Thursday, September 30, 2004

"Plate of shrimp."

The Movie: Repo Man, 1984 (Alex Cox, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Tracey Walter as Miller, a homeless prophet
The context: This is the relevant phrase of a much longer quote, where Miller explains the “lattice of coincidence” that’s part of the “cosmic unconscious” to repo-man-in-training Otto (Emilio Estevez). Isn’t it strange, he says, how you might think of a plate of shrimp, and then see someone eat a plate of shrimp, or hear someone else mention it. In the next scene, a sign on the wall says “Plate of Shrimp.”
How to use it: To acknowledge synchronicity.

Synchronicity happens all the time. Tuesday night, just after I'd been ranting about people not wearing bike helmets on city streets, I met a perfectly nice person who was riding his bike not only without a helmet, but also without lights. I did ask him whether his donor card was signed, and he assured me that it was. Far be it from me to argue against anyone else's self-destructive practices, I guess. Heaven knows I have enough of my own.

The best book I've read this year is Sock, by Penn Jillette. It turns out to be an extremely clever polemic against belief in God, but I found that kind of endearing; Penn is a vivid example of Simone Weil's theory that committed atheists are closer to God than lackadaisical Christians. Anyway, synchronicity always feels to me like a casual reminder that forces beyond us are still at work, and nothing goes unnoticed. I call that God. I don't know what Penn would call it.

Good news yesterday: Mom's doing so well that she might be able to go home next week. Hurray!

Wednesday, September 29, 2004

"You can't handle the truth."

The Movie: A Few Good Men, 1992 (Aaron Sorkin, screenwriter; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Jack Nicholson as Colonel Nathan Jessep, a commanding officer who believes that the end justifies the means
The context: Navy JAG lawyer Daniel Kaffee (Tom Cruise) is interrogating Jessep about events that happened the night a soldier was killed.
How to use it: As an ironic defense against close questioning.

I don't like this movie and I think this scene, in particular, is way over the top, but there's no denying the power of the line.

Last night my friend Sarah Bibb threw an open house at her design studio to show her fall line, which included some adorable stuff. I'm buying nothing between now and my departure, though; I don't have room for anything else in the Beetle.

Friends of Sarah's set up a station to spray-paint t-shirts with political slogans, which were considerably above the usual snarkiness. I outgrew politics-by-t-shirt (or politics by bumper sticker) some time ago, but I did have them spray my shirt with a slogan that says, "USE YOUR WORDS." It was tough choosing between that one and another that said, "got fear?"

I'm not going to use this blog as a political platform, because I got out of that business on purpose. The issues are too complicated for the kind of spinning I used to do.

One of the things that alarms me about Los Angeles, though, is that people don't read newspapers. Even I don't read newspapers the way I used to; I get most of my news online, and fool myself that if I read Drudge AND Salon, I'm getting a balanced worldview.

My rationalization for this is the time difference; by the time I get up in the morning, East Coast news is already old. So we'll see if I change my habits again once I get to Maine.

Tuesday, September 28, 2004

"I'm not bad. I'm just drawn that way."

The Movie: Who Framed Roger Rabbit, 1988 (Jeffrey Price & Peter S. Seaman, screenwriters, from the novel by Gary Wolf; Robert Zemeckis, dir.)
Who says it: Kathleen Turner as the voice of Jessica Rabbit, the most glamorous woman in Toontown
The context: Jessica insists that she is faithful to her husband, Roger, despite appearances to the contrary.
How to use it: To counter someone’s assumptions about your behavior.

Dizzy and I are back at Gary's, taking care of Pete while Gary's in New York. So much for Gary speculating that Pete would never see Dizzy again. Pete was happy to see me, even happier to see Dizzy, but positively thrilled to see Dizzy's squeaky moose again. They both slept on my bed last night, which didn't leave a lot of room for me.

Monday, September 27, 2004

"We all got it coming, kid."

The Movie: Unforgiven, 1992 (David Webb Peoples, screenwriter; Clint Eastwood, dir.)
Who says it: Clint Eastwood as William Munny, a retired outlaw
The context: Would-be outlaw The Schofield Kid (Jaimz Woolvett) defends himself after he shoots a man by saying the victim had it coming.
How to use it: As a warning against complacency.

Venice had its annual Abbot Kinney Festival yesterday, so I went with my friends Ann Marie and Sarah and Sarah's son Beker. Maybe there's a point at which one gets too old for street fairs. Street fairs are supposed to highlight a place's unique nature, but instead they all look alike to me now -- the same handicrafts, the same food on a stick, even the same types of music and live performance.

Or maybe I was just cranky yesterday. It was a beautiful day on the west side of town, and an unusual number of people were riding bikes without helmets. I have friends who worry a lot about getting cancer, and at least one friend who's a little germ-obsessed -- but my own irrational medical fear is of traumatic head injuries, and it makes me crazy to see people riding bikes on city streets without helmets. Every biker without a helmet made me more anxious.

I told Ann Marie this, and she looked at me as if I were out of my mind. "I never wear a helmet," she said.

I fantasize about driving around with a megaphone telling people, "WEAR A HELMET. OR AT LEAST SIGN YOUR ORGAN DONOR CARD."

Sunday, September 26, 2004

"Cheese -- we'll go somewhere where there's cheese!"

