Now, though I've corrected the spelling for our archives, the fact remains that when I originally produced "Charlie at the Bat" I managed to misspell Charles Schulz's last name as "Schultz". Not the most unpardonable of sins, but as Schulz was fairly protective about the spelling of his name during his lifetime I decided a disclaimer and apology was not out of line.

Also, we were still getting concerned queries regarding the whereabouts of brother Mike, all related to my little Halloween prank from '99.

Now, in March 2000, it seemed like a good time to clear a lot of air.

So, not really a new column, per se - still, it fits into the general continuum well enough to warrant inclusion in these illustrious archives, I think.

And just in case my Halloween '99 prank was a little too obscure, I feel obligated to at least delineate my intentions somewhat.


Apologies and Explanations


Welcome back, dear friends, and a hearty Thanks to those of you who appreciated our little poetic tribute to Charles Schulz. I think my favorite response came from a reader who wrote: "I don't even like Peanuts and you made me cry!" Stuff like that makes it all worth while.

Unfortunately, I inadvertently committed the ultimate faux pas while writing the thing. The last line, you may recall, ran " . . . Mr. Schultz has left the stage."

Now, as many of you may already know, there is no "T" in Charles Schulz's last name. While this may seem a trivial point, it seems that, all his life, Schulz was constantly seeing his name misspelled (blame it on "Hogan's Heroes"). It became an increasing irritant to him, to the point that he would actually take written umbrage with various publications over the years, on the frequent occasions when they would again and again add the dreaded "T".

Once, as a matter of fact, an invitation from an elementary school class arrived at his home, addressed to "Mr. Schultz", and requesting a phone interview. Schulz looked at the thing, called the school, and agreed. The big day arrived, the class had a phone hooked up to a speaker so they could all talk with the Great Man - who proceeded to take the class, and especially the teacher, to task for not bothering to get his name straight. He advised the kids to learn from the incident, and never send anything off without making sure it's right.

I am certainly glad I was not that teacher, publicly humiliated in front of her students, and certainly facing a future of never being taken seriously during spelling lessons again.

Yes, I'm glad I was not that teacher - unfortunately I am the idiot who made the very same mistake while trying to do some sort of tribute for the guy!

All I can say is: Sorry, Sparky!

Again, thanks for your feedback, and now I'd like to turn to some feedback of a decidedly different sort . . .

As you know, I usually devote the March column to All Things Irish, but, mindful of the fact that the Academy Awards take place at the end of the month, followed closely by April Fools Day, I am moved to turn to a topic that has something in common with both these days.

My apologies to the Wee Folk, and we'll return to the Emerald Isle next year, I trust.

Anyway, you may recall that last Halloween's column was what purported to be a "News Update" concerning the mysterious disappearance of my brother Mike, long time Book Again manager. It was, I thought, a rather fun little spooky item, I chuckled, Mom chuckled, Uncle Mike chuckled, and we ran the column both online and in the October printed newsletter.

Well, ever since then Mom's been getting concerned inquiries regarding that issue. People have come up to her expressing sympathy over her son's disappearance, and asking if he's been found yet . . .

Therefore, in honor of the upcoming April Fool's Day I would like to hereby go on record as follows:

It was a hoax, folks. I was actually astonished that anyone would believe a tale of objects mysteriously moving from wall to wall, followed by the old cliche of the Final Letter interrupted in mid sentence, especially in a Halloween column. Additionally, I had introduced the thing as follows:

Some time in August, 1999, Mike Nolte disappeared without a trace.
One month later, this email was found . . .

Yes, a deliberate invocation of the then-current ad campaign for "The Blair Witch Project", a film which pretended to be a documentary, but which was, as was soon well known, as fictitious as my own little tale.

I even entitled the article "The Rare Kitsch Object", a horrible play on words but inserted just to make sure our dear readers got the point.

Well, some didn't, and I do apologize. (Man, this is turning into my "Joe apologizes for all his sins" column. How appropriate for Lent!) I did not intend to alarm anyone, though secretly I suppose I am delighted that the thing seemed real enough to have that effect.

