Monday, January 31, 2005

“You never know when a dead rabbit might come in handy.”

The Movie: The Trouble with Harry, 1955 (John Michael Hayes, screenwriter, from the novel by Jack Trevor Story; Alfred Hitchcock, dir.)
Who says it: Jerry Mathers as Arnie, son of Jennifer Rogers (Shirley Maclaine)
The context: Arnie takes his dead rabbit back after giving it to painter Sam Marlowe (John Forsythe), who’s courting Jennifer. Later, Arnie trades the rabbit for two blueberry muffins.
How to use it: When deciding whether to keep something that might be useless.

I admit to being something of a packrat, but I come by it honestly; you should see my dad's garage. It's occurred to me more than once that I move so often as a way to force myself to divest all the useless junk I seem to accumulate.

And yet -- what's useless? I got rid of an awful lot when I left Los Angeles, but as I unpack, I'm still surprised to find some of the things I've kept. My small stuffed Noo-Noo the Vacuum Cleaner, for example. My friend SueLin gave it to me when she was working at PBS and I was in the deepest throes of my Teletubbies addiction (I was a high-powered executive at the time; I figured, better Teletubbies than Valium).

For the uninitiated, Noo-Noo lives with and cleans up after the Teletubbies, and the Teletubbies blame Noo-Noo for all their bad behavior. This particular toy has a plastic piece of TubbyToast on a string -- pull it out, and Noo-Noo sucks it back up. The toy sat on my desk or my dresser for years, and it still makes me laugh, though I haven't watched an episode of "Teletubbies" in at least five years.

Sunday, January 30, 2005

“Kindly do not attempt to cloud the issue with facts.”

The Movie: Mary Poppins, 1964 (Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi, screenwriters, from the book by P. L. Travers; Robert Stevenson, dir.)
Who says it: David Tomlinson as Mr. George W. Banks
The context: Mr. Banks says this to Mrs. Banks (Glynis Johns) as she tells him all the good things that have happened in the household since Mary Poppins (Julie Andrews) came.
How to use it: On a Sunday morning news program, or at your next press conference.

Thanks to Tom, Lucy and Hayley Ehrenfeld for today's quotation.

My cable server shut down while I was drafting the first version of this post, and I don't feel like writing it all again... it was something about the Sunday morning shows, and how I used to watch them compulsively in Washington, but gave them up in L.A., and now can take or leave them. Although I do want to say that I miss Cokie Roberts, the most beautiful woman in television. (Seriously -- if you ever see her in person, you'll be stunned. TV does not do her justice.) Also, if Tim Russert ever needs a personal assistant or a second wife, I volunteer.

I woke up this morning to an unfamiliar sound that I soon recognized as the drip of melting snow. It's all the way up to 30 degrees this afternoon, and it feels like spring. Dizzy and I took our longest walk in weeks yesterday, and we're on our way out the door again this afternoon.

Saturday, January 29, 2005

“Fat man, you shoot a great game of pool.”

The Movie: The Hustler, 1961 (Sydney Carroll and Robert Rossen, screenwriters, from the novel by Walter Tevis; Robert Rossen, dir.)
Who says it: Paul Newman as Fast Eddie Felsen, a pool hustler
The context: Fast Eddie has just lost a marathon game of pool to Minnesota Fats (Jackie Gleason), the champion.
How to use it: To acknowledge that you’ve been outplayed by a master.

Late posting today, because I'm overscheduled; I have a phone interview in about half an hour, and needed to get to the gym before it closed at 11:30. But the temperature's all the way up to 19, which feels so warm I didn't even need to wear the earmuffs on my way back home.

Happy birthday today to my friend Cara King, who's living it up this weekend in New Orleans.

And happy birthday in absentia to my Grandma Lamb, who would have been 91 today. I did the math this morning -- she was born in 1914 -- and thought, "No, that can't be right. She was only 84 when she died, that's not that long ago." But it is, and this spring will make it seven years she's been gone.

It would annoy her to know I was mentioning her birthday in this blog. She was the least sentimental person I've ever known, and she never wanted people to know how old she was. When she turned 80, her children threw her a big party, and she objected, because her cronies didn't need to know her age. (In fact, I heard one of her friends say to another at the party: "Did you know Margaret was 80? I had no idea she was that old." This, from someone who was at least 75 herself.)

She worked hard, she expected much, she took no lip from anyone, and she was a really terrible cook. But she was fierce in her affection for those she considered her own, and she had a dry, unexpected sense of humor. I miss her.

Friday, January 28, 2005

“You really expect me to believe that you’re sane and the rest of the world is mad?”

The Movie: The Haunting, 1963 (Nelson Gidding, screenwriter, from the novel by Shirley Jackson; Robert Wise, dir.)
Who says it: Claire Bloom as Theo, a psychic investigator
The context: Eleanor Lance (Julie Harris) is trying to convince Theo that she is not staging any of the mysterious things happening at Hill House. Eleanor is crazy, of course, but she's also right about the house - isn't she?
How to use it: To end an irrational argument.

The Bragdons and I have mailboxes in the same column at the Gardiner post office. Anna and I went there together on Wednesday to pick up mail, and I noticed that they had gotten their new electronic toll pass, which is now compatible with all the EZ-PASS tollbooths down the East Coast. (Maine, being Maine, had previously had its own, non-compatible electronic system.)

"Oh, I need to get one of those," I said, before I caught myself and added, "not that I have a CAR."

