Sunday, July 31, 2005

“Life’s like a movie – write your own ending.”

The Movie: The Muppet Movie, 1979 (Jack Burns and Jerry Juhl, screenwriters; Jim Henson, dir.; music and lyrics by Paul Williams and Kenny Ascher)
Who says it: Jim Henson as Kermit the Frog
The context: This is the first line of the movie’s big finale, after the Muppets have made it to Hollywood and realized their dreams.
How to use it: Use your imagination.

From almost the first day of this theme, I knew that this quotation would end it.

Life’s like a movie,
Write your own ending
Keep believing, keep pretending
We did just what we set out to do –
Thanks to the lovers
The dreamers
And you.

This blog has been brought to you by the grace of God, the technology of Blogger, and the kindness of family and friends too numerous to mention. It has been, first and foremost, for the entertainment of Mom, Dad, Chris and Claire. I hope you enjoyed it, too.

Thanks, everybody. I’ll see you in September.

Saturday, July 30, 2005

“Ready or not, the future comes just the same.”

The Movie: Blue Car, 2002 (Karen Moncrieff, director and screenwriter)
Who says it: David Strathairn as Mr. Auster, an English teacher
The context: This is a line from Auster’s novel, which he reads to his student, Meg (Agnes Bruckner). He quotes it after he introduces Meg to his son.
How to use it: When something is ending.

Thanks again to Gary for recommending this small and lovely film. It generated great buzz at Sundance in 2002, but never attracted the wider attention it deserves. Agnes Bruckner, who got an Independent Spirit nomination for this role, is one of those actresses like Sarah Polley -- a compelling screen presence who ought to be a huge star, but will never be on the cover of PEOPLE.

And happy birthday today to my cool and elegant cousin Kathleen, who has been the object of my admiration since before we were picking out our own clothes.

The theme for the second incarnation of this blog, beginning September 1, is Terms of Art. Every day I'll take a word or phrase of jargon from some specialized discipline -- medicine, law, engineering, finance, publishing, music, etc. -- and explain how to drop the jargon into ordinary conversation.

I hope this will be fun and educational -- it will be for me, at any rate -- but I have ulterior motives. Jargon can be colorful and imaginative, and serves its purpose as verbal shorthand. But it also exists to draw lines between Those Who Know and Those Who Don't. Jargon creates and reinforces bonds among members of a group, but it also acts as a barrier to entry, isolating its users and alienating outsiders. Anything that helps us learn to talk to each other across boundaries must be good, right? (said the builders of the Tower of Babel...)

Terms of Art will need far more help from my friends than You Talking to Me? has, because regardless of what I pretend after a few drinks, I don't know everything and I can't learn everything from books. Please send me the phrases you use in your own work that would mystify outsiders; the e-mail link in my profile will stay live during my month off, and I'm not taking a break from e-mail.

This site won't go anywhere, although I'll probably monkey with the template before starting Terms of Art. The archives will stay up as long as Blogger allows.

The Friday reading lists will continue in the new blog, and I'm toying with the idea of continuing those reading lists even through August-- we'll see. It might be better for me to go cold turkey for a month; don't they say you need 28 days?

Friday, July 29, 2005

“Not everybody gets corrupted. You have to have a little faith in people.”

The Movie: Manhattan, 1979 (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, screenwriters; Woody Allen, dir.)
Who says it: Mariel Hemingway as Tracy, a high school senior on her way to study theater in London
The context: Isaac Davis (Woody Allen), who had dated Tracy and then dumped her, pleads with her to take him back and not go to London; she refuses. This is the last line of the movie.
How to use it: To reassure someone you love – and yourself.

If I had to pick one favorite movie, this would be it. I saw it with my friend Gary at the Naro Expanded Cinema in the summer of 1982, and suddenly the world seemed enormous, and my opportunities limitless -- even if all I ever did was move to New York.

Despite everything that came later -- and everything we now know about Woody Allen, and wish we didn't -- I still love the world of this film, in which overeducated New Yorkers talk too much about their feelings and make decisions they know will lead to unhappiness. The answer, Woody seems to be saying, is to hang on to that sense of wonder and possibility, to believe that corruption is not inevitable.

My favorite daydream is an infinite number of parallel universes, in which an infinite number of parallel selves lead the lives we didn't choose in this one. As this blog ends, the unused quotations call to me from some of those other universes, and I wish I'd made some different choices, or watched some movies sooner.

In this universe, all possible choices distill themselves into only one set of circumstances, here and now. So let's move on to What I Read this Week.

Tess Gerritsen, Gravity. I picked up a nice first edition of this book at the Yarmouth Clam Festival, of all places, and got Dr. Gerritsen to sign it at a cookout last weekend. This was the perfect week to read it, since it's about an experiment on the International Space Station that goes horrifyingly wrong, and the shuttle flight whose astronauts may infect the earth with a devastating new organism. Absolutely terrific, not for the weak of stomach.

Reed Arvin, Blood of Angels. I keep saying I don't read legal thrillers, and then I keep reading legal thrillers that are so good I feel like a jerk. Arvin's third Thomas Dennehy novel finds the Nashville prosecutor grappling with the possibility that he sent the wrong man to his death, while he pursues a rape/murder case against a Sudanese refugee. I can't stand the phrase "New South" -- that's a rant for another time -- but this book is a fantastic portrait of culture clash and the limits of the legal system in today's South. I have not read the second book in this series, but remember being impressed with Arvin's debut novel, The Will.

A. J. Dunning, Extremes: Reflections on Human Behavior. This is a slim book of essays published in the early 1990s by a Dutch cardiologist; I pulled it off my shelf to answer a question for my friend Dan. As the title suggests, the essays explore the extremes of human nature. One compares Joan of Arc and her contemporary, Gilles de Rais, as examples of pure good and pure evil. Another looks at the history and nature of absinthe, and its effects on the careers of Baudelaire, Verlaine and Rimbaud. I consulted it for the essay on physical disorders related to shell shock, and wound up rereading the whole thing. It's that kind of book.

Gregg Hurwitz, Troubleshooter. Regular readers of this blog know that Gregg is a pal, and I'm a fan of his work. I admit I was a little wary of this one. The first book in this series, The Kill Clause, begins just after the brutal murder of Deputy Marshal Tim Rackley's six-year-old daughter. When Troubleshooter's jacket copy revealed that Rackley's wife, Andrea, is the victim of an attack this time, I thought, "Aw, Gregg..." I need not have worried. Troubleshooter is as close to perfect as thrillers get, and can be read without any knowledge of the earlier Tim Rackley books. Rackley and his colleagues chase down three escaped outlaw bikers, and his wife -- a sheriff's deputy -- is in the wrong place at the wrong time. What seems to be a biker gang war turns out to be something far more sinister, tied to the murders of several young Hispanic women and rooted in a scheme that stretches from Afghanistan to Mexico. Gregg could give lessons on research, and while this book is extremely violent, none of it feels gratuitous. As usual, Gregg does a particularly good job of making his villains real characters, behaving in ways they feel are understandable and even justifiable.

