Thursday, March 31, 2005

“Well, we’ve been shaken out of the magnolias.”

The Movie: Watch on the Rhine, 1943 (Dashiell Hammett and Lillian Hellman, screenwriters, from the play by Lillian Hellman; Herman Shumlin, dir.)
Who says it: Lucile Watson as Washington socialite Fanny Farrelly
The context: Mrs. Farrelly has just been shaken out of her complacency by her son-in-law’s (Paul Lukas) murder of a Nazi informer (George Coulouris).
How to use it: To acknowledge a new level of political consciousness.

Do high school theater groups still perform this play? My high school did it a year or two after I graduated, and I remember it being preachy and stilted even then. I recently saw the movie, and it was dreadful, though Bette Davis looked pretty in it.

But I like magnolias. Anna and I were in Reny's one day last week, and a rotating display of seeds caught my eye. I would like to be the kind of person who can grow things from seeds. I would like to be the kind of person who can grow things at all; in this universe, I am the person who threw out a potted begonia last week because it was covered with an ominous white fuzz.

I have this great deck, though, and I'd like to be able to put some plants out there for the summer. The drug store down the street from me is advertising three rosebushes for $9.99, but that's just asking for trouble; if they did grow, I'd probably wind up with an infestation of aphids in my kitchen.

Magnolias, though, are a different story. They're evergreen, so they're frost-resistant, except for M. virginiana. I could have a small one in a big pot, and set up some lawn furniture next to it, and it'll be just like Tidewater... yeah...

Why is it that, wherever people go, we want to be able to pretend to be somewhere else? That's a discussion for another day.

Wednesday, March 30, 2005

“The whole point about irrational behavior is that it is irrational!”

The Movie: Prick Up Your Ears, 1987 (Alan Bennett, screenwriter, from the book by John Lahr; Stephen Frears, dir.)
Who says it: Alfred Molina as frustrated writer Kenneth Halliwell
The context: Halliwell defends himself to his longtime companion, Joe Orton (Gary Oldman), after pitching a fit.
How to use it: To defend irrational behavior.

Today's late posting is due to technical problems with Blogger, which seems to be having more and more of them these days. It's hard to complain about it, though, when Blogger is free.

I have corrected Monday's post, thanks to the intervention of Tom Ehrenfeld. That line is not from Ghost Busters, as I was sure I remembered, but from Young Frankenstein. I am mortified. Such are the vagaries of memory... and why didn't you catch that, Frau Schulz?

Dizzy's favorite thing about the big thaw is how it reveals all kinds of things that have been buried under snow for the last three months. This morning was the grossest item yet: a bloated, blackened thing that, upon Dizzy's investigation, proved to be an ancient banana. I yanked him away before he could roll on it.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005

“Well, the world needs ditch diggers, too.”

The Movie: Caddyshack, 1980 (Brian Doyle-Murray, Harold Ramis, and Douglas Kenney, screenwriters; Harold Ramis, dir.)
Who says it: Ted Knight as Judge Elihu Smails, head of the golf club's scholarship committee
The context: Danny Noonan (Michael O’Keefe) has just told Judge Smails that he’d like to go to college.
How to use it: To disparage someone else’s dreams.

My brother James, a shipbuilder, sent me this one -- he says, "When I am given a menial, repetitive, or all around miserable task at work, I find comfort in this line."

It's been raining here for the past couple of days, so we actually might need some ditch-diggers. We're on flood watch until this afternoon. Gardiner's supermarket, a big shiny Hannaford, sits on a low piece of land right at the junction of the Kennebec River and the Cobbosseecontee Stream. Anna tells me that the parking lot floods regularly, and a row of sawhorses is currently set up in front of the store to provide framing for sandbags, should they be necessary.

Today I'm catching up with work I've neglected for the past few days, so I'm just as glad the weather's crummy. Tomorrow it will be sunny, and I'll have to spend some time outside, watching the grass come back to life.

Monday, March 28, 2005

“Where are you going? I was gonna make espresso…”

The Movie: Young Frankenstein, 1974 (Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, screenwriters, from the novel by Mary Shelley; Mel Brooks, dir.)
Who says it: Gene Hackman as the Blind Man
The context: The Monster (Peter Boyle) flees the Blind Man’s cottage.
How to use it: To keep someone from leaving too soon.

A neighbor in Los Angeles used to call Dizzy "the happiest dog in Hollywood." Now he's the happiest dog in central Maine. My brother Ed said, "He always looks like he expects something good to happen."

Dizzy's favorite thing in the whole world is company -- so when I took the lovely and amazing Claire Bea back to Logan Airport this morning, the expression on Dizzy's face was tragic. If he could have said this line, he would have.

Sunday, March 27, 2005

“In a world where carpenters get resurrected, everything is possible.”

The Movie: The Lion in Winter, 1968 (James Goldman, screenwriter, from his play; Anthony Harvey, dir.)
Who says it: Katherine Hepburn as Eleanor of Aquitaine
The context: Eleanor spars with her estranged husband, Henry II (Peter O’Toole), over the succession to the throne.
How to use it: General commentary.

Easter was always my favorite holiday as a child, though I was skeptical about the Easter Bunny. Easter required new clothes, and a hat -- I've always loved hats. Easter meant jelly beans, and church at Easter was much more interesting than church at other times of year.

What I liked most about it, though, was that Easter was the time of year when my extended family most often managed to get together. Easter took a dark turn in 1998, when my grandmother died and Mom got sick. The extended family got together then, of course, and that's the great comfort of funerals (Lyle Lovett sings: "I went to a funeral/Lord, it made me happy/Seeing all those people/That I ain't seen/Since the last time somebody died.")

Easter is about family again for me this year, although most of my family is far away. But reunions are precious, no matter how few people they involve -- and the promise of Easter is that we will all be reunited, one fine day.

Happy Easter, everybody.

Saturday, March 26, 2005

“Get busy living, or get busy dying.”

The Movie: The Shawshank Redemption, 1994 (Frank Darabont, director and screenwriter, from the short story “Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption,” by Stephen King)
Who says it: Tim Robbins as Shawshank inmate Andy Dufresne; Morgan Freeman as inmate Ellis “Red” Redding
The context: Andy says this to Red first, before he escapes from Shawshank Prison; Red says it later, embracing his own freedom.
How to use it: To snap out of it.

One afternoon last summer -- I don't remember exactly when -- I was moping around my apartment when the Inner Critic asked, "Well, what would you be doing if you weren't depressed?"

The Inner Critic cannot be ignored, so I thought of several things I might be doing if I weren't feeling so hateful about life, the universe, and everything.

"Okay then," said the Inner Critic, that vicious tramp. "Let's just pretend you're not depressed, and you go do those things."

So I did, and the weird thing was that once I was in motion, pretending not to be down, I wasn't blue any more.

