The Middle Ground Between Light and Shadow

Rod Serling at Work

Rod Serling at Work

“There is a fifth dimension, beyond that which is known to man. It is a dimension as vast as space and as timeless as infinity. It is the middle ground between light and shadow, between science and superstition.” It is this middle ground that television writer Rod Serling ruled in he years between 1955 and 1975, when he died at the age of 50 of a heart attack.

After the Second World War, Americans were delighted they had won, but frightened by the devil’s bargain we had made with the atomic bomb. And once the Russians were able to not only produce their own super weapons but match us megaton for megaton, there was a sick feeling in the pit of our stomachs. I remember that period vividly, especially around the time the Berlin Wall was erected. Between then and the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962, I was convinced that the world would end in mutual nuclear destruction.

Apparently Hollywood thought so, too. There were films like Them (1954) about giant ants affected by nuclear radiation; The Giant Gila Monster (1959); and the many films of Bert I. Gordon such as The Amazing Colossal Man (1957) and Village of the Giants (1965). The uncertainty spread to visitors from outer space who may or may not have been drawn to us by our discovery of nuclear power. The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951) and The Thing (1951) are classical examples.

It was into this world that Rod Serling came with his great television series, The Twilight Zone. He scripted many of the episodes himself, and it quickly became evident that he was a master of the genre. Today alone, I saw four episodes at the Paley Center for Media in Beverly Hills. The best of the stories was “And When the Sky Was Opened” (1959) starring Rod Taylor about three spacemen who crash land back on earth after their ship temporarily disappeared from radar screens. The three not only start disappearing one by one, but all memory of each one is wiped clean as if he never existed, both from the minds of the people who knew them and from the documentary record of their existence.

In my opinion. The Twilight Zone is one of the best five shows ever to appear on TV. Some day, I hope to buy all the episodes on DVD (which costs a pretty penny) because I know that the stories are great and will always affect me every time I see them.

The Storyteller

How to Raise a Literate Child

How to Raise a Literate Child

This is my mother within a year or two of my birth. When I see her wave at the camera, I almost feel as if it were a cheery wave at me from another world. There are many things that went into the making of a strange person such as myself. What my mother contributed, other than unstinting love over five decades. were all the stories.

First, as I was a little toddler lying in my crib at 2814 East 120th Street were the stories she made up herself. They were wonderful stories, and they were all in Hungarian. They all took place in a sötét erdö (a dark forest) and featured a tündérlány (fairy princess) who helped a little boy overcome all manner of ogres and other baddies.

When Mom was tired or her inventiveness wasn’t sufficient to satisfy my little inquiring mind, she picked up some children’s books at the library on East 116th Street and read them to me, first translating them into Hungarian. One of the first stories was a book that is still available today: The King’s Stilts by Dr. Seuss. I will never forget the picture of the king’s realm surrounded on all sides by tall levees and the encroaching water. (I still have a copy of the book, which I found on eBay and treasure.)

Then, when I started going to school, and my parents realized that Mrs. Idell and her colleagues had no idea how to teach a little Hungarian boy the English language, my parents decided to buy a house on East 176th Street in the Lee-Harvard area of Cleveland. Also, by that time, I had a little brother; and our apartment on East 120th Street just wasn’t big enough any more.

Sophie Paris was gifted with a fertile imagination. When she wanted to get a job as an Occupational Therapy Assistant (O.T.A.), she had to provide the name of the college she attended. Without any hesitation, she declared herself an alumna of the University of Hakapeszik in Budapest. A rough translation of Hakapeszik would be, “If s/he can get his/her hands on any food, he/she’ll eat.”

You see, Hungarian doesn’t have any gender-specific pronouns. Other than context, there is no way of telling whether he, she, or it is intended.

But that is a story for another day.