Thursday, July 28, 2005

“You must chill! You MUST—CHILL!”

The Movie: Say Anything…, 1989 (Cameron Crowe, director and screenwriter)
Who says it: John Cusack as graduating senior Lloyd Dobler
The context: Lloyd serves as the keymaster at a graduation night party, making sure no one drives home drunk; he uses this line to calm a classmate who’s freaking out about his keys.
How to use it: To restore order. Yes, "You Talking to Me" ends on Sunday, but let's not get too excited about that...

At the computer this morning with my cup of coffee, I'm thinking about how strange it will feel next week, when I'm not blogging. The blog has been the one constant in a year of upheaval. Without it, I expect to feel unanchored, and maybe even a little lonely. It's so much fun to stand on my own personal soapbox for twenty minutes a day; but if twenty minutes a day were really all I spent on it, I wouldn't be taking a month off.

I'm not sure how much time the blog consumes, which is one reason for the break. I may spend only twenty minutes writing each day's entry, but I have no idea how much time I spend trolling for likely quotations, discussing them with friends, checking for comments, or planning future entries. It's not unproductive time, because all of my projects seem to feed each other, but it's time I could be using for something else. Tod Goldberg's blog roll -- if you scroll over my name -- scolds me for blogging when I should be writing.

So this morning I'm making a list of Things I Will Be Doing With My Non-Blogging Time.

1. Finishing at least two major projects for clients, one badly overdue.
2. Deciding whether to continue my novel-in-progress, or set it aside to start something new.
3. Reading for Bouchercon (the World Mystery Convention, Sept. 1-4), so I can vote on the Anthony Awards and tell people, "Oh, I loved your book!" without lying. If I loved their books, that is. Otherwise, I'll just smile radiantly and say, "It's lovely to meet you!"
4. Buying a new bicycle before it gets too cold to ride it.
5. Spending serious time on China Lake with Anna, if she lets me on her property.
6. Brushing up my field hockey skills.
7. Calling Mom every day, to give her the information she would otherwise get from the blog.
8. Setting up my office -- after eight months, it might be time to finish unpacking.
9. Entertaining house guests; I'm hoping to see a few visitors this month.
10. Organizing the You Talking To Me? blog entries into book form -- just the quotations, not my pointless ramblings -- and begging some nice publisher to buy it from me. If you know anyone who might be interested, send them my way.

Happy birthday today to my cousin Sheila McLaughlin Cameron, cultural avatar and founder of the Free Katie movement. Sheila has a new cause: public support for the one and only Eliot Spitzer, the man who proved once and for all that J. Lo cannot sing. Check it out at

Wednesday, July 27, 2005

“Cecil, I blame you! I blame you very much indeed.”

The Movie: A Room with a View, 1985 (Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, screenwriter, from the novel by E.M. Forster; James Ivory, dir.)
Who says it: Helena Bonham-Carter as Lucy Honeychurch
The context: Lucy berates her fiancé, Cecil (Daniel Day-Lewis) for his role in renting a nearby cottage to George Emerson (Julian Sands) and his father, who are not welcome neighbors.
How to use it: When something goes wrong, and you wish you had nothing to do with it.

Thanks to Anna Bragdon for reminding me of how much our friend Sue Schulz loves this line -- and thanks to Sue for confirming the exact phrasing and context. What does it say about me that I'd pick Daniel Day-Lewis over Julian Sands in this movie? (Though I'd rather have Daniel Day-Lewis in Last of the Mohicans, if you're really asking.)

I was sorry this morning that I don't have a digital camera, because the riot of wildflowers behind the old paper factory is spectacular. Queen Anne's lace dominates among black-eyed susans, tiny daisies, and many flowers whose names I don't know -- purple, yellow, white. I'll take a regular camera down there this evening; I'll need the reminders of all this color in about six months.

The heat makes effort of any kind difficult. I plan to spend most of the day working at the library, just to be in air conditioning.

Tuesday, July 26, 2005

“It’s understanding that makes it possible for people like us to tolerate a person like yourself.”

The Movie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986 (John Hughes, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Matthew Broderick as high school senior Ferris Bueller, masquerading as Abe Froman, the Sausage King of Chicago
The context: The snooty maitre d’ has thanked Ferris for his understanding, after his original refusal to seat Ferris and his friends.
How to use it: To rage against the machine politely.

This quotation comes from my brother James, who says he's never had the courage to use it.

Almost all of the quotations lined up for this final week come from the 1980s. It's strange how the decade in which we come of age brands our consciousness forever. Has anyone decided what we're calling this decade, by the way? The Oughts? The Naughts? The Zeroes? The Ohs? (And now I'll have that Sesame Street song, "O, Would You Like to Buy an O?" in my head all day. It'll only cost a nickel...)

Yesterday's mail brought my Anthony Awards ballot, so it's a good thing I was already planning to reduce my workload for August. I have a lot of reading to do: two Best Novel nominees, three First Novel nominees, and all of the paperback originals. What, you say? I don't have to read every book nominated? I don't have to vote in all these categories? For shame. Nothing makes me happier than being asked for my opinion, and voting when I haven't read all the books would be dishonest. Tracking down all the short stories will be a challenge; if anyone knows an easy way to do this, please post it here or e-mail me.

I haven't decided yet whether I'm going to watch this morning's shuttle launch. Part of me hopes it will be scratched again -- because if today's launch is successful, I don't think that will mean the space program has resolved all of its safety issues.

Monday, July 25, 2005

“In the topsy-turvy world of heavy rock, having a good solid piece of wood in your hand is often quite useful.”

The Movie: This is Spinal Tap, 1984 (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Rob Reiner, screenwriters; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Tony Hendra as road manager Ian Faith
The context: Ian explains why he always travels with his trusty cricket bat.
How to use it: When wielding a big stick.

I had forgotten the simple pleasure of standing outside with a big stick in one's hands. Field hockey was never really my game -- I preferred lacrosse -- but later this week, I'll go buy my own pair of shin guards and look at used sticks. This group plays year round; in the winter, they play at an indoor arena in Topsham. And they play early in the morning, rather than at night. The test of my new enthusiasm will be whether I'm willing to get up at 6:00 a.m. to play.

Gardiner High School stands between farms and woods. Two young foxes, apparently unaware that humans are the enemy, came out last night to watch us play. As late afternoon turned into evening, we heard cows complaining (about what? Don't cows get milked in the morning?). The grass was green, the sky was blue, and it all felt like an advertisement for New England in the summertime.

This morning I feel a little creaky, but I'm still thinking about where I could go to brush up on my ball-dribbling skills.

Sunday, July 24, 2005

“Fasten your seat belts, it’s going to be a bumpy night.”

The Movie: All About Eve, 1950 (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, screenwriter and dir.)
Who says it: Bette Davis as legendary actress Margo Channing
The context: Margo prepares to make a scene at her own party.
How to use it: When you’re ready for a ruckus.

