Saturday, June 27, 2009

I can't imagine how long it will take to unwind Michael Jackson's estate.

It's been two days and I'm still processing Michael Jackson's death. I was surprised by how sad it made me; Michael Jackson hadn't been part of my consciousness in many years, and I'd stopped listening to his music well before his trial.

Someone said that Michael Jackson's death had given us his music back, and that is sad but true. A few years ago, a snowstorm left me in New York overnight, and I spent the evening with my friend Maeve in a wine bar where they were playing Off the Wall.

It had been years since I'd listened to that record, which was the soundtrack for every one of my school dances between 1979 and 1982 (when it was overwhelmed by Thriller). I still think it's nearly a perfect pop album, and think it holds up even better than Thriller.

"Wow, I had forgotten how great this record was," I said, and Maeve said, "I know, remember when Michael Jackson was cool?" We agreed that it was a shame that the man's strangeness and possible badness had made it almost impossible to listen to the music any more.

Now he's dead, people are rushing back to buy the old records. I just Googled "Michael Jackson sales soar" on Google News and got more than 21,000 hits; some of those are probably old, but you get the idea. Confess: did you go out and buy some of the old stuff yesterday? (I would have, but I am flat broke and facing some expensive car repairs. Maybe next month.)

Anyway, all of those sales mean additional revenue to Michael Jackson's estate, and it's an estate that will need every penny it can get. Jackson's indebtedness was legendary, unimaginable; The Wall Street Journal reported earlier this month that his debts totaled approximately $500 million.

His assets appear to have exceeded that, though, and his earning power was still staggering. The series of concerts in London was supposed to earn him $50 million, and the WSJ article speculated that a world tour could net as much as $400 million.

I can't begin to estimate the number of people who relied on Jackson for a living, either directly or indirectly -- start with his children, his parents, his bodyguards and personal assistants, his nannies, his lawyers, his accountants, and the number may hit four figures.

Over the next months or even years, an army of reporters will be watching as the estate gets fought over and parceled out, and it may well turn into a modern-day version of Bleak House. The Jackson children, currently with Michael's mother Katherine (79 and reported to be frail), will be like the wards in Jarndyce, suspended in a world of uncertainty about their expectations, obligations, and opportunities. As weird as Michael Jackson's own childhood was, his children's have been an entirely different magnitude of weird.

Bubbles the Chimp is reportedly living a quiet, animal-appropriate life at a sanctuary in Sylmar, California. He, at least, is taken care of.

Update: Rumor has it that the chimp in Sylmar may not be the "real" Bubbles, and that the original Bubbles may be living on in some terrible immortality of his own. Jennifer Lechner sent me this link. Yikes...

Friday, June 26, 2009

I do not know how to make page numbers show up in this section of my Word document.

It hasn't been a good week, and it's not going to get any better in the next few days. I'm sorry. I'm working on a few things that are really, really challenging me, and I just haven't had the time to post. Computer problems continue as well, though they have backed off into the "incredibly annoying" category rather than the "completely disastrous" one.

If I work hard all the rest of the day, I might be able to post tomorrow. Maybe.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

I don't know why I feel entitled to an opinion about things I know nothing about.

I have never seen an episode of "Jon & Kate Plus 8" -- not one -- but yesterday afternoon I could not help having a conversation in which I expounded my elaborate theory about their relationship and what they really ought to be doing for the sake of their family (quitting the television show, recommitting to each other and the marriage, seeking meaningful therapy as a couple and also as a family).

What right do I, or does anyone, have to an opinion about what the Gosselins should do? One could argue that by making themselves public figures, they've invited everyone to have an opinion.

But this issue of having an opinion without any background knowledge goes way beyond reality TV. I do it all the time, in almost every aspect of my life. My friends know that I am liberal with advice about all kinds of things I have no personal experience of, and yet they continue to put up with my spouting off on stuff I know nothing about: marriage, child-rearing, career development, real estate, galactic domination...

On a good day, I pretend that my status as a noncombatant makes me an objective observer, much in the way that people go to priests for advice. But priests at least have some counseling training (not to mention that whole mission-from-God thing), and the power to confer absolution when necessary.

