Friday, December 31, 2004

“Happiness is a gift – and the trick is not to expect it, but to delight in it when it comes.”

The Movie: Nicholas Nickleby, 2002 (Douglas McGrath, director and screenwriter, from the novel by Charles Dickens)
Who says it: Nathan Lane as Vincent Crummles, theatrical impresario
The context: Vincent gives his blessing to Nicholas Nickleby (Charlie Hunnam) when Nicholas leaves the company to confront his wicked Uncle Ralph (Christopher Plummer)
How to use it: General life wisdom.

More than once over the past twelve months, I've described my year as Dickensian -- but, in the great tradition of Mr. Dickens' novels, it's ending far better than I had any right to expect.

Thanks, everybody. See you next year.

Thursday, December 30, 2004

“Live! Life’s a banquet, and most poor suckers are starving to death.”

The Movie: Auntie Mame, 1958 (Betty Comden and Adolph Green, screenwriters, from the book by Patrick Dennis; Morton Da Costa, dir.)
Who says it: Rosalind Russell as Mame Dennis, international bon vivant and would-be author
The context: Mame has been dictating a book to her secretary, Agnes Gooch (Peggy Cass), but Agnes isn’t getting the point.
How to use it: When you need an extra dose of enthusiasm.

Yesterday's trip: 214 miles, .5 tank of gas
Stops: Mechanicsville, VA; Washington, DC

Dizzy and I are back at Ashton & Joseph's, after stopping in Mechanicsville to hang out with my sister Peggy and her boys. The weather was unseasonably warm, so we put the boys in their red wagon and went for a long walk. Neighbors of Peggy's have created a Christmas Fantasyland in their yard, at the end of a cul-de-sac; every spare inch of lawn is covered with a Christmas decoration of some kind, and it all lights up. I respect that level of commitment, although I might not want to live across the street from it.

Milo and Lucy were delighted to see Dizzy. I think Dizzy is a little confused about all the traveling, though he seems happy to see everybody. He's comatose next to me right now, and seems to be chasing something in his sleep.

My friend Carla, in Singapore, sent an e-mail last night (this morning, her time). Since Singapore is east of Sumatra, they didn't even feel the earthquake, which happened off the west coast of Sumatra -- but they know some people who are now missing. It is possible, even likely, that we'll never have an exact toll of the dead from this disaster; if an entire family is wiped out, or an entire town, who would be left to remember their names?

Wednesday, December 29, 2004

“When you’re a kid, a day can last forever. Now, all those years seem just like a blink.”

The Movie: Hearts in Atlantis, 2001 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from the novella Low Men in Yellow Coats, by Stephen King; Scott Hicks, dir.)
Who says it: David Morse as the adult Bobby Garfield
The context: Bobby is remembering the events of one pivotal summer during his childhood.
How to use it: At high school reunions, whenever you meet old friends, or right around New Year's Eve.

Dizzy and I head back to Washington today, stopping in Richmond along the way. Maybe I'll be back for my parents' 40th wedding anniversary, in February, but Dizzy probably won't come along on that trip.

Salon magazine's lead article today is a brilliant debunking of The Da Vinci Code, my second most-hated book of all time. (#1 remains Bridges of Madison County, which I ripped in two and stomped on when I finished -- weeping, of course, but still enraged beyond vision or reason. I borrowed Da Vinci Code from a friend, so felt obligated to return it in decent condition.)

I read a lot of books -- between 250 and 300 a year, probably -- and can find something kind to say about almost all of them. I read Dan Brown's earlier book, Angels & Demons, on a plane, and thought it was pretty entertaining, though overwritten, clunky, and ultimately ridiculous. The Da Vinci Code is a lazy, sloppy rehash of Angels & Demons with an extra helping of anti-Catholic paranoia, and I have no idea what to say to all the people who've told me, in the past 18 months, that it's the greatest book ever.

This was a particular challenge during my long Sunday shifts alone at The Mystery Bookstore. All I could do was propel them, sometimes physically, to the "P" section of the bookshelf, and thrust any Douglas Preston-Lincoln Child thriller upon these people. (My own favorite is Thunderhead, but they're all good.) Preston & Child understand that it's okay to make the big stuff up if you get the small details right. It's just a matter of respect for your readers.

Tuesday, December 28, 2004

“Stupid is as stupid does.”

The Movie: Forrest Gump, 1994 (Eric Roth, screenwriter, from the novel by Winston Groom; Robert Zemeckis, dir.)
Who says it: Tom Hanks as Forrest Gump, a childlike man
The context: Forrest repeats this line throughout the film, whenever anyone says that he’s stupid.
How to use it: To admit that you've done something stupid.

I'm sure I'll find some use for this line by the end of the day, though nothing springs immediately to mind.