At the time of this movie's release, most people had never worn a seat belt unless they'd flown on an airplane. Ford was the first American auto company to install seat belts in the factory, in 1955 (for the 1956 model year), and they didn't become mandatory equipment until the 1968 model year. My twin sister and I (born in late 1965) were probably in the first generation of children to grow up with the rule that the car didn't go until seat belts were fastened.

Now, of course, most small children in cars are better protected than astronauts. The Lechners gave me a ride home last night from Anna & Tarren's, and their Gracie has a booster seat that could probably survive a drop from a skyscraper.

Today's quotation doubles as a prediction for my evening, because I'm going over to Gardiner High School tonight to play field hockey -- for the first time in more than 20 years. A group of women play every Sunday night, and it sounds like fun. My new insurance card arrived in yesterday's mail, and I bought some new cross-trainers with excellent treads, so I'm all set.

Saturday, July 23, 2005

“We don’t sell things. We sell dreams.”

The Movie: Absolute Beginners, 1986 (Richard Burridge, Terry Johnson, Don MacPherson and Christopher Wicking, screenwriters, from the novel by Colin McInnes; Julien Temple, dir.)
Who says it: David Bowie as 1950s advertising mogul Vendice Partners
The context: Partners gives Colin (Eddie O’Connell), an ambitious young photographer, a tour of his advertising empire; Colin is amazed that this structure exists just to sell things.
How to use it: Marketing 101.

Just over a week to go left on the "You Talking to Me?" theme, and I am rushing to include a few last favorite movies before it ends. This line is nothing special, but the movie is one of my favorites. Every few months it goes into heavy rotation on cable, and I have to watch it every time I happen upon it.

Yesterday afternoon I walked to the eye doctor's, because I had to get my pupils dilated -- and then I walked around Gardiner looking like a junkie, hiding my enormous pupils behind sunglasses even inside Reny's. The bad thing about living in a small town is that rumors can get started pretty fast... and the bad thing about getting my pupils dilated was that I couldn't really read for about four hours afterward, which put me even further behind on my workload than I already was.

Nevertheless, I am going out to Anna and Tarren's this afternoon for a cookout. No pies today; I am making a big Thai peanut noodle salad. It should go nicely with hot dogs. But what doesn't?

Friday, July 22, 2005

“Thank you for that… uh… powerful expression of basic human needs.”

The Movie: Blaze, 1989 (Ron Shelton, director and screenwriter, from the book by Blaze Starr and Huey Perry)
Who says it: Paul Newman as Louisiana Governor Earl Long
The context: Governor Long has just seen the stripper Blaze Starr (Lolita Davidovitch) dance for the first time.
How to use it: This quotation works on a wide range of socially inappropriate behaviors.

I may not have this quotation exactly right -- it's not on IMDb, but this is the way I've been saying the line for years.

A1-to-Go had its monthly wine tasting last night. I bought three bottles: a Prosecco, a Spanish table red, and, for curiosity's sake, a New Zealand Sauvignon Blanc that comes with a screw top. The Prosecco has a beer-bottle cap, but no one expects to recap a bottle of Prosecco once it's open.

The magazines say that plastic corks and screw tops are the wave of the wine-bottling future, but it still seems comical. And what will I do with the fancy corkscrew I got for Christmas last year?

Too busy to read much for pleasure this week, especially since one of the books I did read was 652 pages long.

What I Read This Week

J.K. Rowling, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince. You think I'm above Pottermania? If you're looking for backlash, you won't find it here. She's not the world's greatest prose stylist; when even Stephen King says you overuse adverbs, you should listen. But the world she's imagined is so compelling, and her plots are so ingenious, that she deserves every bit of her success. I was sure I knew who was going to die at the end of this book, and it seemed obvious who the Half-Blood Prince was -- but the circumstances of that death, and the real identity of the Half-Blood Prince, shocked me. Most impressive, nothing about these revelations felt contrived or "Scooby Doo"-like; everything in the first five books built toward the final fifty pages of this one. Bravo.

Terrill Lee Lankford, Blonde Lightning. As soon as I finished the advance reading copy of this book, I came across a blog posting of Lee's in which he asked people not to read the advance copy, because he made substantive changes before the book went to press. So now I'll have to read the book itself, just to see the changes -- but the advance copy was quite good, even before his changes. This is a sequel to last year's Earthquake Weather, a classic Hollywood noir whodunit. Blonde Lightning is a thriller, rather than a whodunit, as would-be film producer Mark Hayes gets involved in his neighbor Clyde McCoy's obsessive determination to make a film from his own screenplay. The character of Clyde McCoy owes a great deal to Newton Thornburg's Alex Cutter, a debt Lankford acknowledges by sending his characters to see a revival of Cutter's Way at the Nuart. You can read Blonde Lightning without having read Earthquake Weather, but the first ten pages of Blonde Lightning give away the ending of Earthquake Weather, so it's probably best to read them in order.

Thursday, July 21, 2005

“Match me, Sidney.”

The Movie: Sweet Smell of Success, 1957 (Clifford Odets and Ernest Lehman, screenwriters, from a novelette by Lehman; Alexander Mackendrick, dir.)
Who says it: Burt Lancaster as J.J. Hunsecker, a powerful gossip columnist
The context: Hunsecker has just spewed a vicious tirade about press agent Sidney Falco (Tony Curtis) in front of a Senator and his wife, while Falco sits beside him. At the end of the speech, Hunsecker asks Falco to light his cigarette, to complete his humiliation. Falco refuses.
How to use it: To add that last killer blow when someone’s been defeated.

Tom Ehrenfeld has been telling me to watch this movie for years, and I finally did last night. What took me so long? If I'd seen it a year ago, at least three other quotes from this movie would already have run in the blog ("My right hand hasn't seen my left hand in 30 years." "The cat's in the bag, and the bag's in the river." "I love this dirty town."). I rented it from Netflix, but I think I'll have to buy my own copy.

Four days of 90+ degree temperatures have left my corner of Gardiner smelling like garbage. It's a little cooler this morning, but it's still only 8:30. Yesterday I had to go work out just so I could be in air conditioning. Whatever gets me there...

Wednesday, July 20, 2005

“Surely you can’t be serious.” “I am serious. And don’t call me Shirley.”

The Movie: Airplane!, 1980 (Jim Abrahams, David Zucker, and Jerry Zucker, directors and screenwriters, from a teleplay by Arthur Hailey, and a screenplay by Hailey, Hall Bartlett, and John C. Champion)
Who says it: Robert Hays as shell-shocked former fighter pilot Ted Stryker, and Leslie Neilsen as Dr. Rumack
The context: Dr. Rumack explains that the pilots have succumbed to food poisoning, there’s no one to fly the plane, and they must land as soon as possible.
How to use it: Any time someone uses the word “surely.” It is funny every time.

This may be the most frequently suggested line/exchange I haven't used yet; thanks to Tom Ehrenfeld, Paul Tomme, and anyone else who's sent me this one. 2005 marks the 25th anniversary of Airplane!, and it's just as funny now as it was then.

