I opened the magazine and flipped through the first few pages until I found the publication’s masthead, the long column of titles and names of the people who worked to publish each issue. Scanning the list, my heart jumped a bit as my eyes landed on a name that I knew would be there but which somehow managed to surprise me nonetheless. There it was, under the names of the Editor and Managing Editor, just as I remembered: “Editorial Assistant: Marc Stecker”. Me. Suddenly I was 17 years old again, as excited to see my name in print as I was the first time around over three decades past, back when all of life was still in front of me, and my current Twilight Zone like circumstances were beyond imagination.
I worked at The Twilight Zone magazine during the spring semester of my senior year of high school. Because I attended what is considered to be New York City’s best public high school, Stuyvesant High, the school's bulletin board listing afterschool jobs attracted more than the usual busboy and supermarket positions most kids worked at in those days to earn their weekend money. I was lucky enough to be the first to respond to a new posting looking for a proofreader to work at a publishing company uptown.
When I nervously arrived for my interview, I learned that the publication I was applying to work for was a magazine dedicated to The Twilight Zone, one of my all-time favorite TV shows. Back then, before the advent of cable television, when we had to make do with (gasp!) all of seven TV channels, The Twilight Zone was a syndicated staple of local non-network television broadcasts. I can’t speak for the rest of the country, but in New York City the show was televised seven days a week, usually with back-to-back half-hour episodes airing late at night in glorious black and white. Even before working on the magazine, I was already familiar with virtually every episode of The Twilight Zone, having viewed most of them numerous times. I was far from alone in this expertise; in those days before video games, my friends and I would sometimes while away the time recounting the diabolically clever plot lines of Twilight Zone episodes, even though we all knew most of the shows by heart.
The original Twilight Zone series was produced in the late 50s and early 60s, the brainchild of creator Rod Serling, who introduced each episode dressed in a suit with skinny lapels and tie, a cigarette usually dangling from his fingers. The show featured off kilter tales with a very human touch that almost always ended with a mindbending twist, most episodes falling into the sci-fi/fantasy realm. In The Twilight Zone nothing was quite what it seemed, and you’d better be careful what you wished for, because wishes would often come true in unexpected and sometimes – but certainly not always – unpleasant ways. The episodes were deftly produced and directed, and were written by some of the top TV and film wordsmiths of the day. Several episodes starred actors who were already well known, or who soon would be, including Robert Redford, Jack Klugman, Burgess Meredith, and Agnes Moorehead, to name a few.
Much to my surprise, after a brief interview with the magazine’s Managing Editor, I was hired on the spot. My daily tasks were devoted to assisting the very small staff of The Twilight Zone, which was primarily a two-person operation, with responsibilities split between an Editor and a Managing Editor, who were tucked away in a small office at a large publishing company. The company's primary product was a second-tier “adult” magazine (yes, the kind featuring naked ladies – a definite perk as far as this 17-year-old was concerned), with a large staff devoted to publishing it and some sister publications. The Twilight Zone magazine itself turned out to be not some cheesy fanzine, but an impressive, very literate publication, featuring not only information about The Twilight Zone and other science fiction and fantasy movies and TV shows, but also original fiction in the Twilight Zone tradition. As such, every month it featured half a dozen or so new short stories by known and unknown writers, including some very famous authors such as Stephen King and Joyce Carol Oates, stories whose typewritten pages I not only got to lay hands on but help copy edit, making sure the typeset “galleys” for publication were free from mistakes such as misspellings and misplaced punctuation. For a kid with literary ambitions, this was intoxicating stuff.
As I sat in my wheelchair leafing through the yellowed pages of the old magazine, a steady stream of long dormant memories roused from hibernation. My job at the publishing house was my first foray into the everyday world of working adults, and I remember how surprised and amused I was at the controlled chaos around me. Though older and allegedly more mature, these folks seemed as full of foibles and quirks as my teenage friends and classmates. Did anybody ever really grow up?