Since I write this blog primarily for my mom, keeping it up when I'm at my parents' house is surprisingly difficult. Stephen King talks about this phenomenon in his memoir, On Writing. On Writing is fascinating as memoir, not especially helpful as a guide for writers -- except for King's suggestion that writers target their work toward one particular reader. In his case, he says, that's his wife, Tabitha.

I'm not sure why this feels like such useful advice. Part of my difficulty with finishing the novel I've been working on is that I've gotten too much feedback on it; returning to it, I need to find one particular person whose comments I respect, whose ultimate approval I'm looking for. I know that's contrary to conventional wisdom about self-esteem, but it makes sense to me.

Monday, December 27, 2004

“A toast, to the end of the world.”

The Movie: Independence Day, 1996 (Dean Devlin & Roland Emmerich, screenwriters; Roland Emmerich, dir.)
Who says it: Jeff Goldblum as David Levinson, an under-achieving scientist
The context: David has just been reconciled with his father, Julius (Judd Hirsch), as aliens prepare to destroy the world.
How to use it: After natural disasters, or in the face of catastrophe.

Every time I see my friend Michelle and her husband Chris, Chris asks me to tell "your Hollywood pals" to make a sequel to Independence Day. I've never passed this message along -- sorry, Chris -- mainly because I wouldn't know whom to tell, but also because I think they've made sequels to Independence Day, except they were called Armageddon and The Day After Tomorrow.

The headline on the front page of this morning's paper says, "12,000 DEAD," and it's a horror I can't get my head around. All yesterday afternoon I kept checking for news updates, as the TV networks broadcast stupid movies and meaningless football games. I haven't heard from my friends in Singapore, but maybe they're just having a computer-free Christmas weekend.

Sunday, December 26, 2004

“It’s such a fine line between clever, and stupid.”

The Movie: This is Spinal Tap, 1984 (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Rob Reiner, screenwriters; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Michael McKean as David St. Hubbins, a founding member of Spinal Tap
The context: St. Hubbins is commenting on the difference between Spinal Tap’s unacceptable album cover and another band’s wild hit.
How to use it: After conversational gaffes.

My sister Susan gave me this DVD for Christmas, which I appreciate very much -- I own it on VHS, which is useless since I haven't owned a VCR in years. Besides, the DVD has all kinds of cool extra features that I haven't even begun to explore.

It's snowing here. Dizzy was shocked. I'd planned to take him to the beach today, but will probably reschedule.

Saturday, December 25, 2004

“Here is my Christmas speech. ‘Thank you all, and Merry Christmas.’”

The Movie: The Muppet Christmas Carol, 1992 (Jerry Juhl, screenwriter, from the story by Charles Dickens; Brian Henson, dir.)
Who says it: Frank Oz as the voice of Fozzie Bear, playing Scrooge’s employer Fezziwig
The context: Fezziwig is throwing his traditional Christmas party for his workers, including a young Ebenezer Scrooge (Michael Caine).
How to use it: When called upon to make a Christmas speech. As Statler (Jerry Nelson) and Waldorf (Dave Goelz) point out in the movie, it’s short.

The whole family isn't together this year, but my brother James is coming over and Susan, Peggy and Scott and the boys are driving down from Richmond this morning, and everyone is healthy and cheerful.

Merry Christmas to everyone, and tidings of comfort and joy. I'm taking the rest of the day off.

Friday, December 24, 2004

"You have no idea."

The Movie: Reversal of Fortune, 1990 (Nicholas Kazan, screenwriter, based on the book by Alan M. Dershowitz; Barbet Schroeder, dir.)
Who says it: Jeremy Irons as Claus von Bulow, accused of the attempted murder of his wife, Sunny (Glenn Close)
The context: Alan Dershowitz (Ron Silver) tells his client, Claus von Bulow, that he is a very strange man.
How to use it: To let someone know that they’ve only heard a fraction of the story.

My friend Tom Ehrenfeld says this is the greatest quotation ever. It's pretty good, but you don't get the full effect if you haven't seen the movie. It's Jeremy Irons' finest hour. The point of Reversal of Fortune was that it's possible to be a dreadful human being, but still not a murderer -- an argument since made, with varying degrees of success, by OJ Simpson, Gary Condit and Scott Peterson, among others.

It's Christmas Eve (my mind automatically adds, "in the drunk tank..." from the Pogues song, "Fairytale of New York"), and I drove down to my parents' yesterday with Dizzy and my brother Ed. This morning I tried to go to the bank and to the gym, but both were closed. I always feel a little indignant about three-day weekends; Saturday's just another day for us freelancers, so what do people need with THREE days off?

Then again, people who work in offices can't nap in the middle of their working days.

Thursday, December 23, 2004

“I believe – I believe! Even though it’s silly, I believe.”

The Movie: Miracle on 34th Street, 1947 (George Seaton, screenwriter and director, from a story by Valentine Davies)
Who says it: Natalie Wood as Susan Walker, daughter of a cynical Macy’s executive (Maureen O’Hara)
The context: Susan insists that Kris Kringle (Edmund Gwenn), Macy’s Santa Claus, is the real thing.
How to use it: To reassert your belief in Santa Claus, or in anything else allegedly mythical.