I may have to break down and buy an air conditioner today -- a window unit, just one, so I can get some work done without having to spend all day at the library. In the meantime, I'm going to spend all morning at the library. Today isn't quite as humid as it was yesterday, but all the paper in my printer is already wavy.

Happy birthday today to the legendary Bill Kelly. Surely we have not known each other more than 20 years already...

Tuesday, July 19, 2005

“You should not drink and bake.”

The Movie: Raw Deal, 1986 (Gary DeVore and Norman Wexler, screenwriters, from a story by Luciano Vincenzoni and Sergio Donati; John Irvin, dir.)
Who says it: Arnold Schwarzenegger as ex-FBI agent turned sheriff Mark Kaminsky
The context: Kaminsky’s alcoholic, rage-filled wife (Blanche Baker) has just hurled a cake at him.
How to use it: Funny in any kitchen-related situation.

Thank goodness for IMDb -- I have been misquoting this line as "You should not drink and cook," for all these years. It would have been appropriate last week, when I was making all those pies, but I actually don't drink when I cook. I'm accident-prone enough in the kitchen as it is... a burn blister on my right index finger is peeling away in layers, and I have no memory whatsoever of getting this burn. Guess it didn't hurt very much.

"Why do I feel so good in Target, and so bad in Wal-Mart?" Anna asked last night as we roamed the aisles of south Portland's finest discount store.

"Class," Jen said, and while I think she meant that Target has class and Wal-Mart does not, it's equally accurate about our own class sensitivities. Nasty little children of privilege that we are, we feel that Target is a place for People Like Us, and Wal-Mart is... not. Disgusting, isn't it? Now I am going to have to spend some serious time at Wal-Mart in atonement. Maybe I'll even apply to be a greeter.

But I too feel tremendous comfort in Target, a clean, well-lighted place of endless abundance. I bought a rack for my CDs, which I'm unpacking at last... the rack only holds 180 CDs, and my collection now stands somewhere well over 200, but it's a start.

I've been rummaging through the boxes for the past seven months, but unpacking has still turned up old friends I'd forgotten I had: Carmina Burana. The first Concrete Blonde album. The Pretty in Pink soundtrack (shut up, I love it). Every so often, I think about upgrading to an iPod, but it would take me weeks to convert my collection. And what would I do without liner notes?

Monday, July 18, 2005

“Oh, you’re a bad pony – and I’m not going to bet on you.”

The Movie: House of Games, 1987 (David Mamet, director and screenwriter, from a story by Mamet and Jonathan Katz)
Who says it: Joe Mantegna as Mike, a master con artist
The context: Dr. Margaret Ford (Lindsay Crouse), begging Mike for protection, has just revealed too much about her own motivations – or has she?
How to use it: When you realize someone hasn’t told you everything you need to know.

Oh, how I love this movie. I've seen it well over a dozen times, I own it, I see new things in it every time I watch it -- and even though I know perfectly well how it ends, it always comes as a shock. It is Mamet's best con-within-a-con-within-a-con film, so good that the movie itself is a con, and I watch it over and over, trying to rationalize the behavior of the central characters.

Lunch at the Yarmouth Clam Festival yesterday involved the consumption of many types of deep-fried food. I had chicken nuggets, but they could have dropped any kind of vaguely triangular breaded flesh into the boiling oil, and I would not have known the difference. They could have been possum nuggets. Tasty, in any case.

I could buy my own corn dog/fried vegetable stand, if I wanted to. One was marked "For Sale" at the Pittston Fair on Friday night. Two deep fat fryers, signage, a refrigerated food storage unit, and some other essential equipment, plus space at fairs throughout Maine and New Hampshire next summer, all for $2,000. It's tempting.

"You could get a great book out of it," Steve Lechner said yesterday, a thought that had already occurred to me. But I have little patience with stunts performed for no reason other than to get a book out of it. If I spent a summer frying corn dogs at small-town fairs in New England, I'd be doing it for the experience, not just so people could read about me doing it.

No, Mom, I am not seriously thinking about doing this. Just a daydream.

Sunday, July 17, 2005

“One thing about living in Santa Carla I never could stomach: all the damn vampires.”

The Movie: The Lost Boys, 1987 (Jeffrey Boam and Janice Fischer, screenwriters, from a story by Fischer and James Jeremias; Joel Schumacher, dir.)
Who says it: Barnard Hughes as Grandpa
The context: Michael (Jason Patric) and Sam (Corey Haim) have saved themselves, their town and their mother (Dianne Wiest) from a community of vampires in a small California town; they had no idea their grandfather knew anything about it. This is the last line of the movie.
How to use it: Witty commentary on the population of your own small town.

It was too sunny for vampires at Old Hallowell Day yesterday. I didn't stick around for the pie judging, but the lady at the booth was very nice, and did not laugh at my offering. (I tripped on the sidewalk between the car and the pie booth, and was sure I'd put my thumb through the topping, but I hadn't. Whew.) Nobody called me yesterday afternoon, so I figure that 1) I did not win and 2) I did not poison anybody. I'll call that a draw.

The Maine International Film Festival began on Friday night in Waterville, and runs until July 24. Don't laugh, you Hollywood snobs; it's an impressive slate of films, and an excellent event all around. The Bragdons and I went up last night. We saw Bearing Witness, a terrific documentary about women journalists covering the war in Iraq, and The World, a Chinese film that aged us all about 20 years, and whose point completely escaped us. But what are film festivals for?

I just took another pie out of the oven to bring down to the Lechners' this afternoon. Turning my oven on was a true act of friendship, because we're having what passes for a heatwave in Maine (temperature and humidity in the 80s, and I don't have air-conditioning... why is it rolling down on the young and foolish? And if you can name that reference, I'll give you a prize).

Too much to do, too little time, but the most important thing to do today is extend the warmest welcome to Layla Christine Cameron, who breathed her first L.A. air early this morning. Layla, you are already blessed in your choice of parents, and may only happiness await you.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

“Sometimes I doubt your commitment to Sparkle Motion.”

The Movie: Donnie Darko, 2001 (Richard Kelly, director and screenwriter)
Who says it: Beth Grant as stage mother Kitty Farmer
The context: Rose Darko (Mary McDonnell) does not seem willing to go the extra mile to support their daughters’ competitive dance troupe.
How to use it: To acknowledge that others do not share your obsessive devotion to something.

I thought I understood this movie -- kind of -- but then I watched the director's cut of it, and realized I didn't have the slightest idea of what was going on. Humbling. Thanks to JJ McMillan for suggesting the line.

The word for the Pittston Fair is "small." The He-Man contest was cool, though. Contestants had to move about 20 big logs from one wood cradle to another; toss a log over a clothesline and back; flip a tractor tire over; carry two five-gallon buckets of something -- maybe nails? -- from one mark to another, and then drag a sledge with a cinder block in the opposite direction. Impressive.

