Sunday, October 31, 2004

“Don’t let them bury me… I’m not dead!”

The Movie: The Serpent and the Rainbow, 1988 (Richard Maxwell and Adam Rodman, screenwriters, based on the book by Wade Davis; Wes Craven, dir.)
Who says it: Bill Pullman as Dennis Alan, an anthropologist researching zombies in Haiti
The context: Dr. Alan finds himself under the effects of the drug he’d gone to Haiti to research.
How to use it: When you’re afraid of being ignored – or buried alive.

My favorite band of the 1990s, Too Much Joy, used a couple of different versions of this line in songs on their debut album, Green Eggs and Crack. Also, Dr. Doug Lyle explains how to make your own zombie powder in his book, Murder & Mayhem... not that this is something I endorse. Really. But if it works for you, send me some.

The Literacy Volunteers of Greater Augusta and the Gaslight Theater of Hallowell held a Spooktacular Read-a-Thon last night at Higher Grounds, a Hallowell coffeehouse. Anna was one of the coordinators -- I was supposed to be part of the planning group, too, but didn't get here in time. Anna & I were going to read "The Yellow Wallpaper," but there were so many other readers that we skipped it.

It was a great evening, though, and I love that there's more live music within three miles of my new apartment than there was within three miles of my place in Hollywood.

My other big excursion yesterday was to the Wal-Mart in Augusta. Talk about overwhelming... you could drop all of downtown Gardiner into it, and still have room for a chunk of Hallowell.

Happy Halloween, y'all.

Saturday, October 30, 2004


The Movie: The Amityville Horror, 1979 (Sandor Stern, screenwriter, from the book by Jay Anson; Stuart Rosenberg, dir.)
Who says it: The house – or whatever’s inside it
The context: George and Kathy Lutz (James Brolin and Margot Kidder) have just moved into their dream home, which happens to have been the site of a brutal mass murder.
How to use it: Jokingly, to imply that a place is haunted, or to say it’s time to leave.

This book was avidly (and in some cases, secretly) passed all around my fifth-grade class, and it scared us silly. The movie's pretty dumb, although it has a couple of good moments. But the quotation seemed appropriate for Halloween weekend.

This morning Dizzy and I took my coffee down to Anna and Tarren's dock. The fog was so thick on the lake that I couldn't see the water at all; the dock seemed to disappear into a cloud bank, as if you could step off it into some other world. Dizzy didn't like it, and I was surprised that he noticed. He's a scent hound, and I've never really been sure how well he sees.

Yesterday was only slightly more productive than the day before, but I did get the two most important things done: I registered to vote, and I got a library card. I'd have gotten a dog license, too, but December is the renewal season, so the young woman at the Gardiner Town Office advised me to wait a month.

Oh, and I met the Gardiner postmaster, who has been putting mail in P.O. Box 921 for me for the last three months, and was beginning to wonder whether I actually existed. His name is Jerry.

Friday, October 29, 2004

“Leave the gun. Take the cannolis.”

The Movie: The Godfather, 1972 (Mario Puzo and Francis Ford Coppola, screenwriters, from the novel by Mario Puzo; Francis Ford Coppola, dir.)
Who says it: Richard Castellano as Clemenza, one of Don Corleone’s enforcers.
The context: Clemenza says this to his associate, who’s just shot Paulie (John Martino) in the back of the head. Paulie was driving the car, so they need to leave it, but there’s a box of cannolis in the car, and Clemenza promised his wife he’d bring home dessert.
How to use it: To help someone focus on their priorities.

Three months into this project, and this is my first Godfather quotation. I don't love the Godfather movies the way so many of my friends do; I admire them, but I don't own them and I won't drop everything to watch them if they're on. I hate to agree about anything with that idiotic movie You've Got Mail, but I do think it's one of those male-female dichotomies, like Neil Young and ice hockey. I've known a few women who claimed to like The Godfather, Neil Young and/or ice hockey, but I strongly suspect that most of them were lying in order to impress a guy. At least, I was, the one time I pretended to like Neil Young. (Okay, okay: I respect the man as an artist. I do love "Helpless." Don't bug me about this.)

I digress, but that's kind of the point. I'm having a hard time focusing on all the things I need to do -- I feel overstimulated, even overwhelmed, and that's bad because I have real work to do as well as all the moving-related stuff. I can't justify the fact that I took yesterday afternoon off and drove out to Rockland, where I met Anna for lunch.

It was a beautiful day, and we walked the Rockland breakwater out to the lighthouse. The breakwater's very long, maybe even a mile; it shelters the Rockland harbor from the Atlantic Ocean. We saw a seal basking in the sun on one rock, and a cormorant fishing from another.

At the end of the breakwater we sat on the rocks, sun at our backs, and watched the water. The breakwater is made of giant blocks of granite, pieced together like a rock wall laid on its side. The water moves through it with the tides. From our perch on top of the rocks, the breakwater sounded hollow, as if it hid a sea cave underneath.

I felt calm. I felt that I had done the right thing, leaving Los Angeles. I felt that Maine would give me permission to start aging again, because Los Angeles really doesn't.

None of this, of course, helps me get my work done.

Thursday, October 28, 2004

“Goodnight, you princes of Maine… you kings of New England.”

The Movie: The Cider House Rules, 1997 (John Irving, screenwriter, from his novel; Lasse Hallstrom, dir.)
Who says it: Michael Caine as Dr. Wilbur Larch, head of the St. Cloud orphanage and sometime abortionist
The context: This is Larch’s nightly blessing on the boys who live in his orphanage, who have no family but Maine.
How to use it: Handy for farewells in this part of the country.

Anna's friend Joycie, from Australia, is staying here too. Last night we alternated between watching the baseball game and going outside to look at the lunar eclipse. It's so dark up here. I lay on the grass for a minute, until it got too cold, and looked at the Milky Way. Dizzy didn't like it, he thought I was hurt or crazy -- and sometimes I am, but not last night.

Tom and I speculated the other day -- and my brother Ed was talking about this last weekend -- about whether people really will die now that the Red Sox have won the World Series. The TV newscasters have been trotting all these ancient Red Sox fans out over the past week, and they all say, "Once they win the World Series, I can die happy."