But there's news on the car. For better or worse, the car wasn't totaled; in fact, it had only body damage, with no damage to the engine or the engine cradle, and the repair bill will be less than that for the November crash (which was half of the total for the Pothole from Hell).

So I'm getting the car back -- maybe as soon as the end of next week -- and at that point I'll have to decide what to do about it.

After the exorcism, of course. I'm seriously considering asking Fr. Sullivan at St. Joe's to bless the car. After all, they bless throats on St. Blaise's day. They bless animals on the feast of St. Francis. I don't know who the patron saint of automobiles is, but why not a blessing for the car?

Thursday, January 27, 2005

“Only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is.”

The Movie: True Stories, 1986 (David Byrne, Beth Henley and Stephen Tobolowsky, screenwriters; David Byrne, dir.)
Who says it: David Byrne as The Narrator
The context: The Narrator shows around a fictional small town in Texas on the eve of the state’s sesquicentennial.
How to use it: To remind yourself not to take anything for granted.

The entire quotation: "I really enjoy forgetting. When I first come to a place, I notice all the little details. I notice the way the sky looks. The color of white paper. The way people walk. Doorknobs. Everything. Then I get used to the place and I don't notice those things anymore. So only by forgetting can I see the place again as it really is."

Anything is interesting -- beautiful, even -- if you look at it closely enough. Margaret Bourke-White understood this, and you see it in her photographs. Cogwheels look like stained glass windows; snarls of telephone wire are mysteries of art. I don't know where the exhibit's going after it leaves Portland, but watch for it, if it comes your way.

Portland was fun, despite the crummy weather. One benefit of working at home and living alone is that I almost never get sick. One day in Portland, and I feel like I'm catching a cold.

Elsewhere on the web today, I saw an item announcing that Elvis Costello is writing a piece for the Royal Danish Opera, based on the works of Hans Christian Andersen. 2005 is the 200th anniversary of Andersen's birth; the opera will be performed sometime in October.

Elvis Costello may be the greatest Christian existentialist of the late 20th century, with the possible exception of Bruce Springsteen; "The Little Mermaid," which has very little to do with that vile, disgusting, offensive travesty of a Disney movie, is my favorite fairy tale. Elvis Costello... Hans Christian Andersen... opera... I'm checking fares to Copenhagen right now.

And finally, I know it's supposed to be satire, but this article from this week's Onion is a little too close to the reality of my life for comfort.

Wednesday, January 26, 2005

“All me life flashed before me eyes. It was really boring.”

The Movie: Chicken Run, 2000 (Karey Kirkpatrick, screenwriter, from a story by Peter Lord & Nick Park; Nick Park, dir.)
Who says it: Jane Horrocks as the voice of Babs, a hen who spends all her time knitting
The context: Babs has just fainted after a near-death experience.
How to use it: As a warning.

Anna and I are headed down to Portland this morning, to run some errands and see the Margaret Bourke-White exhibit at the Portland Museum of Art. It's snowing some, but there's no way of knowing whether or how much it's snowing in Portland; those 45 miles make a big difference.

Anyway, Anna has four-wheel drive, which she recommends to me on a regular basis.

And no, I have no idea what's going on with my car. Buried under six feet of snow in Cambridge, I suspect. Maybe I should just leave it there til spring.

Tuesday, January 25, 2005

“I’m an idea man, Chuck, I get ideas. Sometimes I get so many ideas that I can’t fight them off!”

The Movie: Night Shift, 1982 (Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, screenwriters; Ron Howard, dir.)
Who says it: Michael Keaton as Bill Blazejowski, a morgue attendant with aspirations to higher things
The context: Bill is introducing himself to his new co-worker and supervisor, Chuck Lumley (Henry Winkler).
How to use it: When you’re inspired by an idea.

Down by the river, next to Harvey's Hardware, is a shabby-looking building painted bright orange. Its sign reads, "Tigertown Discount BEVERAGE & REDEMPTION." Of course, they're talking about redeeming bottle deposits; but every time I pass it, I think how great it would be if they really were offering redemption at a discount.

Cold as it's been, three ducks were swimming against the current in the Cobbossee Stream the other day. That stretch of the stream runs fast over rocks, so it doesn't freeze, but the ducks must wear themselves out trying to keep from being swept down into the frozen zone. Where do they think all their friends went? They are either the toughest or the stupidest ducks in North America -- or perhaps, as with humans, these traits sometimes go together.

Fans of crime fiction and short stories (or crime fiction short stories) should check out Sarah Weinman's blog, Confessions of an Idiosyncratic Mind, today. Several authors have written short stories on a theme, and posted them to their individual blogs. And I wonder why it's so hard for me to get my work done...

Oh, and for those of you following the brain-theft scandal, here's the latest. It is very sad, and I feel ashamed that I'm so fascinated with this. Really.

Monday, January 24, 2005

“Skin that smokewagon!”

The Movie: Tombstone, 1993 (Kevin Jarre, screenwriter; George P. Cosmatos, dir.)
Who says it: Kurt Russell as former lawman Wyatt Earp
The context: Earp says this a couple of times in the movie, daring outlaws to draw their guns on him.
How to use it: To dare someone to do their worst.

Tombstone is a great movie, but this line is pretty hilarious, especially taken out of context. I have a vivid memory of my cousin Moira saying this line, but I can't remember exactly when or why -- which suggests that it happened during one of our Thanksgiving weekends in Yosemite, whose details are a little fuzzy in my mind. (I blame the altitude.)