The Movie: Wallace and Gromit: A Grand Day Out, 1991 (Nick Park and Steve Rushton, screenwriters; Nick Park, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Sallis as the voice of Wallace, cheese aficionado and owner of the dog Gromit.
The context: Wallace and Gromit run out of cheese as they’re planning a vacation, so they decide to go to the moon.
How to use it: When you can’t decide on plans for the evening, or for your own vacation.

I'm staying with my cousins Sheila and Greg this weekend. Last night, we knew we wanted to do something, but couldn't decide what. This would have been a good line to use, if it had occurred to me -- because, as it happened, we did go somewhere there was cheese, which happened to be Sheila and Greg's own dining room. And it was excellent.

When my brother Ed and I drove from Washington, DC to Los Angeles in 1999, we agreed that we'd stop for cheese once every day -- metaphorical cheese, that is, some tacky roadside attraction along the way. The Ronald Reagan Boyhood Home was a little sad and not even authentic, since he'd only lived there about six months. The big plastic dinosaur park in Utah was downright surreal.

But the coolest stop on our cheese tour wasn't cheesy at all, despite our expectations. The Sod House in Gothenburg, Nebraska is a reconstruction of an early settlers' home. Trees are rare on the Great Plains, so the settlers used bricks made of sod to build small, one-room houses. This house was relatively big, maybe 700 square feet, and it was furnished the way it might have been in the 1850s, right down to the bird cage. It was a desperately hard, lonely life, and the guide told us that the average settler lived in one of these sod houses for about 18 months. "And then they moved?" I asked. "No," she said, looking at me strangely. "Then they died."

It's humbling to think of how easy it is for me, or anyone, to bounce across the country now. Even with an unreliable car.

Saturday, September 25, 2004

"I have always depended on the kindness of strangers."

The Movie: A Streetcar Named Desire, 1951 (Tennessee Williams and Oscar Saul, screenwriters, from the play by Williams; Elia Kazan, dir.)
Who says it: Vivien Leigh as Blanche DuBois, a slightly deranged spinster and aged Southern belle
The context: Raped by her brother-in-law (Marlon Brando), betrayed by her sister (Kim Hunter) and now fully deranged, Blanche thanks the asylum doctor who comes to take her away.
How to use it: When you know you’re being a drama queen and asking far too much of your friends.

The car is fixed. I feel afraid of it, though, as if it were an unreliable dog or a boyfriend who had already lied to me. If I left today, I wouldn't make it to Maine until October 2, and then would immediately have to turn around and start traveling again. I'd wanted to be in Boston for a client's Habitat for Humanity build there on October 2, but I'm obligated to be back here in Los Angeles on October 10.

Therefore, I'm making a big change in my original plan -- which is laughable, since the original plan lay in tatters weeks ago. Rather than get on the highway in this car today, I'll just stay in Los Angeles until October 11, and give the car time to break down again, if it does, on a surface street.

When I leave on October 11, rather than take the route I had planned, I'll go directly across the country to Virginia Beach, to see my folks. God willing, Mom will be home by then, so I can spend a few days with them before going up to Washington, DC, where I need to be on or before October 22. I'll head to Maine from there, probably arriving on the 25th or 26th.

I need to plot the new route and see where it takes me -- it means there are people I won't be able to see after all, and that disappoints me. But the universe is obviously rejecting that first plan, so I need to make a new one.

All my friends and family have been great about this, but everyone's patience has limits. Thanks again, and let's hope we get to the next chapter soon.

Friday, September 24, 2004

"Honey, I'm home... Oh, I forgot. I'm not married."

The Movie: Batman Returns, 1992 (Daniel Waters, screenwriter, from characters by Bob Kane; Tim Burton, dir.)
Who says it: Michelle Pfeiffer as Selina Kyle, who turns into Catwoman
The context: Selina says this to her cat every night when she gets home, including the night she’s killed and comes back to life as Catwoman.
How to use it: Any single woman can make herself laugh with this line.

Not only am I not married, but I don't have a home, so theoretically I should get two laughs out of this line. Dizzy and I moved over to my cousins Sheila's and Greg's last night, because the car was not fixed. Did anyone think it would be? Maybe it will be fixed today.

If it's fixed this morning, I might try to leave this afternoon. If it's not ready until this afternoon -- or, God forbid, not until Monday -- I will stay here until October 11, because there's no point to driving out to New England and then having to turn right back around.

The old folktales tell about people who accepted invitations to fairy lands, and then were never allowed to leave again -- or, if they did manage to leave, they found that dozens or even hundreds of years had passed. I wonder if I'd have moved to Los Angeles if I'd known I would never be allowed to leave.

Of course, just like the mythical fairy lands, people don't age here. So I got that going for me.

Thursday, September 23, 2004

"I'll be back."

The Movie: The Terminator, 1984 (James Cameron & Gale Anne Hurd, screenwriters; James Cameron, dir.)
Who says it: Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator
The context: The Terminator’s hunt for Sarah Connor (Linda Hamilton) takes him to a police station, where they tell him they don’t know where she is. He leaves, but comes back driving a truck through the station’s front window.
How to use it: When you’re not finished with something… not by a long shot.

