Time Enough at Last

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Growing up, I was a big fan of the television series “The Twilight Zone” – and of course I mean the ORIGINAL series. I believe (I hope so, anyway, since its run lasted from 1959-1964) that it was in syndication (re-runs) when it made its impression on me. I can clearly remember many a night in college watching with friends at 11pm on WGN out of Chicago. I’ve alluded to the show briefly in a couple prior posts here at Bibliophilopolis, but Wednesday I was “inspired” to write a post about one famous episode in particular…

On federal holidays and weekends, one thing you can count on cable tv’s sci-fi (nka “SyFy”) channel for is a “Twilight Zone Marathon.” I stumbled upon one in the evening on Independence Day. Like many of us, I have my own favorite episodes (and the series was famous for both good AND bad episodes) and a “marathon” guarantees you’ll catch at least some of your favorites. After joining the fray about 7:40 pm, I struck it rich with just the second episode I saw.

(***MAJOR Spoilers Alert!***)
Like many other episodes it has become almost iconic in entertainment history. It’s titled “Time Enough at Last” and features Burgess Meredith as “Mr. Bemis,” a coke bottle lensed glasses-wearing bank teller who is also a persecuted bibliophile. Persecuted by his wife (she vandalized a poetry book of his, first by crossing out the printing and then by tearing out the pages! – yep, she sounds like a keeper…) and also by his boss (who doesn’t like the fact that Bemis spends his lunch hours at the bank reading). In spite of this, he is not deterred from taking the next opportunity to get comfortable in the downstairs vault, ensconced with his brown bag lunch and a newspaper. The headline of the newspaper features some brute force foreshadowing as it mentions “H-BOMB CAPABLE OF TOTAL DESTRUCTION.” Naturally, soon thereafter the vault is rocked with a tremendous explosion (the “special-effects requirements” of which are clearly beyond the budget of the half-hour show).

A stunned and dazed Bemis staggers up the stairs from his unintentional bomb shelter to discover the world “destroyed.” Scenes of blood and gore of the thousands of victims are mysteriously absent (well, I guess this was television of the late ’50s so maybe that’s not a surprise), but Bemis is nonetheless distraught and wonders what he can do now. There is plenty of food left in the city’s remnants, so that’s not a problem. He is concerned about loneliness and how to fill the days ahead even contemplates suicide. It is just about then that he realizes that, amidst the ruins in which he is standing is part of the structure of the public library. Now his post-apocalyptic life can have a purpose! Reading! Now he has all the time he needs to read anything he has ever wanted.

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Some time elapses, and we next join Mr. Bemis after he has arranged his reading for the next year in towering stacks. “January, February…” he revels as he descends the steps of the ruins on which he has piled his “to be read” list. Of course, this IS “The Twilight Zone,” and the viewer knows it’s not over. Upon espying a book just out of reach, Bemis grabs for it greedily, causing his glasses slip off his face and fall onto the concrete steps, accompanied with the sickening sound of breaking glass. He desperately picks them up and the remaining glass crumbles from the frames. “Oh, that’s not fair,” he moans. “There was TIME now…”

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Rod Serling’s closing narration:

“The best laid plans of mice and men…and Henry Bemis…the small man in the glasses who wanted nothing but time. Henry Bemis, now just a part of a smashed landscape, just a piece of the rubble, just a fragment of what man has deeded to himself. Mr. Henry Bemis…in the Twilight Zone.”

I love it. It does concern me a bit, however, in that it makes me wonder how those who love to read are viewed by “society at large.” I think there is less of a social stigma for us readers in today’s world than there used to be, but I’m not sure if “we’ve come a long way, baby” or not. Indeed, Serling’s intro to this episode feels at best condescending (“bookish little man”) to those of us who are book lovers.

“Witness Mr. Henry Bemis, a charter member in the fraternity of dreamers. A bookish little man whose passion is the printed page, but who is conspired against by a bank president and a wife and a world full of tongue-cluckers and the unrelenting hands of a clock. But in just a moment, Mr. Bemis will enter a world without bank presidents or wives or clocks or anything else. He’ll have a world all to himself…without anyone.”

What do you think? Have you faced “discrimination” or social ostracism because you’d just as rather read a good book in a comfortable chair as “go boating on the lake” or “hang out at a noisy bar” with friends? Even more importantly, 🙂 what are your favorite episodes of TheTwilight Zone?

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14 Comments

  1. Scott said,

    July 8, 2012 at 12:19 pm

    Whenever there is a discussion of the Twilight Zone, my wife always brings up this episode, which is sort of odd since she doesn’t read books. I’m not really sure why it made such an impression on her. I remember being a little creeped out by the episode in which a boy’s grandmother dies shortly after his birthday. He then begins having conversations over the phone with the deceased woman who tries to lure him to his death so he can join her. The same boy appeared in another episode that I only became aware of in the past year. The boy is described as a “monster” and keeps an entire community on pins and needles. You must always be happy and tell the boy whatever horrible act he is committing is “Nice! Real nice!” You are not allowed to cross him, be in a bad mood or even sing or he’ll “put you in the cornfield.” I did not recall seeing it before, but I think it became my new favorite.

