Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Punctuated equilibrium

Who uses it: Evolutionary biologists
What it means: The fact that species generally change very slowly over a long period of time, if at all -- except when they change rather dramatically and quickly.
How you can use it: When everything seems to be happening at once, after a long period of quiet.

This term doesn't feel particularly relevant to my life at the moment, but the nature of these punctuations is that you don't see them coming. It does seem, though, that I have an unusual number of friends going through major life change this year -- births, marriages, divorces, deaths. Maybe we've just reached that age.

My sinuses are bothering me, which makes it hard to do all the reading I need to finish today. Time to pull out the bifocals... sigh.

First five random songs off the iPod Shuffle this morning:

"Afterlife," Maria McKee. Not all songs are suitable for the shuffle format. This song ends the Life is Sweet album, and really only makes sense as a coda to the title song.

"Sweet Jane," Cowboy Junkies. One of the all-time great covers, a reinvention of a standard.

"Scoop," The Notwist. Moody German electronica, and I'm grateful to the person who introduced me to them.

"Mary of the Wild Moor," Johnny Cash. Time was, I couldn't listen to this song -- but if we live long enough, with enough goodwill, almost everything is reparable. And no, I'm not going to explain that.

"Fannie Mae," Buster Brown. Ah, perfect summertime music -- anybody want to shag? (in the Mid-Atlantic style, not the British -- maybe this'll be tomorrow's term)

Tuesday, May 30, 2006


Who uses it: Doctors and epidemiologists
What it means: A bump or swelling symptomatic of bubonic plague.
How you can use it: For your next bout of hypochondria

Yes, I'm feeling a little morbid this morning. Dizzy and I went for a long ramble this morning, and I've just finished checking us both for ticks. You catch bubonic plague from rat fleas, not from ticks; ticks carry Lyme disease and Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Either way, I might need to take my temperature later today. Just in case.

Yesterday was a day full of grilled meats, as I went from one cookout to another, with a nap in between. At the Lechners', Grace's caterpillars have all turned into orange-and-brown butterflies, and will soon be ready to fly away.

I always wonder whether butterflies remember having been caterpillars.

Monday, May 29, 2006


Who uses it: Military leaders and policymakers
What it means: The legal requirement that certain members of society serve in the military for a given period of time.
How you can use it: To thank a volunteer.

The Memorial Day ceremony on the Gardiner common starts in just a couple of minutes -- people were already gathering when Dizzy and I walked through there earlier this morning. I can't go, since I have my usual Monday-morning tutoring appointment, but Dizzy and I stopped for a moment at the war memorial.

Field hockey wound up being cancelled yesterday, because the field was still too wet. I drove down to Portland to see The Notorious Bettie Page, which frustrated and annoyed me -- has anyone seen this movie? If you have, leave a comment below -- I want to talk to someone about it.

Anna and Tarren built a bonfire last night, and Anna's parents and I (and Dizzy, of course) went out there to toast marshmallows and drink champagne to celebrate the beginning of summer. (The humans drank champagne; Dizzy drank water. He's not that spoiled.)

Sunday, May 28, 2006

What It Is

Who uses it: Too Much Joy
What it means: The general rottenness of human beings (see below for further explanation)
How you can use it: Instead of cursing at humanity.

The song goes:
They say they built this fort 2,000 years ago
A man named James carved his name here in 1983
Congratulations, James
Now you're a dick for eternity
I don't know what your words for it are
I just know what it is.

Dizzy and I got up early this morning and hiked the road to the Mt. Pisgah Fire Tower. It's wild and remote -- not particularly so by Maine standards, but it's forested and beautiful.

At the top of the trail, under the fire tower, were two empty plastic bottles.

What the hell is wrong with people? The trail's barely a mile each way. Empty plastic bottles weigh nothing. What combination of circumstances could possibly have prevented the people who brought those bottles up there from bringing them back down?

And while we're on the subject of hikers who are rotten human beings, I'll throw in my two cents on this issue of Mt. Everest trekkers pushing to the summit past disabled climbers. When these dreadful people get to the ends of their lives, what will mean more: that they made it to the top of Mt. Everest, or that they chose their own goals over the possibility of saving someone else's life?

Saturday, May 27, 2006

WATS line

Who uses it: Telecommunications experts and managers
What it means: Wide Area Telephone Service, a service that allows unlimited calling from or to a particular number within a given geographic area.
How you can use it: As a rather old-fashioned way to describe an 800 number.

Of all the technological advances we take for granted, long-distance calling may be the least glamorous, but the most impressive.

When I was a child, calling long distance was a big deal, and very expensive. Not every town offered direct-dial service; in some areas, you still had to arrange a long-distance call through an operator.

When I went to St. Petersburg and Moscow in 1992, people still went to the post office to place their long-distance calls, and if you wanted to make a transoceanic call, you had to book an appointment.

What changed all this, for better or worse, was cellular telephone technology. My cell phone service plan makes no distinction between local calls and long-distance calls; for one flat rate, I can talk to someone in Augusta or someone in Los Angeles.

This is mostly a great thing, I think. If anything is bad about it, it's that we may be losing our appreciation for the distances that remain between one place and another. I can drive from Maine to Washington in a single day, though it's 600 miles; so I do, and it wears me out. I can have breakfast in Washington and lunch in Los Angeles, and I do that with some regularity as well -- and then I wonder why I'm so damned tired.

I won't say it was better when it took a day to go from Gardiner to Augusta, or four days to go from Richmond to Washington (if you made good time). But I think our expectations of ourselves might have been a little more reasonable back then.

Friday, May 26, 2006

"I'm a man who likes talking to a man who likes to talk."

The Movie: The Maltese Falcon, 1941 (John Huston, director and screenwriter, from the novel by Dashiell Hammett)
Who says it: Sydney Greenstreet as master criminal Kasper Gutman
How you can use it: At any professional gathering.

I live alone and I work at home. I go days, particularly in the winter, without speaking more than about 100 words aloud, and most of those are to my dog. Now that I'm home again, I feel like I've crammed an entire year's worth of conversation into the past five weeks.

Not that I'm complaining. It was good to be on the road, and good to see everyone, and I'm actually sorry that I didn't get to chat with several people I really wanted to catch up with -- oh, well. But today, I'm happy to give my jaws a rest.