I made it as far east as the I-10/110 junction before the car died. Many things must be scarier than breaking down on a California freeway, but I don’t care to experience any of them. Thank God for the tow truck driver who carried Dizzy from my car to the cab of his truck – I adopted Dizzy from people who had rescued him from the side of a highway, so who knows what terrors were going through his head.

The problem seems to be the alternator, which as things go is relatively inexpensive and easy to fix. I’m hoping to be back on the road late today. In the meantime, my cousins Kathleen and Mark saved the day for me – they live less than a mile from Lou Ehlers, so they picked up Dizzy and me and gave us a place to stay for the night. It was the best possible outcome for Dizzy, who loves their dog Dudley, their two-year-old son Owen, and their cat Quinn most of all. Tragically, Quinn does not reciprocate Dizzy’s feelings.

Wednesday, September 22, 2004

“It’s going to be fun.”

The Movie: Lawrence of Arabia, 1962 (Robert Bolt, screenwriter, from the works of T.E. Lawrence; David Lean, director)
Who says it: Peter O’Toole as T. E. Lawrence
The context: Lawrence is about to go out into the desert to contact the Arabs.
How to use it: When you’re deliberately going into harm’s way. My friend John Erath, a Foreign Service officer, says this whenever he’s leaving for a war zone – which is often enough to make me suspect he means it.

Driving to Flagstaff is hardly going into harm's way, but you never know.

Now that I'm leaving, it all feels very sudden. Gary said last night, "Do you think Petey (his dog) knows that he will never see Dizzy again in his whole life?" and of course that made me cry, and of course Gary said, "You cry at everything." This, as we all know, is true, but in my own defense I hadn't cried at all last night until that moment -- not at dinner with Maeve and Anahita, not at drinks with Ann Marie and Dianna.

I guess there's no point to knowing someone for 20-odd years without figuring out how to provoke a split-second emotional response.

Anyway, who's to say whether Pete and Dizzy will see each other again or not. We can't know what will happen, and it's best that way. A year ago I'd have laughed at the idea of moving to Maine, and ten years ago I'd have gone into hysterics at the thought of 1) living in Los Angeles or 2) feeling any regret at leaving.

Whatever happens, wherever we wind up, it's going to be fun.

Tuesday, September 21, 2004

The moment we've all been waiting for...

The car is done. It looks good, it drives perfectly. The final bill was more than $10,000, of which I paid $500. Much of the work seems to have been 1) cosmetic and 2) unrelated to the pothole, but it's not my fiduciary duty to point this out to my insurance company.

Dizzy and I will leave here tomorrow, and follow the route described earlier (L.A. - Flagstaff - Pagosa Springs, CO - Denver - Lincoln - St. Louis - Chicago - Pittsburgh - Maine). The one unknown is whether I'll try to make the Pittsburgh-Maine leg in a single day, but I won't decide that until I'm on the road.

Either way, I'll be in Boston on October 2, back here in Los Angeles on the 10th (ha ha!), and in Washington, DC on October 22. You'll have to check back to see where I am in between...

Thank you so much to everyone who's put up with me over the past six weeks. Let's close with some credits, shall we? This saga of misery has been brought to you by Progressive Insurance and the repair shop of Lou Ehlers Cadillac. Sanctuary provided by Gary Fleder; emotional counseling provided by friends and relations too numerous to list here, with special thanks to Maeve, Anahita, Ann Marie, Matt, Moira, Sheila and Greg for transportation along the way.

"Rrrockin' good news."

The Movie: Wild at Heart, 1990 (David Lynch, director and screenwriter, from the novel by Barry Gifford)
Who says it: Nicolas Cage as Sailor, ex-convict, Elvis fan and lover of the sociopathic Lula (Laura Dern)
The context: Sailor says this all through the movie, as he and Lula run from the hit man hired by Lula’s crazy mother (Diane Ladd)
How to use it: You can probably figure this one out for yourself.

I'm going to pick up my car this morning. Barring unexpected developments, I'll leave here tomorrow.

In all this distress over getting my car fixed, I've forgotten to be distressed about leaving. That's probably a good thing.

Monday, September 20, 2004

“After all… tomorrow is another day.”

The Movie: Gone With the Wind, 1939 (Sidney Howard, screenwriter, from the novel by Margaret Mitchell; Victor Fleming, dir.)
Who says it: Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O’Hara, archetypal Southern belle
The context: Undaunted by war, reconstruction, the death of her best friend Melanie (Olivia de Havilland) and the loss of her husband, Rhett Butler (Clark Gable), Scarlett keeps fighting. This is the last line of the movie.
How to use it: To express optimism when the odds are against you.

Let's be honest: I have no reason to think that the work on my car will actually be done today. Yes, they've told me things that make me think so, but hasn't that happened before? They also told me that the car would be ready on September 7, September 9 or 10, and September 14. Today is September 20. The car has been at Lou Ehlers Cadillac (yes, my car's a Volkswagen; this is part of the problem) since August 10. Given the way things usually work, a rational person would say that at some point the work must be finished; even Jackson Pollock got to a point at which he considered something finished. So I'm hoping -- expecting, even -- that that point is today.

I was in my old neighborhood last night, for my friend Garth's yoga class and then dinner over at my cousins Kathleen and Mark's. The Ralph's supermarket at 3rd and LaBrea has been completely remodeled in the three weeks since I left my apartment; I dropped in for a bag of salad and felt as if I'd already been gone a year. Weird.

