Saturday, December 31, 2005


Who uses it: Filmmakers
What it means: The last shot of the day
How you can use it: On the last task of your day -- or your year

Last post of 2005. This would be the time for me to say something profound about the past year, or about my goals for next year, but I'll pass.

It's been a good year, if only because my friends and family and I are still alive and well at the end of it. I lost only one friend this year (my former colleague and mentor Alton Wingate). Only one pair of my friends got divorced, and one cousin got married. Several friends and relatives had babies, and several more will have babies next year. I made some new friends, saw some new places, read a lot of books and watched a lot of movies. I learned to ice skate. Thanks to everybody who visited the blog, even those of you looking for mail-order brides.

Chris, the Lechners, the Bragdons and I are headed Down East this afternoon, to see in the New Year at the Brooklin Inn. I'm not taking the computer with me (so there, Anna -- I can give it up any time I want to), so I won't post tomorrow until late in the day.

Everybody have fun tonight... everybody Wang Chung tonight. See you next year.

Friday, December 30, 2005

Sine die

Who uses it: Legislators
What it means: In Latin, "without a day." The adjournment of a legislature at the end of its term, with no date set to reconvene. Although the Latin pronunciation is "SIN-eh DEE-ay," on Capitol Hill, they say, "sigh-nee DIE."
How you can use it: When you're going away for a while.

This would have been a good term to save for my next vacation, but it popped into my head yesterday, so I'm using it now. Yesterday was a long, long driving day, but Chris, Dizzy and I made it back to Maine... where it's raining and generally gross out. So much for winter wonderland.

On the way out of D.C. yesterday, I sat behind a bus with a placard on the back: "The alcohol beverage licensees of Washington, D.C. urge you to DRINK & DRIVE RESPONSIBLY this holiday season." I was so flabbergasted, I took a picture (not digital, so I can't post it). Drink and drive responsibly? It sounds like an episode of "Jackass."

What I Read This Week

Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down. On New Year's Eve, four unhappy people meet on the roof of Toppers' House, a North London apartment tower notorious for attracting suicide jumpers. One is a disgraced former talk show host; one is the borderline-personality daughter of a junior minister; one is a failed rock-star wannabe; and one is the middle-aged mother of a profoundly disabled son. It's risky subject matter for a comic novel, but Hornby pulls it off, and answers the eternal question, "Why go on?" with a very satisfying, "Because."

Paul Hemphill, Lovesick Blues: The Life of Hank Williams. And then again... once upon a time, a troubled young man changed the face of popular music. The child of a broken home, he married a confrontational, ambitious woman who pushed and tormented him. In constant physical pain, he turned to a lethal combination of alcohol and pills, and his friends knew he was a walking dead man for months before he died. Forty years before it happened to Kurt Cobain, Hank Williams died in the back seat of a powder-blue Cadillac, somewhere in West Virginia. His recording career spanned only four years, but his songs are eternal: "Your Cheating Heart," "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry," "Jambalaya," and my own favorite, "I Saw the Light." This short, spare book is a fitting tribute to Williams and must-reading for any serious music fan.

Steven D. Levitt and Stephen J. Dubner, Freakonomics: A Rogue Economist Explains the Hidden Side of Everything. Why do drug dealers live with their mothers? What's the real reason for the drop in the crime rate? Do "Baby Einstein" tapes have any effect on children's success in school? Economist Steven D. Levitt answers these questions and more in a tremendously entertaining book.

Vendela Vida, ed., The Believer Book of Writers Talking to Writers. I was going to parcel out this collection of 23 interviews over a stretch of weeks -- read one, put the book down, read the next later -- but I kept reading, and before I knew it, I was finished. Conversations here include Jamaica Kincaid's memories of her first years at The New Yorker, Susan Straight's inside view of Riverside, and John Banville's existential despair over never writing as well as he wants to. The writers here talk less about how they write than about how they see and how they think, and it's as good as a seminar.

Thursday, December 29, 2005


Who uses it: Castle architects and practitioners of siege warfare
What it means: Small windows in a castle or fortification wall that allow defending archers or snipers to shoot at attackers. They're also called "arrow loops" or "arrow slits."
How you can use it: Don't you already?

I'd never thought about the source of the modern term "loophole," until I saw the word used in a description of a siege. If you'd asked me, I'd have speculated that the term originated from knot-tying. It makes more sense that it means an opening in a fortification.

The one thing I meant to do yesterday (other than work) was get my car washed, and then I completely forgot. I believe that the Mr. Wash off Logan Circle opens very early, so I'll take the car over there this morning. It's hard to get one's car washed in Maine in the winter, just when it most needs washing.

After that, I'll pack up Dizzy and head to Annapolis, where we're picking up Chris Bea for the weekend. Then it's on to Maine, and I hope to get home before 10:00 tonight.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Faraday cage

Who uses it: Physicists and electricians
What it means: An enclosed hollow space designed to block electromagnetic fields, where the electrical current goes around the outside of the space rather than through it.
How you can use it: When you can't get cell phone reception.

Thanks to Claire Bea for bringing this term to my attention; she mentioned last night that Metro trains are natural Faraday cages, which is why cell phones don't work there. (And thank goodness for that.) Automobiles are also crude Faraday cages, which is why they're relatively safe places to be in a thunderstorm.

Dizzy and I are back in Washington, and I've lost track of what day it is. Today I'll catch up on some work, call some friends, and reorient myself before heading to Maine tomorrow.

Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Just friends

Who uses it: People looking to escape a romantic relationship
What it means: "I do not want to have a romantic relationship with you, but I like you and most of all I want you to think well of me. So can you please not ask me for anything more than I feel like giving you?"
How you can use it: I'm sure you can think of something.

I foolishly put a visit counter on this blog about three months ago. I knew it was a mistake at the time, and yet I feel helpless to take it off, or to keep myself from checking my stats a couple of times a day.

It's comforting, mostly. I see frequent visits from Montreal, Singapore, Hampton Roads, Washington DC, Los Angeles, Annapolis, Cambridge, and various points in Maine, and I know exactly who those people are. I feel protected and reassured that people are checking in on me, so I won't go a week before someone notices an unpleasant smell from my apartment and my dog yowling to be let out.

But sometimes I am baffled and disturbed by the search strings that bring people here. Because my blog has "Girl" in the title, people often come here looking for girls to meet, chat with, or otherwise get to know better. People have come here looking for information about everything from mountain climbing to Katie Holmes, and I guess that's flattering.

Today's term of art is the result of one of yesterday's search strings. Someone came to this site looking for an answer to "what a girl means by just friends." Therefore, today's posting is a public service to that anonymous searcher. Do not invest any more emotional energy in that girl who wants to be "just friends;" what she means is, "I am not romantically interested in you, but please don't make me feel guilty about this, and please don't hate me."

Don't take it hard, my anonymous friend; soul mates may be few and far between, but on a planet of six billion people, even one percent is more people than you'll meet in a lifetime. Better luck with the next girl.

Monday, December 26, 2005

Full nelson

Who uses it: Wrestlers
What it means: a hold in which one wrestler grabs his opponent from behind, under both arms, pushing the opponent's head down toward his chest. You can break someone's neck this way, if he turns his head wrong; don't try this at home.
How you can use it: When you're at someone's mercy.

Santa Claus was awfully good to me this year: I am now the proud owner of an iPod Shuffle. I love the randomness of it. I auto-filled it from my laptop's hard drive, set it to random play, and it gave me, in succession, Chet Baker's version of "My Buddy;" "Man of Constant Sorrow," from the O Brother, Where Art Thou? soundtrack; and Nouvelle Vague's cover of "Guns of Brixton." Right now it's playing the Beach Boys' "I Just Wasn't Made for These Times." It's my own personal radio station, WECL.

Christmas falling on a Sunday has left me confused about where the federal holidays fall. I believe that today is the official holiday, but since I took yesterday off, I'm back to work today. Feel free to pester me, if you know how to reach me.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Merry Christmas

I'm taking the day off. See you tomorrow.

Saturday, December 24, 2005

Three dog night

Who uses it: Alaskans and residents of the Yukon
What it means: A night so cold you have to sleep with all your dogs for warmth.
How you can use it: Not very often, in Virginia Beach

The term I was going to use today was "Siberian dilemma," which is a Russian military expression for deciding how you're going to die -- but Mom and my sister Kathy both protested that this would be inappropriate for the season.

It's as warm as Maine's late spring here in Virginia Beach -- the temperature may get to 60 today -- and Dizzy is amazed and grateful to see grass again.

I have some last-minute shopping to do, and most of this blog's readers will see me over the next couple of days, so I'll keep it short. If you're setting things out for Santa tonight, think about adding a little protein to the mix; all that sugar cannot be good for him.

Friday, December 23, 2005

Hopper spreader

Who uses it: Snowplow operators
What it means: The machine at the back of a snowplow that drops and spreads sand or salt
How you can use it: It's not too late to add to your Christmas list.

The snowplow guys had to throw a second layer of sand onto my parking lot, because the first layer froze under new ice. We're in Washington, DC this morning, and there's very little snow on the ground; Dizzy is thrilled to be able to trot along sidewalks without worrying about ice.

We're picking up my brother Ed this morning, and then stopping in Mechanicsville to pick up the Christmas roast beef from Peggy -- it's their contribution to the Christmas feast, but they don't want to worry about having to bring it down on Sunday. I hope I have room for it in my car... it can't exactly ride in the back seat with Dizzy.

Yesterday was a Book on Tape day, and here's What I Read this Week:

Simon Kernick, The Business of Dying. I was impressed with Simon's second book, The Murder Exchange, when I read it last February; that was a sharp, complex novel that told parallel stories of a thug on the run and a disillusioned but dogged police detective. The Business of Dying, his first, is nothing short of astonishing. It's a simpler plot, but a uniquely complex protagonist: Dennis Milne is a veteran police detective who is also a hit man. He tells himself he's only killing the scum of the earth, but then he's set up to kill three innocent men -- and there's a witness. He ought to run, but there's one last case he needs to solve and one last killer he needs to bring to justice. Now I have to read the sequel, A Good Day to Die, which came out earlier this year.