But what does this mean? Are they really all planning to die now? "Think of all the medical resources that would free up," Tom said.

Wednesday, October 27, 2004

"What do we do now?"

The Movie: The Candidate, 1972 (Jeremy Lerner, screenwriter; Michael Ritchie, dir.)
Who says it: Robert Redford as Bill McKay, maverick candidate for the U.S. Senate from California
The context: It's the last line of the movie, after McKay has won.
How to use it: When you've accomplished something major and have no idea what happens next.

Yesterday's leg: 265 miles, 1.25 tanks of gas (traffic jam in Boston)
Stops: Cambridge, MA; China, ME

Here we are, staying a few days with my friends Anna and Tarren Bragdon. Anna and I worked together at the Conference of State Bank Supervisors, in another lifetime, and Anna moved up here about seven years ago. She and Tarren got married in Portland one snowy weekend about two years ago, and they live on the banks of China Lake, just northeast of Augusta.

Dizzy likes lakefront living. He likes fall in New England. He seems to know that time's running out if he wants to capture any squirrels in this calendar year. Most of all, I think, he's glad to be done with driving for a while.

We stopped in Cambridge yesterday for lunch with my friend Tom Ehrenfeld, also a writer and editor, and a friend of mine from college. Tom insisted that I stop on my way out of town to say hi to Kate Mannes, who runs Kate's Mystery Books, and I'm glad I did. Kate has her own publishing imprint, with Justin Charles, so we talked briefly about working together on some things next year.

I crossed the Maine state line at 3:29 p.m. It seemed unreal, after such a long time of planning and fretting. Last night I sat on the Bragdons' couch in front of the Red Sox game, and tears rolled down my face -- not because I was sad, not because I was happy, but just because... because... because, I don't know why. Just because.

This morning Anna and I had breakfast at the A-1 Diner in Gardiner, and she showed me the apartment I'm going to rent from her. It's walking distance from downtown Gardiner, has a lovely deck, and gets the morning sun. Dizzy will be disappointed that it's not on a lake, but he'll like the town common. I always wanted to live somewhere that had a town common.

Today I'm sorting through two months' worth of mail, and trying to figure out a few technical challenges -- such as the fact that I don't have a cell phone signal out here, and I can't get online with my own computer. Hmm.

Tuesday, October 26, 2004

“Be desireless. Be excellent. Be gone.”

The Movie: The Tao of Steve, 2000 (Duncan North, Greer Goodman & Jenniphyr Goodman, screenwriters; Jenniphyr Goodman, dir.)
Who says it: James “Kimo” Wills as Dave, a single man looking for love
The context: This line encapsulates the Tao of Steve – the way Dave’s friend Dex (Donal Logue), an underachieving 20-something, gets women even though he’s overweight and has no real job.
How to use it: Universal fantasy of the emotionally immature... which I admit, sometimes, includes me.

Yesterday's leg: 408 miles, one tank of gas
Stops: James Fenimore Cooper rest stop, NJ; Darien, CT; Newport, RI

Dizzy and I are at my sister Kathy's, but it hasn't really gone very well... to start with, I got lost in Newport, as I always do, so didn't get here until after 10 p.m. Kathy's husband, Adam, and her younger son, Patrick, were already asleep. My older nephew (and godson), George, was still awake, but Dizzy decided to be afraid of him. (Dizzy's fears include teenaged boys, skateboards, certain uniforms, umbrellas, and clowns. A skateboarding clown with an umbrella would be Satan personified to him.)

The real problem, though, was Kathy's two small dogs -- Cindy, an ancient pug-Chihuahua mix, and Ginger, a beautiful but frantic Pomeranian mix. Dizzy is extremely respectful of small dogs, having learned from our cousin Sheila's teacup Yorkie, but Kathy's dogs would not be soothed. They barked themselves hoarse until Kathy shut them away upstairs, and they were downright hysterical when they woke up this morning to find Dizzy still here.

At least I got to see Patrick for a few minutes before he went to school, and I'll be back soon for another visit -- if I can find somewhere for Dizzy to stay.

Today, at long last, we'll get to Maine. But first we're stopping in Cambridge, MA, to say hey to my friend Tom Ehrenfeld.

Monday, October 25, 2004

“I'm shakin' the dust of this crummy little town off my feet and I'm gonna see the world.”

The Movie: It’s a Wonderful Life, 1946 (Frances Goodrich, Albert Hackett, and Frank Capra, from a story by Philip Van Doren Stern; Frank Capra, director)
Who says it: Jimmy Stewart as George Bailey, a man who discovers his wealth in his friends
The context: As George is leaving on a trip around the world, his father’s sudden death requires him to stay in Bedford Falls to run the family savings and loan.
How to use it: When starting on a journey.

Dizzy and I hit the road again today, but I'm having a hard time mustering up enthusiasm for getting back in the car. It would be so easy for me to return to Washington permanently... again, almost as if I'd never left, which is the single biggest reason I need to push on. I don't want to do the easy thing, despite the voice in the back of my head that says, "What, are you CRAZY?"

So we're off to Newport, RI today. The original plan was to stay overnight in New York, but it proved too difficult to do with a large dog. I'm disappointed not to see my NY friends on this trip, but chances are good that I'll be back in the city within the next several weeks. Tonight Dizzy and I will stay with my twin sister, Kathy, and her family.

Yesterday was my first Italian lesson, because Ashton and Joseph host an Italian class in their home on Sunday afternoons. I'm impressed at how serious they are about it. They go to Italy as often as they can, and will be back there over Christmas -- Ashton said he heard a rumor about some old guy in a hat who puts on a big show for Christmas in Rome.

Oh, and Ashton wanted me to clarify that the Samantha Fox CD does not represent his or Joseph's taste in music, it represents their taste in humor. After checking out her website, I understand this.

Sunday, October 24, 2004

“Dignity, always dignity.”

The Movie: Singing in the Rain, 1952 (Betty Comden and Adolph Green, screenwriters; Stanley Donen and Gene Kelly, directors)
Who says it: Gene Kelly as Don Lockwood, silent film star making the transition to talkies
The context: Don is describing the theme of his career as we see him tap-dancing for small change, riding broken-down horses and otherwise humiliating himself for show business.
How to use it: When you’re making a fool of yourself for something you love.