And this line felt particularly appropriate, because as small as the Pittston Fair is, it has its own beauty pageants -- two. The Strawberry Queen pageant seems to be for high-schoolers, while the Little Blossom targets very young girls, maybe 5-7. The little girls seemed to be having fun walking around with sashes on, and I hate to be judgmental, but that whole subculture just horrifies me.

I'm off to Hallowell this morning with my pie. It's not perfect-looking, but I'm not exactly entering this contest to win it.

Friday, July 15, 2005

“This is not a democracy, it’s a cheerocracy.”

The Movie: Bring it On, 2000 (Jessica Bendinger, screenwriter; Peyton Reed, dir.)
Who says it: Kirsten Dunst as cheerleading captain Torrance Shipman
The context: Torrance faces down dissent from her rival, Courtney (Clare Kramer)
How to use it: When you’re making an executive decision for the good of the team.

Thanks to Lucy and Tom Ehrenfeld for recommending this line.

Curiosity can be so inconvenient. Here's what I'm wondering about this morning: when Billy Bob Thornton (allegedly) went on that diet where he ate only orange food, did he allow himself Cheez Doodles? If so, that might be a diet I can get behind.

And it's time to acknowledge that I've been reading too much crime fiction. Last night, I drove by the American Tissue plant just north of Augusta, and I was grossing out until I realized it wasn't human tissue they meant. Sheesh.

What I Read This Week

Michael Connelly, The Closers. Harry Bosch returns to the LAPD to work cold cases, which the department now calls "Open Unsolved." His first case seems like a slam-dunk: a DNA match on a gun that killed a beautiful 17-year-old girl in 1988. Sifting through the old investigation, though, Harry finds echoes of corruption that resonate in the department to the present day. It's nice to see Harry back on the force, and this series is one of my favorites. Weirdly, Connelly's prose seemed a little awkward in this book -- characters speak without contractions, sentences are even choppier than usual. But that's a minor quibble.

Dylan Schaffer, I Right the Wrongs. Schaffer's debut, Misdemeanor Man, was a pure delight: a legal thriller starring a low-level public defender who moonlights as a Barry Manilow tribute artist and struggles to care for his father, who has early-onset Alzheimer's. In this sequel, Gordon Seegerman (aka Barry X) defends a high school football hero whose theft of a rival team's mascot leads to murder, and to the solution of a long-unsolved mystery. Good stuff, not quite as snappy as the first novel, and the timeline of the last few chapters gets a little confusing. I've mentioned before that I'm not crazy about present-tense narration; it's hard to do well, and seems to call attention to itself.

Charles McCarry, The Secret Lovers. Man oh man I love this book, which I had to reread for a client. I consider it the best of all American Cold War espionage novels (although I'll entertain counter-arguments for McCarry's classic The Tears of Autumn). CIA operative Paul Christopher comes to grips with the emotional costs of the life he has chosen, as he pursues an operation that may get a brilliant author killed and cost Christopher his marriage. This book is shamefully, shockingly out of print, although I hear that the Overlook Press plans to reprint it soon.

Jeff Shelby, Killer Swell. And then I went from the sublime to the... not. This debut novel, introducing surfer-P.I. Noah Braddock, isn't bad, but it's so close to being excellent that it made me want to snarl. One redraft under the supervision of a good editor would have taken care of three major plot howlers that wrecked this book for me: the unjustifiably coincidental discovery of the victim's body; the fact that the victim's father hires Braddock without pointing him to the obvious prime suspect, whom the father has no reason to protect; and the fact that an important secondary character hasn't heard about the victim's death a week or more after it happened, despite having close personal and professional ties to the victim's husband. Shelby's obviously talented, and deserves better from his publisher than this.

Thursday, July 14, 2005

“We have Franch fries… Franch bread… Franch dressing…”

The Movie: Better Off Dead, 1985 (Savage Steve Holland, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Kim Darby as Jenny Meyer, mother of Lane (John Cusack) and apocalyptically bad cook
The context: The Meyers entertain Monique (Diane Franklin), a French exchange student, with items that honor her national cuisine.
How to use it: To celebrate your ignorance of other world cultures. Happy Bastille Day, mes amis.

Over the past week, people have driven their cars through plate-glass windows at the Cumberland Farms and the Lucky Strike Bowling Lanes here in Gardiner. If these things come in threes, the folks at the A-1 To Go must be feeling pretty nervous about now.

It's no wonder, really, because summertime in Maine is downright frenzied, especially compared to the hibernation of winter. The Pittston Fair starts today, and I may need to check out tomorrow night's He-Man Contest.

I won't be entering that, but I do plan to enter the pie-baking contest at Old Hallowell Day, on Saturday. (Sour cream-blueberry, in a graham cracker crust. E-mail me and I'll send you the recipe.) And then on Sunday, if the weather holds, I'll be headed down to Yarmouth for the Clam Festival. Jen promises that I will not actually have to eat any clams.

Wednesday, July 13, 2005

“They all come here… how do they find me?”

The Movie: The Producers, 1968 (Mel Brooks, director and screenwriter)
Who says it: Zero Mostel as corrupt producer Max Bialystock
The context: Bialystock mutters this to himself as he realizes how easy it will be to take advantage of his accountant, Leo Bloom (Gene Wilder)
How to use it: When marveling – for better or worse -- over the kind of people you attract.

How is it possible that this is the first line I've used from The Producers? My choice today was a toss-up between this line and Leo's fit about his blue blankie, but I never had a blankie, and I do seem to attract more than my share of - er - interesting people. (I know -- when you go out looking for eccentrics, what can you expect?)

Like most women in Maine over the age of 30, I belong to Curves. Even the smallest Maine towns have Curves franchises. It's a genuine phenomenon. I like the program a lot; it's 30 minutes of interval training, three times a week. If you can't put in 30 minutes three times a week, you have more serious problems than Curves can help you with.

But the other day when I went, I realized that it was time for a new pair of aerobics shoes, and that's more annoying than it might otherwise be. I love my old pair; I've worn this same model of shoe for more than five years, and ordinarily, I'd just buy a new pair of the same type of shoes.

The problem is that these shoes are Nikes, and I'm not buying Nike products anymore. This is my own boycott, and the first time I've ever done anything like this -- but Nike has started using Kobe Bryant as its public face again, and as long as they do that, they won't get my business.

I don't care that he wasn't convicted of anything. Where did we get the idea that just because something's not a crime, it's okay? The behavior he admitted to is so vile, so self-absorbed and so profoundly contemptuous of women that no public company should seek his endorsement for anything. Kobe Bryant's contract with Nike, as far as I'm concerned, overrides everything Nike has done to support women and girls in sports. Shame on them.

Fortunately, my Curves was giving out coupons for the Reebok outlet in Freeport.

Tuesday, July 12, 2005

“I’m too old for this *@#$!”