Bernd Heinrich, Winter World. Zoologist Bernd Heinrich is a gifted artist as well as a brilliant writer; all of his talents seem to come from his remarkable ability just to see what surrounds him, when most of us pay no attention. In this book, he turns his attention to the amazing range of adaptations animals have made in order to survive winter in cold climates. He writes about frogs that freeze solid, only to thaw and revive in spring; about beetles whose blood is a form of antifreeze; about flying squirrels, who forage by night and go into a kind of suspended animation by day; and about the tiny kinglet, a ball of fluff whose resilience inspired this book. It took me the better part of a week to read this book, because it felt like hanging out with someone I didn't want to say goodbye to.

Alexander McCall Smith, Friends, Lovers, Chocolate. McCall Smith's second Sunday Philosophy Club book is charming, but very slight; philosopher Isabel Dalhousie wrestles with the moral dilemmas of her own 40-something single life as she helps the recipient of a heart transplant identify his donor. As I said about the first book, if you like Isabel, you like the books, and I do -- but I don't know how long I'll stick with this series.

Edgar Rice Burroughs, Tarzan of the Apes. How did I get through childhood without ever reading this book? I listened to it on tape yesterday, and it was perfect company for a miserable drive -- wildly romantic, unapologetically ridiculous, rather shockingly colonial and racist by today's standards. If you don't know the story, you live under a rock: the orphan John Clayton, Lord Greystoke, grows up among the apes, teaches himself to read, and makes contact with a group of marooned humans that includes the beautiful Jane Porter and her father. Besides being a great adventure, this is also my very favorite sort of doomed love story. I'm thrilled to discover that several books in this series are available online through Project Gutenburg, so I'll keep reading.

Thursday, December 22, 2005


Who uses it: Realtors and RV sales personnel
What it means: People of a certain age who live in the northern half of the country, but travel south for the winter.
How you can use it: To describe your travel plans.

My friend Carla, in Singapore, reports that her family took a walk in the rainforest today, and that the temperature there is 26. That's not so much warmer than here, where the temperature is 7, except that she's measuring in Celsius degrees and I am measuring in Fahrenheit. In Celsius, our temperature is -13, which sounds pretty dramatic.

Anyway, Dizzy and I are headed south today, as far as Washington, D.C. My apartment is not as clean as I'd like it to be, and I did not finish two projects I wanted to complete before leaving, but that's how it goes. Fingers crossed that today's traffic won't be too miserable.

I leave you with an etiquette question to ponder. When Sir Paul McCartney got married, his wife became, by courtesy, "Lady McCartney." Now that Sir Elton John is married, does his husband get a comparable title? The expert I consulted -- indirectly, thanks to the good offices of Sue Schulz -- says that husbands of female knights (Dames of the British Empire) don't get called anything special, which seems unfair. Perhaps it's time to correct this, or just do away with the silliness of titles altogether.

Wednesday, December 21, 2005


Who uses it: Meteorologists and modern pagans
What it means: Literally, "sun at a standstill;" the time, twice a year, when the Northern or Southern Hemisphere is farthest from the sun, and periods of sunlight are shortest or longest.
How you can use it: Greetings of the season.

As far as historians can tell, almost every civilization has had some celebration or recognition of the solstices, especially the winter one. It's the promise that winter won't last forever, that the sun will come back and life will return.

Anna and I wrapped presents at Barnes & Noble yesterday morning, and earned a whopping $34 for the Literacy Volunteers. As Anna's husband said last year, we might as well have dropped a couple of twenty-dollar bills into the jar and gone off to the movies. But the money wasn't the point (okay, not mostly the point) -- it was a nice thing to do for the community, and we got to chat with neighbors and give away a few pamphlets.

The wrapping table was next to the Periodicals section, which gave us plenty of conversation fodder while we weren't wrapping. Every special interest has its own magazine, and usually more than one. I couldn't resist paging through New Witch, and Anna seriously considered buying Faery for one of her nieces.

"Huh, it's a fashion spread," she said, looking at a photo layout in Faery.

"What faeries are wearing this season?" I asked.

"No, I think how to dress like a faery."

"How do they know?"

I have 24 hours to get everything on my list done before leaving for Virginia Beach tomorrow. Ho. Ho. Ho.

Tuesday, December 20, 2005

Subnivian zone

Who uses it: Biologists and naturalists
What it means: the area above the soil and below the top of a snowpack
How you can use it: When snowshoeing, cross-country skiing, or trudging through the snow.

The snow has an icy crust that I stomp through, but Dizzy sort of skates on. He doesn't seem to mind; his feet splay out wide, and his claws give him a little bit of traction. The book I'm reading explains that foxes and coyotes (and other types of dogs, including Dizzy) bound through the snow instinctively, in an effort to find small mammals' nests in the subnivian zone. I don't know what Dizzy would do if he found a chipmunk or a vole, or (God forbid) one of those poisonous shrews.

Yesterday, with six days to go, I made the decision that I would not be sending Christmas cards this year. I feel bad about it, but the season's gotten away from me. I have too much to do between now and Thursday, when I hit the road. I'd hoped to include another photo of Dizzy in the snow, and I haven't been able to take a good one; he comes toward me whenever I put the camera to my face, to see what I'm doing. So no Christmas cards from me this year, and I apologize.

It's an odd ritual, though nice. I'm always glad to get photographs of my friends' children, and I like hearing from people I never hear from at any other time of year. But the cards that are not signed, or signed with something perfunctory that gives me no news, seem pointless. I got an e-mail from someone a week or two ago, asking for my address -- so this person could mail me a Christmas card that had no note, just "seasons' greetings" and a signature. I guess I appreciate the gesture, but what a weird expenditure of time; I'd rather have had fifteen minutes spent on a substantive e-mail, and they could have saved the expense of postage.

This morning Anna and I are wrapping presents as a fundraiser for Literacy Volunteers at the Augusta Barnes & Noble. If you're in the neighborhood, stop by.

Monday, December 19, 2005


Who uses it: Physicists and natural scientists
What it means: Maintaining a liquid state at temperatures below the expected freezing point. It's a very precarious state that can turn into freezing at any time.
How you can use it: All through the winter.

Since the solstice is coming up, and since I'm reading a great book full of these terms, I think I'll devote this week to words and phrases about winter.

Gardiner is still covered in ice, and it makes going for walks very tricky. Dizzy's favorite path, behind the paperboard factory, is a fairly steep downhill slope that's impossible in this weather. I tried to explain it to him, but he doesn't believe me. I'd take him across the street to demonstrate, but breaking a leg (for him or for me) would be extremely inconvenient at this time of year. As it is, I fell on my butt just getting out of the car on Saturday, and was only grateful that no one was outside to see it.

Happy birthday today to my dear friend Gary -- I would say he's one of my oldest friends, but that would imply that he is old, and of course he is not. But it is a great comfort to me that we have been friends for... shh... more than 25 years now, and will be friends for at least 50 more. Many happy returns of the day.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

Magical realism

Who uses it: English professors, literary critics, and writers
What it means: A literary genre in which apparently impossible things seem quite normal; the classic example is Gabriel Garcia Marquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude.
How you can use it: When encountering wonder in your own life, or discussing Santa Claus.

My favorite news item of the week:
Santas Go on Rampage in New Zealand City

WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) - A group of 40 people dressed in Santa Claus costumes, many of them drunk, rampaged through New Zealand's largest city, robbing stores and assaulting security guards, police said Sunday.

The rampage, dubbed ``Santarchy'' by local newspapers, began early Saturday afternoon when the men, wearing ill-fitting Santa costumes, threw beer bottles and urinated on cars from an Auckland overpass, said Auckland Central Police spokeswoman Noreen Hegarty.

She said the men then rushed through a central city park, overturning garbage containers, throwing bottles at passing cars and spraying graffiti on buildings.

One man climbed the mooring line of a cruise ship before being ordered down by the captain. Other Santas, objecting when the man was arrested, attacked security staff, Hegarty said.

The remaining Santas entered a downtown convenience store and carried off beer and soft drinks.

``They came in, said 'Merry Christmas' and then helped themselves,'' store owner Changa Manakynda said.

Alex Dyer, a spokesman for the group, said Santarchy was a worldwide movement designed to protest the commercialization of Christmas.

I don't condone theft or property destruction, but frankly I've been expecting Santa to lose it for some time now. People constantly demanding things of him, and never offering him anything in return except a few cookies... all that sugar... all that darkness, at this time of year... who wouldn't need a drink?

Saturday, December 17, 2005

Frazil ice

Who uses it: River navigators and hydrologists
What it means: needle-like structures or very thin, circular plates of ice that float on top of fast-moving water
How you can use it: To describe the Kennebec and the Cobbosseecontee, right now

Yesterday's snow turned to ice, and we lost power in the late afternoon. I'm not sure what caused the power outage, or how long it lasted, because Dizzy and I fled to the sanctuary of the Lechners', who had electricity, heat, food, beer, and a washing machine. Thanks, guys!

Today, in the sunshine, the ice on the trees is breathtakingly beautiful. It's all melting, because the temperature is up to 32 degrees, which feels tropical. Dizzy and I got home about an hour ago, and he's already passed out in a patch of sunlight. I may follow him in short order.

Friday, December 16, 2005


Who uses it: Primate researchers
What it means: The mature male leader of a gorilla troop
How you can use it: As a synonym for "alpha male."

Yes, I saw King Kong last night. And to steal my brother Ed's immortal comment on Gladiator, it kicked every ass I have.

At three hours and seven minutes, it's about 20 minutes too long, but it hardly matters. King Kong is everything we go to the movies for: romance, adventure, thrills, comedy, tragedy, gorgeous costumes, great scenery, awesome special effects. It may be the most thoroughly satisfying movie-going experience I've had since The Princess Bride.

