Tuesday, August 31, 2004

"What a dump."

The Movie: Beyond the Forest, 1949 (Lenore J. Coffee, screenwriter; King Vidor, dir.)
Who says it: Bette Davis as Rosa Moline, Wisconsin's answer to Emma Bovary
The context: Rosa says this to her loving husband, Dr. Lewis Moline (Joseph Cotten) just to be hateful.
How to use it: It’s best used ironically, when you walk into a really fabulous place.

I could use this line literally, to describe the post-move condition of my apartment -- how could I have accumulated so much junk? -- or ironically, to describe the guest suite at my friend Gary's house. Gary lives in a sort of treehouse built into the side of Santa Monica Canyon. You can see and hear the Pacific Ocean from his deck.

It's especially nice to be here because this is where I stayed when I first moved to Los Angeles. I love that feeling of patterns repeating, as long as they're good patterns.

Yesterday was a crazy, emotional day, starting when the movers showed up two hours early. Attila, my nice Hungarian mover (I'm serious), was remarkably tolerant of my bad temper, and we wound up having an interesting conversation about history, the Magyars and bilingualism.

The best part of yesterday, though, was calling Mom's room and having her pick up the phone. I hadn't heard her voice for almost two weeks, and hearing it again made the whole day a lot easier.

Monday, August 30, 2004

"Hasta la vista, baby."

The Movie: Terminator 2: Judgment Day, 1991 (James Cameron and William Wisher Jr., screenwriters; James Cameron, dir.)
Who says it: Arnold Schwarzenegger as The Terminator
The context: The young John Connor teaches The Terminator this phrase so he can sound less robotic; later, The Terminator uses it when he blows some bad guys away.
How to use it: When you’re checking things (or people) off your to-do list and moving on.

The movers show up at 10:00 this morning. Whatever's packed then goes, whatever isn't, doesn't.

My cousin Moira gave me a St. Christopher's medal last night. I've never had one, and there have certainly been times I could've used it. I don't care that St. Christopher is now considered mythical; the legend reminds us that strangers do offer help at the most unexpected times.

And it reminds me of one of my favorite Mary Chapin Carpenter songs. Today's even a full moon, so like her, I really can say that I rely upon the moon and St. Christopher to be my guide.

Sunday, August 29, 2004

“I never drink… wine.”

The Movie: Dracula, 1931 (John L. Balderston, Hamilton Deane and Garrett Fort, screenwriters; Tod Browning, dir.)
Who says it: Bela Lugosi as Count Dracula
The context: The Count offers Renfield (Dwight Frye), his henchman, some very good old wine; Renfield asks whether he will have some, too.
How to use it: As something silly to say at a party, especially if you’re not drinking and don’t want to make an issue of it.

This would have been a handy thing to say at my friend Thomas's 40th birthday party last night, but let's just call that another missed opportunity. Thomas is the best host I know -- we don't call him Captain Ambiance for nothing -- so, while it was unfair that he threw his own birthday party, no one could have done it better. Between packing and the yard sale, I wasn't able to dress appropriately for the 1970s theme, but everyone else rose to the occasion.

The yard sale was a big success. Now I just have to finish packing.

Saturday, August 28, 2004

“We’re gonna need a bigger boat.”

The Movie: Jaws, 1975 (Peter Benchley, screenwriter; Steven Spielberg, dir.)
Who says it: Roy Scheider as Amity Police Chief Martin Brody
The context: Brody, the old salt Quint (Robert Shaw) and the scientist Hooper (Richard Dreyfus) have just had their first, nearly fatal, encounter with the great white shark.
How to use it: To indicate that you have badly underestimated the job at hand. Or maybe just when you want your colleagues and superiors to think you’re working really, really hard.

Thanks to my friend John Erath and to my brother Ed for suggesting today's quotation, which ranks with the greatest movie lines of all time. I'd been reluctant to use it, because -- believe it or not -- I've never actually seen Jaws all the way through. I was nine the summer it came out, and I think I was the only person in my fifth grade class who hadn't seen it. (I did, however, read the MAD magazine version.) Mom wouldn't allow it, and that was probably a good call. Later, it became one of those movies I just never got around to, and then I became embarrassed to admit I hadn't seen it.

One of the cable networks was showing it last night, though, and in a bout of extreme insomnia I watched most of it. It's still very effective, and I agree with my mother that my nine-year-old brain could not have handled it at all.

Every major undertaking hits a point at which one says, "This is just impossible. What was I thinking?" I'm there this morning. Fortunately, experience reminds me that I always feel this way just before I get it all done.

Friday, August 27, 2004

“As far back as I can remember, I always wanted to be a gangster.”

