Alternate Universes

Yesterday I received a tip from fellow blogger Anthony Stoeckert that the SyFy channel was featuring a Twilight Zone marathon, and that my two favorite episodes would be screened: The Bewitchin’ Pool (1964, the final episode of the series) and A Stop at Willoughby (1960). These episodes were seminal moments in my childhood.

In The Bewitchin’ Pool, two children live with their bickering parents. The mother is glamorous but cold and cruel, the father is less cold but more occupied with the acquisition of wealth that loving his children. The family has a large outdoor pool, and Sport and Jeb jump in to escape their family. They come up in a bucolic lake another world, where a sweet old aunt bakes cake and says only loving things. She is the only adult in this world; there are children who get to fish and swim and frost cakes all day long.

Sport and Jeb visit a few times, but when they learn they can not go back and forth anymore but must choose, they become frightened and return to their real parents. But now their parents have decided to divorce, and tell the children they must choose which parent they want to live with. The children jump back into the pool, their final chance to escape to life in that bucolic world with the loving aunt and children. They can barely hear the voices of their parents calling them, as the parents hopelessly search the pool for their missing bodies.

A Stop in Willoughby is a similar story except the character who escapes his reality is an adult man. Working in advertising, the character’s mean boss tells him it’s all about “push push push.” Our main character has just lost a multimillion dollar account, and when he goes home to his wife she has no sympathy. She only wants him to work harder and earn more money.

During his commute to Connecticut, he falls asleep on the train and imagines a stop called Willoughby, a perfect universe in 1888, where people slow down and enjoy life. He wants to escape there, and during one of his naps he finally gets off the train at Willoughby. But back in real time, we see the conductor who has found his body on the tracks, saying our character jumped the train shouting “Willoughby.”

I haven’t seen these episodes since I was about 10, but they are just as I remembered them. I have been telling people about them for years, so it’s good to know they still exist on some plane.

Watching them, I started thinking about alternative universes, and why these films were so important to me. I’m sure I’ve often dreamed of escaping to a bucolic place, or another era. And that’s the beauty of painting or writing or any kind of creating, is that you really can live in that alternate universe. But unlike the Twilight Zone, you can return.

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