The weather is spectacular, and the lilacs are in bloom. As Dizzy and I walked home from the Common, one of my neighbors called from her kitchen door, "Hey, you comin' out to field hockey on Sunday?"

I sure am. For the rest of the weekend, I plan to see some stupid movies, read for pleasure, and possibly play a round or two of miniature golf. Fortunately, none of these things requires much conversation.

What I Read This Week

Marian Keyes, Anybody Out There? Marian Keyes has written three novels about the Walsh sisters -- Watermelon, Rachel's Holiday, and Angels, which is one of the most dead-on skewerings of Los Angeles you'll ever find. Anybody Out There? is the story of Anna, the fourth sister, who returns to New York after a very bad accident whose full impact we -- and she -- don't really understand until about halfway through the book. It's very funny and very sad, and the Walsh sisters feel like my own cousins.

Tony Spinosa, Hose Monkey. I scored some really good stuff at BEA, including this advance copy of the first Joe Serpe mystery from Bleak House Books. "Tony Spinosa" is the pen-name of a well-known mystery writer with first-hand experience of Joe Serpe's job, delivering heating oil on Long Island. Joe's an ex-cop who's lost most of what he ever cared about, but the death of a young, mentally-challenged colleague jolts him back to life. Shifting points of view highlight just how strong these characters are, and I'm glad the sequel is already in the works. Hose Monkey comes out in October.

Ken Bruen and Jason Starr, Bust. Sometimes I read for self-improvement; sometimes I read for work; sometimes I just read for fun. Bust falls solidly in the third category, and would be perfect for anyone's holiday weekend. It's a wicked homage to classic pulp fiction, a story of bad people doing bad things and reaping the inevitable bad karmic returns. Max wants to kill his wife; his girlfriend, Angela, knows just the man to do it, but doesn't tell Max the assassin is her own psychotic, alcoholic, herpes-infected lover. Uh, did I mention this one isn't for kids?

Zoe Heller, What Was She Thinking? Notes on a Scandal. If I taught writing, I'd have students read this book as an example of how point of view makes a story. Retired teacher Barbara Covett sets out to tell the story of her colleague Sheba Hart's affair with 15-year-old student, but winds up telling the story of her own obsessive friendship with Sheba. Barbara tells us very little about what she thinks or how she feels; we learn everything we need to know simply from her narration of what she does. Fascinating, and excellently done.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Tardive dyskinesia (TD)

Who uses it: Psychiatrists and neurologists
What it means: Involuntary movements of the face and limbs, caused by psychoactive medications. They include, but are not limited to, lip-smacking, winking, shrugging, and sometimes even moving the hands as if playing a piano.
How you can use it: As a really, really unkind way to describe a bad dancer.

OK, I'm a little punchy. This term popped into my head the other afternoon as I walked back to Joseph's from the 14th Street post office, passing a woman who was compulsively digging in her ear and a man who was trying to stuff twisted-up napkins into both nostrils. It's hard to know, in cases like that, what is TD and what's a symptom of the underlying disorder.

Home again, and Dizzy is already passed out on his bed underneath my living room window. I am so tired I can barely assemble a coherent thought; if I'd stayed in D.C. for tomorrow, I could have made it to my morning's scheduled appointment AND had lunch with two of my oldest friends and maybe even gone to one of the functions scheduled for my -- erk -- 20th college reunion.

Instead, I'll pick up my mail, get caught up on my work, and possibly take a nap so I can go see John Eddie at Asylum tomorrow night -- if I can find anyone to go with. If you're up for it, send me an e-mail.

Thanks to everyone who offered sanctuary on this trip -- the Lechners, to Dizzy; Dad, Joseph, Leigh & Liz, to me. Good night.

Wednesday, May 24, 2006

Vintage Champagne

Who uses it: Winemakers and wine experts
What it means: A sparkling white wine made from a blend of grapes grown in one particular year in the Champagne region of France. Vintage champagne is not necessarily older than non-vintage champagne; it's just that non-vintage champagne can include the juice of grapes grown in more than one year.
How you can use it: When toasting something happy.

Congratulations today to Jen and Steve Lechner, who are celebrating their 10th wedding anniversary and are one of the funniest couples I know. Please do not ever get divorced. (I may be spending a little too much time with the Lechners these days. Their five-year-old, Grace, recently began a story by saying, "All the people who live in this house -- Mommy, Daddy, Ellen --")

Last night was another celebration, a reunion of (most of) the former residents of 1800 15th Street NW -- Ashton, Joseph, Brian Cook, Anna, and (just because we like him, although he never actually stayed at 1800 15th Street) Anna's husband, Tarren. We started with Champagne at Ashton's, then moved on to dinner at Firefly.

It was a lovely meal, marred only by the screeching voice of a woman sitting at the table behind us. Joseph noticed it first, then Tarren, then Ashton; as the rest of us noticed it, we started brandishing table utensils and wondering aloud how someone with a voice like that -- pitched somewhere directly behind the nose, with a vibrato like fingernails on chalkboard -- managed to have any kind of life at all. "Do you suppose she's married?" I asked. "No ring," Tarren said. "I checked. I can't imagine anyone living with that."

I'd originally planned to stay in D.C. through the end of the week, but need to get home sooner, for a variety of reasons. This afternoon I'll drive as far as Philadelphia -- then on to Maine tomorrow, after a stop in Boston to drop off some books.

First five songs off the iPod Shuffle this morning:

“Three Little Birds,” Bob Marley. I listened to this song almost constantly for the first several months of 1986, and it’s still one of the best cures for anxiety I know.

“Can’t Hardly Wait,” The Replacements. I notice that these lists very often include a ‘Mats tune. Since I have 2500 songs in my iTunes library, I can’t explain this.

“Three or Four,” The New Pornographers. This CD was my travel companion for most of last summer, and this song makes me think of the New Jersey Turnpike. I’m sure that wasn’t their intention.

“Everybody Hurts,” R.E.M. Some days, this song is too much for me. Next.

“Reach Out, I’ll Be There,” The Four Tops. Wow – this list sounds like my iPod’s giving me moral support this morning. Thanks, iPod Shuffle!

Tuesday, May 23, 2006


Who uses it: Lawyers and public policy officials
What it means: The illegal exploitation of a public office for the benefit of a private individual or business.
How you can use it: Too often.

In much of the world, graft is the main reason for pursuing any kind of public office. It would be nice to believe that the United States is different -- we're supposed to be different -- but it's hard to be in Washington without seeing open and cynical manifestations of corruption everywhere.