Then again, if I limited my conversation and opinions to things I actually know about, I wouldn't have much to say. Dogs are funny. Coffee is good. Macs are better than PCs, and Tide with Bleach really works.

Beyond that, it's all just a matter of arbitrary opinion... leave some of yours in the comments section.

Monday, June 22, 2009

I don't know what the guy did to fix my computer this morning.

My faithful MacBook, which was temperamental all last week, locked up on me completely over the weekend. Imagine my panic, especially since I can receive but not reply to emails through my iPod Touch (haven't been able to figure out the settings).

So I was at the Comdoctor in Chelsea when it opened this morning, and the nice man had me show him how the mouse button was frozen, and how the CD drive ground and spit out the CD I'd bought in an effort to install a wireless mouse.

"Did you try a USB mouse?" he said, and I said I had not. He plugged one in, and that didn't work, either. Then he knocked the mouse button to one side, and it seemed to unstick things. Presto, the computer was working again, Fonzie-style.

"Well, it's working for now," he said. "But you should probably bring it in and let us look at it, when you can."

I promised that I would, as soon as I turn in my three current projects. Clients are getting impatient -- understandably -- and I'm starting to get nasty emails. Which, fortunately, I can now respond to...

Saturday, June 20, 2009

I don't know why men spit.

Sorry I've been gone for a few days. I've been busy with work, but I'm also wrestling with a temperamental keyboard that's making me avoid all nonessential computer work (except Facebook. Sorry, I'm addicted to Facebook. It's like a virtual break room, and I'm spending way too much time there lately).

Anyway, I have little to report, except that Gentlemen Prefer Blondes closes tomorrow, it's rained so much here this week that my car is starting to smell moldy (I wish I were kidding), and the Whatever Family Festival runs all week in the Augusta area.

Today was Gardiner Day, so Dizzy and I went down to Gardiner Landing to check it out. Dizzy thought it was a party in his honor, and did his part by greeting all his guests and cleaning up any food that had been dropped on the ground. He did not want to leave, and I mortified myself by having to drag him away, literally. Fortunately, I saw parents doing that with their small children, and at least Dizzy wasn't shrieking or smearing his face paint.

The Cobbosseecontee runs into the Kennebec River at Gardiner Landing, and along the Cobbossee rapids just before the junction are a series of stone benches, for people who want to sit and watch the stream run. Dizzy and I passed a man and woman sitting on one of those benches, watching the water, and I had time to think, "Oh, isn't that romantic," before the man turned his head and spat.

Okay. I understand that the Y chromosome comes with attributes, needs and skills that women will never possess or understand. But why spitting? I have never seen a woman spit in public. Never. I refuse to believe this is something men just have to do. If women can swallow their saliva, why can't men?

And no, this man did not appear to be dipping snuff or chewing tobacco. Even if he had been, that still wouldn't have been okay, but I'm sorry to say that I had the opportunity to observe that his spit was clear.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

I can't think of a legitimate reason to keep $90,000 in the freezer.

Busy today: finishing work on two different manuscripts, tutoring, and trivia tonight. But I can't help following all the news coverage about the corruption trial of former U.S. Representative William Jefferson (D-LA) -- who, among other things, had $90,000 in cash in his freezer, divided among several different food containers.

While I'm working today, I invite you all to propose legitimate reasons for storing that much cash in your freezer, rather than in a federally-insured financial institution. Here's one: he had hired a contractor who insisted on being paid in cash, and the freezer was a place to store the money where it wouldn't get construction dust on it.

Anyone else got any ideas? I'd also like to mention that my own freezer has plenty of room, if any of you have cash storage needs.

Monday, June 15, 2009

I don't know where we got the word "shamus" for "private detective."

I've never been a Nielsen viewer, and that's probably a good thing, because I'd hate to feel responsible for the death of all those new shows I'm not watching. I'm so out of touch with TV programming that I still think of "Two and a Half Men" as a new show; I've never watched a single episode. I've never seen "The Hills," and don't understand why those people are on magazine covers. I've even gotten to the point where I'm no longer surprised when I don't know who either the host or the band is on "Saturday Night Live."