Sunday, September 19, 2004


The Movie: Night of the Hunter, 1955 (James Agee, screenwriter, from the novel by Davis Grubb; Charles Laughton, dir.)
Who said it: Robert Mitchum as the Reverend Harry Powell, a psychotic preacher
The context: Having just killed his bride, Willa Harper (Shelley Winters), Powell returns to Willa’s house to persuade her children to tell him where their father hid the proceeds of a bank robbery.
How to use it: To convince someone you're angry at that you really mean them no harm. This is one of my all-time favorite lines, and if I had kids I’d use it all the time. The sweeter you make it sound, the scarier it should be. Make sure your health insurance covers child psychotherapy.

I do feel very angry about this situation, and I don't know what to do about it. I whine a lot, but I seldom get really angry because I hate that feeling, and I hate the shakiness that follows. I usually skip the anger part and go right to the bursting-into-tears, because that's where it all ends up anyway.

This morning I'll just climb the stairs outside Gary's house a couple of times, and then take the dogs to the park again. Maybe I should try kick-boxing.

Saturday, September 18, 2004

“Every now and then say, "What the f***."”

The Movie: Risky Business, 1983 (Paul Brickman, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Curtis Armstrong as Miles, a high school senior and best friend of Joel (Tom Cruise)
The context: Joel’s parents have just left town for the weekend, and Miles wants Joel to live it up a little. The line recurs throughout the movie.
How to use it: I think you can figure this one out.

All right, I agree that using the asterisks above is coy and disingenuous, because we all know what that word is, and it's not as if I don't use it myself far too often (usually while driving). But I don't like that I swear like a sailor, because Mom really did teach us all better than that.

One of the great compromises of my parents' marriage seems to be that Mom got Dad to quit swearing (at least in front of her) and Dad got Mom to be punctual (it's not a McLaughlin family trait). Through the whims of genetics, I am constantly late -- but I feel really bad about it, which makes me swear.

Today I'm late posting because I said "What the -- heck," and took the dogs to the park first thing, instead of turning on my computer. Gary's dog Pete could be Dizzy's larger, goofier brother; they look very much alike, down to the big black patches on their hindquarters. I used to say that Dizzy was smarter than Pete, but after watching them together for a week, I must admit it's not true. They are equally dim, and being together seems to subtract rather than add IQ points. But they are loving and hilarious, and Dizzy will miss Pete when we leave. If we ever leave.

I'm picking up the car on Monday afternoon. It'll be drivable then, because it's drivable now. Whether it will be street-legal (it's missing a taillight, mysteriously) I do not know.

Friday, September 17, 2004

"Baby steps... baby steps!"

The Movie: What About Bob?, 1991 (Tom Schulman, screenwriter, from a story by Alvin Sargent & Laura Ziskin; Frank Oz, dir.)
Who says it: Bill Murray as Bob Wiley, a man paralyzed by his many phobias
The context: Bob is a patient of Dr. Leo Marvin (Richard Dreyfus), who coaches his clients to overcome their phobias with “baby steps,” rather than drastic measures. Bob says this all throughout the movie. Yes, it’s a comedy.
How to use it: To coach yourself or others through difficult situations.

Thanks to my friend and co-conspirator Tom Ehrenfeld for reminding me of this quotation and this movie. Today's quotation goes out with love to Mom, who's getting impatient with all the rehabilitation stuff.

I didn't hear from the car guys last night, and that worries me a little... but I have hope.

In an effort to distract myself from the car stress, I've taken on a lot of work this week. As a strategy, it hasn't worked very well, because rather than make me less stressed about the car, I simply feel more stressed about the car and the work.

Still, I think it was Fran Lebowitz who said that if you don't feel anxious and you're not in debt, you can't be completely sure you're alive.

Thursday, September 16, 2004

“When you realize you want to spend the rest of your life with somebody, you want the rest of your life to start as soon as possible.”

The Movie: When Harry Met Sally, 1989 (Nora Ephron, screenwriter; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Billy Crystal as Harry, a divorced lawyer who discovers that men and women can be friends… although the movie actually winds up disproving this, if you want to get technical about it.
The context: Harry declares his true feelings for Sally (Meg Ryan), his best friend.
How to use it: Well – you could propose. But it’s also good for declaring any decisive course of action.

This quotation has no direct application to me -- at least, not in reference to any particular somebody -- but it does feel relevant to my frustration. It takes me forever to make a decision once I start talking about it, so I feel even worse when I can't act on the decision once it's made. Yes, I know it's not a mature attitude.

But -- BUT -- the car may be done tomorrow afternoon. Maybe. I'm not posting ANY travel plans until the car is actually in my possession.

Wednesday, September 15, 2004

"I don't care."

The Movie: The Fugitive, 1993 (Jeb Stuart and David Twohy, screenwriters; Andrew Davis, dir.)
Who says it: Tommy Lee Jones as Deputy U.S. Marshal Samuel Gerard
The context: Dr. Richard Kimble (Harrison Ford) has just told Gerard that he didn’t kill his wife.
How to use it: To forestall pointless excuses.

