Friday, June 30, 2006


Who uses it: Police officers and drug addiction counselors
What it means: Someone addicted to methamphetamines
How you can use it: When you've had too much caffeine.

Yesterday was a seriously overcaffeinated day. I was up around 6:00 a.m., but the usual pre-travel emergencies kept me from getting on the road until close to noon -- which meant that I didn't get to Washington until a few minutes after midnight. Torrential rain slowed me down from New Jersey to about Baltimore, but here in Washington the sun is out and one might even think it was summer.

I stopped for dinner at the Red Oak Diner in Fort Lee, New Jersey. In the booth behind me was a woman about ten years older than I, also eating alone with a book in front of her, talking to someone on her cell phone about her mysterious physical ailments. If I ever become that woman, homicide would be a kindness. I thank you in advance.

What I Read This Week

Mo Hayder, Pig Island. Journalist Joe Oakes goes to a remote Scottish island to investigate a fringe religious group founded by a faith healer he'd exposed years earlier. Oakes is also interested in reports of a demonic creature who appears to be living on the island. This is an extraordinarily ambitious book that doesn't entirely succeed, but Hayder's trying to do so much here that I felt like applauding. About halfway through, I realized that the book is the retelling of a medieval legend -- to say which one would give too much away.

Peter Robinson, Strange Affair. Inspector Alan Banks, recovering from a near-fatal attack, gets a desperate call from his estranged brother -- who then disappears. Robinson has created a world with completely believable characters, but this book suffers from the problem of several long-running series -- how can so many terrible things happen to the friends and relatives of one person?

Karen E. Olson, Secondhand Smoke. New Haven reporter Annie Seymour investigates a suspicious restaurant fire in her own neighborhood, and must deal with her status as an outsider in the world she grew up in. Annie is an excellent, believable character, as are her parents.

Gavin de Becker, The Gift of Fear. I read a long excerpt from this book when it first came out, but the instructor of the gun course I took earlier this month recommended it so strongly that I went back to read the whole thing. I second that recommendation: everyone needs to read this book, which explains how to recognize the signals of potential violence and how to avoid escalating situations that may lead to violence.

P. G. Wodehouse, Jeeves and the Feudal Spirit. The audiobook of this was my company on yesterday's trip. Bertie Wooster comes to the aid of his Aunt Dahlia, who's trying to sell her women's newspaper (Milady's Boudoir), and winds up almost going to jail and getting married. Jeeves, as always, saves the day.

Wednesday, June 28, 2006


Who uses it: Truckers
What it means: Returning from a destination with an empty cargo hold, so without revenue.
How you can use it: To describe followthrough you're not getting paid for.

"Deadhead" is another one of those great phrases that means different things in different contexts. I almost used the gardening definition today -- pinching off the withered blooms of roses before they form seed pods, so they'll bloom again -- and of course most Americans think of "Deadhead" as referring to the Grateful Dead's traveling fans. According to one website I found, the term originally referred to people brought in to fill up an audience, without paying for tickets.

I hit the road again tomorrow for a couple of weeks, so have lots of errands to run today, plus a Gaslight board meeting. But I do want to say Happy Birthday to my friend Caroline, and to my nephews Matthew and Henry, who are three today.

First five songs off the iPod Shuffle this morning:

“For You,” Bruce Springsteen. A song that is both terribly sad and wildly optimistic, with all the painful romance of the very young. One of my all-time favorites.

“I Want You,” Elvis Costello & the Attractions. Another very young man's song, about the bitterness and anger of unrequited love.

“Stop Hurting People,” Pete Townshend. This album (All the Best Cowboys Have Chinese Eyes) would be with me on the desert island. "Tell me, friend, why do you stand aloof from your own heart?"

“Grey Day,” Madness. A little too appropriate -- we're getting more rain today...

“Every Time We Say Goodbye,” Betty Carter. A dreamy, idiosyncratic interpretation that almost turns the song into a lullaby.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Parkinson's Law

Who uses it: Management and organizational consultants
What it means: Work expands to fill the time allotted. First postulated by Professor C. Northcote Parkinson, in 1958. Parkinson's Law explains the expansion of bureaucracies without regard to the size of the workload.
How you can use it: To justify taking time off.

Looking over last week's posts, I saw how often I had referred to taking time off or playing hooky; and yet I managed to turn in six different projects last week, for five different clients. Granted, by the end of the week I was forgetting where I'd left my glasses, my keys, my dog and my car, but I still managed to do all that, read six books, go to the beach, the movies and Boston, and run sound and lights for three Gaslight performances. (No, I'm not hypomanic... I wish I were, sometimes.)

What I did not do last week was watch anything stupid on television. In fact, I'm seriously thinking about cancelling my cable television subscription, although I realize that might be compounding my antisocial tendencies. But now that the Sopranos are gone again until next year, the only things I watch are reruns of "The Simpsons" and old films on Turner Classic Movies. A Netflix subscription is a lot cheaper than cable television.

I digress. My point is that I think I am actually more productive if I feel like I'm taking time off; it makes me work harder when I'm at the computer, and I feel obligated to finish things so I can go off to the beach with a clear conscience. Important to remember.

Maybe I'll go to the movies this afternoon.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Tools of ignorance

Who uses it: Baseball players
What it means: A catcher's equipment: mask, chestplate, shin guards, and mitt
How you can use it: When you're equipping yourself to do something foolish.

