The Movie: The Big Lebowski, 1998 (Ethan and Joel Coen, screenwriters; Joel Coen, dir.)
Who says it: Jeff Bridges as Jeff Lebowski, a.k.a. The Dude, or His Dudeness, or The Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
The context: The Dude has come to confront a wealthy businessman, also named Lebowski, because some nihilists have sabotaged the Dude’s rug in a case of mistaken identity.
How to use it: To defend yourself, California-style.
I saw this quotation on a bumper sticker on the 101 freeway today, and it seemed particularly appropriate. I'm not used to this kind of traffic anymore, but once I accepted there was nothing to be done about it, I was calm.
The rental car place gave me a PT Cruiser; I was excited at first, less so by the time I got out here to Ridgecrest. The car looks cool, but it's heavy, has no pickup, and sits high enough above the road to feel a little unstable, though that's probably an illusion. The wind whips through the mountain passes on Highway 14, through the Antelope Valley; I'd have been happier in a car that was lower to the ground. But hey, I looked cool, and in California, that's all that matters.
Not a lot of pleasure reading this week, since I'm still scrambling on multiple deadlines, and for some reason have had a hard time sleeping and focusing for the last several days. Maybe the desert air will do me good.
What I Read This Week
Henry James, What Maisie Knew. I keep reading Henry James, in the hope that one of these days I'll start liking him. But I finally figured out, with this book, why James feels tedious and Edith Wharton does not. What Maisie Knew tells the story of a very young girl who is the subject of a nasty custody battle between her parents, who both ultimately abandon her to the care of their second (and later ex-) spouses. Everyone behaves horribly, even -- in the end -- Maisie herself, who ought to be the object of our sympathy. This was Wharton's genius; she sympathized with all of her characters, even her nastiest villains. James treats his characters like bugs under a microscope. Edifying, but not entertaining.
Gene Kerrigan, Little Criminals. Late in this book, Kerrigan writes this about a minor character who turns out to play a crucial role: "He felt more than ever like a man alive beyond his time, beyond understanding the world around him, beyond any use." This rare book, a thriller that's actually thrilling, is ostensibly the story of a kidnapping that goes wrong before it even begins. Underneath that, though, it's a grim look at modern Ireland, a society that has rejected all of its old (admittedly flawed) structures and values without replacing them with anything else. As far as I know, it's not available in the U.S. yet, but deserves to be soon.
Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere. How had I not read this book before? My cousin Michael lent it to me last weekend and said I could read it in one sitting; I did, on the plane from Boston to L.A. Richard Mayhew comes to the aid of a badly wounded, apparently homeless girl, and slips "between the cracks" into a London underworld he could never have imagined. It's an epic adventure, made all the more fascinating by the real possibility that it's only happening inside Richard's mind.