On the subject of making a fool of oneself for love: did everyone see Steven Tyler sing the national anthem at the beginning of last night's World Series game? On the one hand, the intent was touching; on the other, the execution was unspeakable. I don't know what it will take to get that sound out of my head.

Yesterday afternoon Joseph, Ashton and Joseph's friend Kumi went "pumpkin patching" with friends who have twin two-year-old boys. I tagged along. We drove far, far, far out in Fairfax County and found not a quiet little pumpkin patch, but an enormous pumpkin theme park that included at least half a dozen big slides for kids, hayrides, petting zoos, and live demonstrations of how to milk a cow. It was all a little overwhelming, and I was mildly shell-shocked to begin with because Joseph and Ashton made me listen to their Samantha Fox CD on the drive out. (Note to all record companies everywhere: the fact that digital technology lets you preserve something forever does not necessarily mean that you should. Seriously, you think future archeologists will want to listen to late-era disco? Should we let them?)

Traffic was bad coming back, which made me late for dinner with my Aunt Debbie and her husband, Ziggy -- and the irony was that Debbie and Ziggy live in the same general direction of the pumpkin patch. Joseph and Ashton could have dropped me off, except that 1) I didn't know exactly where I was going and 2) I was supposed to give my brother Ed a ride to dinner. So we went back to town, I ran around and hyperventilated and picked up Ed, and we were about an hour late to dinner, which Debbie and Ziggy were very, very nice about.

Saturday, October 23, 2004

“And we are your friends, Angela… whether you like it or not.”

The Movie: Married to the Mob, 1988 (Barry Strugatz and Mark R. Burns, screenwriters; Jonathan Demme, dir.)
Who says it: Mercedes Ruehl as Connie, wife of the Mob boss Tony the Tiger (Dean Stockwell)
The context: Angela de Marco (Michelle Pfeiffer), wife of one of Tony’s lieutenants, refuses Connie’s invitation to an evening of cards.
How to use it: I hate to say it, but this line will eventually be useful in almost any institutionalized group of women.

I am rather notoriously not a team player. I chose my college at least in part because it had no sororities. If and when I go to hell, hell will probably be one long Junior League meeting run by the girls I hated in high school.

So it's surprising, even to me, that I've belonged to Women in Housing and Finance on and off for the last 17 years. Their 25th Anniversary Gala, last night, was the main reason for the timing of this visit to Washington.

"I thought you hated WHF," Ashton said last night. When we shared the house on 15th Street (1995-97), I held a variety of positions with WHF, including newsletter editor, co-chair of the Monthly Luncheons Committee (!) and Secretary -- because, not being a team player, I deal with groups by trying to run things. So I burned out pretty badly, and I was disgusted with the bickering and vacillation over whether to create a non-profit foundation -- because we were a professional association, not a charitable association, as if the two were mutually exclusive -- and I quit.

That lasted about a year, because Diane Casey, an executive with Grant Thornton at the time, became President-Elect and asked me to come back. Diane now runs America's Community Bankers; she is both a visionary and a pragmatist, and has an extraordinary gift for cutting through the unnecessary while making everyone feel included. No one says no to Diane, and I didn't either.

Anyway, I'm glad I went back, and I was glad to be at this event last night. It's another of those bookends, because WHF held its 20th Anniversary Gala the weekend before I left Washington for Los Angeles. It was almost possible to pretend, last night, that the intervening five years hadn't happened at all.

Friday, October 22, 2004

“We rob banks.”

The Movie: Bonnie and Clyde, 1967 (David Newman and Robert Benton, screenwriters; Arthur Penn, dir.)
Who says it: Warren Beatty as Clyde Barrow, bank robber; later, Faye Dunaway as Bonnie Parker, bank robber
The context: Clyde and Bonnie introduce themselves this way, creating and promoting their own legend.
How to use it: To be direct about an attribute others might think you’d want to keep secret.

Yesterday's leg: 206 miles, .75 tanks of gas
Stops: Massaponax, VA; Washington, DC

Dizzy and I are staying at Ashton and Joseph's. I'm delighted at how well Dizzy's doing with their stairs -- Ashton & Joseph live in a third-floor condo without an elevator -- and with their marble floors. Dizzy gets nervous about floors he thinks he might slip on.

But he's adapting to East Coast life much more quickly than I expected. His coat is already thicker. He doesn't seem to mind the rain at all. He likes to sniff the leaves on the ground.

It's my favorite time of year to be in Washington -- Capitol Hill's in recess, and the elections are coming right up. I met my old boss and mentor for a drink on the Hill last night, and the bars were empty -- everyone's out in the countryside, drumming up votes. Even I got a call on my cell phone from the Democratic Party office in West Hollywood. (It went to my voice mail, so I wasn't able to tell them that I no longer vote in California. Still, if the Democratic Party in West Hollywood really needs my vote for success, their troubles are beyond my help.)

Heightened security measures have blocked off many streets on Capitol Hill, and make it even harder than usual to get a cab up there. Somehow I think that if terrorists do attack Capitol Hill, they won't be riding in taxicabs.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

"You could look it up."

The Movie: Bull Durham, 1988 (Ron Shelton, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Susan Sarandon as Annie Savoy, part-time English professor and provider of life wisdom to the Durham Bulls
The context: This is the last line of the movie, after Annie’s just quoted Walt Whitman on the subject of baseball. It’s also a standard line in any conversation about baseball statistics.
How to use it: To back up a statement of fact that you’ve probably just invented.

I love Annie Savoy because she does make stuff up. In the movie's opening monologue, for example, she says that Catholic rosaries have 108 beads, the same number as stitches in a baseball; I have no idea where this number comes from, because traditional rosaries have 59 beads (I had to check; I was thinking it was 60, but it's 59).

This morning Dizzy and I are off to Washington, DC for the weekend. We'll stay with Ashton & Joseph and their two Boston Terriers, Lucy and Milo. Milo got banned from doggie day care for not playing well with others, so we'll see how he does with Dizzy. We're leaving just as Dizzy has come to a truce with Mom's cat, which is too bad.

