Tuesday, April 6, 2010


“The Twilight Zone” was my favorite TV show as a child. Although I didn’t understand the meaning of many of the episodes like the one where Burgess Meredith was the last man left on earth after a nuclear war and he emerges from the ruins of a public library and is ecstatic because he has all the time left in the world to read all the books he wants only to drop and break his hopelessly thick glasses. The one that sticks out in my mind is “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” written by Richard Matheson.

It was early October 1963 when I was eight and my brother Danny was six that we watched the episode where William Schatner sees a “Gremlin” on the wing of the airplane he and his wife are on tampering with one of the engines.
All through the first half of the show he keeps trying to get others to see the man thing on the wing, but it always flies out of sight whenever anyone else look, until finally the stewardess gives him one of her sedatives to him to make him sleep in one of those cone shaped paper cups that folded out from being flat that airlines used in those days. It was the early sixties, so no doubt the sedative was Nembutal, Seconal, or something just as potent to make his crazy ass go to sleep. Isn’t that what killed Marylyn? A moment later, when no one is looking, he spits the pill into his hand and then throws back the curtain to reveal the hideous face of the “Gremlin” staring back at him. My brother and I jumped, screamed, and bumped our heads together, we almost peed ourselves. Schatner steals a gun from a sleeping security guard, throws open the emergency exit door by his seat and shoots the “Gremlin”, thereby saving everyone on the plane. As they remove his handsome young ass from the plane on a stretcher in a straight jacket to a waiting ambulance Rod Serling reveals that the next day they find evidence that one of the engines had actually been tampered with and maybe he wasn’t crazy after all. Then the camera pans back to reveal an engine cover that has been pulled back with blackened surroundings. That night my brother and I slept with the overhead light on and the bedroom curtains drawn shut.

To be fair my mother always told us we shouldn’t watch such things, but we always nagged her until she said, “OK, but don’t come crying to me when you can’t go to sleep tonight.” From the ages of six to twelve I don’t think I slept three hours a night.
My own “Twilight Zone” experience was when I was ten years old. We’d just moved from Odessa, Texas to Fayetteville, North Carolina and after living in a tiny rented trailer. We were happy to get to move into our beautiful, brand new, mobile home at the “Spring Lake Mobile Home Park”.
It was July 1965 and they were just finishing the streets at the trailer park many of them were still just beige North Carolina clay. One afternoon while my mother was making dinner she said, “Sammy, we’re out of tea and I need you boys to run up to the gas station and buy some Cokes for supper. Go get me my purse.” I went to my parent’s bedroom, got her purse and took it to her. After digging around in the bottom of it she said, “Here’s four dimes and take four empties from the pantry for the deposits.” As she started to hand me the money Danny was jumping up and down hollering, “Give me two, give me two, it’s not fair, it’s not fair.” She handed me two dimes, then reluctantly handed him two. “Don’t let him loose them.” She said in a stern voice looking at me. Oh great, now it would be my fault if the dumb little shit lost them. My brother couldn’t be trusted with anything. “That boy could tear up an anvil with a rubber hammer.” My grandpa used to say. The last thing she said before we left was, “You’re daddy will be home any minute, so hurry up and don’t fart around I don’t want supper to get cold.” We hurried to the gas station barefoot and after fighting over who would insert the money into the machine I finally gave in and let him insert his dimes, but I got to pull them out of the slots because if you didn’t pull them out in one long motion the machine would lock the slot and keep your money. I gave him two and while I was getting mine the little shit opened his with the opener on the front of the box. “Why did you open them stupid? We have to take them home and now you’ll spill them!” I said. “I won’t spill them!” He said, defiantly. We headed for home I carried two and he carried two, things had to be fair, so we wouldn’t fight. It had just rained for three solid days and the unfinished streets were muddy with huge pools of water. On the way home he said, “I’ve got mud on my feet and mama will be mad if I track it in the new house, so I’m gonna rinse off my feet in that puddle.” He headed toward a huge milky beige puddle of water. My patience with him was already thin, so I said, “Alright, but you’d better hurry up mother told us to be home before daddy gets home.” Our father often came home drunk so we couldn’t tell what mood he was going to be in. Just being late for supper could be reason enough for all hell to break loose and my brother seemed oblivious to all of it. I’d walked about fifteen feet when I turned around to yell “Hurry up!” He wasn’t there, he was gone. I stood there in total silence searching the area for any sign of him. I couldn’t see anyone and I had a good view of at least a hundred yards in any direction. I thought, “This is just like The Twilight Zone.” He disappeared, where did he go, what happened to him, how am I going to explain this to mother? Secretly I was delighted that he’d vanished into thin air, he was such a pain in the ass. But I knew I’d be held responsible for his disappearance. “Why did you let him walk through the puddle?” I could hear my mother scolding me. About that time two arms popped up out of the puddle a coke in each hand, then a head, then a torso. It reminded me of the movie “The Creature from the Black Lagoon” when the creature walks out of the water. He dropped the cokes as he pulled himself out and he was covered in muddy water. It was such a shock I’d never seen anything like this in my life. I couldn’t do anything but throw my head back and laugh. As we walked the rest of the way home with him crying and me laughing. My mother heard us and thought “Those Goddamn kids are fighting again!”
When we reached the front door I explained what had happened and she told him, “You’re not coming into my new house like that, you take all your clothes off right there on the porch.” His crying changed to a howl. Mother felt sorry for him and laid out towels inside the front door for him to undress on. He stripped naked and she brought extra towels and dry clothes for him. “Now just think of the extra laundry I’ll have to do.” She scolded.
We shared the two tall Cokes among the four of us for dinner, thank God they weren’t the small five cent ones.
We went back the next day to see if we could see where he disappeared, a manhole, a pit? But there was no evidence of any place that could have made him drop out of sight.
Only I knew he’d disappeared and come back from, “The Twilight Zone.”

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