Friday, January 30, 2009

I don't know what Rod Blagojevich will do next.

The Chicago Tribune reports that as soon as the state Senate voted yesterday to convict Governor Rod Blagojevich, the locks and keycodes were changed on the Governor's statehouse offices. Signs in the State Capitol Building and elsewhere in the state were changed immediately to replace Blagojevich's name with that of Patrick Quinn.

But here's what I want to know, which I haven't been able to find out yet: does the Blagojevich family have to move now? Is their Chicago house an official governor's mansion, or does it belong to them?

Even if it does belong to the family, how are they going to make the payments on it? The Tribune reports here that Patricia Blagojevich was fired last week from her job at a Chicago homeless shelter. The Blagojeviches have two daughters, aged 12 and 5; the ex-Governor told Larry King that they'd gotten a puppy to help them through these rough times. I'm glad the little girls have a puppy, but I also wonder how that family is now going to pay for dog chow, vet bills, and everything else a new puppy needs.

The Blagojeviches are undoubtedly racking up terrifying legal bills, and impeachment doesn't come with a severance package. I wonder what they're going to live on. I wonder what will happen to those little girls, and that puppy.

In his public statements, Rod Blagojevich has shown himself to be at best delusional. He obviously could not stay in office as governor, and -- as the impeachment conviction ordered -- should never hold public office again. Watching his fall has been the best public circus since the release of Kenneth Starr's report.

But I'd like to hear more about the human side of the story.

What I Read This Week

Two manuscripts. That is all.

Thursday, January 29, 2009

I do not know why they're called "guy wires."

Yes, the date stamp on this post is a little early. My overbooked life has reached critical mass this week, as I thought I'd take on a project and call it a vacation -- except that I'm really not capable of taking a vacation, even when it's a working vacation, and thus have three things I need to be doing right this minute instead of blogging or preparing to go out on this other job.

Sorry to be cryptic. My policy is never to discuss current work projects by name on this blog, but I'm working this week as location scout and local fixer on a documentary being shot in Maine -- in addition to a couple of manuscript cleanups, some technical writing, and my usual work for clients who have me on retainer. I told my other clients that I was taking this week off, except that everyone knows I never really take any time off, and besides I'm still working on things I should have finished last week.

But sorry -- this post is not "I don't know why I think overbooking myself will stave off seasonal affect disorder." It's about guy wires, which came up the other day as I watched the cinematographer and sound technician strapping a camera to the hood of a car. The producer used the term, and stopped to wonder why it was "guy" wires instead of "guide" wires, so I said I would look it up.

It's a sailing term: the guys are lines (ropes) attached to and meant to stabilize a spar. "Guy wire" has extended to mean any tense cable that provides support to a rigid structure.

But why guy? What guy? Or for that matter, who was Guy? (And since it's originally a French name, why don't we say "ghee" wire?)

Theories are welcome.

Five Random Songs

"Won't Forget," Uncle Tupelo. A track for anyone who thinks that alt-country is mellow music: driving guitars, desperate lyrics.

"Chaingang," Monstrance. Funky instrumental electronica, from a band formed by Andy Partridge of XTC. I have no idea where I got this track; I like it a lot, but it also reminds me of that scene from Spinal Tap where the boys reinvent themselves as a freeform jazz band.

"Not Dark Yet," Bob Dylan. This is a song I listened to a lot right around the time my mother died, which was three years ago this month. I can't listen to it without tearing up, and usually click through. We all miss her so much, still.

"Crime," The Pietasters. Thank God, comic relief. I spent yesterday morning on a tour of the Maine State Prison in Warren. It was a powerful deterrent to thoughts about a life of crime.

"Power to the Meek," Eurhythmics. I don't know who the "meek" are supposed to be in this song; not Annie Lennox, certainly.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Special Guest Laura Benedict: "I don’t know why I hate rats more than I hate mice."

(A special project this week is going to make me a little scarce between tomorrow and Saturday. If you really need to reach me, the cell phone will be the best way. Blogging may be erratic, but to start the week off right, here's a entry by my friend, author Laura Benedict, on a subject very dear to my heart. Rats make my own blood run cold. Check out Laura's excellent new book, CALLING MR. LONELY HEARTS, which made my Top Ten of 2008 list.)