The discovery of $90,000 in Congressman William Jefferson's freezer is just the most egregious (and hilarious, admit it) example of what happens on a smaller scale every day.

Rep. Jefferson says there are two sides to every story, and that all will be clear once he offers his explanation for what the money was doing in his freezer.

I can't wait that long, so I'm offering my own explanation. Post your own in the comments section.

Good morning, ladies and gentlemen of the press. My name is William Jefferson, and I'm proud to represent the people of Louisiana's Second District.

As you know, the people of my district have suffered great devastation in the aftermath of last year's Hurricane Katrina. Since then, I have spent every waking hour trying to provide my constituents with the assistance they need, despite the incompetence and intransigence of our current Administration.

I have always believed that my constituents deserve more concrete support than mere words on the floor of the House of Representatives. Therefore, even before the most recent hurricane season, I began a private fundraising effort on their behalf that would circumvent unnecessary bureaucracy and red tape.

My efforts to avoid this bureaucracy may have been overzealous; in retrospect, I acknowledge that my willingness to accept contributions in cash may have been ill-considered. The freezer provided a humidity-controlled environment for these donations, because we in New Orleans know only too well how devastating the effects of mildew can be. It would have been tragic indeed if, after my efforts to collect these funds for my people, the proceeds had rotted away even before my associates and I were able to agree on a distribution system for these charitable donations.

Let us not quibble about details here, but refocus our efforts on rebuilding our devastated city together. I urge the FBI to release these funds to the people of New Orleans immediately, to fulfill the donors' original intentions.

Thank you, and God bless America.

Monday, May 22, 2006


Who uses it: Literary critics
What it means: A novel or story written in the style of, and often borrowing characters from, a more prominent writer.
How you can use it: To explain the existence of new Sherlock Holmes stories.

Sherlock Holmes has probably been the subject of more literary pastiches than any other fictional character. By the end of his life, Sir Arthur Conan Doyle had come to loathe his most famous creation; he would certainly not be enthusiastic about the shelves of fiction and critical analysis devoted to Holmes and Watson. On the other hand, Doyle was a devout believer in Spiritualism, so if he really objected, he might have found a way to make his views known.

Tom asked me to drop a few names from my adventures at BookExpo America -- I won't do that, but will share a few of the best things I heard over the course of three days:

"A great bookstore is the center of the earth, the center of everything." -- Pat Conroy, speaking at the "Celebration of Books" reception on Friday night as he presented the American Booksellers Association's lifetime achievement award to Betty and Rhett Jackson of The Happy Bookseller in Columbia, S.C.

American hard-boiled detective novels are about "small moments of inglorious redemption" -- George Pelecanos, at an audiobooks panel discussion on Saturday afternoon.

"Don't you just love books? I love books." -- An anonymous bookseller standing in front of me in a line to get an autograph from author/sportswriter John Feinstein.

"Celebrities. I need to see some celebrities... book people don't count." -- Author Christopher Moore, peering over the heads of the crowd at HarperCollins' Saturday night reception.

The worst thing I heard all weekend was in another autographing line, from a woman who now works (I think) as a librarian. She told me, with some pride, that one of the first things she'd done as a young bookseller in Ohio, many years ago, was help run a signing event for Robert Ludlum. "They didn't send us enough books in time," she said. "When he got there, we only had a few... and the big shipment arrived a couple of days later. So I signed them all."

I was speechless, and could only gape at her. This is the worst violation in all of bookselling, a betrayal of author and customer that benefits no one, not even (in the long run) the bookseller. Once I'd gotten my breath back, I mumbled something about that being not such a great thing to do. She smiled and shrugged and said, "Had to be done. I did a good job, too. I don't think anyone could tell they weren't actually his signatures."

And that, ladies and gentlemen, is why you should never pay outlandish sums of money for autographed books that were not signed in your presence.

The worst thing I saw all weekend was the LongPen, manufactured by Unotchit ("you no touch it") after a design by author Margaret Atwood. It's a machine that allows authors to "sign" books remotely for fans. The author, in one location, signs a screen, and the LongPen signs the physical book that's placed into the machine. The fan/customer/reader has no personal contact with the author, and the author manages to keep the vulgar multitudes at a distance.

This machine is profoundly disrespectful to readers and booksellers, and misses the whole point of booksignings. A good booksigning allows the author to receive feedback he or she might never get otherwise, and allows the reader to thank the author and appreciate the fact that the book is the product of one person's (or, in the case of certain celebrity authors, a team's) imagination and effort. Yesterday, for instance, I stood in line for 20 minutes for Alice McDermott -- not to get a signed advance copy of her book (although that was nice), but to thank her for writing books that have meant so much to me, to my mother, and to my friends. Over the weekend, I also thanked Chris Moore for A Dirty Job, George Pelecanos for Hard Revolution, Jess Walter for Citizen Vince, and Louis Bayard for Mr. Timothy -- all books that gave me new filters for seeing the world.

Since I've started the name-dropping, I should say how glad I was to catch up with Reed Coleman, Denise Hamilton, Chris Mooney, Julia Spencer-Fleming (whom I never see in Maine, though we both live there), Jason Starr, the lovely bookseller Billie J. Bloebaum -- and to meet the legendary Otto Penzler, owner of New York's Mysterious Bookshop; the gurus of 800CEORead; and Randy Peffer, whose book Provincetown Follies, Bangkok Blues I'm greatly looking forward to reading. I also got to throw a little love at the folks from McSweeney's, who gave me a cool Believer magazine tote bag and a deeply quirky mystery novel that's described as "Nabokov meets Agatha Christie" -- more about this on Friday.

Oh, and I had one really-and-truly celebrity encounter that had me smiling for most of yesterday morning. Roscoe Orman is the actor who's played Gordon on "Sesame Street" since 1974. He's written a memoir, and was doing a meet-and-greet at his publisher's booth. I got to shake his hand and say "Thank you," for being a comforting presence not only in my own childhood, but in those of my nephews as well. I had him sign a postcard for Matthew and Henry, who have just started to watch "Sesame Street."

"Did anyone ever tell you your voice sounds just like Meryl Streep?" he said, as he signed the card.

"Uh -- no," I said.

"You do," he said. "I just met her about a week ago, and you sound just like her."

So I got that going for me. Which is nice.