The Movie: Goodfellas, 1990 (Nicholas Pileggi, screenwriter; Martin Scorsese, dir.)
Who says it: Ray Liotta as Henry Hill, a wiseguy
The context: This is the movie’s opening line, and sets up the story of Henry’s rise and fall.
How to use it: To express ironic appreciation for your own (presumably legitimate) job.

Today’s quotation is in honor of my brother Ed, who just got promoted to Associate Editor at the American Pharmacists Association. Congratulations, Ed, you're now in an elite group of people who can legitimately credit drugs for their professional success.

The 80-20 rule applies to moving as it does to everything else. I've done all the easy packing; what remains is the grim process of sorting through old paperwork and throwing things away. Arrgh.

Thursday, August 26, 2004

“He's fictional, but you can't have everything.”

The Movie: The Purple Rose of Cairo, 1985 (Woody Allen, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Mia Farrow as Cecilia, an out-of-work waitress in the depths of the Depression
The context: Archeologist Tom Baxter (Jeff Daniels) has just walked off a movie screen to rescue Cecilia from her miserable life.
How to use it: Oh... I could provide a few names from my own dating history. But would that be kind? Would that be necessary?

With Mom improving, it looks like I'll be in Los Angeles next week, staying out at my friend Gary's. I booked a ticket to Colorado for Jean's wedding, and -- assuming my car is ready as promised on September 7 -- I will plan to leave here on September 8. Posting a new itinerary would just be tempting fate, so I'll wait until the repair shop confirms the delivery date next week.

Wednesday, August 25, 2004

“I'll meet you at the place near the thing where we went that time.”

The Movie: Broadcast News, 1987 (James L. Brooks, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Albert Brooks as TV news reporter Aaron Altman
The context: Aaron agrees to meet his colleague and love object, Jane (Holly Hunter), before he leaves town for a new job.
How to use it: To acknowledge friendships so long-standing that clear communication is no longer necessary.

My friend Maeve & I are making one last (for me) pilgrimage to Musso & Frank's tonight. Musso & Frank's is a Hollywood institution, a restaurant where the waiters still wear red coats (to distinguish them from the busboys, who wear green coats). The decor has hardly changed from the days when Charlie Chaplin and Raymond Chandler hung out there. The place is crowded with ghosts, but they're happy ghosts -- unlike, for example, the Willard Hotel in Washington, which is packed to the gills with ghosts who are miserable, bitter and angry.

I'd add a disclaimer here to the effect that I don't believe in ghosts, but whom would I be kidding? Of course I believe in ghosts. As with so many other things, I have an elaborate theory of ghosts -- which, strangely enough, hardly anyone ever asks me to expound.

Tuesday, August 24, 2004

“As you wish.”

The Movie: The Princess Bride, 1987 (William Goldman, screenwriter; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Cary Elwes as Westley the Farm Boy; later, the Dread Pirate Roberts
The context: This is all Westley ever says to the beautiful maiden Buttercup, but what he’s really saying is “I love you.”
How to use it: I don't know about you, but it's a lot easier for me to say "As you wish," than "I love you."

My family is not particularly demonstrative, and I think we all prefer it that way. Alice McDermott writes great novels about Irish-Americans that explain this much better than I could. It's less a matter of not feeling emotion than a respect for each other's space (which was important in the house where I grew up, four bedrooms that held eight people and several animals).

But if we're not great huggers, and we don't throw the mushy words around, there's still no question of the rock-solid affection that binds us all, and this past week has proved it again. It's not about words; it's about doing whatever it takes in order to take care of each other.

Mom's better today. I hope she'll be even better tomorrow. Her strength is amazing, and it supports us all as it has for almost 40 years. I wish I were there; I'm so grateful to my sisters and my brothers and my dad for keeping me in the circle, and being sympathetic rather than annoyed at my being trapped here.

Six more days in this apartment -- big moving sale on Saturday. E-mail me for details.

Monday, August 23, 2004

“You’re too short for that gesture.”

The Movie: All About Eve, 1950 (Joseph L. Mankiewicz, screenwriter and dir.)
Who says it: George Sanders as Addison DeWitt, a poisonous gossip columnist
The context: DeWitt scoffs at rising star Eve Harrington (Anne Baxter), who is trying to throw DeWitt out of her hotel room.
How to use it: To deflate someone else’s righteous indignation. I think it’s funny to say it to toddlers, although I do remember how much I hated being that short. This is another quotation my friend Sue uses in heavy rotation.

Today's quotation is in honor of my friend Meredith, who heads back to New York today -- sob. She is not too short for any gesture she wants to make.

I used to be good at righteous indignation, but lost heart for it somewhere along the line. I need to muster some up this morning before I talk to the car repair people again.

Friends who have not been reading this blog think I'm in Maine already; I got a phone call this morning from someone who thought I'd be on East Coast time. I should be in Maine already. I don't really want to be here any more.

Sunday, August 22, 2004

“Alone – bad. Friend – good!”

