The Third Man May Have Been SpongeBob

I recently watched the highly acclaimed 1949 film, The Third Man, starring Joseph Cotton, Orson Wells, and a beautiful Italian actress named Alida Valli. The film was completely disconcerting, not because of Orson Welles malignant character nor the creepy lighting, but because I could swear that the theme music, played solely on the zither, is also the background music for SpongeBob SquarePants.

The problem, of course, is that the music is used to raise and lower the tension in the movie, and, since I saw SpongeBob SquarePants first, I expected the shadowy figure in the raincoat to be a long-nosed, yellow sponge whenever the music really got going. Much like Joseph Cotton in the movie, the more I tried to unravel the mystery, the more disturbing were the facts that I uncovered. First, this fairly annoying zither version spent 11 weeks (11 weeks!) at number one on the Billboard Best Seller in Stores chart in 1950. It was so popular that it spawned several cover versions, which combined have sold an estimated 40 million copies (40 million!)  Thirty seconds of this song is kind of interesting; listening to it throughout an hour and 48 minute movie is more than kind of irritating, and I think it is the genesis of the phrase, “My last nerve has been plucked.” Guy Lombardo had a very popular version that featured a guitar instead of a zither that I’m quite sure is the version used in SpongeBob SquarePants.

Second, and what was truly disturbing, was discovering that the Wikipedia article on SpongeBob SquarePants covers seven different aspects of the show and runs about as long as the article on the Normandy Landings. Somebody needs to step out of the shadows and adjust our social sense of balance.

The Third Man won several contemporary awards and is now considered a classic mystery. It didn’t do much for me, but that may be because I kept expecting Harry Lime, the villain of the piece who remains unseen for the first two-thirds of the movie, to look a lot like Squidward once he finally appeared. Instead, he looked a lot like Orson Welles.

In any case, below is the Guy Lombardo version of “The Third Man Theme.” What do you think?


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I Can Help You Birth Your Book!

Writing a book is like having a baby: Creating it may involve some concentrated pain, but once Junior—or your manuscript—is born, it’s born. It will need to be cleaned up, but it’s alive and kicking.

Publishing and marketing a book, however, is like raising that child so that it can function out in the world. This is a never-ending process in which you won’t always know what you’re doing.

I have gained a great deal of experience in my book-parenting career. A great deal of “Hey, this works!” and an even greater number of “Hey, this doesn’t work!” moments, and with this practical experience in hand, I am now offering my services as a writing mentor. (Click on the tab, “Mentoring Services” above for a bit more detail.)

Mentoring a writer involves more than the mere insertion of commas or the correction of awkward sentences in his or her manuscript. There is an emotional process in which all writers, and all artists, for that matter, must engage. Think of it this way: Despite what some publishing services might tell you, your book has as much chance of being a best-seller as your child does of playing major league baseball. Failure to make the big-time, however, does not mean that your book will not be successful in its own way and on its own terms. If you don’t accept those terms, however, you will be frustrated and then some. You want your book to be successful, but you also want your writing experience to be satisfying. I can help you with commas and audience and voice, but a mentor does more than improve his protégé’s work; he is a guide to the protégé himself.

To introduce myself as a mentor, I am holding a writing seminar entitled, The Joys and Frustrations of Writing AND Publishing a Book on October 29th from 2:00-3:30 p.m. at the Cornerstone Business Group, 1437 Front Royal Pike, Winchester, VA.

This seminar will prove helpful to anyone who has ever thought about, attempted to, or succeeded in writing and publishing a book or article. Topics will include the creative, publishing, and emotional processes that every writer must consider. This is true whether you are writing a novel or you are a business person looking to publish a book or article in your field.

To register, please click on the “Seminar Registration” tab above. There is a $10.00 fee for materials.

If you would pass along this notice to anyone you know who might benefit from my advice and guidance, or would be interested in attending the seminar, I would be most appreciative. I am excited about this new phase of my own writing career and I look forward to helping insure the satisfaction of others.

Click here for the seminar event page on Facebook.

These are the happy moments in one's writing career.

These are the happy moments in one’s writing career.

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Nothing Like a Game in June

The Orioles are in the playoffs, and while their stay may not last past Tuesday night, that is still an accomplishment considering that most pundits’ pre-season picks had them finishing last. A certain blogger you know and love made some pretty accurate predictions back in April, although we’ll skip the ones about Arizona and Pittsburgh winning their respective divisions.