Mr. Orman also told me that his favorite Muppet is Grover. "I just love him," he said. "He never gets anything right, but he keeps trying."

Sunday, May 21, 2006


Who uses it: Booksellers
What it means: A book that has been signed in person, as compared to one with a glued-in ("tipped-in") signature page.
How you can use it: To describe the real thing.

OK, I'm sorry I didn't post yesterday. I'm still alive, very tired, a little frantic, and feeling as if I've been beaten up by the sacks of books I've been carrying on my shoulders around the Washington Convention Center all weekend.

I could spool off a whole list of names of people I've seen this weekend, but it would take too long and make me sound like a creepy wannabe name-dropper. (Which I am, but I try to keep that hidden most of the time.) It was a pleasure, however, to meet Sarah Weinman in person at last, get to spend some time with my client Joe Finder, and party-hop with the hilarious Carol Fitzgerald, president of the Book Reporter Network.

Dad and Uncle Bud joined me and some friends for lunch yesterday, which was good, because my conflicting obligations this weekend have left me feeling anxious to the point of tears. (Not in public; the "Broadcast News" kind of two-minute crying jag, followed by overzealous applications of foundation and eye makeup. Bad combination -- don't try this at home.)

This evening I'm looking forward to crashing hard, and possibly even getting more than the five hours of sleep that have become my nightly standard.

Friday, May 19, 2006

Retrograde amnesia

Who uses it: Neurologists and psychiatrists
What it means: The loss of memories acquired before some kind of trauma to the brain; distinguished from anterograde amnesia, which is the loss of ability to create new memories.
How you can use it: When you're blocking something out.

The main character in Richard Ford's novel The Sportswriter, Frank Bascombe, aspires to live his life as if he had no past. He looks at the athletes he covers, who are able to shrug off defeat and focus on each new game, and thinks that's how we all ought to live. It's not possible, of course, which is the point of the book; the real secret is to acknowledge the losses, learn from them, and keep playing.

Frank Bascombe is a transplanted Southerner, which is no accident. Southerners live the past differently from New Englanders or Midwesterners. We carry it around with us like a turtle shell, retreating into it when threatened or scared.

I'm rambling, but yesterday's CSBS Annual Meeting, at the Marriott Waterside, was a strange convergence of my personal histories, and felt like a visit to another country. It was wonderful to see everyone, and I'm grateful for being able to preserve those connections to an organization I spent 13 years with. It felt strange indeed to sit in yesterday's meeting and think that I'd once been responsible for running it; it's so different from what I do now.

Off to Washington this morning, for another set of convergences, as my book life meets my D.C. existence at BookExpo America. Just to make sure that all aspects of my life are represented, Dad's riding up with me, Anna's already in town, and I'm hoping that Chris can come in from Annapolis at some point over the weekend.

It's possible that I'll achieve total consciousness and disappear in a flash of light. You'll know if that happens, because I won't be posting any more.

What I Read This Week

John Tayman, The Colony: The Harrowing True Story of the Exiles of Molokai. The subtitle of this book is a little misleading, because it's less a personal history of the exiles of Molokai than a history of the bureaucracy that exiled, mistreated and ultimately saved them. The hundred-odd pages of footnotes are almost more interesting than the narrative, providing anecdotes I wish Tayman had included in the book itself.

Phil Rickman, The Smile of a Ghost. I love this series, about a female Anglican priest near the Welsh border who serves as the Diocesan Exorcist (now called "Deliverance Consultant"). In the ancient city of Ludlow, the death of a teenaged boy may have been suicide or murder, and Reverend Merrily Watkins investigates the unquiet dead. The book makes the point that ghosts have power, whether or not they actually exist.

Stuart MacBride, Dying Light. This is the sequel to Cold Granite, and comes out in August. It's just as good as the first novel, although even more graphically violent (one character loses pieces of his fingers in a scene that will stay with me a long time). Aberdeen DS Logan MacRae gets exiled to the "Screw-Up Squad" after a raid goes bad, but finds himself on the trail of a serial killer of prostitutes. One subplot, about the disappearance of a suburban husband, feels a little disconnected to the rest of the book, but its solution is so ingenious it's worth the detour.

Thursday, May 18, 2006

De novo

Who uses it: Lawyers and businesspeople
What it means: Literally, "from the beginning," or "anew." In law, it means retrying a case as if it had never been tried before. In business, it means starting up a business where one had not previously existed. In banking, it means a newly-opened branch or bank; regulators describe a bank as de novo for the first five years of its existence.
How you can use it: When starting something new.

It's a long drive down the Eastern Shore, and the section of it through northern Delaware is one of the least attractive stretches of highway I've ever seen.

But it was worth it for the view of the Chesapeake Bay from the bridge. Entirely by accident, I made it to the bridge right at sunset; it's a good thing that the signs say "No Stopping," because otherwise I might have pulled over for a while.

Dizzy is not with me on this trip -- he's having a good time with the Lechners. Yesterday, that was probably for the best. He's an excellent traveler, but doesn't like tunnels -- probably because he senses that they make me nervous, too. Yesterday, it appeared to be raining inside the Thimble Shoals tunnel of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge Tunnel, which did not exactly inspire confidence.

Meetings this morning, work this afternoon... and maybe a nap. I'm very tired, and this trip's just started.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

En suite

Who uses it: Innkeepers
What it means: A bedroom with a bathroom attached. In the United States, hotel rooms are almost always en suite.
How you can use it: When booking a hotel room anywhere else in the world.

Greetings from Brookline's Longwood Inn, a hotel I would charitably describe as eccentric. It wouldn't be strange at all in Europe, where it might be called a pension, but in the United States, it's odd.

The Longwood Inn is a converted mansion. My room is on the third floor, at the top of the house, and might once have belonged to a couple of servants. No elevator, of course. It does have a bathroom, but it seems to be a converted closet; there wasn't space for a sink, so the sink's in the room. I'd asked for a double bed, but got two twin beds instead, which I don't mind.

What's weird about this place is the apparent absence of staff. I arrived a little after 6:00 yesterday evening, coming through a driving rainstorm and getting lost after taking a detour to avoid Route 1, which was flooded. A sign on the front door directed me to take the envelope with my name on it off the front table. In the envelope was a room key and a small card for me to fill out and give to the desk clerk -- when the desk clerk goes on duty at 9:00 a.m.