If there were a way to reduce my cable bill by canceling the channels I don't want, I could save a lot of money. I'd wind up with about five channels, and if I were really strapped, I could take it down to two: MSNBC (which is on for much of the day as white noise) and Turner Classic Movies.

Turner Classic Movies is so reliable that I don't even bother with the TV listings most nights (except for Thursdays, when I do watch "The Office" and "30 Rock." Oh, and now I'm hooked on "So You Think You Can Dance," dammit. But I digress). Last night, after I got home from the matinee of Gentlemen Prefer Blondes and the post-opening weekend cast gathering, I just turned on TCM, which was running a Howard Hawks film festival: To Have and Have Not, followed by The Big Sleep.

The movie of The Big Sleep doesn't make a lot of sense unless you've read the book. The filmmakers were too nervous about making the drugs-and-pornography motives clear. But the movie is incredibly stylish, Bogart and Bacall never looked better, and it's full of lines that are simply immortal ("You're not very tall, are you?" "Well, I try to be.").

It's also the source of today's point of ignorance, because Marlowe and several others refer to him as a "shamus," meaning a private detective. They pronounce the word "SHAM-us," while the more common pronunciation is SHAY-mus, as in Séamus, the Irish version of James. One theory I found for the use of "shamus" to mean "private detective" posits that it was originally a slang word for a New York policeman, as so many of them were Irishmen named Séamus, and that the word eventually came to be used as for a private investigator.

Nothing about that makes sense to me. First, most of the Irish in New York were quick to anglicize their names, which is why my own family tree is full of Jameses and Edwards, rather than Séamuses and Éamonns. Second, police officers have always been proud and protective of their official standing, and I can't see them taking kindly to the use of any term to mean both real police and private detectives. I can't think of any other term used to mean both "cop" and "private eye." Maybe "dick" for "detective," could be either public or private. And if "shamus" is "Séamus," why does everyone in The Big Sleep say shammus?

Anyone have any definitive knowledge about this, or at least a reference that's more than speculation?

Friday, June 12, 2009

I don't know why Americans don't care about soccer.

My Google news settings default to "World," and the "Latest Headlines" feed on my Firefox toolbar comes from the BBC; yes, it's a little precious, but I haven't changed it, because I like having the broader perspective.

The news for the last day or so has been all about Ronaldo, and Real Madrid's plan to dominate the world soccer community by acquiring not only him but also Kaka.

Everyone in the world cares about this, except for the United States. I added those links because I needed to look up Kaka myself, and know Ronaldo only because of his guest spot on that "Simpsons" episode where Lisa wanted to bend it like Beckham.

Every few years -- sometimes in connection with the World Cup, sometimes in connection with another cultural or sporting event -- the American press decides that soccer is about to make its major breakthrough into the American sporting consciousness, but it hasn't happened yet. Relatives and friends of mine have played soccer seriously, even earning college scholarships, but a professional soccer career has never been a real possibility for any of them.

My nephews go to soccer camp, and few things are more adorable than a dozen tiny boys and girls chasing a ball around a field -- but somewhere in their late teens, kids just lose interest. NASCAR and professional wrestling, two things I'd argue aren't sports at all, have exponentially larger fan bases in the United States than professional soccer. Why is this?

Edited to add: Since it's consumed my life this week, I keep forgetting to mention that Gaslight's summer musical, Gentlemen Prefer Blondes, opens tonight in Hallowell, with a gala reception to follow. Performances continue tomorrow, Sunday, and next Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday. Don't miss it! Call 207-626-3698 for reservations.

What I Read This Week

Alexandra Sokoloff, THE UNSEEN. A classic haunted-house story in the tradition of the greatest of them all, The Haunting of Hill House. Professor Laurel MacDonald is drawn into the investigation of a haunted house, disguising her own motives but also unaware of her academic partner's. Sokoloff doesn't over-explain, and leaves several questions spookily unresolved.