I understand that Santa Claus is a luxury only wealthy nations can afford. I know that Santa Claus probably won't save the children of the Sudan. And yet -- and yet -- I believe. Santa Claus might not be a physical human being who really lives at the north pole, but Santa Claus is the best explanation I have for the fact that, when I've asked the universe for something I really, really wanted -- not something stupid like an X-Box, but something important -- I've gotten it.

And sometimes I've gotten what I asked for even when it was stupid. All I asked Santa for this year was to win the Powerball, so last night I did win -- $3.00. Santa can be tricky that way.

Wednesday, December 22, 2004

“Of all the gin joints in all the towns in all the world, she walks into mine.”

The Movie: Casablanca, 1942 (Julius J. Epstein, Philip G. Epstein, and Howard Koch, screenwriters, from the play by Murray Burnett and Joan Allison; Michael Curtiz, dir.)
Who says it: Humphrey Bogart as Rick Blaine, owner of Rick’s American CafĂ©
The context: Rick has just seen Ilsa (Ingrid Bergman), his lost love, walk in with freedom fighter Victor Laszlo (Paul Henreid).
How to use it: When you meet an old friend unexpectedly.

It's not Gardiner, but Washington is a small town. I've been running around a lot the last couple of days, and along the way I've seen several people I hadn't expected to -- which, for the most part, has been nice. A friend said to me the other morning, "Your work family is still here," and that is true.

Washington is in its traditional post-election job shuffling mode, and if I wanted to come back, now's the time. I'm considering it more seriously than I'd thought I would. The past year has shown me the importance of a safety net; there's a lot to be said for the security of a salary, health insurance, a retirement plan.

Then again, I could win the lottery. If I remember to buy tickets today.

Tuesday, December 21, 2004

“When someone asks you if you’re a god, you say, ‘YES!’”

The Movie: Ghostbusters, 1984 (Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis, screenwriters; Ivan Reitman, dir.)
Who says it: Ernie Hudson as Winston Zeddemore, the fourth Ghostbuster
The context: When the Sumerian god Gozer (Slavitza Jovan) asks Dr. Ray Stantz (Dan Ackroyd) whether he’s a god, he says no – so she blasts him.
How to use it: To remind someone that confidence is half the game.

Dizzy is big, but gentle. Ashton and Joseph's two Boston terriers stand on their back paws and lean on his shoulders, and Dizzy does nothing but grumble a little. It's possible that he doesn't have a good sense of how big he is compared to Milo and Lucy, or maybe he just knows that being bigger means he has to be careful.

Whether and how to restrain one's natural powers is the central theme of The Incredibles, which I saw last night. Great movie. "When everyone is special," one of the kids says, "that means no one is." Ow.

Ashton & Joseph are off to Rome this afternoon, so I'll take care of Lucy and Milo for a couple of days before handing off the responsibility to Ashton's mom, Penny. More important, however, I need to remember to buy them some Powerball tickets before tomorrow night's drawing, because we asked Santa especially. I, at least, have plans for that $30 million.

Monday, December 20, 2004

"I saw something nasty in the woodshed."

The Movie: Cold Comfort Farm, 1995 (Malcolm Bradbury, screenwriter, from the novel by Stella Gibbons; John Schlesinger, dir.)
Who says it: Sheila Burrell as Aunt Ada Doom, matriarch of Cold Comfort Farm
The context: A childhood trauma, barely remembered, gives Aunt Ada an excuse to sit in her room and have her family wait on her hand and foot.
How to use it: As a bare-faced plea for sympathy.

Ashton's mom, Penny, gave him the DVD of Cold Comfort Farm for Christmas, so we watched it last night. Classic. Penny had her Christmas open house, which was lovely, and we had both a thunderstorm and a snowstorm between the hours of 3:00 and 7:00 p.m.

Afterwards, we all (Ashton, Joseph, our friend Brian Cook) piled into Brian's car for some Christmas shopping at Pentagon City. Brian said, "Yes, we're going in 'You're still driving that thing?'" "That thing" is Sweet William, a 1993 Honda Civic in a color that I would call pink, Ashton calls purple, and Brian calls Metallic Cranberry. Brian inherited Sweet William from our friend Jack Hart, who died in 1997, and Brian's driven it across the country east-west and north-south more than once. In fact, I think it was Sweet William that took Anna up to Maine, when she first moved there. It's not just a car, it's a legend.

Sunday, December 19, 2004

“Don’t get him wet. Keep him out of bright light. And never feed him after midnight.”

The Movie: Gremlins, 1984 (Chris Columbus, screenwriter; Joe Dante, dir.)
Who says it: Keye Luke as Mr. Wing; Hoyt Axton as inventor Randall Peltzer
The context: Mr. Wing gives Peltzer these instructions for the care and feeding of the mogwai Gizmo, and Peltzer passes the rules along to his son, Billy (Zach Galligan).
How to use it: To comment on any person or animal who seems excessively high-maintenance.

