Monday, August 29, 2005

"Ohana means family. And family means no one gets left behind... or forgotten."

The Movie: Lilo & Stitch, 2002 (Chris Sanders & Dean DeBlois, screenwriters and directors)
Who says it: Daveigh Chase as the voice of Lilo, a Hawaiian orphan
The context: Lilo argues with her sister, Nani (voice of Tia Carrere), about whether to return her monstrous new pet, Stitch, to the pound.
How to use it: To remember your obligations.

Just a quick post -- because I've gotten a couple of e-mails -- to say that, thank God, my twin sister Kathy and her family got out of their house in Pascagoula well ahead of Katrina, and are safe with friends in Atlanta. Whether their house still stands, and what condition it might be in, remain to be seen.

Here in Gardiner, the Elks are hosting an emergency blood drive tomorrow afternoon at the Gardiner Sportsman's Club, starting at 1:30. People who want to donate to the Red Cross should click here, and people who want to donate to the Salvation Army should click here.

My flight to Chicago on Wednesday connects in Pittsburgh, which is supposed to be getting the remnants of Katrina then. I'm on the phone right now to see if there's any way to change that... one way or another, the dateline on the next post will be September 1 -- Chicago.

Tuesday, August 16, 2005

In Memoriam, J. Alton Wingate

I'm back from hiatus just for today, because I wanted to post something about my friend and mentor Alton Wingate, who died at his home in Georgia early today.

You've probably never heard of him, even if you're in the banking business -- but Alton was the man who put the first bank branch in a supermarket, and licensed the concept in 1984. Over the past 20 years, Alton's company, Financial Supermarkets Inc., has helped banks put branches in supermarkets from California to Lorraine. Almost before anyone else, Alton saw the evolution of modern consumer banking into a transaction-based business, and understood the need to abandon traditional restrictions on service hours and service methods. He didn't want to hear why something couldn't be done; he wanted to know how you planned to do it.

I met Alton in 1987, as a shaky new lobbyist for the Conference of State Bank Supervisors. As busy and important as he was, he always seemed to have time to explain his business and his goals to a 22-year-old who lacked even a basic banking vocabulary. Four years later, when I started writing CSBS's weekly newsletter, he was my most vocal supporter. The newsletter hit members' desks on Monday afternoon, and as often as not I'd get a phone call from Alton on Tuesday, praising a story or laughing at one of my lame punning headlines.

The biggest favor he ever did me, professionally or personally, was after another promotion, in 1993. In addition to the newsletter and the media relations, I suddenly had responsibility for bank industry liaison, as well. At 27, I was way, way over my head, trying to staff a group of bank CEOs who had forgotten more than I'd ever know about the dynamics of state and federal banking laws. "You gotta go and meet these people," Alton told me. "You gotta see them where they are, that's how you find out what they need."

That was the genesis of my first big road trip, a month-long drive from Washington, DC through the Southeast, as far west as Austin, as far north as Indianapolis and back again. My brother Ed, who'd just graduated from college, came along for the adventure, and to share the driving. We stayed in no-tell motels and ate at diners, and I visited a dozen state banking departments and at least a dozen banks. I made friends on that trip I'll have for the rest of my life, and I'd never have had the confidence to do it without Alton's encouragement.

I thanked him more than once for all his help through the years, but I doubt he ever fully understood how much his support meant to me -- how he made it possible for me to pretend that I knew what I was doing, until the day came when I finally did know.

He was constantly trying to quit smoking, or pretending that he had quit, and the demon weed got him in the end. But he enjoyed his life, his business, his family and his success as much as anyone I've ever known, and not a moment of his life was wasted.

I feel lucky to have known him. The only lines I can think to end with are Philip Larkin's.

The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful

Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.

Friday, August 12, 2005

“You’re still here? It’s over. Go home.”

The Movie: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, 1986 (John Hughes, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Matthew Broderick as unconventional high school senior Ferris Bueller
The context: This is the very last line of the movie, after all the credits have rolled and reasonable audience members are already in the parking lot.
How to use it: At the end of a long day, or a long party.

