be to destroy the evidence.
Then this little charmer dropped in.
The “Blue Book”—A Bibliographical Attempt to describe the Guide Books to the houses of ill fame in New Orleans… as well as to Harlotry in general in New Orleans.
A pretty scarce book.
My dad was in New Orleans in those days. I don’t think he would have had a copy. But I’m sure he would have treated a lot of the cases that came out of these places in the free clinics he volunteered in.
a cloud of blackbirds
burst from box elders
they rose upward
each circling, swirling
within its crowd
bound together invisibly
for defense and society
through their group
i could see
cloudless brilliant blue sky
beyond their freest
just how far away
does the blue begin?
a hint of gold was in the light
it was that pre-fall time
growth giving way to ripeness
giving way to death
cool, very cool in the morning
the day would heat considerably
as all true fall days do.
like all of us I proceeded
with the work of my hands
the work of my mind
the work of the morning
fires burst back
pushing people into the air
a miracle of mind and work
the fire that heated rock and meat
and gave light so long ago
had been tamed
focused, molded, engineered
thrusting them up closer
to the brilliant blue light.
this fire freed men, women and children
from gravity and geography.
of women, men and children
free in the morning
to take to the air
free in a country
to take themselves anywhere
to rise to the light
close to where the blue begins.
far above patchwork fields
of food or forest or dwelling
four small groups
colder than ice
colder than death
claimed four compartments of space.
this child is ours
this man, this woman
we enslave you this morning
the reapers had arms, legs, eyes
overtly the masters resembled their minions
therefore they must want something
we can give it to them
or at least postpone their desires
because they have hands and ears and flesh
just like us
they must need to breathe.
breath first then water then food
they have to want what we all need
what we have to have.
that other thing
that brought them here
to do this thing
will come in time.
they will ask us
they will tell us
they will ask them below
they will tell them below.
seemingly equipped with all the human parts
hair, fingers, tongues
the new masters were deeply disguised
with clothes and voices
from this planet
but they were no longer of this world
their eyes saw some other place
some power overtook their needs
they had cast aside the need to breathe.
each now had a selfish goal
each felt his soul would rise if thousands fell
an equation alien to all.
all but the mass murderer
all but the pathologic misanthrope
all but the vainest narcissist
all but the brainwashed fanatic
whose mind is blankened by chanting
droning dogma hypnotizing
whose heart is blackened by black mystic promise
a blood contract
the devil’s deal
(i’d love to know
the quid pro quo
the fine print
on the other side)
one by one by one
the new masters
took their slaves to earth.
those on the last
discovered the truth
through waves of love
that the deal was
that there was no deal.
rebellion was the only hope
they must breech the narrow pass
just wide for one at a time
throw themselves into the steel
one pair of arms
one pair of legs
flesh willing needing to take on
the slashing steel
pushing to the fore
til severed sinews
felled the foremost
and the next must try
to gain a foot or yard or an inch
toward the front
the only hope is through the steel
one by one by one by one by one
they threw themselves
into the breech
headlong self sacrifice
sanity taking blow after blow
pushing the madness back
step by step
til there was no place further to go
they’d won their goal
wresting control of the tiller and rudder
of a ship that could no longer sail
for there was no more wind
to hold the victors up
or the vanquished
and they all returned to the soil as one
all bloods soaking into the farmland
each man, woman and child
all lost unnaturally fast.
a total loss
which was an astounding victory.
for each soul there saved
fifty or a hundred
a wonderful ratio
on a day of horrible math and physics
earlier and first
one hit home
surely an accident
like a half century before
then a blind bomber
pierced the empire state
this new bomber
left a smoldering hole
near the top of the stained tower
while its twin stood next to it
unscathed, gleaming, unflawed
illuminated in the morning’s brightening light
a catastrophe surely
many dead surely
the rest drained downward
hundreds and hundreds downwards
down hundreds and hundreds of steps
earthward to freedom
flowing out like grains of sand
in the base of a leaky hourglass.
red, yellow and dark, dark blue
rising against the tide
against gravity and fear
ascending for stranded souls
nearer the blue
and to extinguish the damaged twin
so all could once again
be put right
a second silver dart appeared
its fires controlled
pushing it along a level path
which suddenly turned all wrong
it melted into the untouched tower
which seemed to absorb the mass
until the fire escaped
on the far side
an uncontrolled orange blossom
pouring out and rolling up
once again lighter than air
not real enough in the mind’s eye
to pass for cinematic fiction
but it must be real
and really no accident.
