Chuck in Washingtonian

March 1

I woke frequently overnight to storm-tossed dreams.

I was in the hold of an old wooden ship. There was a logical reason why I was in there, but that part of the narrative is gone now. I was being tossed fro and to as waves crashed into the vessel.

I thought of my death. Drowning and washing up as an anonymous corpse on some unknown shore.

Would crows peck at my body… eyes?

I thought how sad it would be to die just an anonymous organic artifact.

Maybe it was the very rich ossobuco I’d had for dinner that had my mind and guts raging.

But I awoke to a glorious sunrise.

The sun is now in the center of the view from the bay window. It will head north a little each day and disappear into the forest in a couple of weeks. It seems early this year, but I’m sure our own star keeps pretty good time.

The week has been a blur. I got back from Dublin on Monday night. It was a great trip to a magical city.

There were plenty of books awaiting my review, but I kept getting interrupted due to circumstances which I could not control.

Poor goofy Giles went AWOL on Wednesday night. He was led astray by Merry, who egged him on into accompanying him for a runabout in the woods. Merry reappeared a few hours later, wet and muddy from the rain.

Giles didn’t.

He’s never failed to return before.

I left the outdoor lights on. Periodically, I’d get up and call out and whistle for him.


Was he dead? Hit by a car? Attacked by coyotes? Snared in a hunter’s trap? Lost in the vast forest of the watershed?

I went down the mountain with his leash and sheet in my truck. The sheet was in case I’d need to bring his body back for burial.

I looked online and one needs to physically go to animal control to report a lost dog.

The people there were extremely nice and concerned. They asked about him and where he was lost.

“There was something on Facebook about a dog found near the watershed.” She turned the screen on her computer to face me. It was him. Wet, muddy, bedraggled.

I don’t do Facebook, so I took the name of the lost and found site and headed to the Frederick store in a Wonder Book van. I gave my son the information. In a couple of hours, my phone rang.

Yes. I could come get him now, but the woman wanted ID and a picture of the dog in case I was a dognapper.

She and her family live a couple of miles south of me at the edge of the forest.

Giles had lucked out. He’d set off their cameras, and they took him in. He actually behaved, and I was asked if I wanted to give him up.

We chatted a bit more, and she offered to babysit if I ever needed it.

WOW! A miracle! His boarding is complex and expensive. $60 a day and a long way away. What had begun as a dirge turned into a boon.

I offered a reward, which she refused. I asked if her kids liked books.

“Yes. A lot.”

“I’ll send you some gift certificates.”

“We love Wonder Book!”

Well, a happy ending. I took Giles home. He was very hungry.

“You stupid dog!” I told him, scratching his back and neck.


So, that was most of that day—a wild dog day.

Wednesday, I had an appointment with the cardiologist. I dreaded that. He is a bit judgmental and abrupt. It’s been bad news each visit. This time, all my numbers were in his targeted range. My weight is down to pre-COVID poundage.

He seemed a little disappointed when he told me that I didn’t need to return for a year this time.

He did chastise me at the end about the Apple watch. He’d asked earlier why I wasn’t wearing it.

“Too annoying. It was always telling me things like I’d been sitting too long. Or I’m walking more today than yesterday…”

Damned nanny device constantly perched on my wrist waiting for something to complain about.

“You should still wear it!”

That afternoon, I went to Barnes and Noble to see if the March Washingtonian magazine was in yet. I had no idea if they carried magazines anymore. I never go there. Why would I?

They have two large displays with hundreds of periodicals right at the entrance.

There was a cardboard display just for the Washingtonian, holding 40 or so copies.

Barnes & Noble Washingtonian Display

Who knew?

I love the magazine. I subscribed for decades. It was a great way to discover new restaurants and shops and events. You had to drive to or toward DC to get good meals and shopping.

Then Frederick evolved so much that there is really no need to leave it. Any kind of restaurant you can think of is here. There’s a big Korean barbecue opening next week.

Wegmans has any exotic food you could want.

Then there’s mail order…

And for books—there’s a place called Wonder Book.

Why go anywhere else?

Last Friday in Dublin, I got a text from my friend and Washington Post ad rep, Kim.

“Congratulations on the Washingtonian feature! Looks great!”

Cool. The story made it. You never know. But I had no idea what it looked like. Only that the subject was “cool jobs” in the DC region.

I reached out to my family to check B&N. Turns out, my older son subscribes. He sent me pics.

Chuck in Washingtonian


I mean, I USED to think I was pretty cool. But I got little external support for that.

But now it was official!

Well, not “me” but my job.

I laughed at myself but was gratified that the excellent photographer and editor they’d sent had been able to hide many flaws. They must have taken 500 pictures.

