Thursday, June 30, 2005

“I can safely say that my whole life was one continuous misdemeanor.”

The Movie: Heaven Can Wait, 1943 (Samson Raphaelson, dir., from a play by Leslie Bush-Fekete; Ernst Lubitsch, dir.)
Who says it: Don Ameche as Henry Van Cleve, recently deceased
The context: Van Cleve explains to His Excellency (Laird Cregar) why he believes he belongs in Hell, rather than in Heaven.
How to use it: When looking back on a good time.

This charming movie has nothing to do with the equally charming Warren Beatty film, which is a remake of Here Comes Mr. Jordan. You pretty much can't go wrong with Ernst Lubitsch, in my humble opinion. The point of this movie is that the main character isn't nearly as bad as he thinks he is, a principle that applies to most people I know (and I really hope applies to me, too).

Dizzy has decided that a terrier on the first floor of Ashton & Joseph's building is his enemy. I never know why this happens. Dizzy is an exceptionally friendly dog; he gets along well with almost all other dogs, except that every so often, he'll just take a violent dislike to one.

The terrier on the ground floor can look out of its apartment through a glass door that opens onto the sidewalk. Dizzy and I walk by and the terrier is there in the doorway, teeth bared, shrieking like a hound of hell. Dizzy barks back, and lunges for the door. The terrier -- either because it's valiant, or because it trusts the door -- holds its ground, and I yank Dizzy away.

Two minutes later, we're back upstairs and Dizzy seems to have no memory of the encounter at all. Weird.

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

“Thank you! For not smoking.”

The Movie: Robocop 2, 1990 (Frank Miller and Walon Green, screenwriters, from characters created by Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner; Irvin Kershner, dir.)
Who says it: Peter Weller as Robocop, a cyber-police officer with a human brain.
The context: Robocop has been overprogrammed to enforce “quality of life” laws as well as laws against more serious crimes. He says this line after he chases a smoker into an alley and shoots at him.
How to use it: When you’ve overreacted.

This line has no immediate relevance to my life this morning, but the day's still young. And I do want to say how weird it is to be in a city where people can still smoke in bars. Even Maine has banned smoking in bars.

My views on the demon tobacco are well known, although I was fond of the occasional cigar all throughout the 1990s (and yes, I took up cigars before it became a trendy thing to do, so I'll take credit for helping to start that trend).

But I do understand why people like to smoke. Years ago, I drove through central North Carolina right around tobacco harvest time, and the smell of the fresh tobacco in the air was indescribably wonderful -- it was just like I'd imagined the air smelling in that "poppies" scene in The Wizard of Oz. I wanted to stop the car, wander into a field, and lie down until I floated off to dreamland.

Cigarettes, sadly, don't smell like that.

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

“Do I laugh now, or wait til it gets funny?”

The Movie: Double Indemnity, 1944 (Billy Wilder and Raymond Chandler, screenwriters, from the book by James M. Cain; Billy Wilder, dir.)
Who says it: Fred MacMurray as insurance salesman Walter Neff
The context: Walter can’t believe what he thinks Phyllis (Barbara Stanwyck) is suggesting.
How to use it: When something’s not as funny as advertised.

I pretty much knew how the day was going to go when I arrived at the Inter-American Development Bank's conference center this morning at 8:20 to see a line of people extended around the block. Registration, you see, didn't start until 8:30, and they could hardly let anyone in before then -- despite 80-degree temperatures and 90+% humidity.

As I approached the doors, I saw one sign that read, "Last Names A-K" and another that read "Last Names M-Z." Eventually, someone came out and replaced the "A-K" sign with one that read "A-L." Imagine my relief.

After that, though, it was a very good program, and continues tomorrow and Thursday... I'll report more on Friday, when I review the book underlying this conference, Beyond Small Change: Making Migrant Remittances Count.

Admit it, you envy my fascinating life.

Oh, and happy birthday to my nephews Matthew and Henry, who are two years old today, and to my good friend Caroline Case, who remains ageless.

Monday, June 27, 2005

“I am big. It’s the pictures that got small.”

The Movie: Sunset Blvd., 1950 (Charles Brackett, Billy Wilder, & D. M. Marshman, screenwriters; Billy Wilder, dir.)
Who says it: Gloria Swanson as faded silent film star Norma Desmond
The context: Joe Gillis (William Holden) recognizes Norma as someone who “used to be be big.”
How to use it: Impatience with the march of progress, or nostalgia for past glories.

Monday morning, and I'm crankier than I ought to be -- as Too Much Joy says, it's not the heat, it's the stupidity. (That link is a sound file, probably not safe for work.)

Things that I feel annoyed about today...

Alternate side of the street parking. The bane of my existence when I lived in Los Angeles, and D.C. has it too. I had to move the Beetle first thing this morning, and will probably have to move it again in a couple of hours, because I don't have the required zone sticker. Too many people, too many cars (and that's a Keb' Mo' song). D.C. has excellent public transportation, so there's no excuse for the greedheads who have more cars per household than people.

Novelists who choose self-publishing because they don't want to compromise their vision. What good is preserving your artistic vision if you wind up paying to print a book that only 40 people will read? And it'll be only as high as 40 if you have a vast circle of family and friends; believe me, if you hand out 200 copies of a book, no more than 20% will be read, no matter how much these people claim to love you. It's a myth that it's hard to get a first novel published. If it's a good first novel, someone will want to publish it. It's getting the second novel published that seems to be the problem, especially if the first novel didn't do well. If someone tells you your book is not ready for mainstream publication as currently drafted, the problem is not your vision, it's your prose. Why wouldn't you want the biggest possible audience for your vision, anyway? What did Mary Poppins say about the spoonful of sugar?

This is not a slam on self-publishing, by the way. Self-publishing works very well for non-fiction books by authors who want to reach a narrow audience, and already know who that audience is. Business books, books about hobbies or sports teams, and even cookbooks fall into this category. (I've never edited a cookbook -- that would be fun, as long as it's not about seafood or cooking with insects. If you've written one and want an editor, e-mail me and I'll cut you a deal.)

