Please Come to Boston…And Many Other Places

Boston Restaurant

It is 4 in the morning. The end of November.

I’m writing this now cuz I know that I better.


The end of each week has become an obsession here for around 120 consecutive Fridays* have produced one or more book stories.

* 123 weeks. 119 Fridays. 141 stories. — Editor

This week my editor will be off Friday. So I have to push one out today, Thursday, or break the streak. I don’t want the consecutive run to end for a number of reasons. One of those reasons may be pathological. One is a certain kind of desperation. Thoreau in Walden wrote:

“[All] men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Actually, the exact quote is:

The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation. From the desperate city you go into the desperate country…

He was quite a writer.

Another reason is I don’t like to fail, to lose, to give up.

Thus I’m pecking away in bed in the dark. Dawn is nearly 3 hours away.

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The laptop is propped upon knees which are raised under flannel sheets and a comforter and a big faux fur “rug.” They called the fur blankets Russians would cover themselves with on sleighs “rugs,” correct?

It is warm here this November 21st. 68 inside. 36 outside. When I awoke, I opened the dampers on the Vermont Castings woodstove and added some 4-6 inch diameter logs to the big glowing chunks from larger pieces of wood that burned all night. I closed the catalytic converter damper while leaving the draft damper wide open. All the air now entering the firebox of the “Defiant” model has the fire quite lively. The stainless steel stewpot full of water atop it hisses and rattles. It is not quite boiling yet. The pot is to add moisture to air in the house which the fire dries out. On days when I burn the stove “hot” it will often evaporate about 2 gallons.

Yvonne will be here at 7. I need to do some cleaning and picking up so she can clean and pickup the house. She has come once a month for years. It is a discipline. A calendar. A framework to my life. Her visits keep this place from slipping into the chaos that it could become. For I am a lonely bachelor who is able to bring an infinite amount of cool books (and stuff) home at will. I have put as many bookcases in as I feel I is possible. I will not let this place become a hoarder’s eyrie. I have seen too many domiciles with books stacked on the floors and steps and even sinks and tubs.

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing.

I have been having vivid dreams lately. Sometimes I awaken and write them down—often in a kind of verse. Yesterday I awoke and wrote several dreams down. It’s single lines of blank verse filled over two pages on a pad of yellow legal paper I keep near the bed.

Some hours ago I awoke, and this time sent myself an email from my iPhone which is seldom beyond reach. The email reads:

Subject: Receipts between life and death

Paper label affixed to embossed brown cloth typical of bindings of the 1840s-50s.
Powwow book
Which way to Maryland
‘Turn right’
Giant glossy black butterflies

That was quite a dream. I was at a house call in an old limestone Pennsylvania farmhouse. On a shelf was a book. A boldly lettered handwritten label in brown ink on the spine of a very old book. It was a handmade title, and it read:


“Receipt” can be an archaic synonym for “recipe.”

I have found maybe a half dozen handwritten powwow books over the years. I am sure I saved one or two around here somewhere…somewhere safe.

Oh, the amazing things that used to turn up in the old days. Powwow books…

Powwow, also called Brauche or Braucherei in Deitsch, is a vernacular system of North American traditional medicine and folk magic originating in the culture of the Pennsylvania Dutch. Blending aspects of folk religion with healing charms, “powwowing” includes a wide range of healing rituals used primarily for treating ailments in humans and livestock, as well as securing physical and spiritual protection, and good luck in everyday affairs. Although the word “powwow” is Native American, these ritual traditions are of European origin and were brought to colonial Pennsylvania in the transatlantic migrations of German-speaking people from Central Europe in the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries. A practitioner is sometimes referred to as a “Powwower” or Braucher, but terminology varies by region. These folk traditions continue to the present day in both rural and urban settings, and have spread across North America.

I wish I had not sold any of them now.

We had a sign made on wood for the stores many years ago:

“The only book you regret is the one you didn’t buy.”

There is an analogue to that for booksellers:

“The only book you regret is the one you wish you hadn’t sold.”

I am glad I saved that dream. It will certainly become a future book story. Perhaps another Round and Round. That “book” is up to 16 chapters now.