The Lechners and I watched the Portland Seadogs play the New Hampshire Fisher Cats yesterday afternoon, our first baseball outing of the year. The day's promotion was "Christmas in June;" Slugger, the Seadogs' mascot, danced around in a Santa cap, and the PA system played Christmas carols between innings. (The day's sponsor was, of course, Santa's Village, a seasonal theme park in New Hampshire.)

We sat in the bleachers behind home plate, slightly to the third base side. In all my years of going to baseball games, I've never even come close to a foul ball. Yesterday, three came directly to our section. One large man in a Red Sox t-shirt caught two of them, and handed them off to little boys behind and in front of him. Steve had his glove on one for Grace, but gallantly ceded it to a more agile kid who crawled under the bench to get it. Grace was disappointed, but she's only five. We tried to explain that getting a foul ball now would set unrealistic expectations for the rest of her baseball-going life, but she didn't think much of this argument.

The rain held off, at least, and the Seadogs played a few good innings before giving up four runs to the Fisher Cats. It was the first time all season that the Fisher Cats had beaten the Seadogs, which I think must be small comfort for having a team named after large weasels.

Last night I met up with some old friends from CSBS, in Portland for a training program, and we had dinner in the Old Port. This morning I am mildly sunburned and already a little tired, and it's a long week ahead.

Saturday, June 24, 2006

Hot spot

Who uses it: Veterinarians
What it means: An area of skin inflammation caused by allergies, infection, and/or excessive scratching
How you can use it: When you're scratching an itch.

Dizzy has a hot spot on his face. It was a scabby rash, and is now a shaved, raw spot that needs twice-daily applications of an expensive antibiotic cream. He's also taking large doses of Keflex, which he doesn't mind, since it means extra peanut butter. His medical bills are larger than my own.

I'm off to Boston today, to return a book to Kate and have lunch with the legendary Sarah Weinman. It's a quick trip, since I have to get back here tonight for the closing performance of Jake's Women.

Friday, June 23, 2006


Who uses it: Linguists
What it means: A secret language between twins or other children who are isolated
How you can use it: When people are talking in a jargon you don't understand.

This version of the blog, too, is coming to an end -- the "Terms of Art" theme will end on July 31, and I'll take August off, again. What happens after that remains to be seen.

This blog has far outlived its original purpose, which was to track my move from Los Angeles to Maine. It's also outlived its primary audience, my mother. My immediate family still reads it most days, and it's handy for friends who want to check in -- but it's also had the contradictory effect of meaning I hear from friends less often. "I read your blog, so I feel like I've talked to you," they say, but that conversation is one-sided -- I've talked to them, but they haven't talked to me. I hope I don't monopolize conversations that way in real life.

I read a lot this week... some weeks are like that.

What I Read This Week

Douglas Preston & Lincoln Child, The Book of the Dead. The "Pendergast trilogy" ends with this unapologetically over-the-top adventure, as Special Agent Aloysius Pendergast and his friends battle time, prison walls and an ancient Egyptian curse in order to foil the deadly plans of Pendergast's insane brother, Diogenes. Great fun, more than a little silly, and it still doesn't entirely come to an end -- the last line promises more danger to come.

Cornelia Read, A Field of Darkness. The buzz about this first novel is justified. In the late 1980s, Madeline Dare, poor cousin of a wealthy WASP family, lives in Syracuse with her husband, who works on the railroad and is inventing a rail grinder. Madeline learns about a long-unsolved murder of two girls when she discovers that her own favorite cousin may be linked to the crime. Sharp, surprising, heartfelt, and as incisive about WASP culture as "The Preppy Handbook."

Chris Grabenstein, Tilt-A-Whirl. Another impressive debut, this one came out last year. John Ceepak has returned from his tour of duty in Iraq to a job with the police force of Sea Haven, a resort town in what's presumably southern New Jersey. A wartime trauma keeps him from driving, so part-time summer cop Danny Boyle is assigned as his driver and partner. A prominent real-estate developer is shot to death in front of his young daughter, and then the daughter is kidnapped. Ceepak, who's promised to keep the girl safe, won't stop until he finds the truth. Both A Field of Darkness and Tilt-A-Whirl do a wonderful job of balancing witty narration with the grim reality of violent crime.

Alexandra Sokoloff, The Harrowing. A real old-fashioned ghost story, and it had been too long since I'd read one. Five misfit students stay in their dormitory over Thanksgiving break, and come together over a Ouija board. They believe they've made contact with a student who died in a fire in 1920, but the reality may be even more sinister. This book comes out in September.

John Lahr, Honky-Tonk Parade: New Yorker Profiles of Show People. Exactly what the title says, a collection of profiles by the author of the excellent Joe Orton biography, Prick Up Your Ears. Profiles include Laurence Fishburne (don't call him "Larry"), Mira Nair, Baz Luhrmann, Kenneth Tynan, and Dame Edna Everage. The underlying theme is a sort of sadness and hollowness universal to artists, or maybe just universal to human beings.

Mary Higgins Clark, Two Little Girls in Blue. I wrote an author recently that his book didn't have to be a bestseller to be recognized as good, and didn't need to be good to be a bestseller. I read very few conventional bestsellers, but I don't want to be a snob about them. So I read this one. It's a tight, suspenseful plot -- two identical twin girls are kidnapped, only one is returned, and she insists her twin is still alive -- but Mrs. Clark does not trust her readers enough. She tells us in detail what every character thinks and feels, instead of letting us infer it; she underlines clues, and never lets us get too anxious about the outcome. It all feels very safe, despite the thriller trappings -- and this probably explains why it's a bestseller.