People who do not clean up after their dogs on city sidewalks, followed closely by Smokers who drop their butts on the ground. Don't even get me started... if anything, I'm even more grossed out by the cigarettes than by the dog poop. Dog droppings biodegrade faster, and the average dog's butt has fewer germs than a human's mouth.

Wow... it's been a while since I was in a truly bad mood. This has been kind of fun. Anyone else want to vent about something?

Sunday, June 26, 2005

“It’s wafer thin.”

The Movie: The Meaning of Life, 1983 (Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Michael Palin, Eric Idle, Terry Jones, and Terry Gilliam, screenwriters; Terry Jones and Terry Gilliam, directors)
Who says it: John Cleese as a Maître d’ in a fancy restaurant
The context: The Maître d’ presses one last mint upon Mr. Creosote (Terry Jones), who has already had far, far too much to eat.
How to use it: To urge more food on someone after a large meal. The Maître d’ pronounces “wafer” as if it had two f’s.

Today's posting wishes a belated happy birthday to my old friend John Mirvish, impresario of JeRM Productions, who turned 40 earlier this month. (Several of my friends are turning 40 this year, which I guess makes sense, since I'm turning 40 myself. But not for a few months yet.) We celebrated John's birthday last night at what I can only call a banquet, in the finest Mirvish tradition. By the end of it, no one could have contemplated even a wafer-thin mint.

If I get on the road right now, I can be in Richmond around 10:00 a.m. Rumor has it that Matthew and Henry got bicycles for their birthdays. I'm sure they will let me ride one, if I ask nicely.

Saturday, June 25, 2005

“I never joke about my work, 007.”

The Movie: Goldfinger, 1964 (Richard Maibaum and Paul Dehn, screenwriters, from the novel by Ian Fleming; Guy Hamilton, dir.)
Who says it: Desmond Llewelyn as Q, master of special weaponry for the British Secret Service
The context: Q shows James Bond (Sean Connery) the ejector seat he’s designed for Bond’s Aston Martin, and Bond says Q must be joking.
How to use it: To focus on the matter at hand, and to express your essential lack of humor.

Goldfinger is probably my favorite James Bond movie, and if you don't agree that Sean Connery is the only true Bond, you can't be my friend. (Actually, I just said that to Ashton & Joseph, and Ashton said that he'd never understood the appeal of Sean Connery. It's going to take me a while to process this, but I know that our friendship is strong enough to survive it.)

Yesterday's drive from Maine was a transit through the circles of Hell. A trip that should have taken ten hours took 13 1/2, mainly because my car's speed did not exceed 30 mph anywhere in the commonwealth of Massachusetts. Dizzy was amazingly good, and we listened to The Scarlet Pimpernel and I am Legend on tape.

I'd never read The Scarlet Pimpernel. It's entertaining, and it's useful to read the origin of so many time-honored cliches, but its anti-Semitism is shocking -- even if the author's ultimate point is to say that the French are far worse anti-Semites than the British.

I was going to drive to Richmond this afternoon for a sneak preview of Matthew & Henry's birthday party, but the thought of driving another 220 miles today -- because I have to be at another party here this evening -- is too much even for me. I'll go down there tomorrow, and hope they'll let me play with all the toys they get today.

Friday, June 24, 2005

“As God is my witness, I’ll never be hungry again!”

The Movie: Gone With the Wind, 1939 (Sidney Howard, screenwriter, from the novel by Margaret Mitchell; Victor Fleming, dir.)
Who says it: Vivien Leigh as Southern belle Scarlett O’Hara
The context: Scarlett makes it out of the burning siege of Atlanta only to find her own home in ruins, and the crops destroyed. Starving, she pulls a radish out of the ground and eats it, and resolves not to be beaten. This is the last line before the movie’s intermission.
How to use it: As a statement of resolve, in any context.

This is the quotation from Gone With the Wind that my father likes; he says it with some regularity.

"Do you really live in Maine?" my aunt Kit asked the other day. She was referring to the fact that I haven't spent much time at home lately. In fact, I'm leaving again today, driving south to Washington, DC, for a couple of birthday parties this weekend and a conference next week. The idea of it is a little daunting at the moment. I'm very tired. Time to make some coffee.

This quotation is actually appropriate for at least one of The Books I Read This Week.

Jørgen De May, The Action Hero Body. My friend Gary gave me this book, and I'd take it personally, except that the author is Gary's own trainer, and whatever Gary's doing works for him. I've already said I want to lose 20 pounds before Bouchercon, anyway. This book might help... De May doesn't believe in fads, and he lays out a practical, common-sense plan for reducing fat and building muscle that even I might be able to follow. You'll have to come to Chicago over Labor Day weekend to see whether it works.

Dean Sluyter, Cinema Nirvana: Enlightenment Lessons from the Movies. And this book was a gift from my friend Ann Marie (my friends seem to think that I need some self-improvement, but I know it's just because they love me). Actually, this book is brilliant -- a look at the major lessons of Buddhism through the prism of 15 movies, ranging from Snow White to The Godfather. Don't sneer; I was skeptical too, but this book is both entertaining and insightful, and I learned a good bit about Buddhism along the way.

Douglas Preston and Lincoln Child, The Dance of Death. Doug Preston and Lincoln Child have been my favorite adventure-thriller writers for some time, even though -- as a friend who also likes the books recently pointed out -- they seem to have trouble with endings. This book finds their eccentric protagonist, FBI Agent Aloysius Pendergast, scrambling to foil his insane brother Diogenes' plot to kill everyone Pendergast loves, and frame Pendergast for the crimes. It's great fun, but my friend was right; the book doesn't really end as much as call a time out. Hurry up with the next installment, guys.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

“Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn.”

The Movie: Gone With the Wind, 1939 (Sidney Howard, screenwriter, from the novel by Margaret Mitchell; Victor Fleming, dir.)
Who says it: Clark Gable as reformed rake and Southern gentleman Rhett Butler
The context: Rhett is leaving his wife, Scarlett (Vivien Leigh), who wails, “Where shall I go? What shall I do?”
How to use it: When you… oh, never mind.