It is also very, very scary. VERY. SCARY. Whatever you're afraid of, it's in this movie: giant reptiles, bats, spiders, huge bugs, big nameless water-suckers, human sacrifice, grotesque aging, unscrupulous movie producers. How this movie got a PG-13 rating is a mystery; it is intense and violent and -- did I say this? -- really scary, and not, not, NOT appropriate for children.

So of course, my friends and I sat behind a couple who had brought their little daughter -- a girl no older than five -- to this movie. What is wrong with people?

I'm editing a manuscript, covered a screenplay and am getting ready to write a big report this week, which didn't leave much time for pleasure reading... but here's

What I Read This Week

Lee Charles Kelley, Twas the Bite Before Christmas. I read this book because I never read books like this: the title's a pun, the detective is a dog trainer in a small Maine town, and dogs help solve the mystery. But guess what? This was charming, with a good mystery and entirely believable dogs. The main character is an ex-NYPD detective who's a little too condescending to his small-town Maine counterparts, and has one too many celebrity friends, but those are minor quibbles.

James Grippando, Got the Look. I haven't read any of the earlier books in this series, featuring Florida defense lawyer Jack Swyteck. Jack's a good character, and this book isn't a traditional legal thriller, because the fact that he's a lawyer makes little difference to the plot. Jack falls in love with a woman who turns out to be married, and she gets kidnapped, for reasons that turn out to be connected to her secret past. It's very well done, but I'm tired of women-in-peril thrillers, and I think I'll quit reading them for a while.

It's snowing hard. Dizzy and I met the Gardiner fire chief by the paperboard factory this morning; he asked whether I'd seen anyone camped out back there recently. I haven't, though I told him I'd seen smoke and an abandoned campsite in the summer. The problem, he told me, isn't that someone is squatting. It's that the fire plan for that building calls for fire-fighters to stay outside the factory; if the building catches fire, and if someone is living inside, they wouldn't know they needed to go in to save him.

Somehow, this sums up everything I love about Maine. They'll leave each other alone and they'll tolerate a lot of eccentricity, but they'll go to great lengths to help, when needed.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Jesse tree

Who uses it: Catholics
What it means: The Catholic answer to the Christmas tree, which is a pagan symbol -- an evergreen tree within a church, often decorated with white and gold ChristMon(TM) ornaments, representing symbols of our faith
How you can use it: To weigh in on this "holiday tree" nonsense.

I stopped in at my local pub last night to say hi to Heather and Frank, and hear the latest Gardiner buzz. The stereo was broken, so Heather had the television on -- tuned to Fox News, I am sorry to say, and to Bill O'Reilly, which made me even sorrier. Bill O'Reilly (may his shorts itch forever) was grilling two Catholic priests about why the American Catholic hierarchy had not weighed in on this silliness about what to call the Capitol Hill Christmas tree.

Father McBrien, from Notre Dame, was more polite than I would have been, but basically said that the Church had more important issues to deal with, especially at this time of year. Christmas trees aren't Catholic, or even Christian; they're pagan symbols we adapted to our own uses, like the feasts of Samhain (All Saints' Day) and Imbolc (Candlemas). Why should the bishops care what Congress wants to call its tree? Why should anyone?

The other, younger priest took the opposite view, and said that the bishops should care about what this means for the increasing secularization of our society. I think this is stretching it -- if I were a bishop, I'd have a harder time with football coaches invoking Jesus before big games than with the reluctance to put government money behind religious celebrations of any kind. This priest would be screaming loudly if Congress decided to sacrifice a white bull on the Capitol lawn, and that was part of the same religion that gave us the Christmas tree.

If I ruled the world, my first commandment would be, "Don't be an idiot." Yesterday, as I mentioned, I went to my young friend Grace's French-immersion school recital in Freeport. It was a very nice program, though about an hour too long (two hours is too long to ask small children to sit still, especially when instrumental music is involved). But the program, though it was held in a Unitarian church, made not one single mention of the holiday season. Children sang about the cold wind, the rain, and the seasons, but there was no mention of Christmas, Hanukkah, or even the New Year.

That's the kind of school this is -- its non-discrimination policy is so important that they printed it on the front page of the recital program -- and I respect that, but I feel sorry for four-year-olds who don't get to learn Christmas songs.

Wednesday, December 14, 2005


Who uses it: Musicians
What it means: In vocal music, a line of melody or counterpoint above the tenor part; in instrumental music, the treble line, or the highest line of a harmony.
How you can use it: When taking the high road of an argument.

Something about this word really pleases me; the image in my mind is of something graceful flying above, lighting down occasionally. I'm listening to Handel's Messiah, which has some lovely examples of descant.

It's not the holiday season without the Messiah, and it wouldn't be Christmas without a Christmas pageant, so I'm heading down to Freeport this afternoon to see my four-year-old friend Grace play -- I think -- a cow. (I say "I think," because when I last talked to her, she didn't want to be a cow, and was holding out for the role of donkey. So we'll see.)

Mary Maschino, the Bragdons and I drove up to Waterville last night to see Capote. Somber, but brilliant, and Phillip Seymour Hoffman is amazing. In the movie's key scene, Capote says to his childhood friend, Nelle Harper Lee (a classically beautiful Catherine Keener), "Perry [the killer Perry Smith] and I were born in the same house... and he walked out the back door, and I walked out the front." Capote's time with Perry Smith, researching In Cold Blood, forced him to confront the hollowness of his own soul -- the depths of his own monstrosity -- and he never recovered.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005


Who uses it: Hockey players
What it means: Hitting another player with the end of your stick. It's a major penalty.
How you can use it: When you're shoving something in someone's face that does not belong there.

As many things as I've ranted about in this space, I believe that I have yet to discuss the terrible, long-played-out fashion trend of low-rise jeans.

Approximately five percent of the population looks good in low-rise jeans, and these would all be people between the ages of 17 and 25, with body fat percentages under 10%. I'll allow for the occasional exception, such as Angelina Jolie or Tod Goldberg's wife Wendy, but these people are not actually human, they're hot aliens sent from some distant planet to make the rest of us feel bad.

For most of us, low-rise jeans expose portions of the anatomy that were never intended to see the light of day, especially in a climate like Maine's. A term of art I considered using today is "muffin top," which is the roll of fat that hangs over the waistband of most low-rise jeans.

Muffin-tops, at least, are only mildly offensive. What really upsets me about low-rise jeans is the rear-view counterpart, which we could politely call the buttocks cleft.

This is a body part that I never want to see on anyone, not even on the most secret crush objects of my aging heart. I particularly do not want to see this when I am standing in line at the post office, as I was yesterday.

To be fair, the man probably wasn't wearing real low-rise jeans. The low rise came about through his choice to wear the jeans' waistband below his gut, rather than above. (It's a choice all men must come to, apparently, unless they want to do the radical thing and buy clothes that actually fit them.)

But I stood in line behind this man for more than half an hour, as he and his wife mailed packages around the world, and the man talked -- about everything and nothing -- that entire time, to his wife, to Jerry the Postmaster, and to everyone else around, including me.

All I could think about, during that stretch of time, was keeping my eyes away from that stretch of skin -- hard to do, because he was leaning forward, with his elbows on the post office counter, turning his head toward whomever he was talking to. I looked at the stamp display; I looked at the ceiling. I looked at the row of post-office boxes along the wall, and I looked at the postmistress loading tubs of mail into the dumbwaiter, behind the counter. I tried not to look at the man immediately behind me in line, because he knew exactly what I was doing, and thought it was hilarious.

"You can get a whole education, right here in line," he said.

"About something," I said.

Had it gone on one minute longer, I'd have lost it; I'd have had to say, "Stop talking... and for God's sake, pull up your pants."

Fortunately, that didn't happen. The man's wife is someone I often see in Curves -- and if I couldn't go back to Curves, and I'd humiliated myself in the post office, that would be the end of my community life in Gardiner.

Monday, December 12, 2005

Catch an edge

Who uses it: Skiers
What it means: When the edge of a ski turns into the snow, causing the skier to bobble or fall.
How you can use it: When something disrupts your progress.

I'm not much of a skier. If I want to jeopardize life and limb in freezing temperatures, I can save a lot of money by just walking down the middle of Water Street. That said, I'm already planning a trip to Sugarloaf on January 28, to see Big Head Todd and the Monsters. I don't care if I have to go alone; I don't care if I'm the oldest person there. It's on my calendar in big red letters. If you want to come along, let me know.

Last night I made the trip to Auburn to see "The Ice Harvest," the movie based on my friend Scott Phillips' book. If you liked the book, you'll like the movie, although they changed the time setting from the 1970s to the present day, and they changed the ending (which was inevitable). Oliver Platt deserves a Best Supporting Actor nomination, and steals every scene he's in. It's a movie people will love or hate, and since it does include rather grotesque violence, some very sick humor, projectile vomiting and lots of naked women, I'll be careful about who I recommend it to.

Sunday, December 11, 2005

Scoville rating

Who uses it: Connoisseurs of hot peppers
What it means: The level of spiciness of a chili pepper. The Scoville rating is the degree of dilution with sugar water required to neutralize a pepper's heat. An ordinary bell pepper has a Scoville rating of zero, because it's not hot; certain types of habanero peppers may have Scoville ratings of 300,000.
How you can use it: To assess hotness in anything.

I don't eat a lot of hot sauce, but I highly recommend the stuff bottled and sold by my friend Randy White. You probably still have time to order some for Christmas.

I got home last night and booted up the computer to see the news of two very different celebrity deaths, Richard Pryor's and Eugene McCarthy's. My thought was the same in each case, though for very different reasons: "Wow, he was still alive?"

Both men made Americans pay attention to unpleasant truths they'd been ignoring for too long. And it's foolish to make predictions like this, but I wouldn't be surprised if Richard Pryor's impact on our society turns out to be a lot more profound, and longer-lasting, than Eugene McCarthy's. People remember what made them laugh much longer than they remember what made them frustrated.

Saturday, December 10, 2005


Who uses it: Mainers
What it means: "Yes."
How you can use it: Unless you grew up here, don't even try.

