A Twilight Zone Experience
I knew things were different before that moment, but I didn’t realize how much so until I saw the parking lot of the Hometown Market. Seldom more than half full, I found the last space in the parking lot the market shared with the Dollar General. It was the eve of Friday the 13th.
Had the name not already been used for one of the most infamous slasher films of all time, it would have been an appropriate title for this stranger-than-fiction story. My own fascination with dystopic speculative fiction (though we didn’t call it that at the time), dated back to the days when The Twilight Zone was on primetime in the early sixties.
So as I walked toward the front entrance of the Dollar General, a vision of the shows iconic host, Rod Serling, popped into my mind. There was Rod in his dark blazer, cigarette between the index and middle fingers of his right hand, his left hand in the pocket of his khaki slacks.
Serling began a slightly modified introductory monolog, eerily similar to an episode at the end of the first season. “Main Street, USA. Early spring, on the heels of a mild, snowless winter. A tree-lined little world of back porch swings, the laughter of children and the color of the season’s first daffodils.”
After a pause, Serling’s tone turns dire. “The supermarket is usually the place neighbors greet neighbors. It has been transformed this day into an anguish-filled wonderment of how we got here. This is Main Street on a late Thursday afternoon . . . in the last calm and reflective moment . . . before COVID-19 came.”
For those of you too young to remember, The Twilight Zones were often morality plays, laying out a social problem. Most often, they ended with a profound message, even if it was sometimes delivered by a being from another planet or time. Some ended in catastrophe, many others with happy endings that made you smile or satisfied that the bad guy got his just deserts.
It’s quite possible that this episode of The Twilight Zone in which we find ourselves can have a happy ending, too. Like many of the television show’s characters, some difficulties will confront us. But also like the show, some foresight, unselfishness, cleverness, cooperative spirit and sacrifice will drive us toward a pleasant resolution.
The heroic efforts of our health care workers and the painstaking analytical work done by statisticians, geographers and epidemiologists have given us the chance to overcome this pandemic. Like many health and environmental challenges, they have shown there is no single magic bullet. Instead, there are a list of little things, each of them by themselves, seemingly insignificant, that all of us must try to do. And while the United States and the American people have done many things right, we have not done everything we could.
As the camera pans past the crazed shopper jamming the last half-dozen jumbo packages of toilet paper into the overflowing bed of his pickup, Rod Serling reappears. “For the record, stubbornness and selfishness can kill and greed can destroy, and a thoughtless, frightened search for a scapegoat has a fallout all of its own. No other moral, message, or prophetic tract is necessary, just a simple statement of fact: for civilization to survive, the human race has to remain civilized and wise.”