I hasten to assure one and all that, not only is Mike alive and well and getting drenched in Oregon, he was also the first person to see the column, and quite enjoyed it.

The rumors of his disappearance, in short, were exaggerated.

Now, the April Fools Day link may be obvious, but, you ask, what does any of this have to do with the Academy Awards?

Well, I'll tell you. Back in the late Summer / early Fall of last year, three horror movies were released, back to back. You will recall that Mike's imaginary Final Email to Mom spoke of three rental places he'd looked at. Well, folks, I just couldn't resist.

Let's look again at house number one:

"The first place I looked at seemed great at first. I'd seen a lot of ads for it, and someone had clearly put a lot of money into it, and I couldn't wait to have a look.

"The outside was great, a lot of stonework and greenery, etc. I fell in love immediately! As a matter of fact, it looked a lot like a house I'd remembered seeing many years ago, only this one seemed more colorful.

"Unfortunately, the inside of the place just didn't measure up to my expectations, and oddly enough I found myself laughing at the most inappropriate moments. I was disappointed, but moved on."

The first movie in the trilogy was the big full color remake of "The Haunting". Its status as a remake prompted the line "it looked a lot like a house I'd remembered seeing many years ago, only this one seemed more colorful." The original film had been in black and white.

The film was awash in big budget special effects, but content-wise just didn't "measure up". There are many reports of movie goers laughing at inappropriate moments during the film.

Now let's look at house number two:

"The next place I actually found over the internet. I don't think they placed any print ads at all. I met the owner at the place, and it turned out he was planning to sell it, and didn't know if the new owner would want to keep it as a rental or not. He was very proud, though - I guess he'd built the house for a ridiculously low amount of money (35 thousand, I think), but by placing clever ads in cyberspace he had received offers already for more than ten times that amount! It was a cute place, small, but with character. (The owner also warned me that there were a lot of dizzying twists and turns inside, and people with vertigo or motion sickness would probably not want to rent it.)"

You see where this is going, and therefore have probably guessed which film this house refers to. Yep, it's the "Blair Witch Project", a movie made for about 35 thousand dollars that took in hundreds of millions in receipts, a movie that owed much of its initial notoriety to a very clever internet campaign.

The "vertigo or motion sickness" line refers to the style of hand held camcorder shooting that indeed made many viewers ill, to the point that soon most theaters had placed warning notices at the ticket booths!

Finally, house number three:

"The next house I found quite by accident. They'd just put it on the market without any advance notice. It looked pretty neat, and I met the landlady in front of the place. She'd brought along her nutty kid who kept mumbling things about "seeing dead people", and his mom told me she could only show me the house if I promised not to reveal what the inside looked like to anyone."

I had hoped that the kid "seeing dead people" would have been a dead giveaway. This "house" is, of course, "The Sixth Sense", a film that just sort of appeared at the end of Summer with no big ad campaign to speak of, yet became extraordinarily popular all the same.

It is, you see, a remarkable little film, arguably the best horror film Disney has ever been involved with, and has a little twist at the end that you have to see for yourselves - a twist that practically guarantees that you'll soon be back to see the film again. As our fictitious landlady put it in the column:

"Let them see for themselves," she smiled, a Disney-like gleam in her eye. "They'll be back, again . . . and again . . . "

Yep, Mike's fictitious house hunt was a thinly disguised look at a trilogy of terror films then in circulation.

And as you must know by now, "The Sixth Sense", alone among these films, is a major contender for Oscars this year, its nominations including Best Picture (which smart money says is going to "American Beauty"), Best Director and Screenplay (both deserved, and it could very likely win at least the Screenplay), and Best Supporting Actor and Actress, both of whom ought to win.

There - a hoax revealed, and a host of Oscar predictions that are, as usual, probably Dead Wrong. All in all, I think, relatively good timing for the season.

I'll see you in April.