I used it yesterday, and I apologize, because it's become a terrible cliche of anything written in or about Maine. "Ayuh" is a uniquely Maine word, and if you've never heard it spoken, the spelling gives you very little sense of how it's actually pronounced. It's really only one syllable; the "a" is little more than an intake of breath, deep in the back of the throat, and the "yuh" is basically "yup" without the "p." I can't say it the way natives do.

Kate wound up cancelling her holiday party, which was too bad, but also a relief. If I'd fought the weather and made it down to Boston, and then the party had been cancelled, I'd have been really upset.

It's hard to say just how much snow we got, because it settled some overnight. I'm guessing about eight inches, because there's at least six on the ground now. It's beautiful. The cemetery seems bigger under the snow, somehow, and this morning I wished I had a digital camera; everything was black and white, except for a small strip of blue sky and pink clouds off to the east.

The roads are reasonably clear now, so I'll drive down to Freeport later, to meet the Lechners for some Christmas cheer at Gritty's.

Friday, December 09, 2005

Immaculate conception

Who uses it: Catholics
What it means: The creation of Mary, mother of Jesus, without original sin. Not to be confused with "virgin birth," which is Jesus's birth to Mary, though she had not "known man."
How you can use it: To describe something absolutely pure.

I should have used this phrase yesterday, since yesterday was the Feast of the Immaculate Conception -- and no, I'm ashamed to say, I didn't go to Mass. St. Joseph's no longer has a resident priest, and the Mass schedule's been drastically reduced, so I can never remember whether or when it still has weekday Masses.

This week I indulged myself by rereading two of my favorite books -- Lamb, by Christopher Moore, and Marjorie Morningstar, by Herman Wouk -- and I read Talking to the Ground, Douglas Preston's wonderful memoir of his family's 1992 horseback journey over the trail of the Navajo god Monster-Slayer. Talking to the Ground is a sort of companion volume to the equally fantastic Cities of Gold, which recounts Preston's horseback trip in the footsteps of Coronado; both are fascinating histories, as well as thoughtful descriptions of the modern West.

But let's get to the second half of last week's list, Best Books I Read in 2005.

Tod Goldberg, Simplify. Tod Goldberg writes present-tense narration well enough to prove my argument that most people should leave it alone. In this collection of short stories, he offers us a rogue's gallery of male narrators with damaged lives -- some self-inflicted, some just the luck of the draw. Some of them do terrible things, some of them see terrible things, and some of them even meet Jesus and Elvis -- but everyone's just trying to connect and stay alive.

Kazuo Ishiguro, Never Let Me Go. The best book I read this year, a deceptively simple story about the friendship of three people who are more and less than what they seem. Even when you think you've figured out what's going on, Ishiguro surprises you; this book is a mystery, a love story, science fiction, and true horror, but most of all, it's a meditation on what it means to be human.

Laura Lippman, To The Power of Three. I have the privilege of knowing an extraordinarily gifted 19-year-old girl -- that would be you, Claire -- and I remember, myself, how intense, important, and permanent everything felt at that age. For those of you who didn't go through that -- or those of you who've forgotten what it was like -- Laura Lippman wrote this book, ostensibly about a school shooting but really about the passionate intensity of brilliant adolescents.

George Pelecanos, Hard Revolution. I should have read this last year, when it came out, but I didn't; it's okay, though, because this is a book that people should still be reading 25, 50, even 100 years from now. Pelecanos has used the format of the crime novel to give us a cultural history of Washington, D.C., in the same way Walter Mosley's done for Los Angeles. This book stretches the decade from 1959 to 1968, using one family's history to explore the reasons for the riots that almost destroyed our nation's capital. This year's Drama City was excellent, too, but I think Hard Revolution will stand as Pelecanos' masterpiece.

Jess Walter, Citizen Vince. A small-time scam artist relocates to Spokane under the Witness Protection Plan, and can't figure out who he is; the 1980 Presidential election gives him questions to ask that will help him define his new self, if his old associates let him live that long. Citizen Vince is another book that uses the structure of the crime novel to say big things about identity and the political process.

Today I'm taking the bus to Boston, despite the snow we're expecting. If any brave souls make it out to Kate's tonight, I'll see you there.

Update 10:00 a.m....

All right, so much for my bravado. Three people at Hannaford this morning told me I was nuts to think about driving down to Portland in this, much less to Boston. "First storm of the season, everybody gets a little crazy," said the man who bagged my groceries. "It snowed over Thanksgiving," I protested. "Ayuh," he said, "but that was soft. That wasn't a storm. This is a storm."

If it eases up between now and, say, 2:00 this afternoon, I might reconsider, but for now I'm staying in. Dang it. As I said to Jen, there are worse fates than being snowed in with a tin of gingerbread cookies... but not for them. BWAAA ha ha ha ha ha...

Thursday, December 08, 2005

Paradoxical undressing

Who uses it: Emergency medical technicians and doctors
What it means: The final stage of hypothermia, when victims become convinced that they're burning up, and take their clothes off. It happens most frequently in people who have been drinking, and is one reason that police often think urban hypothermia victims have been sexually assaulted.
How you can use it: When it's cold outside, baby.

The thermometer in front of my neighbor's apartment reads 24 degrees, which is really not so cold, especially compared to the 9 degrees it was last night. It feels even warmer in the sunlight. I forget what a shock it is, to people who aren't used to it; Ashton had to buy long underwear before Saturday night's pub crawl.

Dizzy seems not to notice it at all, unless it's wet, or the wind is blowing. The heat bothers him a lot more.

The temperature rarely drops below freezing in Tidewater Virginia, where I grew up, but I've always been fascinated with stories of extreme cold. A group of survivors from the wreck of the Endurance spent 17 days rowing the Antarctic seas in the James Caird, a 22 1/2" lifeboat. It was April and May, late in the Antarctic fall, and no one slept for 17 days -- but every one of them survived.

I look at the chilblain on my right index finger, and think that people must have been a lot tougher back then.

Wednesday, December 07, 2005


Who uses it: Geologists, geographers, and rock climbers
What it means: A slope formed by a rock fall, or other debris
How you can use it: To describe the aftermath of an avalanche, among other things.

Dizzy had such a good time baking cookies at the Lechners' yesterday that he is still sleeping. For myself, I have some catching up to do, and I feel a little frantic. I missed a meeting at Gaslight on Monday night because I simply forgot about it -- it was even on my calendar, but I hadn't checked my calendar, and I was convinced the meeting was next Monday, not this one. Sigh.

I blame the shortness of the days. Today we'll have exactly nine hours of daylight -- sunrise was at 7:00 a.m., sunset will be at 4:00 p.m. It does strange things to my sense of time. And we're still two weeks away from the shortest day of the year.

Happy anniversary to Anna and Tarren Bragdon, who still act like newlyweds.

Tuesday, December 06, 2005


Who uses it: Sleep physicians
What it means: Any of a range of sleep disorders that include the inability to fall asleep, midnight wakefulness, or waking up too early.
How you can use it: To describe your own sleep problems.

I'm prepared to admit that it's a strange and wonderful world we live in. I also know that people can do some strange things when they're asleep. I have been known to talk in my sleep and even, on rare occasion, to sleepwalk, and I once saw my mother set the kitchen up for breakfast in her sleep.

But this, ladies and gentlemen, is baloney.
Toronto, Dec. 4 (Reuters): Ontario plans to review a court decision that acquitted a man of sexual assault charges because he suffers from “sexsomnia” and was asleep at the time of the incident.

Luedecke, 33, has been acquitted of sexual assault charges because he said he was asleep during the attack. A sleep expert testified that Luedecke suffers from a disorder that causes sexsomnia — involuntary sexual behaviour during sleep — which he had experienced before.

The office of the attorney-general, which oversees the province’s prosecutions, said it needs to research its options for an appeal because of the strange circumstances of the case.

What this article does not mention is that Luedecke managed to find, unwrap, and put on a condom -- and then go into another room where the victim of the assault was sleeping -- all, allegedly, in his sleep. Right.

Anna, Jen and I are baking Christmas cookies this morning. I'm making little gingerbread corpses to take to Kate's holiday party on Friday.

Monday, December 05, 2005

Chelation therapy

Who uses it: Quack medical practitioners
What it means: Injections of EDTA, a chemical compound that binds with heavy metals in the bloodstream and supposedly cures a wide range of ailments, particularly arteriosclerosis. "Chelation" refers to the chemical process of binding with metallic ions.
How you can use it: To discuss criminally ineffective medical promises.

One of my ongoing projects includes responding to the e-mail that comes into my client's web site. Before I took this on, I didn't understand just how vast the world of spam is, and most of this spam (thank goodness) isn't even X-rated. It has to be effective, at some level, or people wouldn't bother, right? How many ignorant, fearful, lonely people have to order Cialis online to make a spam mailing profitable?

For the record, chelation therapy is effective against heavy metal poisoning -- overdoses of iron, lead and mercury -- but that is all. If you suspect that you have arterial disease and your doctor says you need bypass surgery, listen to him, get the surgery, and join a gym.

Ashton and I were having brunch at the Porthole yesterday, on the Wharf in Portland, when CNN reported that scientists had found high consumption of coffee and tea can minimize the liver damage done by high consumption of alcohol. Both of us on our fourth cups of coffee, we cracked up. "Thank God," he said.

Happy, happy birthday today to Ashton, who becomes even more handsome with each passing year, and needs no medical intervention to be so.

Sunday, December 04, 2005

7-10 split

Who uses it: Bowlers
What it means: Knocking down every bowling pin except the two at either end of the back row, at positions 7 and 10 of the pin pyramid. It's the hardest combination of pins to knock down.
How you can use it: To describe an especially tricky job.

Candlepin bowling, which is what we have here at the Lucky Strike in Gardiner (and throughout most of New England), is more like skeeball than like "real" bowling. I'm no good at it, though I did manage to beat Ashton in one game out of five last night.

We started our tour of Gardiner's night life at The Depot, a bar across the street from Gardiner Landing, and then played five games of candlepins at the Lucky Strike. Next stop was the Tilbury Tavern, where a cover band (Smoked Salmon) played classic rock, including an impressive version of the Allman Brothers' "Melissa," which you don't hear every day. From there we went to Kennebec Billiards, and Ashton beat me at pool -- though by that point, neither of us was exhibiting particularly good hand-eye coordination.