“Tilt your head. Smile. Less of a smile. Hold this book. Look up at those shelves. Put hand in your pocket…”

Chuck in Washingtonian

Well, it turned out great, I think.

And if an older bookseller and the business of old books could be considered for such a hip concept as the “coolest jobs in DC”, well, guilty as charged.

For all my complaining, it is a cool job.

Except when it isn’t.

Last Friday, I sent out the story from Dublin. A friend, John, was taking the train from Galway to visit and lead me on some sightseeing from his native Irish perspective. He said he’d arrive around dinnertime and was going to bring his wife.

I met John maybe 8 years ago in Galway—my last visit there. If not, it was when he would come over every March with Charlie Byrnes to pick out thousands of books from the stores for Charlie Byrne’s Bookshop in Galway.

(Memo to self: Get back to Galway and environs in the west.)

They had a memorable visit in 2020 when COVID hit, and they had to scramble to get back home.

So Friday, I went walking in directions I hadn’t gone before. I headed out of the hotel and east along the quays. (Quay appears indeed to be somewhere between “key” and “kay.”) To walk along the Liffey is always enlivening. I made it almost to the sea—or Dublin Bay. Then I crossed one of the 17 or so Dublin bridges to the south shore. The further east you go, the more big glass boxes they are building. Cranes scratch the sky everywhere. Things are booming!

When I got back west enough, I crossed to the north shore to my hotel. From there, I headed north, aiming for the Dublin Writers Museum and the Hugh Lane Gallery I’d visited 5 years ago. (5 years exactly today.) That area was mostly rough neighborhoods full of shops and restaurants that were often not signed in English (or Irish.) Still, it was fascinating to see how the old buildings had evolved.

The Dublin Writers Museum was closed permanently. COVID victim, I presume. A lot of storefronts throughout the city seem not to have reopened after the plague. The Hugh Lane Gallery is a gem of an art gallery. But when I went in, I was shocked, as gallery after gallery had bare walls. 70% empty? I presumed COVID had done this too. Still, they had a number of rooms open with some great paintings. The Francis Bacon studio is still open as well. Checking online later, it may be that a Warhol exhibition had just left, taking 250 frames with it.

(Most of the museums and galleries offer free entry, so even half a museum is worth a visit.)

The day was aging, as I’d spent most of the morning in bed writing last week’s story, so I headed back to the hotel to rest a bit for the evening ahead. John had hinted at pub-crawling after dinner.

They arrived, and we headed out. The streets and bridges were packed with commuters heading out and tourists and partiers heading in.

They had chosen Rosa Madre for dinner. It was a very snug place. A converted Georgian townhouse full of cushions and curtains. The staff was excellent. The owner—maybe Rosa herself?—stopped by several times.

Great wine and food. I had Irish Sole Meunière.

Irish Sole Meunière

Then things got a little strange. We went into Temple Bar and stopped at a nondescript door.

VERY nondescript.

Speakeasy Nondescript Door

They knocked on the door and then rang a doorbell. Eventually, a woman opened it and looked at us inquisitively.

John asked if we could come in.

“Come back in half an hour.” And the door closed.

We went to a favorite pub of theirs. (The Irish are very particular about pubs. One that may seem no different from dozens of others can somehow be more authentic and offer a “better pour” than the rest.)

The city was full of Welsh dressed in red. A major rugby game was set for Saturday. Ireland versus Wales.

After a pint, we headed back and repeated the process. This time, we were granted entry. We were led up carpeted steps with a thick wooden banister to a room that could have come right out of the 1920s.

We were in a speakeasy.

The menu was a “book” listing cocktails they offer and their provenance and history.

Speakeasy Menu

I almost bought a copy. It was 15 Euros. But somehow after the second (large) cocktail, my thinking got a little fuzzy.

Second Cocktail

Then we headed back to the hotel on the north shore. We stopped for a gelato, which was an excellent idea, as the sugar and cold flowed through my veins, chasing down the alcohol demons.

Back at the hotel, I fell into bed and crashed. The 20,000 steps, wines, Guinness, Old Fashioned and Martini had taken their toll.

I awoke Saturday feeling awful. Part was hangover, but there was something else going on. My guts were churning from something I’d picked up. Likely from a doorknob… LOL.

I had no interest in breakfast. I made some coffee in the room and struggled to buck up.

Eventually, we met and headed back south. I was not very conversational but soldiered on, wanting to see what John and Megan had planned for me.

St Stephen’s Green is a gem of a park. The sun was out.


And I could have basked on a bench and watched the people and ducks indefinitely.

But there were things to see!

On the other side of the park was a row of Georgian mansions. In two of them is the MoLI.

Museum of Literature Ireland.

