Sunday, April 30, 2006


Who uses it: Booksellers
What it means: Opening a book and using the front flap of a book cover to mark the title page, so that an author can open it easily for signature. I've also heard the term "leaf" used for this.
How you can use it: When preparing the way.

My feet hurt. The first day of the Festival of Books seemed to go quite well, and the weather was perfect: not too hot, overcast in the morning, sunny in the afternoon.

Last night The Mystery Bookstore held its annual pre-Festival of Books party, which always feels like a family reunion. I was particularly pleased to see Sean Doolittle, and to meet Ben Rehder and his wife Becky, who were in town from Austin. Most of the New York contingent (authors Reed Farrel Coleman, Jim Fusilli, Peter Spiegelman, among others) showed up late, but were in fine form once they arrived.

The most insightful comment I heard about today's Festival events probably came from two ladies' room attendants at Royce Hall, on the UCLA campus. One asked the other how she thought the Festival was going. The other said, "Well, I'd say it was going pretty well, from the amount of paper they're using." Everyone is an expert about something.

The Mystery Bookstore's tent is set up to allow the greatest possible number of books within a relatively small space. People can circulate through it, but it has to be more or less single-file, and the place fills up quickly.

The old joke goes, "I love humanity; it's people I can't stand," but I'm the opposite; I like individual people, but don't do well in crowds. At one point this afternoon, as one set of authors' signing shift was about to end and another's was about to start, the tent got so crowded that independent movement was impossible. Rather than take a deep breath and leave the tent for a minute, I figured I could work through it -- books needed to be moved and reshelved.

There's a reason I don't play poker. Linda Brown, my friend and the store's assistant manager, poked me and said, "Take a break. Now." "But I'm working," I said, almost whimpering. "You have black circles under your eyes and you look like you're going to pass out," Linda said. "Just leave for a few minutes, and then you can come back." So I did, and it helped.

The Festival of Books is a marvelous thing, though. "And people always say that no one in Los Angeles reads," said Christopher Rice this afternoon, before he sat down to the signing table. Walking out onto the campus of UCLA and seeing the huge crowds, and the vast sea of publishers' and bookstores' tents, was like seeing one great Ode to the Joy of Reading, and sent chills down my spine.

Tomorrow morning I hit campus at 9:00, and get to do it all over again.

Friday, April 28, 2006

Marine layer

Who uses it: Residents of coastal California
What it means: A cool, gray layer of heavy cloud and fog, caused by warm air from the land pushing up vapor from the ocean; the scientific term is "advection fog."
How you can use it: To explain why spring in Los Angeles isn't always warm.

Dang it, I'd almost finished a very long post when my power cord jiggled wrong and I lost the whole thing. GRR.

First and foremost, CONGRATULATIONS to my client and pal Theresa Schwegel, whose book OFFICER DOWN won the Edgar last night for Best First Novel by an American Author. I am so excited and happy for Theresa, I'm practically foaming at the mouth. It's wonderful, wonderful news, and if you haven't read OFFICER DOWN yet, what are you waiting for?

Rather than recreate the rest of the post, I will just say that I'm here in Los Angeles, and everyone should come out tonight for The Mystery Bookstore's pre-Festival of Books signing party, which starts at 5:00 p.m. I will probably not be there right at 5:00 (strategically-timed dinner break), but I'll be at the store from 1:00 p.m. until at least 9:00, so come by and say hello. I'll also be at the store's booth, #411, on the UCLA campus all day tomorrow and Sunday.

What I Read This Week
Angela Carter, Nights at the Circus. Wonderful and deeply strange, not only in subject matter but in structure as well: multiple points of view, unreliable narrators, and everything so firmly tongue-in-cheek it takes a while to realize how serious Carter is. Renowned aerialist Sophie Fevvers appears to be half-woman, half-bird; an American journalist, John Walser, joins the circus in order to follow her across Europe and discover the nature of her secrets -- which turn out to be not so different from any woman's.

Jonathon King, Eye of Vengeance. Jonathon King is a talented writer who's written some excellent books. Eye of Vengeance, his first standalone, disappointed me. Nick Mullins, a journalist who lost his wife and one of his daughters to a drunk driver, learns about vengeance and forgiveness as he reports a series of killings in southern Florida. The victims are all bad guys who got off easy; the killer is someone with whom Nick feels a deep kinship. The book felt under-developed and too full of cliches, and needed an editor who paid more attention to inconsistencies and errors. I look forward to Mr. King's next book.

Garry Wills, The Rosary. A short, lovely series of meditations on the twenty mysteries of The Rosary -- Joyful, Luminous, Sorrowful, and Glorious. Wills offers real insight into the value of praying to Mary, who was the first human to experience the marvelous, baffling, frustrating and painful divinity of Jesus.

Randy Wayne White, Dark Light. Within the 13 books of White's Doc Ford series, some books are sequels to each other. You could read this one alone, but it's better if you've already read the fourth novel, Captiva; this book brings back a couple of Captiva's major characters, and continues the historical exploration of 1940s Gulf Coast Florida. In the wake of a Category IV hurricane, marine biologist and sometime covert operative Doc Ford and his friends salvage what seems to be Nazi memorabilia from an old shipwreck. A mysterious woman with family ties to the wreck is interested in what they find, as is a very nasty bad guy whose family has secrets to hide.

Thursday, April 27, 2006


Who uses it: Press secretaries and reporters
What it means: An agreed-upon later time at which reporters can announce the contents of a statement to the press.
How you can use it: When you're not ready to tell the world, but you have to tell someone.