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    • Jay said,

      July 8, 2012 at 12:34 pm

      Ha ha! “it’s good! It’s real good that you made that one your new favorite!” I think that little boy was also the same actor that played Will Robinson (as in “Danger! Will Robinson!”) on the series “Lost in Space.” Although I remember your “new favorite” episode, I’m having a hard time placing the other one you describe. To the archives! Lol

      Like

  2. Darlyn said,

    July 9, 2012 at 7:00 am

    I’ve never seen a single episode of Twilight Zone which I must rectify by attempting to view this episode ASAP.

    When I was a teenager, people always told me to socialize more. While my peers went clubbing, I stayed at home and read the Harry Potter books over and over, which (I think) pleased and upset my mother at the same time. She was relieved that she didn’t have to worry about what I was doing at 3 in the morning, but also a little disconcerted that I wasn’t into the same things people my age were.

    So, yes, I did experienced being considered ‘weird’ or ‘strange’ because I would rather read by myself.

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    • Jay said,

      July 9, 2012 at 12:55 pm

      Hi Darlyn,

      I think your mom may have had the same concerns as countless thousands of other moms of HP readers over the years! 🙂

      I used to get teased – mostly good-natured teasing, though – about all of my nerdal & bookish tendencies too. Now I combat it with humor. E.g. when someone asks me the standard friday question at work “Got a big weekend planned?” I usually sigh and say in a joking tone, “I’ve got a lot of reading to do.” But of course I am usually serious “on the inside” about that. 🙂

      -Jay

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  3. Dale said,

    July 9, 2012 at 10:39 pm

    A particular company at which i was formerly employed frowned upon anyone going to lunch to read a book. I found lots of hiding places, though. I do run into people occasionally who do not even remotely understand my love of reading.

    I’ve watched The Twilight Zone from time to time but it’s been a while. I always remember the one when William Shatner sees some kind of bigfoot/yeti walking on the iced wing of a plane in flight. At least I think that’s how it went. Feel free to correct me, Jay, if I’ve got things confused.

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    • Jay said,

      July 10, 2012 at 7:30 am

      Hi Dale,
      Yeah, the William Shatner episode was another one that I caught last Wednesday. He was at his overacting best in it. He also starred in a second, lesser-known episode featuring a nefarious fortune-telling machine in a small town diner.

      Some people “just don’t get it” about books and reading. I remember once, probably in the early 90s, being over at this girl’s apartment and she noticed I was looking around a bit more curiously than would be expected, and finally I just had to ask her, “Where are your books?” She didn’t have any. Well, she did have one, a copy of Nicholas Nickleby was sitting on her television stand. She said she had tried to start it several times but “couldnt get into it.” I “rescued” it and still have it to this day 🙂

      -Jay

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    • Megan said,

      July 12, 2012 at 3:50 pm

      How weird that a company would give a crap what you do during lunch, as long as you’re not, like, selling their secrets to the competition. No wonder it’s your former employer.

      Like

      • Jay said,

        July 12, 2012 at 3:56 pm

        Probably the approach that company preferred to see was employees working through their lunch hour, only pausing long enough to eat enough so they can keep WORKING! – they can be more productive that way. 😉

        Whoosh-crack!

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      • Dale said,

        July 12, 2012 at 7:05 pm

        Megan and Jay, actually, what they wanted to see was everyone going to lunch with each other and “networking” and forming “relationships”. I’ve never minded doing this when the relationships were genuine. At this particular company, there was way too much “fakeness”.

        Like

        • Megan said,

          July 12, 2012 at 7:48 pm

          Yes, forced companionship very rarely works out the way they want it to.

          Like

  4. Dale said,

    July 10, 2012 at 6:12 pm

    Just watched this episode on Netflix. It was brilliant! And I hope the H-bomb landed right on top of his wife!

    Like

  5. hkatz said,

    July 17, 2012 at 9:23 pm

    I love this episode!

    Another Twilight Zone episode I enjoyed was one where an old rich man is visited by his family who are just waiting for him to die so they can inherit. I don’t remember all the details, but he makes a stipulation to the inheritance telling them that for the evening until midnight they have to wear a grotesque mask, each supposedly reflecting the opposite of who they are (while really being the essence of their character) – so the grandson wears the face of a bully, the granddaughter of a vain person with an upturned nose… while the old man himself wears a skull mask. The evening is horrible for the family – the masks uncomfortable and eerie, and they’re tempted to take them off before midnight. And then (SPOILER ALERT) at midnight the old man dies and the family takes off their masks and realize their faces have changed to look like the masks. I thought it was a well-written well-acted episode.

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    • Jay said,

      July 19, 2012 at 7:37 am

      Ah, yes! I remember that one too. And the extra twist at the end was when the old man (who had been wearing a ‘skull’ mask) had his removed, HIS face was still normal. I seem to remember it took place during Mardi Gras in New Orleans or something too… So many “classics” from that series.

      Like

  6. January 1, 2017 at 6:38 pm

    I’m very lucky. My parents are book lovers and want me to read off the printed page. Nobody makes fun of me for reading, at least not to my face. I don’t have a Helen Bemis in my life, thank goodness.

    Like


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