For I dreamed I bought that powwow book and drove it home. It certainly must have some magic in it if I was gifted it from that world where dreams come from.

It has been a hectic few weeks. The day after I returned from London was November 3. It was also the day the first Weinberg Center Cinema Club Film Series movie aired. Wonder Book has sponsored this in full. The concept was to show movies on the big screen in the 100-year-old Weinberg theater that most of us have never seen except on television. Clark Kline (“The Brains Behind Wonder Book”, filmmaker and founder of the 72 Film Fest), John Healey (Weinberg director) and I bounced ideas off one another. We were mostly trying to think of bookish films. We will show Animal Farm, Moby Dick, To Kill a Mockingbird and 5 or 6 more movies over the next months. For some reason the Marx Brothers were chosen as the first film. We screened two. Duck Soup and A Night at the Opera. I was VERY concerned no one would show up. A bit panicked—like those dreams when I was a kid where I found myself naked in school. Over 200 people bought tickets. There was plenty of laughing and clapping. It was a good thing.

The Cinema Club Film Series is Wonder Book’s way of celebrating books and classic movies and giving back to the community which has nurtured Wonder for almost 40 years.

What do the Marx Brothers have to do with books? I dunno. They were certainly VERY “punny.” One of the first t-shirts we ever had printed for the bookstores had a Groucho quote on it:

“Outside of a dog, a book is a man’s best friend. Inside a dog it’s too dark to read.”

That night I went to Baltimore. Why? The events were just coincidental. The Patriots were playing the Ravens. I like the Ravens, but I really wanted to see Tom Brady play. Just to say that I have. I have great respect for excellence. That respect is redoubled when it is combined with longevity. The Ravens won—which was bittersweet—although I am a Ravens fan (mostly because of my son who is an avid fan of all kinds of sports.) Another item ticked off my bucket list.

Monday the 4th was a catch-up day from being away. That night I went home and split wood I’d cut weeks ago. I have a gas splitter in my “barn.” Winter is coming.

Tuesday began the week of eating Asian. November 5th I went to Montgomery County, met friends and had hot pot. It is an insane way to eat. You order a “pot” of broth. I chose Korean. Then you can choose from about 50 kinds of meat and vegetable and other foods—plus many spices and garnishments and sauces. They’ll bring all you want, and you cook it in a “stew pot” of broth on a burner in front of each person. (There were 6 of us.) They will continue bringing whatever you choose until you say (what is Korean for) “Uncle.”

Korean Hotpot

Wednesday I met with my leasing agent and my son about renewing the lease for the Frederick store. We met at Modern Asia which is a terrific restaurant in the same shopping center as the bookstore. They offer numerous ethnic Asian varieties of food.

Thursday evening was Vietnamese in Frederick.

Friday was Lazy Fish downtown. I met a friend there, and we shared sushi and sake and… From there we walked to the Weinberg where The Russian Ballet was performing Swan Lake. Although the “antique” stage is not huge, they pulled it off and never looked “crowded.”

Saturday I went with another friend to Rappahannock Cellars winery near the Skyline Drive in Virginia for a “members only” soup and wine pairing.

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That took a good part of the day. When we got back to Maryland, it seemed like a good idea to go to Peter Chang’s for some pretty incredible Chinese.

Sunday I cut some wood for a new neighbor. A huge tulip poplar had broken in half on their lot and was too much for them to cut up. Actually, I cut it up for myself. I enjoy cutting wood. For me it is Zen-like. I also burn wood a LOT. I consider it a personal defeat whenever the furnace comes on—which is rarely. Then I did my usual warehouse book play but then went and watched the Ravens on TV with two doctor friends. They didn’t provide Asian food, but there was way too much food and drink. The Ravens demolished the Bengals 49-13. (It wasn’t even that close.)

On 11/11—Armistice Day (“the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month…”), I went home and began splitting the poplar. These majestic trees often have green hearts. This one surprised me with not only green but purple, blue and burgundy. These colors would only be revealed when the tree was dead. One of nature’s “hidden beauties” on the mountain where I live.