Yeah, I know about the American Film Institute's list of 100 Best Movie Quotes -- and no, I didn't watch the TV show, I was in an airport. Part of me is gratified that most of those quotations have already appeared in this blog, and part of me is annoyed that so many of the lines the AFI's voters chose have devolved into meaningless cliches.

Like this one, which ranked #1 on the AFI's list. People use it literally, and don't even think about what they're saying when they use it. In the movie, however -- and to an even greater extent, in the book -- this line is a lie. Rhett says goodbye after mourning the loss of his love for Scarlett, but this line is as much to convince himself as it is to brush her off. It's deeply ironic and sad, and overuse has turned it into something flippant and cute. So phooey to the AFI, I say.

Gardiner seems deserted after Los Angeles; since the town has about as many residents as my old neighborhood in L.A., I guess that makes sense. Dizzy and I checked out the bamboo patches along Water Street this morning, on our way down to the river. No signs of pandas yet. Perhaps they're nocturnal.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

“I’m walking here! I’m walking here!”

The Movie: Midnight Cowboy, 1969 (Waldo Salt, screenwriter, from the novel by James Leo Herlihy; John Schlesinger, dir.)
Who says it: Dustin Hoffman as Ratso Rizzo, a drifter in New York City
The context: Ratso is trying to cross a street when a cab almost hits him.
How to use it: To assert yourself when you feel besieged… or when you’re crossing a street in traffic.

I think it's fun to climb rock walls and scale 14-foot ladders. I have no trouble with rollercoasters, scuba diving, small planes, blind dates, steak tartare and many other experiences that rational human beings might consider intimidating. It's hard for me to cross a city street if I see traffic coming, even if the lights are with me. (I also don't like to make left turns, but that's another story.) This quotation comes in handy for me.

Greetings from Logan Airport, where I'm waiting for a small plane to take me back to Augusta. Every time I take the red-eye, I swear I'll never take a red-eye again... and then a year or so passes, and I think, "Well, how bad could it be?" and I book another overnight flight.

Red-eyes to continental Europe aren't so bad; the problem with red-eyes from California to the East Coast, or from the East Coast to London, is that they aren't long enough. Even if your eyes close on takeoff (and mine generally do), the flight's just over five hours, which is not a full night's sleep.

This past night I didn't even get that, because a tiny boy in the row behind me screamed inconsolably for two hours of the five-hour flight. I felt bad for his mother, a Japanese woman traveling with her own elderly mother. At the same time, I was busy revising my opinions about over-medicating small children. It's a shame the things you see when you don't have your bottle of liquid Valium handy.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

“I’m not a whore!”

The Movie: Showgirls, 1995 (Joe Eszterhas, screenwriter; Paul Verhoeven, dir.)
Who says it: Elizabeth Berkley as aspiring showgirl Nomi Malone
The context: Nomi says this throughout the movie, as she works her way up from stripper to showgirl to – er – well-compensated companion to wealthy men. But she’s not a whore.
How to use it: When you know you’re making unacceptable compromises to your own self-esteem.

This line and this movie aren't really appropriate for this PG-13 blog... but the line is so appropriate for Los Angeles, and my friend Joseph loves it so much, that I have to use it.

The business of Los Angeles is turning art and inspiration into things that can be sold. The process isn't pretty or kind, although the alternative -- letting artists and performers starve, or depend on wealthy patrons -- isn't any better. And good work still gets done here, by people who refuse to pander or compromise on the important things.

People say that Los Angeles itself is ugly, but sometimes it takes your breath away. Last night I drove up the 405 from Venice to Westwood. A little before 9:00 p.m., it was still magic hour; the last of the sunset hung red in the western sky, and for once traffic was moving freely. All the lights had come on, and I had The Blue Nile on the car stereo (she saw the world and she wanted it all...).

I remembered why I came out here in the first place, why I stayed for five years. It's a beautiful dream, for about 15 minutes a day.

If you're near a computer today between 4:30 and 6:00 p.m. Pacific Daylight Time, the one and only Tod Goldberg will be playing his unique mix on Pinky's Paperhaus. He promises that the playlist will include both Neil Diamond and Dr. Dre, and just for me, he'll play Joy Division's "Love Will Tear Us Apart." ("What are you, 16?" he asked. "Sometimes," I said.)

Monday, June 20, 2005

“Just when I thought that I was out, they pull me back in!”

The Movie: The Godfather: Part III, 1990 (Mario Puzo & Francis Ford Coppola, screenwriters; Francis Ford Coppola, dir.)
Who says it: Al Pacino as Don Michael Corleone, a businessman with many interests
The context: Don Corleone’s plans to legitimize his family businesses aren’t working out the way he had hoped.
How to use it: When you thought you’d escaped.

No, I'm not moving back to Los Angeles; I'd just been waiting for a chance to use this line. But I must say that yesterday was a remarkably pleasant day, and reminded me of everything I loved about L.A.

I spent too much money at The Mystery Bookstore, even with my employee discount, and could easily have spent more. Gary's dogs greeted me joyfully when I got to his house, and I got a little work done before we all took a hike in Pacific Palisades. The weather was spectacular, and that trail, off Bienvenida, has one of the best views in town (the views from the Paseo Miramar trail are probably better, but dogs aren't allowed there). The sky was clear enough to see Catalina.

Yesterday morning I said goodbye to all the relatives in Ridgecrest; yesterday afternoon was books, some work, a hike; yesterday evening was a quiet dinner with friends in Venice. It was as close to a perfect day as I could ask for.

Sunday, June 19, 2005

“You wanna have a catch?”

The Movie: Field of Dreams, 1989 (Phil Alden Robinson, director and screenwriter, from the novel Shoeless Joe by W. R. Kinsella)
Who says it: Kevin Costner as Ray Kinsella, who has built a baseball field in his corn patch to give Shoeless Joe Jackson a place to play.
The context: At the end of the movie, a young version of Kinsella’s father comes from the other side to play on the Field of Dreams. Kinsella, who had always regretted turning down his father’s offer of a game of catch, gets a second chance.
How to use it: To invite your dad to do something, before it’s too late.

Too many of my friends have fathers who died too young. I feel so lucky that my dad and I have both lived long enough to become friends.