Happy birthday to Gary Fleder, cherished friend of my youth, who has actually grown up to do all the things he said he wanted to do when we were teenagers. Don't worry, Gary, this quotation is not about you.

In fact, I wasn't thinking of anyone in particular; I just wanted a quotation from Gremlins, because no one ever mentions Gremlins when they talk about great Christmas movies. The movie is a very dark cautionary tale about what happens to people who don't take proper care of their belongings... I wouldn't show it to kids, because it's quite scary and violent, and Phoebe Cates' character's story about why she hates Christmas is awful.

Ashton and I were all over Washington yesterday -- downtown, Foggy Bottom, Chevy Chase, Friendship Heights -- doing some Christmas shopping. Driving around Washington takes time, because the city was not designed for automobiles; it was designed, at least in part, to prevent an invading army from moving across town quickly.

I've been thinking about whether to look for part-time work in Portland, just to get me out of the apartment a few times a week, but the idea of the 45-minute drive from Gardiner to Portland gave me pause. Then I remembered that on any given day in Washington, it could take me 45 minutes to drive the four miles from my old house in upper Northwest to my office on 18th Street.

Saturday, December 18, 2004

"The Dude abides."

The Movie: The Big Lebowski, 1998 (Joel & Ethan Coen, screenwriters; Joel Coen, dir.)
Who says it: Jeff Bridges as Jeff Lebowski, the Dude; Sam Elliott as The Stranger
The context: After solving a mystery, almost getting killed, and losing his rug and one of his best friends, the Dude is back at his favorite bowling alley (the Hollywood Star Lanes, now sadly passed into memory).
How to use it: To calm yourself down.

Yesterday's trip: 626 miles, 1.5 tanks of gas, approximately $20 in tolls ($5.00 just to get in and out of Delaware)
Stops: Portsmouth, N.H.; Newport, R.I.; Thomas Edison rest stop, N.J.; Washington, D.C.
What I learned: Too long a trip for one day.

Maybe it wouldn't have been too long a trip without the detour to Newport. I listened to all of Dubliners on tape, with the last lines of "The Dead" coming just as I crossed into New Jersey. That stretch of highway is grotesque by daylight, but at night all the lights and smokestacks of Newark are weirdly beautiful. If aliens landed there after dark, they wouldn't have the slightest idea of what they were seeing.

Dizzy and I went to the small park at 17th and S this morning. He was very excited to see grass again.

Friday, December 17, 2004

“Stay on the road. Keep clear of the moors.”

The Movie: An American Werewolf in London, 1981 (John Landis, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: David Schofield as an anonymous dart player in a country pub
The context: The dart player says this to David (David Naughton) and Jack (Griffith Dunne), American students hiking around England. Of course, David and Jack wind up on the moors, where a terrible fate awaits them.
How to use it: Good travel advice, even in werewolf-free areas.

Dizzy and I are on our way south this morning. The goal is Washington, DC, which I expect to hit around 10:00 tonight.

We'll see how Dizzy does when he realizes this is another long car trip. He was thrilled to see the Beetle again, when I got it back after the accident; every day since then, he trots right over to the car to say hello and pee on a tire.

Last night I met Mary and Jerry Maschino at a wine-tasting at the A1-to-Go. It was the last time I'll see them until spring, because they head south for the entire winter. Mary gave me an amazing book from her father's collection: Adrift on an Ice Pan, the 1909 memoir of a medical missionary to the Labrador coast. I love stories of Arctic and Antarctic adventure, and this book is such a treat I want to read it a page at a time, so it lasts longer. This Dr. Grenfell might have done better to stay on the road, but if he had, who would remember him now?

Thursday, December 16, 2004

“There’s out, and then there’s out.”

The Movie: My Favorite Year, 1982 (Dennis Palumbo and Norman Steinberg, screenwriters; Richard Benjamin, dir.)
Who says it: Peter O’Toole as Alan Swann, former matinee idol and hopeless drunk
The context: Swann explains to the young writer Benjy Stone (Mark Linn-Baker) how he heard something while apparently passed out.
How to use it: To insist that you really were paying attention. No, really.

Somehow the days slipped by, and we're only nine days from Christmas. If I weren't superstitious about announcing any plans related to my car, I might say that Dizzy and I are headed south tomorrow. Instead, I'll just say that the car is at the mechanic's right now, having its oil changed and everything checked very carefully, just in case anyone wants to drive it 1,600 miles over the holidays.

Theresa Schwegel, one of my clients, has sold her first novel, Officer Down, to St. Martin's Minotaur. The draft of Officer Down I read was already terrific, so it should be a great success; it'll be published next fall. It's always so encouraging to see good work rewarded. Congratulations, Theresa.