My client Joseph Finder has been waiting literally for months to announce a truly fantastic set of promotional giveaways tied to his forthcoming novel, KILLER INSTINCT. I'm not going to scoop myself, since I write most of the material on that website, but I will say that you'll want to check it out later today for some cool news -- especially if you live in any of the cities Joe will be visiting on his book tour.

In the meantime, I'm on my way to Los Angeles -- posting this from the departure lounge at Dulles Airport, after FINALLY solving the problem that has blocked my wireless Internet access for much too long a time. My relief exceeds my vocabulary.

My brother Ed and I saw They Might Be Giants last night at the 9:30 Club, and I thought it was a great show. Ed gave it only a B-, because he thought they sounded sloppy and was disappointed that they didn't play "Don't Let's Start," or more off Ana Ng. I was delighted that they played so much off their very first album, and enchanted with their garage rock version of "Birdhouse in Your Soul," the greatest love song ever written from the point of view of a nightlight.

There's a picture opposite me
Of my primitive ancestry
That lived on rocky shores and kept the beaches shipwreck free
Though I respect that a lot,
I'd be fired if that were my job
After killing Jason off and countless screaming Argonauts

Next post from Los Angeles, God willing. While you're at it, leave the nightlight on inside the birdhouse in your soul...

Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Out of pocket

Who uses it: Teachers and students at Norfolk Academy, est. 1728 (ου πολλα αλλα πολυ)
What it means: Being somewhere other than the place you're supposed to be.
How you can use it: When you're away from home.

Most people use the term "out of pocket" to mean money spent in expectation of reimbursement, but at my prep school, out-of-pocket (or the snappier OOP) was an offense worth two demerits, halfway to the four that meant detention (three hours on a Saturday morning).

The last couple of days have been a little hectic, and if I've been hard to reach, I apologize. Too much going on and too many things to do.

I did manage to make it up to Annapolis last night to see Our Chris before he shaves his head (!!) for this weekend's production of As You Like It at St. John's. Chris has a lovely head of hair, as do all the male members of my immediate family; with the arrogance of any 22-year-old, he worries not at all about it growing right back again. Known for radical hair changes of my own (my motto: "If you can't change your life, change your hairstyle"), I have no standing for comment.

This afternoon I met my old pal John Erath for lunch at Aroma, an Indian restaurant on I Street that used to be one of our favorite haunts when he, John Mirvish and I all worked within a six-block radius of each other. Aroma's Executive Luncheon menu is still one of the best deals in town, but the cordial Sikh who used to greet us with such apparent pleasure wasn't at the restaurant today. Instead, the maitre d' seemed almost annoyed that we would bother him and take up space in his restaurant. Sigh. As Megan said when I got back to her house, "You can't go home again."

First five songs off the iPod Shuffle this afternoon:

"Nightclub Jitters," The Replacements. One of the few second albums (Pleased to Meet Me) that is just as good and maybe even better than the band's first (Tim).

"Automobile Noise," The Blue Nile. This entire album (A Walk Across the Rooftops) reminds me of Los Angeles, and this song does in particular. I'm not sure why.

"Mississippi Goddamn," Nina Simone. Nina Simone is the very best music for days when you're mad at the world.

"Gethsemane," Ian Gillan, from the Jesus Christ Superstar soundrack. "Once I was inspired/Now I'm sad and tired/After all, I tried for three years/Seems like thirty..."

"Let's Get Lost," Chet Baker. My client Kent Harrington loves to tell the story about an interview Chet Baker gave in the last years of his life. The interviewer asked Baker what his favorite moment as an artist had been. Baker replied: "Speedballs!" I have nothing to add to that.

Tuesday, April 25, 2006

Morganatic marriage

Who uses it: Families of noble birth, particularly in Germany (although the term they use is Ehe zur linken Hand, left-handed marriage)
What it means: A marriage in which the husband's title and estates do not pass to his wife or to their children. Morganatic marriages are often second marriages or marriages between people of unequal social rank.
How you can use it: Frankly, it doesn't come up much in the United States.

The BBC/HBO miniseries "Elizabeth" shows the Virgin Queen falling into her last decline after the execution of the Earl of Essex, as if what ultimately killed her (at the then-vast age of 69) was a broken heart. Maybe it's true; we can't know, from a distance of 400 years and very different ideas of love and marriage.

"Why didn't she just make a morganatic marriage?" asked Megan, as we watched Helen Mirren sobbing off her white face powder.

Good question. I clicked around the Internet this morning, and discovered that British law does not provide for morganatic marriages. In fact, although the current wife of the Prince of Wales is known as Her Royal Highness the Duchess of Cornwall, she's legally the Princess of Wales, too. Charles and Camilla are -- er -- unlikely to produce any children of their own, so the question of what they might inherit doesn't come up.

Americans are fascinated by all the trappings and rules of "nobility," but I can't see us putting up with it in real life. This week's episode of "The Sopranos" had a little fun on the subject of "Hollywood royalty," with Sir Ben Kingsley and Lauren Bacall -- who were respectively bullied and punched by gangsters. I guess you could see that as the American dream at work.

Happy birthday today to Ann Marie Stanton, uncrowned queen of Venice, CA.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Attachment disorder

Who uses it: Child development experts and psychiatrists
What it means: A condition that prevents children and adolescents from trusting others or forming emotional attachments to parents, family and friends.
How you can use it: Pray you never have to.

Attachment disorder happens to children who are abused or neglected very early in their lives. The theory is that if no one responds to a child's needs in the first year of her life, the brain itself fails to complete its development. Instead of learning love and trust, the child learns -- at a biological level -- that no one is paying attention, no one cares, and the child had better figure out how to meet her own needs, just as an animal would.

Child development specialists and psychiatrists see attachment disorder in children who have lived in overcrowded, understaffed orphanages; in homes with parents who are addicted to drugs or alcohol; and in children who have grown up in environments where circumstances made it impossible to meet their needs, such as war or famine.

