Tuesday, November 30, 2004

"Well, that can't be good."

The Movie: Evolution, 2001 (David Diamond, David Weissman and Don Jacoby, screenwriters; Ivan Reitman, dir.)
Who says it: Dan Ackroyd as Governor Lewis
The context: A National Guard officer informs the Governor that they have just lost video feed of the devastation being wrought by alien invaders.
How to use it: To express alarm in an understated way.

What a waste of talent this movie was. It's a good line, though, if only because I already say it all the time.

Yesterday I called my movers, and talked -- again -- to a nice dispatcher named Penny. Penny had no memory of having talked to me at least twice before (I've also talked to a dispatcher named Nina), and no memory of having read the e-mails I've sent them. She could not tell me the status of my shipment, but spent a good ten minutes explaining the process for filing a claim or a complaint. Then she said she'd look into things and call me back.

She called back to say that my belongings were still in California, because they haven't yet been able to find a truck that's going to Maine. She assured me that her manager would be making calls all day to find a truck, and that she'd call me today to let me know the status.

It doesn't surprise me that he's having a hard time finding anyone else moving from California to Maine, because let's get real -- who does that? And who does that at the beginning of winter, for heaven's sake? Hee. (That's half a giggle, which is all I can muster.)

"What is it with you and stuff?" my freshman roommate Leigh asked last night, on the phone.

"I don't know," I said. I think the universe is calling me on my claim that I don't really care about material possessions.

Monday, November 29, 2004

“When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad…"

The entire quote: "When you go looking for something specific, your chances of finding it are very bad. Because of all the things in the world, you're only looking for one of them. When you go looking for anything at all, your chances of finding it are very good. Because of all the things in the world, you're sure to find some of them."
The Movie: Zero Effect, 1998 (Jake Kasdan, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Bill Pullman as Daryl Zero, the world’s greatest detective
The context: Zero is describing his investigative techniques as we see him search a client’s office.
How to use it: As a life philosophy, it works for me.

I just looked at my Blogger profile and was surprised to see that I hadn't listed this movie among my favorites, because it's right up there. It's just wrong that more people haven't seen it; it's a modern retelling of the Sherlock Holmes story "A Scandal in Bohemia," and Bill Pullman has never been better. Plus, my friend Hugh has a small but pivotal role in it.

Maybe this will be the week that my car gets fixed, and my stuff arrives from California. I feel weirdly complacent about it, though... it's a bright sunny day, I'm getting my work done, and the world is a friendly place today. If I spend another week fighting with the air mattress, I'm still better off than most of the world.

Anna and Tarren are back from Africa, just for a few days before they're off again, this time to Washington. Anna called me last night and said, "Let's have dinner, what's your week like?" I said, "Let me check," and pulled up my calendar on Outlook.

"Gee," I said. "Monday I have... nothing. And Tuesday, I have... nothing. Let's check Wednesday... yep, nothing. And it looks like Thursday is clear too." "So Tuesday, then," Anna said.

Don't get me wrong: this was part of the point of moving to Maine, because I'm bad about overcommitting and overpromising and rushing around doing, rather than being. It's been great having so much open time, and it helps that I haven't had a television. I'm even wondering whether I want to hook mine up, once it finally arrives from California.

Sunday, November 28, 2004

“Ad hoc, ad loc, and quid pro quo! So little time, so much to know!”

The Movie: Yellow Submarine, 1968 (Al Brodax, Jack Mendlesohn, Lee Minoff and Erich Segal, screenwriters; George Dunning, dir.)
Who says it: Dick Emery as the voice of Jeremy Hilary Boob, Ph.D., aka the Nowhere Man
The context: Jeremy is introducing himself to the Beatles, who have come to his land in a yellow submarine.
How to use it: When you’re cramming for a test or researching something new.

Happy birthday today to Leigh Peele, my freshman roommate and the person who first showed me that L.A. really could be a great place.

Maine has an amazingly good library system. The Gardiner Public Library is better than any public library in Los Angeles, except for the central one downtown. But even the smallest towns have well-tended libraries; the one in China had as good a selection of children's books as I've seen.

I just love the idea of libraries -- that you can take away a book, read it, bring it back and take out another one, and it doesn't cost anything. Except for late fees, which I wind up paying more often than I should.

Saturday, November 27, 2004

“You’ll shoot your eye out!”

The Movie: A Christmas Story, 1983 (Jean Shepherd, Leigh Brown, and Bob Clark, from the novel by Jean Shepherd; Bob Clark, dir.)
Who says it: Melinda Dillon as Ralphie’s Mom, Tedde Moore as Miss Shields, and Jeff Gillen as Santa Claus
The context: All Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) wants for Christmas is an Official Red Ryder Carbine-Action Two-Hundred-Shot Range Model Air Rifle… but this is the response he gets.
How to use it: In response to someone else’s wish for something that probably won’t be good for them.

Santa Claus arrives in Gardiner this morning at the town's Christmas parade. My belief is Santa Claus is well-documented, and I'll doubtless return to this theme during the holiday season, but it does trouble me to see so many impostors running around. Of course, if Santa Claus were an author, he wouldn't make any appearances before Christmas, preferring to wait until Christmas Day to show up and accept praise and thanks from grateful children everywhere.

People have said to me several times, when I mentioned I was looking for one item or another, "Oh, you might have to go to the May-Maw," or, "Yeah, you'll probably find one at the May-Maw." It took me a while to realize that what they were saying was Maine Mall, which is this huge shopping mecca just outside of Portland. Not quite as big as Potomac Mills or Cabazon, bigger than Tysons Corner. I drove by there yesterday, took one look at the parking lots, and drove on.