Why is it that rats disgust me so? And why don’t I have the same visceral reaction to mice? Now, don’t get me wrong—I am an avid mouser. Better than any cat I’ve ever met. I’ve caused the demise of about fifty field and house mice over the last two and a half years (we live in the woods and have a very hearty population). But mice are just a minor annoyance to me. Rats are a whole other story. If it were rats that I had to kill, we would’ve moved out of this house about a week after we arrived!

It’s always puzzled me that Cinderella’s fairy godmother turned rats into coachmen. Why not cats? Or chairs? Or all those birds that Cinderella was always feeding in the Disney film? (Or was that Snow White?) Rats are Nosferatu. Rats are Willard. Rats are icky.

Did you know that rats will even eat mice?

Here is my favorite true rat story:

Some friends of mine bought a house up the hill from one of those you-store-it facilities. Soon after they moved in, they started seeing rat spoor in their basement. They heard the rats down their in the night, squealing and knocking things over. They were nearly driven mad with fear because of the rats. They were ashamed, poor things, disgusted and frightened. They bought traps, they called an exterminator, they put out poison. They killed several large rats—rats that were the size of river rats—but they finally captured one alive. They panicked. They’d been driven so mad by the presence of the rats that they didn’t even think to call animal control. The rat was trapped in a box. One of my friends grabbed the box and stuffed it into the basement’s wood furnace and slammed the door.

I’m not a particularly cruel person myself, but I confess that it was with a certain amount of pleasure that I listened to my friend describe the death throes of the burning rat. That’s horrible, isn’t it? But I would probably have done the same thing myself. Oddly enough, that was the last rat that troubled them.

House mice are not the same species as the common Norway rat. You can find the specs here. They’re smaller and they have different tails. They grow at a much faster rate. And they don’t have red eyes, that I’ve observed.

I’ve come to an accommodation with my house and field mice. I’m used to them. Granted, I won’t touch one with a ten-foot pole. My husband has mouse-disposal detail, but I’ve been known to open the little clip traps and drop the bodies into garbage bags without looking when he’s out of town. The best traps are these—they’re the only ones I’ve found that snap quickly and with murderous efficiency. (Don’t be fooled by other brands!)

When we moved into this house, we discovered a glue trap with a couple of well-desiccated mouse bodies melted onto it. Now, glue traps for mice are just cruel, to my mind.

Favorite gross but true mouse story:
A different friend’s daughter discovered a mouse struggling on a glue trap that my friend had set beneath a kitchen cabinet. The little girl insisted that they free the mouse. Logic would dictate that one might just carefully trim around the mouse’s feet and let it go free so it could hobble away with cardboard stuck to it. Inelegant, yes, but doable. Instead, they tried to pull the poor animal off of the trap. I’ll just leave the actual scene to your imagination because that’s what decent writers do….

But I have to say that I wouldn’t hesitate to leave giant glue traps out for rats. Big traps. With Elmer’s or Super-Glue or that stuff that the guy on television uses to glue his hardhat to the eyebeam while he dangles a hundred feet off the ground. Lots of glue. You bet.

Can you tell the difference between them in photographs? I got nine out of twelve. Yes!

Saturday, January 24, 2009

I do not know what to do about the ice.

The mailman left a note in my home mailbox this week -- and I presume in the building's other mailboxes as well -- reminding us to keep the paths to the mailbox clear of ice and snow at this time of year.

We're trying, we really are -- but the ice, in particular, seems inescapable.

Today's high temperature will reach 28F, which would feel quite warm if it weren't so windy. But it's a bright, sunny day, which means that the snow plowed into a giant bank at the edge of our parking lot is melting... into water that flows into the area in front of our mailboxes, where it freezes to ice in the shade.

Seriously, I think we need an engineer to come in and design a gutter system for the snowmelt. I'm guessing my landlords won't volunteer to pay for that. But it might be a good school project for someone ... anybody interested? I'd bake you some muffins and give you some free books.

What I Read This Week

When you read three or four books at a time, you tend to finish them in batches.

Francine Prose, THE LIVES OF THE MUSES. A look at nine women who inspired the prominent artists for their day, starting with Samuel Johnson's friend and biographer Hester Thrale and concluding with Yoko Ono. Prose avoids cliches and obvious choices (Alma Mahler is not here, nor is Dora Maar), and discusses the whole problematic idea of muses with sharp humor and insight.

