Inverness to Glasgow.

It’s a mere 168 miles. Drive time under 4 hours. That’s like driving from New York City to Baltimore, a trip that Top Cat and I have made about a dozen times. 168 miles. Easy, right? Right?

This is what the road looks like between New York City and Baltimore:

OK, so Scotland is not the USA; they don’t make 12-lane turnpikes in Scotland.

So, this is what the road (called the A9) looks like between Inverness and Glasgow:

Well, that’s what one of the roads between Inverness and Glasgow looks like. There’s another road between Inverness and Glasgow, and it looks like this:

This other road is called the A82.

The A82, according to Scotland’s Transport Minister, “sits in one of the most challenging landscapes in Scotland.” “Challenging”? What Fun!

The A82 was laid out in the early 1920s and has not been widened or re-engineered since. Even more Fun!

As a result, the Highlands Transport Partnership, which advises the Scottish government on roads and traffic, has declared that, of the 167-mile length of the A82, only 42 miles of it “can be considered to be of a functioning standard.”


Here’s what the locals have to say about the A82:

It is not scary per se. Most of the hair-pin turns have crash barriers and it is beside a loch, not on a mountainside or up in the forest. [Mountains and forests are scary.] But the A82 is very wiggly, and the camber is not well-fashioned in parts, making it literally stomach-churning.

I actually dislike driving the A82 – portions of it wiggle along lochsides in a stomach-churning way, and you will not be able to average more than 35mph (because of the limitations of the road, the ubiquitous caravans and the tour buses trying to own the highway!)

The road is not up to current design standards, its twisty and narrow and there are many blind bends where you wonder what you’ll encounter when you round the corner. It can be a tense drive especially if raining.

Americans: Have you driven in the UK before, i.e., on the left side?? If not, BEWARE!!! Our Scottish roads are thinner than comparable US roads, by a couple feet. Less margin for error. Not to mention the buses, RVs and lorries coming at you at high speeds!!!

As the major road in the western highlands, the A82 has very heavy truck traffic and, because of the narrowness of the roadbed, there is only a six-inch clearance between the average compact car and certain death in the form of an on-coming 40-ton semi.

If you are driving the average compact car on the A82, you will be gripping the steering wheel in sheer terror, hour after hour, as you continually dodge road-hogging trucks and tour buses. The way you will avoid being killed is by depositing  the passenger-side of the car, every mile or so,  into the road-side ditch where, more often than not, your car will slam into one or more boulders, or drop into a sickeningly deep pot hole, or hit a hidden stone curb, or smash into some other obstruction or crater that causes the car and the humans inside it to thump and crash in a variety of revolting shudders, convulsions, jitters, jolts, shimmies, shakes, and/or quakes.

If you are the passenger, each of those hundreds of detours into the ditch will give you a mini-heart attack and make you increasingly angry at the driver for not staying in the damn lane for chrissake because all we need now is a flat tire in the middle of traffic on a minuscule two-lane blacktop miles away from any service station on a road that you had to take.

If you are the driver, each of your petrified passenger’s screams will greatly, and ever-increasingly, piss you off because you don’t need more drama as you tensely clutch the steering wheel and, mile after mile, stare down oblivion coming straight at you as you do the best you can to not get killed.

Oh, look, here are some photographs of Look What Happened To My Car on The A82:



In other words, the A82 is a bitch to drive and no one in their right mind would choose it as the way to go from Inverness to Glasgow.

So that’s what we did. We drove 168 miserable miles on the absolute worst road in Scotland.

And, to add to the Fun!, we made sure that it was pouring rain the whole way.

Do you remember, way back at the beginning of this story, back when we were all young and gay, that the estimated drive time (on the A9) between Inverness and Glasgow was about 3 1/2 hours?

On the A82, it took us six hours.

And then we got to Glasgow . . .

Stock photo from the internet but this is exactly how Glasgow looks when you are lost.

. . . and just for the Fun! of it, we drove around and around in circles for an hour there, searching and cursing for the way to get to Wigtown.

Top Cat pulled over a couple of time to ask passers-by for directions, but either the passer-by didn’t speak English, or they didn’t know, or they only snarled at us to get the fook out of the bus lane. But not all Glaswegians were unhelpful.

When Top Cat dashed inside a hotel to ask for directions, he came out with an authentic Glaswegian-drawn map:

Unbelievably, this map got us on to the A77, a bucolic road that meanders south from Glasgow through the scenic countryside of Galloway.

A word about the A77:

In 2007, researchers from The Association for Safe International Road Travel concluded the A77 was the 23rd most dangerous road in the world. That’s right, the world. Within a single decade 30 people died on the A77 and close to 250 people were seriously injured.

So, yeah, the A77 was no picnic, either.


By the time we pulled into Wigtown, ten hours after leaving Inverness, Top Cat and I were barely on speaking terms. We were mentally debilitated, emotionally frazzled, resentful and tired, and feeling both shame-faced by our own actions in concocting the worst road trip ever, and also powerfully victimized by the other’s part in concocting the worst road trip ever.

It was my idea to drive from Inverness to Glasglow. It was Top Cat’s idea to go via the A82. Two equally bad ideas.

Now, here we were in Wigtown, and we can’t stand the sight of each other. Again.

I can’t tell you that we had a happy ending, five days later, as we wrapped up our adventures in Scotland. Nope. It took us two weeks after we got home to process the experience (from Edinburgh, to Orkney, to Inverness, to Glasgow, to Wigtown) and come to a mutual understanding that re-established the love and respect that we have for each other. But, for real, Top Cat and I are good. And on July 11 we are celebrating 15 years of eventful, wonderful, aggravating, delicious, challenging, and life-making marriage.

P.S. The car rental company in Scotland charged us about $200 for a damaged front passenger-side tire and a dented wheel. All those detours into all those ditches added up.


Thank You to all you lovely Dear Readers for volunteering to take the Stromness Rock for a visit to your neck of the American woods. YOU ARE THE BEST!

I will work out an itinerary of its cross-country journey and post it next week. I’m probably going to over-think it and include some sort of “passport” to accompany the rock so that its to-ings and fro-ints will be recorded for posterity, because why not, if you have the chance, to over-complicate things?

And lastly, because you would never believe it unless you had seen it with your own eyes, here’s a book that we got in as a donation to the used book store that I manage here on the north shore of Long Island:

 Yes, of course it’s self-published.

Have a great weekend, Dear Ones. May all your road trips lead you to the land of your dreams, and may you never end up on the A82 of life.


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It’s hot here on the north shore of Long Island. HOT.

And it’s the Fourth of July, and we have a four-day holiday weekend, and I am feeling lazy.

So let’s all take a day off and let’s all soak in the Summer and let’s all laugh at the little man in the White House who has to throw himself a big parade.

I’ll see you here in one week!


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Last Friday, cocktail hour on the patio. It’s a rare evening of light and warmth here on the north shore of Long Island, and Top Cat and I were soaking up the golden rays and the zephyr breezes like we were a pair of those swans that mate for life, gliding on the smooth surface of untroubled waters. The weekend has officially begun, and it’s the first day of Summer-like weather. I think,  This was a good time to talk about a touchy subject. I ask Top Cat, “Why do you think we were so off during our [ 10-days of rants and sulks] trip to Scotland?”

He puts down his drink and thinks about it.

“Well, we got off to a bad start and just never recovered,” he says. I notice that his answer is basically just a re-wording of my question, and although I usually find tautologies hilarious, in this instance I want answers so I do not comment on the circularity of his reply.

“I know that,” I say. “But why couldn’t we recover?”

And then he says something that I never expected to hear. He says:

“It was hard for me to say it then, but you were right. So I’m saying it now, that about a lot of things in Scotland, you were right.”

And here is a story about one of the things that I was right about. I was right about Wednesday:

My mind works vertically. So, when I map out a trip, I make a chart like this (above). Each day of our trip gets a column, and I do a lot of research and planning before I enter activities into each column. When I arrange the columns in succession, into a chart like this, I can get a good visual idea of the “flow” of the days.  (BTW, this chart travels with me, attached to all the many receipts and confirmations and supporting docs I’ll need for hotels and planes and cars and trains, so I can keep track of things.)

In the Wednesday  column of our trip to Scotland, I had planned just one thing: We were going to pack a lunch and at 12 noon we were going to take a 32-mile ferry ride north, to Rapness Pier on Westray island, and then walk two and a half miles to a rock formation known as The Castle of Burrian to see PUFFINS.

I had it all figured out.

Now, if you have read last week’s story, you know that Top Cat and I have, the previous day, managed to go a whole day without fighting. So we get up on Wednesday morning and by 10 o’clock we have had a big breakfast without incident and we are walking the mile from our BnB into Kirkwall. And Top Cat announces that he has other ideas about what he wants to do for the day.

For the sake of maintaining our streak (of not fighting) for another day, I do not argue with him. I’m not completely happy about this sudden change of plan, but I’ll go along.

So we tramp to the tourist office, we slog to the car rental office, we google stuff on our phones, we investigate tours and public busses and private car hires to go to other parts of the main island, other neolithic excavations, other villages, other bird-seeing sites, and maybe we’ll even go chase orcas.

After all that, guess what we end up doing.

We end up taking the 12 noon ferry to Westray to go see PUFFINS. Exactly what I had planned a month ago.

The skyline of Kirkwall on the main island of Orkney.

Rapness Pier on Westray island:

We’re on the way to see PUFFINS!

The island of Westray has had human settlements on it since 3500 BCE, and currently has a year-round population of 600. But mostly the island is a home to birds. The spectacular sea cliffs are home to thousands of seabirds including 60,000 common guillemot, 50,000 black-legged kittiwake, 30,000 razorbill, and numerous black guillemot. 

The Castle of Burrian (below) is a colossal sea stack renowned for being the best place on Orkney to see PUFFINS at close range. OH MY GOD, I couldn’t wait to get here!! To see it covered with thousands of PUFFINS!!

PUFFINS only come on shore during their breeding season, from mid-April to mid-August. They dig burrows on steep sea cliffs, and each female PUFFIN lays one egg per year.

As you can see from the photos, we had a lucky break in the weather on this Wednesday when we went to see the PUFFINS! It was still mighty cold, but it wasn’t raining ! PUFFINS!

After a 2 and a half-mile hike from the pier through a few light rain showers, through tall wet grass, on paths at the very edge of the coast (no guardrails!),  we’re here at the Castle of Burin and we search the area for PUFFINS!


I learn later that when the weather is fine, the PUFFINS all go fishing. It’s when the weather is lousy with pouring rain, maybe even sleet because that can happen in May on Orkney, that’s when the PUFFINS stay at home and roost upon the Castle of Burrian by the thousands.

Well, I figure there has to be at least one PUFFIN who’s like me, who would like to take advantage of an empty Castle of Burrian and stay home with a good book and a cup of tea.  So I stay and watch, and watch, and watch…and at last I see my totem bird waddle out from her burrow:

Look hard. There’s a PUFFIN in there. I did not expect them to be so small, about half the size of a sea gull.

I am so excited I could plotz.

But where, O Where, is Top Cat?