We ended the night at the Kennebec Brewing Company, and were home by 1:00 a.m. A rocking good time on the streets of Gardiner, and a round-trip (on foot, of course) of no more than two miles.

Today we may go to the Kennebec Ice Arena, because Ashton wants to try skating... and then we'll head back to Portland, mostly so he can catch his plane, but also because at that point we really will have done just about everything there is to do in Gardiner.

Saturday, December 03, 2005


Who uses it: Urban hipsters (yeah, like me)
What it means: A derisive comment -- apparently, the word is a contraction for "snide remark."
How to use it: To describe my usual running commentary.

I didn't think of this as a Term of Art, but Anna hadn't heard it before. "Maybe it's a big city thing," she said. I used it yesterday afternoon:

"It's fashionable to snark on Starbucks, but I like it," I said to her, as we carried our coffees out of a Starbucks on Exchange Street in Portland. "They provide a public service."

"How so?" Anna asked.

"They're gathering places," I said. "They're nice places where you can just sit and read a paper and listen to good music."

That said, the Old Port has a better coffeehouse right down the street from that Starbucks -- JavaNet, an Internet cafe that has a much warmer, friendlier atmosphere and a far better selection of newspapers. But JavaNet is a place to hang out for half an hour or more, and Anna and I were in a hurry to pick up Ashton.

"How long has it been since you had a slumber party for your birthday?" Anna asked Ashton, because Dizzy and I spent the night at the Bragdons' too. Tonight they're off to the Black Point Inn, to celebrate their wedding anniversary, and Ashton will come to Gardiner with me. Tonight I think we'll do the Gardiner Pub Crawl, which I had put off doing until I had company. (Yes, Gardiner has enough night spots for a pub crawl... I'll report back tomorrow.)

Friday, December 02, 2005

Pan and scan

Who uses it: Film editors and video technicians
What it means: The process of adapting a film image to television. The aspect ratio (width/height of an image) of films is different from television; therefore, to show a film on television, producers have to letter-box it -- which leaves the black strips at the top and bottom of the screen -- or "pan and scan," which is cropping each frame of film to show the TV viewer whatever the editor thinks is the key image.
How you can use it: When you're giving someone highlights, but not the whole picture.

I did finish two books this week, but I also started and rejected three novels that were simply dreadful. One of them was a debut legal thriller that read like "Law & Order" fanfiction; one was a shameless, second-rate Janet Evanovich ripoff; and one, the most disappointing of all, was a gift from someone whose literary taste I'd never have questioned, an embarrassingly clumsy Irish imitation of James Patterson. All I can think, in that last case, is that the author must be a friend of the person who gave it to me -- or that the author had presented this person with a copy, and it was so radioactively bad he had to hand it off to his first unsuspecting pal.

So I'll do something different this week. It's the time of year when people post their "Best of" lists, and I've already submitted a couple for different purposes -- on The Mystery Bookstore's website you'll find a list of my favorite crime novels published in 2005, and Tod Goldberg's compiling a list of best books of 2005 that will probably include a contribution from me.

But several of the best books I read this year weren't published this year, so I'm putting up my own list of Best Books I Read in 2005. Contrary to what you might expect, it's not all crime fiction; in fact, I'd say that what these books have in common is that they all defy simple genre classification.

Here are the first five, in alphabetical order; I'll post the second half of the list next Friday.

Kate Atkinson, Case Histories. Atkinson uses the structure of a private-eye novel to look at the subject that interests her most, which is the vast spectrum of family dynamics.

Edward Conlon, Blue Blood. All the things that make Eddie Conlon a great cop and a great writer boil down to two lines of this memoir: "We all have our vocations, and we all have our mysteries. Not all of us find religion over the wandering years, but sooner or later, everybody gets to meet God."

John Connolly, The Black Angel. The byzantine plot of this novel, which leads from New York to Juarez to the battlefields of France and the medieval graveyards of the Czech Republic, is a vast canvas for Charlie Parker's flight from redemption, which he can't bring himself to ask for.

Bob Dylan, Chronicles: Volume One. Someone said they weren't sure what they'd get out of this book if they didn't already know a lot about Bob Dylan's life, and that's valid. Chronicles assumes you already know a lot about Dylan's public persona, but it's part of what makes the book such a gift.

Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own. For years during the 1990s, I traveled with a beaten-up copy of Thomas Merton's The Seven Storey Mountain. This book, which compares and contrasts Merton's work with that of Dorothy Day, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy, may become my new travel companion.

Thursday, December 01, 2005


Who uses it: Conservative Republicans
What it means: A moderate-to-liberal Republican; the word is an acronym for Republican in Name Only.
How you can you it: To identify yourself if you want to sit next to me at a party.

Thanks to Anna and Tarren Bragdon for this Term of Art, which they use frequently.

Many years ago, when I was still an attractive young woman who went out on dates, I used to say that I preferred to date Republicans: they tended to have better senses of humor, they were generally better-educated, and they expected to pick up the check.

But that was back when the Republicans seemed to be a permanent minority on Capitol Hill, and their humor was the gleeful irony of people who knew that no one was paying any serious attention. Once they took charge, all that good humor and joie de vivre flew out the window. I haven't lived in D.C. in six years, so I don't know whether the Democrats inherited it, but I'm guessing not yet.

Family members have chimed in with additional information on some recent posts. My mom explained the origin of "skein," which refers not to yarn but to the threads exuded by a spider, which make up a web, which is Variety's outdated slang for "TV network." Events have overtaken the use of "web" to refer to a TV network, but "skein" persists, as something that makes up the network.

My brother James, checking in from Japan, reports that dairy products are not the only western staples he has trouble finding there. "Another thing they don't have is sandwich bread," he writes. "Can't find it anywhere! The commissary will get it shipped in and it will sell out in less than an hour. Strange, how do they raise their children without PB&J sandwiches and milk?"

In (possibly) related news, I saw a news item yesterday about the raging epidemic of diabetes in Asia, as a result of their adopting so much of the Western diet...

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


Who uses it: Biologists and natural scientists
What it means: Winter inactivity of cold-blooded creatures; warm-blooded creatures hibernate, but cold-blooded creatures (amphibians, reptiles) brumate.
How you can use it: I could take a cheap shot and say "Congress's winter recess," but I'm sure you can come up with your own example.

No one bashed Congress better than Mark Twain. Jen used another quotation from Mark Twain in the birthday card I got from her and Lek:
You can't reach old age by another man's road. My habits protect my life but they would assassinate you.

Jen thought I might take offense at that quotation -- or offense that she thought it applied so well to me -- but it's perfect. I have enjoyed, and do enjoy, my life a great deal, but it's not a life I'd recommend to many other people.

I like my solitude, but the truth is that it would sometimes be easier to have someone else around to walk the dog, make the coffee, or do the dishes once in a while. I love not working in an office, but Anthem is raising my insurance premiums to a frightening level after the first of the year, and I sometimes do miss the goofy interactions of life in an office. I miss paid vacations and dental benefits.

Not enough to go back to my old life, but it's a rainy day and it's my blog, and if I want to whine once in a while, I will, dammit.

Today I have to launch a serious apartment-cleaning offensive, because -- hurray, hurray -- Ashton's coming to visit for the weekend! Anna and I are picking him up in Portland on Friday afternoon, and he'll split his time between the Bragdons and me. Dizzy will be so excited to see him, he might rupture something.

Tuesday, November 29, 2005


Who uses it: The editors of Variety
What it means: A TV series
How you can use it: To describe a long story.

I see how you get the word "flick" for moving picture, because the image does flicker on the screen, but "skein" for series takes some imagination. I'm guessing the metaphor is of a spool of yarns, but does anyone know for sure?

Temperatures rose enough last night to make the trip to Portland easy, especially since I wasn't driving. The Bragdons and the Lechners officially closed my week of birthday celebrations by taking me to dinner at Restaurant Oolong, which I highly recommend. For the record, ginger is a good flavor for ice cream, and an even better flavor for creme brulee.

Here's a continuing puzzle, though: if Asian cuisine has beef (and they do -- we had an excellent Vietnamese beef-and-watercress dish, and I was sorry to skip over the Korean short ribs), why don't they use any milk? I get that temperatures are too high to allow them to store dairy products, but that's not true in the mountain regions, and parts of Japan and China and Korea have very cold climates. It's true that many Asians are lactose-intolerant, but which came first -- the lactose intolerance, or the fact that dairy isn't part of the Asian diet?

Unless, of course, you count crab rangoon, which Anna ordered last night after mocking it as a British colonial perversion of Asian cooking. The British haven't exactly made huge contributions to world cuisine, so I don't mind giving them crab rangoon, particularly since I myself don't eat it.

Monday, November 28, 2005


Who uses it: Heating and cooling technicians, engineers
What it means: Thermal Resistance Factor, a measure of a substance's ability to slow down the transfer of heat between one surface and another. The higher something's R-factor, the better insulator it is.
How you can use it: To describe your degree of protection from something.

Happy birthday, first of all, to the one and only Leigh Peele, who among other things has the world's most infectious laugh.

The world is covered in ice this morning. It's just warm enough -- about 30 degrees -- to let things start to thaw, but the air is cold enough that the melted water turns to glass almost immediately. My tutoring student just called to postpone this morning's session, because she lives in a hilly section of Augusta, and the roads are a mess; ice is much more dangerous than snow.

Dizzy and I went out for the usual walk this morning, but turned around almost immediately. Even Dizzy understood it was just too dangerous, after his back legs skidded out from under him before we'd even left our parking lot. He consoled himself by coming home and punishing his latest toy. The squeaker on this one has lasted a lot longer than they usually do; I'll have to figure out what the brand is, so I don't buy it again.

I'm supposed to go down to Portland tonight for one last birthday dinner with friends, but if the ice continues, we may have to put it off. Despite what I may have said in moments of reckless desire, I'm not really willing to die for a decent Asian meal.