One of the big bosses at the publishing company was a man with a hair-trigger temper, who was plagued by physical tics that worsened the angrier he got. The editor of the magazine was a fellow named T.E.D Klein (who would later become a not very prolific but well-respected horror author), a man in his mid-30s with a sharp mind and dry wit. I vividly remember the big boss once flying into our office in a blind rage over some relatively minor transgression, screaming wildly as his tic ridden body Increasingly took on a mind of its own, his anger manifesting itself physically in the form of his uncontrollably pounding himself rhythmically in the center of his chest with his right forearm. I of course was horrified, but I could see T.E.D desperately trying to suppress his bemusement, his face weirdly puckered as he bit the inside of his lip in an attempt to not break down in uproarious laughter at the sight of the lunatic in front of him. So, this was life in the working world of adults. How strange.
Although I only worked at the magazine part-time for six months or so before going off to college, those days were brimming with teenage drama and angst, and my time at the magazine was a heady source of pride. Not only did I get to work with the hand typed manuscripts of famous authors, but I also took part in helping choose photos and illustrations for the magazine (developing the deep crush on one of the freelance illustrators in the process), met a variety of interesting people (including Carol Serling, Rod’s widow), and generally felt very much a part of the team.
Holding that old magazine, dating back to a time when I was about to embark on a defining new chapter of my own life story, I wistfully recalled that peculiar teenage mix of omnipotence and insecurity, the future rushing at me filled with prospects both exhilarating and terrifying. Life itself beckoned, and the preview reel that played in my mind featured visions of fame and fortune, romance and adventure, success and recognition, tempered liberally by fears of abject failure and disappointment. Despite occasional flashes of bravado, I was a bundle of neuroses back then, more Woody Allen than Mick Jagger, but still, my visions of a grand future seemed tantalizingly possible.
The notion that my life would be upended by a creeping paralysis certainly never entered my mind, even though I was an accomplished hypochondriac. I feared cancer, brain tumors, even leprosy, but the prospect of paralysis never really occurred to me. Now, with my disease continuing to progress, all of those teenage notions of what was to be are painfully bittersweet, the decades old magazine that sat in my lap their physical encapsulation. Viewed from certain angles, my current circumstances could be fodder for one of the stories contained within its pages, and it has often occurred to me that in some ways I could very well take my place as a character in a Twilight Zone episode.
I’m the wannabe writer who strayed from his path, his literary aspirations forever lingering as a painful reminder of dreams unfulfilled, until he contracted a dread disease and suddenly found his written ruminations reaching a worldwide audience through a medium that didn’t even exist when his dreams were first formed. I’m the lifelong neurotic and hypochondriac who spent countless hours and dollars on psychotherapy, whose inner demons were only put to rest through the realization of one of his greatest fears. I’m the disquieted seeker of wisdom always searching the arcane for glimmers of truth, only to grasp that which is truly important when forced to the sidelines of life, unable to apply the lessons learned to the existence he once led, the life interrupted.
I’ve written this before, but in this context I think it bears repeating. If a fortune teller had told the 17-year-old me that at age 49 I would live with my beautiful wife in a skyscraper next to Lincoln Center, that I’d sleep and wake to my own schedule, that my writings and photos would be read, viewed, and valued by people all around the world, and that I’d spend my days free from the constraints of having to work for a living, I’d have been ecstatic, convinced that all of my dreams would be realized. Of course, that seer would have left out one little detail, one slight wrinkle, an asterisk attached to the story that would make all the difference between dream and nightmare.
Yes, in The Twilight Zone you must be careful to read all of the fine print and consider every nuanced possibility. My life has seen me go from working at The Twilight Zone to living in my own private version of it, which in itself might make for an interesting episode. As Rod Serling might have said in an introduction to that episode, “Presented for your inspection, a man watching himself disappear, one side of his body paralyzed, and the other desperately trying to hold on. He finds himself oddly off-balance, his right leg immobile and his left firmly planted in The Twilight Zone…”
So, has this Twilight Zone life delivered it’s final twist, or might there be one more to come, a happier one in my future unwritten? One can only hope, and hope is the precious legal tender of The Twilight Zone.