Friday, November 26, 2004

“This was not just a matter of chance. These strange things happen all the time.”

The Movie: Magnolia, 1999 (P. T. Anderson, director and screenwriter)
Who says it: Ricky Jay as The Narrator
The context: The Narrator opens the movie by telling three stories of apparent coincidence, in which strangers came together to form life-altering patterns.
How to use it: To acknowledge synchonicity.

I don't believe in astrology -- we've discussed this -- but I'm willing to consider that it's more than coincidence that my friends and family's birthdays cluster around particular times of year -- mid-February, mid-April, the two weeks from May 30 to June 14, and from right now til mid-December.

Half a dozen people who are important to me share this birthday, including my sisters Peggy and Susan and my brother Ed. So happy birthday, everyone, and forgive me if cards and gifts arrive a little late this year. I've been distracted.

Last night I drove up to Waterville to see "Sideways" -- terrific -- and had dinner at the Senator Inn in Augusta. I even tried a little Indian pudding, which turns out to be meat-free (thank goodness), and something in the bread pudding/plum pudding family.

Thursday, November 25, 2004

“If that don’t beat all. I never saw such a dog.”

The Movie: Old Yeller, 1957 (Fred Gipson and William Tunberg, from Gipson’s novel; Robert Stevenson, dir.)
Who says it: Dorothy McGuire as Katie Coates, a rancher’s wife on the 1860s frontier
The context: Old Yeller has just saved Katie’s son, Arliss, from a bear.
How to use it: To express respect for any great dog.

I'm sure I've seen this movie, but it's the book I remember reading -- in fourth grade, I think, when I read all the great dog books: Lad, A Dog; The Call of the Wild; Sounder; Lassie Come Home. I remember feeling frustrated that my mother's beagle-basset hound mix, Penny, wasn't more of an Adventure Dog, and thinking that when I grew up I'd have a big dog. And my own room.

So now I'm grown up, and I have a big dog and my own room.

But today's quotation honors Murray, my friend Ann Marie's dog, who passed on yesterday after a very long, very happy life. Murray was Dizzy's first dog friend and mentor; he was the one who introduced Dizzy to the joys of searching counters and knocking over trash cans for food.

Murray, a white Lab, would eat anything he could reach, and quite a lot he couldn't. His finest moment was cracking open a theoretically dogproof "food safe" and eating almost all of its contents before passing out with five pounds of kibble in his belly.

But Murray was also a great hiker, a sympathetic listener, and a world-class cuddler. He liked car rides and baths, and hated non-neutered dogs. He had as good a sense of humor as any dog I've known, and sometimes actually looked as if he were laughing.

So now, wherever he is, it's Thanksgiving every day, and he finally gets to eat as much as he wants. Good dog, Murray.

Wednesday, November 24, 2004

“Oh, my friends – I’m so pleased you’re not dead!”

The Movie: Raiders of the Lost Ark, 1981 (Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriter, from a story by George Lucas and Philip Kaufman; Steven Spielberg, dir.)
Who says it: John Rhys-Davies as Sallah, Indiana Jones’ archeological dig foreman
The context: Sallah greets Indiana (Harrison Ford) and Marian (Karen Allen) after their escape from Nazis
How to use it: To greet friends you haven’t seen in a while.

I'm posting late today and this is just a quotation I like, apropos of nothing in particular. It might come in handy over the holidays.

The air mattress situation is getting completely out of hand. I patched it again before going to bed last night, but it's still leaking... I woke up on the floor a little after 3:00 this morning, added more duct tape, reinflated the thing, and was fighting my way out of it again at 8:00 a.m.

So this morning I'm very, very, very tired. Very. Tired.

Tuesday, November 23, 2004


The Movie: A Fish Called Wanda, 1988 (John Cleese, screenwriter; Charles Crichton, dir.)
Who says it: Kevin Kline as Otto, ex-CIA assassin and clueless would-be uebermensch (but don't call him stupid)
The context: Otto and his girlfriend, Wanda (Jamie Lee Curtis) have just broken into a safe to discover that the proceeds of their diamond robbery -- which they had planned to steal again -- are missing.
How to use it: To express frustration and -- uh -- disappointment.

My car won't be fixed until the middle of next week, at the very earliest. The deja vu was funny at first, but it's not any more.

So I'll be here for Thanksgiving. This morning I'm calling around to see whether anyone needs volunteers at the food bank or at Gardiner Area High School, where they're serving Thanksgiving dinner. At least this way I should meet some nice people.

Oh, and today's quotation is thanks to the ever-vigilant Susi Schulz, who suggested it last week. Several years ago I spent Thanksgiving with the Schulzes in London, and Sue and I had a traditional American Thanksgiving dinner at Simpsons on the Strand, which was mildly surreal. The British have a very different concept of cranberry sauce than we do... not bad, just different.

Monday, November 22, 2004

“All they do is give out awards. Greatest Fascist Dictator, Adolf Hitler.”

The Movie: Annie Hall, 1977 (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, screenwriters; Woody Allen, dir.)
Who says it: Woody Allen as Alvy Singer, a comedian and writer
The context: Alvy’s talking about the Los Angeles entertainment industry, as he’s losing his girlfriend Annie (Diane Keaton) to a music producer who’s about to get an award.
How to use it: It’s an accurate observation not only of Hollywood, but of several other subcultures as well.

Writers are great ones for giving awards to each other, and it annoys me. It's not as if most writers aren't self-obsessed, envious and miserable enough already -- and yes, I know plenty of exceptions, but these qualities are common enough (I include myself in the sample) to justify the stereotype.