This was not on my radar at all. It had stunning displays of books and authors and artifacts.

Copy #1 of Ulysses was enshrined in one gallery.

It had a bathroom too. Having facilities not too far was sometimes urgent, as the churning below my sternum would sometimes reach a sudden crescendo.

We reentered Stephen’s Green. I walked over and tipped my hat to Joyce.

Stephen's Green Joyce

We crossed to the other side.

They had made reservations at the Dublin Museum for a guided tour. It was great fun. Our guide looked like Harry Potter and must have been a Trinity College acting student. I learned a lot and laughed a lot.

(And they had a bathroom.)

Game time was approaching, and they led me to a part of town I was unfamiliar with. Crowds in green (Ireland) and red (Wales) flowed round us, heading to the distant stadium. We passed pub after pub until we got to just the right one.

It was packed, but was also genuinely authentic. It was mainly a music pub, and images of the Dubliners and other seminal bands performing there covered the walls. It was great fun for me. Holding a pint and straining to see the tv on the far side of the bar.

Packed Pub

We headed on to another pub which had a smaller crowd upstairs and watched Ireland’s victory.

Dinner was a couple of hours off, and I opted to head back to the hotel for a long hot soak to try and draw the toxins out of me.

I taxied over to meet John at Pichet—which is a Michelin Bib Gourmand restaurant.

I ordered food but just couldn’t take a bite. I urged John to take it home. It looked too good to waste. We also didn’t finish the bottle of Cremant, which I also pressed him to take.

It was a great day, despite my mortal inconveniences. We said goodbye, and they headed back to Galway.

I headed for the hotel. The streets were very busy.

I saw a cab dropping his fares off at a curb. I leaned in and asked if he could take me.

He was a dapper gentleman of a certain age. Well dressed. He could have been a maitre d.

But he entertained me all the way back with “f****** this” and “f***** that” and “I would never pick up those f*****…”

I couldn’t tell what he was unhappy about and likely would not have understood, anyway.

But it was an amusing way to end my day.

Sunday. My last day.

I felt no better, and the bit of breakfast I had didn’t sit well.

I walked all day with only vague destinations in mind.

Museums. The Chester Beatty Library. St Patrick’s Cathedral.

The tourist map shows 17 bridges over the Liffey. The past week, I walked or was driven across many of them.

The last was the Hapenny Bridge—just outside my last pub stop and my last Guinness.

Then back to the hotel.

I’ll be glad to get home. Spring is well on here. I don’t want to miss its beginnings on the mountain.

Dublin is a magical place.

Handel was here?

First Messiah Performance

You just let your feet lead you, and keep your eyes open, and… magic.

I’m up in my room. My stomach took to churning on Saturday morning and is now only settling.

19,000 meandering steps, and I got back cold and empty.

I took a long hot soak, turned the heat up, and now I am comfortably on my back.

Double-decker buses soldier on five stories down below. I wonder how people figure them all out. There are dozens of lines and various colors for in town and parts further out. It is a culture here, I suppose.

It is dark. I walked the day away. Now I will lie the night away.

Well, it is not all lies.

A city where the main tourist attraction is a book? (And an adjacent library.)

Well, maybe Guinness has more visitors, but, then, The Book of Kells isn’t giving you a free pint at the end of your walkthrough.

Joyce, Wilde, Shaw, Beckett…

Dublin Airport

The sun is pouring in a huge window overlooking a couple of planes and some runways.

The warmth and light feel good.

Customs was a breeze. I guess they may have finally figured things out.

Irish security had me take off my belt and shoes. I had purchased an early map (facsimile) of America for my son.

The tube, it turned out, was too long for the suitcase. So I stuck it in my backpack. Security had to swab it for explosives. Then remove and inspect it.

That may be the only thing I bought here that wasn’t consumed.

My life is full of “things” that I no longer feel the urge to import them—unless it is something I feel I will never see again.

I used to pick up a bottle or two at the airports overseas. Now there’s really nothing you can’t get in the states.

I wish the Archaeology Museum had a gift shop. There were some evocative Celtic and early Christian statues and other grave artifacts—usually discovered in bogs—that I would have sprung for to put on a windowsill at home. Among the many amazing sites, that was one of the best. That anything survived that long is amazing. That such “primitive” people—living on dirt, stone and thatch—could be so creative—artistic—is a testament to the human spirit or genome or whatever.

It is as much an art gallery as a place displaying dug up artifacts.

The place is loaded with gold but also stone and wood and other metal works. There are even perishable things that rarely survive like leather. They even found a book of hours in a bog. Sadly, its remains are just a ghost of the original. But its leaves pressed behind glass evoke what it once was. How it got in buried in a bog is a mystery. Was it put there to protect it, or was it stolen and hidden there?