The car situation has just reached a whole new level of unacceptability. It's going over to Santa Monica Volkswagen today -- so says Bill, who so far has lied more often than I can count and has returned about one of every five calls I've made to him.

I also discovered yesterday that the insurance network representative who bungled the evaluation so badly was supposed to have been calling me every two or three days to give me updates on the repairs. I haven't talked to this man -- whose name is Dave Rodriguez and works for Progressive Insurance -- since August 17. I called him twice yesterday, and he didn't return either of those calls. (Some part of me doesn't blame him; at this point, I would not be returning my calls, either.)

The "last mechanical repairs" that Bill mentioned on Monday, as if they were minor, turn out to be the small matter of installing the new transmission -- which, loyal readers will remember, the nice guys at Santa Monica Volkswagen were ready to do on August 9, except that I let the Progressive guy talk me into moving it to their shop.

This winter, in Maine, I'm taking a course in automotive repair. I should have done it years ago. Part of my frustration throughout this process is that I don't even have the vocabulary to talk with these people. It's especially hard, when I'm used to being such an insufferable know-it-all about everything else.

And as to the big question -- when the car will actually be fixed -- I have no idea. NO idea. The Volkswagen guys are supposed to call me this afternoon. They, at least, are good about keeping customers informed.

Tuesday, September 14, 2004

"You can never go home again, Oatman... but I guess you can shop there."

The Movie: Grosse Pointe Blank, 1997 (Tom Jankiewicz, D.V. DeVincentis, Steve Pink and John Cusack, screenwriters; George Armitage, dir.)
Who says it: John Cusack as Martin Q. Blank, a professional assassin who goes home for his ten-year high school reunion.
The context: Martin has just discovered that his home has been torn down and replaced by an Ultimart, and calls his therapist, Dr. Oatman (Alan Arkin) for emotional support.
How to use it: To express dismay at the destruction of the landmarks of your youth.

Thanks to my sister Susan for this quotation; she loves this movie a lot. A lot. My friend Dave Morgan sent me a note the other night to say that The Jewish Mother, the landmark Virginia Beach deli-coffeehouse where many of our classmates (not me, of course) had their first illegal beers, is closing. This is on top of the news that the Duck-In, Virginia Beach's oldest seafood restaurant, is closing next year too. At least Norfolk's Naro Expanded Cinema is still open.

Okay, so on to the car news. I did talk to Bill the Car Repair Guy yesterday morning. Ironically, the threat to move the car back to Santa Monica Volkswagen had no force, because the car was already on its way back there. The final repairs require some kind of specialized tool that the other shop doesn't have.

My insurance representative said the car would be ready today, but then I got a message late yesterday that makes me think it might be Wednesday. Even so, I feel the end is in sight.

Monday, September 13, 2004

"Dude, where's my car?"

The Movie: Dude, Where’s My Car?, 2000 (Philip Stark, screenwriter; Danny Leiner, dir.)
Who says it: Ashton Kutcher as Jesse, a stoner who has misplaced his automobile
The context: After a night so wild they can’t quite remember it, Jesse and his friend Chester (Seann William Scott) discover that Jesse’s car is missing.
How to use it: Uh... when you don’t know where your car is?

I am not ashamed to say that my brother Ed and I saw this in the movie theater and laughed like idiots. Even so, for the good of Western Civilization I have to hope that the rumors of a sequel ("Seriously Dude, Where's My Car?") are just rumors.

It's just 7:00 now, and Bill the Car Repair Guy is supposed to be getting to work. I will call him in a few minutes... if I have real news to report I'll post again later today.

The one good thing about being stuck here over the weekend was that I stopped at the bookstore on Saturday afternoon for a jam session/publishing party for Gary Phillips' new collection of short stories, MONKOLOGY. Many of the bookstore's most loyal customers and authors were there, so I was glad of the chance to see them again before I go. Of course, I'll be back in less than a month to host a discussion group on In Cold Blood... assuming I'm gone by then.

Sunday, September 12, 2004

"I want my two dollars!"

The Movie: Better Off Dead…, 1985 (Savage Steve Holland, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Demian Slade as Johnny Gasparini, the paper boy
The context: Johnny chases angst-ridden teenager Lane Myer (John Cusack) all throughout the movie, demanding payment as Lane makes various attempts at suicide, courts an exchange student and skis down a double-black diamond trail.
How to use it: To acknowledge that you’re obsessing over something that may seem minor to other people. My sisters Peggy and Susan both use this line a lot, although I think they just say it because it cracks us all up.

Before I launch into the continuing saga, happy birthday to the one and only Frau Susanne Schulz, who is already responsible for several of the lines in this blog.

Since I was not able to reach Bill, the man in charge of my car repairs on Friday, I went over there yesterday morning. I asked for Bill at the cashier's window. She said he wasn't there on Saturdays, and then said, "Oh, you mean Bill [last name]?" "I think so," I said. "He's on vacation," the woman said; he'd be back Monday. I asked whether there was anyone I could talk to, and she paged the body shop.

The one customer service representative in the body shop was with another customer, so I waited to talk to him. Ken was his name, a 50-ish man, tall, bald. He was abrupt and unhelpful. He didn't know anything about my car; he couldn't find out anything about my car; Bill was the only one who could help me, and the best he could tell me was to call Bill on Monday morning.

