William Shatner, the Twilight Zone and My All-Knowing Mother…

Stewardess! May I have a dry pair of pants, please?

While writing about an experience I had with my over-active imagination I remembered another incident where television scarred me; for life. I pushed the event to the back of my mind until Marilyn over at Serendipity commented on my post with her story of the Fantasia dinosaurs who lurked in her closet when she was about 4.

I replied that I too had a closet monster, but unlike Marilyn, I can’t remember what it was that lived in the closet. Only that if the door was closed by either one of my parents, it could not get out and I could sleep in relative peace. *Of course the door being closed did not prevent me from having nightmares. A nightly occurrence that usually ended with me screaming hysterically for either Mom or Dad or the both of them, I am sure that both my parents gave a heart-felt sigh of relief when the nightmares became less vocal.*

Even though I had a huge imagination, television could be counted on to aid and abet my fertile thinking ground. I was continually banned from watching certain shows on the telly. Once I was banned from watching Rowan and Martin‘s Laugh-In. Not because it gave me nightmares, but because I found it hysterically funny when Dick Martin called a woman a “broad.” My imitation of this feminine nickname ended with me getting my mouth washed out with soap and being banned from watching the show for a year. To this day, I do not as a rule call any female person a broad, unless of course they annoy me; then all bets are off.

Other television program related incidents are equally memorable. The peg legged killer on Get Smart (I wrote about that in my previous post), and an episode of Johnny Quest that had to do with an “invisible” monster made up of electricity and rage. The Johnny Quest cartoon banning was the most painful. I adored this program and had a Johnny Quest puzzle and colouring book. It took me ages to convince my mother that I could start watching this show again.

(Mainly though the type of blackmail that only a child can come up with; I would sit colouring my JQ colouring book and sniff back imaginary tears. After a couple of weeks of this my mother relented. Not because she was soft, but I honestly think the sniffing was driving her crazy.)

But the incident that I remember the most clearly, as if it had only happened yesterday, was the William Shatner episode of the Twilight Zone. Now Shatner only made two episodes for the series and one was about a fortune-telling machine. The episode I watched was called Nightmare at 20,000 Feet. I could give you an actual summary of the plot, but what I’d rather do is give you the show’s story as understood by the seven-year old me.

*This episode of the Twilight Zone should be required viewing for cinema students. The suspense that director Richard Donner builds up in the moments before the climatic “unveiling” of the gremlin is exquisitely painful. Horror film directors take note, suspense should build, not bore.*

Shatner was a pilot, or something like a pilot, and he’d had a nervous breakdown while flying. His psychiatrist makes him fly to face his fears. Shatner is a nervous wreck and clearly terrified. At one point he looks out the window and sees something on the wing of the plane. It appears to be tearing metal off of the wing.

Freaked out, Shatner buzzes for the stewardess and demands she look out the window. Of course, she sees nothing and tries her best to calm Shatner down. Shatner sees the creature again and again. Suddenly this thing notices Shatner looking at it. It doesn’t seem too happy about this turn of events and it starts moving toward the window that Shatner is looking out of.

At one point, someone, closes the curtain on Shatner’s window and he cannot look out. He wants to though. Oh Yeah, he is dying to look out the window. With agonising slowness he gets his face closer and closer to the window curtain. He is at the point where his face could rest against the glass of the window. Suddenly he grabs the curtain and whips it open! This hideous creature has its face pushed up against the glass! Shatner screams.

My cue to run screaming from the room…

I screamed when Shatner screamed. I jumped up from in front of the television and ran screaming out of the “new” den where the telly was. I forgot in my panicked rush from the den that there was a short step leading out of the room to the kitchen. BAM! When my foot connected with the step I simultaneously face planted the kitchen floor and scraped about a foot of skin off my right knee.

I got up, still screaming, and ran headlong into my mother. She grabbed me and held me still while checking the huge knot on my forehead and the blood welling from my knee. When I had calmed down enough to stop screaming and breathe normally. She took one look at my ashen face and said, “You’ve been watching the Twilight Zone haven’t you.”

My heart stopped. How could she have known? She was way back in the bedrooms clear across the other side of the house. You couldn’t hear the TV in the kitchen. I had the sound turned down super low so she could not hear me watching the show.

I had already been banned from watching the Twilight Zone on principle. My parents had watched the program and decided that it was way too scary for my big old Boeing 747 of an imagination. I was watching the show during an afternoon “repeat.” A pretty common practise when I was growing up. I remember a few years later rushing home after school to watch the previous day’s episode of Dark Shadows before the current show started. *I don’t think Mom knew what the show was about or I would not, in all likely-hood have been allowed to watch it. With its company of werewolves and ghosts and vampires in a creepy old mansion, there is no way she’d have stood idly by.*

The end result was that it was many years before I would be allowed to watch the Twilight Zone and literally years before I could approach a window with the curtain drawn without feeling a sense of dread. To this day I cannot nonchalantly whip open a closed curtain. I also knew beyond a shadow of a doubt that my mother was all-knowing and all-seeing, like God only living in our house and keeping an eye out on me.

This fact was rammed home years later, when I had walked miles of country road smoking a huge forbidden cigar. I made sure the wind was blowing away from me and the second I got home I brushed my teeth, gargled with mouth wash and put on cologne. I walked through the house confident that my crime had been concealed. I met my mother in the living room who took one glance at me and said, “You’ve been smoking a cigar.”

Forget the smallest sparrow shit, this woman saw and knew everything. She probably still does.

Rod Serling had no idea…
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