I had really hoped to be on the road well before 9:00 a.m. Today's leg takes me to Virginia Beach and Norfolk via the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel. I've never driven across the Bay Bridge-Tunnel, and I've only ridden through it once, so I feel pretty excited about that (it's a quiet life I lead...).

Joe Finder's talk and signing last night went well, though I'd have expected more people to turn up for a chance at winning a plasma-screen TV. His publishers and NEC are giving another one away tomorrow night in New York City, at the Borders on Columbus Circle. The event starts at 7:00; don't be late, because you must be present to win.

First five songs off the iPod Shuffle this morning:

“Funny How Time Slips Away,” Al Green. A classic of faded love. "I heard you told him you'd love him till the end of time/I remember that's the same thing that you told me yesterday/Ain't it funny how time slips away."

“Pulling Teeth,” Green Day. I can't believe this album ("Dookie") came out 14 years ago. Man, I'm old.

“Trouble in, Trouble Out,” Nappy Roots. Off "The Ladykillers" soundtrack. The Ladykillers is not one of the Coen brothers' best movies, but worth seeing for Tom Hanks' hilarious and over-the-top performance -- and for a really kickass gospel-rap soundtrack.

“Annie Get Your Gun,” Squeeze. And this song is more than 20 years old. Anybody got a cane?

“Walking to New Orleans,” Fats Domino. This song came out before I was born, so at least it doesn't make me feel old... but let's send good wishes to Mr. Domino, whose illness prevented him from headlining the New Orleans Jazz Festival last weekend.

Tuesday, May 16, 2006

Posse Comitatus

Who uses it: Constitutional lawyers and military historians
What it means: Literally, "the power of the county;" as a term of art, it refers to the longstanding common law practice (and the statutory Posse Comitatus Act) that prohibits American military units from acting as civil police.
How you can use it: When discussing the President's immigration policy.

The idea of posting National Guard troops along our border with Mexico strikes me as both dangerous and wasteful. It's not really a posse comitatus issue, because this is theoretically a question of national security; protecting the country from foreign invaders is what the National Guard is for. But the National Guard is already severely overtaxed, and the number of troops the President is talking about deploying will hardly make a difference to the government's presence along the border. As someone on the news noted last night, the number of troops works out to fewer than one Guardsman every 600 yards, even if each one works 24 hours a day.

More to the point, every effort to tighten the U.S. - Mexico border has just made people more creative and desperate, endangered more lives and put more money in the hands of the most unscrupulous smugglers and criminals. Why would this attempt be any different?

It's a long-term problem with no short-term solution. Maybe issuing meaningful work permits, and enforcing their use, will help -- anything that provides opportunities and incentives for entering the country legally is a good idea.

I'm off to Brookline this afternoon; from there to Norfolk for the CSBS Annual Meeting, and from there to Washington for BEA. Posts over the next few days will be erratic, but I'll try to check in once a day.

Monday, May 15, 2006

Mercy rule

Who uses it: Little league coaches and players (and other young athletes and their coaches)
What it means: An agreement to end the game if a team has what's considered an insurmountable lead at some time past the midpoint of a game.
How you can use it: When admitting defeat.

I'm officially overcommitted and overwhelmed, and leaving again tomorrow for what could be another two weeks on the road.

Thanks to the Lechners for a lovely Mother's Day, and to Chris and Claire for calling.

Kate's party on Saturday was a good time with a great turnout. Tomorrow I'm headed back to Boston -- or to Brookline, at least -- for the launch of my client Joe Finder's new book, KILLER INSTINCT.

NEC and St. Martin's will be giving away the first of nine 42" plasma-screen TVs at this event. I'm not eligible, because I work for Joe -- also, I don't have wall space for a 42" television, and I wouldn't want to pay the taxes on it -- but everyone present who's unaffiliated with St. Martin's or NEC will get a chance to win, so come on out.

Dizzy and I just took a walk around the block during a 20-minute break in the rain. One of my neighbors is selling nightcrawlers at $2.00/dozen, but I don't know why anyone would pay for them. In this weather, I think you can just go down to the riverbank and scoop them up.

Sunday, May 14, 2006


Who uses it: Obstetricians, midwives and pregnant women
What it means: An eating disorder that causes cravings for non-food items such as chalk, dirt, soap and other things. It happens mainly in pregnant women, and no one knows why.
How you can use it: When you're eating something you'd never otherwise put in your mouth.

Greetings from Freeport, where I'm spending Mother's Day with the Lechners (my toolbar is still missing; the link is Grace gave me a gorgeous coffee mug she decorated and signed herself.

I had expected to feel sad today, but I don't. Mother's Day was never that big a deal in our family -- maybe because it was so close to Mom's birthday, maybe because Mom never cared much about Hallmark holidays.

But I mainly don't feel sad because I don't need Mom to be here for me to honor her, and I thanked her a lot while she was still alive.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Antibody titer

Who uses it: Doctors and blood technicians
What it means: A blood test that uses a serum to precipitate out (titrate) antibodies to a particular disease, in order to determine whether someone needs a vaccination booster.
How you can use it: Actually, it's hard to imagine this coming up in casual conversation. But if your doctor will do this for you, you might not need any more booster shots.

Dizzy had an antibody titer for his distemper/parvovirus vaccine yesterday, and also had a test for Lyme disease and heartworm (negative, fortunately). He's the only dog I've ever seen who's happy to go to the vet. He wasn't happy about having blood drawn, but got a cookie and a new toy out of the deal, so I guess he figures it was a net win.

It was raining when we got home -- it's been raining for the last several days -- and when we got out of the car, the cranky lady next door was on her porch. Oh boy, I thought, but she wasn't planning to yell at me.

"The mailman left a package at your door, and I think it's a mistake," she said. "I tried to tell him, but he just drove away."

It was raining, but the package was in a plastic bag; I thought she must be saying it was a mistake to leave it out in the rain. "I see it," I said. "It's in a bag, so I think it's okay. Thanks."

"No," she said, in a tone that suggested she was speaking to a moron. "The package is for me. He delivered it to the wrong address. So could you just bring it over here?"

I didn't know what to say. "Uh -- I'm expecting something, too," I said. I wasn't, specifically, but I get two or three deliveries a week: manuscripts, books, screenplays. The FedEx guy and I are on a first-name basis (he calls me Clair, since that's how most of these packages are addressed), and he always has a biscuit for Dizzy.