This is Top Cat, looking at a different cliff.

Top Cat had got bored looking at the place where the PUFFINS were supposed to be so he staked out a different cliff out of sight of the Castle of Burrian. So, because he did his own thing (as he is wont) he never saw a PUFFIN.

PUFFINS, when you get the chance to see them close up (or with a really good zoom lens) look like this:

After tramping 5 – 6 miles to the Castle of Burin and further along the coast back to the starting point, I was cold and wind-blown and soggy of spirit. Top Cat wanted to hike even further out to another side of the island so I left him to his own devices while I, with a lovely graduate student from Manchester that we met on the ferry, went to have a cup of tea at the only cafe within five miles:

It’s the converted car garage of the only house within walking distance to Rapness Pier.

After a bracing cup of tea and a Scottish clootie, we all boarded the last ferry off of Westray at 5:55 (arrive Kirkwall at 7:20).

You only need to make a reservation on the ferry if you are bringing a car with you. If you are a pedestrian, you can buy your ticket on the same day.

Upon landing back at Kirkwall (the capital of Orkney, BTW), we took our grad student to the bar/cafe called The Reel to see the Orkney Accordion and Fiddle Club:

It was the hot spot on that Wednesday night so the place was packed. We ran into practically every tourist and resident that we had come into contact the previous two days. We had wine and beers and a jolly good time. We left a ten pound donation for the musicians and we walked the mile out of town back to our lovely BnB in the 10 o’clock twilight:

So the day went pretty much according to plan (my plan), minus the lack of PUFFINS, with just the right amount of chance encounters and unforeseen blessings that make travel such a serendipitous thing no matter how thoroughly you plan it. Plans are good. We should trust The Plan. Not that I’m bragging…but everybody on this trip should, by now, as the sun sets on Day Four of the Scotland Vacation, Get With The Plan.

Or so I thought.

When we flew to Orkney from Edinburgh, the trip took  50 minutes. Getting off of Orkney and traveling to Glasgow by land and sea, the trip will take 2 days. But don’t worry. I have a plan.

Step one: Thursday morning, leave Orkney by ferry and head southwards to the tip of mainland Scotland.

Thursday morning, the ferry from mainland Scotland arrives with 200 passengers who will climb aboard 8 coaches for their various day tours of the isles of Orkney.


That same ferry turns around and heads back to the Scottish mainland. Top Cat and I are the only passengers getting off of Orkney this morning.


The ferry pulls into John o’ Groats, a small settlement on the mainland of Scotland, the northernmost settlement on Great Britain.


A motorcycle club from Manchester gathers for a souvenir photo at the famous milepost on the northernmost tip of Great Britain:

Step Two: Mosey win John o’ Groats for an hour and five minutes (have a nice cup of tea in one of the half-dozen cafes available to wanderers and motorcyclists in John o’ Groats).  Top Cat and I will then board the bus that takes us to the train station in Thurso.

So far, everything has gone to plan.

Looking back, now, on how the rest of the day went, I have to say that sometimes I don’t know what gets into us.

Step Three: It’s now 12:45 in Thurso, and we decide that we would like to skip sight-seeing in Thurso and hop on the 1 o’clock train to Inverness. Problem is, I have pre-purchased our tickets (at a great savings, a month ago), and they are for the 4:32 train to Inverness. In order to convert our pre-paid tickets from the 4:32 to the 1:00, we would have to pay a penalty that amounts to 37 pounds, or $51.00. Which, taking into account the money I saved from pre-purchasing the tickets a month ago, is really only a net penalty of $38.00.

I don’t know what gets into us.

For some reason, we dither and agonize over paying the penalty. OK, the net penalty of $38 almost doubles the cost of the tickets, but it’s only THIRTY EIGHT DOLLARS and we are really in the mood to not hang around Thurso and we are dying to get, as soon as possible, to Inverness.

Oh, how we dither. We calculate and extrapolate and weigh pros and cons as if we were discussing our last thirty eight dollars in the world. Top Cat especially does not like the idea of paying a $38 penalty AT ALL. And if I do say so myself, he’s acting as if I have blown our entire budget by buying the wrong tickets to Inverness in the first place, and I am resenting that I have to take the blame for this dire, catastrophic THIRTY EIGHT DOLLAR miscalculation.

I really do not know what gets into us. As we stand in the Thurso train station and bicker about $38.00, we have so much cash in our pockets that we will end up coming home with over 300 Scottish pounds that we couldn’t manage to spend. But, as is always the case, conversations about money are never (or almost never) about money.

In the end, we pay the $38 penalty and board the 1 o’clock train to Inverness. The conductor makes one pass through the car, calling for all Thurso tickets, and I hold up our newly-issued premium-priced tickets, and he walks right past me as if I am invisible. I am so taken aback that can’t even holler at him YO!  Get back here and take these damn tickets that cost us so much peace of mind!

The conductor is in his 20s and to him, I know from experience, a middle-aged lady like me is invisible…but that has never happened to me when I’ve had my husband in tow. We never see the conductor again.

And now comes the Fish Incident.

Top Cat had purchased fish — some kind of herring, I think — from The Orkney Fisherman’s Society two days ago. It’s what he will have for lunch on the train to Inverness. (I have a cheese sandwich.)

I can not abide the sight of fish, and I especially can not abide the smell of fish. Also, I can not abide people who eat smelly food, such as fish, on public transportation, such as trains. But, since I am not in charge of the world, I can not kick Top Cat off the train for eating smelly fish, so I eat my cheese sandwich in silent, and begrudging, magnanimity.

Top Cat eats slowly. He is enjoying the train ride, the scenery, the shot of whiskey he got off the drinks trolley, and he is especially enjoying his stinking Orkney fish. The minutes tick by.

AN HOUR LATER I can’t take it any more. “OK,” I hiss, “It’s been a fucking hour. Get that stinking fish out of here!”

Top Cat takes great offense to my tone. I take offense that he’s taken offense, and that it took him a goddamn hour to eat his goddamn stinking fish. So that’s where we are…again.

For some reason, Top Cat then pulls out a map of Scotland and studies it. Tomorrow, we are driving from Inverness to Glasgow, and then on to Wigtown. I already have a plan but Top Cat, looking at the map, wants to go a different way. We debate, and then we argue, but Top Cat is adamant. Because, judging from the map, my way looks boring.

His way will be scenic, judging from the map.

Top Cat’s Scenic Route

So we are, to put it mildly, not on the best of terms when, 90 minutes later, the train pulls into Inverness station, in the pouring rain, and we have to find our way through town and across the Ness River through heavy dinner-time traffic IN THE POURING RAIN. We have different ideas about the best way to navigate our way from here to there, and arguing about it on the sidewalk IN THE POURING RAIN is not the best way to reach consensus.

After a false start, and another one, Top Cat does succeed in getting us to our destination, and that’s a good thing.  But now it’s my fault that I booked us into a B&B that he hates. I concede that he has point. The room is very small, and the bathroom is even smaller, and the shower is ridiculously small. But it’s just one night and shit, we’ve been through harder days and had worse rooms (like a mere four years ago when we walked across England on Hadrian’s Wall for 90 miles and yet always managed to cozy up at the end of a grueling day) so I think to myself, and I’m sure it shows on my face, Suck it up, buttercup.

Top Cat stalks out to find a pub and I stay in the room, watching TV. On a BBC program about Glasgow I learn that there’s an  historically significant subway system in the city, so I eagerly put on our To Do List. (P.S. I later learn, in Glasgow, that its historically significant subway, like the rest of Glasgow, sucks.)

The next morning, sore feelings slightly mended by an evening apart from each other and a good breakfast, Top Cat and I continue discussing travel plans for the day. Top Cat wants to drive down from Inverness to Glasgow on the A82 more than I want to drive down from Inverness to Glasgow on the A9, so I give in. OK, we’ll take the A82.

Here’s a picture of the way I wanted to go, on the A9:

Here’s a picture of the way Top Cat wants to go, on the A82:

You might be reading this and you might be wondering, What’s the big deal about the A82?

Here’s the big deal: Three weeks later, Top Cat and I will be sitting on our patio at our house on the north shore of Long Island, soaking up the golden rays and the zephyr breezes of the first Summer-like day of the year, and we will be like a pair of those swans that mate for life, gliding on the smooth surface of untroubled waters, and he will put down his vodka martini and say to me, “It was hard for me to say it then, but you were right. So I’m saying it now, that about a lot of things in Scotland, you were right.”

He will then look at me with love and say, “We should never have taken the A82 from Inverness to Glasgow.”

And that’s a tale of misery that I will share next week. That will be the final installment of Top Cat and Vivian’s  Battle of Scotland, I promise.

But I also promised you, last week, to a story that isn’t really about Scotland (remember?) So here’s my story that isn’t really about Scotland, and it starts in Scotland:

Let’s go back to when Top Cat discovered the Orkney Fisherman’s Society, where he buys the herring that will cause so much stinkitude on the train to Inverness.

Trust me, the Orkney Fisherman’s Society  is well off the tourist track. It’s about a mile out of the town of Stromness, and Top Cat was in heaven when he found that he could get fresh Scottish fish for lunch (and a herring for later). We bought his fish, and were sitting at a picnic table outside the Orkney Fisherman’s Society, having lunch, when something baby-blue, a small flat rock in the corner of the parking lot, caught my eye:

I pick it up and turn it over; there’s a message on the other side. I take it inside the Orkney Fisherman’s Society and ask the nice Polish girl who works there what it means. She brings her supervisor out of the back office, and it is explained to me that this is a game that is going on in the small town of Stromness on Orkney.

There are a number of painted rocks hidden around the town, and the game is that when you find one of them, you take a photo of it, post it to the Facebook page of Stromness Rocks, and you hide it somewhere for someone else to find, and repeat.

“Can I take this home to New York and hide it there?” I ask.

The two ladies at the Orkney Fisherman’s Society look at each with surprise. “Oh, yeah,” they agree, “That would be different.

So I took the blue rock home, and yesterday Top Cat took it to Times Square in New York City:

Of course Top Cat didn’t hide the rock in Times Square because Top Cat and I are going to Kobiayashi Maru it. We are changing the rules of the game.

So far, this is the only Stromness Rock that has made it off Orkney. What we would like to do for this Stromness Rock is, we would like to send it around the world. Or around America. America’s a pretty big, and scenic, place.

So, Dear Readers, if you have a desire to take a rock from Orkney to your hometown and are willing to photograph it at a memorable landmark for the children of Stromness, please contact me. Let’s make a chain, from me to you to you to you…put out the word.

The Stromness Rock fits easily into a pocket or a purse, so if you are traveling to an exotic locale it would be easy to take it along for the Photo Op.

Everybody who takes the Stromness Rock for an outing will be put on my ChrisHanuKwanSostice list and will receive my hand-painted holiday card this coming December.

And everyone who gets on the list will be entered into a contest to win one of my original watercolors (we haven’t had a give-away in a long time!). I’ll paint the portrait of the cat or dog of your choice.


Have a great Pride Weekend, everyone. I have to go break up a fight in the Comments section of this blog now, but I will be back here next Thursday or Friday and I hope you’ll be here too.