But I thought about this recently as I was looking through a copy of The Best American Poetry 2004 -- it was reviewed in yesterday's New York Times, and I felt annoyed all over again. Poetry, of all things, is an area where prizes might matter, because no one gets rich writing poetry, except that woman who does all the greeting cards. Few Americans actually read modern poets, and those who do might well pick up this book -- as I did -- and then go looking for more work by some of the poets included.

If, that is, they liked the poems. This year's collection emphasizes "experimental" poetry, and quite a lot of it seems to be written for other poets to admire, not for someone like me to read.

It exasperates me beyond words. Too many poets whine about how no one reads poetry, and here's the one book all year that might bring people back to it, and it's not directed toward the casual reader at all.

Not to say that the poets in this book aren't deserving -- frankly, I don't know enough about poetry to be able to tell, and this book just reinforced that feeling.

It sent me right back to Yeats -- again -- and he's been dead for 65 years.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

“Because I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me.”

The Movie: Stuart Saves His Family, 1995 (Al Franken, screenwriter, from his book; Harold Ramis, dir.)
Who says it: Al Franken as Stuart Smalley, the twelve-steppingest man in America
The context: This is how Stuart ends all of his “Daily Affirmations.”
How to use it: To boost your self-esteem. Really.

I woke up this morning to discover that my air mattress had sprung a leak overnight. Dizzy and I were sunk deep into the middle of it, with the sides caging us in. I still haven't figured out where the leak is. I miss my own stuff; the movers say they'll be here sometime the first week of December.

Yesterday was a bright sunny day, and I met my friend Anna's parents, Mary and Jerry Maschino, for lunch at the A-1 Diner in Gardiner. The A-1 has a cook who's worked there for 50 years, for three different owners who ran the place under three different names. It's a traditional-looking place -- a converted railcar -- with an unconventional menu. For lunch yesterday, I had gorgonzola risotto cakes, and Mary had a mushroom-tofu fricassee. (They have normal diner food, too: Jerry had fish and chips.)

Today it's gray and rainy, and there was even a bit of snow on the ground this morning. Dizzy paid no attention to it, although he's never seen snow.

Saturday, November 20, 2004

“I had reckoned on my prime lasting till I was at least 50.”

The Movie: The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, 1969 (Jay Presson Allen, screenwriter, from the novel by Muriel Spark; Ronald Neame, dir.)
Who says it: Maggie Smith as Miss Jean Brodie, a maverick schoolteacher and Fascist sympathizer
The context: Miss Brodie confronts the consequences of her life decisions, which have led to the destruction of everything she loves.
How to use it: To acknowledge that it might be time to change your ways.

It's my birthday. I have no profound insights to share on the occasion, except to say thanks, Mom and Dad, and happy birthday to Kathy -- four minutes older, now and forever, but of course you are still in your prime.

Friday, November 19, 2004

“Wait till they get a load of me.”

The Movie: Batman, 1989 (Sam Hamm and Warren Skaaren, screenwriters, from characters by Bob Kane; Tim Burton, dir.)
Who says it: Jack Nicholson as The Joker
The context: The Joker is reading a newspaper account of Batman’s exploits.
How to use it: When you’re getting ready to show off.

Look at me, I have a cable modem! Hurray. I also theoretically have cable TV now, but since I don't have a television yet, I don't know that for sure.

Technology increases everyone's expectations of each other, and freelancing means making oneself available to clients at almost any time of day. Sometimes I think I have less control over my time as a freelancer than I did when I was a salaried employee.

The cable modem gives me yet another e-mail address, and I already had to set up another new e-mail address last week, to join a list-serve for one of my clients. Now I have four e-mail addresses that I know about, and if I let myself, I'd do nothing all day but check them to see whether anyone was trying to get in touch with me. Good grief.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

“I’m an excellent driver.”

The Movie: Rain Man, 1988 (Ronald Bass and Barry Morrow, screenwriters; Barry Levinson, dir.)
Who says it: Dustin Hoffman as Raymond Babbitt, an autistic man
The context: Raymond wants his brother Charlie (Tom Cruise) to let him drive their father’s car.
How to use it: Ironically, to acknowledge that you’re not really a very good driver.

I'm not a terrible driver, although my friend Randy White would probably disagree with that -- don't ask, it's a painful memory.

It's a little worrying, though, that it was so easy for me to get a Maine driver's license. No written test, no road test, just an eye test, my old license, and 40 bucks. And it was even more worrying that all my information was already in the Maine Bureau of Motor Vehicles' computer, apparently from the car accident earlier this month. Yikes.

But now I'm official. The car's not registered in Maine yet, because the car is still in the shop -- and likely to be so until at least the middle of next week, which complicates my Thanksgiving plans. Did we already talk about deja vu?

Wednesday, November 17, 2004

“I brought you some hard-boiled eggs, and some nuts.”

The Movie: County Hospital, 1932 (H. M. Walker, screenwriter; James Parrott, dir.)
Who says it: Stan Laurel as Mr. Laurel, a hospital visitor
The context: Mr. Laurel is visiting Mr. Hardy, whose broken leg is in traction; Mr. Hardy doesn’t care for either hard-boiled eggs or nuts.
How to use it: To put the best possible spin on a totally inadequate gift.

I sympathize with Ollie's disgust in this scene, because he'd rather have candy -- who wouldn't? -- and I'd rather eat a bug than a hard-boiled egg. But the humor is in Stan's pride and hope that his offering will be acceptable, although he knows just how lame it is.