The Movie: Bride of Frankenstein, 1935 (William Hurlbut, screenwriter; James Whale, dir.)
Who says it: Boris Karloff as The Monster
The context: Hunted and injured, The Monster comes across a mountain cottage inhabited by a blind hermit (O.P. Heggie), who befriends him and teaches him to speak. The scene where the blind man thanks God for sending him a friend makes me cry every time.
How to use it: The perfect wedding toast. As many weddings as I’ve been to, no one’s ever used it. Go figure.

One of the things I'll miss about Los Angeles is being within walking distance of at least two dozen movie screens, and within an easy bike ride of at least two dozen more. If memory serves, the Megaplex in Hallowell has four screens... my friend Anna and I saw "Wes Craven's New Nightmare" there.

But I'm counting on Central Maine's not having many of Los Angeles' most distinctive features, including nightly police helicopter chases, SigAlerts, clip-n-save Botox coupons, and angry Russian hookers. Someone did tell me that Gardiner was the center of the Maine phone sex industry, but I have to believe that's quiet. Quiet -- good.

Saturday, August 21, 2004

“The greatest trick the Devil ever pulled was convincing the world he didn't exist.”

The Movie: The Usual Suspects, 1995 (Christopher McQuarrie, screenwriter; Bryan Singer, dir.)
Who says it: Kevin Spacey as Verbal Kint, a small-time criminal with a bad limp
The context: Verbal’s talking about the mythical crime lord Keyser Soze, who might or might not have been responsible for an elaborate heist and the deaths of almost everyone involved.
How to use it: To bolster your latest conspiracy theory, or to stop yourself from making one more excuse.

Here in Hollywood some people are staging a mocking version of "Hell House," the fundamentalist Christian version of the Haunted House. Teenagers put on "Hell Houses" that are supposed to illustrate the dangers of drug use, drinking, premarital sex, etc. in very lurid ways. As always with these things, there's a fine line between demonstrating an activity as a bad example and making it look really exciting and glamorous. A documentary on the "Hell House" phenomenon made this point, and also showed the adults involved as misguided, hysterical brainwashers.

A friend invited me to a preview of the "Hell House" show here tonight, but I don't think I can go. Despite my Catholic discomfort with fundamentalist extremism, I'm even more uncomfortable with making fun of anyone else's sincerely-held beliefs, and particularly of anyone else's respect for evil.

As a child I used to be afraid that Satan would pop up in the dark to tempt me. (Where I got this idea I couldn't say, probably from the copy of Rosemary's Baby I read in secret when I was eight.) But as an adult I have four godchildren, so four times now I've stood at the baptismal font and promised on a child's behalf to reject Satan, and all his works, and all his glamors. And I think the Catholics are right about this: if Satan exists -- and looking at the world today, it's kind of hard to argue that he doesn't -- he's not a scary monster. He (or she) is a beautiful creature who encourages us to laugh at the idea of evil, who tells us not to judge, and who offers complex rationalizations and psychiatric explanations for the worst types of human behavior, everything from Abu Ghraib to pornography.

Satan says, "Don't take yourself so seriously" -- which by extension gives us permission not to take anyone else so seriously, either. Not taking other people seriously is where the trouble starts.

Friday, August 20, 2004

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

The Movie: Caddyshack, 1980 (Brian Doyle-Murray, Harold Ramis and Douglas Kenney, screenwriters; Harold Ramis, dir.)
Who says it: Bill Murray as groundskeeper Carl Spackler
The context: This is the end of a long story Carl tells about the time he caddied for the Dalai Lama. The Dalai Lama didn’t give him a tip, but promised him total consciousness on his deathbed.
How to use it: To count your blessings, or acknowledge the bright side of an otherwise disappointing situation. Murray plays Carl with a strong lateral lisp, something I’ve spent most of my life trying to get rid of.

Things I have going for me: plenty of work, a remarkably tolerant landlady, a family that's actually functional, endlessly patient friends, and a faithful dog.

I don't think I could handle total consciousness, I'm too anxious already.

Thursday, August 19, 2004

“It’s hard to stay mad, when there’s so much beauty in the world.”

The Movie: American Beauty, 1999 (Alan Ball, screenwriter; Sam Mendes, dir.)
Who says it: Kevin Spacey as Lester Burnham, a man whose midlife crisis turns out to be an end-of-life crisis.
The context: Burnham says this in voiceover at the end of the film, which has just shown us the circumstances of his death.
How to use it: Whenever you need to remind yourself it’s a world of wonders. If I keep saying this, it'll eventually sink in.

The latest on my car is that it won't be ready until September 7. I'm officially homeless after August 31. The car sat unattended for a week before the insurance adjuster even got around to looking at it. So I keep saying "This cannot be," which has no effect on anyone or anything.

