Henry sits on the corner of Hollywood and Vine in Los Angeles in a passed down director’s chair with cardboard in his lap. Messy handwriting declares, “why lie, I need a beer!” With a sharpie and a bit of irony he lists his Twitter handle in scribbles, @beerforhenry. I imagine that Henry was once a hero. He had a wife, steady job and a life collecting people. Alienation is not his choice and he wants nothing more than to connect with anyone. As my pen moves left to right and I stare out of the third floor window of the library on Henry’s corner, I observe him and the passersby who don’t pay much attention except for the occasional giggle at his cardboard humor. Beside Twitter and a couple of bucks, humor is all he has left. I wonder the last book he’s read.
I write from a place in our soul that exists in the center of the love factory responsible for the pounding in our chests. I’m not great at beginnings or endings. I’d like to begin with humor but my jokes are not fit for this universe. They’ve withered and died before their first breath and marriage to my page. I spend more time at libraries than I do at bars and bowling alleys and Henry spends more time in dumpsters than churches and farmer’s markets. A library is where this story begins and where it ends.
I enjoy a holiday as much as any 8 year old with a day off from school, however, it’s not the holiday cheer that I look forward to, it’s endless marathons of old television shows I enjoyed as a child on stations that seem to exist only to excite me on these special occasions. I particularly appreciate one episode more than any other. The story gives us a glimpse of a man who wants nothing more than to be isolated and what happens when his desire becomes his truth. I will provide a sneak peek composed in the spirit of time, togetherness and man’s search for meaning in the Age of Information; this point in history that has us disconnected from each other and much more connected to everything else.
The episode represents many facets of the human condition and although first aired in 1959, is more relevant now than ever. In Time Enough at Last, the 8th installment of the Twilight Zone series, the protagonist, Henry Bemis, a petite, quiet, bookish man, manages to alienate himself from life, love, and humanity due to his obsession with the printed page. Henry is constantly reprimanded at his job as a bank teller and mocked at home by his wife for paying attention to his books and not much else. He finds repose enjoying lunch in the bank’s vault each day, a place he can devour novels and non-fiction without any bother. It’s in the bank vault, alone on a Friday, that he picks up the day’s newspaper and discovers that an atomic bomb threatens human existence. The headline gives way to an explosion that renders Henry unconscious. Thanks to the protection of reinforced steel and concrete, he wakes up alone in a new world with enough stuff to last what’s left of his life but with no one to share it with. In despair, he plans to commit suicide with a revolver he finds on the ground, until in the distance he sees the ruins of the public library. Hanging from what’s left of the steeple on the church next door, he notices a clock stopped forever and realizes he can now spend every moment with his beloved books. He sorts hundreds of books by subject, ironically, many of them history books. He kneels to pick up his very first treasure, stumbles, and watches his thick glasses – that he is blind without – fall to the earth and shatter. “This isn’t fair” he repeats over and over as the camera pans out and we’re invited to return to our own dimension.
We can take many things from this 29 minute masterpiece. As I write this on a mobile device in a crowded room in Henry’s library, no one is aware of anyone else. I consider the consequences of such alienation. Will anti-social behavior be punished when we get to wherever we go when we’re done being who we are? Is there a difference between solitude and loneliness? If Henry’s wife and the bank president represent how we felt about books in 1959, do we feel differently about them now? If Henry Bemis were around today would he step out of solitude and have a beer with a man who wants nothing more than someone to have a beer with? I present these questions as gifts to my readers.
Many have said that hell is other people, but I’d prefer to spend eternity with the wickedest of the wicked then to be left to my own devices forever. Whether you’re Henry or anyone else, it’s important to keep others close, today and always, regardless of your social and economic status, global positioning and your seat at the table this year or next. Try and find comfort knowing that In the end – we’re all just walking each other home.