I don't know how long Bill has been on vacation. Maybe this explains why he returned none of my calls the week of August 30. If he's been on vacation this whole time, however, where would the insurance manager have gotten the idea that my car would be ready on September 9 or 10, as he told me on the 2nd? If someone other than Bill has been working on my car, why couldn't anyone refer me to that person? And why didn't Bill's voice mail message say that he was out of the shop? (It's a pre-recorded message that says the extension is not available.)

Bill is supposed to be back at work at 7:00 tomorrow morning. At 7:15 I will call him. If I can't get in touch with him and get a direct answer about the progress of work on my car, I'm going over there in the afternoon. If I can't get a straight answer then, I'll arrange to have the car towed back to Santa Monica Volkswagen, where I should have left it in the first place.

I'm not posting a new itinerary because clearly, at this point, it's tempting fate. But it's obvious that I won't be leaving Los Angeles on Monday, whatever happens.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

"Whoever saves one life, saves the world entire."

The Movie: Schindler’s List, 1993 (Steven Zaillian, screenwriter, from the book by Thomas Keneally; Steven Spielberg, dir.)
Who says it: Ben Kingsley as Itzhak Stern, a Jewish accountant who runs the factory for Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson)
The context: Stern has helped Schindler compile a list of Jews to be saved as workers for Schindler’s factory; this is a quotation from the Talmud.
How to use it: To acknowledge the infinite value of each human life.

A lot will be said today about the people who died three years ago in New York, Washington and Pennsylvania. That's important, but I want to acknowledge the thousands of people who survived. Thousands of people miraculously made it out of the towers alive; thousands more, including my friend John Erath, walked away from the Pentagon. We don't even know how many people lived because of the plane that went down in Pennsylvania.

It's impertinent for me to imagine the way it feels to be the one who lives through an event like that -- but I do anyway. That insane relief, followed by horror and an inevitable guilt -- and then, maybe, by a feeling that they must have been saved for something. Which is its own terrible burden.

Twenty people were saved from inside the towers' collapse, rescued from being buried alive. They were literally resurrected; how could they not feel they were saved for some reason?

That kind of thinking can be a curse as well as a blessing. Unless you join the Daughters of Charity, it's hard to know whether you're living a useful life, much less a life that fulfills some divine destiny.

But one of the points of human existence, I think, is that we can't know. Maybe it's enough just to be alive and present in one place at one moment. Maybe it's not our own individual survival that's important, but the survival of a great-grandchild who won't be born for another hundred years.

Oh, and for those of you following this continuing saga, my car was NOT ready yesterday. I wasn't even able to reach the guy at the repair shop, so this morning I'm driving (my rental car) over there. Stay tuned.

Friday, September 10, 2004

“This is no longer a vacation. It’s a quest.”

The Movie: Vacation, 1983 (John Hughes, screenwriter; Harold Ramis, dir.)
Who says it: Chevy Chase as Clark Griswold
The context: After a grueling odyssey that includes death, arrest and cruelty to animals, the Griswold family comes within ten hours of their destination, Wally World, but Clark’s wife Ellen (Beverly D’Angelo) and the kids want to turn back.
How to use it: As inspiration to overcome travel obstacles.

It'll be at least two hours before I can call the repair shop and find out whether, in fact, my car will be ready today. I can't hold my breath for two hours, and I can't type with my fingers crossed, so crossing my toes will have to do. Here's the absurdity, though: what am I going to to do if they say it's not ready? What can I do? Let's review my options: I could cry, but that would achieve... um... nothing. I could yell and be mean... again, nothing. I could say, "Oh, that's okay, I know you've been working really hard," and that would accomplish... nothing.

So you see I have a lot of power here.

And I know this is all ridiculously minor compared to the real suffering and fear in Jamaica, the Keys and the rest of Southern Florida -- and the Sudan -- and Iraq -- and right here in Compton -- but knowing that doesn't help as much as you'd think it should.

Dizzy has the right idea. I bought him a squeaky stuffed moose yesterday, and he carries it with him everywhere. All he really needs to be happy is a squeaky toy, a belly rub and an unlimited supply of cookies.

Happy birthday to my friend Sarah Reinhardt; we're going to see a band tonight. Few things cannot be improved by live rock and roll.

Thursday, September 09, 2004

“We’ve gone on holiday by mistake.”

The Movie: Withnail and I, 1987 (Bruce Robinson, screenwriter and director)
Who said it: Richard E. Grant as Withnail, a substance-abusing, out-of-work actor
The context: Withnail and his friend (Paul McGann) spend a weekend at Withnail’s uncle’s country cottage, a damp shack with no food, no heat and no form of entertainment.
How to use it: In any situation that should have been fun but is instead a surreal, mind-boggling ordeal -- or maybe just not where you feel you're supposed to be.

This quotation is a shout-out to my friends Maeve and Elyse, who introduced me to this film. Another friend -- who would probably prefer to remain anonymous -- used the line one night when we were drinking in a tourist trap with a random group that included a couple of friends and colleagues, but also some of the strangest and saddest people you’d find outside an Edward Hopper painting. To make matters worse, my friend wound up buying. I feel bad that I wasn’t more sympathetic at the time, but at least I laughed at the quote.