Antonia Fraser, ed.; THE LIVES OF THE KINGS AND QUEENS OF ENGLAND. This was an audiobook, condensing 1,000 years of history into about eight hours of narration. Through portraits of individual monarchs, the book provides a comprehensive look at how the British idea of monarchy itself has changed, and makes a subtextual argument for its continued value.

Lisa Lutz, REVENGE OF THE SPELLMANS. The third in this series, and just as much fun as the first two -- that rarity of rarities, a thoroughly satisfying mystery in which no one gets killed, no one even gets badly hurt, and things end pretty well for everyone. I read an advance copy; it'll be out in March.

Robert Lacey and Danny Danziger, THE YEAR 1000. A short, fascinating look at life in England at the turn of the last millennium. People were taller then than in later years, but the average life expectancy was only around 40. Temperatures were warmer, it being part of a time called "The Little Optimum," which makes me wonder how much of our current global warming trend is actually manmade.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

I do not understand the benefit of textspeak.

Language is my business. My obsessive fear of traumatic head injury comes from a fear of anything that would interfere with my ability to read, speak, or put words on paper. As a child I was a champion speller, and even now my breaks during the work day consist of Facebook games of Scramble and WordTwist, and rounds of Scrabble on the Internet Scrabble Club. Believe it or not, I'm not that good at Scrabble; I'd always rather play the words instead of playing the board, and thus will never beat anyone who understands the power of a well-placed "xi."

An old friend has recently decided to replace the word "to" in her Internet communications with the numeral "2." These are not text messages on telephones, where she's charged by the character; these are status updates and emails and posted comments.

I haven't yet asked her why she's doing this, and I probably won't, because I doubt my ability to ask in a way that doesn't sound judgmental. I'll sound judgmental because I am judgmental. In what universe, really, is anyone so busy that they need the time they save by typing "2" instead of "to"?

Beyond that, I find textspeak an insufferable transfer of inconvenience from writer to reader. By rtng n abbrvs, th rtr sez hr time is mr mprtnt thn th rdr's. How long did it take you to figure out what that sentence meant? How much time did it save me to type it out that way? None, actually, because I had to figure out what the textspeak for each word might be.

Now that I've gotten all on my high horse about this, I'll probably find out my friend is just doing it to be sarcastic, or as a private joke with another friend. Sarcasm is hard to convey on the Internet, which is why you will still find me using the occasional emoticon -- though I don't like them, and would like to impose a permanent ban on LOL, ROFL, ROFLMAO, and all variations thereof.

But that's a rant for another day.

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

I don't know which wrist left-handed people usually wear their watches on.

This is one of my more random bits of ignorance, I know. But a friend who is mildly obsessed with watches sent me a link yesterday about Barack Obama's watch, which was a 47th birthday present from his Secret Service detail.

It's pretty cool that our new President's Secret Service agents like him well enough to give him a $180 watch (sorry, chronograph; does it become a chronograph at a certain price level, or is that a term of art?). But it drew my attention to the fact that President Obama wears his watch on his left wrist, despite the fact that he is left-handed.

Do most left-handed people wear their watches on their left arms? I am not a habitual watch-wearer (which should surprise no one who knows me well), but I'm pulling out my $5 Wal-Mart special with the cracked face to experiment. I notice that if I try to wear it on my right wrist, the winder is on the wrong side -- but most high-end watches don't need winding, and people generally take their watches off to correct the time. Does anyone make a left-handed watch, with the winder on the left?

It would annoy me to death to wear a watch on my right wrist. I can barely get used to wearing one on my left, when I have to.

Five Random Songs

"Leaving New York," R.E.M. I love this song; it might have been the very first one I ever bought from iTunes, and according to my "most played" list it is my #5 most-played song. The intertwining melody lines at the end ("I told you, forever/I love you, forever/You find it in your heart, it's pulling me apart...") kill me, every time.

"No Myth," Michael Penn. Another song I listen to all the time (#24 on the most-played list). Hmm. Did I hit a playlist by mistake?

"Angelyne," The Jayhawks. No, it's random. I like the harmonies on this song a lot, though. However, each of these songs so far has been about the singer's unworthiness. Interesting. You know, in my experience, when a man says, "I'm not worth it," he is telling the exact truth. But I digress...

"Just the Two of Us," Bill Withers. Something happier, hurray. And while I'm free-associating, didn't the Obamas look happy last night? I love to watch the two of them together. That's a relationship I envy and admire.