This quote occurred to me this morning while I was sending my twin sister a birthday present. You'd think that I would know her better than I know anyone, and that therefore I'd know exactly what she likes, but I don't. So Kathy, if you don't like this, maybe you can exchange it.

This morning's news that Sears and K-Mart are merging alarms me slightly, but I couldn't explain why. In honor of the news, I'll probably go buy something at Reny's today.

Tuesday, November 16, 2004

"A dream is a wish your heart makes."

The Movie: Cinderella, 1950 (eight screenwriters – eight! – from a story by Charles Perrault; three directors)
Who says it: Ilene Woods as the voice of Cinderella
The context: Cinderella dreams of love and escape as she drudges away for her wicked stepmother and evil stepsisters.
How to use it: Even Bill Gates must get a little wistful sometimes.

Cinderella is a wicked movie not only because it gives little girls unrealistic expectations about Prince Charming, but also because it gives little girls unrealistic expectations about the possibility of one day finding a shoe that really fits.

I woke up in a cold sweat one night this summer, realizing that the move to Maine meant that I'd have to buy new shoes. I've spent most of my life avoiding shoes, and I always hated socks; one great advantage of Los Angeles was that I could and did wear sandals, or even flip-flops, year-round.

But there's no getting around it: Maine requires shoes. And socks. It says a lot about how quickly my perspectives have changed that I asked only for socks for this year's birthday -- and I was thrilled when my sister Peggy sent me a box of them, yesterday.

They say that middle age is a time of adjusting one's expectations, but to go from dreams of love to dreams of socks is humbling.

Monday, November 15, 2004

“It’s a one-way trip, and the last stop is the cemetery.”

The Movie: Double Indemnity, 1944 (Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, screenwriters, from the novel by James M. Cain; Billy Wilder, director)
Who says it: Edward G. Robinson as Barton Keyes, a veteran insurance investigator
The context: Keyes knows that Phyllis Dietrichson (Barbara Stanwyck) conspired with someone to kill her husband, and that this alliance will lead to their destruction.
How to use it: To advise someone against a course of action, although this line is true of all of us at all times.

The Oak Grove Cemetery in Gardiner (est. 1844) is the best off-leash dog park in town; a neighbor told Dizzy and me about it the other morning. It's three blocks south of the town common, an easy half-mile's walk from my apartment. Our routine in the morning is to get up, go to the cemetery, then walk through the town common and down the hill to the post office. Across from the post office is A-1 to Go, a gourmet food shop that sells excellent coffee and muffins, and then it's another quick half-mile up the hill to the apartment.

When I told Gary about the cemetery/dog park last night, he said, "That's it. Another reason I'm getting cremated. I don't want dogs peeing all over me." It's one point of view, and I understand some might find it disrespectful -- although I wouldn't let Dizzy pee on a headstone. But I like the idea of live, happy people going to graveyards for some reason other than to mourn the dead. My own dead relatives are buried in cemeteries in suburban New York and Charleston, SC, and I never go visit them there. I'd like to think that someone occasionally walks by their headstones and wonders about their lives, as I do at Oak Grove.

This morning I'm getting kitchen furniture delivered, and this afternoon I might even get cable.

Sunday, November 14, 2004

“Yeah yeah, sure sure.”

The Movie: The Hudsucker Proxy, 1994 (Ethan Coen, Joel Coen and Sam Raimi, screenwriters; Joel Coen, dir.)
Who says it: Paul Newman as Sidney J. Mussburger, second in command and heir apparent to the top job at Hudsucker Enterprises
The context: Mussburger says this frequently to interrupt colleagues and employees who are wasting his time.
How to use it: To move on to the next subject. My friend Anna says this a lot, actually, and I hope it's not just to me.

Late blog posting today -- it was a busy day. First and most important, happy birthday to the radiant and wise Carla Forbes-Kelly, although it is no longer her birthday in Singapore (where she lives).

Carla was one of my very first friends in college. I can no longer remember how we met, but it's an interesting case study of recovered-memory syndrome. For years I was sure we'd met in Father Schall's class on Elements of Political Theory; I could even remember where Carla sat, a couple of rows behind me, Eileen, and our friends Nancy and Chris.

A year or two, though, I mentioned this to Carla, and she said, "I didn't have Father Schall for Elements of Political Theory." "You didn't?" I asked, flabbergasted. "No," she said. I started to argue with her about it, then realized that was absurd; she'd know better than I what courses she took 20 years ago.

Still, my mind's eye sees her in that classroom. Weird.

Saturday, November 13, 2004

“Be excellent to each other.”

The Movie: Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure, 1989 (Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, screenwriters; Stephen Herek, dir.)
Who says it: Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston, Esq., a San Dimas High School senior; George Carlin as Rufus, an Emissary from the Future
The context: Bill says this to the ruling cadre of the society of the future, thus forming the basis for a new world religion.
How to use it: Another perfect wedding toast, bafflingly under-used.

Happy anniversary to my sister Peggy and her husband Scott, and happy birthday to my uncle Gerry McLaughlin. It's getting to be birthday season in my family, but that will be the subject of another post.

This morning I may be slightly impaired by fumes... finished painting the bathroom last night, then put up a new shower curtain. If someone could manufacture a new shower curtain that didn't smell like a new shower curtain, they'd make a million dollars.

No snow last night, though it was bitterly cold. My air mattress was a little too close to the window, and I woke up around midnight because the back of my neck was so cold I was having muscle spasms.