Allison Burnett, UNDISCOVERED GYRL. Allison's a friend of mine, but even if he weren't, this would be one of the best books I've read so far this year. Undiscovered Gyrl is the journal, written as a series of blog posts, of 17-year-old Katie Kampenfelt, a bright and restless young woman taking a year off between high school and college. "Katie" is a pseudonym, and Katie admits she's an unreliable narrator, changing names and details so that her many blog readers can't identify her; all the same, she's disarmingly honest about her feelings and her flaws. Undiscovered Gyrl is full of sex and drugs and the bad decisions many young women make, but anyone who's offended by it simply isn't paying attention. The book reminds us exactly how dangerous adolescence is, and makes me grateful, once again, to have survived it. It'll be out in August.

Pam Bachorz, CANDOR. I've been reading a lot of young-adult novels lately, for some reason; this was an advance copy I picked up at BEA, of a book that comes out in September. It's a solid thriller about a teenaged boy who lives in the perfect Florida town of Candor, where The Messages make everyone model citizens. It's a cross between 1984 and The Stepford Wives, as if told by Lois Duncan; pleasantly creepy, and it would have packed a bigger punch if I hadn't still been reeling from Undiscovered Gyrl.

Wednesday, June 10, 2009

I don't know what we were voting on yesterday.

As I drove to Hallowell last night for a dress rehearsal of "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," I saw a sign that said "VOTE HERE."

I was running late anyway, so didn't stop, but I was mortified. Yesterday was an election day? How did I not know this? And what were we voting on, anyway?

As it turns out, very few people voted in Gardiner yesterday -- a total of 273 -- and the question was about the proposed budget for the local school district. It passed.

Local government in this part of New England is as pure as representative democracy gets. We have meetings and committees about everything; we vote all the time, on all kinds of things. But as I say, I'm mortified that I didn't know yesterday was an election day, and even if I had, I wouldn't have known enough about the proposed school budget to make an informed decision.

It's not that I don't read the local paper, either, because I do -- although I admit I've been a little distracted lately, with the show and work and all. It sounds like a feeble excuse to say, "Why didn't anybody tell me?", but seriously, why didn't anybody tell me? I'm on three different Democratic party email lists; why did yesterday's polling sign surprise me?

Yes, I know it's my responsibility to stay informed about these things. I need to pay more attention, but since yesterday's turnout was less than five percent of Gardiner's population, I'm clearly not the only one.

Five Random Songs

"In the Darkest Place," Elvis Costello with Burt Bacharach. I love this album (Painted from Memory), but this song is too sad for such a cold, rainy day.

"Think About It (Previously Unissued Outtake)," Fleetwood Mac. From the expanded Rumours reissue. I've only ever heard this track once before. Nothing memorable about it.

"Having a Party," Sam Cooke. When Dizzy was a puppy, I used to make him dance with me; now, his hips aren't strong enough to support him on his back legs. Still, they're better than they were.

"All Good Gifts," Lamar Alford & Company, from the Godspell soundtrack. An automatic mood-lifter, on any day.

"Destination You," Material Issue. Great driving music; I used to own this on cassette, and would play it in my old Saturn...

Tuesday, June 09, 2009

I don't know why motorcyclists don't wear helmets.

It's theoretically summer here in Maine, although the heat kicked on again last night, and today's high temperature is not supposed to break 60F.

Summer in Maine has many distinguishing characteristics, and among the most notable is the sound of motorcycle engines. I don't know the percentage of Maine citizens who own motorcycles, but it's high; people who don't seem to be able to afford anything else (such as a neighbor of mine who hasn't held a job in the time I've lived here) still keep a motorcycle in addition to their cars.

It's not so surprising, I guess. Summer here is so short and intense that everyone goes a little nuts. Yesterday could not have been a more spectacular day: sunshine, blue skies, temperatures in the low 70s. It was a perfect day for tooling around on a motorcycle, and I saw several doing so with the wind in their hair.