"It's a hard world for little things," says Rachel in the movie Night of the Hunter, which was why I was so happy to spend a couple of days with my sister Peggy and her brood. This will embarrass Peggy and Scott, but I don't care; their children, Matthew and Henry and Meg, are three of the happiest, most delightful kids I've ever met, and I'd say that even if I weren't related to them.

I sat at the kids' table with Matthew and Henry on Saturday night; they wore new engineer hats, gifts from my dad, and I wore a Frankenstein headband (I trust that the photographic evidence of this will be on the Lavinder family blog later today). Lilly Dean, who is also a lovely child, said to me, "You look funny."

"Oh," I said sadly. "I thought I looked pretty."

She looked at me solemnly and honestly, as only a four-year-old can, and said, "No, you don't look pretty. You look funny."

"Yes, I guess I do," I said.

Henry, next to me, peered into my face, patted my arm, and said, "I think you look pretty." Henry is two and a half.

That is the opposite of attachment disorder.

I'm in Washington today, until Thursday, and I apologize for not posting yesterday; it took me a while to figure out how to get online.

Saturday, April 22, 2006

Green tags

Who uses it: Environmentalists
What it means: Renewable energy certificates; money that goes to support the creation and adoption of renewable sources of energy, such as solar panels or windmills.
How you can use it: A perfect gift for weddings, birthdays, christenings... go buy some. Happy Earth Day.

I paid $3.06/gallon for gas yesterday (in Connecticut), and $2.95/gallon this morning (in Virginia).

"Gas is going to hit $5.00 a gallon," my brother Ed said. "Yep," I said.

According to the Carbon Calculator, my activities produced approximately 26,000 pounds in greenhouse gases last year -- less than the national average of 35,000 pounds/household, but still a lot for one person. But I can buy 20 green tags, at $20 each, and fund enough renewable energy so that I have a zero net impact on the environment... or at least, that's the theory.

It's a theory I like, since I don't plan to stop traveling any time soon, and I wouldn't function very well without electricity.

Dizzy and I are in Mechanicsville this afternoon, and it's thunderstorming. If Mom were here, she'd say, "Get that computer off your lap, do you want to be electrocuted?" I don't, so I'd better log off now.

Friday, April 21, 2006


Who uses it: Firefighters
What it means: The point at which a fire's temperature rises high enough to make the fire accelerate dramatically.
How you can use it: When things are building to a crisis.

Central Maine is so dry right now that grass fires are breaking out all over. Dizzy took me down an unfamiliar path to the Cobbossee Stream yesterday, and I couldn't help thinking that it all looked like a bonfire laid for the match.

If it all goes up in flames, we'll be far away, hitting the road this morning. Tonight's destination is Washington, D.C.; tomorrow's is Mechanicsville, for Meg's baptism. Dizzy and I will be back in Maine sometime around May 3, but I will be working from the road and checking e-mail frequently. While I'm traveling, some posts will be early and some posts will be late -- you'll just have to keep checking in.

What I Read This Week

Stephen King, Cell. Fear is about more than self-preservation; it's about how you imagine pain and loss. What you fear defines you. Stephen King understands that, and this novel is a parable of destruction through technology and alienation; ultimately, what King says is that cell phones have created a race of zombies. He dedicates it to Richard Matheson and George Romero, and it owes a great deal to both I am Legend and the Living Dead movies.

Angela Carter, Wise Children. I am ashamed to admit that I'd never read Angela Carter before this book. She is one of those authors, like Robertson Davies, whose writing changed the worldviews of her fans. I think this was her last novel, a Shakespearean epic about the Chance twins, Nora and Dora, who were the bastard offspring of a great theatrical family. This book is like one of those carved ivory balls, with layers within layers, and I expect to reread it at regular intervals for the rest of my life.

Peter Craig, Blood Father. An old outlaw biker, trying to go straight, goes to the rescue of his long-estranged daughter. He might not be able to save himself, but he believes that he can save her. I admired this book without liking it much, but I understand why several of my male friends (with daughters) think this is one of the best books they've ever read.

Nuala O'Faolain, The Story of Chicago May. Nuala O'Faolain, author of two fine memoirs and a wonderful novel (My Dream of You), tries her hand at biography in this story of a turn-of-the-century outlaw. May Duignan stole her family's savings and left Ireland to become a prostitute and thief. She traveled the world, stole a fortune and lost it, and served hard time in prisons in France and England. She wrote her own life story, but it didn't please O'Faolain, who found it lacking; May told us what she did, but not who she was, so O'Faolain tries to correct that. It's not entirely successful, and this book frustrated me -- I felt as if I were trying to see a painting in an art gallery, but the docent kept blocking my view.

C.J. Box, In Plain Sight. Each of Box's Joe Pickett novels, about a Wyoming game warden, has examined a different issue of the modern West. In this one, Box looks at "the curse of the third generation," the chaos that happens when grandchildren try to divide an estate built by pioneers. While Pickett tries to figure out what happened to the Scarlett family's matriarch, an old enemy comes back to take revenge for events that happened in Box's first book, Open Season. The book ends with Joe at a crossroads, needing to make some important decisions about the next phase of his life.

Thursday, April 20, 2006


Who uses it: Frozen custard vendors
What it means: A milkshake made with frozen custard, so thick it does not come out of the cup when you turn it upside down -- thus, "concrete"
How you can use it: To celebrate the arrival of summer.

It may not quite be summer yet, but spring is officially well underway, now that Freeport's Classic Custard stand has reopened for the season.