Sunday, November 27, 2005


Who uses it: Windows users
What it means: "Blue Screen of Death," the screen that appears to announce that your operating system has crashed, perhaps fatally.
How you can use it: When something goes badly wrong.

My computer made some ominous noises this morning, and I've been having trouble with my Internet Explorer software. It's time to take it in for a thorough cleaning, but that's the trouble with living in central Maine; I don't really know where to go, and I can't live without it long enough to send it away. Suggestions, Anna or Jen?

Walking in snow again takes some getting used to, and this early snow is ice-laden and particularly treacherous. The combination of its being the first snow and a holiday weekend means that no one's been as conscientious as usual about clearing sidewalks. Dizzy doesn't seem to have trouble, but I do, especially going downhill.

On the drive south from Quebec, not far past the Vermont border, is a sign that marks the 45th parallel -- the midpoint between the Equator and the North Pole. Gardiner's slightly south of that -- at 44.3 degrees north -- so I suppose I can take comfort at the idea that I'm closer to the Equator here than to the North Pole.

Saturday, November 26, 2005


Who uses it: Psychiatrists
What it means: Seeing patterns or connections in otherwise meaningless groups of information. It occurs frequently in schizophrenia.
How you can use it: When someone's stretching too hard to look for meaning.

Apophenia is the opposite, in some sense, of synchronicity, which is Jung's word for meaningful coincidence. In synchronicity, the coincidence is real; in apophenia, it isn't. It's the difference between running into someone on a street corner, just when you want to see them, and happening to be in the same time zone.

It might be synchronicity, but it is more than a coincidence that five of my favorite human beings share today as a birthday: my sisters Peggy and Susan, my brother Ed, my dear friend Doyle Bartlett, and -- most important of all -- the astonishing Christopher Bea, who with his sister Claire is my heart's treasure. Happy birthday, everybody, and may it be the beginning of the best years ever.

Friday, November 25, 2005


Who uses it: Southern California drivers
What it means: Any traffic incident that ties up two or more lanes of highway traffic for at least two hours. The term comes from Loyd Sigmon, a southern California highway traffic reporter who first devised an electronic signal for authorities to alert the media about serious traffic tie-ups.
How you can use it: To describe a bad traffic jam.

Roads around Augusta were treacherous yesterday afternoon, but the snow had turned to rain by the time we got to Freeport. This morning the snow on the ground is mixed with enough ice to make it all sparkle, as if someone had scattered diamond dust on the surface.

The Lechners live just up the road from LL Bean, which is open 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. Their Thanksgiving tradition is to go to LL Bean after dinner, so I tagged along, and bought my first-ever pair of ice skates.

Dizzy and I got home around 8:00. I gave Dizzy a glucosamine tablet and an aspirin, and he passed out until 9:00 this morning, a new record for him. I slept in too, despite having a great deal of work to do today.

One of the books I read this week took a great deal of my time and attention, and will take much more, because it's a book I'll go back to often. The other one... eh, not so much.

What I Read this Week

Paul Elie, The Life You Save May Be Your Own: An American Pilgrimage. Part literary criticism, part biography, part history of American Catholicism, this book examines the writing lives of Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton, Flannery O'Connor, and Walker Percy, who were roughly contemporaries, read and admired each other's work, and in a couple of cases, became friends and allies. For each of these authors, writing was a way of examining their own beliefs, and reaching toward God. This book makes me long for a time when mainstream culture took serious ideas seriously, and The Seven Storey Mountain was a national bestseller.

Jerrilyn Farmer, The Flaming Luau of Death. I've liked previous books in this series, featuring L.A. events planner Madeline Bean, quite a lot; she's independent, competent, a little disorganized, a little anxious. I don't know what happened to her in this book, where she plans a bachelorette weekend in Hawaii for her assistant, and every practical and realistic element to her seems to disappear. The book is a great travel guide for anyone who wants to visit the big island of Hawaii, but the mystery -- which involves a stalker, a murder, and the difficulties of growing wasabi -- is far-fetched, and the resolution is inappropriately benign. Read the earlier books in the series instead.

Thursday, November 24, 2005


Who uses it: Cooks
What it means: Wrapping lean cuts of meat or poultry in bacon, as a means of adding fat and flavor
How you can use it: To make almost any food better.

My brother Ed has a whole riff about "Foods that Cannot be Improved by Bacon," which basically consists of two items: ice cream and beer. I don't know, though... bacon bits on vanilla ice cream might be a true taste adventure.

Let the amateurs rhapsodize about white Christmases. We have white Thanksgivings in my part of the world. Yesterday was only a dusting, but today we're supposed to get more snow, perhaps as much as four inches.

South of here, in Portland and Freeport, they had much less snow, or maybe it just melted faster. My friends the Eraths are in Biddeford for the holiday, so I met them in Portland last night. We had a beer at The Great Lost Bear, then dinner at Ri Ra, an Irish restaurant/bar on Commercial Street. It's so much fun to go to Portland for dinner, and then it's miserable to have to drive home after.

Today Dizzy and I are bringing creamed spinach and stuffing to the Lechners' Thanksgiving dinner, in Freeport. It's been a while since Dizzy got to go to a Thanksgiving dinner, so he'll be pretty excited once he figures out what's happening.

Happy Thanksgiving, everybody!

Wednesday, November 23, 2005

Bonne hiver

Who says it: French-Canadians
What it means: "Happy winter"
How you can use it: Greetings of the season. You pronounce it "bone ee-VAIR."

In a classic episode of "Northern Exposure," the residents of Cicely, Alaska use this as a greeting for the first snowfall. I haven't been able to find any evidence that this is a custom anywhere in real life, but I love the idea -- so bonne hiver to you all, because it's snowing hard here.

It started as single stray flakes, just as Dizzy and I were beginning our walk to the graveyard; by the time we got home, it was coming down hard, and starting to stick.

Dizzy is thrilled. I didn't know whether he'd remember snow, but he obviously does. He was as excited as a puppy, running around the cemetery attacking piles of leaves before they disappear.

I'm just hoping the Maine Department of Transportation doesn't skimp on sand, because I'm driving to Portland for dinner this evening. The Beetle's been through enough in the last ten days.

Tuesday, November 22, 2005

Pathetic fallacy

Who uses it: English teachers
What it means: Attributing emotion to inanimate natural objects ("the sky is crying," "the unforgiving mountain").
How to use it: Pathetic fallacies are neither pathetic nor fallacies. Discuss.

Well, it is raining, but I cannot take that as the natural world's commentary on anything, unless it's the anniversary of John F. Kennedy's assassination. It is certainly no reflection on the fact that Tarren Bragdon turns 30 today, and a very happy birthday to him.

Home again, reunited with my faithful dog -- who barked at me when I pulled up in the Lechners' drive yesterday, until he realized who I was. Dizzy had a wonderful time at the Lechners', so much that he did not want to leave; he seemed to want me to stay, so we could be one big happy family in the great house that has a fireplace and a forest and a four-year-old who supplies biscuits on demand. We'll be going back on Thursday, so he'll just have to be patient.

I've figured out what the CDs were that I lost, and the list is dismaying. The good news is that I had TWO copies of London Calling, so that's taken care of. The other good news is that I didn't have the Pete Townshend CD with me after all -- I'd left it in my player at home. The bad news is that I'd jammed a couple of extra CDs in the folder, and one was in the player itself, so I lost 14 CDs, not just 12 -- and these really are pretty close to my list of all-time favorites:

David Bowie, Changes
Mary Chapin Carpenter, Party Doll and Other Favorites
Elvis Costello and the Attractions, Imperial Bedroom
Bob Dylan, Blood on the Tracks (which I do have on cassette)
Electric Light Orchestra's Greatest Hits (do NOT mock me for this; this CD is better than Prozac)
Peter Gabriel, Us
John Hiatt, Hiatt Comes Alive at Budokan
The Jayhawks, Smile
The Best of Van Morrison
Bruce Springsteen, Greetings from Asbury Park, NJ
Bruce Springsteen, Nebraska
Too Much Joy, Live at Least
Suzanne Vega, Solitude Standing

Not exactly music to smash car windows by, is it?

Monday, November 21, 2005


Who uses it: Writers, particularly in television and advertising
What it means: Throwing out ideas until one strikes everyone as good. The metaphor is of shooting spitballs at a wall to see which ones stick.
How to use it: When improvising.

Heading back to Maine today, officially a year older than when I arrived. I don't feel much different, but there's nothing like hanging out with college students to make one aware of one's age. I was very pleased to discover that Claire's housemate, Jamie, is a fan of Joy Division, New Order, The Smiths and other staples of my own college-era record collection... and dismayed to realize that these are prominently featured at a local club's Retro Tuesday Nights.

It was a lovely weekend, even with the smash-and-grab, which at least gives me a good story to tell. (If I'm still telling it 15 years from now, though, Claire has my permission to smack me silent.) This week I have a daunting amount of work to catch up on, and just a little shopping to do for all the other birthdays coming up on Saturday.

Sunday, November 20, 2005

"Please do not throw confetti..."

The Song: "The Days of Our Lives," High, The Blue Nile, 2004
Composer: Paul Buchanan

It's my birthday, so I'm tossing in a song lyric. This song ends with the line, "An ordinary miracle is all we really need," and that describes me most days... though I've had my share of ordinary miracles, and yesterday was no exception. After the police were so annoyed with me, the Econo-Lodge's manager, Alain, could not have been kinder; he cleaned most of the broken glass out of my car, and found me a place that would repair the window that very day, for less than I probably would have paid in the United States. So now the car is fixed, and safely (I hope) parked in a lot that has a 24-hour attendant.

Friday night, Claire was saying that she embraced the Enlightenment ideals, though she knew it might be naive -- that she believes in people's essential goodness. "I'm more of a medievalist," I said, and Claire asked if that meant I was cynical -- "More fatalistic," I said.