Tulip Popular Wood Colors

Tuesday the twelfth I took a friend to see Bob Dylan (who won the Nobel Prize for Literature recently.) I first heard Dylan when I was about 8 and would sneak up to my brothers’ third floor loft and secretly play their records when they were away. I’ve been a fan ever since. It was on the definite bucket list.

However, Bob’s performance was mostly mumbled and growled, and I could only understand every third word or so. Maybe I was a bit impaired because during the pre-show the auditorium had special serving of Dylan’s whiskies—Heaven’s Door. They were all delicious. They had an eponymous ballcap on the table, and I asked how much it was.

“Take it.”

My brother Tony has said Dad used to say: “Son, never refuse a free drink.” I think that may be apocryphal. He never said that at the time. But I certainly didn’t refuse a free hat.

Dylan Concert Swag

I got some other “free” swag for being a “VIP.” VIP means I paid way too much for the tickets.

My friend said he had seen Dylan before. I asked him if he was more understandable then.

My friend mumbled something… I only understood two out of three words.

November 13th I had to do a dog swap. Merry and Pippin were sent to stay with their cousin Giles for a few days because…

November 14th I flew to Boston for the ABAA annual book fair there. I got there late Thursday night. Friday morning I got up early and worked on the book story that went out last week. Then I Ubered to the Museum of Fine Arts. It is a vast collection. They had an interesting Nubian Art and Archeology exhibit the main thrust for which seemed to be how bad the museum had been in the past taking artifacts from other countries and long changed prejudices.

Nubian Art Exhibit

I get it. But I don’t get it. You can’t judge what people did a hundred years ago by today’s standards. Also, I’m not sure the gold and jewels and art treasures would have fared well under the control of the various political factions that have controlled the Sudan over the last century.

The museum had an excellent Kay Nielsen exhibition.

Kay Nielsen Exhibition

When I needed to take relief, I was faced with this spreadsheet on a pylon sign outside the toilets.

Restroom Sign

Of course, a facility with the vast space and resources of this museum can create four (or was it more) different types of toilet rooms. It made me wonder when businesses will be mandated to create such accommodations. I get it but…

Then I walked the few blocks to the Isabella Stuart Gardiner Museum. It is like a European palace in downtown Boston. I first visited it when I was just out of college. That was before the tragic theft in 1990 which saw one of the world’s few Vermeers cut from its frame. I guess that makes me one of not very many people who have seen every one of Vermeer’s known oils. I consider that a bucket list accomplished pretty early on.

The book show opened at 4 at the venerable Hynes Center. My first stop was at the Black Swan booth. Nick and Ellen Cooke had agreed to exhibit and take orders the If There Were No Books… limited edition portfolio.

It was nearly 5 years ago when I had a dream. I had a middle of the night epiphany that: “If there were no books…there would be no Unicorns!” I had reconnected with my old friend Alan James Robinson about the same time. I reached out to him and asked if he’d be interested in creating art for that concept and other things that wouldn’t exist if there were no books. My relationship with Alan is a complete book story in and of itself that will certainly be written in the future. He was very excited to get involved in bookish things again. He had for many years been forced to make drawings of people’s boats and dogs and horses… to pay the bills. I came up with a list of 11 more subjects, and the project was begun.

I think we had budgeted one a month. Over three years later the 12 letterpress prints and a matching image for each were finally completed. We had t-shirts made for each of them. The primary images were on the back. The secondary images were on the front. Alan had 100 copies of each of the 12 primary images printed on letterpress. He signed and numbered each one. The t-shirts were mostly for advertising. We gave a lot away. The letterpress broadsides… well, we still have PLENTY left. At least I got all the original art work, sketches, etc…since I paid the commission.

I was glad to have collaborated on this project, but it was very time consuming and distracting. Alan wanted to create a portfolio using all 24 prints. He suggested a limited edition of 30. A-Z and 4 artist’s proofs. I resisted. I had become fatigued—including financially fatigued. But Alan kept urging, and I gave him the go ahead and invested what was needed. The boxes alone cost well over $300 to get made. EACH!

