Thursday, December 5, 2019

Sponsor Letter, December 5th 2019

Hi Everyone,

Due to a few things coming up and the time it took me to write the piece for the main store newsletter, this note is going to be short.  But, at the end of this email you'll find a story that might entertain.  It's something I wrote back in 2007 for a series we were doing for the store's ten-year anniversary.  It's particularly appropriate now since I'm starting the pre-planning for the design and construction of the new shelves for Haight St.

Speaking of Haight St, we passed the last inspection for the new electrical service (that's the one for the new panels we put in the apartments upstairs) so that permit is finally closed.  It was the first one we pulled and so having it done is a nice little mile-stone for the end of the year.  Other than that, it's just been little bits of work since I last wrote.  But, I have high hopes for this month, despite the holidays.

One last thing -- if you're planning on joining us at the Dickens Christmas Fair this Sunday, I'm sad to say that I won't be there.  Given all the work at Haight St. I missed last month, I decided to work there this Sunday, December 8th.  But Jude will be there (along with Jeremy, who will be sporting a fancy new hat).  They'll be hanging around the tables near the Green Man Inn from noon until 4:00 pm, if you want to find them.  It would also be great if you'd let us know if you're coming -- just reply to this email if you are.

You have my sincere best wishes for a calm and happy holiday followed by a lovely New Year.

All Best,

PS: If you'd like to pre-order a 2020 Borderlands Sponsorship online, starting on the 15th you can at  Once that goes live, I'll be sending out a quick reminder note to you all.

The postcard version:

(1) Sunday, December 8th at noon -- Dickens Christmas Fair, Cow Palace, Daly City

(2) <private>

(3) Monday, January 13th at 7:30 pm  --  Astronomy lecture, Morrison Planetarium, California Academy of Sciences in Golden Gate Park

(4) Saturday, February 22 at 7:00 pm -- Sponsor Social at Borderlands Books

(5) Friday, March 6-8 - FOGCon in Walnut Creek

(6) Tuesday, March 31 at 7:00 pm -- Sponsors' General Meeting

The care-package version:

(1) Sunday, December 8th at noon -- Dickens Christmas Fair, Cow Palace, Daly City.  It's quickly becoming a tradition for us at Borderlands Books, and we couldn't resist another trip back in time at the Dickens Christmas Fair.  Feel free to join up with us anytime after noon-- we'll be the ones holding the tankard of ale in honor of Queen Victoria's 200th Birthday.  Look for us at the tables near the Green Man Inn on Bell Ringers Alley.  Tickets can be purchased directly through their website at

(2)  <private>

(3) Monday, January 13th at 7:30 pm  -- Astronomy lecture featuring Catherine Espaillat at Morrison Planetarium, California Academy of Sciences (55 Music Concourse Dr, San Francisco). $15.00.  If you've not had a chance to hear a lecture at the Academy of Sciences, you are in for a treat.  This lecture in particular caught our eye and we hope you can join us.  From the website: "We know that planets are born in the protoplanetary disks that surround stars when they are young.  How these disks evolve into planetary systems is a fundamental question in Astronomy.  Observations have revealed remarkable structures in disks that may indicate the presence of newly born planets.  This talk will review these key observations and compare them to current theoretical predictions of planet formation.  To conclude,  possibilities for future progress in the field will be discussed."  Tickets are $15.00 for non-museum members, $12.00 for members and seniors.  As usual, if you'll let us know you're going, well keep an eye out for you - just reply to this email to RSVP.  For tickets:

(4) Saturday, February 22 at 7:00 pm --  Sponsor Social at Borderlands Books.  [Sponsors and Guests only] Join us for food, drink, and merriment as we talk about books, buy books, and maybe even win some free books in the raffle!  This is our first sponsor social of the year, and we hope you'll come by to meet fellow sponsors and toast the absolutely incredible fact that YOU made it possible for the store to survive.  Bring your favorite treat or drink to share, be super-social, or simply find a book and a quiet corner to commune -- we're just delighted to have you.

(5) Friday, March 6-8 -- FOGCon in Walnut Creek.  Once again we will be setting up shop at the Walnut Creek Marriott for the 10th (!) FOGCon.  This year's featured guests include Mary Anne Mohanraj and Nisi Shawl.

(6) Tuesday, March 31 at 7:00 pm — Sponsor General Meeting [Sponsors only].  Join us for a recap of the prior year and our goals for the upcoming year including the status for moving to Haight Street.

The Tale of Minwax Golden Oak and Diamond Finish

Many years ago when dinosaurs roamed the earth, Alan Beatts decided to open a book store.  The Alan Beatts then was not like the Alan Beatts you see now.  He was younger.  He had darker hair, more energy, and a deep-seated aversion to sleeves.  He also didn't know much at all about woodworking.

But he needed shelves if he was going to have a bookstore.  Lots of shelves.

In the course of a month, he managed to get shelves.  About twenty-five of them.  All tall and all unfinished.  And that's where the problem began.