It was an exciting finish all the way around with the Tigers and Cardinals being eliminated on the last day, Aaron Sanchez carrying a no-hitter into the 7th inning at Fenway Park in what was David Ortiz’ final regular season game, and Max Scherzer winning his 20th game for the Nationals before a home crowd in Washington. We still have another month of baseball as the wild card winners will compete in the divisional playoffs and the winners of those will face off in their respective league championship series. Game One of the World Series will not even begin until October 25th and, if the Series goes a full seven games, won’t conclude until November 2nd.

For all the excitement of the post-season, however, I much prefer a game in early June when summer and hope are in the air and if we lose, well, it doesn’t matter much because there are still 100 games to go. Yes, Atlanta playing in San Diego doesn’t mean a great deal (this year, at least) but maybe that late West Coast game will feature a triple play or see a kid fresh from the minors homer in his first big league at-bat, and that produces a certain craving to catch the highlights the next morning. All that is gone when the regular season ends. It’s getting dark early now, the evening breeze has turned chilly, and the thrill of the grass is littered with lifeless leaves.

I don’t care what the calendar says, I care what my Orioles’ schedule says. When the regular season ends, so has the summer. That always makes me sad.

Is it spring, yet?

Is it spring, yet?

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The Hall of Fame Career that Might Have Been

When Wilbert Robinson catcher for the old Baltimore Orioles and later the Brooklyn Robins was asked in 1931 who were the five greatest players he ever saw, he listed former teammate “Wee” Willie Keeler, Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner . . . and Charlie Ferguson. Even casual baseball fans have probably heard of the first four on Robinson’s list, but very few hardcore fans know of Charlie Ferguson, a right-hander whose life was cut short by typhoid fever.

Upon discovering that he had been born, and was buried in Charlottesville, I went on a pilgrimage, along with Jesse and Becky Dice to find his grave. The result was the 10th episode of Off the Beaten Basepaths. You’ll have to forgive the fact that I stumble a couple of times, but it was hot and Becky is pregnant and you don’t want to keep a pregnant director out in the sun for too long!

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Toilet Paper Problems

So, a group of friends and I were sitting around the table after dinner one night discussing toilet paper dispensers, because well, because those are the kind of people with whom I roll. . . . Pardon the pun.

Anyway, the strongly held and unanimous opinion was that those four-roll, lock-box dispensers are absolutely one of the most frustrating elements of modern society, for the simple reason that it is almost impossible to get at the toilet paper if the preceding person has not left a sheet to grab. You can’t get at the roll to spin it and you can’t see the roll to know where the edge is to try lifting it with a fingernail, not that you can stick your finger in there anyway. Such stalls should come equipped with a flashlight and a pair of needle-nose pliers because once you are on your hands and knees staring up into the dispenser you will discover that those are the tools you require.

My insightful and inventive friend, Katrina, has proposed a special toilet paper tool that would fit on your key chain. It would look like one of those tiny tape measures, but inside would be a spring-loaded grappling hook that upon pressing the button, would zip into the dark recesses of the dispenser and lodge itself in the roll.

Pending Katrina’s invention, what’s really needed is the kind of dispenser frequently used now for paper towels—the kind that possess a magic eye in front of which you wave your hand and then the machine whirs and spins and coughs out a towel. Sometimes, the magic eye actually eyes you up and down as it decides to drop a towel or not, and you end up doing a damp version of the hand jive in an attempt to appease this judgmental metal box. If you could just wave your hand and have the toilet paper drop down, life would be an easier proposition. Of course, the easily amused among us, sitting there with time on our hands, would entertain ourselves with such a dispenser and that could be problematic.

It might also be disconcerting to sit there eyeball to magic eyeball because you know, and I know that it would be thinking, “Look at this pathetic soul.” And we are pathetic, alternating between crying and cursing, devolving into a lower primate who is now attempting to master the use of tools by sticking the Honda fob into this stainless steel Fort Knox of a toilet paper dispenser. And God help you if you finally get a sheet to drop and in your excitement tear it off right at the edge again. Before you can grab onto that last wisp of white, it rolls ever so lazily back into the chasm from which it dropped, and now the entire process must be repeated.