Spring's like that. Everything is dead and grim and gray, and the planet keeps turning anyway... so as long as we're all here, the trees seem to say, we could think about putting buds out. It wouldn't hurt. We'll just poke a few new shoots out of the ground, see what happens. If we don't like it, we can always go back to bed for a while. Yeah.

So they do, and they discover that it's actually pretty nice out, and the sun's shining and the rain's not too bad and the birds have come back to see what's what, and it might be worth putting in a little more effort. Try a few flowers. Maybe some leaves. Heck, go for broke! New branches! Trailing vines! Let's get busy!

Until ultimately, of course, everyone's exhausted and goes back to bed with a hangover. Not that I would know anything about that.

And today, at least, that part of the story is still six months away.

Friday, March 25, 2005

“No harm ever came from reading a book.”

The Movie: The Mummy, 1999 (Stephen Sommers, screenplay, from the 1932 screenplay by John L. Balderston; Stephen Sommers, dir.)
Who says it: Rachel Weisz as librarian/archeologist Evelyn Carnahan
The context: Evelyn is reading the Book of the Dead, which calls the mummy back to life.
How to use it: To defend your choice of reading material.

Maybe no harm ever came from reading a book, but I have assembled five bookcases in the last 48 hours, and I can tell you that storing books is a dangerous business. What's a little scary is that I left half my books behind when I moved from Washington to Los Angeles, and culled the collection by at least a quarter when I left Los Angeles. They breed.

Making a virtue of necessity this week, I read short stories, reread an old favorite, and read an installment of a series I like. Nothing too challenging. In order read, here's this week's list:

G.H. Ephron, Delusion. I sold books at the launch party for the latest book in this series, Guilt, for Kate over the weekend, and realized I hadn't read the most recent installment. I like this series because I always learn something from it. The protagonist, Peter Zak, is a forensic neuropsychologist, and each book focuses on a different psychiatric disorder. I'm the only person I know who has episodes of hypochondria when reading about mental illness. This book's about paranoia. Got a problem with that?

Otto Penzler (ed.), Dangerous Women. A collection of short stories by 17 crime fiction writers, including Elmore Leonard and Joyce Carol Oates (who writes very creepy crime fiction as Rosamond Smith). Collections like these are often uneven, but almost all of the stories here are very strong. My favorite was Laura Lippman's "Dear Penthouse Forum (A First Draft)," about a pickup that is not at all what it seems to be -- horrifying and viciously funny. (I don't know Laura Lippman except as fan/bookseller to author, but she was very nice to Dizzy -- this would win her bonus points, if Dizzy could read, but she doesn't need them.)

Walker Percy, The Moviegoer. Just got this reread before the end of Lent. Every time I read it, something new catches my attention. This time, it was a paragraph early on, when Binx is talking about how his life is different from his old friends': "And there I have lived ever since, solitary and in wonder, wondering day and night, never a moment without wonder... I can't go to the trouble they go to. It is distracting, and not for five minutes will I be distracted from the wonder."

Thursday, March 24, 2005

“The mind isn’t everything.”

The Movie: Spellbound, 1945 (Ben Hecht, screenplay, from the novel The House of Dr. Edwardes, by Francis Beeding; Alfred Hitchcock, dir.)
Who says it: Ingrid Bergman as Dr. Constance Petersen, a psychoanalyst
The context: Dr. Petersen has fallen in love with her colleague/patient, John Ballantine (Gregory Peck)
How to use it: When smart people decide to do something foolish.

Thanks to the irrepressible Mikki Ansin for this quotation; she knows more about the movies than I ever will. I saw this movie recently for the first time, and it didn't really work for me, unless it's meant to be a comedy. Ingrid Bergman as a psychiatrist? The new head of a hospital taking a position without having met any of his colleagues? Maybe it was plausible in 1945. I liked the mushy stuff, though.

But it raised a question that's always puzzled me. How is it that, in movies of the 1930s and 1940s, people go from meeting each other to deciding to get married in the space of a few days? Was that really how it worked then, or was that just a movie-making convention of the time? Either way, it seems bound to have made for unrealistic expectations among the movie-going public.

Stories do shape our ideas of how things are supposed to happen, which is why I objected so strongly to Disney giving the Little Mermaid a happy ending. (You could argue that the Little Mermaid in Andersen's story gets a happy ending, too, but it is not an earthly one.)

I have no point here today. I just wanted to use this line, because it's clear to me today -- scattered as I am -- that there are days when my mind is worthless.

Wednesday, March 23, 2005

“I’ll never tell…”

The Movie: Don’t Say a Word, 2001 (Anthony Peckham and Patrick Smith Kelly, screenwriters, from the novel by Andrew Klavan; Gary Fleder, dir.)
Who says it: Brittany Murphy as Elisabeth Burrows, a mental patient
The context: Dr. Nathan Conrad (Michael Douglas) tries to get Elisabeth to explain the significance of the numbers she traces on the wall of her hospital room.
How to use it: To taunt someone with secrets you’re keeping.

You can only use this line effectively if you've seen the movie, because you have to kind of sing it, the way she does -- "I'll ne-ver tell-ell..." The promotional campaign for this movie included a creepy little rag doll that says this line when you press its stomach. My friend Gary keeps his on his kitchen counter, and it freaks me out every time I see it. I never was much for dolls, anyway.

Last week, after I snarked about friends not reading the blog, I got a note from one who does read it, saying, "But you don't tell the important stuff on the blog."

This is fair. The blog is not fiction, and I've never posted anything that wasn't true -- but it's only a small slice of my life, and there's quite a lot you'll never see here. You'll never see anything here about anyone I might be dating (at the moment, that's hypothetical, but spring is here and you never can tell). You'll never see anything specific about an ongoing project, although I'll announce it when things get published. I'll never repeat a confidence here, and my family isn't fodder for the blog unless they're willing.

I don't have any hard and fast rules about it. It's just that this is a weird little piece of performance art, and my family and friends didn't ask to be characters in it. I've been posting daily for about eight months now, and so far I've only overstepped twice, that I know of -- posted things that a friend or relative wished I hadn't.

It would be terrible if my conversations all began with people saying, "This better not show up in the blog." That hasn't happened yet, and I hope it never does.

The Answer Girl is me and is not me. If you only read this blog and you've never actually met me, you'd probably be disappointed; the Answer Girl is way funnier, better-looking, and faster on her feet than I am. Which is why I created her.

She's a face I keep in a jar by the door, an image that has new resonance after a Laura Lippman short story I just read -- yikes. But that's Friday's post.

Tuesday, March 22, 2005

“It's a travesty of a mockery of a sham of a mockery of a travesty of two mockeries of a sham.”

The Movie: Bananas, 1971 (Woody Allen and Mickey Rose, screenwriters; Woody Allen, dir.)
Who says it: Former consumer products tester, rebel leader and banana dictator Fielding Mellish (Woody Allen)
The context: Mellish, acting as his own attorney, describes his trial on charges of treason.
How to use it: In righteous indignation.