You can see the stand from the highway as you head north on 295. The practiced eye (i.e., Jen's) can even see the "Flavor of the Day" sign from the road at 65 miles an hour.

Jen, Anna, Anna's mother Mary, and I were on our way back from Portland, where we listened to Tarren give a talk about Maine's problem-riddled Dirigo Health program. Jen saw the cars parked around the custard shop, and the lines at the window -- and ten minutes later, we were there too, along with half of Freeport. In all seriousness, Jen and Anna knew half the other people there. It was the biggest event in town today.

I'm thinking about making a change to my blog-posting schedule, and posting in the evenings instead of in the mornings. Tomorrow I hit the road again for one of these multiple-destination trips, and my posting schedule will be disrupted. I expect to keep posting daily, but new posts may not show up until late in the day... I know how some of you hate change (as I do myself), so sorry for any anxiety this causes.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006


Who uses it: Obstetricians, labor nurses, pregnant women
What it means: The final stage of labor before delivery. Contractions come very fast, pain is often intense, and this is generally the time when mothers start swearing at the people around them. Fortunately, it usually only lasts about half an hour.
How you can use it: When something is almost done.

If you've been at sea or in a cave, you might not have heard that Katie Holmes delivered her baby yesterday, supposedly in the same hospital as Brooke Shields -- this despite the talk about a home birth, a silent birth, a drug-free labor, etc. The little girl's name is Suri, and someone on my cousin Sheila's web forum pointed out that Tom Cruise now has children whose names begin with the letters S, C, and I. I'm sure that's not deliberate. I'm sure it's not.

My client Joseph Finder has posted a tongue-in-cheek quiz to his website, in preparation for the release of his new thriller, KILLER INSTINCT. Check it out here, and e-mail the link to everyone you know. I didn't score very high, but I expect my rewards to be greater in the next world (okay, I don't expect, but I believe in forgiveness). Thanks to the sharp and funny Rob Blatt for putting the quiz together for us. (And before you send me indignant e-mails, it's meant to be a JOKE... these are not behaviors Joe endorses.)

First five random songs off the iPod Shuffle this morning:

"Golden Autumn Day," Van Morrison. This album, Back on Top, was one of two I listened to constantly the fall I moved to Los Angeles (the other was Natalie Merchant's Ophelia). A fair amount of this record is filler, though, and I'd have to put this song in that category.

"The Love that Never Fails," Jim White. A song that sounds like a bad dream, restless and sad and confused. “It’s not why I’m here, it’s who I’m with… I seek the love that never fails.”

"Just One of Those Things," Bryan Ferry. Yeah, this one's on my life's soundtrack album.

"Look for Me (I'll Be Around)," Neko Case. Peggy and Scott saw her live in Charlottesville last week... lucky ducks.

"I Am a Grocery Bag," They Might Be Giants. Ed and I are going to see these guys next week at the 9:30 Club. I love their children's music (this is one of their kids' songs), but I'll be annoyed if this is an all-ages show.

Tuesday, April 18, 2006


Who uses it: Participants in Internet forums
What it means: Someone who posts to a forum or leaves a comment on a blog in order to enrage or embarrass other participants.
How you can use it: When someone's being deliberately annoying.

This blog doesn't get many trolls, thank goodness, and neither do the handful of Web forums I visit regularly. Trolls seem to be more common among teenagers and hardcore technology types -- my guess is that they feel powerless in other areas of their lives, so take pleasure in disrupting things anonymously.

I understand that impulse to wreak havoc anonymously. The lady who lives next door to my apartment building, whom I've never met, opened her door yesterday morning to snap at me: "Please don't let your dog pee on my trees." I hadn't realized that the trees, a row of cedars between her property and my building, belonged to her; nor had I thought that Dizzy could do any harm to the trees by watering them. Nevertheless, I apologized profusely, and said it wouldn't happen again.

Then, as I took Dizzy down to the river, I thought about getting up in the middle of the night to pour something really caustic onto the trees, something like bleach or drain cleaner; I'd do it the night before leaving town for a while, and when I'd come back, all the trees would be dead, and she'd never be able to prove I did it. Ha ha!

And then, of course, my brain returned to its regularly-scheduled programming. The trees are nice, and it's not their fault that they belong to a cranky old lady. I might even mulch them, just to show my neighbor how sincerely sorry I am for annoying her. (Because I am; I feel terrible about it, like a kid who behaved badly.)

Revenge fantasies are fun, but the difference between normal human beings and sociopaths is that normal human beings enjoy the fantasy, then let it go. Trolling on Internet forums isn't quite as destructive as pouring bleach on trees, so maybe we should be glad that they're online and not letting the air out of people's tires.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Top note

Who uses it: Perfumers
What it means: A light, bright essential oil that makes a fast first impression, but fades quickly. Popular top notes include orange, lemon, bergamot and pine.
How you can use it: To describe anything that starts strong but doesn't last.

This morning's first stop was the grocery store, to buy laundry soap and a few other essentials; Jen and I had scheduled a Trader Joe's run today, but we both have too much work to take the day off.

Laundry soap is the only thing I'm brand-loyal to; as the commercial says, if it has to be clean, it has to be Tide. What used to be a simple decision, however, gets more complicated all the time. Original Tide, or Tide with Bleach Alternative? Original Scent, or Mountain Breeze? Cold Water Formula? Tide with Downy, original scent? Tide with Downy, some other scent? Tide with Febreze?

Decisions are not my favorite things in any circumstance, but especially not at 8:00 on a Monday morning. Why do we need so many choices of laundry detergent?