The surreal thing that happened yesterday was that I actually found myself apologizing to my insurance company representative, who called me nearly in tears after receiving the (extremely negative) customer satisfaction review the company had asked me to fill out. I've been without my car for more than a month because of this company's incompetence, carelessness and apathy. This one guy has been "nice," but completely unable to help me. It might not be his fault, but it's certainly the company's fault.

Still, God forbid I hurt anyone's feelings...

Wednesday, September 08, 2004

The Journey East -- I mean it this time

As promised, here's my new -- and, please God, final -- itinerary for the move to Maine. This is based on my getting the car back on Friday, which is a leap of faith.

Monday, September 13 -- Los Angeles to Flagstaff, AZ
Tuesday, September 14 -- Flagstaff to Pagosa Springs, CO
Wednesday, September 15 -- Pagosa Springs to Denver
Thursday, September 16 -- Denver to Lincoln, NE
Friday, September 17 -- Lincoln to St. Louis, MO
Saturday, September 18 -- St. Louis to Chicago, IL
Sunday, September 19 -- Chicago to Pittsburgh, PA
Monday, September 20 -- Pittsburgh to Newport, RI
Tuesday, September 21 -- Newport to Boston/Cambridge, MA
Wednesday, September 22 -- Cambridge to China, ME

The extra day in Boston/Cambridge is because my Maine hosts, Anna and Tarren, will actually be in Boston that day. Besides, it'll give me a chance to say howdy to my friends the Ehrenfelds before the final push north.

"It's show time, folks."

The Movie: All That Jazz, 1979 (Robert Alan Aurthur and Bob Fosse, screenwriters; Bob Fosse, dir.)
Who says it: Roy Scheider as Joe Gideon, a choreographer/director whose life hangs in the balance
The context: Gideon says this to the mirror every morning as he’s about to face the world, usually with a bad hangover.
How to use it: To prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet, as T.S. Eliot puts it.

I had a 7:00 conference call this morning, scheduled back when I thought I'd be on East Coast time by now. In five years, I never really made the commitment to Pacific time; if I wait until 9:00 to start my work day, the people on the East Coast have already been working for three hours, and that makes me too anxious.

It helps (or doesn't) that Dizzy gets up at dawn, whenever dawn happens to be. But what ruined sleeping in for me forever was September 11, 2001. Dizzy and I got up a little before 6:00 a.m., as usual, and by the time we'd gotten back from the morning walk, I already had voice mails and the world had changed forever. For months afterwards I was afraid to go to bed at night, for fear of what might have happened by the time I woke up.

Since then, I've only been able to sleep late in my parents' house. Old habits die hard.

Tuesday, September 07, 2004

"I'm your number one fan."

The Movie: Misery, 1990 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from the book by Stephen King; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Kathy Bates as Annie Wilkes, a nurse and avid reader
The context: Annie rescues Paul Sheldon (James Caan) from a car wreck, and discovers that he is the author of her favorite series of romantic novels.
How to use it: To express scary levels of admiration and devotion.

Last night at dinner I was blathering on about something when Anahita, sitting across the table, suddenly looked at me and said, "Are you going to be alone in this house in Maine all winter?" We all laughed so hard we almost snarfed our margaritas.

The short answer is that I won't be alone, I'll have Dizzy. But I hope people will come and visit me, and I really hope I'm not reduced to kidnapping authors for company. (Not that all the authors I know -- my clients especially -- aren't charming, delightful people and welcome in my home at any time.)

My target departure date is still September 13, but I'm nailing down the itinerary today. I'll post it tomorrow.

Monday, September 06, 2004

"You had me at 'hello.'"

The Movie: Jerry Maguire, 1996 (Cameron Crowe, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Renee Zellweger as Dorothy Boyd, a single mother who’s staked her career on the success of maverick sports agent Jerry Maguire (Tom Cruise)
The context: Jerry has just come back to Dorothy to beg her forgiveness and give her a long speech about how much she means to him.
How to use it: To short-circuit any long speech you don’t want to hear.

This is probably my least favorite Cameron Crowe movie -- I don't buy this scene, in particular -- but the quotation's appropriate because the McLaughlin crew is gathering tonight at Paco's Tacos, which features prominently in Jerry Maguire. Paco's is our favorite Mexican restaurant; in the movie, Jerry takes Dorothy there on their first date, and she's badly overdressed.

I wrote off a blind date once because I suggested we meet at Paco's, and he said, "I don't know -- they use lard." Sheesh. Lard is the POINT of Paco's. They make their tortillas by hand, and the flour tortillas are like the world's best pie crusts. Maine, I fear, will not have anything remotely like Paco's.

And while we're destroying our own arteries, we'll be sending best wishes to Bill Clinton on that coronary bypass...

Sunday, September 05, 2004

“Yeah, well, you stick by your family.”

The Movie: Miller’s Crossing, 1990 (Joel & Ethan Coen, screenwriters; Joel Coen, dir.)
Who says it: John Turturro as Bernie Birnbaum, a grifter
The context: Bernie has just said something awful about his sister Verna (Marcia Gay Harden) to political fixer Tom Regan (Gabriel Byrne); Tom’s response is, “She speaks highly of you.”
How to use it: To affirm your loyalty to your family, even after you’ve criticized them.