Thanks to my brother Ed for reminding me of this quotation, which I'd pulled to use last summer, but never got to. Anyway, this is my last comment on Terri Schiavo, may she rest in peace. For the record, I don't consider food and water (or, as the doctors say, "nutrition and hydration") to be artificial life support. I'm signing a document that says not to keep me on a respirator, but for God's sake, don't let me starve to death.

By popular demand, today's entry is another list -- this one of things I like that no one else does, which was a much more difficult list than the earlier two.

Ten Unpopular Things I Like Anyway

1. Parsnips.
2. Beets.
3. Those orange circus peanuts that feel like pencil erasers. I can only eat one or two before I feel sick, but that first one is always an adventure.
4. John McEnroe's talk show, now sadly gone. I was the only one in America who watched it, and they couldn't keep producing it just for me.
5. The second season of "Twin Peaks."
6. The later works of Donny Osmond -- in particular, "This is the Moment," a CD of show tunes he put out a few years ago. I'm not kidding about this.
7. The smell of chlorine. It reminds me of childhood summers.
8. Spinach in anything.
9. Flight delays. No, really -- I get a lot of reading done, I've met some very interesting people in airports, and in the days before wireless Internet and cell phones, time in airports and planes was the only time I was completely inaccessible.
10. Giving blood. Of course I don't like needles, but there's something really fascinating about watching my own blood slither down a tube and into that clear plastic bag.

And that's enough over-sharing for one day.

Monday, March 21, 2005

“The only important things in life are linguistics and sex.”

The Movie: Sherman’s March, 1986 (documentary; Ross McElwee, dir.)
Who says it: Winnie, a linguistics post-graduate student living alone on a Georgia barrier island
The context: Winnie is brushing off the filmmaker’s advances, and explaining her affair with a linguistics professor.
How to use it: To mock your own priorities.

How spoiled do you have to be, to be able to say this line with a straight face? And yet I can't slam it, because I've said similar things in my own time (not about linguistics and sex, I don't think, but who knows).

But this is the "quality of life" issue someone mentioned -- and yes, this is the Terri Schiavo rant I didn't have time for yesterday. Quality of life doesn't get much worse than slow starvation. Quality of life doesn't get any worse than death. Not much room for improvement when you're dead (although if you believe in cryogenics, you can hedge your bets).

The argument that Mrs. Schiavo has no cognitive abilities cuts both ways. If that is true, she has no memory of her past life; she is not capable of grieving for it, or feeling frustrated or trapped. She is a creature of sensation -- but a human creature, who is loved.

And as a creature of sensation, her quality of life is pretty high, or at least it was before they removed the feeding tube. With the feeding tube, she was well-nourished, clean, dry, sheltered, safe, and cared for -- and thus, had a quality of life far above a large percentage of the world's. Twenty-five percent of the world's population has no access to electricity. Approximately one billion people can't be sure of getting enough to eat every day. I don't even know what percentage of the earth lives without adequate shelter.

Okay, then, as my friend Tom said yesterday, that begs the question of why Terri Schiavo should live. Why should she take up these scarce and valuable resources when she is no longer functioning as a member of society, when she's no longer making any kind of contribution?

This argument is a dangerous slope. Who gets to say who's not making a contribution? Terri Schiavo's parents believe she's making a contribution to their lives. Anyone who's cared for someone with a serious illness or disability knows that it teaches and tests you, and leaves you profoundly changed -- for better, as well as for worse.

But the answer to Tom's question about why Terri Schiavo should get to live is irrational and absolute: because living's what we do. Life is the absolute good, the only one. Everything organic in the universe strains toward life, everything lives as long as it possibly can. Nothing goes quietly, not even the simplest one-celled organisms. Life is our imperative and our addiction.

Life offers the possibility -- the certainty, actually -- of change. Of hope. My goddaughter Siobhan and her sister Erin, two beautiful autistic girls, have made dazzling progress that wouldn't even have been imaginable, much less available to them, ten years ago. Their quality of life is enviable, and will only get better.

The only important thing in life is life itself. After death, nothing changes any more.

Sunday, March 20, 2005

“You take away love, money or hate as a motive, you’re not left with very much.”

The Movie: Mystic River, 2003 (Brian Helgeland, screenwriter, from the novel by Dennis Lehane; Clint Eastwood, dir.)
Who says it: Laurence Fishburne as Sgt. Whitey Powers, a Boston homicide cop
The context: Powers is discussing the murder of Katie Markum (Emmy Rossum) with his partner, Sean Devine (Kevin Bacon)
How to use it: A simple truth.

This isn't a political blog, but today's quotation begs the question: why, exactly, does Terri Schiavo have to die? I understand not wanting to see someone you love live at a fraction of their former capacity, but is it really better to watch them die in the most horrifying possible way? Does anyone really believe it doesn't hurt to starve to death? As my mom said to me yesterday, even the most brutal killers get the mercy of a needle.

I feel a major rant on this subject beginning, but I don't have time, because I'm already running late, and the whole thing is just too awful to do anything but pray about.

Instead, in honor of the first day of spring, I'll let ee cummings write the rest of today's blog entry.

in Just-
spring when the world is mud-
luscious the little
lame balloonman

whistles far and wee

and eddieandbill come
running from marbles and
piracies and it's

when the world is puddle-wonderful

the queer
old balloonman whistles
far and wee
and bettyandisbel come dancing

from hop-scotch and jump-rope and



balloonMan whistles

I'm off to see the balloon man -- catch you tomorrow.

Saturday, March 19, 2005

“We’re supposed to be in color!”

The Movie: Pleasantville, 1998 (Gary Ross, screenwriter and dir.)
Who says it: Reese Witherspoon as high school student Jennifer Wagner
The context: Jennifer and her brother, David (Tobey Maguire), have been transported to the fictional world of Pleasantville, the setting of a black-and-white TV show, where they are Mary Sue and Bud Parker.
How to use it: To snap yourself back to life and reality.

Spring is here. It arrived last Monday morning, early, with the authority and abruptness of a high-speed train. I didn't want to say anything at first, because I wasn't sure it would last. But the earth has rotated on its axis, the birds are back in the sky, and Dizzy saw his first squirrel of the new year on Wednesday morning. The snow is melting fast, and the lakes have signs that say, "DANGER -- THIN ICE." I saw a pile of "2004-05 Guide to Ice Fishing in Maine" booklets in the trash at the Rite Aid the other day.

I have many, many things to do today, and a nice sinus headache to keep me company on my rounds, so I'll keep it short. The Kennebec ice cutter is moored down at Gardiner landing this morning; we're walking downtown to take a look.

Friday, March 18, 2005

“O pointy birds, o pointy pointy/ Anoint my head, anointy-nointy.”