Thursday, June 22, 2006


Who uses it: Meteorologists
What it means: A sudden, violent downdraft of wind, no more than 2.5 miles across, that causes major damage on the ground, similar to a tornado.
How you can use it: When describing someone who wreaks devastation without warning.

Running late again this morning, fighting some sinus congestion and feeling a little cranky for reasons I'm not sure of. The beach yesterday was just perfect, except for the water, which was too cold for anyone but seals. In my next life, I'd like to be a sea lion, but in this life, I could only wade in the water to my knees before my breathing started to constrict.

Today is another minor hooky-playing day, although I did work hard last night and will probably get a few things done this afternoon. Jen and I are taking Grace to see Cars in Falmouth, and I'm really, really hoping it doesn't suck.

Oh, and performances of Jake's Women resume tonight at 7:30 at Hallowell City Hall. All the cool people of central Maine will be there...

Wednesday, June 21, 2006


Who uses it: The U.S. Navy
What it means: A commissioned officer promoted from the ranks of enlisted men, without an interruption in active duty. Read more here.
How you can use it: To describe someone who's on their way up.

In Freeport this morning, about to head off to Crescent Beach for the day. Dizzy doesn't get to go; he has to stay here at the Lechners', with their new dog, Blueberry. Blueberry is a six-year-old border collie mix Jen brought back from Wyoming, and an incredibly sweet-natured dog. She and Dizzy are already good friends, which makes life easier for all of us.

Today's the longest day of the year, and as Jen pointed out the other day, Maine's summer is already almost one-third over. "You gotta take advantage of it while it lasts," she said. "You can work your ass off in February."

So I'm giving myself the day off. See you tomorrow.

First five songs off the iPod Shuffle this morning:

“Caligula,” Macy Gray. I never got tired of this album (On How Life Is).

“State Trooper,” Steve Wynn. A great, grim cover of one of my favorite Bruce Springsteen songs. (Nebraska was one of the CDs that got stolen in Montreal, and I still haven't replaced it -- grr.)

“Where Do They Make Balloons?” They Might Be Giants. Funny and cheerful, not just for kids.

“In the Middle, In the Middle, In the Middle,” They Might Be Giants. The shuffle does this sometimes, and I don't know why -- gives me not only two songs in a row from the same artist, but two off the same album. All the same, this song does its best to remedy the critical shortage of music that warns against jaywalking. And we all know how I feel about jaywalking.

“For the Good Times,” Al Green. Ack! Too depressing for a sunny day. Next...

Tuesday, June 20, 2006


Who uses it: Legislators, legislative assistants, and lobbyists
What it means: A meeting of a legislative committee to amend and vote on a bill
How you can use it: When you're making changes to a plan of action.

The sun rose before 5:00 this morning, and so did I. The heat or something Dizzy ate did not agree with him, so we were up and out early, with the contents of Dizzy's stomach. He seems fine now, and it's not quite as hot today as it was yesterday -- the temperature got above 90 yesterday, and I don't have air conditioning.

"Why don't you buy a window unit?" Anna asked the other day.

"I would," I said, "but I just hate the idea of spending 400 bucks for something I'm only going to need three days out of the year."

Of course, on those three days of the year, $400 to be cool seems like a bargain.

Today's post was late because of a very tight deadline, which has now passed successfully. Two more things to do today, and then I can take tomorrow off to go to the beach. Hurray!

Monday, June 19, 2006


Who uses it: Sailors
What it means: A sail flapping in the breeze, not driving the boat, because you're sailing too close to or far from the wind.
How you can use it: When you're not getting anywhere.

Taking yesterday off was a great idea. The Bragdons had a cookout, and the lake was beautiful. Dizzy likes to wade in the water but doesn't feel confident about swimming in water over his head, so he stood on the shore and whined while the rest of us swam. Anna and I took the canoe out; I tried to get Dizzy to ride along, but he wouldn't get into the boat. Maybe next time.

Saturday was the Gardiner Arts Festival, which was nice but small. Lots of local artists, a couple of specialty food stands, and the obligatory fried dough trailer. Fried dough makes me a little queasy. I didn't have any, but did have the first corn dog of the season, which I'm sorry to report was disappointing: lukewarm and obviously out of a freezer, not hand-dipped. Then again, I might be getting too old for corn dogs.

Zooming around again this morning, with my brand-new, space-age, state-of-the-art pedometer. The goal is 10,000 steps a day; so far this morning, I've got 4,374. I'm going skating at lunch, and it'll be interesting to see whether the pedometer picks up blade strokes.

Saturday, June 17, 2006


Who uses it: Writers and literary critics
What it means: Literally, "a novel with a key," a fictional narrative based on actual events and real people
How you can use it: When discussing the works of Neil Simon, Woody Allen, Jack Kerouac, and many others.

As a rule, I have very little patience with autobiographical novels. While it's true that we all star in our own life stories, the adjunct to that is that the rest of the planet is just our stage set and everyone we meet is just a supporting character -- and that idea horrifies me. I see a lot of manuscripts of first novels, and far too many of them are narcissistic fairy tales or revenge fantasies. (Not that I have anything against a good revenge fantasy.)