Wednesday, December 15, 2004

“It is beyond my control.”

The Movie: Dangerous Liaisons, 1988 (Christopher Hampton, screenwriter, from his play, from the novel by Choderlos de Laclos; Stephen Frears, dir.)
Who says it: John Malkovich as the Vicomte de Valmont
The context: The Vicomte is brutally discarding his mistress, the formerly virtuous Madame de Tourvel (Michelle Pfeiffer).
How to use it: When you’re doing something terrible, and not apologizing.

I don't think I'm doing anything terrible today, but it's still early.

While I don't want to turn this blog into a weather report, I would like to note that it is 9 degrees outside my door this morning. Nine, as in one less than ten, as in 23 less than the freezing point, as in -13 Celsius, for those of you reading outside the United States.

And what 9 degrees is, is very, very, very cold. Very. Cold. Cold enough that Dizzy's chin whiskers were needle-thin icicles -- I'm not kidding -- when we got back from the cemetery this morning. Cold enough that when I took the turnpike up to Augusta last night, my window was frozen shut and I had to open my door to pay the toll.

It is interesting to notice how much colder 9 degrees is than, say, 25 degrees, and how much colder 25 is than 35. The temperature was in the low 30s the other morning, and one of my neighbors was shoveling his driveway in shorts. And here I was thinking I wouldn't need my summer clothes until July.

Tuesday, December 14, 2004

“Sometimes nothin’ can be a real cool hand.”

The Movie: Cool Hand Luke, 1967 (Donn Pearce, screenwriter, from his novel; Stuart Rosenberg, dir.)
Who says it: Paul Newman as Luke, a hardened criminal and prison escapee
The context: Luke has just won a poker game on a bluff.
How to use it: When you’re surfing the universe unprepared.

In the movie Serendipity, Kate Beckinsale's character asks John Cusack's character what his favorite movie is, and he says, "The correct answer is Cool Hand Luke." This is one of those movies, like Deliverance, that speaks to something deep within the Y chromosome; I admit I don't get it. Plus, the scene with the hard-boiled eggs makes me want to hurl.

Nevertheless, this is an excellent line. I live a shockingly irresponsible life for someone my age; I am always surfing the universe unprepared, and this year in particular that has taxed my friends and family -- which I apologize for, and appreciate more than words can express. But things seem to be -- I want to whisper this -- falling back into place, and I feel a dangerous sense of optimism as we approach the new year.

Happy birthday to my dear friend Deidre Sullivan -- author, screenwriter, performance artist and personal guru. The only reason she's not running the world is because she doesn't want to.

Monday, December 13, 2004

"Coffee is for closers."

The Movie: Glengarry Glen Ross, 1992 (David Mamet, screenwriter; James Foley, dir.)
Who says it: Alec Baldwin as Blake, the aggressive new manager of a real estate sales office
The context: Blake is denying coffee to his struggling sales force.
How to use it: To hold someone -- or yourself -- to an unreasonable standard.

One of the signs of addiction is that the substance no longer makes the addict feel better, it just makes her feel normal. If that's the standard, I've been addicted to coffee for an embarrassingly long time. I miss those ads that used to run in the 1980s... scenes of people doing gymnastics, roller-skating, and otherwise racing around, with ELO singing, "Hold on tight to your dreams," and a voice promising that coffee was "the calm moment... that gives you the serenity to imagine it, and the vitality to do it."

It's probably too late to sue those people for false advertising.

Lots of work to finish today, in part because I did very little yesterday afternoon but watch The Princess Bride again on cable and read most of Peter Ackroyd's latest novel. I considered using another quotation from The Princess Bride today, and I probably will within the next few days -- without much effort, this whole blog could be nothing but quotes from The Princess Bride, The Wizard of Oz, and the complete works of Christopher Guest.

If I get everything done today, though, it leaves the rest of the week free for Christmas shopping... or I could just buy everything from my cousin Sheila's website. She has some art prints up on EBay, too, if anyone needs something for their walls -- go to "advanced search," and look for items from the seller "Hollywoodkit."

Sunday, December 12, 2004

“Someday a real rain will come and wash all this scum off the streets.”

The Movie: Taxi Driver, 1976 (Paul Schrader, screenwriter; Martin Scorsese, dir.)
Who says it: Robert DeNiro as taxi driver Travis Bickle
The context: Travis is driving around New York City, watching the rain come down.
How to use it: To comment – ironically, please – on urban decay.

I used to say this all the time when it rained in L.A. I wonder if I'll ever be able to live in a city again.

This morning Dizzy and I met another of our neighbors, Will, who lives around the corner with his wife and their four-year-old and their Alaskan Husky, Silver. Dizzy loves snow dogs.

Anyway, Will is a police officer for the city of Portland, and he and his family moved here from Memphis two years ago. We were talking about how different it is up here, how peaceful. In Memphis, he said, he might respond to three shootings a night; up here, even knife fights are rare.