The Movie: Lethal Weapon, 1987 (Shane Black, screenwriter; Richard Donner, dir.); also, Lethal Weapons 2, 3 and 4. Why mess with a good catchphrase?
Who says it: Danny Glover as LAPD Sergeant Roger Murtaugh
The context: Murtaugh’s new partner, Martin Riggs (Mel Gibson), gets him into harm’s way a little too often.
How to use it: Aggravations past the age of 35 or so.

Have I mentioned that I'm turning 40 this year? Oh, I have? It doesn't bother me. No, really. Turning 25, for some reason, bothered me. Turning 29 bothered me. Turning 30 bothered me not at all, and the prospect of 40 feels almost like a relief. Maybe I'll quit coloring my hair, and let the gray hairs that first surfaced at 16 have their way.

The age-related indignities have already begun, though. I went to the eye doctor yesterday, and left with my first prescription for -- arrgh -- bifocals.

It wasn't a surprise. I've been able to go without my glasses or contacts for most of the past year, because my mild myopia had reached a delicate equilibrium with adult-onset farsightedness. My eye doctor had warned me, though, that this wouldn't last long, and that the next stop would be bifocals.

So here we are. I have a new pair of contact lenses, and a pair of reading glasses to go with them. The bifocals arrive next week; thank goodness, they're progressive lenses, without the visible line, so I don't have to feel too humiliated.

I will store them in my bathroom medicine cabinet, right next to the Oil of Olay Regenerist Daily Regenerating Serum. Which, by the way, does not seem to be working. Maybe I'm not supposed to be drinking it.

Monday, July 11, 2005

“You wanna be worshipped? Go to India and moo.”

The Movie: Quiz Show, 1994 (Paul Attanasio, screenwriter, from the book by Richard N. Goodwin; Robert Redford, dir.)
Who says it: John Turturro as Herbie Stempel, the winningest contestant on “21” – until Charles Van Doren (Ralph Fiennes)
The context: Herbie is less than sympathetic to the expectations of his wife (Johann Carlo)
How to use it: A nasty comeback to someone who seems to expect too much.

One of the mysteries of the universe may have revealed itself to me yesterday. Anyone who's done much highway driving has seen them: single shoes lying by the side of the road. Where do they come from? Why only one, always? Is it some kind of signal to members of a secret society?

I was driving home from Augusta down 95 yesterday, behind a red SUV. From the passenger-side window, a hand dangled one canvas sneaker. Another hand dangled another sneaker from the driver's-side window. It had rained all morning, and all day on Saturday, so maybe this was just a creative way to dry the sneakers out -- but I was waiting to see one of the shoes spiral off into the slipstream, to become one of the mysterious single shoes by the side of the road.

It didn't happen while I was watching, but the SUV continued south when I took the ramp to 295. I'm guessing that if I drove down to Lewiston this morning, I'd see one of those shoes along the way.

Oh, and this quotation is thanks to Tod Goldberg, who asked for a line from Quiz Show before the end of the month. He would never use this one to his own lovely wife.

Sunday, July 10, 2005

“Every feeling is in the body as well as the mind.”

The Movie: The Secret Lives of Dentists, 2002 (Craig Lucas, screenplay, from a novel by Jane Smiley; Alan Rudolph, dir.)
Who says it: Kevin Carroll as Dr. Danny, a pediatrician
The context: Dr. Danny tells David Hurst (Campbell Scott) that he believes the stomach pains of Hurst’s daughter Stephanie (Lydia Jordan) have an emotional basis.
How to use it: When self-examining for hypochondria.

I think I am getting a cold. It might just be allergies, but I also feel as if I'm dragging around a 50-pound sack of flour. My Inner Critic scolds me for laziness, and suggests that I might be faking it to shirk the pile of work in front of me. I beg to point out to the Inner Critic that I have been traveling for most of the past six weeks, and have an excuse to feel tired.

Plus, I went for that nature walk in the rain yesterday, not that I believe there's any connection between getting wet and catching a cold. (Who came up with that idea?) It was really great, very low-key, as is Mr. Heinrich himself -- a little shy in front of a crowd, tuned to things the rest of us don't hear very well.

I saw something along the path that looked like a very fat slug, but proved on closer inspection to be a dead shrew. Mr. Heinrich picked it up and turned it over, showing us how shrews differ from moles (moles, which dig, have much larger front paws). Shrews are the only mammals with a poisonous bite, and have glands that give off a bad smell to predators. A predator had probably gotten this one, Mr. Heinrich said, and then dropped it on the path because it tasted so bad. Tough luck for the shrew, which was just as dead in any case.

When I got home, I looked up shrews in the encyclopedia and learned that they can also die just from the shock of a rough touch or a loud noise. That's taking psychosomatic distress to a whole new level.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

“Oh, no, my dear, I’m a very good man. I’m just a very bad wizard.”

The Movie: The Wizard of Oz, 1939 (Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, screenwriters, from the book by L. Frank Baum; Victor Fleming, dir.)
Who says it: Frank Morgan as the Wizard
The context: Dorothy (Judy Garland), discovering the Wizard’s true identity, says, “You’re a very bad man!”
How to use it: When you’ve disappointed someone’s expectations.

It's always disconcerting when someone takes your flippant remarks too seriously. Not long ago, I muttered something to a friend about not being far from mental illness. I meant it as a joke, but he gave me a look that was a little too understanding.

"You're not nuts," he said kindly. "You're just a little eccentric."

I guess that's fair, though not as reassuring as he meant it to be. All I can really do about it is to hang out with people who are more eccentric than I am, so I feel normal in comparison.

Toward that end, I'm driving up to Hinckley this afternoon for a nature walk led by the brilliant (but notoriously eccentric) naturalist, artist and writer Bernd Heinrich, author of A Year in the Maine Woods, Bumblebee Economics, Why We Run, and many other books. It's pouring rain, but what is that to a professional naturalist? I called to ask whether it would be cancelled for bad weather, and the lady who answered the phone just laughed. So off I go, and it should be a great adventure.

How do people who aren't eccentric ever have any fun?

Friday, July 08, 2005

“Who needs reasons when you’ve got heroin?”

The Movie: Trainspotting, 1996 (John Hodge, screenplay, from the novel by Irvine Welsh; Danny Boyle, dir.
Who says it: Ewen McGregor as Mark “Rent-Boy” Renton, a Scottish heroin addict
The context: Renton explains why he has chosen not to make the choices required of adults in today’s society.
How to use it: When doing something irrational.

The whole speech, for the record: "Choose Life. Choose a job. Choose a career. Choose a family. Choose a f***ing big television, choose washing machines, cars, compact disc players and electrical tin openers. Choose good health, low cholesterol, and dental insurance. Choose fixed interest mortgage repayments. Choose a starter home. Choose your friends. Choose leisurewear and matching luggage. Choose DIY and wondering who the f*** you are on a Sunday morning. Choose sitting on that couch watching mind-numbing, spirit-crushing game shows, stuffing f***ing junk food into your mouth. Choose rotting away at the end of it all, pishing your last in a miserable home, nothing more than an embarrassment to the selfish, f***ed up brats you spawned to replace yourself. Choose your future. Choose life... But why would I want to do a thing like that? I chose not to choose life. I chose somethin' else. And the reasons? There are no reasons. Who needs reasons when you've got heroin?"