It's my main problem with the later works of Neil Simon, including the play that Gaslight's doing now. My theory is that fame and grief have made his world smaller and smaller and smaller, and the plays reflect that.

This is one of those late-night conversations more suitable for a writer's conference: whose frame of reference should you use, if not your own? But the writer's privilege is to make the world as big as she wants it to be, and to keep the frame tightly around one's own self, with the microscope focused inward, seems to be missing an opportunity.

Friday, June 16, 2006


Who uses it: Endurance athletes
What it means: Sudden, dramatic fatigue caused by the depletion of stored carbohydrates (glycogen) in the body. Also known as "hitting the wall."
How you can use it: When you're spent.

I've gotten a lot done this week, but still have two things to tick off my to-do list before I can say the week's work is finished. This morning I'm driving down to Boston to confer with one of my clients, so it's possible that these last two items won't get done until tomorrow. I'm tempted to cancel this morning's trip on the grounds that I've bonked, but it wouldn't be fair to my client.

The latest Gaslight production, Jake's Women, opened last night in Hallowell, with myself on lights and sound. I'm not crazy about the script, which is Neil Simon's version of "8 1/2," but live theater is important to the soul. If you live in the area, come see the play this weekend or next; if you live somewhere else, catch a live performance somewhere near you. It's not as if there's anything good at the movies.

What I Read This Week

Jason Starr, Lights Out. This is the book, due out in September, that will vault Jason Starr into the top ranks of "literary" crime writers, with George Pelecanos and Dennis Lehane and Richard Price. Ryan Rossetti and Jake Thomas were high school baseball stars, friends and rivals from the same Brooklyn neighborhood. Ten years later, Jake's a superstar and Ryan's painting houses for ten bucks an hour -- but Ryan's dating Jake's long-suffering fiancee. Jake comes back to Brooklyn for what's supposed to be a triumphant homecoming, but nothing goes the way he'd planned. Angry and compassionate, funny and bleak. Well done.

Kerry Greenwood, Murder in Montparnasse. Robert Rosenwald of Poisoned Pen Press raved about this series at BEA, and was nice enough to send me a copy of this, the first to be released in the U.S. Phryne Fisher is a wealthy young Englishwoman transplanted to Sydney, Australia after the Great War; she's a true independent, determined to live by her own standards and take care of her friends. In this outing, she searches for a missing racing heiress and hunts for a killer who may be tied to her wartime years in Paris. Phryne is just as charming as advertised, and this series would be great for fans of Jacqueline Winspear's Maisie Dobbs books.

A. J. Hill, Under Pressure: The Final Voyage of Submarine S-Five. Take a moment to think about the fact that people went down in submarines in the days before voice radio communication. This is the true story of a 1920 submarine disaster that everyone, miraculously, survived, thanks to the leadership of the submarine's captain, Charles M. "Savvy" Cooke. Savvy Cooke appears to have been one of the models for the character of Pug Henry in Herman Wouk's Winds of War, and I'd like to read a longer biography of him.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Know Your Customer

Who uses it: Bankers, bank regulators and law enforcement officials
What it means: A set of requirements designed to identify and prevent money laundering.
How you can use it: When answering questions that seem a little invasive.

Don't think that "knowing their customers" means that your bank will actually know your name when you walk in the door. It just means that they're required by law to keep track of where you live and what types of balances you typically carry in your accounts. If you suddenly made a $25,000 deposit that was unconnected to anything they knew about (i.e., the sale of a house or change in your marital status), they're required to notice.

I'm crashing on deadlines this morning, and don't have much time to post... but I do want to congratulate the Lechner family on their happy news: yesterday, they got the long-awaited phone call announcing their new son, born in Ethiopia six months ago. The happiest days are the days when babies come, and Dizzy and I can't wait to meet Grace's little brother.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006


Who uses it: Cooks and gourmets
What it means: Made with spinach
How you can use it: Whenever you're tossing spinach into something.

I may be in the minority here, but I believe that spinach is a universal improver, like bacon. Anything you make is better with spinach. It's possible that ice cream would not be improved by spinach, but I've never made spinach ice cream, so I can't say. (And now I come to think of it, a spinach-nutmeg gelato could be terrific. I may need to make that experiment.) Even Dizzy likes spinach, if it's cooked. (He won't eat it raw, though he eats grass. I've given up figuring out what his standards for "food" are.)

Today's calendar page in my Microsoft Outlook bears no relation to what I'll actually being doing today. I'd planned to go for an hour-long walk with the ladies from Curves; I'd planned to drive down to Portland to see Joseph Kanon at the Portland Public Library. Neither of these things will happen, because yesterday afternoon I agreed to take on an urgent last-minute project that's due tomorrow. Coincidentally or not, I also received my quarterly health insurance bill yesterday. Remarkable how that sort of thing can reorder your priorities. It's a gorgeous day, so if I can, I may spend some time working on the deck.

The one thing on today's calendar page that remains valid is a reminder that it's Michelle Neely's birthday. Happy birthday, Michelle!

First five songs off the iPod Shuffle this morning:

“Under Pressure,” David Bowie & Queen. Ooh, how appropriate! If I live to be 100, I will never get tired of this song. You can play it at my funeral.

“Sounds Better in the Song,” Drive-By Truckers. If Bruce Springsteen had grown up in the Tennessee mountains, he’d have written this song.