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We had one, count ’em: ONE, sunny day this past week here on the north shore of Long Island and Steve made the most of it.

Life is good when you open your front door and there’s a cat on the mat, dreaming in the sunshine. Otherwise, it’s been raining all day, every day, and the house feels damp and dreary and the used book store that I co-manage for our local library has been swamped with abundant useless donations. I have no interesting stories from the world of books this week, so let’s go back to The Trail of Tears AKA My Scotland Adventure.

If you thought that last week’s tale of woe in Edinburgh was the end of the drama let me assure you that that was just the beginning.

When last we saw Vivian and Top Cat, they were arguing while stuck at Security in Edinburgh Airport, watching the seconds vanish as they tried to do 30 minutes of business in 10 minutes’ time. I race to the gate to hold the jet to Orkney while Top Cat tries to persuade officials that his two bottles of duty-free vodka mean no harm to the people and institutions of Scotland. The doors have just been opened for access to the plane to Kirkwall (capital of Orkney) but no one had bothered to actually get on the plane yet.

I scan the concourse for any sign of Top Cat and when at last I see him coming my way I wave to him, almost happy to see him, “Here we are! We made it!” but he avoids eye contact. He stops half-way to the gate and sits down with his back to me. This is classic Silent Treatment shit. Fine. That’s how he wants to do this, fine.

I take my place at the back of the line to board the plane, and as I hand in my boarding pass I tell the man at the desk that my husband — the guy lingering in the waiting area — has to be the last person on the plane.

“Likes to make an entrance, does he?” the man jokes. “No,” I say to myself; “He’s just being a dick.”

I have arranged, via a phone call to LoganAir several weeks ago when I bought our tickets and I asked the lovely Scottish lass at HQ what were the best seats for viewing our flight over Scotland, for us to sit in the back of this 30-seat plane. I take my seat in row #12 and wait for Top Cat to take his,  row #13. But he sits in row #9.

He intends to ignore me even on the plane. But his plan is thwarted when the steward tells Top Cat that he has to move because every seat on the plane is booked, so he reluctantly sits behind me.

He chats with the rugby player across the aisle and we do not speak during the 50-minute flight.

We land in Kirkwall (pop. 9,293), Orkney.

The airport is a very large shed.

Our lovely B&B host picks us up and drives us to his home about a mile outside of city center. We dump the bags and walk out to town.

This is the city center:

It’s rude of me, but I had to get a snap of this young girl walking home with her groceries because she’s holding a huge bottle of Scotland’s famous national drink, IRNBRU. Its orange and tastes like fizzy bubblegum.

We stumble upon a gorgeous Photo-Op when I spot a fat white-and-orange cat comes strolling down the road. I fumble to get my camera out of my pocket, so Top Cat decides to call to the cat PssssPssssPsss and scares the poor thing. She starts to run almost out of my frame, but I manage to catch the moggy just in time (see below, but it’s not the picture I envisioned).  We are being cautiously civil to each other, Top Cat and I, but the truce is very fragile, so I do not bitch at him for not fucking keeping his fucking mouth fucking shut.

The Universe rewards me for my forbearance because I find a 5-pound note on the sidewalk. I’m pretty sure it did not belong to the cat or else I would have returned it.

We take in Saint Magnus Cathedral, but not together. I mean, we are in the cathedral at the same time, but we are never in proximity to one anther.

This is what 9:30 PM looks like in Kirkwall, Orkney in late May:

This is sun set at 10:00 PM from our bedroom window:

I want to settle in and watch the BBC in our little sitting area in the room, but Top Cat says he didn’t come all the way to Orkney to watch TV and he’d rather discuss travel plans for tomorrow. So I graciously turn off the TV and wait.

Top Cat sits and sulks. I am pissed. The B&B is lovely, but it was Top Cat’s choice and it’s a mile out of town and that’s a long way to walk when it’s 45 degrees and raining. I am pissed that we didn’t stay in the charming little place I found right in the center of town but noooooo, Top Cat thought it would be too “busy”. [P. S. Kirkwall is never “busy”.] I am pissed because I had wanted to book a day tour of Orkney’s tourist spots but Top Cat said No, we’ll manage it ourselves, even though he has not done any research into what there is to see until a few hours ago when we hit the Tourist Office in “busy” downtown Kirkwall. I am pissed because  I’ve done a lot of research about Orkney and I’ve turned off the TV and now he’s not even talking to me about what his plan for the day will be. And I am still plenty pissed about what happened in Edinburgh.

I will not bore you with how we never got around to discussing plans for tomorrow and how the fight started and how it escalated, and how really nasty it got. But at 10:00 Top Cat walks out and I sit in my chair. I don’t turn on the TV. I sit in my chair, hating him, Kirkwall, Orkney, and Scotland. But him most of all.

Top Cat comes back after half an hour but we did not speak. I sit in my chair, he goes to bed. I sit until it gets dark, and I sit until it is midnight, and I sit until it is 2AM. Then I wake up in the chair sometime in the middle of the night, which is just before dawn on Orkney in May:

I go to bed, and Top Cat is lucky that I do not stab him in his sleep.

In the morning, something wakens me with a jolt. It is Top Cat. He is kissing me on the cheek, and he’s saying he is sorry that he lost his temper last night. He’s heading into town. “Text me when you’re up,” he says. I fall back to sleep.

Several hours later, I find Top Cat sitting outside the ferry terminal in Kirkwall. I kiss him and I say, “Let’s start over.”

Top Cat says, “So we wont’ talk about what happened last night?”

“Yeah, we will,” I say, “But later, when we’re OK.”

P. S. During this trip, we will add to that future talk (when we are OK) several other topics of conversation, one called That Problem In Thurso Was Your Fault, another one called Only Dickheads Eat Fish on The Train, one that we refer to as  The Rain Wasn’t Your Fault But Everything Else in Inverness Was, and the huge bone of contention that we call The Hideous 265 Miles Before and After Glasgow That You Made Even Worse.

And we take a long, long, healing walk in the countryside of Orkney.

Same photo as above, but this one was taken by a nice lady passing by.

Orkney is a good place to be if you love Standing Stones. Above, in order:

Barnhouse Stone, aligned to the entrance of the net-lithic tomb called Maeshowe (the mound in the background), c. 2800 BCE.

The Stenness Standing Stones, the oldest henge in the British Isles, c. 3100 BCE.

The Stenness Watch Stone, 19 feet high, probably sited as a link between The Steness Standing Stones and

The Ring of Brodar, generally thought to have been erected between 2500 BC and 2000 BC, and was, therefore, the last of the great Neolithic monuments built on the Ness.

We still had plenty of sunlight left so we got on a bus and went to the other large (pop. 2,200) town on the island.

Cruise ships stop in at Stromness, as in Kirkwall, and the cruisers pile out in a horde and nobody in town likes them.

I found a thrift shop for The Cat’s Protection League in Stromness and I bought a wonderful old illustrated copy of Wind in the Willows for 80 pence and I give the sweet girl at the till the 5-pound note I found in Kirkwall. She was very thankful but since a cat helped me find it in the first place, it was the only thing to do.

We continued on to the very southern tip of the island to Saint Margaret’s Hope (pop. 550).

A tree! I saw a tree!

Orkney used to have forests about 10,000 years ago, but in the Bronze Age (about 3,700 years ago) the climate changed, becoming every colder and wetter. Whatever forest did not die out due to the harsh conditions was cut down by the humans to make way for farms in the little land that remained fertile for crops.

We walked around town, saw stuff, and stopped in at Robertson’s General Store. When Top Cat was at the counter ordering our drinks, one of the locals heard his accent and drawled, “The cruise ship must be in town,” which I only understood a little too late to correct him with a kindly, Shut the fuck up do we look like fucking cruisers??

In the UK, you can order a Small, Medium, or Large glass of wine, and the bartender knows exactly — to the milliliter — how much to give you. I don’t like it.

People we met in St. Margaret’s Hope and elsewhere on the island who were delightful include the Scottish woman walking her two dogs that she got from Corfu, where her daughter runs a rescue; the English lady who bought her Orkney house on the phone sight unseen; the lady whose great-great-grandmother was famous in 1850 for eating the most expensive breakfast in Scotland; a group of university students from Edinburgh who play folk music on Orkney which included the one guy had a crush on a girl he kept calling Vivian! Vivian! Vivian!; the ten-year old boy who drinks coffee; the punk/hard rock guy from Sweden who designs kilts; the woman who owns wooly pigs from Korea because they do very well in Orkney climate; the Polish girl who’s lived in Stromness for 6 years and works at the Fish Shop where Top Cat got the fish he ate on the train, etc etc etc. We had a lot of people to talk to, so that kept us out of trouble.

So ends our Good Day in Orkney.

Next week I may, or may not, tell you about the next fight on the agenda, depending on whether or not you, Dear Readers, are fed up already. But next week I definitely have a nice story for you, set in Scotland but not really about Scotland, that we can make inter-active!

See you next Friday, Dear Ones.

Have a great weekend, and don’t eat fish on the train.



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For over three months we’ve had these nine novels by J. Fenimore Cooper (American novelist, 1781 – 1851) in the  used book store that I co-manage for the local library here on the north shore of Long Island. Nobody ever looked at them because they are by J. Fenimore Cooper (who is neither an especially beloved nor notorious author). I thought we’d be stuck with them forever.

Then I went to Wigtown (Scotland’s national Book Town; see last week’s blog post) and I saw that one of the booksellers there had tied up a stack of red books (matching bindings) with a bit of twine and it looked very handsome. So, naturally, as soon as I got home I stacked our nine novels by J. Fenimore Cooper and tied them up with a purple ribbon (I didn’t have access to twine):

Within an hour, they had sold. $10.00.

I also stole other equally excellent merchandising ideas from Wigtown, and I will show them to you at a later date.

Because this week I have so much to tell you about our worst trip to Scotland that I want to dive right in.

As we packed for our Saturday departure, we checked the weather forecast for Scotland. It was going to be cold and rainy so at the last minute, I shoved a pair of black corduroy pants into the suitcase.

Turned out that I wore those damn corduroy pants every day that I was in Scotland. So, YAY for last minute inspirations.

An hour before our Uber was to pick us up to go to JFK Airport, I found the first Blue Jay feather of the year so I yelled to Top Cat: It’s an omen!! Everything is going to go right on this trip!!

And the universe laughed.

Well, we got to JFK two hours early and immediately checked in yada yada yada, and then we headed to the latest fab attraction in New York City. We had to hang out at the newly refurbished TWA Terminal!!

This rehab of a gorgeous mid-century modern building at JFK has been in the news so here’s the press release::

After years of back-and-forth about construction, permissions and rights, the long-awaited TWA Hotel opens its doors  at New York City’s John F. Kennedy International Airport.
Trans World Airlines (better known as TWA) commissioned groundbreaking Finnish American architect Eero Saarinen to design its JFK terminal in 1962. Following the airline’s closure in 2001, many questions remained about what would happen to the swooping white building.
Now, it has a new and exciting second life as JFK’s only on-site airport hotel, with 512 rooms and some 50,000 feet of meeting and event space.