And why does everything have to smell like something else? In my apartment, I have dish soap that smells like green apples; cleaning solution that smells like lemons; another cleaning solution that smells like oranges; hand soap that smells like cucumber and green tea; other hand soap that smells like almonds; body wash that smells like "ocean breezes," whatever that means; lotion that smells like lavender; air freshener that smells like citrus and sage; and shampoo that smells like herbs. Oh, and deodorant in a fragrance called "Optimism," though I'm not sure what optimism smells like.

I don't want to live amidst the smell of rotting garbage, mildew, farm animals or factory smoke, like my ancestors did, but this is getting a little ridiculous.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Who uses it: Theologians
What it means: Someone who seeks or believes he has had a personal experience of God.
How you can use it: As a career option, it doesn't pay much.

I'm giving myself the day off, and going down to the Lechners' for Easter dinner. For some reason, Jen found my suggested menu of rabbit and duck inappropriate. She also mocked my inquiries about mint jelly -- "What are you, my grandma?" -- so I'm bringing my own jar.

Happy Easter, everybody.

Saturday, April 15, 2006

"I don't know... but one thing I know is that Joan of Arc was not Noah's wife."

The Movie: Bill & Ted's Excellent Adventure, 1989 (Chris Matheson and Ed Solomon, screenwriters; Stephen Herek, dir.)
Who says it: Alex Winter as Bill S. Preston, Esq., a stoner at San Dimas High School
The context: Bill and Ted Theodore Logan (Keanu Reeves) are about to flunk history, which will send Ted to Oates Military Academy and doom the prospects of their band, Wild Stallyns.
How you can use it: When you know what you know.

The moose infestation of Kennebec County continues: a young moose stopped traffic on the Maine Turnpike yesterday just up the road from the Gardiner exit, trying to decide whether to cross the highway. I didn't see that one, either. I have to drive up to Augusta later today, so I'll be keeping my eyes open.

My friend Megan sent me a pot of daffodils for Easter, and they're already blooming. The greatest thing about living so far north is this process of watching color return to the world, and everything waking up. Dizzy and I were down at the river this morning, and the grass is suddenly green. He grazed like a cow.

Friday, April 14, 2006


Who uses it: Catholics (and Episcopalians, and Lutherans)
What it means: "The Way of the Cross," a prayer service that meditates on 14 events ("stations") that led to the crucifixion of Jesus.
How you can use it: On Good Friday, in particular.

It's not as if I have the world's most active social life, but I still managed to be at a dinner party in Freeport during the most exciting thing to happen in Gardiner in some time: a moose! Walking right through my neighborhood!

The moose wandered into town late Wednesday afternoon, and was in my neighborhood a little before sunset. Yesterday morning, he (I assume it was a he, but I don't know that for sure) had reportedly gotten stuck in the mud up by the high school.

What's ironic about this is that Anna, Jen, Anna's friend Martha and I had all been reassuring Anna's friend Wendy, a recent transplant from northern Virginia, that moose sightings are few and far between -- especially in suburban Portland, where Wendy lives.

Dizzy was home alone on Wednesday night, so he might well have seen or smelled the moose... but he's not telling.

What I Read This Week

Joe Keenan, My Lucky Star. A wacky caper novel about a playwright who gets his big chance at Hollywood -- in exchange for doing some dirty work for an Oscar-winning actress and her action-hero son, who happens to be a deeply closeted homosexual. Entertaining, but not as funny as I wanted it to be -- maybe because it didn't really seem that far-fetched.

Stuart MacBride, Cold Granite. I'm late to this novel, which was one of the most critically-acclaimed debuts of 2005; all the praise is well-deserved. Aberdeen Detective Sergeant Logan, back on the job after a life-threatening injury, hunts a serial killer of children while an unknown colleague leaks critical information to the press. Cold Granite is a sharp, compassionate police procedural, and MacBride manages to use many of the genre's conventions without ever falling into cliché.

Ross Macdonald, The Barbarous Coast. It's embarrassing, but I'd never read a Ross Macdonald novel until about two years ago. Now I am working my way slowly through the Lew Archer series, because there aren't that many of them, and I don't want to finish them too fast. In this book, one of the earlier entries, Archer looks for a missing wife and finds a snarl of blackmail and murder in Malibu.

Janet Evanovich, Eleven on Top. The Stephanie Plum novels started following a formula several books ago: Stephanie sleeps with her longtime beau, Joe Morelli; flirts with her colleague, Ranger; and gets several cars blown up. Her Grandma Mazur causes trouble at the funeral home, her mother makes pineapple upside-down cake, and wackiness ensues. I picked this up from the New Releases table at the library, read it in one sitting, and remembered why I stopped reading this series a while back.

Edward Wright, Red Sky Lament. This third book in Wright's John Ray Horn series is available only through Wright's UK publisher, Orion, and that's a shame, because it's terrific. Horn used to be Sierra Lane, star of B-Westerns; now he collects debts for his former sidekick, Joseph Mad Crow, and looks into problems for friends. This time, an old flame wants John Ray's help in clearing her father's name from accusations of Communist sympathies; but the father winds up dead, and John Ray finds that some people are willing to use politics to pursue their personal goals.

Thursday, April 13, 2006

Infield fly rule

Who uses it: Baseball players
What it means: The infield fly rule exists to keep infielders from deliberately dropping fly balls in order to force double plays when runners are on first and second. Once you know that, the rule is simple. If the batting team has fewer than two outs and runners at first and second, and the batter hits a fly ball to the infield, the umpire can call the batter out before anyone catches the ball. The assumption is that a fielder would catch the ball, and the batting team benefits by getting only one out instead of a double play.
How you can use it: To describe something that seems arcane.

Today is the Portland Sea Dogs' home opener, but I'm not going, because 1) it's Holy Thursday, and there's Mass tonight and 2) I have too much work to do. It rained most of the morning, but the sun is out now, so the evening in Portland might even be pleasant.