“Does She Talk?” Matthew Sweet. I have to believe that the only reason Matthew Sweet isn’t a huge star is because he just doesn’t want to be. This album (Girlfriend) remains one of the best of the 1990s. I’m pretty sure Matthew Sweet was the last show I saw at the old 9:30 Club, before they moved to Vermont Ave.

“You Don’t Treat Me No Good,” Sonia Dada. A great, great record – pop-funk fusion – whatever happened to these guys?

“Evil and a Heathen,” Franz Ferdinand. I like Franz Ferdinand, but sometimes they sound like a pale copy of a better band. This is a thin version of a song the Reverend Horton Heat could have done a lot more with.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006


Who uses it: the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)
What it means: A species that has experienced or will experience a signficant reduction in its native habitat, with a 50% drop in population over a ten-year period (past, expected, or in combination), and which has fewer than 2,500 adult members in the wild. The full criteria for critically endangered, endangered and vulnerable are here, and the Red List of threatened species is here.
How you can use it: This week, to discuss manatee protection.

The Florida legislature voted yesterday to remove the manatee from its list of endangered species. Scientists estimate that the manatee population is now above 3,000, and my pal Randy White is on record as saying he thinks the official counts are low. Professional watermen have complained for years about the unintended consequences of the manatee protection laws, which they say don't do much to boost the population in any case.

I don't know enough about the issue to have an opinion, but I'm uneasy with declarations of victory in situations like this. Then again, I nearly hit a wild turkey in the road on my last trip back from Montreal, and a pair of bald eagles is nesting just downriver. Species do rebound, given the chance, and then maybe they don't need the protections of law.

This morning I was sitting on the riprap wall behind the old paper factory, watching the Cobbosseecontee rush by (it's very high), when Dizzy started barking behind me. He had cornered something, and I ran over, afraid it was a skunk.

Instead, it was a large turtle. Snapping turtles are the most common kind of turtles up here, but I can't tell one type of turtle from another. Besides, this one had withdrawn completely into its shell, so all I saw was its black dome.

Dizzy waved his paw at it -- he doesn't touch strange animals, he just paws the air in front of them to see whether they run or whether they'll play -- and when the turtle did not respond, he agreed to come away and have a cookie.

I was relieved, particularly when I went to look the turtle up in a field guide and learned that six of Maine's eight turtle species are threatened. Ugly creatures need love too.

Monday, June 12, 2006


Who uses it: Editors and typesetters
What it means: "Let it stand," an editor's mark that means the writer should ignore an earlier change
How you can use it: When going back to your first version.

The sun is back, thank God, and I might have gotten a little overexuberant with Dizzy. We went for a very long walk, and I had to coax him the last couple of blocks. I've given him a baby aspirin and his glucosamine, and he's sleeping it off now. This afternoon I will finally take the plastic cover off the lawn chair I bought two weeks ago, and do my reading on the deck.

It's a busy week ahead, and I need to spend some of it planning the next few months' travels. I'm not going to Thrillerfest -- where my client Joe Finder will be speaking, so if you're in the Phoenix area you should go -- but I'll be on the road for most of July.

I went ahead and registered for Bouchercon, the World Mystery Convention, which happens in Madison at the end of September. Whether I'll actually go depends on many variables, but they allow cancellations until the end of August.

A very happy birthday to Mr. Matt Prager -- and, as he says, we're hot.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

"He's very fussy about his drums, you know. They loom large in his legend."

The Movie: A Hard Day's Night, 1964 (Alun Owen, screenwriter; Richard Lester, dir.)
Who says it: George Harrison as George, member of a popular rock group
The context: George warns against the mistreatment of a set of drums belonging to his bandmate, Ringo (Ringo Starr)
How you can use it: When someone's being a little self-defensive.

I always say that the key to success is finding a way to make money off your most unattractive personality traits. Being the Answer Girl allows me to support myself as a compulsive reader and insufferable know-it-all, and most of the time, that's a good thing.

The problem with making your personality your profession is that it gets very hard to set boundaries. Because there's no natural boundary between what I do and who I am, sometimes I feel like I'm working all the time, and sometimes I get really, really tired of myself and the sound of my own voice (aloud or on paper).

One of my clients called my mobile phone at 5:30 yesterday afternoon, looking for feedback on five chapters that had been e-mailed to me on Friday afternoon. I managed to tell this person, "I'm really trying not to work weekends -- can we talk about this on Monday?" But I couldn't stand fast. I let this client keep talking, and wound up promising to read the chapters that evening and get some notes out before the end of the weekend.

I understand this is all my fault. Clients call me on weekends, at night and on my mobile phone because I let them. I've been too much of a wimp to draw boundaries and enforce them.

So I'm drawing them now. Better late than never. It's going to hurt some feelings, but that's part of the problem; some of my clients are also my friends, and it's not that I don't want to talk to them -- as friends -- at all hours. But I have to have some time that I am simply not available, or what's the point of living in a small town in the middle of nowhere? The alternative is getting a job in Antarctica and disappearing altogether for six months, which I fantasize about far more often than is healthy.

As part of this, I'm going to quit posting or replying to e-mails from clients on Sunday. It's a beginning.

