My Favorite Movie Lines – Part 2
In my September column, I wrote about my favorite movie lines (an example: “Seven years of college down the drain.”) After listing ten, I promised to reveal my single favorite line this month. I also offered a free copy of my book to anyone who could predict the line before I posted this column. Unfortunately, no one was successful, although there were numerous entertaining attempts. One reader offered seven different alternatives.
The line is a simple phrase from the 1991 movie City Slickers— “One thing.”
Allow me to set the scene. Mitch, played by Billy Crystal, and Curly, played by Jack Palance, are on horses riding across the open plain. Mitch, a radio station marketing executive, is on a two-week Dude Ranch vacation. He’s getting away from his high stress job and metropolitan lifestyle by participating in a cattle drive. Curly is a genuine cowboy and his appearance is exactly what you’d expect—well-worn cowboy hat, red bandana, and weathered, leathery skin. Every word he utters escapes past a hand-rolled cigarette dangling from his lips.
As the two men amble along, Curly communicates the simplicity of his life, saying, “there’s nothing like bringing in the herd.”
Mitch’s response is typical of an over-worked, stressed, thirty-nine-year-old who lives in Manhattan. “That’s great. Your life makes sense to you.”
After Curly laughs and talks about how city folk make things too complicated, the following exchange takes place (certain language is edited to maintain a G rating):
Curly: “You all come up here about the same age, same problems. Spend about fifty weeks a year getting knots in your rope and then you think two weeks up here will untie ‘em for ya. None of you get it. You know what the secret of life is?”
Mitch: “No, what?”
Curly: “This.” (Curly holds up an index finger.)
Mitch: “Your finger?”
Curly: “One thing. Just one thing. You stick to that and everything else don’t mean anything.”
Mitch: “That’s great, but what’s the one thing?”
Curly: “That’s what you’ve gotta figure out.”
The scene resonated with me for three reasons. First, I’ve spent most of my life with my stomach tied up in knots. Curly’s observation of Mitch was a light-hearted look in the mirror. Second, I’ve always been drawn to book and movie characters who don’t overcomplicate life. I was attracted to Curly’s simple mission of “bringing in the herd.” Third, I watched City Slickers when my two oldest kids were very young, my marriage less than ten years old, my career path uncertain, and my mortgage still had twenty-six more years of payments. I was struggling to set priorities.
While I’m embarrassed to publicly admit two words from a silly but entertaining movie led to serious introspection, that’s exactly what happened. Jack Palance’s index finger, confronting me through my TV screen, led to a personal epiphany. It was time to determine the “one thing” for my life.
Because I’m a person of action who possesses an overactive mind, I got right to work. Within minutes I’d written down my options. It didn’t take long to narrow my list to four possibilities —my career, my kids, the family unit, and my marriage.
I immediately eliminated my career from consideration. Undeniably, my work was an important part of my life and an essential factor in my self-esteem. The money provided was essential to acquiring food, shelter, clothing, and Friday night pizza. However, based on the example my father set, a job could never be the top priority in allocating time and energy. Plus, checks and balances were in place. My mother, my wife, my brothers, and some trusted friends would never let my work-life balance get too out of control.
I then considered my kids. I loved (and still love) my children in a way I can’t express using words. At the same time, if I made them the primary focus of my life, I knew my marriage would suffer. This conclusion was based on empirical evidence. I know several men who stopped being husbands once they become fathers. The result was either a tense, strained, and empty marital relationship or take-out dinners in a small, lonely apartment after an ugly separation. Neither outcome was acceptable.
How about the family as a whole? I mean, putting our little gang of five at the top of the pyramid couldn’t be a mistake, right? I remembered how my parents kept all of us thriving over the years and the incredible example set by my two older brothers. As we age, though, all families eventually separate into other, independent entities. While the original family is still a living organism, it ceases to be the heart of day-to-day living. What’s left, after all the teacher conferences, extra-curricular activities, weddings, and graduations is you and your spouse.
All these mental gyrations led me to conclude that my “one thing” had to be my relationship with my wife, Kathy. This decision stemmed from three considerations. First, I believed effective parenting and overall family health would be a by-product of a strong and healthy marriage. Secondly, the kids were all going to eventually move on and live their own lives. I wanted Kathy and I to enjoy spending time together once they “grew and flew.” Third, while Kathy is easy to get along with, I’m somewhat dramatic and high strung. I can’t count the number of times she’s said something along the lines of, “I don’t know how you live with that imagination.” Extra effort on my part could only help.
Of course, selecting my marriage as my “one thing” and implementing a working strategy was more complicated than I expected. Obviously, I couldn’t ignore the other areas of my life. Over the years, there were many occasions when we concentrated on a sick child, a major work project, one-on-one time with the kids, or issues in the broader, extended family. These types of events will continue to occur. However, for me, the ultimate tie breaker was, and will remain, my marriage. When I have a choice, I choose to spend time with my wife.
I’m not bragging here. I’m nowhere close to being the perfect husband. I’ve made a million mistakes in my marriage and have sometimes let stress or other distractions pull me away from my “one thing” philosophy. I’m simply saying the scene in City Slickers clarified for me where my efforts should be directed.
Also, let me be clear. I’m in no way suggesting your “one thing” should be the same as mine. How a person allocates his or her time is based on highly personal considerations and overall “Season of Life.” To paraphrase Curly in the movie, you’ve got to decide for yourself.
So, tell me. What is your “one thing?”
Next Month’s Column: “Black Friday for Guys.”
Steven Rogers’ novel Into the Room is available in paperback and on Kindle. If you’d like to order a copy, please visit Amazon or his website’s book page: https://steven-rogers.com/books/.
October News from Steve
Mark your calendars for an Into the Room book talk/signing at the Library of Virginia on Tuesday, October 26th at 11:00 am. The Library is located at 800 East Broad Street in Richmond, Virginia. Free parking is available under the building.
A special thanks to the book club at Broadus Memorial Baptist Church in Mechanicsville, VA. They hosted me for a book talk on Monday, September 27th.
I recently participated in a blog interview with Amy Walsh at her website “Writing from Walsh Mountain.” I loved answering her questions and reading her comments on “Into the Room.” If you’d like to read the post, you can find it here: https://bit.ly/3lqoFPj
Check out this review of Into the Room at the Christian Bookaholic website: https://bit.ly/3FnOHut
If you enjoy my columns and don’t want to miss one, please subscribe by filling out the “Follow Steve” block on my website: https://steven-rogers.com/.
Folks have asked what they can do to help promote Into the Room. If you’d like to assist, I’d love more reviews on Amazon and, of course, please “talk up” the book to others. Also, I enjoy discussing Into the Room with book clubs, reading groups, and individuals. If you or a group/individual you know is interested, please email me at email@example.com.
Thank you for reading!