I had little confidence that they would be completed any time soon. It is an “artist thing”—you wouldn’t understand. But Alan made it happen. He had to overnight the first two completed portfolios to the Black Swan’s Boston hotel. We had to brainstorm on how to promote and sell them.

When I got to Nick and Ellen’s booth just after opening, there it was.

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Alan had also sent colophon pages for me to sign. He insisted since it was my concept and quotes.

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And it was my… “dime.” I hoped we might sell a 3 or 4 to collectors or librarians or press book specialists. Alan informs me that over a dozen are committed to. I want a couple, so that means we are halfway to “Sold Out.” Will I break even on this?

Perhaps… LOL.

From Black Swan I went to friends throughout the show, and the books were just magical that Friday night. But all I came home with was a penny!

Britannia 1797 Penny
* That’s a 1797 British penny. Was that the year pennies were minted?
I dunno.

…the rest of my finds are being shipped!!

Yes, I did my best imitation of Mr. Toad and saw things I just couldn’t resist acquiring.

“Poop. Poop.”

Maybe I’ll write a list of what I got. Right now I can’t remember. The packages have only just started to arrive in the mail.

That night I had a wondrous meal with Nick and Ellen 52 stories over Boston at the top of the Hub on the top floor of the Prudential Center.

Boston Restaurant

Saturday I went back and meandered through the MFA again. It is amazing what humans can do.

Then it was back to the book show. I calmed down and didn’t buy much. I reconnected with many old friends and colleagues. My son was in town with his girlfriend—who is studying here. I guess he didn’t think it would be a good date to go to an old book show. He saw and “worked” plenty of them as a baby and child. He was a no show.

Alan arrived late afternoon and worked the fair showing his colors; that he was “still alive” and working…and showed the results of our collaboration.

We went to dinner with some old (and not so old) booksellers.

Sunday I had a 7 am flight home. I dunno why.

From BWI I drove straight home instead of stopping at the warehouse. I lit the wood stove.

My wood stove does not ever go out all late fall through early spring unless I’m away for more than two days. Or if I get lazy or forgetful.

Lit Woodstove

To build a fire (that was a good Jack London yarn—”To Build a Fire”), I need to bring in some little sticks and branches. I don’t need to use much paper. There’s plenty of scrap paper at the warehouse. I brought home a box of some military guys’ papers that had come in with books. It looked like all photocopies and trash.

Fire Starter Papers

But when I began lighting fires during cool autumn evenings, I began to come across some pamphlets and official embossed and engraved documents.

Fire Starter Papers

Nothing great, but I will certainly look before I burn anything from this box!

Then I put on wood cutting garb and rolled down to my neighbors and cut the rest of the downed poplar. More beautiful colors appeared.

Tulip Popular Wood Colors

Back up to the house. I shook the sawdust off and changed and headed to town. We had found a few Barnes and Noble Gift Cards in books. (Here’s some advice DON’T BUY GIFT CARDS! Companies count on a percentage of them being lost or unused…that said, we offer gift cards “For the person who has everything.” Come get some!! LOL…)

I didn’t know if there was any balance on them. I only go there once a year or so—mostly to buy a calendar. Two of the cards had 25 bucks on them. So, I had to spend just over 50. I got a calendar to measure next year. I’ve got a bunch of dates committed to already. I bought two blank journals. That should take care of 2020 as well. And I bought a 2019 travel guide. For places I’ve been before, I don’t mind guides that are a few years old. Those came in the warehouse all the time.

Barnes & Noble Purchases

But for somewhere I’ve never been, I think I should have something that is up to date.

My busy times are over. For the near future, I’ll just be going home and tending the fire when I’m not playing with books.

Oh, there’s a golf banquet tonight. And a “note for note replication” concert of the Doors’ LA Woman album live at the theater. And some other Weinberg concerts and holiday stuff.

…and that trip to somewhere I’ve never been before in a couple weeks…


There is another reason the last couple of weeks have been hectic!

We launched our new website! 15 months in the making and the result of many meetings and brainstorming.

Don’t look yet though. 😉 We are still working out the bugs.

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