The Movie: The Man with Two Brains, 1983 (George Gipe, Steve Martin, and Carl Reiner, screenwriters; Carl Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Steve Martin as Dr. Michael Hfuhruhurr, inventor of “screw-top zip-lock brain surgery”
The context: Dr. Hfuhruhurr quotes the works of John Lillison, “England’s greatest one-armed poet,” to his beloved, the unscrupulous Dolores (Kathleen Turner).
How to use it: As self-defense, when people start quoting poetry at you.

A weird thing happened on Wednesday afternoon. I was supposed to go down to Kate's for Ken Bruen's signing of The Magdalen Martyrs; I'd been planning it for weeks, and really looking forward to it. Getting to Boston has become very easy since I discovered The World's Most Luxurious Bus; I drive to Portland and take an express bus that gets me to South Station in two hours, from which it's a straight shot on the Red Line to Cambridge.

I got about halfway to Portland when I suddenly had a overwhelming feeling that I should turn around and go home. I ignored the feeling for a couple of exits, but it didn't go away; so, somewhere just past Freeport, I turned around and went home.

Once I got home, everything was fine. I have no idea whether this was a genuine premonition, some kind of phobic episode, or a mild anxiety attack; it probably had more to do with the fact that I'd only gotten four hours of sleep the night before.

Anyway, this movie was on TV when I got home. I hadn't thought of it in at least 15 years, and I'd forgotten how completely, insanely, laugh-till-you-choke funny it is. It mesmerized me for the next two hours. I may need to own it. This will not be the last quotation you see from The Man with Two Brains.

Work interfered with my usual reading habits this week -- not just the time demands of deadlines, but the fact that I'm too distracted to be able to focus on an extended narrative. I've started three books this week that are lying around my apartment unfinished, waiting for my attention span to return to normal, and I did read a big chunk of From Third World to First: The Singapore Story, 1965-2000, by Lee Kuan Yew, for a research project.

But these are the only books I actually managed to finish this week:

Susan Isaacs, Any Place I Hang My Hat. Before anyone coined the phrase "chick lit," Susan Isaacs was writing funny, joyful novels about the dilemmas of modern women's lives (and, in my beloved Shining Through, Nazis). Her latest is the story of political writer Amy Lincoln, whose search for the mother who abandoned her ultimately shows her who she really is -- and isn't. Susan Isaacs could teach Tom Wolfe something about writing from a younger person's perspective.

Victor Gischler, Suicide Squeeze. A washed-up repo man, some Japanese gangsters and a female ex-NSA agent with serious daddy issues chase a priceless piece of Americana: a Joe DiMaggio baseball card signed by Joe, Marilyn and Billy Wilder on the set of The Seven Year Itch. Very silly, very violent, very entertaining. Gischler shows great affection for his characters, even while he's blowing them away. (Full disclosure: I don't really know Victor Gischler, but have consumed beers in his presence. Also, I let him try on my hat. It was that kind of night.)

Thursday, March 17, 2005

“Say it once and say it loud: I’m black, and I’m proud.”

The Movie: The Commitments, 1991 (Dick Clement, Ian La Frenais and Roddy Doyle, screenwriters, from the novel by Roddy Doyle; Alan Parker, dir.)
Who says it: Robert Arkins as Jimmy Rabbitte, aspiring roots-rock impresario
The context: Jimmy explains to his bandmates that they have the right to sing the great soul standards, because “The Irish are the blacks of Europe, Dubliners are the blacks of Ireland, and the Northside Dubliners are the blacks of Dublin.”
How to use it: To claim solidarity with an ethnic group you have no connection to.

My friend Maeve, a naturalized American who was born and raised in Dublin, can't help bridling when well-meaning Americans hear her accent and say, "Omigod, I'm Irish too!" I don't want to speak for Maeve -- maybe she'll comment here later today -- but I do see how that exchange illustrates two different ideas about what it means to "be" Irish, or "be" American.

The first and most universal human emotion, I think, is homesickness. We're born into this world in an act of violent separation, pushed from comfortable darkness into a bright, loud, chilly void. Many of us never recognize that free-floating sadness and anxiety for what it is: a desire simply not to be separate, to be somewhere we can call home.

People in industrialized nations have the luxury of feeling this even more strongly, because we're not so busy meeting our immediate physical needs. So we flail around trying to comfort this homesickness with all kinds of things: serial relationships, alcohol, drugs, food, television, endless activities and noise noise noise. The healthy comforts -- marriage, family, home, community -- form the basis of society.

But we Americans of Irish descent are lucky, because we get this one day a year that recognizes our exile, even if it's from a homeland that exists only in our imagination. And we give ourselves permission to medicate our pain -- which doesn't really have anything to do with Irishness -- with the beverages of our choice.

As the Pogues say, where'er we go, we celebrate the land that makes us refugees.

Happy St. Patrick's Day, y'all.

Wednesday, March 16, 2005

“We learn by doing.”

The Movie: Star Trek 2: The Wrath of Khan, 1982 (Jack B. Sowards and Nicholas Meyer, screenwriters, based on characters by Gene Roddenberry; Nicholas Meyer, dir.)
Who says it: William Shatner as Admiral James T. Kirk of the starship Enterprise
The context: Admiral Kirk gives a lesson to half-Vulcan Lieutenant Saavik (Kirstie Alley) about humor.
How to use it: When you’re trying something new.

Last night was my first training session for becoming a tutor with the Literacy Volunteers of Greater Augusta. One in six people in Kennebec County -- about 16% -- cannot read well enough to fill out most government forms.

After food and housing, nothing's more important than literacy. Even ten years ago, it was possible for someone in Maine to hold a decent-paying job without being able to read. That's not true any more, and it never will be again.

But literacy's about more than just being able to get a job, or vote, or drive, or set up home appliances. Words are the tools we use to shape our ideas about how the world works. If you don't have words to express yourself, you're much more likely to take violent action. If you can't get a legitimate job, your only options are public assistance or a life of crime.

The Waynesboro, VA Police Department believes so strongly in the connection between illiteracy rates and crime that they have launched their own annual book fair, with the proceeds going to literacy and crime prevention programs.

Words are what separate humans from other primates. Last summer I had a goofy conversation with a writer friend about the anti-social tendencies of monkeys; I said that monkeys only threw feces and abused themselves in public because they lacked the outlet of literacy. If you could teach a monkey to read, I said, they'd be as well-behaved as we are.

My sister Peggy, who kept the Monkey House at the Virginia Zoo before she got married, is already applying this principle to the upbringing of her own little monkeys.

Tuesday, March 15, 2005

“Wax on… wax off.”

The Movie: The Karate Kid, 1984 (Robert Mark Kamen, screenwriter; John G. Avildsen, dir.)
Who says it: Noriyuki “Pat” Morita as Mr. Miyagi, a handyman who turns out to be a martial arts master.
The context: Mr. Miyagi orders his pupil, Daniel, to do a repetitive, apparently meaningless task that proves essential to his karate skills.
How to use it: When you’re doing something tedious that’s bound to pay off, eventually. When you say the line, put your hands up at chest level and move them separately, side to side, in the waxing movement.