Living without a car in Los Angeles is a novelty at first, and then it's just tedious. I spent most of yesterday morning taking a variety of buses to and from Westwood. I don't really mind the bus, because it's good reading time -- yesterday I got through most of KJ Erickson's latest novel, which is excellent, and a screenplay that was so bad I couldn't believe anyone had paid money for it.

In his monologue Monster in a Box, Spalding Gray talked about trying to mount a project called "L.A.: The Other," about the people in Los Angeles who weren't part of the entertainment industry. He decided he would find these people riding the buses. The punchline of the story was that even people on the buses had screenplays to pitch (although what they really wanted to do was direct).

Mom's doing okay, at least.

Wednesday, August 18, 2004

“I’ll show you the life of the mind!”

The Movie: Barton Fink, 1991 (Joel and Ethan Coen, screenwriters; Joel Coen, dir.)
Who says it: John Goodman as Charlie “Madman” Mundt, a traveling salesman
The context: Charlie rooms next door to Barton Fink (John Turturro), a playwright struggling to write a screenplay. Barton patronizes Charlie with rants about art and the life of the mind, not knowing that Charlie keeps his own terrible secret. Charlie says this line as he strides through a burning hotel hallway, shotgun over his arm.
How to use it: With a wild look in your eye, to deflate anyone who’s spouting pseudo-intellectual garbage. People should say it to me more often.

Throughout all this car nonsense, friends have said to me, "Things could be worse." I know they mean that it's better that the car got disemboweled here, rather than somewhere in the Rocky Mountains. But "things could be worse" has always sounded more like a threat to me than a consolation -- I know that things could be worse, I know exactly how things could be worse, and I pray constantly that these things I imagine don't come to pass.

So now things are worse. My mom went back into the hospital yesterday for what they think is pneumonia. This seems to be treatable and everyone is talking about when she'll be home, so it's true that this is not as bad as it might be. But please, please, please do not tempt fate by telling me that things could be worse.

My car can spontaneously combust and all my possessions can get buried in an earthquake, as long as Mom's okay.

Tuesday, August 17, 2004

“All right, Mr. DeMille. I’m ready for my close-up.”

The Movie: Sunset Blvd., 1950 (Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, screenwriters; Billy Wilder, dir.)
Who says it: Gloria Swanson as Norma Desmond, a silent movie star
The context: Desmond’s lover, hack screenwriter Joe Gillis (William Holden), has just been found dead in Desmond’s swimming pool; Desmond mistakes the newsreel cameras for a movie set.
How to use it: To admit that you’re probably deceiving yourself about your central role in any given situation.

The big danger of having a blog is thinking that anyone is paying attention. I didn't stop to think, when I set this up, that it would make me part of an emerging subculture, and I'm not sure I'm comfortable with that. I guess it's flattering to be getting comments from total strangers who happen upon the blog, but I feel the same way I'd feel if someone came up to me in a store and made an off-color remark, or started swearing without checking to make sure I wouldn't mind. So hey: if I don't know you, please don't make suggestive comments, and less of the f-word, please. My mom reads this.

Yesterday I read an angry column by an author I admire, in which he postulated that only losers need websites, and the bigger the website, the bigger the loser (I'm paraphrasing). Of course I immediately felt that I should send this man an e-mail to apologize and justify my own website (early training dies hard). I didn't, because I don't know him and he doesn't know me. But I still feel anxious about it.

Monday, August 16, 2004

“Raymond Shaw is the kindest, bravest, warmest, most wonderful human being I've ever known in my life.”

The Movie: The Manchurian Candidate, 1962 (George Axelrod, screenwriter; John Frankenheimer, dir.)
Who says it: Frank Sinatra as Major Bennett Marco; James Edwards as Corporal Alvin Melvin
The context: Marco and the other unit members can’t help saying this every time Shaw’s name comes up, even though they remember Shaw being a jerk.
How to use it: To acknowledge that you’re being brainwashed.

This line comes up less frequently in Jonathan Demme's remake, which I saw yesterday. The remake is a good movie, completely different from the original in tone and maybe even in message. In the original movie, this line becomes funny -- funny in a dark, mean way -- but the remake has very little humor in it.

It feels strange to be in Los Angeles this week, when I'd planned to be gone. Good, but strange.

Sunday, August 15, 2004

"Just a flesh wound."

The Movie: Monty Python and the Holy Grail, 1975 (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Eric Idle, Terry Gilliam, Terry Jones & Michael Palin, screenwriters; Terry Gilliam and Terry Jones, dir.)
Who says it: John Cleese as The Black Knight
The context: He’s just had his arm cut off, and blood is spurting from the wound.
How to use it: To express lunatic courage and gallantry.