"But I'll take a look," I added quickly. "If it's for you, I'll bring it over."

The package was from Gateway, the long-awaited new battery for my laptop. "Yes, it's for me," I said. "Sorry."

After I got over being taken aback by this whole exchange, I felt sad about it. Maybe she was waiting for a Mother's Day present. Whatever it was, I hope she got it.

This afternoon is a joint anniversary party for Sisters in Crime and Kate's Mystery Books, at Kate's in Cambridge. If you're going, I'll see you there.

Friday, May 12, 2006

Jerusalem Syndrome

Who uses it: Psychiatrists and tour guides in the Holy Land
What it means: A psychiatric disorder that occurs among tourists in Jerusalem, in which they become obsessed with the idea of living a holy life or fulfilling a messianic prophecy. In most cases, it's harmless and temporary, and resolves itself once the visitor leaves Jerusalem.
How you can use it: To describe any place that goes to one's head.

Blogger is not showing me its usual toolbar this morning, so I don't know how to link to Anna's post (at, which gave me this term. She's in Washington right now, and it temporarily went to her head, as it tends to do. It goes to mine, too; on the last visit, particularly, I was thinking about whether and how I could live there again. It might yet happen, though not anytime soon.

Dizzy's going to the vet this morning for a check-up, and I have a newsletter to get out, plus my car to get serviced before the next set of trips.

What I Read This Week

Richard Reeves, A Ford, Not a Lincoln, Or Why There are no Leaders in Washington. This account of Gerald Ford's first 100 days as President is unkind and possibly unfair, though Reeves keeps repeating how much he likes Ford personally; it says a lot that one blurb on the back cover refers to it as "the most devastating hatchet job since Lizzie Borden" and "a superb exercise in venom." Nevertheless, it's hard to argue with Reeves' point, which is that American politics rewards politicians who forsake leadership for the sake of being liked. This book is as timely now as it was 30 years ago.

Martyn Waites, The Mercy Seat. The first twenty pages of this book include scenes of graphic violence and a realistic look at the life of a teenaged boy prostitute; it's brutal, but never feels exploitative. Joe Donovan, a journalist who's never been able to recover from the disappearance of his son, is pulled back into an investigation of corruption in his native Newcastle. Many people die horrible deaths along the way, but the ultimate message is that sometimes righteousness prevails. Powerful stuff, not for everyone.

David Lodge, Paradise News. David Lodge manages to pack so much into his comic novels. This funny story about a middle-aged man's near-accidental trip to Hawaii is also a loving examination of family secrets, religious faith, the grimness of modern tourism, and the power of love. Read this instead of going to Waikiki.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Wild and scenic river

Who uses it: Congress and the National Park Service
What it means: A river that is legally protected as a "living landscape," against dams and other development that would restrain its flow.
How you can use it: Less frequently than you'd think.

Maine, a state blessed with water everywhere, has only one Wild and Scenic River, the Allagash. This is a perfect example of a "term of art," because anyone would call the Cobbosseecontee, across the street from me, wild and scenic. It's not, because it's dammed and developed.

Lots can change in two weeks, and a lot did, during the two weeks I was away. A new tattooing and piercing parlor opened in Hallowell; the Christian bookstore moved from Gardiner to Farmingdale (less than a mile from the adult bookstore, which is handy for everyone); the Radio Shack in Gardiner is closing (ack!); and, worst of all, Gardiner's bakery, Macdonald's, has closed.

It was a mystery to me how Macdonald's was able to stay in business, and I guess that in the long run it wasn't. You could buy a dozen cookies there for about two dollars, and a loaf of excellent bread for less than that. Lines stretched out the door before any holiday, because everyone bought Macdonald's dinner rolls, which were spectacular.

My friends the Maschinos are especially sad about this, because Macdonald's has been in business since Jerry was a boy. It's a terrible loss, and it's hard to imagine anything that could go into that storefront that would be as valuable to the town.

Wednesday, May 10, 2006


Who uses it: Internet programmers
What it means: A piece of text that a website gives its visitors, so that the website can recognize the visitor when he or she returns to the site. Cookies are the Internet equivalent of getting your hand stamped when you go to a nightclub, or wearing that wristband in the hospital.
How you can use it: When you're leaving something behind to be remembered by.

"Cookie" is the one word Dizzy will respond to every time, above, "Come," "Stop," "Wait," or "Leave it." A list of his favorite things would be long -- everything is his favorite -- but cookies would top the list, second only to peanut butter.

My last bout of browser woes wiped out all my cookies, so I've been trying to recall my user names and passwords for about a dozen different sites I subscribe to. They say you shouldn't use the same password for everything, so I don't; I have three that I use, in rotation. But I can never remember which one goes to which site.

It's a cool, rainy day, good for working; I'm keeping my head down and getting things done while I can, because next week I'm on the road again. Here are the first five things off my iPod Shuffle this morning:

“Tell Her Tonight,” Franz Ferdinand. Finally, a selection that proves I listen to music made in this century -- though these guys sound like time travelers from the 1980s.

“Private Conversation,” Lyle Lovett. Lyle Lovett is coming to the Merrill Auditorium in August. Tickets are $71.50. $71.50!! For that much money, he'd better be giving me an open bar and a foot massage.

“Hold On,” Tom Waits. A beautiful song, off a great album ("Mule Variations").

“I.O.U.,” The Replacements. Not the best song off this record ("Pleased to Meet Me"), but it's a great album.

“Morning Has Broken,” Cat Stevens. This song was on the radio when I was little; finding it in the church hymnal astonished me. I always thought this would be a nice song to play at a wedding.

Tuesday, May 09, 2006

Reversible error

Who uses it: Lawyers and judges
What it means: A substantive error on the part of a judge or jury that can lead to a verdict being overturned.
How you can use it: When you know you've made a bad decision that may come back to haunt you.

The possibility of reversible error is the excuse prosecutors give for trying defendants in multiple jurisdictions, as is happening now to John Allen Muhammad and Lee Boyd Malvo, the Beltway snipers. I think it's an excuse for grandstanding and vengeance that violate the spirit of the Constitution's prohibition on double jeopardy. John Allen Muhammad is already on death row, Lee Boyd Malvo's already serving a life sentence; what purpose does this serve, other than to get the lawyers' names in the papers?

Jen has already called to make sure that I'm alive, since it was noon and I hadn't posted yet. I do appreciate that; I'm just swamped, and the phone's been ringing since about 8:00 this morning.