You get access to the TWA building by an elevator at the Jet Blue concourse in Terminal 4.

Heart. Be. Still. Everything about the place and the excellent re-hab evokes the glory days of air travel, and the mid-century optimism that the future was going to be awesome.

I remember this place from my last visit, in the early 1990s, and it was a bit run down back then but still beautiful. The re-hab makes the place sparkling and exciting.

The cocktail lounge inside the terminal is very cool. You know, of course, that the building is in the shape of a soaring bird of prey, and all the inside lines swoop and glide.

It’s a thrill.

And then you get to go outside to the Lockheed Constellation (in service from 1943 – 1958) . . .

. . . that has been converted into a bar that serves retro cocktails!

See the guy on the left,  (below)?

He reminds me of an observation that David Seders made about American air travelers. David lives in England these days, so when he does a book tour in the land of his birth, he is struck anew by the way Americans comport themselves when it comes to air travel:

“I should be used to the way Americans dress when traveling, yet it still manages to amaze me. It’s as if the person next to you had been washing shoe polish off a pig, then suddenly threw down his sponge saying, “Fuck this. I’m going to Los Angeles!”

The bar, and the TWA Hotel, had been open for 10 days when we stopped by, and were still having opening-day jitters. Meaning that the service was slow and uncertain; I mean the servers were uncertain and slow. It seemed to me that most of the servers had never worked in a bar before, or been to a bar before, and had not come to grips with the concept of taking an order, putting the requisite liquids in a glass, and lastly handing over said liquid refreshment to the person who had ordered it, and not some random person who might look thirsty. Despite all their rushing to and fro, the servers took a long time to get a drink (the one you ordered) and longer to find the person who had requested the drink, and nobody was picking up the used glasses and tid bit plates and napkins throughout the cabin.

Also, I thought the cocktail dress uniforms were ugly . . .

. . . but now I know that they are based upon a vintage flight attendant uniform from the 1970s:

I know an ex-TWA stewardess who flew with the airline in the late 60s and early 70s, and she still goes to reunions with other stews. Once a TWA stew, always a TWA stew.

There is such a vibrant community of former stewardesses that when the TWA Hotel put out a call for vintage uniforms, they got so many women eager to be part of the rebirth of TWA that the hotel had enough material to mount a museum of stewardess fashions and other memorabilia from the 1940s to the 1990s. (Curated by the New-York Historical Society. Serious and fancy!)

Stewardesses were never allowed to gain weight. If you got lax and put on a few pounds, you were grounded until you could fit back into the teeny little uniforms. When these adorable ladies came through the cabin, I sussed that the average stew back then was a size 2:

That’s Top Cat’s $16.00 martini (above). I had a $15 glass of white wine.

Here’s more info about the Balmain uniform seen above:

There is a lot of love for the TWA brand, and a lot of nostalgia for those Jet Set days when air travel was glamorous. If you have the chance to go for a drink or a walk around the TWA Hotel, GO.

I loved our hour in “the Connie”, which put me in a fine mood for jetting off to my favorite foreign land.

And then we boarded our Aer Lingus aircraft.

I am 5’6″ and a size 4, so I usually fit very comfortably  in tourist-class seats. This Aer Lingus tin can had thin, flimsy seats set so close together that I was playing nik nak paddy whack with my shins on the back of the guy in front of me. For 6 hours.

I usually like airline food (It’s so cute! A miniature TV dinner!) but the only non-meat option on the menu was “macaroni and cheese”, which the Irish interpret as a slab of semi-melted dairy product adjacent to a very large noodle.

Hungry and bruised, we landed in Edinburgh and, once again, foreign travel was magical.

If you have my book Gardens of Awe and Folly, you know what this is.

A Paul Weller sighting! Another good omen! My husband in my other life (the one where I lit out for the UK in the 1980s and married a rock star) will be doing a show at Edinburgh Castle on July 11 so I wished him luck:

After walking for hours on a cloudy and chilly afternoon and there is nothing better than warming up at a pub:

Then night came, and we had a heavenly sleep, and then to City Cafe for Eggs Royale (softly poached eggs with smoked salmon in hollandaise space o a toasted muffin) that Top Cat said was the single best breakfast he’s had in his life.

I lingered at a vintage costume Scottish jewelry stand in the Tron Square to buy a brooch. Then it was much too late to be lingering around Edinburgh so Top Cat and I hurried to the hotel to fetch our bags and we began to trot to Waverly Station to catch a bus back to the airport so we could fly to Orkney.

“Trot” is the word I use to denote the average speed between Top Cat, who was (deliberately, it seemed to me) casually strolling down South Bridge Street to Cockburn Street to Market Street, and I (in full panic mode), running ahead of him, my heart and lungs bursting with fear of one mistake in timing over the purchase of a vintage brooch leading to another leading to a missed flight.

I arrive at Waverly Station and oh, joy! The airport bus is there, idling. I turn to find Top Cat, but I can’t see him yet. I get on the bus and pant, to the driver, “My husband is coming!”

The driver says, “Step off the bus, miss. We’re leaving.”

I am almost in tears. “Wait! Please, wait!” And I lean out of the bus and I see Top Cat in the distance.

“Hurry!” I call to him. “HURRY!”

Top Cat, to prove a point, does not break stride.

“HURRY!” I shout. Top Cat does not like to be shouted at, least of all in public. He does will not hurry.

“Step off, miss” the driver says to me; “I’m closing the doors.”

“Oh, please, my husband’s coming!” I plead, but I have to step off. Top Cat is within striking distance, but the driver shuts the door in my face just as T.C. ambles alongside me (proving a point), and the bus pulls out.

The next airport bus is in 20 minutes. These are 20 minutes that we can’t spare. These are 20 minutes that we could have been closing in on the LoganAir desk at Edinburgh airport, 20 minutes that could mean the difference between getting to the airport with a merely uncomfortable allowance of time to get through a rigorous security, and a (now, thanks to Top Cat) impossible one.

For the next 20 minutes, I can not stand the sight of Top Cat. We get on the next bus, and my heart is still pounding and I feel as if my brain is on fire. Were I the kind of girl who cries when vexed, I would be sobbing. Top Cat and I exchange words, tersely at first and then with mounting vehemence.

I won’t give you the back and forth; suffice to say that for the next 12 hours or so, Top Cat and I will have very different, and monstrously strong, and at times loud, ideas about who was being the shithead in taking his sweet old time to prove a point about when it is, and when it isn’t necessary to HURRY, while the other one was trying her best AND WOULD HAVE SUCCEEDED in getting us out of a tight spot. We also have extremely opposed opinions about how much we are entitled to sulk like a two year old if one of us thinks the other one is “yelling” at him.

Edinburgh airport security is no joke. It’s not that there’s a thousand people herded into a space that would be quite jolly as a tea for two parlor; it’s that the officers are as suspicious of everyone as if this was Tel Aviv and all our hand luggage is branded TerroristsRUs.

I inch my way though all the hurdles, but Top Cat has brought two bottles of Duty Free vodka in his carry on (don’t ask) and Security is sure it’s nitroglycerin. He’s searched again, and again. And then again.

I am having a heart attack: it’s 5 minutes until LoganAir flight 19 to Kirkwall, Orkney closes its doors. I yell at Top Cat that I will meet him at the gate and I tear through an absurdly lengthy shopping area to get to Gate 25. I will lay my body down in front of the jet if it tries to leave without Top Cat.

Naturally, it’s the last gate in the terminal. The one furthest away from ANYWHERE.

Yes, we eventually get on the plane. But at this point, neither of us has any desire to go to fucking Orkney. Or to speak to each other. Or to be married.

Jet lag, too many glasses of hooch the night before, anxiety about the itinerary. . . there are a lot of contributing factors to why people are more touchy than usual when in foreign lands.

And that is all for this week’s installment of Fight Club Goes to Scotland. Thank you for letting me use this space to process my vacation. As I write about it, even now, I feel my blood pressure rocket. I will do some deep breathing and try to stop my heart from pounding in my eyeball sockets.

I am sorry that this post is late, because the internet hates me. I have to call my blog host about this “Bad Gateway” situation again. We’ll probably have to chat about caches, and ADSLs, and codecs and jjlodaasl;dfj. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to do it sober.

I’m sorry if the TWA Hotel was boring — next time, I’ll stick to the travelog and all the scintillating ways your spouse can drive you crazy.

Here’s Taffy:

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I’m used to getting weird phone calls from people who want to donate books to the little used book store that I co-manage for our local library here on the north shore of Long Island. But still, when the phone rang last Tuesday evening I was surprised, because it was the first time in about five days that I’d had to answer it .

And it’s a guy, explaining that he and his wife are empty-nesters and down-sizing, so they loaded up her car with all their unwanted books — lots of good adult and children’s fiction, hundreds of books, the car is stuffed full — and she’s been driving around to libraries in the area all day but all those libraries have refused to take their donation, and that’s how he got my number from the people at the library that I sell used books for.

So me, being the helpful and saintly person that I am, I tell the guy: I’m sorry, but fiction does not re-sell, so GOOD NEWS! You can throw it all away without guilt!

But the guy on the phone does not want to hear the GOOD NEWS because he is operating under a common delusion known as the Endowment Effect (it’s a real thing. you can look it up) so he’s thinking that because these are his old books that the mere fact of his ownership makes his old books unlike anybody else’s old books and much much more valuable than other people’s old books. Phone Guy is shocked at my advise to throw his books in the trash and he can explain why his old books are a cut above your average old books that have already been rejected by every library in the land.

Well, Phone Guy says; Two of my children went to Harvard, so they were reading really high quality fiction.

He says: Can’t I drop them off with you anyway, and your people can sort through them and throw out what you don’t want?

In other words: Can’t I make this filthy load of useless old books that everyone else has rejected your problem now?

And what’s with this “your people” shit?

Oh, no, I say; I can’t ask my volunteers to do that kind of dirty work and I can’t do it myself because, actually, I’m in Scotland right now.

I can literally hear the sneer in Phone Guy’s voice as he says, Well dear me, I wouldn’t want to bother you in Scotland, and he hangs up on me.

Yes, Dear Readers, it’s the truth. I went to Scotland for ten days in late May/early June and if you read the headline to this week’s blog post, you already got the gist of it. . . Top Cat and I agree that it was the worst experience that we’ve ever had in our favorite foreign country, and is quite possibly, in general, the worst nine out of ten days we’ve ever had in life.

You’ll have to read all about it next week because I’m here, today, to tell you about the one out of ten days that did not chomp down on our last nerve like a ravenous vulture feeding on a rotting raccoon carcass and then puke it back up all over our hopes and dreams of a nice get-away from the cares and worries of every day der Dumpster’s America.

That’s right, Dear Readers. Top Cat and I drove on Scotland’s narrowest, foggiest, scariest, slowest piddly back roads all the way to the southwestern uplands of Scotland, a part of “the Borders” called Galloway. The area became a popular destination for young lovers after the Marriage Act was passed in 1754 in England, which outlawed marriages without parental consent if either party was under 21, but you were good if you could make it to Scotland because the marriage laws there were much more lenient. Galloway is just over the northern border from England and a cruel, horrible 95 miles south of Glasgow.