It worries me a little that I've heard nothing from either my insurance company or the Hi-Tech Auto Repair shop. Since Boston is still digging itself out from the weekend's snow, I don't know whether I'll be able to reach anyone this morning.

Gardiner was just above the big snow line; we got a perfectly civilized 5-6 inches. The Weatherpixie says it's -2F outside, but it feels warmer, because the sun is shining and the wind's let up.

Sunday, January 23, 2005

“Braaains… BRAIIINS…”

The Movie: Night of the Living Dead, 1968 (John A. Russo and George A. Romero, screenwriters; George A. Romero, dir.)
Who says it: The zombies, risen from the dead
The context: The zombies, desperate to feed on humans, try to break into a farmhouse full of refugees.
How to use it: To express a powerful, irrational desire, or maybe just when you’re hungry.

When I announced my plans to move to Maine, my friend Dan Freedman said something like, "What about all the serial killers?" He, like many people, knows Maine only through popular literature, which can be a little dark.

I laughed at this, but the truth is that you don't need to live here very long to understand why Maine lends itself to the macabre. After all, my dog's favorite playground is the cemetery. I live across the street from an enormous abandoned paper factory, and we've already discussed the Source of Light Mailbox Club.

But in case you doubted, here's an excerpt from yesterday’s Kennebec Journal:

Policy expected on organ donation
By KEVIN WACK, Portland Press Herald Writer
Copyright © 2005 Blethen Maine Newspapers Inc.

The Maine Attorney General's Office is close to finalizing a policy on organ and tissue donation at the state office where autopsies are performed.

The changes - a response to problems with a brain-harvesting program at the Medical Examiner's Office in Augusta - are expected to establish rules for obtaining consent.


The flurry of activity in Augusta follows a Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram investigation that showed the state's one-time funeral inspector was paid more than $150,000 over several years to collect brains for a research lab in Bethesda, Md.

Earlier this month, the Stanley Medical Research Institute agreed to pay $47,500 to settle a lawsuit in which a Gorham couple alleged their late son's brain was taken without anyone's consent.

Additional families are now making similar allegations, and federal and state prosecutors are investigating the suspended brain-harvesting program.

Just to get it on record: once I'm finished with my brain, I couldn't care less what happens to it. Get some money for it, if you can.

Saturday, January 22, 2005

"Klaatu barada nikto!"

The Movie: The Day the Earth Stood Still, 1951 (Edmund H. North, screenwriter, based on a story by Harry Bates; Robert Wise, dir.)
Who says it: Patricia Neal as Helen Benson, who gives aid and comfort to the alien Klaatu (Michael Rennie)
The context: Helen repeats this phrase to the robot Gort (Lock Martin), to keep him from destroying the earth. We never find out exactly what it means.
How to use it: To avert disaster, or to calm someone down.

This line will baffle anyone who hasn't seen the movie, although references to it appear in many other works (including Army of Darkness, where a major plot point uses a version of the line). The movie is great, because it's not only cheesy and earnest, but also suspenseful and thought-provoking.

The major news outlets are all shrieking about the "first major winter storm" this weekend. First? Ha ha, you weenies! The mountain of snow on my corner (formed by plows) is taller than I am. Dizzy tried to run up it last night, and couldn't figure out why it didn't feel like a real hill. This morning's temperature: -16F. And yes, that is very, very, !@%$&*# cold.

I don't know whether to give Gregg Hurwitz blame or credit for this, but I'm passing along his recommendation for the most entertaining website I've seen in a long time: the "Sitcom Star or Dictator?" game. Be prepared to waste at least half an hour. What's fun is to give the game your own information and see what sitcom character or dictator it guesses you are. It guessed I was someone named Trish from WWE, which makes me wonder whether I was too quick to dismiss pro wrestling as a career. They have a senior circuit, right?

Friday, January 21, 2005

“They’re all going to laugh at you!”

The Movie: Carrie, 1976 (Lawrence D. Cohen, screenwriter, based on the novel by Stephen King; Brian De Palma, dir.)
Who says it: Piper Laurie as religious fanatic Margaret White
The context: Margaret warns her daughter, Carrie (Sissy Spacek), not to go to the prom; later, after the prom has ended in disaster, this warning echoes in Carrie’s head.
How to use it: To mock fears of social rejection.

Happy birthday to my dear friend Joseph Mathews -- this quotation is for him, because he loves this movie. He often quotes another line from this movie (in English and Italian), but it is not appropriate for this PG-13 blog. Sorry, JoJo.

I'll rent a car this weekend, just because I will need to leave Gardiner at some point. Gardiner has almost everything I need -- post office, library, video store, laundromat, bars, churches, grocery store, diner, excellent coffee shop -- all within a mile of my apartment. But it doesn't have a movie theater.

I'm also toying with the idea of trying to go ice-skating at the rink in Augusta, because I'm not accident-prone enough all by myself. Yes, I expect everyone to laugh at me.

Thursday, January 20, 2005

“You say such amusing things. I wish I could understand you.”

The Movie: Call Me Madam, 1953 (Arthur Sheekman, screenwriter, from the play by Russel Crouse and Howard Lindsay; Walter Lang, dir.)
Who says it: George Sanders as Count Constantine, foreign minister of Lichtenburg
The context: Ambassador Sally Adams (Ethel Merman) is trying to flirt with the foreign minister at a state ball, but he is not responsive.
How to use it: To let someone know that their efforts to be entertaining aren't succeeding.