Dizzy slept until 11:00 this morning, a new record for him and one that I appreciated very much. Too much frolicking at Anna and Tarren's yesterday, I guess. I bought him a new squeaky duck, which entertained Anna's dad, Jerry, as much as it pleased Dizzy.

My aunt Kit reminded me that of course Dizzy had seen a Christmas tree before -- at my cousins Kathleen and Mark's, last year and the year before.

Saturday, December 11, 2004

"That'll do, pig. That'll do."

The Movie: Babe, 1995 (George Miller and Chris Noonan, screenwriters; George Miller, dir.)
Who says it: James Cromwell as Farmer Hoggett
The context: Babe the pig has just won a sheep-herding contest by being polite to the sheep, rather than intimidating them.
How to use it: As understated praise for someone who’ll get the joke.

Unpacking's going to take a while. Everything that Ashton and Joseph packed came through beautifully, but a box of bowls that I packed had only two survivors, with the rest broken to pieces and in one case crushed almost to powder. It probably didn't help that the movers completely disregarded the "FRAGILE" and "THIS END UP" markings on the boxes -- I found the box of bowls underneath two boxes of books.

But it's okay. I made toast last night for the first time in about six weeks, and I almost wept when I found the box that held my silverware. No more plastic cutlery! No more paper plates!

This afternoon, Dizzy and I are going over to Anna and Tarren's to help decorate the tree and celebrate Anna's mother's birthday. Dizzy's never seen a Christmas tree, as far as I know.

Friday, December 10, 2004

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

The Movie: The Wizard of Oz, 1939 (Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, screenwriters, from the book by L. Frank Baum; Victor Fleming, dir.)
Who says it: Frank Morgan as the Wizard
The context: Toto pulls away a curtain to reveal an undistinguished, middle-aged man operating the controls that create the giant hologram of the Wizard’s head.
How to use it: To acknowledge that something is staged.

This quotation always reminds me of a Penn & Teller show I saw in Washington several years ago. Penn was alone on stage, talking about death while he did terrible things to a balloon. He was talking about how resilient people are, about friends of his who had survived disease and brutal attacks, as he beat the balloon with a paddle and hacked at it with a knife. "But sometimes," he said, covering the balloon with a scarf, "people just die." The balloon deflated underneath the scarf, and he pulled the scarf away to show that the balloon was gone.

Now, I knew exactly how that trick was done -- it's not a trick at all, it's just clever manipulation of an underinflated balloon -- but the genius of Penn & Teller is that you believe it's magic even though you see how it works.

I'm not sure what my point is, except to say that even seeing the man behind the curtain doesn't always diminish the power of the illusion.

Yesterday morning I picked up my car. I stopped off at the grocery store on my way home, and suddenly started to shake -- a delayed reaction, I guess, to everything. Once I finally had my stuff and my car, I could have that nervous breakdown I've been postponing.

Fortunately, my cable's not working and some things are missing from my shipment, so life's still normal, and the nervous breakdown can hold off indefinitely.

Thursday, December 09, 2004

"It's my dirt! No good, but it's all mine."

The movie: The Grapes of Wrath, 1940 (Nunnally Johnson, screenwriter, from the novel by John Steinbeck; John Ford, dir.)
Who says it: Charley Grapewin as Grandpa Joad
The context: Grandpa Joad doesn’t want to leave his farm, although it’s turned into a barren wasteland.
How to use it: To express pride in your humble possessions.

The movers arrived last night around 11:45. A couple of things seem to be missing, but the most important items are here.

Deadlines today, and I have to pick up my car, so this will be a short post. We had a thaw yesterday, and the snow turned to slush before turning into solid blocks of ice overnight. Dizzy and I both slipped and fell this morning, but no damage done. I might need to get cleats.

Wednesday, December 08, 2004

"We're past pretending now. We'll leave that to the amateurs."

The Movie: Sleuth, 1972 (Anthony Shaffer, screenplay, from his play; Joseph L. Mankiewicz, dir.)
Who says it: Michael Caine as Milo Tindle, a hairdresser in love with Andrew Wyke's wife
The context: Having humiliated each other with elaborate ruses, Milo and Andrew Wyke (Laurence Olivier), a mystery novelist, move to a more serious negotiation.
How to use it: When you’re getting down to business.

It's not true, in case you were wondering, that Eskimos have 100 (or 200, or 400) words for snow. But they do have about 15 words, depending on how you count them.

I could use a few extra. Last night we had frozen rain after snow, leaving a crust of ice on top of about an inch of powder. It's treacherous walking, even in my LL Bean Mountain Moccasins, and it's dangerous for Dizzy, because the ice has sharp edges when his paws break through. I doubt the temperature ever rose above 20 yesterday; when I returned the rental car, the bank thermometer on Western Avenue read 15 degrees.