Yesterday, vacuuming the last of the glass out of my car and trudging down to the money exchange bureau (in a light snowfall), I had time to think about what I'd actually meant by that, and what I really do think of human nature -- so I'll indulge myself, today, by waxing philosophical.

I don't believe that humans are essentially good or bad, by themselves. I believe that all of us are born with the capacity for the divine, if we choose to embrace it. It's hard to do, when we let ourselves get so distracted; it's something I don't do often enough, it's something I don't think about often enough or let myself feel often enough. And there's no excuse for that, since that desire to slow down long enough for the divine was one of the major reasons I have changed my lifestyle so dramatically in the past six years.

So that's my goal for the next 40 years.

Happy, happy birthday to my twin sister, Kathy, and a belated happy birthday to my friend Barb Biffle, who celebrated her birthday on Saturday. Thanks to Mom and Dad for getting us here, and letting us live so long.

Saturday, November 19, 2005

Smash and grab

Who uses it: Robbers and cops
What it means: Breaking a window and stealing whatever's behind it.
How to use it: Self-explanatory.

My car, left on the street right outside my hotel room window, was the victim of a smash-and-grab sometime early this morning. The thieves got a small portable CD player; the adapter to make it play in my car stereo's cassette player, which does not work; and a folder that includes my 12 favorite CDs, specially selected for this trip. It's the loss of the CDs I'm particularly upset about. Blast them, they probably don't even like The Clash.

I wept -- to the contempt of the Montreal policemen, who told me that this had basically been my fault for leaving anything in my car and presuming to park on the street with a U.S. license plate -- but it's really no more than a big annoyance. I'm already getting the window replaced, and as one of the policemen told me, "It's just material, you weren't hurt."

I have much more to say about this whole experience, but it will have to wait, because I'm taking Our Claire to the movies. This is not going to wreck my birthday weekend.

Friday, November 18, 2005


Who uses it: Readers of the Harry Potter books
What it means: Someone born into a wizarding family who does not have magic powers himself.
How you can use it: To insult family members at your own holiday gatherings.

Going with "muggle" today would have been too obvious... and since you ask, yes, I plan to see the new Harry Potter movie this weekend. In Montreal, as a matter of fact, so maybe we could catch a version with French subtitles. That would be fun.

New York was great, as it always is. New York is the one place in the world where I don't get lost, ever; it helps that most of Manhattan is on a grid, but even so, I always know where I am in New York.

Last night I started out at Grand Central Station, then walked to Times Square, where I tortured myself in the Virgin Megastore for about 45 minutes. I didn't buy anything, because I was afraid that if I let myself buy one thing (the new Echo & the Bunnymen CD, for example, or the Born to Run box set), I wouldn't be able to stop myself, and the next thing I knew I'd have dropped hundreds of dollars.

Thanks to Maeve, Meredith, Deidre, Ruth and Caroline for a wonderful evening. This afternoon I'm off to Montreal; I hear they've had snow, so it might be a winter wonderland.

Oh, and I almost forgot... I've been so busy this week that I only finished two books. Next week I expect to have more reading time.

What I Read This Week

David Morrell, Creepers. A group of urban explorers work their way through an abandoned Asbury Park hotel, days before the hotel is scheduled for demolition; but not everyone in the group is who he or she claims to be, and not everyone is there for purely academic reasons. When the group suddenly realizes they're not alone in the hotel, things get almost unbearably suspenseful -- and Creepers becomes the best kind of literary thrill ride, so exciting that the piling-up of coincidences doesn't even matter. David Morrell is the best working writer of action sequences. Period.

Richard Hawke, Speak of the Devil. I think it's an open secret that Richard Hawke is the pseudonym of Tim Cockey, who writes a series of mysteries I love about Baltimore undertaker Hitchcock Sewell. (If I know about it, I figure everyone must know.) Speak of the Devil introduces New York PI Fritz Malone, the illegitimate but acknowledged son of a former NY police commissioner who disappeared one day. The current police commissioner, an old friend, recruits Fritz to track down a dangerous psychopath who is conducting his own terror campaign against the mayor. The plot's very complex, and has a few holes I'd have liked to see patched -- but Malone is a good character, very much in the Hitchcock Sewell vein, and Cockey deserves to prosper under any name.

Thursday, November 17, 2005


Who uses it: Monetary economists
What it means: The creation of value by printing money (or stamps, or other articles that store value). One definition is the difference between the cost of the raw materials of the coin and its face value, but seignorage is also the unspent value of currency, stamps, or things like Metro farecards.
How you can use it: To describe invisible value added.

Without going into details about this week's project, I've spent a lot of time handling old coins. I'm stupid about money, in any real sense, but I'm fascinated by the processes of it, and how necessary it is to governments.

A 1939 Reichspfennig is gold-colored, made of shiny brass; by 1941, they'd started making them out of zinc, because heavier metals were all going to war production. Many European coins in the years right after the First World War were made of aluminum, and they feel (and look) like play money. Modern Chinese coins might be aluminum, or they might even be some kind of plastic -- I can't tell just by touch.

I'm headed down to New York this afternoon, for a small dinner (a very small dinner, as it turns out, but quality trumps quantity) with friends. Back to Connecticut tonight, and on the road again tomorrow morning.

Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Hot seat

Who uses it: Pilots and airplane maintenance technicians
What it means: The pilot's chair, when a jet returns and goes out again, with one pilot taking over from another without a full turn-around service.
How to use it: When you're switching command on the fly.

If I were better organized about these things, I'd save this term for a day when I'm turning the blog over to someone else... but my cousin Sarah's husband Will sent me the term, and I liked it, so here it is today. Thanks, Will.

Other than that, I have nothing interesting to say today. I'm distracted by several different projects, and the anxiety that goes along with each of them, and I don't seem to have any spare brain space for the usual pondering. (On that subject, though, I saw recently that Pinky and the Brain will soon be out on DVD. It's the perfect gift for the Answer Girl in your life. "Gee Brain, what are we going to do tonight?" "Same thing we do every night, Pinky -- TRY TO TAKE OVER THE WORLD!")

My other e-mail address -- the one that's not listed on this site -- seems to be bouncing messages back to people, though not always, so I have no idea what's getting through and what isn't. For the time being, it's safest to use the Gmail address that's linked to this page. If you've sent me something in the last week or two that I haven't responded to, chances are good that I didn't get it, so please re-send it to my Gmail account. Thanks!

Tuesday, November 15, 2005


Who uses it: Agricultural historians and organic farmers
What it means: Enriching farmland by adding marl, a calcium carbonate-rich type of earth (marl can be sand, silt or clay).
How to use it: When you're fertilizing with something that isn't manure.

I ran across this word in a manuscript recently, and had to look it up. That led me through several distracting articles about agricultural techniques throughout history, one of which casually mentioned that no one grew potatoes for sale in Europe until sometime after 1700 -- and that sent me searching for more fun facts about the history of the potato, because I'm extremely fond of potatoes, which I swear has nothing to do with my ethnic background.

And while we're threatening indignation over cultural stereotypes, here's a little fuel to the fire:
Nursing home keeps spirits up with own pub

DUBLIN (Reuters) - A nursing home in Ireland has hit on a cheering way to keep up the spirits of its elderly patients -- by providing its own pub.

St Mary's Hospital in County Monaghan, near the Irish border with Northern Ireland, believes ready access to a good pint may help its patients -- average age 85 -- actually live longer.

"We would say the whole social aspect of life does extend the years -- it means the patients aren't bored to death," Rose Mooney, assistant director of nursing told Reuters.

The pub, which opens at 11 a.m. and closes at 9 p.m. and charges normal bar prices, had also led to an increase in the number of visitors, she said.

Having its own bar made the hospital, which has around 140 patients, unique in Ireland, she added.

On the one hand, I'm wincing about this -- come on, does it have to be Ireland? On the other, I'm wondering whether I can already put my name down for admission in 2050.

Monday, November 14, 2005

Mercury retrograde

Who uses it: Astrologers
What it means: A period of time when the planet Mercury appears to be moving backwards through the constellations of the zodiac, due to the Earth's orbit. Astrologers associate Mercury retrograde with difficulties in communication, travel, and technology, but also with reunions and reconciliations.
How to use it: To explain complications during certain periods of time.

I have blogged about Mercury retrograde before -- my friend Gary, for example, believes in it wholeheartedly. I find it a handy shorthand excuse for a lot of things during these periods of time, but (naturally) don't really believe in it. In case you do, however, Mercury went retrograde today, and will not return to "direct" movement again until December 4. Bad news for Thanksgiving travel, for anyone who worries about these things.

Happy, happy birthday today to Carla Forbes-Kelly, who actually does embody many of the traditional Scorpio characteristics -- fierceness, loyalty, wisdom and mystery -- and belated birthday wishes to Lucy Ehrenfeld and William Kinsolving, who both celebrated birthdays on Saturday.

I'm in Bridgewater with the Kinsolvings until the end of the week, resuming work on a few different projects. As I mentioned earlier, the only way to get in touch with me this week is e-mail, which I'll check a few times a day. It's a relief to be relatively inaccessible for a while.

Sunday, November 13, 2005


Who uses it: Literary critics and writers
What it means: A genre that had its heyday in the early to mid-19th century, featuring young women in danger, long-buried family secrets, villains motivated by strong emotion, and (very frequently) a castle or large house with secrets of its own.
How you can use it: To describe something that is unnecessarily melodramatic.

I have no doubt that Lowell, Massachusetts has its own Gothic corners, but the Doubletree Hotel is not one of them.

"It looks like a hospital," said Julia Spencer-Fleming as we pulled up in front yesterday morning. I agreed. "They probably just took old plans for a hospital and adapted them," she said. Large organizations do this, we know; the persistent rumor, when I was in college, was that New South Dormitory had been built from plans for a minimum-security prison.

Unlike Bouchercon, which is more of a mix of authors and fans, the New England Crime Bake seems to be targeted more toward aspiring mystery writers. I'm not an aspiring mystery writer -- my own work-in-progress is not in any way a crime novel, though it has some Gothic elements -- so the value for me here is to be able to meet the other registrants.