It's just a coincidence that I'm using this quotation on inauguration day, I swear. But it does seem kind of appropriate, doesn't it?

We got between six and eight inches of snow here last night. It comes up almost to Dizzy's belly, but he seems to like it.

"He's happy," one of my neighbors said this morning.

"Yep," I said.

"He's the only one of us who is," she laughed, and went back to shoveling.

I have several errands to run on foot this morning, which will be an adventure. Maybe I should bring the shovel with me, and clear the path as I go.

Wednesday, January 19, 2005

“No, I’m not ready, I have no makeup on… but things are getting better!”

The Movie: Grey Gardens, 1975 (documentary; Ellen Hovde, Albert Maysles, David Maysles, and Muffie Meyer, directors)
Who says it: Socialite Edith Bouvier Beale, Jr.
The context: The filmmakers have come back to Grey Gardens to continue filming Edie and her mother, the elder Edith Bouvier Beale, who are sinking into dementia in a ruined mansion in the Hamptons.
How to use it: To express aggressive levels of optimism in the face of disorder.

This morning's temperature: -7F. I put wax on Dizzy's paws before we went outside, and it seemed to help. Yesterday afternoon, Anna and I went out to look at some used furniture, and when we came back, the lock on my apartment door was frozen. Handy to have one's landlady along when things like this happen... we went right down to Harvey's Hardware to buy some De-Icer.

The De-Icer itself is alarming, labeled as it is -- "POISON," “BREATHING & INGESTION HAZARD,” “FIRE AND EXPLOSION HAZARD,” “DO NOT SWALLOW,” “INHALING CONCENTRATED VAPORS CAN CAUSE DEATH WITHOUT WARNING.” Nevertheless, Anna and I fearlessly sprayed my lock four times before it finally thawed and let me back into the apartment. I'm waiting now to see whether my fingers turn black and fall off.

The endless process of unpacking continues... well, to be honest, I hadn't done any unpacking in a while, so I started back up again yesterday. Happily, I found several items I thought had gone missing, all tossed into a spare wardrobe box.

Opening some of these boxes feels like being a tourist in my own life. I found one labeled "Favorite Books" -- and I couldn't wait to open it, just to remind myself what my favorite books are. In case you're curious, they include my first editions of Kate Vaiden, Fifth Business, Killing Mister Watson, and Marjorie Morningstar, and the Ben Stein novel (The Croesus Conspiracy) he signed to me when I won his money.

Tuesday, January 18, 2005

“It’s not good things -- it’s celebrity deaths that come in threes.”

The Movie: Tapeheads, 1988 (Bill Fishman & Peter McCarthy, screenwriters; Bill Fishman, dir.)
Who says it: Tim Robbins as ex-security guard and aspiring filmmaker Josh Tager
The context: Josh says this to rock impresario Mo Fuzz (Don Cornelius), who wants Josh and his partner Ivan (John Cusack) to make a third music video for him on spec.
How to use it: Upon the third occurrence of any event.

Three recent celebrity deaths: Ruth Warrick, who was Citizen Kane's first wife and Phoebe Tyler Wallingford on "All My Children," back when I used to watch it; Virginia Mayo, who was the beautiful girl in almost every movie made in the 1940s; and Thelma White, who played Mae, the drug pusher's moll, in Reefer Madness. You could make it four by adding mystery novelist Charlotte McLeod, who was a bestseller in her day and is now almost completely forgotten. Sic transit.

I have to say that the insurance people have been very nice about this latest car incident. The car's been towed to the Hi-Tech Body Shop in Cambridge, and I should hear today whether it's reparable. The problem with getting it fixed and then selling it, as I said to my friend Maeve yesterday, is that how could I sell this thing in good conscience? It needs a voodoo cleansing, at least.

My friends had told me that below-zero temperatures would arrive in January, and here they are. It's -3F outside right now, or a truly impressive -19 if you're counting in Celsius. Either way, it's not the friendliest weather for pedestrians.

Monday, January 17, 2005

“All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine... what have the Romans ever done for us?"

The entire quotation: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, the fresh water system and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?”
The Movie: Life of Brian, 1979 (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Michael Palin, screenwriters; Terry Jones, dir.)
Who says it: John Cleese as Reg, leader of the People’s Front of Judea
The context: Reg is rallying the opposition to Roman tyranny.
How to use it: To acknowledge that you’re biting the hand that feeds you.

I love this line, and it's why I could never be a truly committed political activist.

I recently read The Temple of Music by Jonathan Lowy, an ambitious but flawed novel about Leon Czolgosz's assassination of President McKinley. Czolgosz tried to be an anarchist, but he was so crazy that even the anarchists didn't want him. The novel sent me back to a collection of Emma Goldman's writings I read in college. Emma was such a romantic; she really believed that some people were good and some people were bad, and that removing the structures of power would reward the good people and punish the bad.

But people are just people, and as my friend Joseph says frequently, "People suck." I don't endorse that point of view entirely -- as Bob Dylan says, some people are very kind. But it's human nature to protect oneself and compete for resources, even when they're not scarce, and that leads to unpleasant behavior. Government and religion, even corrupt government and bad religion, are pretty much the only checks we have on human nature.