"Book of Days," Enya. Good movie music, though I never actually saw the movie (Far and Away) this was the theme to.

Tuesday, January 20, 2009

I don't know what to say today.

What I really don't know -- except that it looks too sappy when I type it out -- is what my mother would be saying about all this.

Mom was a moderate Republican, and deeply distrustful of both the mainstream media and cults of personality -- but I think that even she would have been moved and inspired by what's happening today, would have seen the hope and the promise and the sincere goodwill pouring out for the Obamas and this country. I missed her so much during the election campaign, and I miss her even more today. I wish she could have lived to see this, just so I could argue with her about it.

No matter what your political views, you have to see today as a triumph of the American system, of the promise that opportunity is available to everyone, even the son of an African goatherd.

For some weird reason I've had this in my head for the last 24 hours, so I'll post it here, and we can all sing along. Happy Inauguration Day, everybody, and God bless America.

Monday, January 19, 2009

Sunset on Snow

The steam is rising from my deck; I could not recreate this effect in subsequent photos.

I don't know the real value of literary prizes.

The Mystery Writers of America announced its nominations for the 2009 Edgar Awards last Friday. I was very pleased to see several of my friends on the list, but surprised, as always, to see what got left off.

The mystery and thriller world likes its awards. In addition to the Edgars, crime fiction writers can aspire to win the Daggers (awarded by the British Crime Writers Association), the Thrillers, the Agatha, the Anthony, the Barry, the Crimespree, the Dilys, the Hammett, the Macavity, the Shamus, the Theakstons Old Peculier Prize, and ... I'm leaving some out, I'm sure.

I do understand that the point of prizes is to honor good work, and to draw attention to books that might otherwise be overlooked -- for example, to my embarrassment, I have not read any of this year's nominees for the Best First Novel Edgar. (I did try to read one of them, but it was written in the present tense, and I was fed up with present-tense novels. I'll probably try to read it again.) The fact that a book shows up on the Edgar shortlist makes me more likely to read it, and more likely to read the next book that author writes. But I work in the world of crime fiction, and don't know whether people outside that world are aware of any of these prizes.

What I do know is that prizes start arguments, disappoint the people who don't win, and create hard feelings that can last for years. They're also deeply self-serving, existing as much to promote the organization that gives them as to promote the authors they honor. (The British awards -- the Daggers and the Theakstons Old Peculier -- are the only ones that carry any money with them, by the way. For the rest, you just get a plaque or a statue.)

Friends and clients have won these prizes, and on occasion I've been with them when the prizes were announced. That's truly thrilling, and wonderful to see good people recognized for good work. But I honestly don't know what the value of these prizes is, to anyone except the handful of people who win them.

So discuss it. Should we pay attention to these awards, and if so, how much attention? What would we lose by getting rid of all of them?

Friday, January 16, 2009

I do not know how cold a witch's [fill in the blank] is.

I don't want to turn this blog into a weather report, but the cold does tend to preoccupy my thoughts. It was -13F when I got up this morning, and it's now warmed up to -3F.

As the saying goes, it's colder than a witch's whatever outside, except that I don't know how cold that is, and I'm not really willing to do the research necessary to find out.

Yes, the play I'm currently directing (Bell, Book & Candle) is all about witches, but the cast is acting, and as far as I know have no actual association with any local covens. In fact, one Gaslight board member suggested (tongue-in-cheek, I think) that we might try to get in touch with some local Wiccans just to make sure we weren't offending them -- and if we were offending them, we might encourage them to picket as a way of getting some free publicity.

Anyway, as I have discussed in a previous post, I have no reason to think that witches' body parts are any different from other human beings', in which case we can say that any temperature below 98.6F is colder than a witch's tit. Or nose. Or finger.

What I Read This Week

I did another manuscript cleanup this week, and continued to do a lot of rereading (which will go on for another week). But I did finish one very entertaining book:

Charlaine Harris, DEAD UNTIL DARK. I don't know why I hadn't read these books before, but my friend Matt and I had a "True Blood" mini-marathon when I was in New York last month, and it sent me back to the books. Sookie Stackhouse is a cocktail waitress with the power to read people's thoughts -- so when she meets Bill, part of the attraction is that she can't read his. The fact that he's a vampire makes things a little complicated, especially when someone in the small town of Bon Temps, LA starts killing off women who consort with vampires.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

I don't know how long I'm supposed to warm up my car, or why.