I was in Galloway because I wanted to see (as the sign says), Scotland’s National Book Town.

This is Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town (population 982), on a good day:

We were not there on a good day:

We stayed at a BnB and our room was over the Shoots and Leaves Vegetarian cafe:

To get the lay of the land, Top Cat and I climbed the tower of the County Building:

The body of water in the distance is a slice of The Irish Sea:

From our overlook I noticed something interesting in one of the back gardens:

Bunny! Please note the fur on this pet rabbit. It will become almost unbearably too cute at a later point in this story:

I had come to Wigtown, Scotland’s Book Town, because of a book. This book:

Shaun Bythell (it’s pronounced exactly the way it’s spelled) owns and operates the largest used book store in Scotland. I came across his book a few months ago in one of the donations that came in to the used book store that I co-manage for the local library here on the north shore of Long Island. IT IS FABULOUS. Shaun Bythell is cranky, funny, smart, and open-minded about the oddities and peculiarities of people. He observes and records friends, rude customers, incompetent employees, villains (Amazon), and famous writers with the same deadpan amusement. Even if you do not co-manage a used book store, you will adore this reading experience. I guarantee it.

This (above) is the American hard cover version of his book, published by Melville House in Brooklyn in September 2018. It was originally published by Profile Books in Great Britain in 2017, when it became a huge best seller in the UK.

Since I got my copy of the book for free, I felt honor-bound to buy a copy from Shaun’s bookshop and this is the UK  paperback cover:

Look carefully at both covers. They have something crucial in common.

Shaun has a book store cat.

Shaun’s cat is named Captain and his comings and goings are one of the recurring sub-plots in the book and I had to meet this cat.

I stopped in at Shaun’s book shop — it’s called The Bookshop — and I asked about Captain and was told that he’d just been let out for his morning ramble. What a disappointment.

Anyway, I looked around The Bookshop, bought my copy of Diary of a Bookseller, and wandered next door to the children’s book shop, called Curly Tale Books, in search of the vintage illustrated children’s books that I like to cut up and make into castles and miniature golf courses. I rummaged for half an hour.

And then this happened:

Me, in love.

Without a doubt, these were the happiest moments of my Scotland vacation. Captain is huge, by the way, and very cool. He moseys around town and likes to drop in on other booksellers, as you can see, and make himself at home:

Captain, having surveyed his realm and deduced that all was well in Wigtown, departed Curly Tale Books and headed back to Shaun’s place:

There’s a reason for the bench in this picture (above) being painted this way. Although you might not have any idea how to find Galloway on a map of Scotland, I think you might be familiar with one of its most famous namesakes:

The Belted Galloway is a traditional Scottish breed of beef cattle. It derives from the Galloway cattle of the Galloway region of south-western Scotland, and was established as a separate breed in 1921. It is adapted to living on the poor upland pastures and windswept moorlands of the region.

Belted Galloways are primarily raised for their quality marveled beef, although they are often kept for ornament.

Thanks, Wikipedia.

Now, take a quick back track to that bunny rabbit I spied hopping around the back garden. I’ll wait here while you take in that rabbit’s fur.  And now we’ll both go SQUWEEEEEEEE!!!! HOW CUTE IS THAT!!!!

Back to our story: So Captain walks a few feet and then pauses, taking in his options:

These two West Highlanders were soon banished from the streets of southwestern Scotland and here is Captain, doing his mind-meld with whoever is on the other side of the door, to let him in:

Spoiler: It was me.

Now I can give you a quick tour of Shuan’s book shop. It has over a mile of shelving, where 100,000 books hope to one day find their forever homes.

Yes, it was as dark as it looks in these pix. I asked the young girl at the wrap desk about this and she told me that Shuan was away for the weekend and he had left her in charge and she didn’t know where the light switch was. Once you read Shaun’s book, you’ll understand that this is pretty much how The Bookshop usually works.

The wee sign says, The Littlest Antique Shop in the World. It’s in an old fireplace.

This is one of the reading areas and it quotes Terry Pratchett on the mantel: Build a man a fire, and he’ll be warm for a day. Set a man on fire, and he’ll be warm for the rest of his life.

Doesn’t every book store have a stuffed badger? You can buy reprinted antique maps from the drawers of the bureau. I was in the shop for ten minutes when a neighborhood guy came in and showed the young girl in charge where the light switch was.

People from around the world like to send Shaun postcards with bookish messages:

I had brought my copy of Diary of a Bookseller from the north shore of Long Island in hopes of getting Shaun to autograph it but he was out of town and besides, it was only the second-most important thing on my Wigtown To Do List. I’d met Captain — I’d held Captain — and that love-fest would do fine as my Wigtown Fantasy Fulfilled.

I had a lengthy chat with the neighborhood guy who had bestowed light upon The Bookshop and I learned a lot about what Shuan has been up to since his book was published. He also assured me that Shaun’s “bark is worse than his bite.”

This is the UK hard cover of his book, in which the cat is too small and looks like a dog:

And this is my 11 0’clock at night photo of the same, Scotland’s largest used book store:

In late May and early June the sun sets in Scotland at 10:09 PM but it takes a looooooong time for the last rays of light to fade from the sky. And then, at 4:11 AM it comes blasting in through the window and you think Holy Shit, how do people sleep in these conditions??

It was Saturday night in Wigtown and we were at the pub watching Liverpool beat Top Cat’s Tottenham Hot Spurs for the Champions Cup. In case you don’t know, it’s soccer. And the game was played in Madrid. It was a huge deal over there.

Top Cat (in the green shirt) talking to his new Wigtown friend about driving down on the A82 from Inverness. Oh, the horror.

Half time:

Pink Gin Venom is a good name for a drink but I’ll stick with a glass of Pinot Grigio and bitter memories, please:

One last thing that you must know about about Wigtown is its world-famous Bed and Breakfast called The Open Book:

The Open Book is the brainchild of Shaun Bythell’s ex-girlfriend, an American from LA. Her name is Jessica Fox and she wrote a memoir about taking a vacation in Galloway and falling in love with a tall, red-haired owner of the largest used book store in Scotland. She published her book first, and encouraged Shaun to write his, so we have her to think for Diary of a Bookseller and for this genius BnB.

Jessica Fox’s book is called Three Things You Need to Know About Rockets and it is horrible. I bought it in Wigtown and I hated reading every page of it. Save yourself. Don’t buy it. I don’t have the energy to tell you why it is so very repugnant but when I get my second wind (I’ve only had two days back from the worst nine out of ten days of my life) I might do a full review for you — I noted all the most whiny, dumb, egotistical, self-flattering, and unlikable bits.

But I can’t take away the fact that her idea for The Open Book is wonderful.

The deal is, you rent out the BnB upstairs for a week and you get to operate the book store below, however you want. It’s been an enormous success, and the place is booked up until 2025. You can read a New York Times article about it here.

When I was in Wigtown, one week ago (May 31 and June 1), The Open Book was being “managed” by a nice 9th-grade school teacher from Oklahoma:

She brought paint chips from Muskogee (really):

This was from some Italian “managers” a few weeks ago:

And with that, we must close the shutters on The Open Book and start counting the hours until it’s five o’clock somewhere.

My darling Top Cat is the best husband a co-manager of a used book store could ever have. He took me all the way from the north shore of Long Island to Wigtown, in the remotest far nether regions of Scotland, all because I wanted to meet a cat and he still loves me and I haven’t even told you about dragging him to the opposite end of outer limits yet.

P.S. I was in Scotland when the Friends of the library met to discuss the Odious Wednesday Volunteer’s “issues”, however I got a full report and it was as petty as expected. You and me, Dear Readers, let’s meet here next week and I’ll fill you in on that, as well as why you should never go to Orkney and Wigtown on the same trip, and why you should definitely never go to Glasgow. I fucking hate Glasgow.

Have a great weekend, everyone. 75 years ago the world was united against evil. We will overthrow evil once again in 2020.

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This is a photo of the charity shop that I co-manage here on the north shore of Long Island, selling used books for the benefit of our local library. It is a one-room, 300-sq. foot parlor of a house built in 1820, and it’s operated under the aegis of The Friends of the Library. We are open 18 hours a week, from Tuesday to Saturday; closed Sunday and Monday.

Oh, lordy, you cannot believe the drama.

To catch you up with as few words as possible, my co-manger and I told our Wednesday volunteer that we had replaced her with a new Wednesday volunteer who was more reliable and much, much less creepy.

Old Wednesday volunteer did not take it well. First, she tried to arrange a meeting between us, the president of the Friends of the Library, and the Director of the library. I have quoted her hilariously illiterate email in my blog of May 2, I Got Cat Class and I Got Cat Style. Since I and my co-manager both refused to attend this pow-wow, she cancelled the meeting in a huff and called me, among other things, “delusional”.

It seems that, since then, Old Wednesday volunteer has been stewing about the situation because last week she sent an email to every board member of The Friends of the Library, to the Director and head librarians of the Library, AND to the Board of Trustees of the Library, proposing an amendment to the by-laws of the Friends of the Library. This is a paste and copy of her email:

Any grievance by any volunteer or library personnel 

Should be brought before the main board of directors or the friends of the library.No volunteers or employee has the right to make a decision that ultimately falls under the jurisdiction of the main board or The Friends of the Bryant Library.

Disregarding the weirdness of her random punctuation, arbitrary capitalizations, misuse of legalistic jargon, and imprecise wording (who/what the hell is “the main board of directors”??), Old Wednesday volunteer does not understand that the business of The Friends of the Library has nothing to do with the library itself or its trustees. Likewise, The Friends have no business making policy that involves the library itself or its trustees.

The purpose of Old Wednesday volunteer’s amendment, obviously, is for her to institute a process whereby the decision to fire her from the used book store can be overturned by a “grievance” process that involves the full membership of the Friends of the Library and, apparently, the library staff and its trustees.

*Sigh* Dealing with this kind of stupidity is like punching a tar baby.

Nevertheless, I punched back any way, and wrote a rebuttal and sent it Reply To All. Everyone in The Friends, the library staff, and the trustees got it. I won’t quote it here — it’s rather wordy — but I will  cut and paste it to the bottom of this post if you want to read it.

Naturally, heated opinions of this amendment, of me, and of Old Wednesday volunteer, are flying back and forth amongst the Friends; the poor folks in the library and the innocent trustees are staying out of it, as they should since they were dragged into it only by the idiocy of Old Wednesday volunteer in the first place.

The show down comes at the next Friends meeting on June 4.

There Will Be Blood. I hope.

Back at the used book store, where I report on the oddities that come our way from the donations that we receive from the community, we got this last week:

The book on the left was a donation. The book on the right is my own copy of the authorized Potter publication.

Beatrix Potter’s stories are all in the public domain so it’s OK to re-print the text. It is not, however, OK to use her illustrations, so this “new” version copied the Beatrix Potter’s original illustrations.

This is the strangest thing.