Saturday, June 10, 2006


Who uses it: Gunsmiths and rifle owners
What it means: Polishing the inside of a rifle barrel by coating a cartridge with lapping compound, a fine abrasive material. Lapping a rifle barrel changes its ballistic signature; it's one way to conceal evidence of firearm use. It only works on rifles; don't try it on a pistol.
How you can use it: When smoothing things out.

It's 350 miles from Gardiner to Worcester and back, but the trip was worth it -- because I shot two out of three targets with an AK-47 today, and was 3 for 5 with the civilian equivalent of an M-16. I hit three clay pigeons with a Beretta .391, hit a metal target with a Glock 9, and did really well on the target shooting range with a semi-automatic rifle. It was the most fun I've had in ages.

That said, I don't plan to buy a gun or get a license. I don't want or need a gun for personal protection -- I wouldn't ever use it to protect myself, and therefore it would just be a hazard to me. If I want to go back to a shooting range, I can use one of the range's guns.

This morning's Kennebec Journal reported that we have had two and a half hours of sunshine over the past ten days. Yet another reason it's a good thing I don't own a gun.

Friday, June 09, 2006

Red card

Who uses it: Soccer referees
What it means: A penalty -- an actual red card -- that ejects a player from a game, either for one violent foul or after the second yellow card (warning)
How you can use it: When sending someone away.

I don't care about the World Cup. Those ads with Bono's voiceover, showing the world coming together for the World Cup -- what are those ads even for? Mastercard? ESPN? Budweiser? -- make me misty-eyed, but so does that Joe Don Baker ad for the Army, and I'm not joining the Army, either.

All the same, I like to watch people watching the World Cup. It's always fascinating to see people get worked up about stuff, and I highly recommend Bill Buford's Among the Thugs to anyone who wants to learn more about the football hooligan subculture.

My sister Susan said last night that she'd noticed a certain testiness in my recent blog postings. I admit this, and I'm not apologizing. You'd be testy, too, if you were coming into the second straight week of rainy days.

Tomorrow I'm going to a handgun class in Massachusetts, if the weather cooperates. I feel certain that will raise my spirits considerably.

What I Read This Week

David Feige, Indefensible. David Feige is a career public defender who spoke at Jen's conference last week. This is his first book, an account of one day in his life as a Bronx Defender that includes memories from his entire career. It's a compelling and frightening story of what happens to people who get caught up in the system, sometimes through no fault of their own. Anyone who expects to serve on a jury should read it.

Boileau-Narcejac, Maldonne. At least once a year, I try to read something written in a language other than English. This 1960s-era French thriller is archetypically noir, and a company like Hard Case Crime ought to consider publishing it in translation. Jacques Christen is a drifter and struggling violinist who agrees to impersonate a missing playboy in order to secure an inheritance. His pretense at amnesia seems to convince even the man's wife -- but his ignorance about the missing man's secret past may prove fatal. Wildly romantic, relentlessly bleak.

Casey Daniels, Don of the Dead. I needed something kind of mindless, and this was a nice break. Pepper Martin works as a tour guide in a Cleveland cemetery; after a head injury, she sees the ghost of a crime boss who was murdered thirty years earlier -- and wants Pepper to find his killer. Not my usual kind of reading, but entertaining for a rainy day.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Great Man Theory

Who uses it: Historians
What it means: The idea that -- in the words of Thomas Carlyle -- "history is the essence of innumerable biographies," that the will and actions of specific, individual human beings are the primary cause of world events.
How you can use it: To explain our current President.

The opposite of this idea is Hegel's theory of history as the actualization of a universal mind -- a separate force that finds its way despite the will of individuals.

You could dismiss the whole idea of "theories of history" as academic self-indulgence, except that the belief in a particular set of causes and effects shapes your decision-making process.

George W. Bush believes in the Great Man theory and in its corollary, which says that leaders are born, not made. Therefore, the war on terror requires only that we eliminate certain prime movers: Saddam Hussein, now Abu Musab al-Zarqawi, and one day Osama bin Laden.

So now al-Zarqawi is dead. Does this mean the U.S. troops get to come home now?

Wednesday, June 07, 2006

Hardiness Zone

Who uses it: Farmers and gardeners
What it means: A geographic classification according to the average lowest annual temperature. Growers use it to decide what sorts of plants can survive in a particular region.
How you can use it: To explain Maine summers.

We got about four hours of sun yesterday afternoon, thank God, and the world has exploded into bloom. Because Maine's growing season is so short -- here in Gardiner we are Zone 4B, with an average annual low temperature of between -20F and -25F -- everything blooms at once, instead of being spread out over weeks or months as it would be in more temperate climates. Lilacs and honeysuckle were blooming together a week or so ago, and now the buttercups, daisies, dandelions and clover are all fighting each other for lawn space. Irises and poppies bloom side-by-side, and trees have buds, flowers and leaves simultaneously.

Dizzy and I saw a great blue heron over the Cobbosseecontee this morning, and it looks like some beavers are building a lodge on the far side of the stream. Mosquitoes are the size of houseflies, and I'm pretty sure that's poison ivy growing along Water Street, across from the pub.

I meant to go down to the Portland Public Library today, to see Jane Cleland talk about her first novel, Consigned to Death -- but I have two overdue coverage reports, a screenplay proofread and a manuscript copy edit to do, and something has to give. I feel bad about missing Jane's talk, but if you're in the Portland area at noon today, you should go. Give her my regrets.