But it could be worse. My friend Eileen was living in St. Petersburg in the early 1990s, researching her dissertation, and I went to visit toward the end of her stay. She had in-laws in Moscow, so we took the overnight train to see them. We splurged on a first-class sleeper compartment; at the absurd exchange rate of the time, I think it cost us about $12. Unfortunately, that sum didn't guarantee us any heat. I've never been so cold in my life. By the end of the night, Eileen and I were wearing every piece of clothing we had, and were curled into balls at the edge of the compartment, trying to catch the draft of warm air coming from the passageway.

I believe that was the night that ended my moral objections to fur.

Friday, November 12, 2004

“Shane! Come back!”

The Movie: Shane, 1953 (A. B. Guthrie, Jr., from the novel by Jack Schaefer; George Stevens, dir.)
Who says it: Brandon De Wilde as Joey Starrett, child of a homesteading family on the Wyoming frontier.
The context: The gunfighter Shane (Alan Ladd) had hoped to put his violent past behind him. But he can’t help who he is – all he can do is try to put his violent nature to the service of others, and stay away from peaceful people. This is the last line of the movie. Anyone who doesn’t cry at the end of Shane is someone I don’t want to know.
How to use it: To say goodbye to someone you're really going to miss.

It makes my mother crazy to think of me talking on the phone while I drive, but the only place I have a cell phone signal is inside about ten square miles within the Augusta city limits. I can and do sit in parking lots to use my phone, but I haven't been able to avoid driving and talking. Yesterday I was talking to my friend Matt when the signal disappeared, and this line immediately came to mind. "Is there anything you miss about L.A.?" Matt had asked, and I said, "Just you guys."

But the good news is that the land-based phone line should be hooked up this afternoon, and Dizzy and I are moving into the apartment for real in a couple of hours. I spent yesterday afternoon painting the bathroom and getting a few things set up in the kitchen, and I'll sleep on an air mattress until my furniture arrives (anyone's guess).

And the even better news is that my cousin Kathleen and her husband Mark welcomed Owen's baby sister into the world yesterday afternoon. Which is yet another line from yet another movie... Olivia de Havilland in Gone with the Wind, "The happiest days are the days when babies come!"

It would be nice to imagine that I'll stop thinking in movie lines when I get to the end of this blog. Since the blog exists because I think in movie lines, it's not going to happen.

Thursday, November 11, 2004

“Come to think about it, most people like a good laugh more than I do, but that's beside the point!”

The Movie: …And Now for Something Completely Different, 1971 (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, screenwriters; Ian MacNaughton, dir.)
Who says it: Graham Chapman as The Sergeant-Major
The context: The Sergeant-Major is protesting the movie’s increasing silliness, and warning the film-makers to shape up.
How to use it: To defend yourself when you don’t think something is funny.

"You have no sense of humor" is the conversational equivalent of a tactical nuclear weapon. It's impossible to defend against, because everyone knows that the people who brag about their sense of humor are the ones who don't have any.

I once asked a friend who's a child psychiatrist how babies decide something is funny; how do they know enough to recognize the absurd? He said, "Babies laugh when something is surprising, but not scary." That sounds right to me, especially since it's still the basis of most of what I find funny. (Jack-in-the-boxes: scary, not funny. Clowns: scary, not funny. Why in the world do parents inflict these things on their children?)

But I'll admit that my sense of humor depends a lot on my overall mood, and even more on whether the humor's at someone else's expense. I don't think "Crank Yankers" is funny; these people didn't ask to be called by deranged puppets. I don't want to hear overaged frat boys' allegedly hilarious stories about the times they humiliated civilians. (Okay, I did laugh at Old School. Anyone who can't laugh at Will Ferrell is past saving.)

Today's rant has no real point, except that I wish I could have dredged up even a scrap of humor for any of the conversations I had yesterday morning: with the insurance adjuster who'd made no effort to call me in the six days since my car accident; with the phone company representative who still can't hook up my phone, having no disconnect order from the previous tenant; with the moving company that has most of my worldly possessions in an unhitched trailer somewhere in the California desert.

Three months from now, when Dizzy and I are comfortably installed in the Water Street apartment and enjoying all the wonders of technology, this will be funny. But that's another quotation for another day (Alan Alda in Crimes and Misdemeanors: "Comedy is tragedy, plus time. Tragedy, plus time.").

Wednesday, November 10, 2004

“Once again, things that could have been brought to my attention YESTERDAY!”

The Movie: The Wedding Singer, 1998 (Tim Herlihy, screenwriter; Frank Coraci, dir.)
Who says it: Adam Sandler as Robbie Hart, the wedding singer
The context: Robbie’s fiancée Linda (Angie Everhart) explains that she stood him up at the altar because she thinks he’s a loser.
How to use it: Whenever you’re surprised by information you really should have had.

My friend Tom Ehrenfeld thought I should have used this quotation after last week's election, but I knew it would soon come in handy for any number of other reasons.

The phone in my apartment isn't working yet, because the previous tenant hadn't called to disconnect his old phone number. The Verizon representative said, "Well, your landlord can call to ask us to disconnect the phone," but my landlords are in Cape Town, South Africa, at the moment, on their way to Lesotho.

Fortunately, I met two of my neighbors yesterday, and one of them knows how to get in touch with the previous tenant, so maybe this can all get taken care of today. If the phone's working, Dizzy and I will start staying at the new place tonight.

It's not quite 20 degrees outside, but Dizzy seems to like it, and it bothers me much less than I thought it would.

Tuesday, November 09, 2004

“There he goes, one of God’s own prototypes… too weird to live, and too rare to die.”