Today's quotation is in honor of my friend Randy White and all of the other survivors of Hurricane Charley. The devastation is mind-boggling and heart-breaking. Randy, through some combination of bravery and insanity, rode the storm out in his 1920s-era Cracker stilt house, built on an old Calusa mound on Pine Island. Amazingly, his DSL never went down, so you can read his account of the storm on his website, www.docford.com. If you don't already read his books, go buy a couple just to encourage him. You can also make a donation to the disaster relief fund here.

Several friends have been sending me Python lines for this blog, so this won't be the last one I post. In fact, the guys in my college theater group proved on more than one occasion that it's possible to talk for hours and never say anything that isn't a Python quotation.

Saturday, August 14, 2004

"Fat, drunk and stupid is no way to go through life, son."

The Movie: Animal House, 1978 (Harold Ramis, Douglas Kenney & Chris Miller, screenwriters; John Landis, dir.)
Who says it: John Vernon as Dean Vernon Wormer
The context: Wormer is threatening Delta House pledge Kent “Flounder” Dorfman (Stephen Furst) with expulsion.
How to use it: Good advice for everyone, although I do okay on two out of the three.

I had a different quotation ready for today, but this line popped into my head yesterday afternoon, when I was waiting to buy a movie ticket behind an incredibly obnoxious guy who seemed to be channeling Andrew Dice Clay. (Actually, this is Hollywood; maybe he was Andrew Dice Clay.) Tempted as I was, I didn't say this line out loud.

Now that I am stuck here for another two weeks, I have time for things like movies again. I'm about 70% packed, I'm pretty well caught up on my work projects, and not having a car gives me an excuse to avoid any errand I don't feel like running. It's like being given a couple of weeks of vacation.

My cousin Sheila and her husband Greg had everyone over last night for Greek mezze and the Olympic opening ceremonies. God forbid I ever stop feeling impressed about the Olympics, but why were the American athletes dressed like 1980s breakdancers?

Julia Child's family has asked that people around the world lift a glass to her tonight at 8:00 p.m. local time. I don't know what else I'll be doing tonight, but that's definitely on my list.

Friday, August 13, 2004


Okay, so my car won't be ready until the end of the month. This is absurdly frustrating, but it'll work out fine, because now I can go to my cousin Jean's wedding along the way.

The revised itinerary -- subject to further change, of course -- will look like this:

September 1: Los Angeles to Flagstaff, AZ
September 2: Flagstaff to Pagosa Springs, CO
September 3: Pagosa Springs to Vail, CO
September 4: Jean's wedding
September 5: Recovering from Jean's wedding and hanging out with the Lambs
September 6: Vail to Lincoln, NE
September 7: Lincoln to St. Louis, MO
September 8: St. Louis to Chicago, IL
September 9: Chicago to Pittsburgh, PA
September 10: Pittsburgh to Newport, RI
September 11: Newport to China, ME

I think it's a good omen that I'll get to Maine on September 11.

"Wherever you go, there you are."

The Movie: The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai Across the 8th Dimension, 1984 (Earl Mac Rauch, screenwriter; W.D. Richter, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Weller as Dr. Buckaroo Banzai, neurosurgeon, physicist, martial-arts expert and rock musician
The context: Banzai is chiding his band’s audience for booing a young woman whose unhappiness has interrupted the show.
How to use it: This is a Buddhist koan as well as a movie quotation, so it’s pretty much all-purpose.

When I moved to Los Angeles five years ago, I had a fancier version of this line scrawled across my Day-Timer, a line from Horace: “Caelum non animum mutant qui trans mare currunt,” which means, “Crossing the sea changes the sky, not the soul.” And that’s true, but I do think that making radical changes allows people a better view of their souls. Unless you’re a sociopath, your life is very much shaped by other people’s expectations. This isn’t a bad thing -- the world doesn’t need any more sociopaths -- but radical changes are a chance to figure out what really matters to you, rather than what other people say should matter.

Last night at Barney's was a great time. I was so glad to see everyone, and I just wish I'd had more time to talk to people individually. Of course, since I still don't have any idea of when my car will be fixed, perhaps I will be talking to everyone individually very soon, begging for temporary shelter.

That's a joke, Mom. I think.

Thursday, August 12, 2004

"This is my happening, and it freaks me out!"

The Movie: Beyond the Valley of the Dolls, 1970 (Roger Ebert, screenwriter; Russ Meyer, dir.)
Who says it: John LaZar as Ronnie “Z-Man” Barzell, a Phil Spector-esque impresario/producer
The context: Barzell walks into his own wild, swinging party, which is full of beautiful people and freaks.
How to use it: To take credit for a situation that could turn out to be a great time.

Beyond the Valley of the Dolls may be the most influential bad movie ever made. Among other things, it’s the source of the immortal line “Don’t bogart the joint!” Not that I know what that means. References to BVD pop up all over the place, from Austin Powers to Kevin Smith’s movies. This line is also used in a song by one of my favorite bands (now broken up), Too Much Joy.