Sorry for the dose of misanthropy, but the driver of the car that hit me swears he had a green arrow -- which he did NOT -- and no one came forward to say they'd seen the accident, so chances are good that my own insurance company is going to have to pay for these repairs, with me picking up the deductible. That doesn't make them or me very happy.

Oh, and happy birthday to my friend Kelly Dayton, who is no relation to the singer for the Sneaker Pimps.

Sunday, January 16, 2005

"You never knocked me down. You could never knock me down."

The Movie: Raging Bull, 1980 (Paul Schrader and Mardik Martin, screenwriters, based on the book by Jake LaMotta; Martin Scorsese, dir.)
Who says it: Robert DeNiro as boxer Jake LaMotta
The context: Jake LaMotta has just lost a fight to Sugar Ray Robinson (Johnny Barnes), who beat him within an inch of his life but never knocked Jake down.
How to use it: As bravado, to show that you're down but not out.

A car full of teenagers ran a red light last night in Porter Square and made a left turn into my Beetle. They hit me hard, and my airbags deployed. Fortunately, no one was hurt, but the car is wrecked -- again. I don't think it's totaled, but once it's fixed I'll be selling it. There's no denying it any more: the damn thing is jinxed.

"You gotta laugh," the Cambridge fireman said to me last night. It's true, but I cried a little too. Thank God for Tom and Hetchen Ehrenfeld, who gave me a place to stay last night and a ride to the bus station this morning; for Val Wheaton, who took care of Dizzy since I couldn't get home; and for Anna Bragdon, who picked me up in Portland this afternoon.

I'm going to quit driving for a while. My Grandmother McLaughlin never did get a driver's license, and even as a child that seemed like a wise choice to me.

Saturday, January 15, 2005

"What would you do with a brain if you had one?"

The Movie: The Wizard of Oz, 1939 (Noel Langley, Florence Ryerson and Edgar Allan Woolf, screenwriters, from the book by L. Frank Baum; Victor Fleming, dir.)
Who says it: Judy Garland as Dorothy Gale, tornado victim and Oz petitioner
The context: The Scarecrow (Ray Bolger) has just confided to Dorothy that he longs for a brain. In response to this question, he sings "If I Only Had a Brain."
How to use it: It's an easy insult, but you can also use it to examine the reason for any strong desire.

See what I mean about The Wizard of Oz? I could probably do a line a day from The Wizard of Oz for an entire year.

This morning I'm just waiting for the parking lot to thaw a little, then I'm heading down to Cambridge to see Kate, Mikki and the Ehrenfelds. It's a lot of driving for a day trip, but I don't want to spend any more nights away for a while.

And as for what I'd do with a brain if I had one... well, get myself into trouble, that's what.

Up the street from me is a big, ramshackle house that looks like it might even have some fire damage. Above the front door, a hand-lettered sign reads, "Source of Light MAILBOX CLUB." Dizzy and I walk by it most days, and I had never seen anyone go in or out, although I'd seen a newish-looking station wagon parked in the driveway. The house is spooky and out-of-place on its block, where most of the houses are refurbished and extremely well-kept.

I asked a few neighbors about the sign -- "Source of Light Mailbox Club"? What could that be? Maine is a notorious refuge for survivalists, and has a long history of wacko -- excuse me, creative and ardent -- religious movements. It's one of the few remaining places in the country where it's actually possible for someone with no money to live "off the grid" -- that is, without electricity or phone service or even a formal mailing address.

So, speculating with one of my neighbors, I developed an elaborate theory about the Source of Light Mailbox Club. Maybe the Source of Light was a survivalist group, even a cult. Maybe its members live somewhere out in the woods, off the grid, and don't have mailing addresses. Maybe its members give out that Oak Street address to family members just so they have a place to get some mail, even if they don't want The Man to find them. I had half a novel plotted out in my head, all about the desperate members of the Source of Light Mailbox Club and how an unwitting dog owner puts herself in danger by asking too many questions.

And then the other morning, Dizzy and I were passing by the house when someone was loading up his truck in front of it, talking to an elderly man who was shoveling out the driveway. The man loading up his truck was someone I'd seen before, walking a yellow lab and a Rottweiler, so I stopped to let Dizzy say hello. His name is Tim, and the older man was Barney.

I asked them about the Mailbox Club. "Ah, this is my house," said Barney, the old man. "It was my mother's before, she passed on a few years ago. She used to hold church services in her house, and that sign's left over. I just never got around to taking it down. I forgot it was there, I never even notice it any more."

I'm still thinking about the novel possibilities, though.

Friday, January 14, 2005

“I am not an animal!”

The Movie: Spartacus, 1960 (Dalton Trumbo, screenwriter, from the novel by Howard Fast; Stanley Kubrick, dir.)
Who says it: Kirk Douglas as Spartacus, a slave trained as a gladiator
The context: Spartacus refuses to perform in the ring like a trained animal, and embraces his destiny as liberator.
How to use it: To take a stand against degradation or drudgery.

You thought this line was from The Elephant Man, didn't you? Well, it is, but it was in Spartacus first. (There's also the Pete Townshend song, "I Am an Animal," which I figure refers to both works, but this is not a lyrics blog.) Anyway, since Spartacus was concerned with the dignity of other human beings -- while John Merrick didn't really have the energy to spare for anyone else -- I'm letting him have this line.

Happy birthday today to Art Coulson, eternal love object of my 14-year-old self.