It's hard for both of us to say how we feel about each other, because we just don't do that kind of thing in my family -- but Dad, I hope you know how grateful I am to you, for everything. (Not least, as I said to one of my cousins last night, for the fact that I have never had to utter the phrase, "My father's girlfriend.")

Thanks, Dad. Happy Father's Day.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

“A wedding? I love weddings. Drinks all around.”

The Movie: Pirates of the Caribbean, 2003 (Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio, screenwriters; Gore Verbinski, dir.)
Who says it: Johnny Depp as legendary pirate Captain Jack Sparrow
The context: Sparrow blunders drunkenly into a society wedding.
How to use it: Wait til the reception to use this one.

My cousin Sarah Johnson is marrying her longtime boyfriend, William, here today in Ridgecrest. It'll be a nice wedding, and believe me, I'm something of a connoisseur. I like to go to weddings; they're the most hopeful events I know, reckless leaps of faith that I admire tremendously (having never been able to make that leap myself).

Being here, though, means that I am missing another happy and hopeful event, as my nephew and godson, George, graduates from high school today. Congratulations, George, and may it be the start of many new adventures.

Friday, June 17, 2005

“This aggression will not stand, man.”

The Movie: The Big Lebowski, 1998 (Ethan and Joel Coen, screenwriters; Joel Coen, dir.)
Who says it: Jeff Bridges as Jeff Lebowski, a.k.a. The Dude, or His Dudeness, or The Duder, or El Duderino if you’re not into the whole brevity thing.
The context: The Dude has come to confront a wealthy businessman, also named Lebowski, because some nihilists have sabotaged the Dude’s rug in a case of mistaken identity.
How to use it: To defend yourself, California-style.

I saw this quotation on a bumper sticker on the 101 freeway today, and it seemed particularly appropriate. I'm not used to this kind of traffic anymore, but once I accepted there was nothing to be done about it, I was calm.

The rental car place gave me a PT Cruiser; I was excited at first, less so by the time I got out here to Ridgecrest. The car looks cool, but it's heavy, has no pickup, and sits high enough above the road to feel a little unstable, though that's probably an illusion. The wind whips through the mountain passes on Highway 14, through the Antelope Valley; I'd have been happier in a car that was lower to the ground. But hey, I looked cool, and in California, that's all that matters.

Not a lot of pleasure reading this week, since I'm still scrambling on multiple deadlines, and for some reason have had a hard time sleeping and focusing for the last several days. Maybe the desert air will do me good.

What I Read This Week

Henry James, What Maisie Knew. I keep reading Henry James, in the hope that one of these days I'll start liking him. But I finally figured out, with this book, why James feels tedious and Edith Wharton does not. What Maisie Knew tells the story of a very young girl who is the subject of a nasty custody battle between her parents, who both ultimately abandon her to the care of their second (and later ex-) spouses. Everyone behaves horribly, even -- in the end -- Maisie herself, who ought to be the object of our sympathy. This was Wharton's genius; she sympathized with all of her characters, even her nastiest villains. James treats his characters like bugs under a microscope. Edifying, but not entertaining.

Gene Kerrigan, Little Criminals. Late in this book, Kerrigan writes this about a minor character who turns out to play a crucial role: "He felt more than ever like a man alive beyond his time, beyond understanding the world around him, beyond any use." This rare book, a thriller that's actually thrilling, is ostensibly the story of a kidnapping that goes wrong before it even begins. Underneath that, though, it's a grim look at modern Ireland, a society that has rejected all of its old (admittedly flawed) structures and values without replacing them with anything else. As far as I know, it's not available in the U.S. yet, but deserves to be soon.

Neil Gaiman, Neverwhere. How had I not read this book before? My cousin Michael lent it to me last weekend and said I could read it in one sitting; I did, on the plane from Boston to L.A. Richard Mayhew comes to the aid of a badly wounded, apparently homeless girl, and slips "between the cracks" into a London underworld he could never have imagined. It's an epic adventure, made all the more fascinating by the real possibility that it's only happening inside Richard's mind.

Thursday, June 16, 2005

“I’d rather hurt you now than kill you off forever.”

The Movie: The Bad and the Beautiful, 1952 (Charles Schnee, screenwriter; Vincente Minelli, dir.)
Who says it: Kirk Douglas as maverick film producer Jonathan Shields
The context: Jonathan explains to his best friend, Fred Amiel (Barry Sullivan), why he’s just made a deal that cuts Fred out of the directing job he’s always wanted; Jonathan thinks Fred would fail, and says he’s saving Fred from himself.
How to use it: Employee evaluations... disciplining teenagers... making a budget... it’s a surprisingly versatile line, if you think about it.

Actually, this line also seems appropriate for my cousin Sheila's Free Katie campaign, which you may have seen something about on the news lately. If you don't already have your Free Katie campaign t-shirts, buttons, coffee mugs, etc., check out the site; Sheila's posted several new designs, including the slogans "Run Katie Run" and my personal favorite, "Sacrificial Virgins are so third century." This may all be a little embarrassing for Ms. Holmes -- actually, it's probably not, but if it were, that might not be a bad thing.

Dizzy and I started our circuit around Gardiner this morning, but took a detour when I noticed smoke, or maybe steam, coming from the back of the Gardiner Paperboard factory. No idea what that was, but I've seen signs before of someone camping out back there: an old mattress, some blankets, signs of a campfire. Few places could be more miserable than central Maine to be homeless.

Were I a large man with a weapon, I might have gone to investigate, and offered the hypothetical homeless person some breakfast. But I am a large woman with a dog, and I've read too many Nancy Drew novels, so I passed on the other side. And now I'm going to think about that all day.

I leave for southern California at 6:00 tomorrow morning, so the blog posting will be late. If I have enough time in Logan Airport, I'll post from there; otherwise, don't look for anything until tomorrow night, when I get to Ridgecrest.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

“I said those things, I did those things. I can live with that.”

The Movie: The Life Aquatic with Steve Zissou, 2004 (Wes Anderson and Noah Baumbach, screenwriters; Wes Anderson, dir.)
Who says it: Bill Murray as oceanographer Steve Zissou
The context: Steve has just read the first draft of a cover story about him by Jane Winslett-Richardson that portrayed him as “a bit of a blowhard, a bit of a prick,” but he’s not angry.
How to use it: To accept your shadow and move on.