The Movie: Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas, 1998 (Terry Gilliam, director and screenwriter, from the book by Hunter S. Thompson)
Who says it: Johnny Depp as Raoul Duke, a chemically-enhanced journalist
The context: Duke is describing Dr. Gonzo (Benicio Del Toro), his Samoan lawyer, drug connection, and partner in crime.
How to use it: If you don’t have at least one friend you can say this about, you need some new friends – unless all your friends say this about you.

This movie tested my vow that I would gladly watch Johnny Depp in anything. Friends of mine love it, and it does have its moments, but I watched it on a day when I just wasn't in the mood for non-linear narrative. It's a great quotation, though.

This morning I'm tired. I wish I could wave a magic wand and bring the moving truck here immediately, because I want my stuff, and I want to set my apartment up, and I want to get back into some kind of routine.

My phone hadn't been hooked up yet by the time I left my apartment yesterday, but maybe it will be when I go back there this afternoon. Dizzy and I will start camping out there this weekend, whether my stuff is here by then or not.

Monday, November 08, 2004

“If you build it, he will come.”

The Movie: Field of Dreams, 1989 (Phil Alden Robinson, director and screenwriter, from the novel by W. P. Kinsella)
Who says it: Lee Garlington as The Voice
The context: This disembodied message from an Iowa cornfield convinces farmer Ray Kinsella to plow down his crop and make a baseball diamond.
How to use it: To justify a completely irrational decision.

As I begin the process of settling in, I realize what a crazy thing I've done -- and the effect of this is not to make me regret it, but to make me happier about it, because I think it's going to turn out better than I could have imagined. Something about this place soothes me to the bottom of my soul. I had no idea, living in Los Angeles, how much I missed the rain and the dark green of pine trees.

This quotation occurred to me yesterday when I was reading an article about a big new bridge across the Kennebec River, which just happens to be opening on my birthday (the end of next week). The bridge will take heavy traffic out of downtown Augusta, which is good, but will drop it right onto Route 3, the two-lane road where I had the car accident last Thursday. This article quoted the Mayor of Augusta saying that he expected lots of new housing and businesses in the area just northeast of Augusta, although I hadn't noticed a housing shortage up here -- the reverse, if anything.

It would be too bad if civilization came too far out this way, though. Anna and Tarren live on an unpaved fire road on the southern side of China Lake. China Village, which this area theoretically belongs to, is a two-road hamlet seven miles up the road.

As small as China Village is, it has a beautiful library. I went there yesterday afternoon to hear a lecture by Doug Preston about the 1,000-mile journey he made on horseback, tracing Coronado's search for the Seven Cities of Cibola. Doug writes terrific thrillers and mystery novels, and is a good friend of a good friend, so it was an unexpected pleasure to see the lecture advertised at the local sandwich shop.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

“Good morning! And in case I don't see you, good afternoon, good evening, and good night.”

The Movie: The Truman Show, 1998 (Andrew Niccol, screenwriter; Peter Weir, dir.)
Who says it: Jim Carrey as Truman Burbank, a man who has unwittingly lived his entire life within the elaborate set of a television show.
The context: This is Truman’s standard greeting to his neighbors, but also the last line of the movie, as Truman leaves the stage.
How to use it: When you want to be polite to a friend or family member, but don’t really want to have a conversation.

Lots to do today, and I'm already running late if I want to get to 8:00 Mass in Gardiner. Gardiner's about a half-hour drive from China, but I'm a little nervous now about driving at my usual speed -- which, in my own defense, is nothing compared with certain friends of mine I'd rather not incriminate.

But I did pick up a rental car yesterday, and started the process of stocking the new apartment -- snow shovel, clock radio, new telephone, paint chips, much of which I got at Reny's, even though I missed the Early Bird Sale.

Saturday, November 06, 2004

“We have a piper down. I repeat, the piper is down.”

The Movie: So I Married an Axe Murderer, 1993 (Robbie Fox, screenwriter; Thomas Schlamme, dir.)
Who says it: Mike Myers as Stuart Mackenzie, Scottish nationalist and father to Charlie Mackenzie (Mike Myers)
The context: Stuart’s insistence that a wedding bagpiper play Rod Stewart songs has led to the piper’s collapse.
How to use it: To announce a minor crisis, with a Scottish accent. My brothers and sisters and I use this line a lot around the holidays.

I'll rent a car later this morning, but in the meantime my lack of transportation means that I'm missing the Early Bird Sale at Reny's, a discount store in downtown Gardiner. Reny's is hard to describe; it's like K-Mart, but more crowded, and with a much more eclectic inventory. It's a little like Honest Ed's in Toronto, but not as big or gaudy.

Several people have said to me, "If Reny's doesn't have it, you don't need it," and it might be true: they have everything from rugs to toothpaste. I went in there the other day to look for a shower curtain, but left after twenty minutes, feeling overwhelmed. Reny's has its own peculiar layout, and it's crammed with merchandise; once you figure it out, Anna says, you know where things are, but it takes a while.

A display of canned and bottled Maine foods mesmerized me for at least ten minutes. It reminded me of another line from this movie: "I think most Scottish cuisine is based on a dare." Bottles of clam juice, just clam juice, sold as if it were lemon juice. Lobster pate. Haddock chowder. Soldier beans -- soldier beans? -- and, most alarming of all, something called Indian Pudding.

Relations with the Native American community must be pretty bad up here, if they're still making people into pudding.

Friday, November 05, 2004

“Have you ever had déjà vu?”

The Movie: Groundhog Day, 1993 (Danny Rubin and Harold Ramis, screenwriters; Harold Ramis, dir.)
Who says it: Andie McDowell as Rita, a TV news producer
The context: Rita says this to Phil Connors (Bill Murray), an egomanical TV weatherman who’s living the same day over, and over, and over, and over…
How to use it: When it’s obvious that you’ve been here before.

