Back in season one of his show, The Twilight Zone, Rod Serling penned a prophecy of GenX’s end. By taking a look at it, you GenXers can see what lies in store for you at the end of your life.
The episode is “One For the Angels” starring the incomparable Ed Wynn as Lew Bookman, a barely making it, apparently single, aged, Lost Generation sidewalk peddler who gets a visit from Death.
I’ll be doing spoilers. The episode isn’t available online, although pieces are on YouTube. I invite you to watch, and then meet me below the summary that follows.
- “One of the Angels”, Part one (poor)
- “One of the Angels”, Part two (good)
- “One of the Angels”, Part three (good)
Bookman is a rather unremarkable man. He peddles little gadgets and such out of a fold-up suitcase stand. He lives alone in a small efficiency apartment in a low-rent district in town. The kids like him, and he dotes on them, perhaps because he is at the end of his days now and never had any.
Death comes to visit, and tells Bookman that his ticket is up: tonight he’ll die. Bookman deals for an exception, in order to achieve the greatest thing in his profession: a truly big pitch, “a pitch for the angels”. It may not be much, he says, but ”
It would mean for one moment in my whole lie, I’d have done something successful. It would mean that maybe, maybe the children would be very proud of me.
So Death grants him an extension. And Bookman takes advantage of it and decides to never pitch again.
Unfortunately, Death can’t be cheated. He has to take someone else. And the someone turns out to be Maggie, the little girl that lives in the building whom Bookman has befriended.
The doctor comes and tells Bookman that if Maggie can make it past midnight, she’ll probably make it. Bookman knows what it means: if Death comes calling before then, she’ll die. “He won’t come in,” he says to himself. “I won’t let him come in!”
So Death shows up.
Bookman then sets up his suitcase sales stand and starts pitching. And Death starts listening. He pitches, and pitches hard. He pulls out all his stops, deploys every trick he has ever learned. At the end of his pitch, out of goods to sell, Bookman pitches the only thing he has left: his own eternal servitude to Death.
And Death misses his appointment.
But Bookman to save Maggie’s life, Bookman has had to do a great pitch, one for the angels. And so his time is up.
WHY IT’S GENX
Serling actually makes a point of having death give Bookman’s birth year, clearly making him Lost Generation. It’s an odd choice, but it makes sense from a generational point of view. The Lost Generation is same type of generation, according to the theories of Neil Howe and the late William Strauss. What was true of the Lost Generation in their old age will be true of GenX.
Serling absolutely nails this.
Here you see the start of GenX future, at least for most of you. You will reach the end of your life. You will have schemed and horsetraded all your life, with nothing to speak of to show for it. You know how to make a deal, how to cheat a con. You’ve hustled all your life.
And now at the end, you’re still hustling.
You lack the normal benefits of community. It’s clear that Bookman has friends among children, but when people get old enough to know the score, he’s just some loser in an efficiency. The parents don’t even see him as a threat to the kids. He’s harmless. Inconsequential. A nobody.
When he finally does something consequential, finally does something “the children would be very proud of me” for, it’s only him who knows he’s done it. He and Death walk off-screen together, and no one will ever know that he sacrificed his one big chance, that he accomplished something no one has ever done and made Death miss an appointment, that he did a Great Pitch.
That he sacrificed everything for a little girl.
A Lost Generation loser who gives his life to save a little Boomer girl. Try imagining that as one of Nancy Pelosi’s Silent Generation or George W. Bush’s Boomer Generation doing that for a GenXer child. The story’s absurd.
GenX will know the score late in life, like they did in their youth. They will know that their lives aren’t worth much. And they’ll know that the next Beloved Generation, like the Boomers, have worth. Those elder GenXers will look at the chance to get — like the Silents of AARP — “their fair share” at the nation’s trough, and pass it by so that the next generations can fare better than they.
Not only will they pass up old people welfare but they will give up what little they do have in order to save the future. They will vote for higher taxes on themselves and lower benefits, just as the Lost Generation did before them during the 1950s.
Them that’s got, gets. And thems that don’t, even what they have will be taken from them. As it’s always been, so shall it be with GenX. Given nothing, what little they scraped together will be taken and given to him who was given a lot to begin with.
Nor will this sacrifice earn them respect of posterity. They will die as losers, the contempt of the future upon them forever.
But GenX will know the score. Eyes wide open, they will take upon themselves to pay for the sins of the nation. Knowing that it was right will be all that matters.
Image Credit: Bessemer converter (iron into steel) Allegheny Ludlum Steel(e) Corp Brackenridge, Pa (LOC)” [crop]. Ca. 1940. Alfred T. Palmer via Library of Congress
Where else on the planet could we read a post like this? You are unique, Forrest. This is great stuff.
Your post made me think of CS Lewis and how he lived by hope. Here’s an excerpt from Surprised by Joy having to do with the theological virtue of hope. Lew Bookman the sidewalk pedlar is a saint in heaven and an imitator of Christ as well as a loser!
“Life at a vile boarding school is in this way a good preparation for the Christian life, that it teaches one to live by hope. Even, in a sense, by faith; for at the beginning of each term, home and the holidays are so far off that it is as hard to realize them as to realize heaven. They have the same pitiful unreality when confronted with immediate horrors. Tomorrowâ€™s geometry blots out the distant end of term as tomorrowâ€™s operation may blot out the hope of Paradise. And yet, term after term, the unbelievable happened. Fantastical and astronomical figures like â€œthis time six weeksâ€ shrank into practicable figures like â€œthis time next week,â€ and then â€œthis time tomorrow,â€ and the almost supernatural bliss of the Last Day punctually appeared.
In all seriousness I think that the life of faith is easier to me because of these memories. To think, in sunny and confident times, that I shall die and rot, or to think that one day this universe will slip away and become memory . . . is easier to us if we have seen just that sort of thing happening before. We have learned not to take present things at their face value.”
But it still does suck for us day-to-day Gen X losers this side of heaven.