Thanks to Chris Bea for this line -- he did not recommend it specifically, but his strong endorsement of the movie made me boost it to the top of my Netflix list, and I'm glad I did. This movie got some vicious reviews, but all I can say is that those critics obviously did not get it.

A startling sight on this morning's walk: a single white dove, among a bunch of gray ones. It sent a chill down my spine, though I couldn't say why. Aren't white doves supposed to be good omens?

This morning I'm headed back down to Portland, for a breakfast meeting and then for John Connolly's luncheon talk at the Portland Public Library. The weather is so bizarre here that I figure a 50% chance of an ice storm along the way.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

“I could set the building on fire.”

The Movie: Office Space, 1999 (Mike Judge, screenwriter and dir.)
Who says it: Stephen Root as Milton Waddams, the most pathetic employee of a giant, generic tech company
The context: Milton whispers this after he misses out on the office birthday cake again; he says different versions of this line throughout the movie, particularly when people keep taking his stapler.
How to use it: When no one is paying attention to you. You need to whisper it, like Milton does.

This line has no particular relevance to me today, it just cracks me up. My sister Kathy had suggested one of Milton's lines about his stapler, but I like this one better.

I'm a little distracted this morning -- too much to do, and I'm rushing out the door for a late breakfast at the A-1 with Anna and Jen. I'd rant about the Michael Jackson verdicts, but what can anyone say? When the Jackson family spokesman started talking about early plans for a "Victory Tour" yesterday afternoon, though, I had to turn off the TV and take the dog for a walk.

Dizzy brought a report card home from the kennel. It says, "Dizzy is a great dog! He is so sweet of nature." I'm so proud.

And happy birthday today to Michelle Clark Neely, also sweet of nature, who was no stranger to excellent report cards in her own day.

Monday, June 13, 2005

“You aren’t really anybody in America if you’re not on TV.”

The Movie: To Die For, 1995 (Buck Henry, screenwriter, from the novel by Joyce Maynard; Gus Van Sant, dir.)
Who says it: Nicole Kidman as Suzanne Stone Maretto, a TV weather girl who arranges to dispose of her inconvenient husband (Matt Dillon)
The context: Suzanne explains her lifelong ambition to be a national television personality.
How to use it: It certainly explains network programming.

As a very young woman -- between the ages of, say, 15 and 21 -- I went through a phase of being fascinated with my own reflection. I don't know this for sure, but it makes sense to me that this would be common among adolescents, since people change so fast and dramatically at that age. You have to keep checking your reflection just to see what you look like that day.

While this (incredibly annoying, in retrospect even to me) phase lasted, I could not walk past a plate glass window or a well-polished car without checking my look. I could not have a conversation if a mirror was within eye range, because I'd look at myself talking in the mirror instead of at the person I was talking to.

This wasn't about wanting to check the changes in my appearance, though; at some fundamental level, I think I wasn't entirely certain that I existed at all. The mirrors reassured me, anchored me.

It's the only explanation I can think of for why so many people want to be on TV, and it illustrates a terrible loneliness and alienation. People don't pay enough attention to each other in ordinary life. Maybe it's because most of us deal with too many other people over the course of a day. If no one ever looks straight at you and acknowledges your presence, do you exist?

Without that affirmation, it's no wonder people feel the need to record and project their existence in some medium that promises a mass audience and a certain degree of permanence.

But let's get real about this, too... do you remember the name of anyone you ever saw on "Judge Judy"?

Sunday, June 12, 2005

“What we’re dealing with here is a complete lack of respect for the law.”

The Movie: Smokey and the Bandit, 1977 (James Lee Barrett, Charles Shyer, and Alan Mandel, screenwriters, from a story by Hal Needham and Robert L. Levy; Hal Needham, dir.)
Who says it: Jackie Gleason as Sheriff Buford T. Justice, a southern lawman
The context: Sheriff Buford chases “Bandit” Bo Darville (Burt Reynolds), a legendary scofflaw truck driver, across several states.
How to use it: To acknowledge – with a certain admiration – seriously bad behavior.

My sister Kathy and her 13-year-old son, Patrick, were tossing around Smokey and the Bandit lines yesterday morning, before we left for Dutchess County. It felt appropriate for the first road trip I've taken with my twin as adults -- but no, Mom, we didn't speed. Much.

We drove to our uncle John McLaughlin's, to have dinner with him, his girlfriend Marcie, our Aunt Patricia, and our cousins Michael and Julia. It was a great visit and a great drive. Amazingly, we didn't get lost at all (okay, one wrong turn) and we didn't even bicker about the music, singing along to Billy Joel and the BeeGees (I drew the line at Chicago).

Driving back to Kathy's on 84 through Connecticut, we saw fireworks in the eastern sky. "Look," said Kathy, "they knew we were coming," and for a minute, it actually felt like that.

Of course, the fireworks were really in honor of my friend and guru Matt Prager, whose birthday is today. Happy birthday, Mr. Jive Monkey.

Saturday, June 11, 2005

“These things must be handled delicately.”

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: Margaret Hamilton as the Wicked Witch of the West
The context: The Wicked Witch contemplates how to retrieve her dead sister’s ruby slippers, now on Dorothy’s feet.
How to use it: When beginning a plan, nefarious or otherwise.

On the T in Boston yesterday, I saw a placard seeking volunteers for a medical study about obsessive-compulsive disorder. The placard asked four screening questions for OCD, starting with something like, "Do you find yourself compulsively repeating the same behaviors over and over?"

I couldn't help thinking how much funnier and more effective -- though unquestionably less sensitive, and probably unkind -- it would have been if the placard simply repeated the first question four times:
Do you find yourself compulsively repeating the same behaviors over and over?
Do you find yourself compulsively repeating the same behaviors over and over?
Do you find yourself compulsively repeating the same behaviors over and over?
Do you find yourself...

Well, you get the idea. This is why no one asks me to help with campaigns like this.