Of course, that's assuming that Dizzy will agree to leave. I tried to take him to the beach yesterday, but he wouldn't get into the car. I hope he doesn't give me trouble about it today.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

"I do believe in anything, provided it is incredible."

The Movie: Wilde, 1997 (Julian Mitchell, screenwriter, from the biography by Richard Ellmann; Brian Gilbert, dir.)
Who says it: Stephen Fry as Oscar Wilde, genius, bon vivant, and tragic lover of Lord Alfred Douglas
The context: Wilde specialized in these epigrams; this is not really a movie line, but something he actually said. In this case, he was referring to Catholicism, saying he planned to die a Catholic but could never live as one.
How to use it: Handy for election seasons and for defending one’s belief in Santa Claus.

I want to take Dizzy to the beach, so he can see the Atlantic for the first time, but the weather isn't cooperating. We had a thunderstorm last night, which might have been the first one in Dizzy's experience; the only thunderstorm I remember in Los Angeles happened on my birthday in 1999, and Dizzy might not even have been born then. (I got him in April 2000, when he was about five months old, so arbitrarily assigned him a birthdate of December 1. The vet gave him a birthdate of November 1, though.)

Anyway, the thunderstorm didn't worry Dizzy, although my mother's dog gets very upset about them. Dizzy must figure that as long as the ground's not shaking, it's nothing to be worried about.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

"My name is Wile E. Coyote... Genius."

The Movie: The Bugs Bunny/Road Runner Movie, 1979 (Chuck Jones and Michael Maltese, screenwriters; Chuck Jones and Phil Monroe, directors)
Who says it: Mel Blanc as the voice of Wile E. Coyote… genius.
The context: Wile E. Coyote is introducing himself to Bugs Bunny, explaining that Bugs, as a rabbit, is no match for such a skilled predator. This is Wile E.’s standard opening line; he even has business cards that say this.
How to use it: When you’re about to implement a plan that could go seriously, seriously wrong.

I use this line -- or its variant, "My name is Wile E. Coyote... Sooooooper Genius," at least once a week.

My mother's dog, Molly, is something of an escape artist. She ran out the front door when Mom's visiting nurse arrived this morning, and is still running around. She wants to be chased, she thinks it's a game.

I'm not playing. I remember too vividly one Christmas Eve seven or eight years ago, when Mom was sick -- either just getting out of the hospital, or just about to go in -- when I chased Molly all over my parents' old neighborhood, for most of an afternoon and over at least a square mile. Eventually a couple of neighbors in cars herded her into someone's fenced-in backyard. Molly made a fool of all of us, and I still haven't quite forgiven her.

Today I send good thoughts out to my friend Barb, whom I was originally supposed to visit in Lincoln, NE on the way out here. Barb has a large menagerie that began with Tippy, who was six when Barb adopted her in 1998. Tippy died over the weekend, at the ripe old age (for a greyhound) of 12. Barb, who designs web pages as well as plays the bodhran, hosts a radio show and many other things, put up a memorial page here.

Monday, October 18, 2004

“I’ll never look like Barbie. Barbie doesn’t have bruises.”

The Movie: Sid and Nancy, 1986 (Alex Cox and Abbe Wool, screenwriters; Alex Cox, director)
Who says it: Chloe Webb as Nancy Spungen, heroin addict, punk rock groupie and eventual murder victim
The context: Nancy’s free-associating when her boyfriend, Sid Vicious (Gary Oldman) freaks out because he can’t find his Action Man doll (aka GI Joe).
How to use it: As an ironic commentary on American standards of beauty.

Yesterday's leg: 93 miles, .25 tanks of gas
Stops: Virginia Beach, VA

Today's quotation is apropos of nothing, I just like it. I did sprain my right index finger badly a couple of weeks ago, though, while walking my dog and Gary's dog together. It still hurts. Maybe it's broken. Is it normal if the top two joints slant in at a 30-degree angle from the bottom joint? There goes my career as a hand model.

I am so relieved to be here in Virginia Beach that I could sleep for 72 hours, except that I have too much work to do. Mom looks great. Dizzy was fine with Mom's cat, until the cat decided to run away, at which point Dizzy decided to chase it. The cat's spent the last twelve hours on top of the sideboard in the dining room. Eventually it will have to come down to eat.

Driving through West Virginia, I saw several signs for a fast-food restaurant called "Tudor's BISCUIT WORLD." Oh, the temptation... but I didn't stop, because I knew that the reality of a place called BISCUIT WORLD could not possibly measure up to my fantasy.

Sunday, October 17, 2004

"One of us... one of us..."

The Movie: Freaks, 1932 (Al Boasberg, Willis Goldbeck, Leon Gordon and Edgar Allan Woolf, screenwriters, from the novel by Tod Robbins; Tod Browning, dir.)
Who says it: The sideshow freaks
The context: This is the movie's climactic scene, when the freaks offer the trapeze artist Cleopatra (Olga Baclanova) redemption for her betrayal of the midget Hans (Harry Earles) -- at a terrible price.
How to use it: To welcome a newcomer in a really creepy way.

Yesterday's leg: 315 miles, .75 tanks of gas
Stops: Clifton Forge, VA (hometown of Peggy's college roommate, Krystal Dean); rest stop west of Charlottesville; Mechanicsville, VA

Dizzy and I stayed overnight with my sister Peggy and her family -- husband Scott, 16-month-old boys Henry (my godson) and Matthew, dog Ella and three cats (Agatha, Ollie and Charlie). Dizzy immediately terrorized two of the three cats, and we haven't seen any of them since.

This morning Peggy is decorating the house for Halloween; the Lavinders take Halloween very seriously, and I'm sorry I'll miss their party. One of the twins will be a fireman, one will be a devil, depending on how each one's behaving when the costumes go on.

Yesterday's drive took me through the New River Gorge, where leaves were at peak color. I was listening to the audio book of Krakatoa, by Simon Winchester. The first section of the book is a history of geology, which was especially interesting as I drove over the Appalachians. In Virginia, we're so proud of these mountains, and the tallest of them would only be a foothill in the Rockies.

Today we finish the drive to the Atlantic, and the first stage of the journey will be over.

Saturday, October 16, 2004

“Back off, man. I’m a scientist.”