First five songs on the iPod Shuffle this morning:

"We'll Be Together Again," Frank Sinatra. Anyone who cannot appreciate this album (Songs for Swinging Lovers) -- especially outdoors on a summer evening, with a glass of wine in hand -- is someone I don't want to hang out with.

"We Can Work It Out," The Beatles. Paul McCartney is single again. Hmm...

"Why Wasn't I More Grateful," Maria McKee. Every one of Maria McKee's albums is different from the other. This one (You Gotta Sin to Get Saved) is gospel-tinged, and a great break-up record.

"Nobody Girl," Ryan Adams. Too depressing for a cloudy day. Next.

"As Time Goes By," Jimmy Durante. More great cocktail music. Is 11:15 too early...?

Tuesday, June 06, 2006


Who uses it: Theatrical directors and producers
What it means: Someone who provides funding for a play without demanding a role in the decision-making processes. A true angel is as rare in theater as it is in any other aspect of life.
How you can use it: As a contingency plan for your budget.

"Some people are saying that the Apocalypse is coming tomorrow," said Candace the postal clerk, yesterday afternoon.

"I wish it would," I said. "I have three deadlines this week." If the world were actually going to end, I could just go home and finish the book I was reading, instead of worrying about what my clients want.

"I'm holding off on paying any bills till Wednesday," she said.

"The problem with scheduling an Apocalypse for a specific date is the time zone issue," I said. "It's already 6-6-06 in Australia."

One of these days, certainly, the world as we know it will come to an end -- not with a bang but a whimper -- but I'm guessing it won't happen today. Or tomorrow. Or even next week.

And therefore, I suppose I had better get my work done.

Monday, June 05, 2006


Who uses it: Brain surgeons
What it means: Cutting a hole in the skull to relieve brain swelling or drain blood accumulated on the brain after a subdural or epidural hematoma.
How you can use it: When offering someone a hole in the head.

Believe it or not, a society of people exists who believe that trepanning can raise consciousness and restore adult brains to child-like levels of awareness and receptivity. They're looking for volunteers to have the surgery, if you don't have anything else planned for your summer vacation.

It's been a frustrating and unproductive morning, except for my tutoring session. It is still raining. The rain is supposed to continue through the end of the week, and if it does, I may have to visit a tanning salon or book a flight to California.

Last night's Sopranos finale was anticlimactic, although it seemed to be setting up a lot for the last eight episodes. I pride myself on giving friends the benefit of the doubt long after most people would write them off. I'm willing to let my pals the Sopranos coast for a little while longer... but if last night doesn't pay off in January, these fictional people are really not my friends any more. I mean it.

Sunday, June 04, 2006

"Madam, we must have waffles! We must all have waffles forthwith."

The Movie: The Ladykillers, 2004 (Joel Coen & Ethan Coen, directors and screenwriters, based on an earlier screenplay by William Rose)
Who says it: Tom Hanks as Professor G.H. Dorr, ringleader of a group of would-be casino thieves
The context: The flamboyant Professor Dorr takes charge of a meeting among his co-conspirators at a Waffle Hut.
How you can use it: At breakfast with friends.

Happy birthday to Tom Ehrenfeld, who asked for a movie quotation to mark his birthday, but didn't specify which one. This movie is uneven, but well worth seeing for a few great and daring performances and a really terrific soundtrack (I've said that before). Tom Hanks is astonishing, with a performance so oily and over-the-top you can't help watching, even while you cringe.

Tom Hanks is a brave and gifted actor, which is just one reason why The Da Vinci Code is such a rotten movie -- the lines he has to say would be laughable in anyone's mouth, and it's a criminal waste of a major talent. Plus, his hairstyle is horrifying.

Yes, I saw The Da Vinci Code last night, because I wanted to go to the movies with my friends and that's what they were seeing. It's not as if our local theater had much to choose from; my friends had already seen X-Men 3, and our other choices were The Breakup -- no -- RV -- no -- Over the Hedge -- Anna doesn't do animation -- MI:3 -- no -- Poseidon -- pfft -- and See No Evil, a horror movie starring a professional wrestler. (OK, I admit it; left to myself, I'd have seen See No Evil. Horror movies starring professional wrestlers can be pretty entertaining.)

It makes me angry to pay money to see a movie that I know will be bad, but everyone does it. People want to go to the movies; if crap is all that's playing, we'll go to see crap -- and spend $100 million at the box office to see it -- but this does not mean we want to see that $100 million movie. People just want to go to the movies, to sit in the dark and share popcorn with their dates, and almost anything will do.

Several people have told me that X-3 is pretty good, and I might see that today -- but when the rest of the field is so lousy, almost anything looks good by comparison.

It's raining again -- still -- and the bad weather is starting to get to me. Anna said, "Get in the car and drive until you find the sun," but looking at the weather map today, I'd have to drive to western Ohio before I escaped the cloud cover. The movies are closer, though I might have to go to Waterville in order to see anything I'm actually interested in.

Now that I think about it, though, waffles... a good waffle might cheer me right up.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Jump the shark

Who uses it: Fans of long-running television series
What it means: The point at which a TV series abandons its past glories and takes a path that leads inexorably downhill. The phrase comes from a cheesy episode of "Happy Days," in which Fonzie tries to jump over a shark tank on his motorcycle.
How you can use it: When you think something's peaked.

This morning I feel uneasy, because I think I promised to do something tomorrow night... despite tomorrow night's being the season finale of "The Sopranos."