Today I'm in Newport to visit my twin sister, Kathy, and her boys. They're about to move to Mississippi to join my brother-in-law, who's stationed on a ship out of Pascagoula. The chances of my getting to Pascagoula before that base closes (if that base closes) are slim, and in any case, it would be an awfully long drive.

Friday, June 10, 2005

“Most of us need the eggs.”

The Movie: Annie Hall, 1976 (Woody Allen and Marshall Brickman, screenwriters; Woody Allen, dir.)
Who says it: Woody Allen as Alvy Singer, a television writer recounting the tale of his doomed romance with Annie (Diane Keaton).
The context: Alvy tells an old joke about a man who goes to see a psychiatrist. He says, “Doc, my brother’s crazy, he thinks he’s a chicken.” The doctor says, “Well, why don’t you turn him in?” and the guy says, “I would, but we need the eggs.” This, Alvy says, sums up how he feels about relationships: “they're totally irrational and crazy and absurd… but I guess we keep going through it because most of us need the eggs.”
How to use it: The answer to every question you ever had about stupid romantic decisions.

A good friend of mine likes to say that there are only 12 people in the world, and all the rest is done with mirrors. For example: I had dinner last night with the internationally-famous and beloved author John Connolly in some random bar in Cambridge, a city where I do not live and he does not live.

A good-looking young man approached our table and said, "Are you Clair?" It was the internationally-famous and beloved author Gregg Hurwitz, who also does not live in Cambridge -- but was in town for his 10-year Harvard reunion. I was delighted to see him, not least to congratulate him in person on the recent birth of his daughter.

But if he hadn't come up to us, I wouldn't have recognized him. I might have seen him at the bar and said to John, "Hey, that guy looks just like Gregg Hurwitz," but it never would have occurred to me that someone in a restaurant 3,000 miles from his home might be the person he looked like. In fact, because internationally-famous and beloved author Chris Mooney had actually been talking about Gregg earlier in the evening, I might have thought I was hallucinating, or just had Gregg in my mind.

But the universe likes to mix us up like that. It keeps things interesting, and is another reason not to leave the house without brushing my hair.

When I wasn't hanging out with internationally-famous and beloved authors, I read very little this week that wasn't work-related. In fact... I'm ashamed to admit... I only finished one book this week, and it was an old one. But it was good.

Tim Cahill, Pass the Butterworms. Tim Cahill may be my favorite travel writer; his Road Fever, detailing his attempt at a land-speed record for traveling from the bottom of South America to the top of Alaska, is hilarious and inspired. Pass the Butterworms is a 1997 collection of articles about Cahill's adventures abroad; most originally appeared in Outside magazine. Among other things, Cahill tells how to land an airplane when the pilot has had a heart attack, and what it feels like to go swimming at the North Pole. (Say it with me: "Coooool...")

Thursday, June 09, 2005

“Easy! Where’s that getcha?”

The Movie: Magnificent Obsession, 1954 (Robert Blees, screenwriter, from the book by Lloyd C. Douglas; Douglas Sirk, dir.)
Who says it: Rock Hudson as wastrel playboy (and later selfless doctor) Bob Merrick
The context: Bob’s girlfriend Valerie (Sara Shane) calls to him to take it easy as he revs his speedboat, just before he wrecks it.
How to use it: When throwing caution to the wind. Look out for that…$#*@!

The return of the sun, after so much rain, has sparked an explosion of growth. Dizzy and I walked by the Cobbosseecontee today and Dizzy -- or, okay, Dizzy's owner -- pretended he was a lion on the African savannah, making his way through the long grass in pursuit of prey. Dizzy's never even seen grass this tall. Dandelion puffballs and buttercups have grown so high that they look like completely different species.

The one piece of all this growth that puzzles me is a thriving stand of bamboo, right along Water Street, about a quarter mile from the heart of town. Bamboo is not something I'd expect to see in central Maine, although it can grow almost anywhere; someone must have planted it. Maybe it's like those butterfly gardens, someone trying to create a habitat for a particular kind of wildlife. Whoever planted it might have been hoping to attract pandas. I can't wait to see if that works.

This morning I must deliver Dizzy to the kind people at the At Home Veterinary Care clinic, for shots and a flea bath and a few days of boarding while I drive around lower New England. I'll be back Sunday, but will post from the road in the meantime.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

“Note the loss of hearing.”

The Movie: Rock ‘n’ Roll High School, 1979 (Richard Whitley, Russ Dvonch, and Joseph McBride, screenwriters, from a story by Allan Arkush and Joe Dante; Allan Arkush, dir.)
Who says it: Mary Woronov as evil high school principal Miss Togar
The context: Miss Togar has just made a mouse explode by exposing it to Ramones music at top volume.
How to use it: To comment on a minor problem that’s part of a major catastrophe.

I'm not the first to ask this, but what did happen to P.J. Soles? Fame is fleeting... they didn't even interview her for the Ramones documentary, End of the Century, which I watched the other night. I recommend that, by the way -- it's a strange mixture of exhilaration and sadness. The Ramones' road led not to ruin, but to nowhere in particular. They were never as huge as they should have been, and now three of them are dead.

That's sad enough, but what hurt most of all was to see Joe Strummer on the screen, the picture of rude health. I spent the rest of the evening imagining scenarios in which Joe Strummer merely staged his death, Elvis-style, and is now tending bar somewhere in Camden Town. Please report any sightings to me.

On the way home from Augusta last night, I saw a carnival set up on the north side of town. I'm a sucker for those things; I don't care that the rides are wired together with paper clips, or that the food workers all carry typhoid. I'd have stopped for a ride on the Zipper, but the prospect of riding by myself felt too pathetic. Maybe Anna and Tarren will want to go tonight.

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

“Sewer rat might taste like pumpkin pie, but I’d never know, ‘cause I wouldn’t eat the filthy @$%*.”

The Movie: Pulp Fiction, 1994 (Quentin Tarantino, director and screenwriter, based on stories by Tarantino and Roger Avary)
Who says it: Samuel L. Jackson as Jules Winnfield, a hitman and small-time gangster
The context: Jules tells his partner, Vincent (John Travolta), that he doesn’t eat pork; this baffles Vincent, who says that bacon and pork chops taste gooood.
How to use it: When declining food someone else considers a delicacy – only among friends, of course.