And yes, this movie is a cautionary tale. Just say no.

None of my friends who might have been in London yesterday were actually there, which is a relief, but doesn't change the horror and the sorrow. Once again, I have to ask: what are these people hoping to achieve? What do they think will happen as a result of these attacks?

My friends the Schulzes were living in London in the fall of 1996, and I went over to visit that November. Sue and I were evacuated from the Underground at Piccadilly Station on my birthday, as we were on our way to lunch. No one told us what was going on, but we assumed it was a bomb threat -- the IRA had lately been active. I made some crack about how ironic it would be to die on my birthday, but neither of us thought for a moment that we might be in any real danger. It was a stupid thing to joke about, but I feel angry that I'll never be able to make a joke like that again.

I spent too much time driving this week to get much reading done, so this week's list includes two audio books and only one printed one.

What I Read This Week

Philip Pullman, The Golden Compass. I've read this book at least three times, but checked the audiobook out from the library anyway. It's the first in Pullman's "His Dark Materials" trilogy (known in the U.K. as "The Northern Lights"), theoretically written for young adults. Lyra Belacqua, living in a parallel version of Oxford, ventures to the far north to discover the truth about her parentage and explore the deepest mysteries of the universe. This book is a classic; I think they're making it into a movie, about which I have serious reservations.

Dashiell Hammett, The Glass Key. I haven't read enough Hammett; his prose gets a little dense for me sometimes, so the audiobook was a good option for me. Gambler and low-level political fixer Ned Beaumont works to clear his boss, Paul Madvig, from suspicions of murdering a senator's son. It hardly matters that Madvig may be guilty. One of my favorite movies, Millers Crossing, owes a great deal to this book.

David Wolstencroft, Contact Zero. Wolstencroft's first novel, Good News, Bad News, was a terrific book that suggested great possibilities for espionage novels in the post-Cold War world. Contact Zero picks up an idea from the first book: the legend of a sanctuary network for British spies whose covers have been blown, and whose own government has repudiated them. I read an uncorrected advance copy that should have spent a little more time with an editor, but the premise, the action and the characters are all solid. It'll be available in September.

Thursday, July 07, 2005


The Movie: Poltergeist, 1982 (Steven Spielberg, Mark Grais, and Mark Victor, screenwriters; Tobe Hooper, dir.)
Who says it: Dominique Dunne, as Dana, oldest daughter of the Freeling family
The context: Dana comes home from a date to find her house under siege by forces from another world. This line is a shriek of pure anguish.
How to use it: When you can’t absorb something terrible.

I was going to use "They're heeere..." today, but this line feels more appropriate this morning -- because Ed McBain has died, and terrorists have shut London down.

The sky over Gardiner is a dark, heavy gray, and that feels like more than a pathetic fallacy. I feel sick and sad, and can't think of anything to say.

Wednesday, July 06, 2005

“I see you shiver in antici… pation.”

The Movie: Rocky Horror Picture Show, 1975 (Jim Sharman and Richard O’Brien, screenwriters, from the play by Richard O’Brien; Jim Sharman, dir.)
Who says it: Tim Curry as Dr. Frank-N-Furter, a transvestite mad scientist
The context: Dr. Frank-N-Furter invites Brad (Barry Bostwick) and Janet (Susan Sarandon) to take a closer look at his work. This line leads into the immortal “Time Warp” number.
How to use it: When your audience has been waiting.

It would betray my high school theater geek heritage if I didn't use at least one quotation from Rocky Horror before the end of the month. That said, this movie works only with an audience, and preferably an audience intoxicated by adolescent hormones or some other substance; I saw an edited version on VH1 not too long ago, and watching it alone at home, sober, isn't very entertaining.

And yes, today's posting is very late, because I spent all day on the road. Traffic wasn't too bad, but the rain started before I got out of New Jersey, and continued all the way home.

But Dizzy and I are very glad to be home, and I was relieved to find that I had taken the trash out. Whew.

Tuesday, July 05, 2005

“You’re an errand boy, sent by grocery clerks, to collect a bill.”

The Movie: Apocalypse Now, 1979 (John Milius and Francis Ford Coppola, screenwriters, from the story “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad; Francis Ford Coppola, dir.)
Who says it: Marlon Brando as the deranged Colonel Kurtz, deep in the Vietnamese jungle
The context: Kurtz confronts Captain Willard (Martin Sheen), who has been sent to the jungle to terminate Colonel Kurtz’s command.
How to use it: To express contempt for authority.

Thanks to Chris Bea for this line. It distills such a profound contempt that I can imagine half-a-dozen scenarios in which I would want to use it, but lack the courage to say it aloud.

"Stay an extra day!" Ashton said last night, and I am sorely tempted. I have so much work to do it frightens me, and the idea of spending the day here, just working, is powerfully attractive. But I also feel almost desperate to be home again, with my own stuff, and back in some kind of routine.

So I'm taking off around midday, and driving as far as the Philadelphia suburbs today. Dizzy and I will stay with my old roommate, Leigh, and go the rest of the way to Maine tomorrow.

Monday, July 04, 2005

“You know, Billy, we blew it.”

The Movie: Easy Rider, 1969 (Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, and Terry Southern, screenwriters; Dennis Hopper, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Fonda as Wyatt, aka Captain America, a biker-turned-drug dealer
The context: Wyatt tells his partner, Billy (Dennis Hopper) that they have squandered their dream of finding “the real America,” even though they’ve made big money from a drug deal.
How to use it: To mourn a missed opportunity.

Using this quotation today feels like a cheap shot, but I never claimed to be above cheap shots. I feel impatient with the idea of a "real America," anyway. The point of the United States is that each American gets to create his own country.

At the risk of calling down major grief, I'll say I don't think much of this movie, either. Maybe it's generational, but I've never thought this movie was especially entertaining; it's slow, self-indulgent, self-congratulatory and kind of dumb. Great images, though, and an undeniable bit of cultural history.

I ground my teeth in my sleep last night -- my usual signal of extreme sleep deprivation -- and woke up with my jaw in spasm, so forgive me for this morning's crankiness. And happy birthday today to John Erath, a true patriot and my role model for all things curmudgeonly.

Happy 4th of July, everybody. Make your own fireworks.

Sunday, July 03, 2005

“You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.”

The Movie: To Have and Have Not, 1944 (Jules Furthman and William Faulkner, screenwriters, loosely based on a novel by Ernest Hemingway; Howard Hawks, dir.)
Who says it: Lauren Bacall as Slim, a nightclub singer in Martinique
The context: Slim makes her availability clear to Steve Morgan (Humphrey Bogart), a charter boat captain.
How to use it: Do I really need to explain this to you?

The whole line: “You know you don't have to act with me, Steve. You don't have to say anything, and you don't have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle. You know how to whistle, don't you, Steve? You just put your lips together and... blow.”