The triumph of the morning, however, was discovering why my printer hadn't been working. The feeder kept jamming, so I finally picked up the whole thing, turned it upside down and shook it -- and dislodged a big chunk of dog biscuit, which Dizzy had apparently dropped into the machine some time ago. God only knows how or why Dizzy decided he needed to feed the printer. He was happy to get the cookie back, though.

Monday, May 08, 2006


Who uses it: Entomologists
What it means: Insect droppings; excrement, specifically, but other debris as well.
How you can use it: As a replacement for other expletives. Really, doesn't "Frass!" sound better than those other words?

My birthday present to Grace Lechner was a butterfly garden, made up of a clear vinyl cylinder and a certificate to mail away for five Painted Lady caterpillars. The caterpillars arrived last week, in a cup holding their food and a circle of paper for them to build chrysalises (chrysales?) on. I got to see them yesterday; they are already eating well and starting to spin silk. It's pretty exciting.

"Maine is blessed," I said to Jen yesterday. We were walking out of Big Al's, a surplus store in Wiscasset. Big Al's is a collection of the useful, the interesting, the junky, and the bizarre; it's full of things you didn't know you needed, all priced at $10 or less. I bought a pair of fake Liz Claiborne sunglasses for $4.88; Jen bought two giant bags of stuff for about $36.

These stores are Maine institutions. Maine is blessed because not only does it have Big Al's, it also has Marden's -- a surplus and salvage store with branches all over the state -- and Reny's, the ultimate Maine general store. I'm grateful for the entry of Target stores into the Maine market, but it would be a tragedy if Target put any of these places out of business.

Sunday, May 07, 2006

Above the fold

Who uses it: Newspaper editors and reporters
What it means: The day's most important stories, with headlines on the top half of the front page.
How you can use it: When reporting the biggest news of your day.

Above the fold in today's Kennebec Journal: a report from the Maine Republican Convention, and an article about how expensive it is to go to two proms. I love living in a small town in a small state.

Strangely enough, I almost went to the Maine Republican Convention; Jen tried to talk me into going with her, when she thought she'd have to tag along with her husband, Steve. Steve objected, on the grounds that 1) I am not a Republican and 2) he didn't want me making the Convention fodder for mockery.

Silly Steve... he should know me better. I only mock the things I love.

Above the fold in my own world today: NBC's "Dateline" program tonight features an "uncensored" report on Tom Cruise, which should include an interview with my cousin Sheila and an update on the unflagging movement to Free Katie. Check it out.

Off to Boothbay Harbor, in Jen's father's convertible. What good is spring if you can't pretend to be a teenager again?

Saturday, May 06, 2006

Teaser pony

Who uses it: Horse breeders
What it means: A horse that is brought in to prepare a mare for mating, before the stallion arrives to finish the job.
How you can use it: When you're doing all of the work and reaping none of the rewards.

Randy Wayne White told me about this term years ago, after he went to visit Storm Cat, the world's greatest breeding stallion. Neither of us had ever heard of the "teaser pony" system, and the very idea of it sent Randy into a fit of sympathetic distress.

It's Derby Day. Brunswick actually has a pretty big off-track betting parlor (why are they called betting "parlors"?), but I've never set foot in such a place, and today won't be the first time. (That said, James, if you win big today, you'll remember which sister is your favorite -- right?)

Instead, I'm off to Bath, for the MeACT One-Act Play Festival, which Gaslight is hosting. Our entry, "The Real Inspector Hound," opened last night here at Johnson Hall, and the Maschinos were nice enough to join me for it.

Spring has exploded in central Maine, and Dizzy rolled in a patch of dandelions this morning. If the weather holds, we'll go on a real adventure tomorrow... maybe we'll even rent a boat.

Friday, May 05, 2006

Cinco de Mayo

Who uses it: Residents of the Mexican state of Puebla, and Mexicans living in the United States
What it means: A holiday that commemorates the defeat of the French invaders by General Ignacio Zaragoza, in 1862. Unfortunately, it didn't last, and Napoleon III's army took Puebla and marched to Mexico City the following spring.
How you can use it: Explain what you're doing with that margarita.

Cinco de Mayo is not Mexican Independence Day, which is September 16 and commemorates the 1810 rebellion of native-born Mexicans against the Spanish oppressors. Interestingly, Mexican-Americans make a much bigger deal of Cinco de Mayo than most Mexicans do -- in that way, it's become like St. Patrick's Day, a declaration of ethnic pride among exiles.

Woke up this morning and didn't know where I was, for a moment. Why does this always happen when you're finally home again? I looked at the clock radio and thought, "Oh, that looks just like mine;" I saw the framed Italian poster for The Man Who Knew Too Much (L'Uomo Che Sapeva Troppo) on the opposite wall and thought, "Gee, I have that." Dizzy seems a little confused, too.

What I Read This Week

Christopher Moore, A Dirty Job. Beta male Charlie Asher loses his wife immediately after the birth of his baby daughter -- but that is only the beginning of his intimate acquaintance with the mechanics of death. He winds up becoming a Death Merchant, someone who collects souls and makes sure they get passed along to the next owner. A Dirty Job is both hilarious and sad, Moore's best work since Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ's Childhood Pal. It was good reading this week, when Mom has been so much in my mind -- it's Moore's genius that this story of death harpies, hellhounds, and suspected serial killers is deeply comforting.

Peter Abrahams, End of Story. Aspiring writer Ivy Seidel takes a job as a writing instructor at a men's prison in upstate New York. Her new student is startlingly talented -- so talented that Ivy can't believe he committed the robbery and murder he was convicted of. As she becomes more involved in the prisoner's case, she loses any ability she had to be objective, or to look after her own best interests. End of Story zooms along, and Abrahams' plot ticks like a well-designed machine -- but Ivy's dangerous naivete needs more explanation than we get here.

Jersey barrier

Who uses it: Roadbuilders and drivers
What it means: The concrete dividers between highway lanes, specifically the ones that have curved lower halves.
How you can use it: Watch out, Congressman Kennedy!

Okay, it's not funny; but it is a weird coincidence that I'd already chosen this for today's (Thursday's) term of art, and then saw the news item about Rep. Patrick Kennedy (D-RI) crashing into a barrier outside the Capitol.