The kids’ cartoon “Scooby Doo” started right around the time BVD was being filmed, and while “Scooby Doo” is supposedly based on a series of Enid Blyton novels, I defy anyone to watch the opening scenes of BVD and not think of The Mystery Machine. In fact, the original name of Daphne’s character was Kelly, which is also the lead character’s name in BVD. Coincidence?

Wednesday, August 11, 2004

"Forget it, Jake. It's Chinatown."

The Movie: Chinatown, 1974 (Roman Polanski, dir.)
Who says it: Joe Mantell as LAPD Detective Lawrence Walsh
The context: It’s the last line of the movie, said to private eye Jake Gittes (Jack Nicholson). Gittes has just witnessed the murder of the woman he loves, and seen the man responsible drive away unpunished with his next victim.
How to use it: In acknowledgement that some things don't change, despite your best efforts.

Due to a series of miscommunications and snafus, it looks as if my car will not be fixed until sometime early next week -- which pushes my departure date back from Sunday. I'll know more later in the day.

This means that in all likelihood I won't get to Maine in time to see my friends the Schulzes, who'll be visiting from Munich. Overlapping with their visit was the whole point of my scheduling the move for mid-August, so it's especially frustrating. I'll just have to do another of my bad-weather visits to Europe this winter... at least getting to Germany from Maine is much easier than from California.

A few people out here have said to me, "Well, this is what you get for trying to schedule a move when Mercury's retrograde." I had never even heard of Mercury retrograde until I moved to California, and it cracks me up to hear people talking about it as if it's a genuine meteorological phenomenon. I even say it myself, because it's become synonymous in my mind with Murphy's Law. But if astrology had any legitimacy at all, wouldn't my twin sister and I be much more alike? And wouldn't my brother Ed, born on our sisters Peggy & Susan's first birthday, be just like them?

I know I will hear from a couple of people about this... watch this space for rational explanations, if I get any.

Tuesday, August 10, 2004

"These go to eleven."

The Movie: This is Spinal Tap, 1984 (Christopher Guest, Michael McKean, Harry Shearer and Rob Reiner, screenwriters; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: Christopher Guest as Nigel Tufnel, rock legend
The context: Tufnel is showing documentarian Marty DiBergi (Rob Reiner) his customized amplifier, with dials that go to eleven instead of ten. This is Tufnel’s response when DiBergi asks why they didn’t just make the “10” setting louder.
How to use it: When other people don’t understand how cool something is. Or maybe just when the music’s very loud.

Few things could be louder or cooler than The Who at the Hollywood Bowl, which I saw last night. I'm a little deaf and a little hoarse this morning. I'd like to believe that gives me something in common with Pete Townshend. The ticket was a present from Gary -- my gratitude toward him, for this and everything, will never end.

The Hollywood Bowl is as close as Los Angeles gets to a small town. We got there and almost immediately saw my high school boyfriend, Steve, who is also Gary's cousin and oldest friend. Steve was there with his fiancee, Sherril. Twenty-some years ago Gary and Steve and I were driving around downtown Norfolk in somebody's father's car, and the fact that we were all together at the Hollywood Bowl last night seemed almost miraculous.

Townshend and Daltrey are close to my parents' age, but they too seem almost miraculous. Roger can still hit that high shrieking note in "Won't Get Fooled Again," and Pete can still jump high in the air without missing a chord. The lyrics have a different meaning coming from the lungs of 60-year-old men, and I find that profoundly moving.

Seeing them on a stage together reminds me that the great compensation of getting older is being able to measure friendships in decades. I can't pack my friends in boxes, but I'm taking them along anyway.

Monday, August 09, 2004

"Could be worse... could be raining."

The Movie: Young Frankenstein, 1974 (Gene Wilder and Mel Brooks, screenwriters; Mel Brooks, dir.)
Who says it: Marty Feldman as Igor (Eye-gor), Frankenstein’s assistant
The context: Igor and Dr. Frankenstein are robbing a grave, and Frankenstein says it’s a filthy job. Immediately after Igor says this, it starts raining.
How to use it: In acceptance of the fact that whatever you’re doing is about to get worse. It's most effective in a Cockney accent, but don't try it if you can't really do one.

An inexplicable cheerfulness takes over once you realize there's no way out of a miserable situation. And it's hardly likely to rain here today.

Sunday, August 08, 2004

"There's no place like home."

The Movie: The Wizard of Oz, 1939 (Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, screenwriters; Victor Fleming, dir.)
Who says it: Billie Burke as Glinda the Good Witch, revealing the secret of the ruby slippers; Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, trying to get home from Oz
The context: After Dorothy has made her way to Oz, met the Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion, and defeated the Wicked Witch of the West, she learns that she had the power to get home to Kansas all along, if only she'd known the magic words.
How to use it: To remind yourself that you probably have everything you need, if you take the time to figure it out.