A Maine state legislator has proposed that the state move from Eastern Time to Atlantic Time, which would put us an hour ahead of everyone else in the continental U.S. (Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands are also on Atlantic time). He says this would give us more daylight and increase business, which I don't get at all.

Sunrise today was at 7:13, sunset will be at 4:23 (thanks, WeatherPixie). Put us on Nova Scotia time and sunrise moves to 8:13. Who wants to get up in the middle of the night? Sunset would still be before 5:30, so it would still be dark when most people drive home. Where's the advantage?

Then again, since Dizzy gets up at dawn, it might get me an extra hour of sleep. That wouldn't be bad.

Thursday, January 13, 2005

“Ours is the loneliest profession, Mr. Bond.”

The Movie: The Man with the Golden Gun, 1974 (Richard Maibaum and Tom Mankiewicz, screenwriters, from the novel by Ian Fleming; Guy Hamilton, dir.)
Who says it: Christopher Lee as Francisco Scaramanga, an assassin who carries a golden gun
The context: Scaramanga expresses his admiration for his adversary, James Bond (Roger Moore).
How to use it: At work, especially if you’re a writer.

The Internet is my best friend and my worst enemy. It makes my entire lifestyle possible, but it is also an infinitely powerful waster of time, attention, and emotional energy, and what makes things worse is that friends of mine keep launching blogs. At this rate, I'm going to need an intervention before the end of the winter.

Shocking, shocking news this morning, forwarded from my brother Ed: WHFS, Washington, DC's legendary alternative-rock radio station, switched abruptly to a Spanish-language format yesterday. WHFS took a turn for the mediocre several years ago, when Infinity Broadcasting bought it, but it was still the only major radio station in the Washington area where you ever had a chance of hearing Elvis Costello. It was also the station that introduced me to Too Much Joy, the Replacements, the Jayhawks, Victoria Williams, Beck, David Wilcox, and countless other artists on my CD shelves today.

I feel like someone just mugged me and stole my young adulthood.

Wednesday, January 12, 2005

“Before he came down here, it never snowed. And afterwards, it did.”

The Movie: Edward Scissorhands, 1990 (Caroline Thompson, screenwriter, from a story by Thompson and Tim Burton; Tim Burton, dir.)
Who says it: Winona Ryder as Kim, tragic sweetheart of Edward Scissorhands (Johnny Depp)
The context: Kim remembers her doomed romance, before Edward retreated from the world forever.
How to use it: To acknowledge the lasting effect of someone who’s gone.

"Bad weather's starting," I said this morning to Jerry the Postmaster. I don't think I'll pick up the Maine accent, but I do find myself imitating my neighbors' speech patterns -- no articles, no unnecessary words.

"I can tell by everyone coming in so early," Jerry said. It's true; I'd have stopped by the post office this afternoon, on my way home from the gym, but I can't count on being able to navigate the sidewalks later on. The snow is fine and powdery at the moment -- it gets in Dizzy's nose, and he snorts -- but it might turn to ice later on.

My friend and client Kent Harrington has launched the mini-tour for his new book, Red Jungle, and reports that it's going very well so far. With all due respect to my other clients, Red Jungle is the best book I've ever worked on -- have I said that already? I think I've said that already. Anyway, everyone should read it, and you can order it from The Mystery Bookstore by clicking here.

I've been reading a little too much lately, as strange as that sounds. I've read eight novels in the last six days, plus a screenplay and a friend's manuscript, and the effect is similar to having eaten an entire quart of ice cream in one sitting. The best of all this reading was Ken Bruen's The Magdalen Martyrs, the third in his Galway-based Jack Taylor series. Bruen's books are deceptively simple, spare novels that incorporate an extraordinary body of literature, from Emily Dickinson to Thomas Merton to Van Morrison. People call Ken Bruen a "writer's writer," but he's actually a reader's writer, because the more you've read, the more you get out of his books.

Tuesday, January 11, 2005

“I take all the drinks I like, any time, any place. I go where I want to with anybody I want. I just happen to be that kind of a girl.”

The Movie: The Blue Dahlia, 1946 (Raymond Chandler, screenwriter; George Marshall, dir.)
Who says it: Doris Dowling as Helen Morrison, unfaithful wife (and truly dreadful mother)
The context: Helen defends her lifestyle to her husband Johnny (Alan Ladd), who has just returned from the war.
How to use it: To brazen out bad behavior. (Be warned, though: Helen, like most 1940s femmes fatale, meets a bad end.)

Who'd have thought I'd be escaping from Los Angeles to Maine just to get better weather? But today's bright and sunshiny in Gardiner, and God only knows when they'll see the sun again in L.A. I had to dig my car out from about five inches of snow, and my parking lot's a little treacherous, but it sure is pretty.

It's been a lot of traveling in a short period of time, and I have no sense at all of what time or what day it is. It'll be good to be home for a while.

Monday, January 10, 2005

“I wonder whatever happened to me.”

The Movie: Duck Soup, 1933 (Bert Kalmar and Harry Ruby, screenwriters; Leo McCarey, dir.)
Who says it: Groucho Marx as Rufus T. Firefly, leader of Freedonia
The context: The inept spy-turned-informer Chicolini (Chico Marx) has just answered Firefly’s telephone again without letting him know he had a call.
How to use it: When you’ve been away for a while.

Happy birthday today to Tod Goldberg, award-winning author, columnist, and writing guru. The fact that your birthday comes two days after Elvis's really does make you more like him, Tod. No, really.

