I see that now. But I don't understand. Why not?
I guess because we only get one chance.
(a crooked smile)
Maybe there's only one summer to a customer.
The fifth scripted episode of the Twilight Zone, Walking Distance, written by Rod Serling, aired on October 30th, 1959. It concerns one Martin Sloan (Gig Young), age thirty-six, burned-out, fed up, and racing his expensive sports car into the distance where neither the direction nor time it will take is something he's sure of. He just wants out. What he wants out from is back there in New York City, the place he's racing away from. What he hopes to find is somewhere ahead of him, but it's still quite a distance away. How close he comes to finding it will be a little side trip; a brief moment of respite, bittersweet and soft to touch, but it will remain a little side trip nonetheless, because he still has quite a ways to go.
Call it the Golden Age, nostalgia, the uncluttered simplicity of childhood memories filled with cold ice cream eaten on hot summer days, endless bike rides, and sparse responsibilities making abundant time uniquely your own. We each have our own special slice of Golden Age pie gulped down deeply within us. Some may get a bigger piece, and for some it may not be as sweet, but it's there to be savored, especially during those grown-up times of inner turmoil and uncertainty when we long to go back for another taste.
For Martin Sloan, his unforgettable slice of pie is Homewood, the place where he grew up, filling his childhood days with shooting marbles, playing ball, and riding the merry-go-round. For me it would be Brooklyn, for you, who knows, it could be anyplace. He's driven back there by the 1950's Rat Race of mundane routine, his days now filled with endless meetings and warding off fierce competition to his successful status qou, driving him to seek his own personal status quo ante. He gets his chance when his car needs a few hours servicing. Homewood's only a mile and a half away from the gas station, walking distance for someone who's got some time on his hands. Strange that he doesn't recognize how close he is to the town where he grew up. Maybe it has been that long.
The time machine he steps into, cleverly designed as a drugstore complete with soda fountain, has him reminiscing over his love for three-chocolate-scoop sodas, only a dime each. The suddenly familiar counter-clerk makes him one. It still costs a dime. He steps out of the time machine and into Homewood; his Homewood. The one he remembers and can't forget. The one where you can down three-chocolate-scoop sodas and not worry about gaining weight. Ever.
What Serling wrote about in 1959, the longing we all succumb to when age bends us a little lower, and time twists us a lot tighter, remains as true today as it did then. Call it timeless. Only today you may be tempted to replace those ice cream sodas with something else that starts with an i, or maybe ends with an ii. But the sentiment is the same. Martin's sturm und drang is ours, today, tomorrow, always.
When Martin realizes he's fallen backward in time he desperately tries to stay. Wouldn't you? But his younger self is still growing older and riding the merry-go-round and gulping down all those dime sodas. There isn't room enough for the two of them. Martin realizes this eventually. Reluctantly. But his dad (Frank Overton) convinces Martin he must leave and let his younger and happier self enjoy the best time of his life. It's his summer now, only he doesn't know that because he's just a kid. How could he? Martin tries to make his younger self understand this, but winds up hurting both of them. Would that 'one summer to a customer' be as carefree and happy for you if you knew it wouldn't last?
For every idyll-personified summer there usually follows a winter of discontent. Serling tackles this inevitable seasonal change of sentiment again in A Stop at Willoughby, The Incredible World of Horrace Ford, and Kick the Can. But it is here in Homewood he's at his persuasive best in conveying the emptiness that leads to desperation that leads to a desire to return to the child grown over by the adult and those wonderful days of summer that grow regrettably shorter into the Fall.
...And perhaps across his mind they'll flit a little errant wish...that a man might not have to become old...never outgrow the parks and the merry-go-rounds of his youth.
And he'll smile then too because he'll know it is just an errant wish. Some wisp of memory not too important really. Some laughing ghosts that cross a man's mind...that are a part of the Twilight Zone.