And in case you were wondering, they're called Jersey barriers because they really were developed in New Jersey. The very first concrete highway dividers were used in California in the 1940s, but New Jersey developed the curbed design for their median barriers in the 1960s. California borrowed New Jersey's design, and they're now used nationwide.

Other than that, I want to say only that it is a long, long, looooong way from Washington, D.C. to Gardiner, Maine. Good night.

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Short selling

Who uses it: Stockbrokers and investors
What it means: Selling a stock before you actually buy it, on the assumption that the stock's price is falling; you sell high, then buy low.
How you can use it: When you're underrating something.

Spending an extra day in Washington, to catch up with myself and do a little library work. I've already been pretty productive this morning, which is a relief.

Can't think of much to say, though -- too focused on the next task -- so here's the Five Random Songs from my iPod this morning.

"Cause Cheap is How I Feel," Cowboy Junkies. This song has no relevance to my life. I have no idea what Margo Timmins is singing about. Really. Shut up now.

"Ego Tripping at the Gates of Hell," The Flaming Lips. I saw these guys in concert with Beck at the Universal Amphitheater a couple of years ago(thanks, Steve!). It was surreal. The Flaming Lips had put out a notice for fans who wanted to participate in the concert to show up early -- and they dressed everyone up in giant plush animal costumes and gave them flashlights and glowsticks and megaphones to wave during the show. It's still one of the goofiest, most joyful things I've ever seen.

"That Year," Uncle Tupelo. This whole album reminds me of the summer of 1992 --was it '92? -- when I spent August driving around the country with my brother Ed. We drove right through Belleville, Illinois, and Ed was disappointed there was no highway sign announcing it as the Home of Uncle Tupelo. Lots of corn, though.

"Jimmy Jazz," The Clash. London Calling is my favorite album of all time. Have I said that before? I think I've said that before.

"Can't Get Used to Losing You," The English Beat. I make no apologies for loving my '80s New Wave. Why shouldn't I still like the things I liked when I was 18?

Tuesday, May 02, 2006


Who uses it: Publishers
What it means: To destroy an entire print run of a book, so that no one else can read it or buy it.
How you can use it: If you're looking for a copy of Kaavya Viswanathan's novel.

The scandal over How Opal Mehta Got Kissed, Got Wild, and Got a Life was a topic of extensive discussion at the Festival of Books this past weekend. I feel very bad for the young woman, who sounds as if she got swept up in her parents' fervent ambition, her college counselor's irrational exuberance, and her publisher's hype machine. She's 19, for Pete's sake. If you had the moral courage at 19 to tell someone who was offering you half a million dollars, "I can't do this," or "I didn't really write this," you're a better person than most.

I wonder, too, whether anyone would have noticed the extensive borrowings in Opal Mehta if the book hadn't been so wildly promoted. I don't read much teen fiction or much "chick lit," but I've read enough to recognize the conventions of the genre. Within the crime fiction genre, I remember one year when I read three novels in a row that ended with the shocking revelation of long-hidden child sexual abuse that led to murder decades later.

Back in Washington tonight, at the end of a day that started at 3:30 a.m. Even waking at that hour, I barely caught my 6:00 a.m. plane -- LAX is the most inconvenient airport in the United States, and that's saying something. The rental car places are miles away, the check-in process is scattered and unwieldy, and the security checkpoints take way longer than they should.

So now I'm going to work through the 30-some e-mails waiting for me, and then I plan to sleep for about 12 hours. Dizzy and I are back at Megan's tonight, after Dizzy spent a happy weekend with Joseph and his two Boston terriers. Thanks to everyone for all the hospitality during this long, long trip; if it weren't for the kindness of my friends, I'd have to stay home.

Monday, May 01, 2006

Rockefeller Republican

Who uses it: Political historians
What it means: American voters who are socially liberal but fiscally conservative and in favor of national security. So-called after Nelson Rockefeller, former Governor of New York and Vice President of the United States (see also: Earl Warren Republican, Jack Kemp Republican, Sam Nunn Democrat).
How you can use it: To protect an endangered species.

Mom was a Rockefeller Republican, though she'd never have called herself that -- particularly not after the former Vice President's undignified death, in the company of a woman who was not his wife. But she did believe that it was the responsibility of the government to defend those incapable of defending themselves, which strikes me as the essence of social liberalism.

Today would have been Mom's 65th birthday. I usually sent her flowers, because it pleased her so much to get them, and I always got something signed especially for her at the Festival of Books. I thought about sending flowers to her grave, but that strikes me as gratuitous; she's not there to enjoy them. I should have sent someone else flowers today, in her honor, but I didn't think of it in time. I did have a couple of books signed for other people, in her absence.

Churning through a list of tasks today, and feeling the usual anxiety about being three hours behind the east coast. Tomorrow morning I leave Los Angeles at the crack of dawn, so won't post until late in the day.

Run the table

Who uses it: Billiards players
What it means: Sinking every ball on the table, without giving your opponent a chance to take a shot.
How you can use it: When you're unstoppable.

The Los Angeles Times Festival of Books ended this afternoon when the UCLA clock struck five, and the people in the booth across from ours applauded. We might have, too, but we still had customers shopping.

It was a very successful weekend for The Mystery Bookstore, and everyone I saw -- readers, authors, dogs, Freaks of L.A. -- seemed to be having a good time.

Watching the freak show is a big part of the fun of anything in Los Angeles. Before 10:00 this morning, I saw a man in a khaki skirt with tattoos all over his calves, and another man dressed head-to-toe in buckskin.

I didn't see or do much outside the bookstore tent, so I don't have much to report. But before I pass out with exhaustion, here are a few random thoughts:

-- Diane Mott Davidson, Joanne Fluke, and Gayle Lynds didn't need to bring us cookies in order for us to like them -- but they did anyway, so they get bonus points.

-- Harlan Coben is hilarious. Several people came to the booth to buy his book after his panel, just because "he was so funny," one woman told me.

-- Mary Higgins Clark and Rochelle Krich are the two most elegant ladies in the world of crime fiction, and remind me of the days when being a "lady" was the highest aspiration of any good girl.

-- Susan Kandel dresses beautifully.

-- An alarming number of excellent crime writers are younger than I am, some of them by quite a few years.

Tomorrow's another action-packed day, as I tool around Los Angeles in the extra-glamorous Chrysler minivan the rental car company gave me. A minivan! How could I possibly be someone who drives a minivan?