My computer problems, which I'd hoped I could postpone dealing with for a while, have now reached a crisis point. Sigh. Excuse me while I go back everything up...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

Adult alternative

Who uses it: Music promoters and radio station programmers
What it means: A genre of popular music that includes a broad range of influences beyond Top-40 rock, and is meant to appeal to adults rather than teenagers.
How you can use it: When buying me CDs...

When I was a kid, "Adult Contemporary" was the euphemism for "easy listening," which included everything from the dreadful (orchestral versions of Carpenters tunes) to the sublime (Frank Sinatra, Billie Holiday). Now I'm an adult, and I worry that "adult alternative" marks me as a geezer... except that I am a geezer... and at least I was able to impress Our Chris with my CD collection, when he saw that I had Nine Inch Nails and "Porgy and Bess" on the same shelf.

Yesterday was a spectacularly beautiful day, and today is another. An outdoor thermometer in Hallowell yesterday said it was 73 degrees, which can't have been right -- the sign was in direct sunlight -- but it was warm enough for Dizzy to swim in the river.

Contrary as always, I went ice-skating at lunchtime, and the music playing was a '90s adult alternative station off the rink's satellite radio system. Some of it was good (Weezer, Toad the Wet Sprocket), and some of it was terrible (Creed, Sheryl Crow -- sorry, Sheryl Crow has a high-ranking post in my Academy of the Overrated). It reminded me of why I don't listen to much commercial radio anymore.

First five songs off the iPod Shuffle this morning:

"But Not for Me," Chet Baker. Contrary to popular belief, I do not consider this my life's theme song... most days. It is my favorite version of this song, though, because it sounds so perversely light-hearted.

"Dizzy Miss Lizzie," The Beatles. I bought this CD ("Help") from a bargain bin in Heathrow Airport.

"Smarter," Maria McKee. Now, this could be my theme song. "I need somebody smarter than me/Need to exercise my vocabulary/I'll shut up and learn from him... Shut up now."

"Wondering," David Baerwald. I gave my copy of this CD ("Here Comes the New Folk Underground") to a friend last summer, but had copied it to iTunes first... sorry, David. I'm sure my friend will buy all your other records from now on, though, and you know I will.

"Man of Peace," Bob Dylan. My first copy of this album ("Infidels") was on cassette, and it will always remind me of the summer of 1984, and of my friend Tom Ehrenfeld, who first played it for me.

Happy birthday to the regal and radiant Anna Maschino Bragdon, who has every reason to look forward to the happiest year of her life.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Curve fitting

Who uses it: Statisticians
What it means: Creating a graphic curve from data that might not necessarily form a natural curve, in order to demonstrate a trend. Regression analysis allows some approximation in order to make a curve smooth.
How you can use it: When rounding up or down.

I got no work done this weekend -- including Friday afternoon and most of yesterday -- and now I have to make up for my vacation time. It's a bright sunny day here in central Maine, and the birds are chirping, and Dizzy will get the season's first application of Frontline later today.

Tomorrow's post will be longer...

Monday, April 10, 2006

Redemption centers

Who uses it: Residents of Maine and Massachusetts
What it means: Businesses that give refunds for returned bottles.
How you can use it: To describe your neighborhood church or bar.

I've mentioned Gardiner's Tigertown Beverage & Redemption before. It's a rather shabby-looking orange building at the bottom of town, right across the street from the junction of the Cobbosseecontee and the Kennebec River. It's my favorite sign in town, and I wish it represented something better than a bottle shop.

But redemption seems an appropriate term today, which is Claire Bea's 20th birthday. Today began with a small breakfast gathering of Claire, her parents Keith and Vikki, her sister Carolyn, and me. It was a bright sunny day in Montreal, and an exam day for Claire, who seemed unflappable as always.

Vikki, Keith, Carolyn and I went to Palm Sunday Mass at St. Joseph's Oratory yesterday. It's a massive stone basilica high on Mount Royal, and Mass was in French -- which, as Keith said, was a good reminder for us of the Church Universal.

The whole weekend was just about perfect, and this day, which was sad for me for so many years, is one of the happiest of my year. Happy birthday, Claire.

Sunday, April 09, 2006

Cordon sanitaire

Who uses it: Political analysts
What it means: Literally, "sanitary line," a quarantine border; political analysts use it to describe ways of isolating unacceptable opinions or ideologies.
How you can use it: When defending your point of view.

My client Joe Finder uses this phrase today in a very good piece in the New York Times Book Review, speculating about why "literary fiction" no longer considers worldly ambition a worthy topic. Joe's theory is that because ambition, greed and upward mobility are some of the most fertile themes of popular fiction, literary fiction must distance itself by looking to the "higher things."

He makes a good argument, and while I'm always impatient with distinctions between "genre fiction" and "literary fiction," I'd also have a hard time arguing that Gilead and the latest Nora Roberts novel have equal value for equivalent audiences.

Today's term was already in my mind, though, because yesterday the Beas and I visited Pointe-à-Calliere, Montreal's museum of archeology and history. During an outbreak of cholera in the 19th century, Montreal's solution was to cover the city's open sewers... but they kept drinking the water.

Saturday, April 08, 2006


Who uses it: Computer users
What it means: A type of modem that connects through telephone lines, and is much slower than cables or wireless Internet connections.
How you can use it: When describing something out-dated and slow.

My laptop, which has been a great and faithful tool for the past three years, is showing signs of age. The power cord is fraying, though not enough to be a fire hazard; the battery died a long time ago. I finally ordered new ones from Gateway last week, and now they're on 4-6 week back order. More ominously, the screen is starting to black out on me -- not regularly, but a couple of times, when I've jiggled something wrong. I'm afraid this machine's days are numbered.