It was nice to be at the bookstore yesterday, and I stocked up on advance reading copies in case I get stranded en route again today. My car, parked in an outdoor lot at the Portland airport, is now under 5 inches of snow -- so getting home will be an adventure, even after I land in Maine. If all else fails, I'll bring some matches so I can burn the books for warmth if I need to.

Oh, who am I kidding? I'd never burn a book just for warmth... the headlines would read "Local Woman freezes to death, surrounded by combustible material."

Sunday, January 09, 2005

“I was born when she kissed me. I died when she left me. I lived a few weeks while she loved me.”

The Movie: In a Lonely Place, 1950 (Edmund H. North and Andrew Solt, screenwriters, from the novel by Dorothy B. Hughes; Nicholas Ray, dir.)
Who says it: Humphrey Bogart as screenwriter and murder suspect Dix Steele.
The context: Steele is quoting a line from his screenplay to his girlfriend, Laurel Gray (Gloria Grahame); later, she quotes it herself, in a different context.
How to use it: If you ever have an opportunity to use this line, you’ll know.

The book that inspired this movie is the topic of this afternoon's Crime Club discussion group at the bookstore. Both the book and the movie explore the psyches of violent men, but they turn on opposite plot twists. It's clear to anyone who reads the book and sees the movie that a woman wrote one and a man wrote the other. Both are masterpieces, in their own ways, and both have been tremendously influential (on more than just the Smithereens song).

Yesterday turned out to be a weirdly Elvis-related day. Ann Marie and I went with Gary to look at a painting he's thinking about buying, a large, vivid montage that includes a view of Elvis's funeral cortege. The artist, Mark Hobley, has a small shrine to Elvis in his studio, and the candles were lit there yesterday afternoon.

My cousins Kathleen and Mark had the Los Angeles branch of the family over for dinner last night, so I got to meet their new daughter, Lucinda. I've only been gone for three months, but they've been an eventful three months.

Saturday, January 08, 2005

“Thank you. Thank you ver’-ver’ much.”

The Movie: Bubba Ho-Tep, 2002 (Don Coscarelli, director and screenwriter, from a story by Joe R. Lansdale)
Who says it: Bruce Campbell as Elvis Presley, aka Sebastian Haff, the inmate of an East Texas nursing home.
The context: This is the last line of the movie, after Elvis has joined forces with Jack (Ossie Davis), a fellow resident who believes himself to be John F. Kennedy, to send an ancient Egyptian mummy back to hell.
How to use it: To express appreciation in a way that honors the King of Rock & Roll.

Don't ask me why I know this, but today is Elvis Presley's birthday. I was never that big a fan, until my brother Ed and I visited Graceland on our cross-country odyssey in the early 1990s. We expected it to be cheesy, and it was, but it was also profoundly moving.

The house gives you a real sense of what the man was like, and how he spent his whole life trying not to disappoint the people who loved him, even if he didn't know them. He seemed to need to atone for his success, and despite the excesses of his lifestyle, I didn't get a sense that he had ever really enjoyed it. Sad.

Friday, January 07, 2005

"Sanctuary! Sanctuary!"

The Movie: The Hunchback of Notre Dame, 1939 (Bruno Frank, screenwriter, from the novel by Victor Hugo; William Dieterle, dir.)
Who says it: Charles Laughton as the hunchback, Quasimodo
The context: Quasimodo desperately seeks protection for himself and the beautiful gypsy, Esmeralda (Maureen O’Hara), as villagers storm the cathedral.
How to use it: When seeking refuge.

My flight from Philadelphia left at 7:45 this morning and landed a little after 12:30 local time, for a total of about eight hours in the plane. We had to land in Kansas City to refuel, because of major headwinds and bad weather at LAX.

And what bad weather it is. I didn't even try to rent a car; water is four inches deep on the roads in some places, and no one (including me) knows how to drive in Los Angeles in the rain. I used to think it was some collective incompetence or neurosis, but the truth is that the accumulation of dust and oil on the roads makes them unusually slick in the rain, and the roads don't drain, especially on the west side of town.

But I got to Gary's, where there was a fire burning in the fireplace, and a soy latte and a peanut butter sandwich and two joyful dogs. It's weird to be here without Dizzy.

Thursday, January 06, 2005

“Sorry I’m late. There was this big problem… and I’m late because of it.”

The Movie: The Sure Thing, 1985 (Steven Bloom & Jonathan Roberts, screenwriters; Rob Reiner, dir.)
Who says it: John Cusack as Walter “Gib” Gibson, a college freshman in pursuit of The Sure Thing (Nicolette Sheridan)
The context: After being stranded on the highway and having to hitchhike across most of the country with a classmate he hates (Daphne Zuniga), Gib finally meets the girl of his dreams at a frat party.
How to use it: When you’re late, and you have no good excuse.

The good news is that I no longer have to worry about dying alone and being eaten by my dog before anyone realizes I'm missing. Sheesh, man, miss one day of blog posting and people send out the search party... thanks to the friends who sent concerned e-mails.

The bad news is that I've been traveling all day, and have managed to make it only as far as Philadelphia, where I'm stranded until 7:45 tomorrow morning. The snow started falling just as I crossed the Portland city line, and I sat in a plane for four hours with 69 other unhappy passengers on the runway in Portland before we were finally able to take off.

I'd hoped to call my old roommate Leigh, but of course I don't have her phone number... and it's already after 10:00 p.m. here, a time when I understand many civilized people have already gone to bed.