This movie is not among my favorites, but it is a great line, and my mother, in her younger days, looked like Lauren Bacall. My mother still looks pretty good, I'm glad to report.

Using this line reminds me to mention that we are now in the final month of this incarnation of the blog. The "You Talking to Me?" theme will end on July 31, so if you have any lines you can't believe I haven't used already, send them on. Thanks to the people who've already sent me some; I will need to watch a couple of movies before I can use some of the lines that have been suggested, but I'll do my best.

The blog will take a break for the month of August, and return on September 1 in its new incarnation. I do know what the new theme will be, but won't announce it here until the end of the month.

Our Chris, my brother James and I saw War of the Worlds last night. The movie is very scary, very well-made, and I hated it. Last night I just felt uneasy about it; this morning I feel a little disgusted, as if I'd participated in some kind of mob behavior. Stephanie Zacharek, in her review for Salon magazine, explains why better than I can.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

“Chicolini here may talk like an idiot, and look like an idiot, but don’t let that fool you: he really is an idiot.”

The Movie: Duck Soup, 1933 (Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, screenwriters; Leo McCarey, dir.)
Who says it: Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly, president of Freedonia
The context: Firefly discusses what he and his advisors should do with the spy Chicolini (Chico Marx)
How to use it: Reliable political analysis in almost any situation.

Okay, that's probably a little too cynical. Washington is full of very bright people who really do want to save the world; I used to be one of them, and have many friends who still fall into that category. Washington is also full of the incredibly obnoxious kids from your high school who were presidents of the debate team and the student council (and I was one of those too, although I was president of the Fine Arts Council, not debate, so I was already a flake).

But I'll never forget the first time I met a Congressman who just wasn't very bright. I won't identify him, because I don't want the man to sue me -- although he might still be in prison, and not capable of suing anyone. All of my D.C. friends and former colleagues will know who I mean. This man represented a Southern mountain state, and had an extraordinary talent for remembering people's names -- and nothing else.

I remember sitting in a meeting with him about some bank regulatory issue (this would have been during the savings & loan crisis of the late 1980s), and suddenly realizing that not only had he not understood a word of the conversation, he wasn't even paying attention. And here I'd been thinking that only the best people in the United States got elected to Congress, as if it were some kind of beatification instead of a money-driven popularity contest.

It was the beginning of my understanding that desire and confidence are more important than talent in almost every area of life. We all know very talented people who can't seem to catch a break; they can't get their books published, they can't get promoted, they can't make their movies happen, they can't find investors, etc. The difference between these people and the successful idiots is that the successful idiots simply expect their success.

The best piece of professional advice I ever got was during this same period, from the master lobbyist who was my boss. "Don't think about what you're going to say, because then you sound scripted," he told me. "Think about the response you want." We all want to be liked, and the easiest way to do that is to give people the responses they're looking for. The key to lobbying, or to any kind of sale, is to let someone know what the "right" response would be.

Professional politicians understand that instinctively, even if they don't know anything else.

Friday, July 01, 2005

“When you have to shoot, shoot, don’t talk.”

The Movie: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly (Il Buono, Il Brutto, Il Cattivo), 1966 (Age, Scarpelli, Luciano Vincenzoni & Sergio Leone, screenwriters; Sergio Leone, dir.)
Who says it: Eli Wallach as Tuco, the Ugly
The context: A one-armed bounty hunter (Al Mulock) breaks in on Tuco in his bath, and gives a long speech about his long, difficult hunt for Tuco. Tuco just pulls out a gun and shoots him.
How to use it: To cut to the chase.

I know nothing about guns. Would this scene be possible? Will guns fire when wet?

Today I've hit that point in every extended trip when I really would like to be home again. As lovely as this trip has been, and as gracious as my hosts are, and as glad as I am to see all my friends (and I still won't see everyone on this trip, sorry, sorry, sorry), I miss my own bed and my own stuff. I feel anxious about my mail. I think I emptied my kitchen trashcan before I left -- I'm sure I did -- except I'm not completely sure I did, and wonder if the neighbors have called the police about the stench.

Nevertheless, we press on. Tomorrow I go to Annapolis and then to Virginia Beach, and I won't be back in Maine until Wednesday. The mail must wait, and that bad smell should only last about 48 hours, right? How long did the bad smell last in "A Rose for Emily"? (Oh, I just checked. A week or two. Well, we'll hope for the best. I'm sure I threw the trash away. I'm sure I did.)

And this is What I Read This Week, which includes two audio books.

The Baroness Orczy, The Scarlet Pimpernel. I mentioned this last week; it was one of the audio books I listened to on the drive from Maine. Fans of romance novels will know who the elusive Scarlet Pimpernel is almost from the moment we meet the character, but only because every romantic adventure since The Scarlet Pimpernel has stolen this plot device. If you can get past the anti-Semitism -- and I'm not sure we should, regardless of the different cultural values of its time -- it's very entertaining.

Richard Matheson, I am Legend. I read this novella in high school, and it bored me -- I didn't get it. Twenty years later, on audiotape, it scared me silly. In suburban Los Angeles, Richard Neville seems to be the only survivor of a plague that turned everyone else into vampires, or into vampires' victims. He manages to stave off both insanity and the vampires, but his own loneliness makes him vulnerable to a different sort of destruction. If I taught high school government or sociology, I'd assign this book; it works on so many different levels, and the allegories are as powerful now as they were in 1954.

Donald F. Terry and Steven R. Wilson, editors, Beyond Small Change: Making Migrant Remittances Count. Remittances -- the payments that migrant workers send home to their relatives and loved ones -- are the human face of the global labor market. Every year, here in the United States, the poorest of the working poor send more than $45 billion home to their families and friends in Latin America alone. This book is a collection of articles that explore the remittance phenomenon and ask what changes are necessary to improve the economic lives of the people sending this money and the people who receive it.

Carl Hiaasen, Flush. Hiaasen's second novel for young adults is the story of Noah and Abbey Underwood, who need to prove that a casino boat owner is dumping raw sewage into the water off the Florida Keys. They care about the environment, but it's also the only way they can keep their dad out of jail and their mom from suing for divorce. Flush is great for kids who have graduated from Nancy Drew and the Hardy Boys. It's more than a little ironic that I kept thinking, as I read the book, what a perfect 1970s-era Disney movie it would make.

Julia Spencer-Fleming, To Darkness and to Death. This series has already won almost every award available to mystery writers, and the books just get better and better. In this book, the fourth in the series, Episcopalian priest Clare Fergusson gets called out to help with the search for a missing heiress. That disappearance, however, is not what it seems, and over the course of a single day -- actually, 21 hours -- a proposed land deal becomes the impetus for a terrible series of crimes. The day is also police chief Russ Van Alstyne's 50th birthday, and he and Clare face a crisis point in acknowledging their mutual attraction. What's so great about Julia's books (she's a neighbor, and a lovely person) is that she is absolutely true to her characters, even when it's inconvenient for her plot. Go read this series, already.