I don't like this movie. Don't e-mail me about it -- I know it was a life-changing coming-of-age movie for many of you, and a powerful healing moment for post-Vietnam America, and an inspiring tale of fathers and sons, blah blah blah blah blah. I took a screenwriting class where we had to study this script as an example of near-perfect structure, dialogue, and character development. I can acknowledge all of that, and still say I didn't like the movie.

Even so, I have friends who can crack me up with this line (you must also use the hand movements) every time. It's a cultural reference everyone of a certain generation shares.

This morning I got my very first response to one of my capsule reviews... I'm not saying from whom, except that it wasn't Rex Pickett, whose book is the only one I've really slammed (Mr. Pickett is decrescendoing all the way to the bank, and should not care what one blogger thinks of him).

It was a nice note, asking for some further explanation and suggesting that I had misunderstood the author's intent. It was another reminder, although I didn't really need it, that every book is the product of another human being's most personal and heartfelt effort, and should be treated with respect for that reason alone.

Not every book succeeds on its own terms. No book is right for every audience. What I loved most about being a bookseller was matching individual customers up with books or authors I knew they would like -- it was more than matchmaking, it felt like my very own evangelical Ministry of Books.

Every so often, I'd get it wrong, but that was the fault of neither the book nor the reader; it just wasn't a match. Not everything I read is a match for me, either. Sometimes even my favorite authors disappoint me.

It would be fatuous to say this isn't personal, because nothing's more personal, in its distant way, than the relationship between author and reader.

My Friday reviews probably won't change much as a result of this morning's e-mail, but it's given me even more to think about.

Monday, March 14, 2005

“In my case, self-absorption is completely justified.”

The Movie: Laura, 1944 (Jay Dratler, Samuel Hoffenstein and Betty Reinhardt, screenwriters, from the novel by Vera Caspary; Otto Preminger, dir.)
Who says it: Clifton Webb as waspish columnist Waldo Lydecker
The context: Lydecker rudely rebuffs Laura Hunt (Gene Tierney), who interrupts his lunch to introduce herself.
How to use it: To defend your narcissism.

Blogging's a narcissistic exercise, but so much writing -- or painting, or singing, or performing of any kind -- is. "I have something to say" might as well be "I have something I want you to pay attention to," and it's forced me to recognize some seriously unpleasant aspects of my own character.

Last night, for example, I got a note from a friend I hadn't talked to in a while, asking what was new, and my first thought was, "Don't you read my blog??" Disgusting, even though (in my own defense) I'm on deadline, and feeling acute anxiety about not being able to do everything anyone asks me to do the very moment they ask me to do it. (This anxiety, which never really goes away, is probably why I live alone.)

The people who read blogs tend -- for the most part -- to be other bloggers. I have about half a dozen I check every day. We wind up referencing each other's blogs, in a process that I'd love to call conversation but feels more like being part of a circle of mirrors.

One of the blogs I used to check every day was Ayelet Waldman's. Ms. Waldman, whom I've never met, writes the very entertaining Mommy-Track mysteries, is married to the author Michael Chabon, practices law, and has four children aged 10 and under. She also reads at least as much as I do, and posts her reading list to her blog monthly. I used to read her blog and wonder where her energy came from -- how it was possible for her to do so much, when I could barely keep my own life in order.

Ms. Waldman quit blogging abruptly about a month ago, and explains why in today's issue of Salon. She'd mentioned it in the blog, but it wasn't until one of her last entries that I realized where all the energy came from: she has bipolar disorder, and it wasn't being very well controlled. She stopped blogging after a swing into near-suicidal depression.

I'm not sure what point I'm trying to make here, other than to remind myself (once again) that it's always a mistake to look at anyone's life and think they're better off than I am. I whine a lot on this blog, because that's what it's here for -- but things are pretty good.

And I'm still on deadline.

Sunday, March 13, 2005

“No wire hangers, EVER!”

The Movie: Mommie Dearest, 1981 (Robert Getchell, Tracy Hotchner, Frank Perry and Frank Yablans, screenwriters, from the book by Christina Crawford; Frank Perry, dir.)
Who says it: Faye Dunaway as Joan Crawford
The context: Joan has just come home from an exhausting day of work to find that her adopted daughter, Christina, has hung some of her expensive dresses on wire hangers instead of wood.
How to use: To pitch a totally irrational tantrum.

I didn't pitch any tantrums yesterday, but I did go down to Renys to buy some coat hangers -- only to find that the store had closed at 2:00 p.m. because of the weather.

The weather wasn't nearly as bad as anticipated. It snowed hard in the morning, but by afternoon it had stopped, and the temperatures stayed warm. I went down to the Loads of Fun Laundromat and caught up on some light reading, including a month-old issue of The Weekly World News whose cover story reported -- yes -- a tragic case of spontaneous human combustion. If I ever win the lottery, I will pay The Weekly World News to let me work for them. I'm serious.

I've gotten some interesting responses to yesterday's posting -- most of them not posted to the blog -- and I think I was not clear about the nature of my own list, which was an exercise in alienation. I deliberately tried to think of things that the rest of the world seems to like (Cadbury creme eggs, that latest Lenny Kravitz single) that I cannot stand, thus isolating myself even further from a community I might otherwise belong to. A good friend of mine, for example, hates "scenes from next week's episodes," which baffles me -- I love scenes from next week's episodes.

So maybe today I will list ten popular things that I do like:

1. Bacon.
2. Bruce Springsteen.
3. George Clooney.
4. Impressionist paintings.
5. Mozart.
6. Nora Roberts' novels -- most of them.
7. The Outkast single "Hey Ya" -- never got tired of it, never.
8. The Simpsons.
9. Starbucks.
10. Taco Bell.

These are not necessarily my favorite things -- that would be a harder list -- they're just things that public opinion suggests I should like, which I do like.

So go crazy, post your own lists...

Saturday, March 12, 2005

“I had hopes once, but I gave ‘em up.”

The Movie: Key Largo, 1948 (Richard Brooks & John Huston, screenwriters, from the play by Maxwell Anderson; John Huston, dir.)
Who says it: Humphrey Bogart as ex-war hero Frank McCloud
The context: Gangster Johnny Rocco (Edward G. Robinson), holding a group of people hostage, asks McCloud if he even knows what he wants.
How to use it: To recognize an arbitrary universe.

Remember back in December, when I couldn't wait for the first real snowfall?

Yeah. Those were good times.

Actually, it's beautiful outside. We got about four inches overnight, and it's supposed to snow for the rest of the day. The temperature's quite warm -- right around freezing -- so the snow is heavy and wet, and easy to shovel. Dizzy and I took a long walk this morning, and he got to romp with a neighbor's Shepherd mix for a while.

The great thing about having a such a big family is that someone's always there for you. No sooner had I posted yesterday's blog entry than my brother Ed sent me an e-mail to ask: "How do you tell your seasonal [depression] from your chronic?"

Good point.