Even worse is if you hear what sounds like four roulette wheels all spinning at once in the stall next to you, because, as it turns out, the janitor forgot to lock that dispenser and your neighbor is in there maniacally zipping rolls around and tearing off enough sheets to clean up after a horse, and a Clydesdale at that.

So, the point is this: Even Life’s most mundane tasks can be aggravating, but if you have good friends with which you can share the aggravation, then simple dinners can turn into wonderful moments of laughter and camaraderie. It’s either that or always carry a spare roll of toilet paper with you. That might be a better point.

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Victory in the “Boxing” Match

It was a long and arduous fight, lasting many rounds, but today, I am proud to declare victory over the many boxes that we moved to our new home in Virginia. Here’s the final score:

248 cardboard boxes of all shapes, and small to barely-liftable in size–empty

6 tubs–empty

6 milk crates–empty

We moved in on May 20th and I unpacked the last one on August 31st. It would have been sooner, but I found the last one hiding in a corner–underneath more boxes that we are keeping for Sarah. We had some wonderful help and a great deal of support in this endeavor from Marie bringing donuts the day of the move to Alice and Bruce keeping food in their freezer to Leslie who helped me (well, I helped him) take a load of over 100 broken-down boxes to the dump, to the gang who helped unpack the first Sunday we were here, as well as others who helped out in those first couple of weeks.

There are still seven or so boxes in Martha’s closet which I’m not counting because they may be unpacked next week or next decade, and so they don’t really count. There are still some pictures to hang and we’re having a deck put on in October. Even as I write this, the electrician is here installing ceiling fans upstairs. It occurs to me, however, that a house is always a work in progress. After all, there is always something to fix, straighten, add, paint, dust, scrub, remove, or rearrange. A home, however, is a different matter. A home is complete, first, when you feel as though you belong in it, and second, when your friends feel free to stop in and use your bathroom and their way home and end up visiting for an hour or more.

I’m happy to say that our home is complete.

Before . . .



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You can’t beat cemeteries for a sense of stillness. Understand, I’m not talking about quietness, I’m talking about stillness.

We can look at dates on the tombstones and know what convulsions the world was putting itself through during the lifetimes of the folks buried there, but we also know what was happening in their personal lives. Not the details, maybe, but we know it was a mixture of joy, drama, trauma, tragedy, happiness, frustration, silliness–both the good kind and the bad kind–and just plain busyness, because that’s what comprises our lives.   No wonder we think of the dead as being “at rest” or “at peace.” They are no longer tossed about by Life’s constantly changing current. All types of people are there of course, from the person who worried about the next day’s stock market report to the person who worried about where his or her next meal was coming from. Now, of course, they worry about nothing. It’s not just their business that is concluded, but their busyness. They are still.

That is the greatest lesson that “those who have gone before” can teach us. Be still.

Be still while we are able to enjoy it, for the stillness of the cemetery does no good for either the stock broker or the pauper  buried there.

Perhaps my favorite cemetery is Riverview in Strasburg, Virginia. It sits on a hill and looks out toward Signal Knob, which itself is majestic, yet still. Massanutten Mountain runs south into the distance, the same as it has for 10,000 years. (Or 100,000 years? Makes no difference in human terms.) Isn’t it ironic that we talk about mountains “running” when they are so still? We can’t slow down to match the mountain, so we anthropomorphize and describe its length as “running” off in a particular direction. You know: the way we do.

Signal Knob from Riverview Cemetery in Strasburg, VA

Signal Knob from Riverview Cemetery in Strasburg, VA

I can never go to Riverview or any other cemetery without thinking of the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder. In fact, I am amazed how often I return to it twenty-some years after first teaching it. The majority of the third and final act takes place in a cemetery and the dead speak to us about living.

This is your homework, class. Go read Our Town, the Pulitzer Prize winning play of 1938. Yes, plays were meant to be seen, but this is the most readable of plays. And if you read it in high school, go read it again because most great literature is wasted on the young. Busyness is natural to them, but far too often the productive busyness of youth becomes the habitual busyness of middle age, and we forget what it’s like to be young and we fear what it is like to be old and we never live in the now. That’s the wisdom that Thornton Wilder hoped to give us.

Here’s the pdf version of Our Town. I know some of you will be crying at the end. I know one or two of you who will be crying at the beginning. Just read it.

And be still.

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