Good thing I have the computer, some headphones and a stack of DVDs.

Wednesday, January 05, 2005

“There’s always work at the post office.”

The Movie: Hollywood Shuffle, 1987 (Robert Townsend and Keenen Ivory Wayans, screenwriters; Robert Townsend, dir.)
Who says it: Robert Townsend as aspiring actor Bobby Taylor
The context: The last line of the movie, underlining its moral: success shouldn’t have to require abandoning your self-respect.
How to use it: When contemplating the costs and benefits of your own job.

It'll be next week before I feel back to full speed on anything, including work. Dizzy and I have both slept past 8:00 a.m. for the last two days, which is unusual for both of us.

My experience of freelancing is that it's feast or famine, in terms of both workload and income -- but that may just be my own nature. I only really like sports that alternate bursts of frenzied activity with stretches of hanging out (sailing, baseball). If I can even things out a little this year, that would be good.

Tuesday, January 04, 2005

“The future’s all yours, you lousy bicycles.”

The Movie: Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid, 1969 (William Goldman, screenwriter; George Roy Hill, dir.)
Who says it: Robert Redford as Harry Longbaugh, the Sundance Kid
The context: Sundance has just crashed on his new-fangled bike.
How to use it: To express frustration with new technology.

Yesterday's trip: 615 miles, 1.5 tanks of gas
Stops: Rising Sun, MD; Bristol, CT

Maine does feel like home -- I felt so comforted last night when I crossed the border, and as I passed the signs on 95 and 295 -- Scarborough, Portland, Falmouth, Brunswick, Gardiner. Most of the snow has melted, though we got a dusting overnight. Dizzy was thrilled to discover that no one had stolen his toys, and I expect he'll sleep all day today.

Here's a mystery, though. All of the trash cans have disappeared from the Gardiner town common. "Homeland security," Mom said when I told her, and that might be the reason, as absurd as it is to think of terrorists blowing up the Gardiner town common. Maybe they took them away for New Year's Eve, or maybe they routinely remove them for the winter. In any case, I'm calling the town office to ask, because the absence of trash cans seems to have given people the idea that they no longer need to pick up after their dogs.

I'm coming home with an awful lot of Christmas loot, of which the most extravagant item is a Sony PS2. Ashton & Joseph are upgrading to the new model, so gave me their old one, with the idea that I can hook it up to my cable modem and we can all play "Dance Dance Revolution" together. (Yes, our average age is very close to 40. Got a problem with that?) Anyway, I haven't even figured out how to hook up my DVD player through my cable box yet, so I may need to hire a high school student to come over and set this whole thing up.

Monday, January 03, 2005

“Some folks call it hell, I call it Hades.”

The Movie: Sling Blade, 1996 (Billy Bob Thornton, screenwriter and director)
Who says it: Billy Bob Thornton as Karl, a disabled man released from a hospital for the criminally insane
The context: Karl is explaining to his young friend Frank (Lucas Black) why he never seriously considered suicide, because of the prospect of eternal damnation.
How to use it: To comment on any miserable place.

So this morning I'm packing up the car and the dog, and headed back up 95 to Maine... I'm varying my route a little this time, taking the Tappan Zee instead of the George Washington Bridge, so maybe it won't be so bad. And this time I'm not making the detour to Newport.

It's not such a misery, really; I like long car trips. After this one, though, I think I'll have had enough for a while. And I know Dizzy feels the same way.

Sunday, January 02, 2005

“If you’re just operating by habit, then you’re not really living.”

The Movie: My Dinner with Andre, 1981 (Andre Gregory and Wallace Shawn, screenwriters; Louis Malle, dir.)
Who says it: Andre Gregory, as himself
The context: Gregory is extolling the virtues of living without a net.
How to use it: To defend your decision to break with tradition.

The thing about not operating by habit, though, is that it's exhausting. Most freelancers I know compensate for their lives' lack of external structure by creating fairly rigid routines for themselves. That's something I haven't done yet in Maine, and I need to. It's much easier for myself and my clients if we all know that I am walking my dog between 7:00 and 8:00, at the library from 10:00 to 2:00, available by phone from 3:00 to 5:00.

So that's one of my new year's resolutions. I also said, a couple of days ago, that I'd like to hop around a little less in 2005 -- not keep jumping to Washington or Tidewater or Los Angeles or New York, but take some time to settle down in Maine... but I am already making tentative plans to go to New York in February, Los Angeles in April, and Europe sometime this fall, before my 40th birthday.

My favorite theory is of an infinite number of parallel universes, in which an infinite number of parallel selves live the lives we didn't choose in this one. In one of those universes, surely, my parallel self lives an orderly life.

Saturday, January 01, 2005

“I would like to start over. I would like to be new to you… I want to be ‘Mr. New.’”

The Movie: Singles, 1992 (Cameron Crowe, director and screenwriter)
Who says it: Campbell Scott as Steve, a 20-something transportation engineer in Seattle
The context: Steve is drunk and on the floor of a club’s phone booth, talking to his ex-girlfriend Linda’s (Kyra Sedgwick) answering machine.
How to use it: To ask for a second chance – or a third – or a twentieth.

Over the years, it's become less important to me to stay up until midnight on New Year's Eve than to get up early on New Year's morning. Every January 1 offers the promise of a better year, and maybe even of a better self... at least until tomorrow.