Yesterday's highlight (uh -- besides, of course, Chuck Hogan's panel, on the off-chance that you see this, Chuck) was the Mystery Jeopardy game after the evening's banquet. Our team, the "Bellicosies" (I know, I know) came in a respectable second, thanks to to the competitive drive of Dana Cameron and the fact that Karen Olson remembered Columbo had a basset hound.

My client and friend Joe Finder's on a panel this morning, right after a professional skip tracer who's going to talk about how people can disappear. If you don't see another post after this one, you'll know I learned a little too much from that session...

Happy Anniversary to my sister Peggy and her husband, Scott, and happy birthday to my Uncle Gerry.

Saturday, November 12, 2005


Who uses it: Meditators, particularly Hindus and Buddhists
What it means: A simple prayer, often a single word repeated, that helps the meditator focus his or her spiritual intentions.
How you can use it: To describe anything you keep repeating.

Top three things Jen heard yesterday when we were at the skating rink, with all the kids who had the day off from school:

1. "I know how to skate."
2. "I'm not cold."
3. "I'm Spiderman."

"Actually, it works as a mantra, if you say those three things together," Jen said. I agreed, wobbling on the ice behind her.

Today I'm off to Lowell, Mass., for the New England Crime Bake. It's the beginning of a trip that will keep me on the road until the 21st, and the only reliable way to reach me during this time will be e-mail. I'll check in daily...

Friday, November 11, 2005

Flying change

Who uses it: Show riders
What it means: When a horse changes its leading foot in the middle of a canter.
How to use it: When you're making a quick change in tactics in midstream.

Years ago, my friend Nan tried to teach me the basics of posting, trotting, and cantering, but I never mastered the flying change. I liked riding, and maybe I'll take it up again one of these days, but never went through that horse passion so many girls do.

I liked the books, though: Black Beauty, The Black Stallion, and all the Misty of Chincoteague books. The student I'm working with through Literacy Volunteers is reading Black Beauty right now, and I had forgotten how intense and rather frightening parts of that book are. Victorians had much more faith in children's ability to process unpleasant ideas than we do.

This week's reading list includes some intense unpleasantness, too, as well as a little comic relief.

What I Read This Week

Michael Connelly, The Lincoln Lawyer. Mickey Haller has three Lincoln Continentals, two ex-wives, one daughter he doesn't see enough, and a new client who may be the fabled "franchise" -- the wealthy man who's willing to pursue a court fight to prove his innocence. But considering the possibility of this client's innocence leads to the revelation that another of Mickey's clients, a poor man forced into a plea bargain, really was innocent. Mickey has to figure out how to make it right, and how to forgive himself for what he considers conduct unbecoming to himself. This is Connelly's best book in years, with an energy and humor and righteous indignation we haven't seen in the Harry Bosch novels in a while. Longtime Connelly fans have figured out that Haller may be Bosch's half-brother (I won't explain that -- go back and read the books), so it would be great to see the two cross paths in later novels.

Julie Powell, Julie & Julia. Anna first told me about the Julie/Julia project while it was underway: over the course of a year, from 2002-2003, secretary Julie Powell cooked her way through all of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking. The book is a memoir of that year which draws on the blog, but is not merely a rehash; it's very entertaining, and particularly good when she's writing about the cooking process itself. Her description of Oeufs en Gelee is one of the grossest things I've read in my life.

Sean Doolittle, Rain Dogs. One of the several things I admire about Sean Doolittle as a writer is how different each of his books has been from the others; it's as if he's teaching himself something new with each book. Rain Dogs, coming out at the end of December, is a bleak midwestern thriller with little of the wicked humor that ran through his first two books, Dirt and Burn. That said, there's deep emotion here, and Doolittle takes new risks in this story of Tom Coleman, who inherits his grandfather's riverside campground and winds up drawn into a meth-factory deal gone bad. Rain Dogs is as moody and memorable as the Tom Waits album, though the book's title refers to something else altogether.

Martyn Waites, Mary's Prayer. If I taught a class on noir, this would be one of my textbooks, although it includes images and descriptions I'd like to be able to erase from my brain. Stephen Larkin returns to his hometown of Newcastle to cover a gangster's funeral. Almost immediately, he runs into his college girlfriend, Charlotte, who's now a high-powered lawyer, and hires him to investigate the apparent suicide of her friend, Mary. Stephen, who's cared about nothing since the murders of his own wife and son, finds himself caring too much about Mary's fate, and about the forces of evil at work in his hometown. Mary's Prayer includes graphic scenes of torture that are hard to justify, but the book itself is such a powerful story of doomed love and righteous anger that I was willing to keep reading.

Thursday, November 10, 2005

Morton's toe

Who uses it: Podiatrists, shoemakers, runners
What it means: Having a second toe that is longer than one's big toe.
How to use it: To describe my feet.

Happy birthday today to my old friend Drew Schuler, down in Atlanta.

Textbooks and medical dictionaries describe Morton's Toe as a "foot disorder," but at least 50% of the U.S. population has it. In fact, I had no idea that everyone's feet didn't look like mine until I was well into high school.

What makes Morton's Toe a problem -- for more than just finding shoes that fit -- is that it goes along with over-pronation, which is putting too much weight on the insides of one's soles, so that the ankles fall in. Humans want to put weight on their big toes, and those of us with short big toes have to roll our feet toward each other in order to do that. This, in turn, can cause back problems and general ungainliness, as I can testify from personal experience. It also makes your arches hurt like a monster when you're doing something that requires the big toe's participation, like yoga or ice skating.

We had our first ice storm last night. I was planning to walk down to the brewpub, to get the latest news about what's going on with the abandoned Gardiner Paperboard factory. Yesterday, when Dizzy and I walked through there, we saw salvage workers cleaning up the interior, which suggests that someone has bought the place and plans to do something with it. I figured they'd have the scoop at Kennebec Brewing, which is right next door.

But when I opened the door, my deck was covered with star-shaped grains of ice. My need for gossip and Frank's Oktoberfest lager didn't seem as important as my need to keep my bones intact. This morning it's slightly warmer, and the ground is only damp, not glazed -- so maybe I'll try it again tonight.

Wednesday, November 09, 2005


Who uses it: Kids (especially in South Park) and others involved in the game most of us call "Rock, Paper, Scissors."
What it means: The game I call "Rock, Paper, Scissors," in which two people settle an argument by making a hand gesture in the shape of one of those three items; rock breaks scissors, paper covers rock, scissors cut paper.
How you can use it: Basic decision-making in almost any situation.

Okay, it's a goofy Term of Art, but I'm throwing it in because I was not familiar with this name for the game, the first time I heard the "South Park" kids use it. Also, on South Park, whenever someone says, "I'll Roshambo you for it," and the other person says, "Okay," that person winds up getting kicked in the groin -- so at first I thought that might be the secret meaning of "Roshambo," until someone enlightened me.

But I invite all of you to do a little basic research about Rock-Paper-Scissors online. Start at the official home page of the World Rock Paper Scissors Society, which hosts tournaments all over the world -- and some of these tournaments award real money! I can't believe I haven't seen this on ESPN2 yet. It just goes to show how far you can take even the most minor of obsessions.

In other news, Maine defeated Question 1 by a handy margin, but Gardiner defeated it by only 49 votes. Forty-nine votes? I don't know how many people actually voted in Gardiner yesterday, but still -- 49 votes?

That's shameful. I want to be open-minded about divergent political views, but it was hard to walk around downtown this morning and not shoot imaginary death rays at neighbors I suspected of voting "Yes." I've never been very good at tolerance of the intolerant.

Tuesday, November 08, 2005


Who uses it: lawmakers and voters
What it means: A question put directly to a vote by the people of a country or district.
How you can use it: When calling for a group decision.

"Plebiscite" differs from "referendum," in that a referendum is a vote on a proposal or a law that the legislature has already considered, and a plebiscite is the first public action on an issue. The term has fallen out of use, because it's so closely associated with Nazi Germany's sham election that provided legal cover for the annexation of Austria.

The big issue in today's elections here is a referendum, not a plebiscite: Question 1, whether to reject Maine's law that prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. The fact that this is even on the ballot is pretty hateful and horrifying. Dizzy and I went down to Gardiner City Hall first thing this morning, so I could cast my fervent NO vote.

Dizzy would have, too, if they'd let him register.

Monday, November 07, 2005


Who uses it: Astronomers and meteorologists. Also, Robert DeNiro in The Deer Hunter.
What it means: A pair of "false suns" on opposite sides of the real sun, caused by the refraction of the sun's rays through ice crystals. Sundogs almost always appear in pairs, because of the phenomenon that causes them, and they appear most often in winter, when the sun is low in the sky. The scientific name for sundogs is parhelia.
How you can use it: When you see wonders in the sky.

The sun's actually out today, but I didn't see sundogs this morning. I lived in Los Angeles long enough to get used to the idea that if the sun was shining, it would be warm. I've been here a year now, but it's a mistake I still make sometimes.

The song in my head this morning: Elvis Costello, "Every Day I Write the Book." It has my all-time favorite song lyric that makes no sense at all once you actually think about it: "Even in a perfect world, where everyone was equal/I'd still own the film rights and be working on the sequel." Would anyone like to explicate that? Feel free to leave your comments below.

I hit the road again at the end of this week, for ten days. Before I go, I need to finish a few projects, clean my apartment, and do something about the pile of books teetering next to my kitchen door. If I am honest with myself, I know I will never read half of these books -- none of the ones that feature ghosts or friendly witches as detectives, none of the ones in which animals solve the crime, and probably none of the ones set in small towns similar to my own. (I have these books because their publisher sent them to me for free, which makes me feel obligated at least to skim them.)

That feels prejudiced and judgmental, and I'm uncomfortable about that, but how can I read all of those books and still finish the 550-page spiritual biography of Thomas Merton, Walker Percy, Flannery O'Connor and Dorothy Day that's been calling my name for a month? I'm reading as fast as I can, as it is...

I read once that Thomas Jefferson was the last person on the planet who had probably read everything that was available to be read, in every language he could read.