The Movie: Ghostbusters, 1984 (Dan Ackroyd and Harold Ramis, screenwriters; Ivan Reitman, dir.)
Who says it: Bill Murray as Dr. Peter Venkman, a parapsychologist who doesn’t really believe in his subject
The context: The library administrator (John Rothman) challenges Venkman when he asks a librarian who’s just seen a ghost some personal and apparently irrelevant questions.
How to use it: To defend your questionable behavior from challenges. Especially useful if you are, in fact, a scientist.

Yesterday's leg: 530 miles, 1.75 tanks of gas
Stops: Mt. Vernon, IL; Griffin, IN; Ashland, KY; Charleston, WV

We interrupt this blog for a short rant about the use of "that" and "which," which came up with one of my clients again this week. British English and American English have different rules for these words, but here in the United States, the American rules apply.

American English uses "that" for necessary clauses that identify the subject of the sentence, and "which" for subordinate clauses that merely provide additional information about a subject identified by the rest of the sentence. Examples:

This is the dress that I bought for Anna's wedding.
The maroon dress, which I bought for Anna's wedding, was perfect for Jean's wedding as well.

A good general rule is that if you don't see a comma immediately before the word "which," you should probably use "that" instead.

Thanks, I feel better now.

Yesterday's trip was uneventful, although that stretch of I-64 between Evansville, IN and Lexington, KY is one of the most beautiful in the country. Leaves have changed; it's not just fall, it's late fall, which is a new experience for Dizzy.

Dizzy didn't really want to leave the Neelys' yesterday, and is losing enthusiasm for car rides. We'll probably stop overnight in Richmond, and stay with my sister Peggy and her family. They have one dog, two toddlers, and three cats, which Dizzy will be very excited about.

Friday, October 15, 2004

“You be careful out among the English.”

The Movie: Witness, 1985 (William Kelley and Earl W. Wallace, screenwriters; Peter Weir, dir.)
Who says it: Jan Rubes as Eli Lapp, an Amish elder
The context: Lapp is saying farewell to John Book (Harrison Ford), a big-city policeman who has become one of the community.
How to use it: As a farewell and a reminder not to get too distracted by the modern world.

Yesterday's leg: zero miles, zero gas
Games/toys played with: Fisher-Price Dollhouse, Cranium Hullabaloo, several cool Fisher-Price musical toys

Today's quotation comes courtesy of my brother Ed. Neither of us could quite remember if it was "the English," or "them English," but IMDb says, "the English," so I'll defer to them.

Dizzy and I are back on the road this morning, headed to Charleston, WV. Yesterday turned out to be a perfect day to take a break, because it poured rain (which you saw, if you watched the Cardinals-Astros game). But today is bright and sunny, so we're on our way.

It was nice to have the extra day in Missouri, though. Dizzy chased squirrels and chipmunks, and didn't seem to care about the rain. That surprised me, because in California, Dizzy took the rain personally; it's only rained about 20 times in his whole life. (That's about to change...) I got some work done, played dolls with Siobhan, and did arm curls with Joe.

Whenever Dizzy spends time with kids, I imagine that he wonders why we don't have any at our house. Not that we have a house, at the moment, but Dizzy doesn't know that.

I had hoped to see my pal and sometime client Scott Phillips while passing through St. Louis, but Scott and his family went to Wichita yesterday (he said it was planned in advance... certainly it couldn't be personal...). The movie of Scott's first book, The Ice Harvest, comes out later this year, and everyone should see it. In the meantime, read Cottonwood, his latest, which I worked on.

Thursday, October 14, 2004

“Do you ever get the feeling that there’s something going on that we don’t know about?”

The Movie: Diner, 1982 (Barry Levinson, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Kevin Bacon as Fenwick, a brilliant but lost young man in 1959 Baltimore
The context: City-dwellers Fenwick and Boogie (Mickey Rourke), out in the country, have just seen a beautiful young woman ride by on a horse.
How to use it: When encountering an unfamiliar culture.

Yesterday's leg: 480 miles, 1.75 tanks of gas
Stops: Vinita, OK; Conway, MO; Des Peres, MO
The stop I regret not making: "Barrels of Fun," featuring the World's Largest Barrel, in Lebanon, MO

Thanks to my friend Tom Ehrenfeld for reminding me of today's quotation.

Dizzy and I got a late start yesterday, because I had work to finish in the morning. I have, as usual, overestimated my ability to multi-task and underestimated my need to sleep. We're staying an extra night with the Neelys in St. Louis, so I can get some more work done today and hang out with the kids this evening.

Michelle and I were roommates in Alexandria an embarrassingly long time ago; I was a bridesmaid at her wedding to Chris, and am godmother to their daughter Siobhan. Erin, 5, and Siobhan, 4, are angelic-looking, extremely bright girls who also happen to be autistic. Erin was diagnosed when she was about two and a half, and Siobhan was diagnosed at 11 months.

The early diagnosis, combined with Michelle and Chris's passionate determination to get them the best possible treatment, made all the difference in the world. Erin's in regular kindergarten, and Siobhan will start to be mainstreamed in pre-school next year. If you met them, you probably wouldn't realize they were different from any other little girls, except that they're so bright.

This is not to suggest that they don't still have major challenges ahead. Autism is another country, the saying goes. Erin and Siobhan will always have to work harder than other people to participate fully in this world, and without the constant support and reinforcement they get from their parents and teachers, it would be too easy for them to retreat to that other country.

Besides Erin and Siobhan, Michelle and Chris have Joe, an adorable 10-month-old boy they adopted earlier this year from Korea. Joe thinks Dizzy is the greatest thing he's ever seen; he laughs and flaps his arms whenever Dizzy walks by. Dizzy thinks Joe is pretty great too, because Joe tends to drop Cheerios from his high chair.

Wednesday, October 13, 2004

“It ain’t through the eyes that one feels beauty – it’s how the heart hungers for something.”

The Movie: Alfie, 1966 (Bill Naughton, screenwriter; Lewis Gilbert, dir.)
Who says it: Michael Caine as Alfie, a charming cad
The context: Alfie has just been rejected by the one woman he loved, the older, wealthy Ruby (Shelley Winters).
How to use it: To express admiration for something no one else thinks is beautiful.