Yes, the wind in their hair. Maine doesn't have a helmet law, and every attempt to pass one meets with near-hysterical opposition. Motorcyclists rally on the steps of the state Capitol, wearing t-shirts that say "Let Those Who Ride, Decide."

This would be fine, except that people don't automatically die of traumatic brain injuries any more. Maine has an excellent LifeFlight program that swoops in to rescue those who are mangled in motor vehicle accidents, and the odds of surviving a crash are better than they've ever been. Thus, those who might once have been organ donors live on, many with permanent brain damage. Good deal, huh?

Okay, maybe that's a little harsh. But really: why does Maine enforce a seatbelt law for motorists when it doesn't require helmets for motorcyclists? I'd argue that the seatbelt law is even more of a violation of personal liberty, especially now that most cars have airbags.

The good news about today's bad weather is that it should wash away some of the pollen that's been clogging my head. That's bound to improve my mood. Isn't it?

Monday, June 08, 2009

I don't know why the sound levels on MP3s differ so widely.

It happened again yesterday, when I was walking the Rail Trail with Dizzy, listening to tunes on my iPod.

The iPod, set on Genius, gave me Joe Jackson's "Steppin' Out," and I had to turn the volume far up to hear it. But the next song -- ABC's "The Look of Love, Part I" (okay, my iTunes library has a lot of emotional '80s stuff) -- was so loud it almost blew out my earphones, and I rushed to turn the volume back down.

Why does this happen? Why are the sound levels on digital recordings so widely divergent, and why can't my super-fancy iPod Touch compensate for this? Why do I spend so much of my walking time fiddling with the volume control on my music player?

It's another gorgeous day here in Central Maine, and Dizzy and I are about to take another walk. I might just listen to a single album today, instead of dealing with the shuffle.

Saturday, June 06, 2009

I don't know why so many movie trailers give the whole film away.

Feeling a little burnt out, I gave myself the afternoon off yesterday and went to the movies.

I'd been talking for more than a week about seeing Sam Raimi's "Drag Me to Hell," so finally settled myself in for the 1:40 show, with my Twizzlers and my ridiculously large "small" Diet Coke.

First, though, came previews. I love previews; I would happily sit through half an hour of coming attractions. But yesterday, especially because the trailers highlighted upcoming horror and suspense films, I noticed that almost all of them left me feeling no need to see the actual movie, because I'd just seen the whole thing distilled to 90 seconds.

The worst offender was a trailer for a film called "Orphan," which opens next month. You can see the trailer by clicking through that link; I won't post it here, in case you're interested. The logline says, "A husband and wife who recently lost their baby adopt a 9-year-old girl who is not nearly as innocent as she claims to be," and that is all the trailer should show. Instead, we see details of what happens after the couple adopts this girl. (Interestingly, although I read reports that Warner Brothers was going to change the trailer in response to complaints, the trailer I saw still includes the line, "It must be hard to love an adopted child as much as your own.")

A trailer isn't supposed to be a summary of the movie; it's supposed to give us only enough information to make us want to see the rest. This is bound to be more difficult with thrillers and suspense films, but I didn't get the sense that this was even the goal of the "Orphan" trailer. Am I missing the point? (I do, sometimes...)

What I Read This Week

This week's reading, done mostly while I was traveling, was all advanced copies of books I picked up at BEA.

Matthew Cody, POWERLESS. Twelve-year-old Daniel moves to a small Pennsylvania town and makes some new friends who have unusual skills -- which, mysteriously, they lose on their 13th birthdays. This terrific adventure novel for young adults is also a surprisingly poignant allegory about the loss of childhood magic. Knopf publishes it in November.

Aaron Starmer, DWEEB: Burgers, Beasts, and Unwashed Bullies. Another young adult novel, about five talented preteens imprisoned by their assistant principal in order to cram for a set of standardized tests. Something's very weird at their junior high school, and the boys join forces to figure out exactly what's going on. The characters are the fun of this book, and I hope we'll see them in further adventures. The book comes out in October.