Paradoxically, I'm in a much better mood today, partly because I spent part of yesterday afternoon composing a list of things I hate even though the rest of the world seems, inexplicably, to like them. This too may become a regular feature of the blog, though even I probably couldn't come up with ten new things every week.

But just to start things off, here's my list:

Ten Things Other People Like that I Cannot Stand

1. The words “hubby,” “utilize (never better than “use,” never),” and “craft” as a verb.
2. Norah Jones’ voice. Also Andrea Bocelli's.
3. Food adjectives applied to anything that isn’t food.
4. Everything Lenny Kravitz has done since “Let Love Rule.”
5. Hazelnuts in anything.
6. White chocolate.
7. Boiled eggs, poached eggs, eggs in any format where you can tell whites from yolks. Egg salad. Deviled eggs. Also, Cadbury crème eggs.
8. The Three Stooges.
9. Birds as pets.
10. The comedy stylings of Jeff Foxworthy.

Feel free to post your own list, and see if it doesn't cheer you up, too.

Friday, March 11, 2005

“That movie has warped my fragile little mind.”

The Movie: South Park: Bigger, Longer and Uncut, 1999 (Trey Parker, Matt Stone, & Pam Brady, screenwriters; Trey Parker, dir.)
Who says it: Trey Parker as the voice of 4th grader Eric Cartman
The context: Cartman and his friends have just learned a whole new vocabulary from the R-rated Terrance & Phillip movie, Asses of Fire.
How to use it: To note the corrupting influence of popular culture on your values system.

The Internet Movie Database says this movie contains 399 profane words, 128 offensive gestures and 221 acts of violence. The day it came out, I gave myself and my assistant, Sara, the afternoon off, and we snuck off to Tenleytown to see a matinee. Never let it be said that I neglected Sara's professional development; now she works on Capitol Hill, and she needs that vocabulary.

This week's reading list seems a little long, even to me. I blame the insomnia, which I know is probably an early sign of seasonal depression... but the calendar says spring is only 10 days away, and my calendar (decorated with American flags and photos of soldiers) would not lie.

So this week, I read:

Kate Atkinson, Case Histories. This book deserves all the praise it's gotten, and I'll throw in a little more. Ex-police inspector turned private eye Jackson Brodie takes on three apparently unrelated cases in Cambridge: the disappearance of a toddler 30 years earlier, the unsolved murder of a young legal secretary, and the disappearance of a young woman whose mother had killed her father 20 years before. What sets this book apart is the loving attention Atkinson pays to even her most minor characters: nothing is wasted, everything is connected, and Atkinson brings it all to an unlikely but entirely justified happy ending. Loved this book, loved it loved it loved it.

Randy Wayne White, Dead of Night. I read an advance copy, and the author had warned me that it was a mess, even missing entire paragraphs. So I should probably hold off on commenting until I read the finished book... Randy White is dear to me, and I'm a fan of this series, which stars marine biologist and ex-covert operative Marion "Doc" Ford. Doc Ford is probably the closest successor to John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee. I will say that the villains in this book -- bio-terrorists -- are his most frightening yet, and the fact that Randy wrote half the book after a hurricane wrecked his house is nothing short of heroic.

M. Scott Peck, Glimpses of the Devil. This is that book about demonic possession I mentioned earlier in the week. Dr. Peck mentioned his involvement in two exorcisms in an earlier book, People of the Lie; this book provides detailed histories of both cases. I'm not sure who the audience for this book is. It's unlikely to convince anyone who doesn't believe in the possibility of demonic possession, and it doesn't seem to be targeted to mental health professionals. Although Peck keeps his tone deliberately measured, even dry, it all felt a little voyeuristic to me.

John Rickards, Winter's End. This is the first novel I ever read just because I liked the author's blog. Former FBI agent and PI Alex Rourke returns to his hometown in northern Maine to investigate a bizarre murder: the suspect is standing over the victim with knives in his hands, but no forensic evidence ties him to the crime, and the suspect's not talking. It's a great premise, and the northern Maine setting's a courageous decision, because the author lives in England. But I had trouble with the first person, present tense narration, and I was distracted by details his editors at St. Martin's should have caught: among them, Americans say "acetaminophen," "red-haired," and "pieces," rather than "paracetamol," "ginger," and "bits." Also, I spent an entire hour wondering whether there really was a town in northern Maine where the houses were mainly brick, a detail the narrator mentions. I haven't been to northern Maine, so I don't know. It would be unusual, though.

Steve Martin, The Pleasure of My Company. What a lovely, lovely book this is -- a very short novel about Daniel Pecan Cambridge, who lives in Santa Monica as a prisoner of his many fears and compulsions. He can't step over a curb, so he crosses streets only at driveways or wheelchair cuts. He imagines an elaborate love affair with a realtor he can't bring himself to talk to. He enters a pie company's essay contest explaining how he is the Most Average American. But life takes a hand, and Daniel discovers that kindness is repaid and love is possible, even for him. I checked this out of the library, but I need to own a copy of it for myself. So do you. So does everyone.

Thursday, March 10, 2005

“Mother of mercy! Is this the end of Rico?”

The Movie: Little Caesar, 1931 (Francis Edward Faragoh, Robert N. Lee, and Robert Lord, screenwriters, from the novel by W.R. Burnett; Mervyn LeRoy, dir.)
Who says it: Edward G. Robinson as Caesare “Rico” Bandello, a gangster
The context: Rico, having risen to the top of his organization, discovers that crime doesn’t pay.
How to use it: When you’re backed into a corner.

Continuing this week's theme of "I can't believe I haven't used that line yet," this is one I say all the time. According to legend, this movie is the source of the acronym for the federal anti-gangster law, the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act. (Warning: that link is for, the great urban-legend debunking site. Do not click on it unless you have at least an hour to waste.)

This is the first winter I've ever spent in a place where snow was just a fact of life, rather than a civic emergency. My block probably has more snowplows in driveways than the entire city of Virginia Beach owns. Actually, it probably has more snowplows than the entire city of Washington, DC owns. (In January 1996, when the city got socked with back-to-back snowstorms, a week went by before we saw a snowplow on 15th Street. When they finally came -- three across, in a diagonal line -- Ashton, Joseph, Anna and I stood in our living room window and applauded.)

Anyway, I've learned that snowplowing is an art. Some snowplowers are better than others, there's no getting around it. The best wield their blades like sculptors' knives, carving out pavement from beneath the piles of snow. The sloppy and careless leave long lines of snow smeared along the side of the road.

This weekend is the Portland Flower Show. I think I will go down there just to remind myself what the color green looks like in nature.

Wednesday, March 09, 2005

“It was the boogeyman.”

The Movie: Halloween, 1978 (John Carpenter and Debra Hill, screenplay; John Carpenter, dir.)
Who says it: Jamie Lee Curtis as high school student/babysitter Laurie Strode
The context: Laurie and Dr. Sam Loomis (Donald Pleasance) have just had what they believe to be their final confrontation with the demonic Michael Myers (Tony Moran).
How to use it: To insist you had reason to be scared.