Beatrix Potter’s original The Tale of Benjamin Bunny had 27 illustrations. The “new” version has only 7, but they are, as you can see, a stroke-by-stroke knock off.

This got me thinking about art. It’s obvious, looking at this pitiful illustrations and any place else where you find art that has been knocked-off/copied/re-hashed/derived by a second-rate hacks that the original stuff has a luminosity and soul that can not be replicated.

I think it’s a necessary step in one’s artistic development to copy the genius work that went before, but only as instruction, only as a way to educate one’s self of the “tricks” and quirks and untouchable brilliance of the Greats.

But here, in this re-print of Benjamin Bunny, I don’t understand the point. We already have the superb original illustrations for sale, easy to find in any bookstore. Why would any one want to buy the knock-off? Why would any one want to look at the haggard, pale, bloodless, puny reflection of the original?

Why would you listen to a Beatle tribute band when you can easily listen to real Beatles records? Why would you go to a store to look at a Thomas Kinkade painting when you can go to a museum and look at a Vermeer? Why would you eat Taco Bell when there’s a taqueria down the street?

Life is mysterious.

We also got this in:
It’s not a good book. But it’s interesting to me because of the note that I found, written on the inside cover:

If you want to read it you can click onto the photo to enlarge it…but I don’t recommend it. It is very rambling (People! Do a rough draft before you commit your words to a book!!) and repetitive, but it’s alive note to Amy from her husband of one year, Adam. Adam loves Amy; or, at least Adam loved Amy as of their first wedding anniversary on Sept. 1, 2002.

These were also tucked inside the book:

Amy gave Adam three cards on their first wedding anniversary, and she wrote the usual pitter patter about how happy she is that Adam is her husband yadda yadda yadda.

Did Amy or Adam ever think that, a mere 18 years later, their notes professing undying love would be dropped off — tossed, like; dumped — so unceremoniously at a used book store? Poor kids. I hope nothing really terrible happened to them, and that they just grew apart, like people do, and found that their true selves did not mesh after all and Adam is now following his passion as a civil war re-enactor and Amy is pursuing her calling as a dog food taster. I wish them the best.

There must have been something in the ether this week because in another donation of books, I found this:

I found this card inside what I assume was the wedding gift: a facsimile of The Book of Kells.

For those who don’t know, The Book of Kells is an illuminated manuscript of the four Gospels of the New Testament from approx. 800 CE, hand-painted by monks in Britain or Ireland. It is on display in Dublin, in a very dreary corner of Trinity College. I would show you the photo I took of the book, but for some reason my computer has crapped out and I can’t fetch any more pix from iPhoto. But The Book of Kells is creepy.

The note inside the facsimile of The Book of Kells, signed by the same hand that signed the wedding card, alerted the newlyweds of the high quality of the reproductions in this faux The Book of Kells, and advised them that some of the larger repros can be removed from the book and would look very nice framed and hung on living room walls.

Yeah, I thought the same thing: Weird.

The task of sorting through great quantities of second-hand books can get depressing, so every once in a while I try to lift my spirits above the waste and sadness of this world’s ample supply of dreadful, ugly, battered, unwanted and unloved books. I do this by selecting, from an almost unlimited choice, the week’s Most Boring Book.

And here, for you, Dear Readers, is this week’s Most Boring Book:

For the coffee table, this book is 255 pages, weighs 4 pounds, was published in 1991, and cost $46 when it was new. As the title so eloquently hints, it’s about beds.

I think the technical term for this kind of book is vanity project. The proof is in the author photo:

Trust me on this. The world did not need a book about beds in 1991, or ever.

The writing, O, lordy, the writing. . .

I have a friend who can’t find a publisher for his fabulous book about the 20 years he has been a regular at his Paris cafe, but a book about beds did?!?!

That’s all I got for you this week, Dear Ones. My answer to the odious Wednesday volunteer’s email (at the top of this blog post) follows, but feel free to end our weekly visit here, taking with you my wishes for an authentically happy weekend. May all your Benjamin Bunnies, all your love letters, all your hopes and dreams and tacos be the real thing.



Reply to the odious Wednesday volunteer and everyone else on her extensive email list.

Hi Everyone –

Concerning this proposal to include a  “grievance” process in the new by-laws of The Friends of Bryant Library, I would like to respond.

“Grievance” is a legal term requiring specific formalities and obligations re: civil or criminal procedures between litigants.

Judging by the subsequent language in this text that refers to “library personnel”;  “employee”; and “jurisdiction”, I assume that the term “grievance” is, here, being used legalistically (as noted above), specifically in relation to issues between employers and employees;  I also assume that the term “the main board of directors” refers to the Board of Trustees of the Bryant Library (the text is very imprecise so I’m doing my best to deduce meaning).

I would like to remind the Friends that The Bryant Library and the Board of Trustees of The Bryant Library are separate entities, and each is distinct and apart from each other, and apart and distinct from The Friends of Bryant Library.  Thus, any “grievance” issues regarding the employees, trustees, volunteers, board members, and/or administrators (“library personnel”) of The Bryant Library and/or its Board of Trustees, have nothing whatsoever to do with The Friends of Bryant Library. And, vice-versa: There is nothing that The Bryant Library and/or its Board of Trustees can do to effect any policy or action within the functions of The Friends of Bryant Library. In fact, to have presumed otherwise shows a shocking ignorance of the mission, purpose, and basic regulatory and juridical constraints of The Friends of Bryant Library.

Thus, it would be inappropriate and certainly illegal for The Friends of Bryant Library to insert themselves into any “grievance” process regarding the employees, trustees, volunteers, board members, and/or administrators (“library personnel”) under the “jurisdiction” of The Bryant Library or its Board of Trustees.  It would also be ridiculous to involve any employee, trustee, volunteer, board member, and/or administrator (“library personnel”) of The Bryant Library and/or its Board of Trustees with a “grievance” within The Friends of Bryant Library.

But perhaps I am being too persnickety in my interpretation of this missive. It is, as you can see, an incoherent document. Maybe “grievance” is, here, being used in its quotidian context, as merely the complaint of a real or imagined slight.

If so, it is my opinion that creating a formal process for airing personality clashes among various volunteers of The Friends of Bryant Library is too petty and tedious a process to be included in this organization’s by-laws or functions.

However, should there be a Friend of Bryant Library who is frothing at the mouth to settle trivial scores, I can recommend a tried-and-true arena: Thunderdome.

In conclusion:

Having shown that The Friends of Bryant Library 501 ( c ) (3) is under no obligation (indeed, is prohibitedfrom doing so) to address any “grievance” within The Bryant Library  and/or The Board of Trustees of The Bryant Library; and vice-versa; and having stated my objections to The Friends of Bryant Library creating a process for addressing any “grievance”( in its frivolous “hurt feelings” definition), I recommend that no such language in any form be included in the by-laws of the Friends of Bryant Library.


Vivian Swift



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I was laying on the love seat in the den, hatching plans to take charge and rid the world of stupidity once and for all  as I am wont, and I had the best view of Taffy’s toes:

If you look carefully, you can also see Bibs’ toes, and Candy’s lumpy butt, and Lickety’s sweet dreaming face. More cats, fewer people, is the best I can come up with when it comes to putting a halt to idiocy. I have met some dopey cats in my day (in fact, Lickety isn’t all that stellar in the brains department) but their lack of intelligence isn’t evil, unlike the imbeciles in the Alabama Republican party who combine their low I.Q.s with a profound malevolence that makes democracy unsafe for all thinking people and cats. I cannot help but believe that another civil war is inevitable and I am sorry that I will not be young enough to go hand-to-hand with the mouth-breathing/pea-brained/in-bred/slack-jawed/road-kill eating/Christian Taliban.

Well, until the righteous uprising comes and defeats stupidity (if not once and for all, maybe for another 150 years), I might as well make myself useful and go to work at the used book store.

This is sweet:  last week at the used book store that I co-manage for the local library, I found a little gift that had been left on the shelf:

It is an exquisite little flower pot and daffodil, a piece of expert-level origami if ever I saw one. Thank you, anonymous origami artist, for making the day a tad more magical.

I know you all want to know what was in those 25 boxes of books that I got in at 10 o’clock at night last Wednesday:

Although the donor assured me that they were “very high level books” because her children were lawyers who read only the best. . . this donation was 90% crap.

There was a lot of horror and sci-fi from the 1970s; a LOT of mass market paperbacks of popular fiction of the kind that we don’t (because nobody buys it) sell; a lot of World War II histories and outdated sociology books; paperback copies of classics that no-one reads any more (Greek philosophers and minor 19th-century American novelists);and almost all of the books were in deplorable condition. Only the more recent hardback thrillers were in good enough state that we would accept them for sale in the store, if we had customers who would buy contemporary thrillers, which we don’t.

I felt sorry for the donor. She had gone to the trouble of renting a van so she could schlepp the books in from Connecticut, and she had packed the boxes very carefully, almost lovingly — she lined them with plastic trash bags (to keep out the morning dew?), and she’d taped them all shut (to safeguard them from raccoons?) which made the boxes that much more odious to unpack. It was, for the most part, dismal work.


Yes, there were some exceptions. I did pull about 30 books from this haul that I could put out on the shelves — some decent nonfiction about higher math (which sold almost immediately), some popular physics (which also sold out that weekend), and some biographies. And surprisingly, there were about 15 childrens’ books in very fine shape that I was quite happy to put into stock.

Among the books that I did not throw out, which I had a feeling about, was this:

It’s a sense you get, when you’ve handled 10,000 books, about what might be valuable. This is a paperback in almost new condition from 1984. Harlan Ellison is one of those fantasy/sci-fi writers whose fame and influence is such that I know of him even though I have never read his stuff. He was one of the writers of what is often cited as the best episode of the original Star Trek — The City on the Edge of Forever. Harlan Ellison died last June, which does wonders for an author’s collectibility. My feeling about this book paid off.

This little paperback is worth about $40.00. Yay!

I also had a very good feeling about this first edition from 1988:

This book has a peculiar publishing history. The first American printing of the first edition of A Brief History of Time came with a silver (not blue) dust cover and had to be recalled and scrapped because Hawking complained that it was “full of errors, with misplaced and erroneously labeled photographs and diagrams.” It also did not have a table of contents, and lacked a dedication to Hawking’s wife.

The book was corrected and re-issued with this blue dust cover, a table of contents, and a dedication to Jane, along with a new introduction by Carl Sagan. That edition is known as the second state first edition.

The second state first edition is the only edition that has this introduction by Carl Sagan because Sagan copyrighted it, and all subsequent editions had to be printed without Sagan’s intro. That is not to say that you can’t have a 19th printing of the second state first edition, which would still have Sagan’s intro; but all later iterations will not ave the Sagan intro. So, Yay so far — we have a 1988 second state first edition with the Sagan intro!

This book has sold over 10 million copies and has been translated into 35 languages and was on the London Times best seller list for five years, so to find a first printing of the second state first edition would be FABULOUS and worth some nice coin.

If I am holding a true first printing of the second state first edition here, it would be worth about $150.00. Whoo-hoo!

And then I take a good look at the inside dust cover:

Cue the sad soundtrack.