Cornelia Nixon, JARRETTSVILLE. A beautiful novel about the real-life shooting of Union Army veteran Nicholas McComas by his fiancee, Martha Jane Cairnes, in 1869. We get the story from Martha's point of view and from Nicholas, and the story of the trial from several other townspeople, in the tradition of Peter Matthiessen's KILLING MR. WATSON. Nixon makes her points subtly, and lets her readers draw their own conclusions. It'll be out in October.

Thursday, June 04, 2009

I don't know how New York hot dogs can still cost only a dollar.

Walking to and from the Javits Center last week, I passed quite a few food vendor carts. Karen Olson and I even had a pretty good lunch from one, on Saturday: I had sausage and peppers, she had a very messy chicken gyro.

But I realized, as I walked back to the subway one evening, that the price of a New York City hot dog from a cart has not risen for at least 20 years. They cost a dollar when I was in college; they cost a dollar now. How is this possible?

The more I think about this, the more I realize that I probably don't want the answer. But I'll throw it out there anyway, for you to discuss amongst yourselves.

Happy birthday to my old friend - er - NOT so old friend, Tom Ehrenfeld, and many happy returns.

Today's summer reading recommendation: Carol O'Connell, BONE BY BONE. A fantastic old-fashioned Gothic novel, set in a northern California town so small and remote that it doesn't have decent cell phone coverage. Former Army warrant officer Oren Hobbs returns home after a 20-year-absence, to find that his long-missing younger brother may be coming home as well -- in pieces, bone by bone, left on the front porch. The atmosphere and the characters are so wonderful that a couple of big plot holes don't make a bit of difference. In fact, I wish someone would turn these characters into a TV series.

Wednesday, June 03, 2009

I don't know who burned down the topless coffee shop in Vassalboro.

A few months ago, a man opened a topless coffee shop not far from where I live, east of Augusta on Route 3, in a small town called Vassalboro. Most of us who lived around here figured it would be a nine-days' wonder and close quickly, as we didn't see how a business could support itself on doughnuts and coffee, even $3 doughnuts and $5 coffee, once the original novelty wore off.

But the business seems to have been doing quite well, over the objections of neighbors and the efforts to shut it down through town government. The owner has applied for permission to expand the business and make it more like a strip club, and this has met with all the opposition you might expect. I myself would not care to live next to a strip club, though my neighborhood in Los Angeles had several.

A tempest in a teapot, except that last night someone decided to take the law in their own hands and burn the topless coffee shop down. It's in a building that used to be a motel, and now houses several people; those people are now homeless, and people are out of work for an indefinite period of time.

And now, although I find the idea of a topless coffee shop rather comically disgusting, and would have joined a legal effort to prevent it being turned into a strip club, I'll participate in any fundraiser that's held to rebuild this place and reimburse its residents for the loss of their property. Because this is America, and we cling to our God-given right to do what we want to do on our own property, and be as gross and offensive as we want as long as we're not interfering with anyone else's life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.

So what you've done, Mr. Arsonist, is forced me to support a business I'd rather have seen go away, and turned an amusing nuisance into a civil rights issue. Congratulations, and I hope you're happy with yourself.

Today's summer reading recommendation: Pope Brock, CHARLATAN: America's Most Dangerous Huckster, the Man Who Pursued Him, and the Age of Flimflam. Long before cable television became a medium for advertising male enhancement products, Dr. John Brinkley founded two of the world's most powerful and popular radio stations -- KFKB, in Milford, Kansas, and then XER and XERA in Villa Acuna, Mexico -- for the express purpose of promoting his goat-gland procedures to boost male virility. Never mind that these procedures had no medical effect, except to expose patients to deadly infection and anaphylactic shock; Dr. Brinkley built himself an empire, and came to grief only when he lost a libel suit against Dr. Morris Fishbein and the Journal of the American Medical Association. A fascinating look at the early years of mass media and the power of the will to believe, and great fun.

Five Random Songs

"Within You Without You," The Beatles. From Sergeant Pepper. I have a vivid memory of lying facedown in a swimming pool when I was about 13, practicing my survival float, and playing this song in my head. Weird, the things that stay with you.