The Internet Explorer program that came loaded onto this computer isn't working properly, either; when I try to launch it, I get a runtime error that says that "the application has requested the Runtime to terminate it in an unusual way."

Therefore, when I'm traveling, sometimes the only way I can get online is through my old dial-up Compuserve account, which is what I'm using now. Posts tomorrow and Monday will be considerably shorter than this one, since the process is so slow.

Nevertheless, I am deeply happy to be here in Montreal, with Claire and her parents and her sister Carolyn, and for once, I have more important things to do than sit here and wrestle with the laptop.

See you tomorrow.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Plenary indulgence

Who uses it: Catholics
What it means: A remission of the time you would have to spend atoning for the sin that has already been forgiven you.
How you can use it: When seeking to escape punishment.

Plenary indulgence is one of the more complicated principles of Catholicism. It's basically a "get out of Purgatory free" card, for sins you have sincerely repented and already received forgiveness for. Without the plenary indulgence, you'd be forgiven but you'd still have to serve the time in Purgatory. It's not the same as absolution, which you have to ask for through confession, but it follows absolution, and is one of the graces Catholics receive from the sacrament of reconciliation.

Purgatory -- the waiting period or place before Heaven -- is another Catholic concept I have trouble with. There's an argument to be made that purgatory is right here on earth (actually, it's a very nice ski resort in Colorado, but that's not the point).

Nevertheless, I hedge my bets, which is why St. Joseph's said a Mass for Mom last week, and one for my friend Sue's father on Tuesday. Just in case.

I'm off to Montreal today to celebrate the fabulous Claire Bea's birthday. Happy birthday, too, to Maeve C. and Pam L., and happy spring to everyone.

What I Read This Week

Susanne Antonetta, A Mind Apart: Travels in a Neurodiverse World. Antonetta, a poet, explores the idea that the human race needs "disorders" such as autism, schizophrenia and manic depression, from an evolutionary point of view. It's a compelling argument, and she makes it beautifully.

Sue Walker, The Reunion. A psychological novel about the repercussions of something terrible that happened on an adolescent psychatric ward in the late 1970s. It's interesting to compare this novel to others about groups of young people who carry a secret for decades: Donna Tartt's Secret History, Kevin Wignall's Among the Dead, Julia Wallis Martin's A Likeness in Stone. The Reunion is an impressive first novel, but I found the central character less interesting than all of the people around her.

John D. Gartner, The Hypomanic Edge: The Link between (A Little) Craziness and (A Lot of) Success in America. Proving Susanne Antonetta's point for her, psychologist Gartner gives us case studies of major American figures who, he asserts, had bipolar II disorder -- not full-blown mania, but hypomania. Gartner starts with Christopher Columbus, and dissects the behavior of Roger Williams, Andrew Carnegie, David O. Selznick, and geneticist Craig Venter, among others. It's fascinating reading, though I'm a little uncomfortable with pathologizing things I think of as character traits.

Thursday, April 06, 2006


Who uses it: Government budget-makers
What it means: Payments that go automatically to members of a certain group once they meet specific requirements. The most obvious examples are Social Security and Medicare.
How you can use it: To describe your own automatic payments.

If I had to choose one quality I most dislike in others, it's the sense of entitlement.

Growing up in a house with one income and five siblings made it impossible to feel "entitled," even without Mom's tactical nuclear weapon: "Who do you think you are?" Then I went to a prep school on scholarship, and then I went to Georgetown at a time when the student body was transitioning from middle-class Catholic kids to kids whose parents could afford the tuition.

So I'm following this Duke lacrosse team case with a great deal of interest, not to say vicious contempt. It's not fair, but my first thought when I heard about the accusations of rape was, "Yep... knew that was coming." I feel like I know those guys -- the ones who skated through class, who snapped the bra straps of nerdy girls, who laughed too loud and drank too much and had lawyer fathers who would bully teachers and coaches out of any threatened consequences.

We all know those guys -- unless we were those guys.

And on behalf of nerds everywhere, I want to reprint this obituary, which caught my eye this morning:

LONDON (AP) - Anthony Burgess, a prominent notary who wrote a book about how his profession was represented in opera, died March 17, Cheeswrights Notaries Public confirmed.

Burgess was senior partner in the firm from 1958 to 2000. He was 80, Cheeswrights said Wednesday.

A question from the Master of the Court of Faculties of the Archbishop of Canterbury, who appoints notaries in England and Wales, inspired Burgess to research the portrayal of notaries in opera.

That result was ``The Notary in Opera,'' published in 1994.

More support for my belief that anything is interesting, if you look at it closely enough.

Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Jury nullification

Who uses it: Lawyers and judges
What it means: A decision by a jury that defies evidence, and thus shows that the jury believes the law itself is invalid, or that the prosecution has no authority in the matter.
How you can use it: When you're rejecting the obvious.

It snowed last night -- not a lot, but enough to make my stairs dangerous this morning, and to leave a white frost on the grass. Dizzy and I walked to the cemetery, since the lane down to the creek was too slippery. By the time we got home, most of the snow had melted.

At the Lechners' the other night, I watched "Deal or No Deal" for the first time; their Grace, who is not quite five, loves it. I can see how the show would appeal to a five-year-old, because it involves no skill at all; it's like the duck pond at a church bazaar, you just pick numbers and win or lose.

My sister Susan said that she watched it once, and realized about halfway through that the studio audience was cheering for a predetermined outcome -- that is, the number hidden inside each briefcase was already set, and no amount of cheering or strategy would change it. Her horror at everyone's stupidity has kept her from watching the show ever since. To that I would add that Howie Mandel gives me the creeps, especially because there's something about that pirate/Mr. Clean look I find attractive, in a deeply icky way.