It's cold here. It's cold across most of the top half of the United States, but it's seriously cold here. It's cold enough that the current temperature of 3F feels significantly warmer than the -5F it was when I first got up this morning.

I need to drive down to the Portland area this afternoon, and as always I'm grateful for my Beetle's excellent heating system. What I don't know, however, is whether, why, and how long I need to let the car warm up in this weather.

"Warming up the car" is a memory from childhood; we never lived very far north, but I remember my Grandpa Lamb doing it in the Bronx one December morning in 1969. Once in a great while, it would be cold enough in Fairfax that Mom would warm up the car.

Sometimes, it's a practical necessity: I need to turn on the defrosters so I can scrape the ice and snow off my front and back windshields. But other times, I don't wait to let the car warm up; I just drive it away.

Am I damaging the car by doing this? How long am I supposed to let the car warm up, and what's the theory behind this?

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

I don't know how to blow-dry my hair.

Current temperature on my weather widget: 9F. It's actually warmer than it was this morning, when the thermometer said 8F. I don't notice a big difference, and it's sunny, which is deceptive. When I took Dizzy out this morning, I said, "This is not so bad," but I had to turn around two blocks later because my hands were so cold -- inside my gloves -- that my fingers felt like knives. I'm going to have to buy some of those chemical handwarmers, and I also really need a thicker pair of gloves.

But this time of year creates a dilemma, because I'm used to washing my hair in the mornings, and I do not like to use a blow-dryer. I have vast quantities of messy, frizzy hair, and I've never learned to use a blow-dryer properly; a hairstylist can blow it dry so that it looks all smooth and nice, but I have neither the skill nor the patience to do that. It takes forever, and it's boring.

Ordinarly I let my hair air-dry, and if I use enough goop it does not frizz too badly. In this weather, that is not an option; wet hair freezes as fast as it hits the air.

It's one of those skills that girls learn from each other at slumber parties and sleepovers, except that I never did, because I was 11 in seventh grade and missed that key sixth-grade year where everyone else learned that stuff. At least, that's my excuse.

Five Random Songs

"Was It You?", Spoon. I like Spoon a lot, but they sound like several other bands I like, and I don't always recognize their sound.

"Dancing Shoes," Arctic Monkeys. This CD was oversold to me, but I do like it.

"Clap Your Hands," They Might Be Giants. Yes, it's off a children's album. Good music is good music, and besides, the opening bars sound like that great 1980s German band, Trio.

"Alalakay," Mamadou Diabate. A beautiful instrumental, featuring a stringed instrument called a kora.

"Hey, Wow," The Connells. My favorite pop song about mental illness. "I've been paralyzed/By a choice that lies/Well inside of me..."

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

I do not know why football seems to treat concussions like no big deal.

I haven't been paying a lot of attention to the NFL this season -- I'm a little overcommitted, and something's had to give -- but cousins and friends of mine are hardcore Pittsburgh Steelers fans, so I follow the team through news reports.

Even if you're not a big sports fan, you couldn't miss the video of Ben Roethlisberger being carried off the field on a backboard during the last game of the regular season, against the Cleveland Browns on December 28. Initial reports said it was a concussion, Roethlisberger's third; a news item I saw yesterday said it was actually a concussion of his spinal cord, which left his arms temporarily numb and paralyzed.

But there he was on Sunday, passing for 181 yards and leading the Steelers to victory, and the commentators and fans seemed to act like this was no big deal.

I don't get this.

A concussion is a bruise to your brain or your spinal cord. A single concussion, if it's serious enough, can lead to weeks or months of impairment, and sometimes even more than that. WebMD says, "Repeated concussions or a severe concussion may require surgery or lead to long-lasting problems with movement, learning, or speaking."

Now, Ben Roethlisberger gets paid a lot of money -- $8 million this year -- to get beaten up on the football field. But the fact that he goes out and plays a full game two weeks after a spinal concussion strikes me as not only reckless for himself, but a bad example for non-professional football programs. Roethlisberger's a role model; how many kids, facing similar injuries, are going to push themselves to come back too soon, just because Ben Roethlisberger did it?

I know this sounds cranky and fretful and killjoy, and I also know it's because traumatic head injury is my own worst physical fear (well, that and being burned alive -- but I can't dive, and can barely overcome my fear enough to do a handstand).