There were also a half dozen prehistoric “bog men” discreetly displayed behind circular walls. Kinda creepy, but still amazing “survivors.”

I just picked up some Irish chocolates for Joey’s wife. He took care of Giles’ transport and boarding. I miss the dogs—though not their white hairs that are everywhere in my home. Pip’s cough is much better but likely chronic bronchitis. So he’ll be on cough medicine as needed from now on. Poor guy. But it hasn’t slowed him down.

I’m still a bit queasy from the food poisoning or whatever it was I caught on Friday night. I awoke on Saturday not feeling well at all.

Maybe I caught it from a doorknob. My mom used to be adamant that there were dread diseases on doorknobs.

“Don’t put your hands in your mouth!”

“Go and wash your hands!”

I’ll be comforted to light a fire tonight. That 21st century ritual of mine connects me with the earth as well as…

Earth, wind, water, air and aether.

Descending to Dulles.

It has been a good flight.

But in my rush to be lightweight and efficient in packing, I packed no pen.

And no book.

That forced me to do something I’ve put off for months—it looks like since September. I transcribed 15 pages of poems from a white legal pad I have been toting around since…

Well, another chore completed. More paper I can file away. “DONE.”

Thursday—February 29th. Leap Year.

How different the last leap year was to become. 2020.

It is cold and clear outside. Dawn is an orange band on the horizon.

Things are looking up. Or down.

I went to the heart doctor yesterday, and all my numbers are down. Down to levels he feels are good enough so that “you don’t need to come back for a year.”

(They’re actually lower than pre-COVID—BP, weight…)

It was almost a year ago that I went to the recommended practice for a checkup since I’ve had several friends die suddenly and unexpectedly from heart attacks in the last 4 years—since COVID. I had no symptoms. I just thought I should get a baseline.

Well, they scared the heck out of me. I was injected with something to stimulate my heart as if it was under stress. At the end of the test—lying on a thin mattress below a large machine monitoring me—the aide said, “You need to see the doctor. Now. Your heart rate is high.”

So began months of fear and worry. And lots of new meds. And wondering what the future would hold.

There were other mortality markers last year for me and my family. But today, so much of that is fixed or gone away as well.

Maybe I was gifted some kind of cosmic reset.

I’d like that.

I haven’t been able to work at my normal levels for a couple of months due to COVID and a back injury.

Now all that seems behind me.

Yesterday, I went home early. There are more than hints of spring on the mountain. There are about 100 daffodils blooming.

Thousands will follow.

I finally emptied the last bags of mulch that had been an eyesore in the gardens since last fall.

I began hauling the logs that the tree people left in the middle of the yard (against my instructions) to the driveway. There I can load them in the truck and stack them in the barn to season for burning next year—or the year after.

I’m anxious to start cutting firewood. When I’m out on the property or along the private lane, I’m always on the lookout for deadfalls or other easy-to-collect firewood.

Yesterday morning, I got up very early to prep the house for the housekeeper’s visit. I cleaned. Put stuff away. Stripped the bed and washed the sheets and pillowcases. Did all the dishes. Cleared the counters… I left the place unlocked for her.

For some reason, I thought to text her from work.

“Sore throat… aching joints…”

Surprise! Now the place is half torn up.

Well, maybe I’ll get motivated to do some long put-off projects.

So it goes. Good and bad.

On my way home yesterday, I stopped at Barnes and Noble. I haven’t been for years. I only go if I need a new travel guide or something. This time, I was checking on this month’s issue of the Washingtonian Magazine.

And me—in all my glory, working at my “COOL” job.

Speaking of which… back to the grindstone.

8 Comments on Article

  1. Kathleen Arnold commented on

    YAY! For you, for Giles, for Ireland. And for Spring at last.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you so much.
      It was a happy ending!

  2. Livia commented on

    Hello Chuck,

    The magazine article and photos are so cool!

    Never been to Ireland. I should visit this year….

    Take it easy.


    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Thank you Livia.
      Ireland is magical.

  3. Jeff Kirk commented on

    Congratulations on your article! Cool Guy, cool job! It always amazes me how that from one Friday blog to the next, you manage to travel the globe, run Wonder Book, maintain your mountain retreat, and still find time for family and friends, including three furry ones! You have somehow mastered work/life balance. I applaud you!

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      That is so kind.
      Still lots to do and a lot missing – but I guess I’m a bit obsessed.

  4. Ken Jacobs commented on

    I can identify with the injected stress test! *I* saw *MY* cardiologist today for 6 month checkup. All the numbers were good.

    1. Charles Roberts replied on

      Good going!
      Science is mazing.

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *