Friday, October 18, 2013

Time Enough at Last

Henry Bemis:
Book Lover/Wife Hater
Since a trip to Disneyland in September, where I rode the Hollywood Tower of Terror more times than I care to count, I've developed an interest in the original Twilight Zone TV series. Of course I knew about the series, but could only really think of one or two episodes that I might have seen over the years. To fix this, I picked up a few DVD's at the library, and have been watching old episodes here and there.

A couple of days ago, I came across an episode entitled "Time Enough to Last" featuring Burgess Meredith as Henry Bemis, a bespectacled man who loves to read. Unfortunately for Henry, his life doesn't seem to allow him much time to read. We first see Henry working as a teller at a bank, with a book in his lap trying to read David Copperfield while he helps a customer. But his Mr. Potter-esque bank manager has a problem with this, and forbids him from reading at work.

Things aren't much better at home, where Henry's wife, who could only be described as pure evil, feels the same way as his boss, and also forbids him from reading. Henry is forced to hide books in the couch like a drunk does whiskey bottles. But when she does find a copy of "A Book of Modern Poetry," she asks Henry to read from it, both to his surprise and delight.

When he opens it up though, he finds that his shrew of a wife has crossed out every word on every page. What a bitch! But the hurt in his eyes at this point isn't enough, as she then rips the book to pieces, saying a grown man shouldn't read "silly ridiculous nonsensical doggerel" before declaring reading a "waste of time." When an distraught Henry ask her why she would do such a thing, she says because she is "married to a fool." Ouch!

Surely to live among people who despise reading so much, Henry was already in the Twilight Zone, or at a Republican convention, but our hapless bibliophile's world was only to get stranger. One day, while lunching in the bank vault with a newspaper (which carries the headline "H-Bomb Capable of Total Destruction"), a bomb suddenly explodes. The bank vault shakes violently, but Henry is safe. When he finally emerges, he find a city in ruins; a deserted wasteland.

After several lonely days and nights, Henry sits atop the rubble with a revolver pointed at his head, about to pull the trigger, when he suddenly spots the rubble of the Public Library. While almost everything has been destroyed, including the stone library, it seems most of the books have survived! Without his nagging wife and hard-ass boss, Henry will be free to do all the reading he wants. With a new lease on life, Henry puts down his revolver, and begins to plot his reading adventure, sorting and stacking books.

With the joie de vivre of a child, Henry sits down to reflect on how great life will now be; there was "time enough at last." But when he leans over to pick up a book, his coke-bottle glasses fall off, shattering on the concrete steps of the library. Suddenly Henry's world, both literally and figuratively, is in ruins; all the books with no way of reading them. Henry had now entered...The Twilight Zone.

While I love browsing for books at the library or book store, I always find myself thinking about the fact that I'll never be able to read all the books I would like to; there simply isn't enough time. Which is probably why I found the episode so intriguing, despite all the 1950's campiness. A fellow book lover was put in a situation, however brief, where he'd be able to do all the reading he wanted; it seemed ideal. If I were to find myself in a similar situation, I might finally be able to catch up on the "to-read" list. Of course that list is already so long I don't think I'd ever be able to get through it, even with the benefit of a nuclear holocaust. And besides, who would read this blog?

I suppose I'll just have to keep plugging along, reading as much as I can, resigned to the fact that I'll never be able to read them all. Right now, that means I'll continue on Possession, #69 on The List. 

You can watch the episode here:

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