Instead of ruby slippers, I have car insurance. What an amazing invention. And thanks to Kathleen & Mark, Gary, my mom, my sister Kathy and Greg at Santa Monica Volkswagen for pointing out that this sort of thing IS usually covered by comprehensive policies. Sheesh. All that drama for nothing -- although without the drama, where's the movie?

Home is where the people you love best love you too. I am very, very glad to have Ashton & Joseph here this weekend to bring a little bit of my Washington home with them.

Saturday, August 07, 2004

"Time to die!"

The Movie: Blade Runner, 1982 (Hampton Fancher and David Webb Peoples, screenwriters; Ridley Scott, dir.)
Who says it: Brion James as Leon, a replicant
The context: Harrison Ford plays Deckard, a “blade runner” hunting down five renegade replicants who are trying to extend their lifespans. Since the replicants want to live, they start hunting him.
How to use it: Whenever violence isn’t an option, even against oneself. The more cheerful your delivery, the more effective it is. My friend Gary uses it all the time to express rage and frustration in a deceptively humorous way. Use common sense, though – don’t say this line in post offices, high schools or anywhere else it might be taken seriously.

Yesterday I was driving down Wilshire Boulevard, taking my dog and my cousin Kathleen to Kathleen's house so that Dizzy could play with Kathleen's son (my godson) Owen, and we hit a pothole. It was a bad jolt, but no worse than other potholes I've hit; I drive a VW Beetle, they're low enough to the ground that you feel every bump.

But an hour or so later, when Dizzy and I got ready to go home, I could not make the car move. The engine started, and sounded fine; the car would not go forward or backward in any gear.

Of course I had gone out without my AAA card, or even my driver's license -- careless, careless -- but Kathleen had the number for AAA and they agreed to send someone out. Kathleen's husband Mark noticed a pool of fluid underneath the car, and tried adding oil. No use.

Two tow trucks came and went, saying that they could not tow a Beetle with a regular truck, but needed a flatbed. Two hours later AAA told me they couldn't find a flatbed to send over, but could schedule a pickup for 8:00 the next morning (today). My friend Maeve came by and gave Dizzy and me a ride home, which was all the nicer since she doesn't like to have Dizzy in her car.

So this morning I was back at my car before 8:00 a.m., and AAA called to say that they still couldn't find a flatbed but that there really wasn't any reason a regular tow truck couldn't take the car. In fact, when the regular tow truck showed up, he had no problem hooking up the car.

And all this would have been bad enough, but the punch line of the story is the repair bill, a matter of some $2,100. Twenty-one hundred dollars. Two thousand, one hundred dollars.

From a pothole.

"Time to die!"

Update 3:36 p.m. ... did I say $2100? HA! Greg at Santa Monica Volkswagen just called to say so sorry, but the transmission needs to be replaced. Bringing our grand total to $4,495... plus tax.

Selling every drop of blood in my body wouldn't earn me $4,495. My broken car is worth more money than I am.

Friday, August 06, 2004

"Let your mind go, and your body will follow."

The Movie: L.A. Story, 1991 (screenwriter: Steve Martin; Mick Jackson, director)
Who says it: Victoria Tennant as Sara McDowel, a British journalist visiting Los Angeles; Steve Martin as Harris K. Telemacher, a local TV weatherman; an electronic highway billboard.
The context: Sara says it first, repeating something a rollerskater told her; the highway billboard says it just before Harris kisses Sara for the first time.
How to use it: Any time you’re overthinking the situation. For me, this is most of the time.

L. A. Story is my favorite movie about Los Angeles, and probably my favorite Steve Martin movie as well. (Top five movies about L.A.: Chinatown, Grand Canyon, L.A. Story, Singing in the Rain, and Sunset Boulevard. Do not harass me with pleas for Swingers, L.A. Confidential, or The Player; all good movies, but not in my top five.)

Anyway, I love L. A. Story because it captures the process of falling in love – with a person, with a city – better than any movie I can think of. It’s all about that moment of surprise, when you look at the person or the place and think, “You are not what I expected at all.” Suddenly all kinds of possibilities present themselves, and you can’t think of anything you’d rather do than spend the rest of your life exploring them.

My own belief is that almost any person or place is capable of surprising you like that. It’s probably why I’m not married. It’s certainly part of why I’m moving, to look for new surprises.

Thursday, August 05, 2004

"The heart is a very resilient little muscle."

The Movie: Hannah and Her Sisters, 1986 (Woody Allen, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Woody Allen as Mickey Sachs, a hypochondriac TV producer who makes it through a health crisis to fall in love with his ex-wife’s sister. This is the movie’s last line, and the moral of the story.
How to use it: Whenever all the drama seems too much to bear, and to remind yourself that while sorrow is inevitable, heartbreak isn't permanent.