Yesterday's trip: 722 miles, 2.3 tanks of gas
Stops: Albuquerque, NM; Tucumcari, NM; Adrian, TX; Elk City, OK; Oklahoma City
Roadside attractions I did not stop for: Billy the Kid's tombstone; a "Bug Ranch" outside Amarillo, where half a dozen VW Beetles were half-buried in the ground at 45-degree angles; and the Largest Cross in the Western Hemisphere, "a spiritual experience you'll never forget," complete with gift shop.

My sister Susan lived in Albuquerque for a few years, and she told me yesterday that when she drove out from Virginia Beach, she almost turned around when she hit the stretch of I-40 around Amarillo. She thought it was ugly; it was so different from the environment we grew up in.

That area's gotten more rain than usual this year, though, so yesterday it was green -- as green as it ever gets -- and I thought it was really beautiful. The sky out there goes on forever.

I stopped at the Wal-Mart in Elk City to buy dog food. It's hard to deny the power of Wal-Mart; I went on a small shopping spree for Dizzy, and spent a grand total of $14. In the checkout line, I stood behind a rail-thin young woman who bought half a dozen boxes of Little Debbie snack cakes, some school supplies, a pack of cigarettes and two boxes of shotgun ammunition.

For the rest of the drive to Oklahoma City, I imagined what her life is like. Maybe she's a schoolteacher with a creative approach to classroom discipline.

Tuesday, October 12, 2004

“This is just like television, only you can see much further.”

The Movie: Being There, 1979 (Jerzy Kosinski, screenwriter, from his novel; Hal Ashby, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Sellers as Chance the Gardener
The context: Chance, who has spent his entire life inside his employer’s walled garden, takes his first ride in a car.
How to use it: To comment on a spectacular view.

Yesterday's leg: 645 miles, 2.25 tanks of gas
Stops: Needles, CA; Kingman, AZ; the Grand Canyon; Winslow, AZ; Gallup, NM

We had to stop in Needles because it's the fictional home of Snoopy's brother Spike. Charles Schulz used to show Needles as an empty landscape with a single cactus. That's not much of an exaggeration, so when I saw the sign advertising the Needles Marina, I thought it was a joke.

But Needles is on the Colorado River, and while the river's not pretty there, it's deep and wide enough to justify a boat ramp. There's even a small, muddy beach. I let Dizzy out and he had a great half hour chasing the ducks from the shore.

Kingman, where we stopped for lunch, is much more substantial. An Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad locomotive sits in a green patch in the center of town; Dizzy would have liked to investigate more closely, but two signs in the park said, "No dogs allowed."

The detour to the Grand Canyon added about 125 miles and more than three hours to the day's drive, but if I hadn't made the trip, I'd have regretted it forever.

We got there around 4:15, with the sun already low in the sky. Early morning and late afternoon must be the best times to see the canyon, so we arrived at almost the perfect time. In the gold of late afternoon, the walls of the canyon glow rose, green and blue. Everyone's seen the pictures, but they can't convey the enormity of it; the Grand Canyon stretches 56 miles east to west, as far as the eye can see in either direction.

People misuse and overuse the word "awe," but it's the appropriate word for the Grand Canyon, which inspires wonder and fear in equal measure. It's not just the size and it's not just the beauty, it's the feeling that somehow you're looking into the secret heart of the world. Which, geologically, you are.

It was dark by the time I passed the exit for the Petrified Forest, but that was probably good because otherwise I would have had to stop there, too. I have wanted to visit the Petrified Forest ever since I saw the slides on my Viewmaster when I was five. It'll have to wait for another trip. It was, however, responsible for my favorite new word of the last several months: "lithodendron." Look it up.

Monday, October 11, 2004

“We’re not little men, so we’re going away to be kings.”

The Movie: The Man Who Would Be King, 1975 (John Huston and Gladys Hill, screenwriters, from the story by Rudyard Kipling; John Huston, dir.)
Who says it: Michael Caine as Peachy Carnahan, adventurer, Freemason and former British soldier
The context: Peachy says this to Kipling (Christopher Plummer) before he and Daniel Dravot (Sean Connery) go off to become kings in Kafiristan.
How to use it: A great parting line when you quit a crummy job, or when you set out on a journey.

Whatever strange enchantment kept me in Los Angeles seems to be broken at last. I crossed the L.A. County line last night around 6:30, and suddenly realized I'd been clenching my jaw so hard my teeth hurt.

Maybe it was one last celebrity sighting that broke the spell: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Maria Shriver, at 9:30 Mass at Saint Monica's. I almost didn't go, but Gary said, "Uh -- maybe you should."

Saint Monica's must be one of the wealthiest parishes in the country, and I admit to being a spiritual snob about that kind of thing. It's a beautiful church, white and blue and gold, and the (contemporary) music at the 9:30 Mass is famous -- everyone involved seems to be a professional musician, and the sound quality is as good as a concert hall. It made me feel very, very cranky, especially when the parish treasurer stood up to give the church's annual financial report, and I heard that Saint Monica's surplus was more than my old parish's entire annual income.

So I was thinking that maybe I shouldn't have gone to church at all, or that I should have made the trip across town to my old parish. But the Mass is the Mass in a shack or a cathedral -- and the readings were all about gratitude, which seemed especially appropriate -- and then I saw the Governor and his wife in the Communion line, and I felt kind of blessed. I'm not sure what it says about me that my first thought when I saw them was, in fact, "Oh, it's the Governor," and not, "Hey, that's Arnold Schwarzenegger!"

Dizzy seemed a little anxious about packing the car, and was tense when we got on the highway -- understandable, considering our last experience on the highway -- but he had relaxed by the time we got to Barstow, and he's still asleep, which is unusual. Once he gets up, we'll be on our way to New Mexico, with a detour to the Grand Canyon.

I would say something about Barstow, but it wouldn't be anything kind. My friend Anna asked, "Who lives there?" and I said thoughtlessly, "Bikers and meth freaks." I'm sure this is not true, but Barstow does not present its best face to the transient visitor. At night it's a tangle of bright lights, cheap hotels, fast food restaurants and outlet stores; by day, it doesn't even have the pretty colored lights.