It probably wasn't the greatest idea to read a book about demonic possession right before bed, especially when I'm already fighting insomnia. But when "near-blizzard" winds (I don't know what the dividing line between "blizzard" and "near-blizzard" winds is) woke me up around 2:00 a.m., I was glad to have Dizzy with me for protection.

My apartment building is probably about a hundred years old, although you couldn't tell from the outside. Like most other residential buildings in Gardiner, it's covered with a nondescript siding meant to keep the heat in and minimize weather damage. I live in one of two upstairs apartments; downstairs are one small apartment and two offices.

Before it was a mixed-use apartment building, it was a grocery store. A previous owner bought the building after the grocers went out of business. He gutted the building and remodeled it into its current configuration.

My point, anyway, is that the building is solid. It's been here a while. It's withstood countless winter storms.

But still, as the wind and the snow blasted around us last night, I heard the interior timbers creak, and wondered why the hell anyone lives at this latitude. No, let's be more specific: I wondered why I live at this latitude.

But now it's morning, and everything is blanketed with white, and Dizzy, at least, had a grand time in the new snow.

And the calendar says Spring is only 11 days away.

Tuesday, March 08, 2005

“Mrs. Robinson, you’re trying to seduce me.”

The Movie: The Graduate, 1967 (Calder Willingham and Buck Henry, screenwriters, from the novel by Charles Webb; Mike Nichols, dir.)
Who says it: Dustin Hoffman as recent college graduate Benjamin Braddock
The context: Mrs. Robinson (Anne Bancroft), a friend of his parents’ and mother of the beautiful Elaine (Katharine Ross), is trying to seduce him.
How to use it: When a friend is trying to talk you into something that’s against your better judgment.

You know what's scary to me about this movie? Anne Bancroft was 36 when she made it. Thirty-six. By the standards of her day, she was middle-aged. And I'm... never mind.

The other day, Anna asked me, "Do you feel spring in the air?" "Uh... sure," I answered, following Rule #1 for a peaceful life, which is, "Never Argue with the Deranged."

But I was curious, so I asked what these alleged signs of spring might be.

"It's the way the snow feels soft, and the way the wind doesn't hurt any more," she said, and I had to admit that I had noticed these things.

It was a cruel trick. We're supposed to get between 10 and 18 inches of snow overnight, with windchills as low as 10 below zero (yes, Fahrenheit, not some wimpy Celsius 10 below).

To add insult to injury, Anna and Tarren leave for Florida this afternoon.

Oh, and I almost forgot. Everyone on this continent should watch tonight's series premiere of "Blind Justice," which my friend Gary directed. I don't care if you think it's a cheesy premise -- the pilot is quality television, Ron Eldard is most attractive, and the dog's really cool.

Monday, March 07, 2005

“Look at me.”

The Movie: Get Shorty, 1995 (Scott Frank, screenwriter, from the novel by Elmore Leonard; Barry Sonnenfeld, dir.)
Who says it: John Travolta as loan shark Chili Palmer
The context: Chili says this throughout the movie to establish control of any situation.
How to use it: To assert yourself.

Before you ask, no, I didn't see Be Cool this weekend, and I don't plan to, unless it's showing on cable at some point during one of my bouts of insomnia. The ever-insightful Tod Goldberg explores the question of why Elmore Leonard novels so frequently make lousy movies on his blog, so I'm not going to repeat his effort.

But this question of how you turn a book -- any book -- into a decent movie is very much on my mind these days, because I'm working with clients on a couple of screenplay adaptations right now.

Conventional wisdom says that mediocre books make the best movies, and a quick mental list -- Jaws, The Godfather, Coma (shut up, I love Coma) -- seems to prove the point. Conversely, the best books often make terrible movies: has anyone ever tried to watch the movie version of Ulysses? I did once, for about 20 minutes. Yikes. And -- um -- there was that terrible, terrible mistake called All the Pretty Horses, allegedly based on the novel of the same name.

But there are exceptions. Phillip Noyce's recent version of The Quiet American, which my cousin Kathleen produced, is an amazing film, helped by Michael Caine's greatest performance (and I loves me some Michael Caine). The Princess Bride is equally great in movie and book form. I have cautiously high hopes for the new adaptation of All the King's Men being filmed right now, although my brother Ed sees this as such profound hubris that everyone involved should be executed.

And I have very high hopes for the film version of my friend Scott Phillips' first novel, The Ice Harvest. The Ice Harvest is a short, dark book about the very worst Christmas Eve in the life of Charlie Arglist, a sleazy lawyer in 1970s Wichita who thinks he might be able to get clear if he can pull off one last deal. Richard Russo and Robert Benton wrote the screenplay, and the movie stars John Cusack, Billy Bob Thornton, and Oliver Platt. Everyone should see it, when it comes out in November.

But read the book first.

Sunday, March 06, 2005

“We’re on a mission from God.”

The Movie: The Blues Brothers, 1980 (Dan Ackroyd & John Landis, screenwriters; John Landis, dir.)
Who says it: Dan Ackroyd as Elwood, a blues musician
The context: Elwood and his brother, Joliet Jake (John Belushi), break every law and offend almost everyone in their pursuit of tax money to save their childhood orphanage. Elwood repeats this line throughout the movie.
How to use it: To justify almost anything.

I might make this week "I can't believe I haven't used that line yet," week. I was sure I'd used this one last summer, during all the car misery, but no...

When I was in college -- and this movie was still relatively recent -- they used to show The Blues Brothers every year during Spring Fling weekend, projecting it on a giant improvised screen hung from the White-Gravenor building. I wonder whether they still do that. It alarms me that this movie is 25 years old this year.

And when I think about it, this line is alarming, if you take it too seriously. Maybe that's why I haven't used it -- everyone needs to promise that when they drop this into a conversation, they'll be joking, unless they're working for the Red Cross. And maybe even then.

Because, while I do believe that God made man to serve Him on earth and be happy with Him in heaven (does anyone still use the St. Joseph Baltimore Catechism?), I'm afraid of people who think they know what God wants.

Naming no names, as I click through the Sunday morning talk shows.

Saturday, March 05, 2005

“I’ll probably get blamed for that.”

The Movie: After Hours, 1985 (Joseph Minion, screenwriter; Martin Scorsese, dir.)
Who says it: Griffin Dunne as Paul Hackett, a word processor
The context: Pursued by a vigilante mob after a series of misadventures, Paul sees a woman shoot her husband to death.
How to use it: When you see something bad happen.

Water Street, where I live, is also State Highways 9 and 126. Across Water Street from me are the abandoned Gardiner Paperboard factory (previously mentioned); D&H Motors, a Lincoln-Mercury dealership; a school bus parking lot; and a pet-food distribution warehouse. Walk down the hill a little ways and you get to the (still active, hurray) Kennebec Brewing Company, which has its own small restaurant.