It’s remarkable how people –- I, specifically –- chase down new opportunities for heartache, as if everyday life didn’t throw enough at us. I’ve been thinking about this a lot lately, and it seems to me that all this emotional recklessness is a modern evolutionary compensation for the fact that we’re not physically running away from tigers anymore. If I had to duck mammoth stampedes on a regular basis, I would not need to make myself sad – or happy, or excited, or fearful, or anything – by leaving one group of friends and family, wreaking havoc with my possessions, and hurling myself from one side of the country to the other.

For better or worse, mammoths are extinct.

Wednesday, August 04, 2004

"Snap out of it!"

The Movie: Moonstruck, 1987 (John Patrick Shanley, screenwriter; Norman Jewison, dir.)
Who says it: Cher as Loretta Castorini, a widow disillusioned with love
The context: Loretta smacks Ronny Cammareri (Nicolas Cage), her brother’s fiancĂ©, when Ronny tells Loretta he loves her.
How to use it: To shock someone out of a fantasy, or put a stop to embarrassing sentimentality. Don't actually slap anyone, though.

I need to snap out of it. The other day I stood paralyzed in front of the dairy case, thinking that if I bought the half-gallon of skim milk (instead of the quart), it would be the last jug of milk I’d buy in Los Angeles. Had I not been surrounded by people, I’d have smacked myself and shouted this. Since my health insurance doesn’t cover mental illness, I let the opportunity pass.

Bye-bye, Alta Dena Dairy.

Tuesday, August 03, 2004

"Try not! Do -- or do not. There is no try."

The Movie: The Empire Strikes Back (Star Wars: Episode V), 1980 (Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan, screenwriters; George Lucas, dir.)
Who says it: Frank Oz as Yoda, the Jedi master
The context: Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) has traveled to Dagobah to complete his training as a Jedi knight, where Yoda teaches him the nuances of the Force.
How to use it: Whenever facing an apparently impossible task. All-purpose inspiration and encouragement.

Today's quotation is honor of my nephew George, who turns 17 today. Happy birthday, George. I won't waste your time with advice, but I'll wish you the things I treasure most in all my friends -- curiosity, generosity and courage -- and I send you prayers for a long and useful life.

Oh, and a real present's in the mail. See you soon.

Monday, August 02, 2004

"Puh-lenty of time."

The Movie: A Fish Called Wanda, 1988 (John Cleese, screenwriter; Charles Crichton, dir.)
Who says it: John Cleese as Archie Leach, a barrister-turned-fugitive
The context: Leach is trying to get Ken (Michael Palin), a stutterer, to reveal the location of the safety deposit box that holds a cache of diamonds. He knows never to rush a stutterer, but he’s frantic.
How to use it: To manage your own anxiety about running out of time, or to hurry other people along without being too obnoxious. You have to say it in a musical tone of voice, and "plenty" has three syllables. My friend Sue says this at least once a day, I think, when she's in an English-speaking environment.

Since I woke up a little after 4:00 this morning, at some primal level I obviously don't feel I have plenty of time. With luck, I have enough time. Time to murder and create, as T.S. Eliot says, and time yet for a hundred visions and revisions before the taking of a toast and tea.

I like toast, but I'm not as passionate about it as my brother Ed -- who nearly wept when he clicked the "toast" page on Jasper Fforde's website (www.thursdaynext.com) and discovered it was a joke.

Am I a little scattered today? Welcome to my world.

Sunday, August 01, 2004

“Looks like I picked the wrong week to stop sniffing glue.”

The Movie: Airplane, 1980 (Zucker, Zucker and Abrahams, screenwriters and directors)
Who says it: Lloyd Bridges as Steve McCroskey, an air traffic controller
The context: McCroskey is trying to bring down a jetliner whose crew has succumbed to food poisoning. The only passenger who can fly the plane is Ted Striker (Robert Hays), a veteran pilot paralyzed by his wartime memories. In earlier scenes, McCroskey says it’s the wrong week to quit smoking, drinking and amphetamines.
How to use it: Under extreme stress. This line does not constitute permission to resume sniffing glue. This blog cannot be responsible for your bad life decisions.

Quitting anything is just about impossible for me, so I often feel grateful that I never really wanted to smoke or do drugs.

But now that it's August 1 -- two weeks away from my move date -- I'm quitting things whether I want to or not. This morning was probably my last Sunday Mass at St. Ambrose (I can't see dragging Ashton & Joseph there next week). The readings were a little too appropriate -- "Vanity, vanity, all is vanity," and the parable about the man who built an extra storehouse for his grain and then died that night. No one ever thinks of themselves as acquisitive until it's time to pack it all up, which forces the question, "How the hell did I get all this stuff?"

By the end of this week, I will wish I sniffed glue.