Cue spooky music…
Here’s a classic old episode of The Twilight Zone, enjoy…
Another post to leave me in tears. This one's a masterpieceReplyDelete
Thank you very much. I hope you didn't go through too many Kleenex, times are hard…Delete
I recognize this sentiment all too well. As a senior in high school, Fr. Peter approached me and said my temperament, ever questioning and teaching attitude, along with desire to make choices primarily out of a sense of good would make me a good priest or monk. I looked at him and said, "I don't think so. I enjoy sex too much." Now alas, I and my wife rarely find time combined with health and energy for such pursuits. I'm too busy raising our children adopted and fostered through a service for medically fragile foster children and researching their and my conditions all the while dealing with my MS.ReplyDelete
When I went to college, I planned to double major in psych and economics. As an RA my senior year, a man on my hall threatened/attempted suicide. I was put on a suicide watch with him basically living in my single with me for 2 weeks before he was sent home. I was not trained or prepared for this kind of harsh reality, but when another student threatened suicide in another dorm, I was called on to give advice to the student and her RA. Preceding all of this by a couple of months was the rape of a very good friend. I dropped my psych major saying I never wanted to deal with the workings of the mind again, especially not for those whom I'm not already emotionally committed. It's too draining. I wanted nothing more to do with the subject. I graduated 3 courses short of a double major having dropped my psych courses in my senior year. Now I deal with and write about trying to understand and explain how my mind works, how my kids learn, and how experiences change us. The same subjects from which I walked away, now dominate my free time.
Men dream and plan. God laughs.
Funny, I wrote a post called "Man Plans…" a few years ago…Delete
Yes, it seems that, at least for some of us, there's a bit of destiny we can't escape. Sounds like you have your hands full, but with very worthwhile things. Good for you for taking on the hard cases, I for one wish I'd have challenged myself a little bit more in my younger, healthier days. Too many times I took the easy way out, and I sometimes think that perhaps that's why I find myself in a predicament with no easy way out. Then again, I find it hard to believe that the universe works in so straightforward a manner. But go know…
Ahhhh… lost in another Marc Stecker biographical story. For a moment there reality didn’t exist. You truly have a gift my friend. I only wish you wouldn't bring me back to earth.ReplyDelete
Remember when you wrote these pieces all the time… I realize your need to be genuine but there’s nothing wrong with a little escapism now and then.
Thank you for the momentary distraction.
Tuna! Good to hear from you, it's been a while. I hope all is well in your world.Delete
I have tended to shy away from blatantly autobiographical posts, I guess because I'm not sure anybody would be all that interested. I suppose I should occasionally revisit my past on these pages, as I did manage to squeeze a few good adventures and misadventures into that finite healthy window that I didn't realize I was living in.
I'm all for escapism, just watched "Dead Snow", a Norwegian zombie flick that featured some Norwegian youths being hunted down by 65-year-old Nazi zombies in a frozen wilderness. A silly waste of time, yes, but it had subtitles so it must have been culturally redeeming. Or not.
So, so good. Thanks, as always, for sharing these pieces of you. They are beyond moving.ReplyDelete
A fellow "accomplished hypochondriac" with MS.
Hey, us accomplished hypochondriacs need to stick together. I think being a hypochondriac made my getting sick even harder for me to believe at first. All of that neurotic fretting should have inoculated me against actual diseases, no?Delete
Thanks for your kind words about the post, they're much appreciated.
Every word you write must be read by everyone who has any complaints. Now I have to post this on my FB pages.ReplyDelete
Love you, Marc.
Thanks for reposting this. And for the very generous words. I suppose I should create a Wheelchair Kamikaze Facebook page, but that means I would have to venture onto Facebook, and that means overcoming my Facebook phobia. Don't know why, but that site gives me the willies…Delete
Funny how your yard there on the other side of the fence looks greener to me. To have the success you are having, to have a true love in your life - someone so supportive...I have MS also, and do not have these other things. And I'm sure someone else thinks my yard looks mighty green.ReplyDelete
Great writing, as usual. Also, love this quote "Men dream and plan. God laughs."