It sounds like an eyesore, but this is Maine, so it's not. The woods come right up to the industrial buildings, and behind the buildings, it's only a few dozen yards down to the Cobbossee Stream. I'm used to thinking of "streams" as small things; the Cobbossee is only a stream in comparison to the Kennebec River, and Gardiner sits at the junction of the two.

The speed limit on my stretch of Water Street is theoretically 30 mph, but that seems to be more of a guideline than a rule. So I haven't crossed Water Street much, especially because (as some of you know) I get anxious about crossing roads where there isn't a traffic light or a crosswalk.

But my neighbor, Holly, told me that she had taken Dizzy to run around in the waste ground behind the car dealership last weekend, when I was out of town. It was too cold this morning to make the trek to the cemetery, so I took Dizzy across the street instead.

It's a whole world back there. Snow and ice make the creek inaccessible, but once the snow melts and the grass comes back, it'll be the easiest way to get to the water. I didn't see any "No Trespassing" signs, so I figure it's legal. Even the paper factory isn't posted, which surprised me.

But I should probably ask, before I spend too much more time over there.

Friday, March 04, 2005

“Laughter through tears is my favorite emotion.”

The Movie: Steel Magnolias, 1989 (Robert Harling, screenwriter; Herbert Ross, dir.)
Who says it: Dolly Parton as hairdresser Truvy Jones
The context: Truvy and her friends gather for an Easter celebration after the death of one of their own.
How to use it: Self-explanatory.

Crime fiction dominates this week's reading list once again... and the list is a little longer than usual, because all the travel delays meant more reading time. When I got to Maeve's on Monday night, she asked, "Were you reading in the cab?" because I was carrying my book outside my tote bag.

"No," I said, "It's just a handy place to store pieces of paper." That was true, but it was also true that it was just too dark to read in the cab from LaGuardia. Plus, I get carsick trying to read in cabs.

In order, this is what I read this week.

Reed Farrell Coleman, The James Deans. I haven't read either of Coleman's earlier Moe Prager novels (Redemption Street and Walking the Perfect Square), but after reading this one, I'll seek them out. The plot of this book, about the disappearance of a young political operative, is secondary to the beautifully-drawn character of Moe Prager, ex-cop, wine merchant, and devoted family man. Moe reminds me of another of my favorite fictional characters, Harlan Coben's Myron Bolitar.

Alexander McCall Smith, Portuguese Irregular Verbs. Professor McCall Smith is absurdly prolific, and his books are uniformly charming. This series of linked short stories introduces Professor Moritz-Maria von Igelfeld of the Institute of Romance Philology, and the best of them made me laugh out loud.

Christopher Fowler, Full Dark House. Just what I need, a new series to be addicted to. Fowler's detectives, Bryant and May, are the oldest active members of the London police force, in charge of the Peculiar Crimes Unit. Think a geriatric Mulder and Scully, except they're both men. This, a history of their first case, concerns a series of murders in a London theater during the Blitz. I already have an advance copy of the second Bryant and May book, The Water Room.

P. J. Tracy, Dead Run. The third book in the Minneapolis-based Monkeewrench series finds the two women of Monkeewrench, Grace and Annie, on the road with their friend and colleague, Deputy Sheriff Sharon Mueller. A detour and a breakdown put them in the middle of a mysteriously deserted town, under siege by a paramilitary group. Nonstop action, wonderful characters, another installment in a terrific series.

David Sedaris, Dress Your Family in Corduroy and Denim. David Sedaris is a genius, and it's not just because his large, slightly deranged, Greek Orthodox family reminds me so much of my own large, slightly deranged, Irish Catholic family. You'll laugh, you'll cry, sometimes even in the same sentence.

All of these books are currently available in your local bookstore or library, except for Dead Run, which comes out in April.

Thursday, March 03, 2005

“An innocent girl, a harmless driver. What could possibly go wrong?”

The Movie: License to Drive, 1988 (Neil Tolkin, screenwriter; Greg Beeman, dir.)
Who says it: Corey Haim as Les, a teenager who has just flunked his driver’s test.
The context: Les plans to take his date (Heather Graham) out in the car anyway.
How to use it: To invite catastrophe.

Don't worry, nothing's wrong with the car. I just think this line is funny -- I'm not ashamed to say that I think this movie is funny -- and I'm shocked to realize that this blog has yet to include any of the work of the two Coreys. (I was sure I'd used a line from The Lost Boys by now, but apparently not.)

Anyway, it's still winter here in central Maine. Yesterday I had several errands to run in the center of town, and had to make the decision: take the car, or not? It's only a mile's walk from my apartment to the library, which is at the far end of town. But the temperature was about 18, and I needed to stop at the post office, the grocery store and the hardware store as well.

I decided not to risk it. They say most accidents happen within five miles of home, so I think I'll wait to take the car out until I'm going a little further afield.

Wednesday, March 02, 2005

“You haven’t seen enough movies. All of life’s riddles are answered in the movies.”

The Movie: Grand Canyon, 1991 (Lawrence Kasdan and Meg Kasdan, screenwriters; Lawrence Kasdan, dir.)
Who says it: Steve Martin as Davis, producer of low-quality slasher films
The context: Davis explains his new outlook on life to his best friend, Mack (Kevin Kline)
How to use it: When is this not appropriate?

And this quotation reminds me, it's the middle of Lent already and I haven't reread The Moviegoer yet. I always reread The Moviegoer during Lent, partly because it's set during Mardi Gras and partly because it strikes me as a deeply, if obscurely, religious novel.

If you haven't read The Moviegoer yet, you should. I gave a copy once to someone I was dating, and he said it was boring. I wonder whatever happened to that guy.

But my copy is somewhere in one of the boxes marked "Paperbacks," which I haven't unpacked yet because I don't yet have bookshelves for them. That's a project for this weekend.

Today, though, is dedicated to catching up on a couple of deadlines and doing something about the mountain of laundry in my bedroom closet. I'm very afraid I saw it move this morning.

Tuesday, March 01, 2005

“I’m not a criminal. I’m a con artist.”

The Movie: Matchstick Men, 2003 (Nicholas Griffin and Ted Griffin, screenwriters, from the book by Eric Garcia; Ridley Scott, dir.)
Who says it: Nicolas Cage as Roy Waller, a con man with obsessive-compulsive disorder
The context: Roy is defending himself to his therapist, Dr. Klein (Bruce Altman)
How to use it: To rationalize bad behavior.

Snow cancelled my flight from LaGuardia to Portland last night. Thank God for Maeve, who gave me shelter from the storm on the Upper East Side.

And thank God I don't have to fly again for another two months. On this trip, I've been selected for a complete search at every stage: in Portland, in Norfolk, and then again here in LaGuardia this morning. My natural reaction to this -- years of Catholic programming -- is to examine my conscience and wonder whether I really am a terrorist, and just don't know it.