But today it's supposed to warm up considerably, and once it does, I'll go retrieve my car. The wise thing to do would be to take it directly to the Volkswagen dealership, to have the tires checked and everything winterized, but I'll probably do that tomorrow.

The short hours of daylight compress all the day's activities, and create a sense of urgency to get things done while the sun's in the sky. Sunrise to sunset is less than nine hours now, and we're still about two weeks away from the shortest day of the year.

When I moved up here, a friend of mine called it rookie league for Antarctica -- a long-cherished fantasy -- and that was truer than I could have imagined.

Tuesday, December 07, 2004

“You need more than luck in Shanghai.”

The Movie: The Lady from Shanghai, 1948 (Orson Welles, director and screenwriter, from a book by Sherwood King)
Who says it: Rita Hayworth as Rosalie Bannister, the wife of a wealthy lawyer
The context: Rosalie is telling sailor Mike O’Hara (Orson Welles) about her earlier life as a gambler in Shanghai.
How to use it: To express quiet confidence when someone wishes you luck.

When Rita Hayworth made this movie, she was the most beautiful woman in the world. No one else was even close. I watched it again recently, and it's tremendously entertaining on many levels -- just keeping track of Orson Welles' dreadful Irish accent is hypnotizing.

It's snowing again. I'm afraid to go pick up my car in this weather, because I really don't know how to drive in this weather, and I am absolutely positive that if I try to take the Beetle out in it, nothing good can happen. But I need to return the rental car... it's all giving me a headache, or maybe that's just the paint fumes.

Happy anniversary to Anna and Tarren, whose wedding in Portland two years ago was the first time I seriously considered Maine as a place to live.

Monday, December 06, 2004

“The things you own end up owning you.”

The Movie: Fight Club, 1999 (Jim Uhls, screenwriter, from the novel by Chuck Palahniuk; David Fincher, dir.)
Who says it: Brad Pitt as maverick entrepreneur and total psycho Tyler Durden
The context: Durden is commenting on the lifestyle of the Narrator (Ed Norton), whose apartment is full of brand-name electronics and mass-produced furniture.
How to use it: Before you buy anything else.

I've never been a shopper. I'm not an accumulator, except of books. And maybe of CDs. And friends, of course. Okay, never mind that part. But I'm not a shopper, and it makes me anxious to own too much, because everything I own is something I could lose or wreck. (Yes, I've discussed this in therapy. It still feels like a rational perspective.)

And this week is a case in point. This week I am getting my car back -- it's ready now -- and my stuff is supposed to arrive from California. In both cases, I have to shell out large amounts of money in order to get back what's already, theoretically, mine. I know that's not what's really happening; I'm paying for a service related to my stuff and not for the stuff itself, but that's not how it feels.

Then again, I'd pay almost anything just to sleep in my own bed again. It was my first purchase in California, and I got a great deal on it. It's a queen-sized Serta with a pillow-top mattress, which seemed almost criminally self-indulgent at the time. But my friend Caroline, a screenwriter who actually does a lot of her writing in bed, said, "No, you spend a third of your life in bed. You need to buy something good." The headboard is a brass-and-ceramic set of rails I inherited from my friend Nan when she moved to Arkansas; it was the only piece of furniture I moved from D.C. to L.A.

It's not true that I haven't gotten a decent night's sleep in three months, but this morning it feels that way.

Sunday, December 05, 2004

"Did you guys ever watch the show?"

The Movie: Galaxy Quest, 1999 (David Howard and Robert Gordon, screenwriters; Dean Parisot, dir.)
Who says it: Sam Rockwell as Guy Fleegman, a.k.a. Security Chief Roc Ingersoll
The context: Aliens have kidnapped the cast of the cult TV show “Galaxy Quest;” actress Gwen DeMarco (Sigourney Weaver) is completely horrified when their alien hosts begin to eat a wounded companion.
How to use it: To make yourself and your companions accept the current reality, however bizarre it might be.

Thanks to my friend Tom for this quotation.

It occurred to me this morning, not for the first time, that Dizzy lives a much more exciting life than I do. For him, everything is fraught with adventure and possibility. Every squirrel is a new chance for him to assert his dominion, even though he's never caught one single squirrel in hundreds of tries. Every pile of leaves offers the promise of something seriously disgusting at the bottom. Every dog could be his new best friend, every cat could hold the secret of the universe -- if they just wouldn't run...

Snow is a miracle he can't understand, but loves. At the cemetery this morning, he kept trying to pick up a stick, then jumping back when he felt the cold of the snow on his teeth. He likes to sit on the snow, but he doesn't like the feeling on his mouth.

A neighbor said, "He'll be tired of it by January, like we all are." But I don't think so. Every day in the life of Dizzy is an exciting new episode.

And speaking of exciting new episodes, happy birthday and many more to Ashton LeBourgeois, who looks younger every year.

Saturday, December 04, 2004

"Go ahead! Eat the writer!"

