Armagideon Time

The march toward mortality

July 14th, 2014

There’s a well known first season episode of The Twilight Zone titled “Walking Distance, price ” where Gig Young plays a middle aged ad man who has car trouble while driving past the outskirts of his childhood hometown. To kill time until the repairs are finished, he decides to check out his old hood and is shocked-slash-overjoyed to find it exists exactly as it did when he was a boy…right up to a younger version of himself running around.

In the 2014 remake of the episode starring yours truly, I played a man who discovered he’d fucked up the time of his appointment right after his wife dropped him off at the dentist’s office. Not having a cell phone but knowing she went to grab lunch down the road in North Woburn Center, I decided to hike on over to find her, my feet retracing a path they hadn’t trod on since 1984.

What I found was not some misremembered nostalgic Eden, but an ugly cluster of new developments thrown up on any and every plot of open space — massive condo complexes done up in contemporary upscale squalid, small shops repurposed as tanning salons and Dunkin Donuts, and a CVS occupying what had formerly been a warren of apartments and single family homes.

I knew most of this already from the few occasions I’ve driven through the old neighborhood. What was new was how small everything felt compared to my memories of growing up there. Distances that felt absolutely epic when I was twelve (and only a few inches shorter than I am now) were now something I could traverse in a few minutes even in the blistering summer heat.

Discovering the relative smallness of one’s childhood universe is hardly a novel revelation, but it’s still one that can hit pretty hard when directly experienced. Mixed with it is a sobering glimpse of one’s mortality, being confronted with the knowledge that things have moved on since your departure…with no trace of your passing save a tree you helped your parents plant and a nearly obliterated set of initials carved into a rotting log.

In “Walking Distance,” the protagonist’s mucking about in the past causes an accident to befall his younger self, causing the modern day incarnation to manifest a permanent limp. In my version of the tale, the protagonist’s decision to walk a mile in a pair of beat-up Docs led to his feet aching like a sonofabitch and developing an unholy stink.

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4 Responses to “The march toward mortality”

  1. sallyp

    Yeah, this is the sort of thing that hits hard. Which is why I never ever want to go back to the little beach town in southern California where I grew up, because I can still remember the way that it WAS, and not the way that it now IS.

  2. Tim O'Neil

    I did something recent a while back, visiting the north shore of Lake Tahoe where I grew up for the first time in over twenty years. Everything was smaller, everything was more decrepit, with the exception of the rich enclaves where I had never been in the first place.

    Plus, there was the added bonus of traveling upwards in elevation over a mile from where I live now, so I felt a bit goofy all day when I was up there. I wonder if being raised at a high elevation has any long-term side effects.

  3. Johnathan

    The place I grew up still feels exactly the same, which is its own special kind of horror, believe me.

  4. TG

    I actually live in my old neighborhood– well, one school district over– which is now a protected historic district that is, of course, gentrifying. The homes are intact, but the economic diversity and bohemian shabbiness of my childhood is flattening out. So I appreciate what I call the “unreconstructed” places– the beat-up, dry-lawned, unremodeled dig-in-the heels houses that keep the shabby flag flying.

    As it happens, though, my humble childhood home was exactly three houses north of the historic district boundary line, and has been leveled and replaced with an out-of-scale, neo-bourgeoise mini-mansion. So it goes.

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