Well, the W.C. Fields thing didn't pan out, though I'm sure I'll toss out a few more of his lines between now and the end of July.

But I'm just as glad to use this line, because this exchange is one of my favorite parts of the movie. Raised in the south by a woman of Irish descent, I could gladly eat pork products three times a day. And I don't really care that they're filthy animals.

In the early years of my sister Peggy's tenure at the Virginia Zoo, she helped keep the Domestic Animals exhibit, which included a large, cranky pig named Scarlet. Scarlet was fairly high-maintenance, because among other things, she needed regular, careful applications of sunscreen to keep her from burning under the Norfolk sun.

But Scarlet became slower, and crankier, and Peggy told me one day that she thought Scarlet might be coming to the end of her life. "How old is she?" I asked. "Twelve," Peggy said. "How old do pigs get to be?" I asked.

Peggy's eyes narrowed to slits. "No one knows," she said.

Monday, June 06, 2005

“I’d like to see Paris before I die. Philadelphia will do.”

The Movie: My Little Chickadee, 1940 (Mae West and W. C. Fields, screenwriters; Edward F. Cline, dir.)
Who says it: W. C. Fields as Cuthbert J. Twillie, a con man who becomes sheriff of Greasewood City.
The context: Twillie is about to be hanged by angry townsmen who believe he is the Masked Bandit.
How to use it: To regret missed opportunities.

Maybe I'll dedicate this week to W.C. Fields' lines. Thanks to my dad for suggesting this one, which is one of his favorites. And as a matter of fact, I would like to see Paris before I die -- I've never been. Philadelphia, I've seen.

Central Maine slipped through a wormhole into midsummer over the weekend, but today we're back in early spring: temperatures in the 50s, and more rain. I don't mind; Dizzy was suffering in the heat, and the cooler weather gives me a little more time to buy window fans. It's easier to work in this weather, too, and that's important, because I have to cram a whole workweek into three days this week.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

“Is it possible for us to be lonesome together?”

The Movie: My Little Chickadee, 1940 (Mae West and W. C. Fields, screenwriters; Edward F. Cline, dir.)
Who says it: W. C. Fields as Cuthbert J. Twillie, a con man who becomes sheriff of Greasewood City.
The context: Twillie proposes to Flower Belle Lee (Mae West), who is no better than she should be.
How to use it: I think this would be a lovely wedding proposal. Seriously. It might also serve, as Lyle Lovett puts it, for a more temporal gratification. (That wouldn't make you a shallow person -- would it?)

One of my neighbors is a very nice man who tells me, every time I meet him, that he is gay. I'm not sure why he does this, since 1) it's obvious and 2) I don't care.

But it happened again yesterday afternoon, when Dizzy and I stopped to chat, so I smiled at him and said, "Well, and I'm straight. Not that there's anything wrong with that."

He did a double-take and said, "Really? I thought you were at least bi."

Now, I could list all the different reasons this disconcerted and annoyed me -- I'm not in the habit of speculating about my neighbors' private lives, and it hadn't occurred to me that my neighbors speculated about mine. And I know I'm not a girly girl, but the facts that I live alone, own power tools, and like to hammer things do not mean that I prefer the romantic companionship of my own gender. Not that there's anything wrong with that.

But my indignation couldn't gather much steam when I realized that his assumption, like his repeated outing of himself, had nothing to do with me and everything to do with the fact that he is terribly, horrifyingly lonely, and looking for someone who'd sympathize with him.

Which I can do, a little, but not in the way that he was hoping for.

While we were standing outside talking, a car belonging to two of my other neighbors screeched into the parking lot. The man driving the car was screaming at the woman beside him. She got out of the car and ran into their home in tears, and he peeled rubber and drove away, a danger to himself and others.

There are as many ways to be lonely as there are humans on the planet. If you let yourself start noticing it, it's pretty overwhelming.

Saturday, June 04, 2005

“Sew, old woman! Sew like the wind!”

The Movie: ¡Three Amigos!, 1986 (Steve Martin, Lorne Michaels, and Randy Newman, screenwriters; John Landis, dir.)
Who says it: Martin Short as Ned Nederlander, an out-of-work actor who must save a small Mexican village
The context: Ned rallies a villager to the struggle against the evil El Guapo (Alfonso Arau)
How to use it: To inspire enthusiasm for a tedious job.

Today's quotation is for Tom Ehrenfeld, because he loves this line, and because it's his birthday. He no longer remembers how old he is, and therefore, neither do I. Happy birthday, Tom.

I may have mentioned before that my dog, genetically programmed to stalk birds and small mammals, wakes up at sunrise. This was convenient in Los Angeles, since I more or less worked East Coast hours, and it was no big deal throughout the winter here, or during the endless rainy spring.

Now, however, the sun is back, and the sun rose today at 4:57 a.m. Dizzy thought I might not realize this, so he let me know, with a nose to the face.

"It's not morning, Dizzy," I said -- but the nose would not go away, because it was obviously morning, and why would anyone want to waste it?

So we got up and walked down to the river, where several people were already fishing. MacDonald's Bakery opens at 5:30 a.m., so I was able to get a cup of coffee, and Dizzy pointed me to a cardinal, a robin, a woodpecker, and a large sea bird whose name I don't know. I need one of those field guides.

Now Dizzy is taking the first of his morning naps, and I'm getting ready to go paint sets in Hallowell. I'm not as good at painting as I am at hammering. Infer what you like from that.

Friday, June 03, 2005

“Why should I listen to you, anyway? You’re a virgin who can’t drive.”

The Movie: Clueless, 1995 (Amy Heckerling, screenwriter and dir., from the novel Emma by Jane Austen)
Who says it: Brittany Murphy as Tai, a high school senior who’s unlucky in love
The context: Cher (Alicia Silverstone) persists in offering Tai advice.
How to use it: When you don’t want to listen to a well-meaning friend.

Thanks to Joseph Mathews, who suggested this quotation -- which, we want to make clear, has no application to anyone he knows.