I've seen the effects of concussion and contrecoup on people I love, and I don't know what's worth that. Not a Super Bowl ring, anyway.

Monday, January 12, 2009

I do not know how to pit a cherry.

The fingers of my right hand look like Lady Macbeth's this morning because I decided to have cherries with plain yogurt for breakfast. I don't own a cherry pitter, and my first attempt to remove pits with a vegetable knife threated to cover my hands in real blood, not cherry juice. Ultimately I just tore the cherries in half and dug the pits out with my thumbs, and God only knows how long it will take to get that cherry stain off my thumbnails.

One of these days I will take a cooking class just so I can learn the basic kitchen skills of peeling, dicing and seeding. I can do all of those things, of course, but it's messy and inefficient and I always feel like I wind up throwing too much food away.

I've been on a major cherry kick lately, so it might be time to invest in a pitter. Do they work, and if so how? I'm fascinated by specialized tools and gadgets, and if I had the money and the kitchen space I'd own a lot of them.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

I don't know what happened to scrofula.

Two different books I've been reading this week mention scrofula, a disease that was endemic in England and France from medieval times well into the 19th century. Known as "the king's evil," scrofula was supposedly curable by the touch of a king, or even the application of a ring or coin the king had touched.

Scrofula is a skin disease caused by the tuberculosis bacterium, in adults. The medical term is cervical tuberculous lymphadenopathy, which means "tuberculosis of the neck that makes your lymph glands swell in an unnatural way." The major symptom of scrofula is a big lump on the neck, which over time can swell, rupture and fester. Pretty, huh?

Removing the lump with surgery is a bad idea. Surgery does not remove the infection, which just makes more lumps over a wider area. Scrofula does respond to antibiotics, just as other forms of tuberculosis do.

As with other forms of tuberculosis, scrofula made a comeback with the rise of AIDS, and when it shows up now, it's often drug-resistant; the CDC says that scrofula affects about 5% of severely immunodeficient AIDS patients.

The virtual disappearance of tuberculosis in the developed world is one of the greatest triumphs of public health. A few years ago a friend came back from China testing positive for exposure to tuberculosis, and I remember feeling an almost superstitious shock of dread at the news -- but nine months of antibiotics later, he was fine.

Still, it's one thing to treat TB; what's more amazing, and what I don't understand as well, is why people stopped getting TB and scrofula -- or for that matter, in the developed world, many visible diseases at all.

Three hundred years ago, a walk through any city in the world was a tour of innumerable visible signs of disease: the rotting noses of syphilis, the flush of erysipelas (a strep infection of the skin), the lumps of scrofula. Now, walking the streets of New York and London, we simply don't see it.

This had started to happen even before the widespread use of antibiotics, so some of the credit must go to basic hygiene practices, things like hand-washing and food safety and indoor plumbing. But I wonder, too, whether certain diseases -- like leprosy -- just burn themselves out over time.

And I'm very glad I've never had scrofula. Though I worry about this skin tag on my neck...

Friday, January 09, 2009

I don't know who that guy is in the TGI Friday's commercials.

We get commercials in Maine for many things that are not available to us. I had thought that T.G.I. Friday's was one of these, but apparently not -- there are T.G.I. Friday's in South Portland and Auburn, at least.

It's not as if I ever feel a driving desire to go to T.G.I. Friday's, but the commercials are bright and loud and catch my eye, and one of their big selling points seems to be their spokesman -- featured on the website as "Chef/Food Dude Guy Fieri."

I have no idea who this is. Is this a name or a face I should recognize? Maine's a little remote, and I don't keep up with popular culture the way I used to when I lived in Los Angeles. Should I be worried about the fact that I don't know who Guy Fieri is?

It's part of a bigger issue. I no longer know who half the people on the cover of Star magazine are, though some of that is intentional -- I've deliberately never watched an episode of The Hills, and fought off a brief, sick fascination with Gossip Girl. It does worry me when I don't recognize the name of the host on Saturday Night Live.

I joke about becoming a hermit, but it's alarming to discover that it happened while I wasn't looking.

What I Read This Week

I read manuscripts this week, and am rereading a sequence of novels for a project later this month. The one book I finished was an audiobook, but it was great.

Sarah Vowell, THE WORDY SHIPMATES. Vowell reviews the founding of the Massachusetts Bay Colony and Rhode Island, a history of difficult, self-righteous men and women (mostly men) who aspired to build a "city on the hill," which would serve as a Godly example to all. Fascinating, touching and outrageous in turns; the recording uses actors' voices for the historical quotations, which brings it all to life.