Nothing annoys me more, as a rule, than people scheduling their lives around or cancelling plans for television shows. Several of my friends and relatives won't answer the phone while "24" is on, for example, and I deeply resent having to consult a TV programming schedule when I just want to talk to someone.

But... "The Sopranos" is on tomorrow night. I don't care that it will run in repeats for the rest of the week; I need to see it when it first airs, so no one can spoil it for me.

And everyone who's been complaining about it being a weak season is wrong, wrong, wrong -- as last week's episode should have made clear.

Plus, I have a major crush on James Gandolfini. I can't explain it. Crushes are never rational.

Yesterday's MACDL conference was fascinating -- Jen doesn't believe me when I say that, but it was -- and I met some very entertaining people.

We finished the day on the deck of Gritty's, despite some pretty grim weather. It's summer, dammit, which means we sit outside.

Friday, June 02, 2006

Nol. pros.

Who uses it: Lawyers and judges
What it means: An abbreviation for nolle prosequi, "I do not wish to prosecute." The decision (usually requiring a judge's approval) not to pursue charges against someone, based on the conclusion that a jury would probably acquit.
How you can use it: When deciding to let someone's transgression go.

I'm in Freeport today, helping Jen out with a conference for criminal defense lawyers. Being a professional researcher -- not to mention an editor of crime novels -- means that almost everything is grist to my mill, and I expect to pick up all kinds of insights today.

Just getting here was an adventure, since Dizzy and I drove down yesterday in a violent thunderstorm. Thunderstorms generally don't bother Dizzy, but even he was dismayed when thunder made the Beetle rattle on its tires.

What I Read this Week

Marcus Sakey, The Blade Itself. Another of my BEA trophies, this book won't be out until early next year. Keep an eye out for it, though, because it's terrific. Danny gets away from a pawnshop robbery that goes bad; his partner, Evan, is arrested for killing two people at the scene. Seven years later, Evan gets out of prison and expects their old partnership to resume -- after all, Danny owes him -- but Danny's gone straight, and has too much to lose to go back to the old life. Evan blackmails Danny into one last job, which puts everything Danny loves at risk.

Stuart Woods, Dark Harbor. The latest Stone Barrington was waiting in my mail when I got home last week -- thanks, Stuart -- so I took a few hours off on Sunday for a mental vacation. These are boys' fantasy novels for grown men, and always entertaining, but this is not the strongest entry in the series. Attorney, man-about-town and sometime CIA consultant Stone Barrington investigates the death of his first cousin's family on a small Maine island, and his occasional partner Holly Barker gets kidnapped (for reasons that are never fully explained) along the way.

Jo Dereske, Bookmarked to Die. The Mystery Bookstore's bookkeeper, Carol, raves about this series, so I thought I'd give it a try. Librarian Helma Zukas lives a quiet, regimented life, except when she's dealing with murders in her small town. Her decision to create a "Local Authors" section in her small-town library leads to controversy, politicking and death, as two aspiring authors are killed within a short period of time. The prickly, odd character of Helma is the reason to read this series; she's a creature from another time dropped into the 21st century.

Patricia MacLachlan, Sarah Plain and Tall. Jerry Maschino recommended this book to me as a good one for adult literacy students, because the language is clear and the story works on several levels. I'd never read this book -- it came out when I was in college -- so I bought a copy (yes, I do still buy books). It's a simple, lovely story about a mail-order bride who moves from Maine to Kansas in the early 20th century, told from the point of view of her would-be stepdaughter. I should have bought the other books in the series (Skylark, Caleb's Story, More Perfect than the Moon) at the same time.

George Pelecanos, The Night Gardener. Another book that's not out yet, but this one comes out in August. In 1985, someone is killing young teenagers in Washington, D.C. and leaving their bodies in community gardens. By design or coincidence, all of the victims have first names that are palindromes. The crimes remain unsolved -- and then twenty years later, a teenaged boy named Asa is found shot to death in another community garden. Three policemen who were part of the original investigation are drawn back into the case: violent crimes detective Gus Ramone, whose son knew the victim; limo driver Doc Holiday, who left the police force under a cloud years earlier; and former Sergeant T.C. Cook, who retired before solving his most frustrating case. As usual, Washington itself is a major character, and the scenes set in 1985 felt like stepping into the Wayback Machine.

Thursday, June 01, 2006


Who uses it: People who grew up or went to school in Southeastern seaside towns
What it means: A type of swing dancing (also called "Carolina shag," or "beach dancing") that involves lots of footwork, but little spinning and no jumping. It's the official state dance of South Carolina.
How you can use it: To celebrate the season. Put on The Tams and be young, be foolish, be happy...

If I said "it's been a long time since I shagged," in Virginia Beach, someone would put on "Stagger Lee" and say, "Let's do it." Sadly, Austin Powers has popularized the British meaning of this word, which is "to copulate like weasels."

Summertime in Maine means lots of things: green grass, blue water, pine-scented breezes, birds and butterflies... and bugs. And construction. And roadkill. Over the past few days, I've seen a dead coyote, a dead porcupine, two dead possums, a dead beaver, a dead skunk and a dead rabbit on roads between Portland and China.

But I also saw a Baltimore oriole sitting on a sign post along 295 -- and I knew it was a Baltimore oriole because it looks just like the one on the baseball cap. Cool.