Faithful readers of this blog will know, just from that line, that this posting will be about -- wait for it -- my car.

But it's not the car's fault this time, and although I have had two conversations in the last 24 hours with representatives of Progressive Insurance, I can already tell that this experience will be different from the last one.

Yesterday afternoon I needed to run some errands in Portland and Gardiner -- buy dog food, pick up my mail, shop for paint for the new apartment. I'm still living out in China, at Anna & Tarren's, until the phone's hooked up at the new place on Monday and I've got a couple of basic pieces of furniture. (My belongings from California, including my bed, should arrive sometime the third week of November.)

Route 3, which runs northeast from Augusta, is two lanes over rolling hills. A schoolbus stopped suddenly at the bottom of a hill, just the far side of the city line; a procession of cars, including mine, stopped abruptly behind it. The car behind me, driven by a very young woman who was running late for work, didn't stop in time.

Thank God, no one was hurt, but I think the girl's car was totaled, and my own poor Blueberrymobile was badly damaged: a smashed headlight, one taillight completely gone, back bumper crumpled, front bumper cracked. I was able to drive it away, and I'll be able to drive it down to Augusta for repairs, but it's not pretty.

It's the first serious car accident I've ever been in. Paramedics came and checked us all out; except for a little whiplash, I'm fine, and so was everyone else. Both the police and the paramedics were there within ten minutes, maybe even within five.

And not to be simple-minded and Spongebob Squarepants-ish about it (Mom, that would be "Pollyanna," for your generation), but it's kind of a lovely introduction to Maine. Almost everyone involved in this accident -- the woman whose car mine hit, the police officer who took our statements, the paramedics, the neighbor who called 911, the local Progressive insurance representative -- was incredibly kind, even good-humored. If this had happened in Los Angeles, I shudder to think how ugly it might have been.

So the car repair process starts again... and for those of you who think that this is a sign my car really is jinxed, all I can say is that the car took good care of me yesterday, and I'm not getting rid of it.

Thursday, November 04, 2004

“I had a farm in Africa…”

The Movie: Out of Africa, 1985 (Kurt Luedtke, screenwriter, from the book by Isak Dinesen; Sydney Pollack, dir.)
Who says it: Meryl Streep as Karen Blixen, aka the author Isak Dinesen
The context: This is the first line of both the movie and the book, as Dinesen starts to tell us the story of her time in Africa.
How to use it: To mock yourself when remembering past glories. To be really effective, you have to use the accent: “I haad a fahrm in Ahfrika…”

My friends/hosts/landlords, Anna and Tarren, leave today for three weeks in Africa, visiting friends who are currently posted to Lesotho. See, even Republicans are leaving the country! (Okay, cheap shot.) They're leaving just as we're about to get the first snow of the season. I can't wait to see what Dizzy thinks of it.

Today I have a serious pile of work to catch up on, because all I did yesterday was exchange e-mails and instant messages with friends, and obsess over political commentary -- Salon, the New York Times, Andrew Sullivan (not a good man, but a smart one), etc., etc. My friend Carla, in Singapore, pointed me to Nicholas Kristof's column in yesterday's Times. I completely agree with that piece, but then I also agree with Thomas's Friedman's column today.

I have a couple of last thoughts on this election -- not last thoughts, but the last ones I'm going to post. At least for today.

This is not the first time our country has been deeply divided over fundamental moral questions whose answers seemed obvious in retrospect -- the emancipation of slaves, fair treatment of immigrants, voting rights for women, and even whether we should enter the Second World War all had passionate opponents who were not evil but were dead wrong.

We got through those issues -- and we'll get through the current ones -- because the people who designed our system of government planned ahead for just these situations.

I talked, or e-mailed, with a couple of people yesterday who had some pretty wild fears about what a second Bush administration might bring. I sympathize with these fears, but everyone needs to take a deep breath and remember that our government is not a monolith. It's a deliberately complicated, inefficient network of checks and balances that is designed to prevent the tyranny of the majority.

The President alone has limited power; even a legislature dominated by his own party has the power to stop him, censure him, override him. The executive branch agencies theoretically implement the President's policies and the laws passed by Congress, but for better or worse, these agencies are actually run by long-entrenched civil servants reluctant to make any big changes. And the individual states retain a great deal of authority over the details of our daily lives -- things like marriage, reproductive rights, legal redress, consumer protection.

So my advice to my friends who are grieving over Tuesday's returns is just this: politics is local. You can change the system from within, and it starts at the neighborhood level. My friends in Los Angeles are some of the smartest people I've ever known, and guys, you should be running for office. This is all too important to be left to the people who ran the student council.

Wednesday, November 03, 2004

“We're not Watusi, we're not Spartans, we're Americans... That means that our forefathers were kicked out of every decent country in the world.”

The Movie: Stripes, 1981 (Len Blum & Daniel Goldberg and Harold Ramis, screenwriters; Ivan Reitman, dir.)
Who says it: Bill Murray as John Winger, who ends up in the Army more or less by accident.
The context: Winger rallies his misfit brothers-in-arms to make a daring raid behind the Iron Curtain.
How to use it: To express patriotism – well, if you’re a U.S. citizen.

I was voter #997 at the Gardiner Town Office yesterday afternoon, a little after 4:00 p.m. Gardiner's official population is only about 6,500 people, and the Town Office wasn't the only polling station, so turnout was high. For what might be the first time in my entire voting life, I voted with the local majority right down the line: Kerry for President, the incumbent (Tom Allen) for Congress, no on the tax cap, no on the bear-hunting ban.