Thursday, January 08, 2009

I do not know why someone in the Philippines wants my bio.

At the bottom of this web page, you'll see a little box that says, "Sitemeter." This is a widget that allows me to track how many people visit my website, where they come from, and what they're looking for.

It doesn't identify people by name, although I can often figure it out. I know, for example, that the visitor from one particular IP address in Richmond is my sister Susan, that the visitor from Atlantic Beach, FL is my sister Kathy, and that the visitor from Singapore is my dear friend Carla. It reassures me to see the same addresses recur and know that people are checking in occasionally, just to make sure that I haven't died alone and been eaten by my dog.

The two search strings that bring strangers here most often take them to the discussion on "Light as a feather, stiff as a board," and the explanation of the quotation "Good night, you princes of Maine, you kings of New England." Sometimes the search strings give me ideas for new posts, if people land here with a question I haven't answered.

But last night someone in the Philippines came here with the search string "bio of Clair Lamb," and that scares me a little. I don't know anyone in the Philippines, as far as I know. I'm not applying for a job there; I'm not currently applying for a job at all. Who wants to know about me, why, and why didn't they just send me an email? I'm easy enough to find.

Mine is not an identity worth stealing, and that's not really what worries me. It's just a very creepy feeling, having an unknown person looking for outside information, rather than just writing or calling to ask for my resume.

So if that person was you, and you're still looking for that information, please get in touch. LambLetters AT It's a boring story, but I'm happy to share.

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

I don't know whether to cancel tonight's rehearsal.

The weather is bad. It's wet snow right now, supposed to change to sleet and freezing rain this afternoon. I walked Dizzy this morning and nearly lost my footing, despite my ice spikes, and I saw a car slide at the stop sign at the corner.

Rehearsals for Bell, Book & Candle are supposed to start tonight, but I may have to cancel. I feel a sense of urgency about getting started -- it's a short rehearsal time to begin with -- but amateur theatricals aren't worth an accident.

Frustrations of living in Maine in January. Hovercrafts would solve these problems.

Five Random Songs

"Just a Thought," Gnarls Barkley. This CD (St. Elsewhere) makes me think of summer, since that was when I first heard it. Summer... it's summer in South America right now. Also in Australia. And Africa. Maybe I should go there.

"Anything but Strong," Eurhythmics. It sounds like a love song, but it's actually a reproach. Too depressing. Next.

"Love is a Stranger," Eurhythmics. Hey, random. A song from their earlier, dance music years.

"Moon on My Shoulder," Lyle Lovett. A lonely waltz from I Love Everybody. Ack, I need something more cheerful.

"Blue Angel," Roy Orbison. About as cheerful as Roy Orbison ever gets...

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

I do not know how to dispose of synthetic clothing.

I'm making an effort to be more organized in the New Year, I swear I am. So far it's not going well; witness the fact that I'm just now getting around to the blog, at ten minutes to two in the afternoon. I also just realized that I'm hungry, and haven't eaten anything since a bowl of shockingly expensive cherries about four hours ago. (They were worth it, though. In fact, I think I'll have some more for lunch.)

Anyway, one of my organizational goals is to give away or throw away everything I don't wear any more, for whatever reason. That pink suit that was a staple of my work wardrobe, c. 1999? I will never have a reason to wear it again, and anyway it looks like something I wore in the '90s. To the clothing bank it goes.

And here's a fleece sweatshirt whose sleeves are just too grubby for polite company. It's years of ground-in pencil dust and newsprint and who knows what; it's time to retire this thing.

But it's made of some space-age fiber woven from (I think) recycled plastic bottles. If you held it to a flame, it would probably melt instead of burning. So what do I do with it? Is anyone recycling these garments made of recycled materials? I don't want to let it sit in a landfill forever, since it was already saved once.

I'm tempted to try to melt it down and see if I can turn it into Shrinky Dinks. Or maybe some insulating plastic for my windows.

Monday, January 05, 2009

I don't know how to get that musty smell out of towels.

I'm going to start the new year by throwing away some towels. It's annoying, because until I can afford to buy new ones, that will cut the number of towels I own to three -- not that I need more than one at a time -- but it's time.