Whomp whomp.

It’s usually a dead give away that, when the dust cover does not have a price printed on it, you have a cheapo book club edition that is only worth pennies. It might still be a first printing of the second state first edition, but it’s a book club first printing of the second state first edition which is a whole other animal.

It took me almost an hour on the internet to finally find proof that A Brief History of Time did indeed have a second state first edition book club printing, and of course, that’s what I had. And you can buy it from me for $2.00.

And then things got weirder.

This was one of the two comic books that came in, and of course it’s the second printing of a classic 1993 Superman comic, worth about $8.00. If it had been a first printing it could be worth up to $180.00

Jeeze. Did these people ever buy anything hot off the press? Did they always buy the literary equivalent of hand-me-downs??

The other comic book was porn, the kind where women have sex with monsters, but not in The Shape of Water way. . .

Not like this.

I thought there was a name for this genre of comic book so I tried looking it up in the internet so I could report to you, Dear Readers, on this strange sub-cult, and also hey, if the comic was worth big bucks I would look for a buyer no matter how distasteful the item.  But my porno comic book is not worth anything and now I could smack myself. Because now the internet knows of my search and now it thinks that I am interested in making whoopee with monsters and I’ll be slammed with all kinds of creepy ads for comic book porn that makes me sick. All because I am SUCH A SAINT when it comes to raising money for the local library A FUCKING SAINT. (See Mr. Pudding’s query about last week post’s in last week’s Comments re: the difference between regular saints and me, a FUCKING SAINT.)

You might think that things could not get even more weird, but yes, yes. . .  they did.

Do you see the book, in the photo below, sticking up on the far end of this crate, the fat tome covered-up in anonymous orange tape?

I pick it up and  I flip it open, all unawares, to the title page, so I can see what Im dealing with.

And it’s this:

I’ve read that every used book dealer comes across this book at least once in their career. So this is my initiation into being a real used book dealer.

Before its copyright expired in 2015, Mein Kampf was a hot potato. Most conscientious book dealers in the world wouldn’t touch it. Although 12 million copies were published in Bavaria before WWII, it has been prohibited to print or sell a copy of it in Germany since 1945. And now it’s in the public domaine and available everywhere, so it’s not surprising that I would come across a copy. This one happens to be a real antique. But still. Ew.

Stackpole Sons published this Mein Kampf in the US in 1939, as a way to make this filth available to Americans without paying one penny of royalties to Hitler. Hitler’s authorized publisher was Houghton Mifflin, who sued Stackpole for copyright infringement. The case was not decided until late 1941 in Houghton Mifflin’s favor but by then, the US was on the brink of war with Germany, and so Hitler’s royalties vanished into Houghton Mifflin’s account books.

Stockpile sold 12,000 copies of its Mein Kampf before it had to recall its print run while the court case was being argued. When Stackpole lost, all the remaining stock was destroyed.

I am sure that our donor, and her children, are not Nazis. Along with Mein Kampf, there was a lot of holocaust denial literature with many other books about denying holocaust deniers, and a lot of books on Judaica (which we also don’t sell) and a lot of WWII histories. So I think this reader was informing him/herself of the enemy by going to the source of evil, and I applaud the intellectual bravery this takes. But still. Ewwwwwww.

P.S. I did not know that Mein Kampf was such a long book. This copy runs 668 pages. I have not the slightest desire to read it. I don’t even want to touch it. So I will call the donor and ask her to take this book back.

BTW, the orange tape was easy to peel off, and this is what was underneath it:

So as you can see, this donation can be summed up in one word: dispiriting. Because time and again, this would happen:

O, sweet little ordinary orange book, what fresh disappointment do you bring?

First edition, 1978, cult classic.

With dust cover, worth about $40.00.

WITHOUT DUST COVER: worth $1.00.

So when I pulled this out of a box, I was sure that this, too, would be crap:

But Lo, and Behold — this is a First Printing/First American Edition from 1977  with in-tact dust cover. It even has the map, in pristine condition, that came with it:

Great balls of fire, how did this happen?? Why is this book not beat to hell, with it’s dust cover ripped off and the map illustrated with school boy graffiti?

This book redeems the whole 25 boxes, the 10 o’clock rendezvous, and all the gross outs.

It’s worth $350.00.

All I have to do now is find a buyer.

And that brings us to the end of this post, Dear Readers.

But hold on there, Vivo, you are thinking; You haven’t explained today’s headline about the people you meet in line at the grocery store.

Right you are. So here’s the uplifting story of the day:

The guy in line behind me at the grocery store accidentally rams his shopping cart into a display of muffins perched perilously close to the cash register and knocks a 6-pack off the shelf and onto the floor.

The guy scoops up the muffins — they were corn muffins — and puts them back into their package, and hands the muffins to the cashier.

“Here,” he says; “You can throw these out. I’ll pay for them because I knocked them onto the floor, but I don’t want them.”

I turned to him and blurted, “Oh, no, don’t throw them out! You can feed them to the raccoons!”

The guy was clearly annoyed with himself for knocking over the muffins, although it wasn’t all his fault because they really were stacked too close to the cash register, so he kind of scowls at me and says, “You feed raccoons??

“Yeah,” I said. “It’s their world too.”

I’ve read about this in books, but I’ve ever seen it happen: his face went from “highly miffed” to “somewhat interested”. In books, it’s written: His face softened.

And the guy stares at me for how ever many seconds it takes for a person to wonder whose turn it is to talk or did I just say something stupid or why is there this hush all of a sudden, and then he takes the muffins from the cashier and hands them to me and says, “Here. This is for your raccoons.”

I thank him profusely and take the muffins, and for the rest of the hour I had a really good feeling about the fate of mankind.

The raccoons devoured the muffins later that night.

And now we are really at the end of today’s blog post. As I type this, Old Wednesday volunteer (read all about her odious self in my blog of May 2, I Got Cat Class and I Got Cat Style) has been making trouble again in the small world of the Friends of the Library, and needs to be smote once and for all. I will tell you all about it next week.

Have a fabulous weekend, Dear Ones.

Be kind to your local raccoons and, maybe, cut someone a break today. Chance are, they could use it.



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I got a phone call from a woman who is cleaning out her Greenwich, Connecticut house so she can down-size to living full time in her Long Island house. The Connecticut house has a lot of really really good books because her grown children are lawyers and great readers and their books — oh! — their books! — are fantastic and she can’t — no! she can’t! — just throw them away and the local library doesn’t want them but they gave me your number. . .

Well, at the used book store that I co-manage for the local library here on the north shore of Long Island, the cupboards are bare, so I have been putting it out to the universe: Please send me a huge donation.

So I agree to take any and all books that the caller can schlepp in from Greenwich, Connecticut.

Things get complicated; she can only get here on a certain day when I don’t work at the store (I say, I live a mile from the book store — I’ll run over); she can’t make it during opening hours of the book store (I say, I can stay late); she’s been hauling books all day and she’s leaving Greenwich in an hour (I say, OK, you’ll get here by 8 o’clock, that’s OK); traffic was bad so she’s running late (I say, Call me when you’re 15 minutes from the library because I am a fucking SAINT).

So that’s how I came to be all alone in a dark and empty library parking lot at 10 o’clock last night, waiting for the lady from Connecticut to show up with about 500 books.

Such is the romance of running a used book store.

The books await me, still incased in 25 cardboard boxes piled up in the hallway outside the book store.

Even if the universe is pranking me and this donation isn’t pure gold, that means that, as usual, 80% of those books will be crap but at these numbers, that still gives us 100 decent books for the stock. I will let you know.

Last month we got in a small dump of books of the usual crap variety, except for one stand-out that had a very nice cover,  considering that it’s self-published:

Abby Elizabeth Woodbury was born in Salem, Massachusetts on May 5, 1851, the 4th of seven children of Isaac Woodbury. Isaac, according to a very confusing history of the Woodbury family written by Margaret Waddell, the “co-author” who transcribed Abby’s diary, is not a gifted narrator) was living off of his grand-father’s money, which was begat by publishing music in New York City in the 1850s.

By 1870 money must have been tight because Isaac shipped off his wife and his 5 youngest kids to Europe, which at the time was the place where genteel but impoverished Americans went to lay low until the creditors could be sorted out. (See: Mark Twain’s financial troubles and his 10-year exile.)

Abby was 19 when she set sail for Liverpool, the same age I was when I lit out for my first European adventure.

This is a sample of Abby’s handwriting in the diary:

The inside cover of the book explains:

This is a work of non-fiction. [I’m OK with the hyphenation, but some people are sticklers and insist that the correct term is nonfiction.]

Abby Elizabeth Woodbury was a real person who wrote almost daily in her diary during her two year journey through Europe about the people she meets, the places she visits, as well as her innermost thoughts and feelings.

I assume that the woman who mixed the tenses in this blurb is the woman who is listed as the “co-author” of this book, Maragaret Waddell. Margaret Waddell is a Woodbury descendant whose father was given Abby’s diary, Margaret writes, “as an heirloom”.

I dislike the word “heirloom”. Rich people do not use the word “heirloom”, only poor people do. If you’ve grown up with loads of hand-me-downs (Sevres dinner plates, Chippendale cabinets, Malbone miniatures, Tiffany parures and the like) you don’t call them “heirlooms”. You call them, “Granny’s amethysts”, or “Uncle Biff’s candelabras”.

A diary is not an heirloom. It’s a keepsake.

Getting back to Abby’s story, during the sailing from New York to Liverpool, Abby’s older sister Mary meets a guy and they get engaged right off the boat, so Mary is able to go home and prepare for her wedding and ditch the family’s long slog through England and Germany and France. Her fiance, James Neilson, is from an old, rich New Jersey family so Mary Woodbury did pretty well for herself and her descendants. During their marriage, Mary and James collected rare Americana and became well-known philanthropists. Her portrait, along with her husband’s, hangs in the former mansion, which they bequeathed to Rutgers University (along with the surrounding 193 acres) in 1937.

Co-author Margaret Waddell is from a different branch of the Woodburys. Margaret is a member (as of 2011, when she published Abby’s Diary) of the Colorado Paper Doll Club. I’m grateful that she published her great-aunt Abby’s diary, but (no judgment), she’s not someone I whose diary I would want to read. OK; maybe a little bit of judgement. Doll collectors creep me out.

This is not Margaret Waddell. This is the president of the National Federation of Doll Collectors. For Real.

On the other hand, I love Abby Woodbury. Poor girl; in the diary she tries so hard to be good, but travel bores her and her mother gets on her nerves. It being 1870 – 1872, there is not much entertainment for a 19-year old girl abroad, except for the weekly Sunday sermon from whatever church they attend in whatever foreign place they land. The family lives in a series of boarding houses and hotels, and she goes to dances, takes walks, and does some shopping when her grand-father (who seems to be paying the bills) sends some dollars to the local bank every now and then. She tries to learn German or a little French (she gets lessons when there is money left over after paying for her three younger brothers’ education), and tries to acquire a lady-like amount of musical ability, but, alas, she’s only a fair student and money is tight, so most of her hours are filled by mending stockings, or adding ribbons to an old bonnet, or wishing for letters from home. Once in a while she goes to a museum:

April 12, 1971

I went to the museum this morning with Maria Miller. Oh, the beautiful pictures! Raphael’s “Madonna” is lovely. I wish I had more taste for pictures. I wonder I cannot tell Mama the things I want to now and then. I want to tell her things so much, but she does not [two words crossed out] and my lips will not say it.