Sunday, October 10, 2004

“Everything begins and ends at exactly the right time and place.”

The Movie: Picnic at Hanging Rock, 1975 (Cliff Green, screenwriter, from the novel by Joan Lindsey; Peter Weir, dir.)
Who says it: Anne Lambert as Miranda, a student at a girls’ boarding school
The context: Miranda, her friends and a teacher go into the countryside for an outing; Miranda, two of her friends, and their teacher disappear, as if into thin air.
How to use it: To recognize the deepest order of the universe.

The universe will laugh at anything profound I try to say today, so I won't embarrass myself further. Tonight, God willing, Dizzy and I will sleep in Barstow. Tomorrow we'll see the Grand Canyon.

Steve, my high school boyfriend, is marrying his fiancee, Sherril, in Virginia Beach today. They'll make each other happy, I think, I hope. Sorry I can't be there. (I like to go to my old boyfriends' weddings; they'd all agree, I'm really a terrific ex-girlfriend.)

Saturday, October 09, 2004

"Goonies never say die!"

The Movie: Goonies, 1985 (Chris Columbus, screenwriter; Richard Donner, dir.)
Who says it: Sean Astin as Mikey Walsh, leader of The Goonies
The context: Mikey's persuading his friends to continue the search for pirate treasure, despite being chased by the evil Fratelli family.
How to use it: To encourage yourself and the people you’re working with.

Today's quotation is for my brother James, because he loves this movie.

I'm on my way to Santa Monica Volkswagen this morning because -- believe it or not -- the CHECK ENGINE light came on last night as I was driving across town.

Someone told me it's possible that this light means nothing, that it comes on at regular intervals to remind you to get your oil changed. This had better be true, because I can't imagine what else could be wrong with the car. In the past year, I have replaced the brakes, the battery, the serpentine belt, the radiator, the transmission and the alternator. What else is there? All fluids in this car are brand new, and the car only has 28,000 miles on it.

I'm calm. I'm proceeding on the assumption that this is minor and easily reparable. I AM leaving tomorrow night.

Update 12:30 p.m....

The car is fine. When I dropped it off this morning, the repairman told me that any of 85 separate items could make that light go on, ranging from minor to major.

Fortunately, this was minor -- a clogged air intake valve that was under warranty. They fixed it and replaced my air filter. Total charge to me: $19.95.


Friday, October 08, 2004

“Let joy be unconfined. Let there be dancing in the streets, drinking in the saloons and necking in the parlor.”

The Movie: A Night at the Opera, 1935 (George S. Kaufman and Morrie Ryskind, screenwriters; Sam Wood, dir.)
Who says it: Groucho Marx as Otis B. Driftwood, an opera business manager
The context: Driftwood introduces the opera after the usual series of mishaps.
How to use it: To announce almost any good news.

Mom should be home by now -- I am waiting an hour or two before I call, not only to give her time to reorient herself, but also to give her animals sufficient time for rejoicing.

Rather than stretch this endless farewell out any longer, I'm leaving town on Sunday night, immediately after my bookstore discussion group. Sunday night I'll go as far as Barstow, and then I'll follow the old Route 66: Gallup, NM on Monday night, Oklahoma City on Tuesday, St. Louis on Wednesday. In St. Louis I'll get to see my goddaughter, Siobhan, and her family. From there, I'll pick up I-64 and take it through Kentucky and West Virginia, all the way to Virginia Beach.

Sea to shining sea in five days, God willing.

Thursday, October 07, 2004

“Today, I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

The Movie: The Pride of the Yankees, 1942 (Jo Swerling and Herman J. Mankiewicz, screenwriters, from a story by Paul Gallico; Sam Wood, dir.)
Who said it: Gary Cooper as Lou Gehrig, the Yankee Clipper
The context: Gehrig bids farewell to a packed crowd at Yankee Stadium, forced to retire because of the crippling disease that will eventually kill him.
How to use it: To express deep, humble gratitude, especially when saying goodbye.

Mom's going home tomorrow. She'll be home when I get there next weekend. God bless the therapists at the Lake Taylor Transitional Care center.

One of my clients is Steve Bartlett, the CEO of a financial services association and a former Congressman. As part of the association's monthly newsletter, I help him write a column about whatever's on his mind that month. It really has been a privilege to listen to him think out loud. A theme that he comes back to, again and again, is how important it is to keep working at something, even after everyone else has decided it's a lost cause. If you stay at the table long enough, he says, the game changes -- you just need to be there when it does.

It would surprise Steve to know how often I think of that, and how much it's helped over the last couple of months. But I'm grateful.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

"Gentlemen, you can't fight in here -- this is the War Room!"

The Movie: Dr. Strangelove, or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love the Bomb, 1964 (Stanley Kubrick, Terry Southern & Peter George, screenwriters, from the novel by Peter George; Stanley Kubrick, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Sellers as President Merkin Muffley
The context: The Joint Chiefs of Staff’s disagreements over how to save the world from the Russians’ Doomsday Machine have degenerated into a free-for-all.
How to use it: To stop an argument.

Couldn't tell you why this movie occurred to me last night while I was watching the Vice Presidential debate... I had described it to my friend Anna earlier in the day as "Dr. Evil vs. Robin the Boy Wonder," and she replied that it was more like "Father Knows Best vs. Opie Taylor." Let's compromise and call it "Dr. Evil vs. Opie Taylor," okay?

And so much for trying to keep my own political views out of this blog.

My immediate family is a good microcosm of the American voting public, though (it helps that there are ten of us, including sons-in-law). At the moment, based on my own informal poll, we're evenly split between the two candidates, and a couple of us might even change our minds in the voting booth -- speaking strictly for myself, it's happened before.

Tuesday, October 05, 2004

"I've said that many times."

The Movie: Love and Death, 1975 (Woody Allen, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Woody Allen as Boris, Russian bourgeois-turned-soldier
The context: This is Boris’s response to his beloved Sonia (Diane Keaton), after she’s just spouted off an incomprehensible philosophical argument.
How to use it: To agree with something you don’t understand at all.