I guess the grass always does look greener from somebody else's perspective, unless, that is, you find yourself looking up at the grass, at which point the jig is up.Delete
I'm sorry that there is no one special in your life. I do realize that I got very, very lucky. I was diagnosed almost exactly one year after my marriage, and I still can't believe my wife has stuck around all these years. Sometimes I feel more sorry for her than for me.
What a story you can tell! I remember that exact issue. I have held it in my hands and I know I read it cover to cover because I always did. I was a huge science fiction fan; before I hit junior high school, I had read every sci-fi in the Moorhead Public Library, even the crappy Buck Rogers stuff. Of course I had also been a faithful watcher of Twilight Zone.ReplyDelete
Hmmmm...let's see...what was I doing for work at 17? Checking groceries at the Red Owl. Twilight Zone - Red Owl; Twilight Zone - Red Owl. That's the difference between teen jobs available in Moorhead, Minnesota and New York City. You may have felt like Woody Allen, but the rest of us would probably have thought of you more as a young JD Salinger.
Wow! A real-life "Twilight Zone" magazine reader/fan! I think the magazine stopped publishing around 1986, a shame really, because it did feature some damned good writing. Of course, now magazines are going the way of the dodo, courtesy the Internet. Sorry, it's just not the same, really good magazines and books are imbued with a soul it sometimes seems. If I'd been working on an "online publication" all those years ago, I'd have never been able to receive a 32-year-old relic of my existence in my mailbox. The world is suffering too many losses at the hands of technology.Delete
Please, mentioning me in the same sentence as JD Salinger is sacrilege. I am happy I grew up in New York City, though. Especially when New York was still New York, and not the sanitized highfalutin version of itself that it is now. Hey, didn't ex New York Giants quarterback Phil Simms graduate from Moorhead State? Is that located in located in your hometown?
I so enjoyed that. The editor who hired you immediately must have seen what is still abundantly clear; you are so special and talented. Much remains, Marc.ReplyDelete
Thank you, I'm glad you enjoyed the post. As for the editor who hired me, everyone suffers a lapse in judgment sometimes.Delete
I sure hope much remains, things are getting a little dodgy…
Please forgive the stream of consciousness triggered by this post. I'm sure I've seen more episodes of the Twilight Zone, but the only one I can recall is of a group of people caught in a cylindrical room, which they cannot figure out how to escape. Then the camera at the end pans away and lets us know they are in a garbage can, while passersby do their shopping on a busy commercial street. Absurd? Bad memory on my part? Dunno. But, it occurs to me that the garbage can and its inhabitants could be the equivalent of a Plato's cave in which the apparent reality, real though it seems, is limited by the unwillingness to step away from the familiar. I don't know exactly where I am going with this. There are so many symbols that can be derived from that Twilight Zone show. Some of them can apply to those tossed away by an unseeing world that cannot see utility in those stuck in a garbage can; in this case, disabled people. I don't remember if anyone made it out of the garbage can, but I have to wonder whether any of the can's inhabitants found meaning in their lives while living in their garbage can. And that certainly is one of the challenges presented by that episode: how does one create meaning and a sense of empowerment when one feels powerless? Every word you write, Marc, is a shout for meaning and self empowerment. Will you ever make it out of the cylindrical room? I don’t know, but if I go instead with the cave analogy, it seems to me that, at least in a metaphorical sense, you have stepped away from facing the shadows on the cave wall and have turned toward the light, even if you cannot actually step out from the cave and join it.ReplyDelete
I believe the episode you are referring to was called "Five Characters in Search of an Exit", and did indeed revolve around five people who find themselves trapped in a giant cylinder. I won't ruin the surprise, because you can view the episode on YouTube. It's a classic:Delete
as for my words being a shout for meaning and empowerment, right on, sister! The analogy between we the disabled and the twilight zone characters stuck in a steel cylinder is quite appropriate, I think. I guess this blog is just my attempt at shouting loud enough so that people know I'm still here. Craziest thing is that now people know I'm here who had no idea I existed before I got sick. My existential screams have traveled much further than I ever thought possible. And for that I am eternally grateful.