But the quotation felt especially appropriate to me the other morning, when I opened a padded envelope to find an advance copy of Officer Down, by Theresa Schwegel.

I worked with Theresa on an earlier draft of this book, which will be published by St. Martin's Minotaur in September. The manuscript was good when I got it, better after the revisions I suggested, and is even better now -- so good, in fact, that I wonder again at my own officiousness. (My own novel, in case you were wondering, is stuck at p. 117. I don't know what the hell happens next. Thanks for asking.)

Officer Down introduces Chicago police officer Samantha Mack, known to friends and colleagues as Smack. Samantha's personal life, already shaky, spins out of control after the shooting death of her partner -- with Samantha's gun. The problem is that Samantha was hit on the head during the ambush, and can't remember what happened. She's sure someone else was on the scene, but the only person who believes her is her married lover, a homicide cop who may not be what he seems. Samantha is a great, believable character who stands on her own, but I'd recommend this book to fans of April Smith's Ana Grey novels or Jodi Compton's Sarah Pribek series.

And these are the other books I read this week -- all crime fiction, all the time:

Will Thomas, Some Danger Involved. Both of my parents recommended this book, a first novel set in Victorian England, featuring a Holmes-like detective and his scrappy Welsh assistant. It took me a while to get past the flowery Victorian diction, but the narrator -- the assistant, Thomas Llewelyn -- is an engaging character, and the plot, about an apparent serial killer working in London's Jewish community, is solid. I look forward to the next installment.

James Rollins, Map of Bones. I was in the mood for an epic adventure novel, something that would take me for a rollercoaster ride and not distract me too much with plausibility. Map of Bones didn't work for me, much as I wanted it to. The premise is cool -- ancient relics that are actually a specialized form of superconducting gold, chased by a secret society with roots in the Vatican -- but the book is too long by about a third, and the romantic subplot is just embarrassing.

Daniel Hecht, Puppets. This was more like it: a serial killer novel that turns into a great paranoid government conspiracy-medical thriller. I'm a fan of Hecht's Cree Black series, featuring a psychic private detective (yes, that premise sounds cheesy; it isn't). Puppets predates those books by several years, but is just now being published in the United States. It has one too many subplots, but the central relationship -- between detective Mo Ford and his colleague, psychiatric profiler Rebecca Ingalls -- feels not only authentic, but enviable. It'll be available in the U.S. in July.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

“It must be Thursday. I never could get the hang of Thursdays.”

The Movie: The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, 2005 (Douglas Adams and Karey Kirkpatrick, screenwriters, from the radio play/novel/TV miniseries/video game/etc. by Adams; Garth Jennings, dir.)
Who says it: Martin Freeman as earthman Arthur Dent
The context: Dent’s best friend, Ford Prefect (Mos Def), has just explained that he, Ford, is an intergalactic visitor, and that the two of them must leave Earth immediately because it’s about to be destroyed.
How to use it: On Thursdays, mainly, but it might be funnier on any other day of the week.

I liked this movie, and don't send me howling e-mails about how the filmmakers betrayed Adams' vision. It was goofy and entertaining, and Alan Rickman as Marvin is worth the price of admission all by himself. (True if pointless fact: the first American performance of the theatrical version of "Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy" was at Georgetown University in the fall of 1982, by the student-run DB Productions, now known as Nomadic Theatre. Most of the cast were my dorm-mates at Xavier Hall, aka the Arts Hall Project. Mike Schwartz was almost as good as Marvin, but the movie character's costume is better.)

The sun is back, and the lilacs are in full bloom. The air smells like lilacs and fresh-mown grass, and I didn't wear The Coat this morning. Summer might not be here yet, but spring is finally underway.

I'd been toying with the idea of trying to go to New York this weekend for BookExpo, but it's not going to happen. My June travel schedule is officially out of control. This will be the only weekend I'll have at home until mid-July. I'd think about getting some plants for my deck, but no one would be here to water them.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

“Is it safe? Is it safe?”

The Movie: Marathon Man, 1976 (William Goldman, screenwriter, from his novel; John Schlesinger, dir.)
Who says it: Laurence Olivier as Dr. Christian Szell, a dentist and former Nazi
The context: Dr. Szell tortures Babe (Dustin Hoffman) in the dentist’s chair, to try to find out whether he can retrieve his cache of diamonds.
How to use it: When you’re grilling someone clueless – or maybe when you’re going to the dentist.

I was going to use another quotation from All the President's Men today ("Get out your notebook -- there's more."), because of the Deep Throat revelation, but decided to go with this other Goldman line, from a movie made around the same time.

Both movies tap into a deep vein of paranoia that feels unique to the mid-1970s. I've seen several columns and blogs in the past day that ask, "Where is the Deep Throat of our generation? Where is our outrage, our paranoia?" They're good questions, but I can't even muster up the necessary outrage to discuss it. I wonder whether that paranoia has become so deeply ingrained in our national consciousness that we don't notice it any more, or whether it's transformed itself into such a profound cynicism that we've stopped paying attention.

Conspiracy theorists make me impatient. It's hard for me to believe that any group of people can develop and execute a coherent, elaborate plot, because I've worked with and managed too many committees.

What's more likely -- and what I think does happen, and Watergate's a good example of this -- is that one person gets an idea to do something outside the rules. Those ideas aren't usually about world domination, either; they're about expediency or greed or ego, a faster way to achieve money, praise or leisure.

That person assembles a group to make that happen, and those minions may not have any idea of the big picture. The real conspiracy happens after that decision goes wrong (as these decisions usually do), and everyone scrambles to cover up and protect themselves.

Deep Throat -- his existence, his identity, his decision to reveal himself now -- troubles me. Wasn't it his responsibility to try to prosecute criminals through the justice system, rather than take the case to the press? On the other hand, if he -- as second-in-command at the FBI -- wasn't in a position to do anything about it, what fundamental flaws does that show in our legal system? And what does he hope to achieve by stepping forward now? Does he deserve the thanks of a grateful nation, or reproach (as he himself has suggested) for not doing more when he could have?

Fascinating. I hope he has time to write a book that answers some of these questions, before everyone else does it for him.