What a happy day yesterday was. Rain moved the ceremony from the Betty Ford Alpine Gardens to the ballroom of the Lodge at Vail, but that was fine, because it just got the reception started that much faster. I sat at a table with my dad and his surviving siblings -- my Uncle Eddie and Aunt Marie, my Aunt Debbie and Uncle Ziggy. It was the first time everyone had been together since my Aunt Judi's funeral, a year ago. Only children must be the loneliest people in the world.

Yesterday was also my cousin Phil's 30th birthday -- and that reminded me that I missed my nephew Patrick's 13th birthday, earlier this week. Patrick, I am really sorry, and I will make it up to you.

Dad says Vail reminds him of the town in "The Prisoner." I can see that. It's beautiful, but it's a resort town. It's not supposed to be real.

Saturday, September 04, 2004

“Life has a way of flying by faster than any old summer vacation.”

The Movie: Things to Do in Denver When You’re Dead, 1995 (Scott Rosenberg, screenwriter; Gary Fleder, dir.)
Who says it: Bill Nunn as Easy Wind, a small-time professional criminal
The context: Easy Wind and his colleagues are running for their lives after an operation goes badly wrong.
How to use it: It’s just another of those universal truths.

This quotation was an obvious choice this morning, because a) I'm at a wedding/family reunion, b) I went through Denver yesterday, c) it is actually the end of most people's summer vacations, and d) it's Gary's movie.

Last night's rehearsal dinner was on top of Vail Mountain; guests took a gondola from Lionshead up to Eagle Peak. I rode up with a family of tourists that included a scary-bright three-year-old boy. He looked down over the edge of the car and said, "It's God's bucket."

Jean and JR seem very happy, and my cousin Sarah Johnson told me last night that she too is getting married, next June. Over dinner I fielded the usual non-questions about why I myself am still single, which I never know how to answer. If I ever write a memoir, it'll probably be titled Why I Never Married. Unless I'm married by then.

Friday, September 03, 2004

“I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take this anymore!”

The Movie: Network, 1976 (Paddy Chayefsky, screenwriter; Sidney Lumet, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Finch as deranged TV anchorman Howard Beale
The context: Network executives have given Beale a pulpit for his apocalyptic rants; Beale describes the evils of society and says that things have to change – but first, he tells the audience, they have to get mad. They have to go to a window and shout this line. In the movie, people do.
How to use it: When you're ready to give up complacency, and stop ignoring incompetence, ignorance and malevolence in this world.

My car will not be ready until September 10. That is all I wish to say on that subject at this time.

I will post a new itinerary on Monday. If the car isn't ready until the 10th, I probably won't leave here until the 13th. Especially if I can get a ticket to the Ramones' 30th Anniversary Concert at the Avalon on the 12th. A little "Blitzkrieg Bop" might be just what the situation requires.

Off to Colorado this morning, for my cousin Jean's wedding. At least the thin mountain air will force me to take deep breaths.

Thursday, September 02, 2004

“You realize if we played by the rules right now we’d be in gym?”

The Movie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986 (John Hughes, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Matthew Broderick as Ferris Bueller, a high school senior playing hooky
The context: Ferris says this to his best friend Cameron (Alan Ruck) as they take a cab ride from one Chicago landmark to another.
How to use it: To give yourself permission to goof off once in a while.

I turned in extensive revisions on one big project yesterday, and now I have no deadlines -- none -- for at least two weeks. I have no rent due. All my bills are paid. I feel like a helium balloon without a string.

So I'm taking the day off. Dizzy and I will take a long walk, and then I'm going to yoga. Maybe this afternoon I'll see a movie. Because after all, as Ferris also says, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it.”

Although, given my current situation, I might be better off with yet another line: “It still doesn’t change the fact that I don’t own a car.”

Wednesday, September 01, 2004

“I can't help myself! I have no control over this, this evil thing inside of me!”

The Movie: M, 1931 (Fritz Lang and Thea von Harbou, screenwriters; Fritz Lang, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Lorre as Hans Beckert, a murderer of children
The context: A vigilante gang has chased down Beckert and stages a trial that will sentence him to death.
How to use it: All-purpose excuse. Understand, though: it doesn’t work for Beckert in the movie, and it probably won’t work for you.

All my belongings are gone from Apartment 1 at 314 N. Genesee. I think new tenants are even moving in today. Petros, one of the building managers, said to me yesterday, "Wow, it must be pretty emotional, leaving after so long here." When I stopped to think about it, I realized that I'd lived at that address longer than I've ever lived anywhere as an adult -- four years and eleven months. I only spent eight years in Virginia Beach, which I consider my hometown.

But growing up in a military family teaches you not to get too attached to places. As everyone knows, I'll cry about almost anything -- TV commercials, lost dogs, unexpected kindnesses. Yesterday, though, I shed not one tear for that old apartment. It's just a building. Everything that made it a home is coming with me, in one form or another.

Today's quotation was inspired by an infuriating voice mail message from my insurance company yesterday, in which a higher-ranking official made some meaningless, feeble excuse for the fact that the adjuster failed to identify the key item that needed to be repaired on my car -- the transmission -- even though I'd given them this information before they even looked at the car. This has pushed repairs back by at least two weeks, and what I don't know is whether this is two additional weeks, or two weeks out of the three that have already passed.