Blame Tom Ehrenfeld for this post, which I'm only making because this quotation is so perfect for it.

How's everybody doing? Miss me? Yeah, I miss you, too. Really, I do, which worries me.

Greetings from Cambridge, where Kate had several authors signing last night. Yesterday was also the Feast of St. Clare --so afterwards, I walked around the corner and ate a lot of Indian food, which is hard to find in central Maine. (Brunswick has an Indian restaurant, but I haven't been there.)

Just for those of you who were checking in, here's What I've Read this Month. See how it goes when I'm not blogging?

Sandra Balzo, Uncommon Grounds. Wisconsin divorcee Maggy Thorsen opens her new coffee shop for its first day of business, and finds her business partner electrocuted on the floor in front of the espresso machine. Like so many first novels, this one needed one last rewrite; the storytelling improves dramatically from the first chapters to the end, and the book ends strongly. Fans of Diane Mott Davidson's Goldy Bear series will like this one.

Elizabeth Benedict, The Practice of Deceit. Eric Lavender is arrested on charges of child molestation during the course of a vicious divorce proceeding. His wife happens to be a divorce lawyer; as Eric tells the story of their courtship and marriage, and how he wound up in jail, the book itself changes from social drama to psychological thriller. I bought this book last night and finished it before morning, which should tell you all you need to know.

Ken Bruen, The Killing of the Tinkers. I read this book a couple of years ago, but felt the need to look at it again before voting on the Anthonys. Ex-Garda Jack Taylor returns to Galway on a major cocaine binge, and reluctantly agrees to investigate a series of murders among the Travellers. Bruen's novels hang somewhere between poetry and prose, terribly dark and terribly compassionate for all of us who do terrible things.

Edward Conlon, Blue Blood. This memoir of life in the NYPD got a lot of attention when it came out, because Conlon is a Harvard graduate -- but he makes it clear that his career choice was hardly an aberration, and barely even eccentric. Conlon comes from a long line of New York law enforcement officials and firefighters, and sees his work as a vocation. Over the course of some 600 pages, Conlon covers everything from the Irish-American experience to the intricacies of the New York legal system. It's the best book about police work I've ever read, and will stand as cultural history for decades to come.

Lee Goldberg, The Man With the Iron-On Badge. Due out in late September/early October, this is a violent, often crude, sometimes hilarious and ultimately touching homage to the Gold Medal paperbacks of the 1950s and 1960s. Harvey Mapes is a loser working a dead-end job -- security guard for a gated community in a Los Angeles suburb -- when one of the community's residents asks him to trail his wife. With all the knowledge Harvey's gained from a lifetime of "The Rockford Files" and Travis McGee novels, he uncovers a blackmailing plot, a murder, and a tragic set of family secrets. Goldberg manages to get the tone just right, never treating his characters' sorrows with less respect than they deserve.

J.A. Konrath, Whiskey Sour. Chicago police lieutenant Jack (short for Jacqueline) Daniels and her partner chase down a sadistic killer who calls himself The Gingerbread Man. The violence in this novel was too graphic for my sister Kathy, who had to put it down; I didn't think any of it felt gratuitous, and Konrath has my great respect for his ability to write a female first-person narrator so convincingly. This is a series I'll keep reading.

Roberta Isleib, Putt to Death. Professional golfer Cassie Burdette takes a job as a pro at an old and exclusive club in Connecticut. Almost immediately, she gets embroiled in a campaign to increase the rights of women in the club -- and starts finding the corpses of the club's most controversial members. The mystery side of things gets resolved a little abruptly, but the book is full of fascinating information about sports psychology and the mechanics of a golf tour.

M. J. Rose, The Halo Effect. Sex therapist Dr. Morgan Snow investigates the disappearance of one of her clients, a high-priced call girl, and consults with the NYPD on a series of brutal killings whose victims are costumed as nuns. Lurid, but well-done -- or well-done, but lurid -- not the kind of thing I usually read, so that's a benefit of working my way through the Anthony nominations list.

Happy birthday today to the ageless Mikki Ansin, and many happy returns of the day.

Now I really am gone...