The problem with being stuck in Plato's cave is that we weren't born in it. Having once frolicked in the world beyond its mouth, peering out at the light from inside is often more hurtful than simply staring into the shadows. And yet we must force ourselves to look, to try to maintain connections…
The TV episode which I remember best was the old man who kept trading away his wealth to get parts of the younger man so his girlfriend (or wife,I can't remember after 20+ years)would like him more. The end of the episode with the beautiful woman on the beach with the now old but rich guy was great on the be careful what you wish for front.Delete
Thank you for the link. That was truly an extraordinary experience, like opening a time capsule. I did not see the episode when it first aired, but it certainly has been a long time since I viewed it; perhaps, thirty years or so. I am also fairly certain that a lot of the layered meaning escaped the earlier me. I don't know whether I had to pass through the crucible of MS to grasp the layers. Perhaps they were obvious to everyone else but me. I don't remember. I do know that I am thankful that you found it for me. And, apart from appreciating its applicability to the Big questions I ask now, I am also struck by the willingness TV had then to do something like this. Maybe it would still happen, could only happen, on a minor cable channel now. Thanks again.Delete
As for your comment regarding the problem with Plato's cave being that we weren't born into it, you're right. Short of an amnesia drug, one can't undo having some knowledge and yearning for that outside world of light. And, by extension, experiencing heartbreak at now being deprived of it. And, yet, as you so wisely recognize, we must force ourselves to look. Otherwise, our world has the potential for being even smaller (at least in the emotional, spiritual, and mental sense) than it already is physically.
And as long as we are talking about symbols, I am relieved to see that it was not a garbage can but a gift receptacle. Not to be presumptive, but can the receptacle’s incarnation as a gift box suggest that, in its applicability to the MS world, we are somehow gifts to the world? Hmmm.Delete
Marc, you never cease to amaze me and entertain. Next you'll tell me that you knew Isaac Asimov from seeing or talking to him on the streets of NY. It's a wonderful story. Thank you. I was a Twilight Zone viewer and fan. Classic TV with so many future stars in the casts.ReplyDelete
Larry, unfortunately I never did meet Isaac Asimov. Marlo Thomas and Phil Donahue were sitting at the table next to mine at a restaurant last month, though. Marlo dropped a lipstick and it rolled under Karens chair. Not quite as exciting as Isaac Asimov, but I suspect Marlo may be a robot, judging from her ageless appearance, so there may be a link…Delete
Yep, Twilight Zone sealed the deal.....you're the male ME.ReplyDelete
I always suspected I had a female doppelgänger somewhere in the world. I wonder if Rod Serling ever imagined such a thing as the Internet?Delete
Thought others would want to know.
Passing along these comment posts from The Greek from Detroit's blog from his mom.
"Feb. 24- MS is taking the Greek down. His suffering has been terrifying especially for those of us who love him. He has been in agony, bedridden, but always keeping that beautiful spirit that he has, and still trying to fight the monster. For those of you who understand, think of him.
Feb. 28- The Greek is on his final journey. He is making his transition to the next world that I hope will be kinder to him than this one. Soon, when he has finally ended this sojourn, I will post his final words.
Me, his Mom , who loves him beyond all words."
George, the Greek, has become a dear friend, and I am heartbroken by his loss. As of this writing, he still has not passed from this existence, but when he does I will eulogize him on these pages. He was a terrific friend, a great human being, and a hell of a guy…Delete
You are a talented writer, I am so impressed.
I wish I had the courage to try writing, it might be an escape from ms that I need.
Just wanted to write here to say that your writing here is fantastic to read, even though it's about the most horrible MonSter in our lives. Incidentally, I'd followed the link to read about The Greek just now, and I feel gutted. It's horrible that this disease isn't happy just to kill us, but rather to reduce us to this point at which too many of us have found ourselves...
I'm 37 and to this day I still watch the original twilight zone episodes which are way before my time. It's amazing how they still hold up and are super creepy. Rod Serling was a genius. I've always liked Next Stop Willoughby and 5 characters in search of an exit. They're almost all amazing. I'm hoping one day they can successfully bring them back. The 80's version was completely unwatchable.ReplyDelete