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“Willoughby”

James Daly was an actor from the ’50s. Those of a certain age would recognize him from films but especially from early television. He was a year younger than my dad, but died two years before Roy did; very sad in both cases. My most vivid recollection of Daly is from Episode #30 of “The Twilight Zone”, Rod Serling’s gift to American culture, an episode Serling ranked as his favorite story from Season One.

Serling’s introduction to each episode had the elegance and efficiency of haiku. This is what he said for “A Stop at Willoughby”:

This is Gart Williams, age thirty-eight, a man protected by a suit of armor all held together by one bolt. Just a moment ago, someone removed the bolt, and Mr. Williams’ protection fell away from him, and left him a naked target. He’s been cannonaded this afternoon by all the enemies of his life. His insecurity has shelled him, his sensitivity has straddled him with humiliation, his deep-rooted disquiet about his own worth has zeroed in on him, landed on target, and blown him apart. Mr. Gart Williams, ad agency exec, who in just a moment, will move into the Twilight Zone—in a desperate search for survival.

Mechanical problems interrupt one of character Williams’s habitual commutes from the two-martini-burbs to his high pressure advertising job. The train will be at the unfamiliar Willoughby depot for a few minutes. Why doesn’t Mr Williams stretch his legs? Harried by work and family responsibilities, he finds an idyllic small town, the antithesis of his work-a-day world, then re-boards the train for the remainder of his commute.

Some days later, harried and harassed, the train slows as it arrives once again at Willoughby. Williams decides to abandon family and job, to alight at Willoughby and begin anew. The people he’d met during his first visit are there to welcome him. Meanwhile, in the world the rest of us inhabit, the train has made an emergency stop: one of the passengers has leapt from the speeding train and been killed.

Dr Bob warned me. Agincourt was a worthwhile endeavor, he believed, because it allowed me to work through several personal issues in the course of developing a community and its denizens. But, “Call me,” he said, when United Van Lines starts packing for the trip. Well, I’m starting to gather empty boxes.

 


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