First five random songs off my iPod Shuffle this morning:

"Faithless Street," Whiskeytown -- the title track off the first Whiskeytown album, and still one of the best things Ryan Adams has done.

"Children in Bloom," Counting Crows -- there was no way Counting Crows' second album could match the brilliance of "August and Everything After," but it's a darn fine record all the same. This isn't one of my favorite tracks from it, though.

"Wagon Wheel," Lou Reed -- this record, "Transformer," is great listening for a bad day; it's just so cheerful.

"It's De-Lovely," Sarah Vaughan -- another song guaranteed to lift anyone's spirits, and it sounds like spring to me.

"Big Boy Pete," The Olympics -- this is a song off a 1960s R&B compilation. Excellent music to dance to, or maybe just clean the apartment.

Once again, nothing from this decade... in my own defense, I'll say that I did buy the new Prince CD this week, and I like it a lot. (Speaking of people I find attractive, in a deeply icky way...)

Tuesday, April 04, 2006

From Away

Who uses it: Natives of Maine
What it means: People born anywhere else
How you can use it: To admit that you're a stranger here.

My young friend Grace, who was born in Maine, may live here her entire life, but will probably always say, when people ask if she's a native: "Yes, but my parents were From Away."

Maine is more welcoming than you might think, though, especially as more and more of us are From Away.

Dizzy and I were down at the river on Sunday afternoon, and he ran up to a couple who were fishing. I usually try to keep him away from the fishermen, who seem very serious and intent on their work, but this couple seemed happy to say hello, even when Dizzy nosed around their bait box.

"Does he like fish?" asked the woman, in a broad Maine accent.

"I don't know," I said. "He's never had any."

"Well, let's give him one and see," she said. "I've got a small one." She pulled a whole fish out of her box, about five inches long and still gleaming with river water.

"What kind of fish is that?" I asked.

"White perch," she said.

"Yellow," said her companion, in the same Maine accent.

"Yellow," she agreed. "The white perch don't start for another couple of weeks."

It took Dizzy a minute or two to figure out that the fish was food, not a toy. Once he did, he chewed it enthusiastically, working from both ends toward the middle. At the middle, he picked it up and shook it hard.

"Look at that, he's shaking the guts out," the woman marveled. "Are you sure he's never had a fish before?"

"No," I said. "Wow."

"He just knows," the man said.

"I'm Tricia," the woman said, extending her hand to me. "Steve," said the man, shaking my hand too.

They warned me not to let Dizzy eat any fish after June, when they get wormy, and they cautioned that fish sometimes has a laxative effect on dogs.

But Dizzy's shown no ill effects, other than smelling a little fishy, and we both felt welcomed, even though we're From Away.

Monday, April 03, 2006

Eephus pitch

Who uses it: Professional baseball players
What it means: A fat, slow "junk" pitch, thrown to confuse a batter who's expecting speed or a curve ball.
How you can use it: When you're hiding your light under a bushel. "That wasn't a mistake, that was an Eephus."

It's Opening Day, a Holy Day of Obligation here in Red Sox Nation... although the big event, the Red Sox home opener, isn't until next week.

As a transplant in Red Sox Nation, I feel both respectful and bewildered about the passion people have for their team. Red Sox fans cherish a sense of persecution that winning the World Series didn't change, and I can't help but see that as a relic of the region's Puritan heritage. Red Sox fans want to be underdogs and outsiders. I get that.

Jennifer and I have discovered that we are both more productive if we work together (even though we're working on completely different things), so Dizzy and I are headed down to Freeport for a work bee. The Sox-Rangers game starts at 2:05... we might turn it on.

Sunday, April 02, 2006

"I'm very shallow and empty, and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say."

The Movie: Annie Hall, 1977 (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, screenwriters; Woody Allen, dir.)
Who says it: Shelley Hack as one half of a beautiful couple Alvy Singer (Woody Allen) stops on the street.
The context: Alvy asks Shelley Hack and her companion (James Burge) the secret to their apparently happy relationship. This is her response, to which her companion adds, "And I'm exactly the same way."
How you can use it: When you've run out of conversation.

I have nothing to say today. It's a beautiful day, with a strong breeze, and my brain doesn't want to do any more work for the next 24 hours or so. I think I will read a trashy novel, take a long nap, and possibly watch some cartoons.

Bummer about George Mason's loss last night. In the words of the great Elvis (Costello, not Presley), not all good things come to an end (you know how it is), only a chosen few...

Back at full brainpower tomorrow, I hope.

Saturday, April 01, 2006

Multi-level marketing

Who uses it: Amway salesmen and many other promoters of home-based businesses
What it means: A distribution system that requires you to recruit subordinates before you can make any real money. In other words, a pyramid scheme.
How you can use it: To protect yourself; stay away... far, far away.

It's April Fools Day, and if I'd spent a little time and energy on it, I might have turned this page into an ad for my beauty consulting services, or an announcement of my new affiliation with the Maine Militia, or a love poem in honor of Tom Cruise.

But I didn't have the time or the energy, and the best audience for that kind of thing would have been Mom, and she's not around to be appalled any more. Dad already thinks I'm a little weird, so I'm not sure anything I could do would surprise him.

Instead, Dizzy and I are off to have an adventure at the Pine Tree State Arboretum, if the rain holds off. Things are starting to bloom, and the bugs are back. Yesterday afternoon I had some reading to do, so Dizzy and I went down to the Cobbossee Stream. I sat on a rock and read while Dizzy chewed a stick and watched the birds. The young chickadees are so small and clean-looking; they look new, which I guess they must be.