Anna and Tarren had invited me down to the Maine Republican Party post-election celebration, in Portland, and I really did think about going... some of the nicest people I know are Republicans... but when I left the Town Office around 4:30, the sun had already set, and it was pouring rain. I couldn't see driving all the way to Portland and then all the way back, late at night, in the rain, after a beer or two. So I drove back to China and settled in for a long night of watching returns on the TV and the computer.

After 2000, what mattered most to me was that we have a definitive election result by the end of the night. By 11:30, it was clear that we wouldn't, so I went to bed.

And this morning things still don't look certain, although we seem to have re-elected the President. I say "we," because we're all part of the voting public, regardless of how we voted. In the days ahead, newscasters will point to the map of the United States, with its blue votes for Kerry and its red votes for Bush, and say that this means we're two countries.

That, excuse me -- I'm going to use a word I really hate here -- is bullshit. I've just spent sixteen days driving across the country, crossing the red states to get from one blue state to another, and it's just not true that people in Missouri are a different kind of Americans than people in California or people in Maine. Anyone who says so is a dangerous fool.

It's true that lifestyles and expectations are different in different parts of the country. It's true that the nature and quality of our school systems vary from one part of the country to another, and that we still have important regional differences (growing less distinct all the time).

But we're all Americans, and for better or worse that means we share these uniquely American qualities: an expectation of upward mobility; a trust in the legal system to correct any injustices done to us; a belief that every American, regardless of birth, should have the same access to opportunity; and a belief that hard work and good intentions make up for almost any shortcoming, even when they don't. We might disagree on how the system is supposed to work, but we do share these goals.

Over the auditorium in Georgetown University's Intercultural Center is a quotation from the Jesuit paleontologist, theologian and mystic Pierre Teilhard de Chardin: "The age of nations is past. It remains for us now to set aside our differences, and build the earth."

Teilhard was a little premature -- sometimes I think we're seeing a rebirth of the age of nations -- but it's a lovely thought. And maybe our last two Presidential elections suggest that the age of American political parties has passed, and it's time for us to figure out a better system.

Tuesday, November 02, 2004

"I see dead people."

The Movie: The Sixth Sense, 1999 (M. Night Shyamalan, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Haley Joel Osment as Cole Sear, a troubled child
The context: Cole admits the root of his problem to his therapist, Malcolm Crowe (Bruce Willis)
How to use it: When you’ve lost the ability to take in any more new information. Or when you see dead people.

Ah, you knew this line was coming. What could be more appropriate for the Dia de los Muertos? Sometimes the obvious choice is the right one.

I've been reading a lot of ghost stories lately, as seems appropriate for this time of year. John Connolly's new collection, Nocturnes, is excellent, and includes one story that shook me so badly I couldn't even finish it. The book's not available in the US until next spring, but you can order it from Amazon.co.uk.

Those stories sent me back to M.R. James, whose work I hadn't read since high school. Maybe this isn't healthy reading on the edge of the Maine woods... or then again, maybe this is the best stuff to be reading on the edge of the Maine woods. As Victoria Williams says, what we fear the most meets us halfway.

Which may be why I just can't wait to vote today. Election Day's always been as good as Christmas for me. In Los Angeles, I used to work the polls, which was a fascinating way to see cross-sections of the city I never would have otherwise. (Also, it made me feel young, since I was at least 30 years younger than most of the other pollworkers.)

My gracious hosts are active members of that other political party, although our views aren't really so different. They've been telling me all week that Maine has a special voting schedule for Democrats, and that I don't need to worry about it until Thursday, when they will have a special booth set up just for me. In Boston. These tactics reflect a shocking lack of faith in their own candidate, if you ask me.

The two big issues on today's ballot are whether to impose a statutory cap on property taxes and whether it should be a crime to hunt bears with bait, traps or dogs. My new apartment stands on the edge of a forest; I think I know how I'm voting on the bear question.

Monday, November 01, 2004

“You stay alive, no matter what occurs! I will find you.”

The Movie: The Last of the Mohicans, 1992 (Michael Mann and Christopher Crowe, screenwriters, from the novel by James Fenimore Cooper; Michael Mann, dir.)
Who says it: Daniel Day-Lewis as Hawkeye, the deerslayer
The context: Hawkeye and the woman he loves, Cora Munro (Madeleine Stowe), are separated as British settlers come under attack during the French and Indian War.
How to use it: Actually, it could come in handy if you’re shopping with a friend at the Augusta Wal-Mart.

This movie popped into my head last week, when I stopped at the James Fenimore Cooper rest area on the New Jersey Turnpike. Christopher Buckley once compared Tom Clancy to James Fenimore Cooper, calling both the worst best-selling authors of their day. The short biography at the rest stop makes Cooper sound like an insufferable prig. That puzzled me, because you'd think they'd show him in a better light if they went to the trouble of naming a service plaza after him.

I'd never read Last of the Mohicans until a couple of years ago, when my friend Sue Lin read it and passed her copy along to me. The movie is better, and not just because Daniel Day-Lewis is shirtless for a good deal of it.

We built a bonfire in the Bragdons' fire pit last night, down by the edge of the lake. It rained most of the day Saturday, into yesterday morning, but the wood still burned pretty well, and the sparks rose high into the pine branches above. Dizzy had never seen an open fire before, and didn't know quite what to make of it. I gave him a big bone -- in honor of Halloween, and to help him get in touch with the dominant primordial beast within -- and he took it well away from us, and ate the entire thing.

Today I get the keys to my new place, and the long process of settling in begins.