Anyone who has refinished a coffee table knows how it goes.  You sand, then you might put on some kind of stain, and then you add a few coats of some sort of sealer. Wait for it to dry and you're done.  It's a nice little bit of handyman work that'll take up a few hours some weekend.  But, a good sized coffee table has perhaps 3 or 4 square feet of surface.  Twenty-five tall bookshelves have a bit more surface.

A lot more surface, actually.  Like ten times more surface.  Per shelf.  Times twenty-five shelves.

Alan did a little math and realized he was in hell.

So he went looking for some expert advice.  Looking through the phone book (remember, back then the internet wasn't quite as useful as it is now), he found a company in town that advertised, "Everything for professional wood finishing".  When he chatted with the owner (who didn't seem very friendly or terribly helpful but he was a professional -- the sign outside said so) and explained the situation, the solution was clear: "gel stain and wax," said the professional.  A large check was written, warnings about "no returns" were stated, and less than an hour later the finishing began.  And then stopped almost immediately.

Gel stain is great stuff.  It doesn't splash, dries quickly, and goes on evenly.  But (and this is a big but), it's a goo.  It has to be rubbed on.  And it's a really big pain to get into inside corners (of which a tall bookshelf has 34).  Call professional.

"It's really hard to get the stain into the corners."


"What do I do?"

"Try using a Q-Tip."

" . . . . "

"So long."

Much brooding ensued.  "There is no way that I'm going to finish twenty-five blankity-blank bookshelves with a blanking Q-Tip," thought Alan to himself.  By way of distraction while thinking about the problem, he read the instructions for the wax which was meant to follow the stain -

"Rub on"

"Buff vigorously when dry"

"Re-coat every six months to a year . . . RE-COAT every SIX MONTHS to a YEAR!!!!"

"@&%##&@!  &%$#@& professional!  I'll $@#&%$&* him in front of his family and then &&%@#^&^!"

More brooding.  And then Alan called his bank.  Then he called the professional and told him that the stain and wax would be returned tomorrow.

"We don't take returns.  I told you that."

"I know.  You're going to this time.  I stopped the check.  Don't bother trying to deposit it."

" . . . . "

"So long."

The next day, materials returned, Alan went looking for another solution.  He remembered one of the people who he had talked with when he was first looking for shelves.  This guy had run a bookstore until he realized that selling bookshelves was more profitable (what this means about the book business is an exercise best left to the reader).  A quick phone call revealed that there was a product that went on quickly and dried very fast.  And, as a matter of fact, the bookshelf guy had a bunch on hand that he'd be happy to sell for a reasonable price.  He gotten it for a big project but later decided that lacquer wasn't the right finish to use.  Arrangements were made to pick up several gallons the next day.

That evening while chatting over a beer with friends, the story of the wood finishing was told.  When the new finish, this "lacquer" stuff was mentioned, one of the people around the table, a motorcyclist named Johnny, blanched and asked if Alan had ever used this stuff.

"No, but it seems pretty simple.  And the best part is how fast it dries."

"Yeah, that's one of the reasons they sometimes call it 'flash'.  I don't think you should use that stuff."


"It's too dangerous.  You'll blow yourself up."


"That stuff is really, really, flammable.  Pretty much one spark when you've been working with it for a while and the fumes'll send you to Jesus.  In pieces.  That's the other reason they call it 'flash'.  I'm surprised you could find any.  The state is trying to ban it."


Risk is sometimes a subjective thing.  One person's "too dangerous" isn't always the same as someone else's.  But, Johnny had an interesting relationship with the concept of "dangerous". For example he is perhaps the only person on the planet to have accidentally cut a Nissan pickup truck in half.  With a motorcycle.  It seems that at 80 miles per hour a Suzuki GS1100 is capable of actually severing the frame of a light pickup truck when it impacts at 90 degrees right behind the cab.  Johnny commented later that it didn't seem too dangerous to be going that fast.  After all it was a side road and there wasn't any traffic.

The next day Alan just didn't bother to show up to get the lacquer.

Time for plan C.  Discount Builders' Supply is an example of a vanishing breed.  It's a huge independent hardware store right near highway 101 in the middle of San Francisco.  That's hard enough to find these days but even more unusual, 'Da Builders (as we call it) pays a good wage and has an older staff who pretty much know everything about their specialty.  There is no telling how many people they have educated over the years, but that day Alan became one of them.

The lady in the paint department listened to the whole story, asked a few questions and said, "Try a Minwax stain.  You can brush it on and it dries overnight.  Then use a water-based sealer. They dry in about six hours and there aren't any fumes to worry about.  You'll have to use a few coats but that's the best way to go."

And that's how it worked.  It took just over a week of working 12 to 14 hours a day but at the end all the shelves were done.  With encouragement from Nick Cave, Leonard Cohen and Tom Waits it wasn't even hell.  A long job, sure, but not hell.

The shelves looked really good.

And they still do.  The original shelves are still in use nine years later.  After a move and several different layouts, they make up the large rolling shelves in the middle of the store.  And they've never been refinished.


PS  Today, in 2019, those shelves are still in the shop.  They look a tiny bit more worn now but still looking good.  And they've yet to be refinished.