I don’t know why such mundanity interests me so much, but I find Abby’s diary fascinating. She seems to have a lot of intelligence but, due to her situation and her times, she’s not able to find her niche in the world as a proper “nice” lady; alas, that must have been the fate of many women born during her era, even up to today, eh?

September 9, 1871

I find the days are too short for me and I have no time to sew with all my studying. I have practiced three hours, read and translated all my French and been to Mama’s twice..I do wish she wouldn’t find something unpleasant in everything I say. 

Now, when I was 19 and traveling in France, I did not have much to keep myself occupied outside of sight-seeing. I did not drink, I was traveling alone, and I was not the kind of girl who enjoyed talking to strangers. So when the day was done, or it was Sunday, I read a lot, wrote a lot of letters, and obsessed about keeping expenses low (my budget was $100 per week for food, lodging, and travel — everything).

October 3, 1871

It rained all day today. I ordered myself a black alpaca suit to be made.  I hope it will be nicely and prettily made. I paid 1.25 francs per meter for the alpaca. I have been to Mama’s all this afternoon and came away unhappy as usual.

Abby Woodbury, the writer of this diary, never married and died in 1894 at the age of 44.

Cause of death is unknown, but I bet it was boredom.

She should have gotten cats. Never a dull moment.

I happened to glance out of my dining room window a few mornings ago and I saw Taffy in the rhododendron bush across the kitchen patio. In the 13 years that Taffy has been in charge of our backyard, I have never seen him in the rhododendron bush.

So of course I have to go outside to investigate, and that’s when I hear a blue jay, perched on the Japanese dogwood tree on the other side of the kitchen nation, screeching bloody murder. I presume, at Taffy.

Taffy decides that he has seen enough of the inside of the rhododendron bush so he tight-rope-walks across a branch and dismounts onto the roof of the shed, and saunters off. The blue jay flies intothe rhododendron bush that Taffy has just evacuated, and he’s clutching a long ribbon of plastic in his claws.

I watch as the blue jay drags this long ribbon of plastic into the rhododendron bush, chattering to himself, keeping busy. . .

. . . building a nest.

Lordy, this will not do. So I hang around, peering up at the nest to piss off the blue jay, who screams at me and flies off in a huff. I have not seen him/her back in there since so, You’re Welcome, Blue Jays; I saved you from becoming Taffy’s latest hors d’ouvre.

One last thing. I have a confession to make.

Last week I wrote about my afternoon in New York City, and then I mouthed off about narrative nonfiction.

Dear Reader Steve commented that he was quite familiar with Manhattan and he had never seen the store front I photographed:

I confess that, for the sake of streamlining my blog post, I did not mention that I went out to Brooklyn for lunch, the hipster HQ of Fort Greene, to be exact, which is where I found this spiffy Eiffel Tower sign.

My question to you is this: after our discussion last week of the boundary between narrative nonfiction and fiction, is my omitting the fact that this shop front was in Brooklyn, and not in Manhattan as were all the other photos and clearly what my narrative implied (I wrote that I went to a friend’s book event in Manhattan BUT I also said that “New York City is a trip” and Brooklyn IS part of NYC). . .

. . . did I push too hard against the limits of narrative nonfiction into fiction territory? As a Dear Reader, are you offended or do you feel otherwise betrayed knowing that I left out a minor (and, to me, unimportant) detail as to every teeny moment and movement of my Big Apple gallivant? Do you, or do you not, condone this kind of artistic license to condense or omit bits of information in the service of a streamlined story?

Let me know. Because I have another long-form narrative nonfiction/memoirish thingy in the works and I want to know where to draw the line between keeping the story moving, and lying.

Thank you, Dear Ones. Have a great weekend, and stay out of birds’ nests.



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. . .  How Much Have You Let Yourself Go?

This is a Family Feud [TV game show] question, asked by Steve Harvey last week.

(Top Cat and I flip channels to watch The Family Feud when Jeopardy! goes to commercial, that’s how I know.)

I forget what the #1 answer to that question was; I was laughing too hard to pay attention to the contestants.

I want you to ask yourself this question: “On a scale of one to ten, how much how you let yourself go?”

Is that not the most perfect, most succinct way to get real about how you’re doing in life? To smack yourself in the head and go, Duh! I’m just a 4! And I wasted all that money on therapy! 

Because “4” is fixable. It’s a very short  To Do List, now that your vague but persistent and gnawing feelings of inadequacy have been quantified by such a harmless little number. Nobody is afraid of a “4”! You can be back on track, lickety-split, if all you have to right-size is a “4”!

But Vivian, (I hear you ask):  Suppose my answer is “10” and it fills me with despair?

My answer is: It’s still just a number! It’s still just a To Do List, albeit a longer one than if you were at “4”, but it’s a number that you can handle! One digit at a time!

Start by knocking it down to a “9” for a start.

Only then do you do what you gotta do to take it to “8”.

Keep chipping away until you’re at “7”.

Before you know it, you’ll be rounding it off to a “4”, and that’s Kelly Clarkson territory!

All she needs to do is get rid of those sleeves and she’d be at “2”.

But there’s this, too: suppose your answer to that question is, “10”, but suppose you can hear yourself say that to yourself and you get a charge out of how liberated that makes you feel — unburdened by society’s expectations and free to set your own notions of propriety and attractiveness and to hell with your stupid “2s” and “4s”!

Well, then, Go For It.

Taffy is a “10”, too, and his favorite T-shirt says:

Know your number, is all I’m saying; and be good with it or not, but know your number.

And if your number is “0”, then you should write a Guide to Gracious Living and get stinking rich. Everybody wants to be a “0”.

Top Cat, if he is reading this, is wishing I would stop here (he thinks my blog posts are too long), but I have more:

I went to a writer friend’s book event last week, in Manhattan of all places. You see, even though I live a mere 15 miles from Times Square, I think it’s been over year since I have ventured into The Big Apple.

Sidewalk outside Penn Station, with Madison Square Garden (the round building) in the background). And yes, some guy is getting a hair cut on the sidewalk.

New York City is a trip. When your daily life is all about managing a used book store and riding herd on 8 house cats, NYC is bigger, busier, weirder, and gaudier than anything you are used to laying your eyes on.

Film crew on 36th Street.


Everybody’s favorite film crew member.


Throw me the ball! Throw me the ball!

I gave myself a few extra hours to walk around and get a good look at city life.

This isn’t a dry cleaner any more; it’s a dress shop. But that sign is SO COOL that I wouldn’t get rid of it either.

I saw this on the downtown C train:

I think he’s got a QUIDDITCH trophy.

Also on the subway:

This is how they advertise dry shampoo in NYC. It made me nostalgic for when I lived in NYC and my Happy Hours would turn into All Nighters, which they never did, so I must have lived all wrong.

Not pictured: I saw a middle-aged African-American guy, conservatively dressed in a shirt and tie and khakis, walk down Greenwich Avenue carrying a surf board.

Not pictured: I had a cup of tea at the Starbucks on West 4th Street win The Village and the place was packed with NYU students on laptops, and I did not overhear anything the least bit interesting. Kids these days. They are boring. And they all have hideous vocal fry.

Any way. My writer friend’s book event was held in a gorgeous brownstone on Washington Square, in the heart of the NYU campus. There were a lot of arty types in attendance, but it never fails. There’s always one person in the audience who uses the Q&A to talk about her own (unpublished) work, and how she can’t figure out if it’s memoir or  if it’s a novel.

I’ve run into this person many times, in my own book events and at the writer workshops I am often asked to lead. There’s always one person who does not know what he/she is writing, because they do not read (books, that is; or  book reviews, ever, in their life) and are not up to speed with the difference between fiction and non-fiction.

This person always asks, If I use a real event — say, the destruction of the World Trade Center on 9/11 — but my story about my characters experience of 9/11 is made up, does that make it real? Or fiction?

Sometimes the confusion is over real people: If I use my mother as a character, but I make up her life…is that memoir? Or not?

And there’s this: What is it, if I write about Coney Island, because I’ve been to Coney Island, and I write about the people on the beach, because I’ve watched the people on the beach at Coney Island, and I’m the main character but I make up the other characters, is that fiction? 

Before I get the chance to tear my hair out, there is usually an enabler in attendance who will elaborate upon this person’s ignorance of writing’s fundamentals by claiming that there is a new literary genre that combines fact and fiction, so therefore it’s possible to blend then together to write a nonfiction novel.


I do not have enough life left in me to educate these kind of people, who should not be writing books in the first place. Thankfully, my friend is an experienced enough author to not let an audience member de-rail his book event, so we quickly moved on. . . but this lady bugged me so when I got home I did a little digging.

The confusion over the nonfiction novel began with Truman Capote.

I LOVE this look!

When he wrote In Cold Blood in 1966 it was the first time that a first-class creative writer had stooped so low to use his skills as a storyteller to produce long-form (novel-length) journalism. Journalism — the mere reporting of facts — was “hack” and “low-brow”, but In Cold Blood was an enthralling nonfiction reading experience in the style of a novel, in that it fleshed-out the killers and the victims of the 1959 murders of four members of the Herbert Clutter family in the small farming community of Holcomb, Kansas.

Nobody knew what to call this new kind of writing.

George Plimpton, famous journalist, wrote about the book in January 1966, and introduced In Cold Blood to readers of the New York Times as a work that was

“remarkable for its objectivity–nowhere, despite his involvement, does the author intrude. In the following interview, done a few weeks ago, Truman Capote presents his own views on the case, its principals, and in particular he discusses the new literary art form which he calls the nonfiction novel.”

Plimpton wasn’t stupid, and neither was Capote, but they were stuck in their times and they were inventing a new voice for American literature. Nonfiction novel was the best they could do, under the circumstances.  Since then, however, this style of writing has caught on fire and we now call it narrative nonfiction.

Some people call it creative nonfiction but that only makes things worse.

Finally (the end is almost near) we had our May board meeting of the Friends of Bryant Library two days ago. It did not go well, in that Old Wednesday Volunteer did not say a word so I didn’t have to unleash the flying monkeys. Damn. I was itching’ for a fight.

So instead I got shitty with the president of the Friends because her latest fund-raising idea is to sell $10 book plates to put in library books in honor of National Teacher Appreciation Month (which is May, so, as usual, it’s too little too late), which is something a damn Girl Scout could do, and do better than a bunch of old fart white ladies, and she emailed afterwards that she was insulted and that we have to talk. I doubt this will ever happen.

Can I tell you all about this?  Next week? The stupidity of the world has worn me out today, so I need to find a quiet place to sit with my cats and watch the clock until it’s 5 o’clock, here or somewhere.

Have a great weekend, Dear Readers. Whatever your number is, I hope you make it prime.



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