because the eyes took the information:
there was air and sunshine warming
and reality all around
where the feet touch the ground
and lungs take in a breath
and hands can touch the familiar.
if the mind confirms reality all around
then the twin unrealities must be true too.
both now horribly wounded
but standing still
while living souls
poured out from the bases
saviors poured in
for the souls still stranded above
those frozen in fear
those cut off by doors jammed shut
the lame and the halt.
hundreds cannot negotiate
the steps to the freedom
in the pre-fall day’s
golden brilliant blue light
two had hit home
the silver flying ship
is made to soar and glide
thousands of feet above the earth
much nearer to where the blue begins.
a distant shiny flash in the sun’s golden glow
it should leave a white vapor trail
sectioning the solid blue
a distant soft whooshing hum
it should cause the interested earthbound
to bend heads upwards
to search the whole heaven
for the source faraway and above.
that is where it is meant to be.
this one flew impossibly low
a beeline of stainless steel
and red, white and blue
loud and low for those near its course.
the doppler screamed its source
and its aim.
those near its destination
saw its four hundred miles per hour
stop abruptly plowing into
the five-sided five-concentric ringed icon
a juggernaut pounding into power
three had hit home.
the first blow stunned us
like a blindsided mugging victim
not knowing he’s been hit
second and third punches
to an unprotected unprepared gut
the fourth blow mysterious
somewhere out there
bad maybe worse.
we still stood
too surprised, too shocked
to fall down or cover up
not conscious enough to know
how badly we were hurt.
then a slow dawning realization
that maybe we’re being murdered
“why? what do you want?”
no response, no demands
the attackers want only death
“why us? what did we do?”
they will not say
they have no reason
their reason is garbled, canted
the mind is awakening
but it’s something we can extinguish
we must rise up to it
far up toward the blue
where birds or planes
alone are at home
closer to where white vapor trails can cross
closer to stars light years beyond
but set in a field of blue
red men of red trucks
past blood and bodies and survivors
up to save what can be saved.
flesh, blood, stone, glass and steel
where red fires roar.
hundreds of steps yet to take
then a crack
and a roar
and all is extinguished
the highest imaginable
house of cards collapse
with gravity’s pull
as floors pancaked, compacted
and a soaring spire
rubble, ashes and dust.
a black plume flows up
from around the falling roof
now hundreds of feet
closer to earth than seconds before.
smoke and dust and ash
circling, swirling within its cloud
a definite shape
organic an immense
gray and black animate airship
defined against the brilliant blue
above and beyond
millions now unwell
sickened by sight and sound
and knowledge of what was within
then the twin
follows its sibling
its thousands of legs
knocked out from under
as it fell incredibly fast
yet in slow motion
and a twin plume rose
too much, too much
my mind was punched
to another time and place:
lady bug, lady bug
fly away home
your house is on fire
your children are burning
ring around the roses
pocket full of posies
we all fall down
the twin pillars
of smoke and ash and dust
rose to a great height
and began to disperse.
heroes slain in ancient times
were placed on pyres
to free their souls
to fly upward.
ash and dust and swirling cloud of soul
is figuratively freed
up to and through the blue
so heaven can swallow the smoke
fear, tears, rage, resolve
which response is right
which response can be controlled
which response rises to supersede the last
the impotence of distance and smallness.
the desire for potency to strike back
at the dead madnesses
whose incinerated souls
have already flown
to the eternal reward
promised to anyone
who slaughter six thousand innocents:
where hitler and stalin
greet deserving newcomers:
“guess what’s in store for you?”
as the two melt excruciatingly
for the millionth time
the response the response the response
no, no, no, no
you cannot have us
no, no, no, no
we will not cower.
if your desire
is hell on earth
then keep to your rubble pile
and believe what you wish
recruit the gullible
starve your minds
waste your lives
on fear and hate
tear down your own homes
if your brothers and women will let you.
you can keep your patch
of rock and dirt
we don’t want it.
history tells us
if your rules are tyranny
someone brave from within
will rise and knock you down.
sic semper tyrannis.
if your members love your rule
you may endure
no, no, no, no
the planes you sowed
will not grow sympathy
you will not harvest
respect or fear.
we’ve come too far
from dark philosophy
and fearing shadows
cast on stone walls
by flames burning on dirt.
our twin pillars:
freedom and love
nothing can knock down.