Being out at Gary's really is like being in the fairy world. It feels very isolated. Mornings are foggy and gray, and the air smells like citrus, flowers and the ocean. Spiders spin webs all over his yard; the webs keep the other bugs away, but make the dogs sticky when they run through them chasing squirrels.

The dogs want us to understand the serious threat that squirrels represent to life as we know it. Squirrels are wily and dangerous, and you can't take your eyes off them for a second. Not for a second. Unless you've got a cookie.

Like all security forces, though, Pete and Dizzy are challenged by the quality of their intelligence (in their case, their own intelligence). They chased a squirrel up a tree at the park the other morning, and then lost track of it in the branches. They wandered off for a minute until the squirrel chattered at them (it was hard not to see that as taunting), and then dashed back to the tree as if they'd just remembered there was a squirrel up there -- and then they got distracted again -- and then they remembered again: SQUIRREL!

I wish I'd had a video camera, it was as good as anything Laurel and Hardy ever made.

Monday, October 04, 2004

"A policeman's job is only easy in a police state."

The Movie: Touch of Evil, 1958 (Orson Welles, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Charlton Heston as Mike Vargas, a bilingual cop on the Mexican side of the border
The context: Vargas is the honest cop trying to save his wife (Janet Leigh), betrayed by the corrupt but effective police captain on the other side of the border (Orson Welles).
How to use it: It’s a fundamental political principle that no one should forget, now or ever.

Here's to Janet Leigh, a great and gracious lady who was also an author and an avid reader. I met her one night at The Mystery Bookstore when she came to a signing by her old editor, Laura Van Wormer, another great lady (who gets a lot of credit for my current profession). Miss Leigh was charming, funny, completely-down-to-earth, and still very beautiful in an almost translucent way.

I planned to do so much this weekend, and accomplished almost none of it. It's likely that I do this to myself on purpose -- stack up tasks to give myself an artificial sense of urgency that becomes real. My friend Jim Wells and I talked about this a long time ago; he's a good bit older than I am, so it made me feel better to know that older and more successful people procrastinate too.

At least I spent quality time with the dogs. When I walk them together, people stop their cars and ask, "What kind of dogs are those?" I am sorely tempted to make up a fancy, obscure-sounding breed name... it would be so easy to invent something and then see how many people started calling to look for them. Instead, I just smile and say, "Pointer mixes -- mixed with what, we don't know." Then the people say, "They're so beautiful," and I say, "Thanks," as if I had anything to do with it.

Sunday, October 03, 2004

"Sometimes, it just means, 'forget about it.'"

The Movie: Donnie Brasco, 1997 (Paul Attansio, screenwriter, from the book by Joseph D. Pistone and Richard Woodley; Mike Newell, dir.)
Who says it: Johnny Depp as Joe Pistone/Donnie Brasco, an FBI agent who goes undercover to join the Mafia
The context: Joe is explaining all the different uses for the phrase “forget about it,” to an FBI technician, echoing something his Mob mentor (Al Pacino) told him.
How to use it: To remind yourself that sometimes there is no hidden meaning.

I looked at my schedule for the week and thought, "Oh my gosh, it's my last week here!" And then I laughed. But one way or another it is my last week here. If the car dies again, it's late enough in the season that I can now fly with Dizzy, and I'll just sell that dang Blueberrymobile. We'll assume that won't be necessary.

Of course, none of my friends believe I'm leaving any more, either. The other night we were talking about where we'd gather to watch the second and third Presidential debates. Maeve said, "I won't be here for the second one," and I said, "I won't be here for the third one." Everyone just looked at me blankly for a minute... and then they laughed.

The most ridiculous thing is that I shipped all my cool-weather clothes to Maine already, thinking I wouldn't need them before I arrived. If I wind up having to buy new sweaters before I even leave, I'll be annoyed.

Saturday, October 02, 2004

"When you call me that, smile."

The Movie: The Virginian, 1929 (Edward E. Paramore Jr. and Howard Estabrook, screenwriters, from the novel by Owen Wister; Victor Fleming, dir.)
Who says it: Gary Cooper as The Virginian
The context: The Virginian says this to the outlaw Trampas (Walter Huston), when Trampas calls him a son-of-a-bitch
How to use it: As a non-confrontational response to an insult.

Today's quotation is in honor of Dad, because he actually says this line sometimes -- and because it's his birthday.

Rather than go out for dinner or drinks last night, a group of us went to play miniature golf in The Valley. Part of the Los Angeles culture is never leaving your own side of town; we who live on the Los Angeles side almost never go over the Hollywood Hills into The Valley, even though it's only about 15 minutes if the traffic's okay. It took me less time to get to Sherman Oaks than it would have taken to get to West Hollywood, but it really did feel as if I were crossing some invisible border.

Anyway, I love miniature golf, and I can't believe it's taken me five years to find this place -- just before I leave. Of course, of the five of us playing last night, I came in last. It's not about the competition, it's about the love of the game...

Mini-golf is one of my best childhood memories. It was something inexpensive that all of us kids could do with Dad, and in the summertime it was a way to stay up past our bedtime. The course at Little Creek Amphibious Base was bare-bones -- no plastic dinosaurs or windmills -- but it was exciting for us, every time.

Happy birthday, Dad, and thanks for everything.

Friday, October 01, 2004

"Follow the money."

The Movie: All the President’s Men, 1976 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from the book by Carl Bernstein and Bob Woodward; Alan J. Pakula, dir.)
Who says it: Hal Holbrook as Deep Throat, the reporters’ secret source of information on the Watergate break-in
The context: This is the only hint Deep Throat can give Woodward and Bernstein about how to identify those ultimately responsible for the break-in.
How to use it: Sadly, it’s relevant to almost any political conversation.

An old boss of mine often began sentences, "As a pleasure-seeking, pain-avoiding individual..." and while I got tired of hearing it -- it was a stock phrase in briefings we gave at least once a week -- it's stuck with me. Advertisers understand this, and the people who package political candidates understand it too.

It's my friend Maeve's first Presidential election since she became a citizen, so she had everyone over last night to watch the first debate. It would have been a good opportunity to wear my newly-painted t-shirt -- Sheila and Lanette wore theirs, which say "Dissent is Patriotic," and Thomas wore his, which says, "Fight Truth Decay" -- but mine's in the laundry.