"Funny Little Frog," Belle and Sebastian. I just thought of a really mean but funny crack I could make here, but I won't. Is it true? Is it kind? Is it necessary? I'm recording this thought process just so you can see that I do occasionally exercise some restraint.

"Hello Like Before," Bill Withers. The original and still the best.

"Inevitability of Death," The Tragically Hip. "And if you go to hell, I'll still remember you."

"Friday Night, Saturday Morning," The Specials. Wow, this song is a virtual time machine. Next stop, 1984...

Tuesday, June 02, 2009

I never know how worried to get about airplane turbulence.

As I mentioned, I flew back to Maine on Sunday rather than my usual train-to-bus route. Ordinarily, I prefer to travel by train. The speed of air travel disorients me, and it's worse because I generally fall asleep on takeoff, and thus have no memory of traveling from Point A to Point B. Some people like that, but I don't; I want to feel that I'm actually going somewhere.

On Sunday, a line of thunderstorms interrupted my nap. The pilot came over the radio to warn us about turbulence, and sure enough, the plane lurched and bucked hard for about the next 90 seconds. It was enough time for me to say a few Hail Marys and wonder about whether anyone would know where Dizzy was, if I went down with the plane. (For the record: most of the time when I travel without him, he stays here.)

But the turbulence didn't last long, and our plane landed safely and right on time.

Which makes me all the more fascinated with the disappearance of yesterday's Air France flight. According to news reports, the plane crossed a band of heavy thunderstorms near the equator, then reported an electrical system failure and a loss of cabin pressure. Then it disappeared.

I am not a nervous flier. It's never seriously occurred to me that a plane could just drop out of the sky, and I've never felt particularly worried when we hit turbulence. Is this just simple-minded and naive?

Today's summer reading recommendation: Alan Bradley, The Sweetness at the Bottom of the Pie. In the English countryside of 1950, 10-year-old Flavia de Luce amuses herself with elaborate chemical experiments and tormenting her two older sisters. When a stranger turns up dead in the garden after a mysterious meeting with her father, Flavia determines to save her father from suspicion by any means necessary. This is a wonderful, old-fashioned mystery with a unique but believable main character, and I hope we see much more of Flavia.

Oh, and I almost forgot: John Connolly launches his latest Charlie Parker novel, THE LOVERS, at The Great Lost Bear in Portland tonight at 7:00. He's giving away free stuff and it should be a good time, so I'll hope to see you there. I did a little (very little) work for THE LOVERS, but would have liked it even if I hadn't....

Monday, June 01, 2009

I don't know what it takes to be hospitalized for exhaustion.

This post is not immediately relevant to myself, at least not today. For once, I was smart about my BEA/New York weekend, and didn't push myself beyond reasonable limits. Yes, I was out until 2:00 a.m. on Saturday, but went home early on Saturday night and flew home yesterday rather than taking the train to the bus. (Trains on Sunday are expensive; flying was about the same price as the train and bus together.)

Anyway, this morning's news reported that Susan Boyle, this year's star of "Britain's Got Talent," has been hospitalized for exhaustion. I feel sad for Ms. Boyle, who looks like a prime example of the dangers of getting what one wished for. The spotlight seems to have overwhelmed her, and the UK tabloid press make the US gossip reporters look like kindergarten helpers.

It would be enough to send anyone to a rest home, but I always wonder what it means when someone is hospitalized for exhaustion. Exhaustion is a real medical condition, in which someone is too tired or too sick to perform basic self-care functions such as eating, drinking, and bathing; these cases require hospitalization so that people can be fed and rehydrated, and have their body chemistry restored to equilibrium.

But being "hospitalized for exhaustion" is also quite often code for detox, suicide prevention, or some other scandalous life crisis. The saddest thing about Susan Boyle's hospitalization is that it will probably make a bad situation worse, in calling attention to her fragility and making her the subject of even more intense public scrutiny.

BEA was fun, my friend Matt's show was great, and now I'm scrambling to catch up with everything neglected while I was in New York. I know it's been a long time since I posted a reading list, so I might make the rest of the week a set of recommendations for summer reading.