The Movie: Shadow of the Vampire, 2000 (Steven Katz, screenwriter; E. Elias Merhige, dir.)
Who says it: John Malkovich as pioneering film director F. W. Murnau
The context: Having hired a real vampire (Willem Dafoe) to play Nosferatu, Murnau finds the production slipping out of his control; he says this line sarcastically, not sincerely.
How to use it: Every professional writer will find some use for this quotation. Trust me.

Lack of hot water (which did finally come back) and bad weather delayed my departure for Cambridge, and then a misunderstanding of the Mapquest directions sent me the long way around -- I wound up taking Route 1 through a big chunk of southern Maine and through New Hampshire before realizing that I never should have left 95.

Val, a neighbor of mine who keeps cats, rabbits and a horse, is taking care of Dizzy until tonight. He likes her, and he especially likes the way her jacket smells. The horse lives at its own stable, and Dizzy's staying in my apartment, so he's not likely to meet the cats and rabbits personally.

I got to Kate's late, but did manage to talk to a couple of people I wanted to see. I also made sure that Kate's going to order my client Kent Harrington's new book, Red Jungle, which is coming out just before Christmas. The publisher, Dennis McMillan, produces limited runs of beautifully-designed books; he does very little marketing, because he generally doesn't need to. But Kent's book deserves a wider audience, and we're all hoping that some major press will swoop in with a mass-market deal once Dennis's print run sells out. Publishers Weekly gave the book a good review this week, and that's always encouraging.

This morning I'm working with Mikki Ansin on her book project, a retrospective of candid stills from the Merchant-Ivory productions of the 1980s and 1990s. Mikki was the still photographer on most of those movies, and she has gorgeous pictures of the actors and technicians going about their lives "between takes" -- which is what the book will be called.

Friday, December 03, 2004

“I'm pretty sure there's a lot more to life than being really, really good looking.”

The Movie: Zoolander, 2001 (Drake Sather, Ben Stiller and John Hamburg, screenwriters; Ben Stiller, dir.)
Who says it: Ben Stiller as supermodel Derek Zoolander
The context: Derek contemplates his future after his roommates die in a tragic gasoline-fight accident.
How to use it: If your friends don’t laugh when you say this, you have a problem. Unless you're actually a supermodel.

This line has no specific application today, it just cracks me up.

Dizzy woke me up right around 6:00 this morning, apparently to let me know that a) we had no heat and b) it was snowing. We went out in the first gray light of dawn so Dizzy could check it out. He likes it, although he doesn't have the slightest idea of what it is; he kept pawing the ground, trying to make it move, and sniffing to see what was going on. We're supposed to get about an inch before it stops.

Not having heat -- or hot water -- is a bigger problem. There might be more to life than being really, really good-looking, but I am NOT going to Kate's holiday party without washing my hair.

Thursday, December 02, 2004

"I should get coffee. Coffee would help me think."

The Movie: Adaptation, 2002 (Charlie Kaufman, screenwriter, from the book by Susan Orlean; Spike Jonze, dir.)
Who says it: Nicolas Cage as Charlie Kaufman, a frustrated screenwriter
The context: Kaufman struggles with writer's block as he tries to adapt the book The Orchid Thief into a screenplay.
How to use it: When you're procrastinating.

Procrastination has a seriously bad rap. If you look at it the right way, it's a heroic expression of faith that we’ll all be here tomorrow. Don't you think?

Yesterday morning, in a driving rainstorm, the FedEx man delivered a giant box to my doorstep. In the box was a birthday/housewarming present from my friend Gary: a fire engine red espresso-cappuccino machine, with enough coffee to last through the winter. Wow, wow, wow. I don't expect to sleep again until sometime after Christmas; I am making coffee I don't even want to drink, just so I can play with my new toy.

The movers say my stuff is in a truck, on its way to Maine, and might arrive as soon as this weekend. In the meantime I borrowed Anna and Tarren's air mattress, which doesn't leak. Hurray!

Wednesday, December 01, 2004

“Pshaw right, and monkeys might fly out of my butt.”

The Movie: Wayne’s World, 1992 (Mike Myers, Bonnie Turner and Terry Turner, screenwriters; Penelope Spheeris, director)
Who says it: Mike Myers as Wayne Campbell, star of his own cable-access TV show
The context: Wayne considers the possibility that he might be able to do his show, “Wayne’s World,” professionally.
How to use it: To express skepticism.

My car might be fixed today. No, really. (Gary said on the phone last night, "I'm not even going to respond to that.")

Today I need to figure out my weekend logistics. Kate's Mystery Books is having its holiday party on Friday night in Cambridge, and I'm supposed to see a client in Cambridge during the day on Saturday. It's no problem to drive down there, and I have a place to stay, but I need to figure out what I'm doing with Dizzy.

Still no snow... maybe this weekend. Anna says, "Shut up! You'll have more than you want soon enough." But they've been rolling the paths in the cemetery, because people cross-country ski there.