No matter how often I wash these towels, in no matter what combination of detergent, fabric softener, borax, bleach and vinegar, I cannot get that musty smell out of them. When they come right out of the dryer, they smell fine. As soon as they get damp, they smell like wet dog.

These were not the highest quality towels -- Martha Stewart Everyday, from KMart -- but they are supposed to be 100% cotton, and the only thing wrong with them is this smell.

Before I pitch them, any suggestions? Putting them outside in the sun is not an option; it's Maine in January.

Saturday, January 03, 2009

Friday, January 02, 2009

I don't know how people become "The Great."

Today is, among other things, the feast day of St. Basil the Great, which begs the question: what do you have to do to get those words "the Great" attached to your name, and why don't we refer to people that way any more?

"The Great" hasn't disappeared completely, to be fair. Catholics still like the tag, and the Diocese of Arlington's newest high school is called Pope John Paul the Great Catholic High School.

It sounds better in Latin, too. The Latin for "the Great" is "Magnus," as in Carolus Magnus, better known as Charlemagne. "The Great" is a designation that usually comes after someone dies, but not always; according to the Catholic Encyclopedia, people referred to Basil as "the Great" even before he died.

It's hard to imagine any living person getting the title in modern times -- except for absolute rulers, who get to call themselves anything they want. (Although, of course, these titles are officially bestowed by the people, as when the Turks hailed Mustafa Kemal as "Ataturk," the Father of Turks. The late Saparmurat Niyazov referred to himself as "Turkmenbashi," or Leader of Turkmens. Perhaps the Turkic languages lend themselves to titles like this? One more thing to add to the list of stuff I don't know.)

Anyway, I'm sorry that "the Great" has fallen out of use, and wish we could bring it back. I propose that we try, and I'll start with one of the sharpest losses of the New Year: the passage of Donald E. Westlake, on New Year's Eve. I consider it perfectly appropriate to refer to him as Westlake the Great, and plan to do so from now on.

What I Read This Week

The good news is that I got five books for Christmas. The bad news is that I'm trying to read them all at once, which means that I only finished two this week.

D.T. Max, THE FAMILY THAT COULDN'T SLEEP: A Medical Mystery. My sister Peggy gave me this book, knowing my weakness for nonfiction about deadly illnesses that I can add to my hypochondria. This fascinating book would give anyone sleepless nights; it's a history of the discovery of prion diseases, such as kuru, Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, mad cow disease and the familial fatal insomnia (FFI) described in the title. These are diseases apparently created by not by viruses or bacteria, but by proteins, which are not alive and do not reproduce themselves. Instead, they trigger a reaction that mangles other proteins, creating physical holes in brain tissue. Terrifying, but the good news is that the human race's history of cannibalism seems to offer some people some protection from these diseases; one theory suggests that if it weren't so, mad cow disease would have devastated the British population. As it is, one of my New Year's resolutions is to switch to organic meats only. (Which, in practical terms, means eating much less meat.)

Alex Beam, A GREAT IDEA AT THE TIME: The Rise, Fall, and Curious Afterlife of the Great Books. A Christmas gift from my friend and client Joe Finder, who read the book and raved about it. I was especially interested, since Chris is a graduate of St. John's College, home of The Great Books curriculum. Once upon a time, and not so long ago, Americans actually aspired to be more cultured and intellectual, and the Great Books were promoted as tools for social and economic mobility. The men who created the program (yes, of course they were all men) were brilliant eccentrics who bickered among themselves like a group of middle schoolers, and this short book is a gleeful gossip report. Great fun, a priceless look at middlebrow culture (of which I'm proud to be a product) -- and it made me feel so much better about the things I haven't read. Chris, I'm passing this book along to you.

Thursday, January 01, 2009

I do not know how to clear my left ear.

It's a silly thing to start the new year, but it's become a major distraction. A couple of weeks ago I had a cold that was really not so bad, but it's left my left ear clogged, and I haven't been able to clear it.

I've tried Sudafed, Afrin, saline flushes, hydrogen peroxide and hot water, and nothing has worked for more than about 20 minutes at a time. It's interfering with my hearing and making a roaring noise inside my head (no, I don't usually hear noises inside my head). Trying to pop my ears, airplane style, has no effect at all.

Anyone have any suggestions? This is not an infection; it's not painful, it's just annoying. I don't want to go to the doctor unless I absolutely have to.

Oh, and happy new year, everybody!