During the Cold War, the colonel was commander of the Continental Air Defense Command (now NORAD). In case of an attack on the United States, he would have been the first to receive word.
Colonel Shoup was at his desk that day in 1955 when NORAD assumed the task of following the progress of Santa’s sleigh. But the new responsibility wasn’t ordered by President Eisenhower or any of the colonel’s military superiors.
The job resulted from a typographical error–one little mistake whose happy consequences are still being felt nearly sixty years later.
From the Storycorps website: “StoryCorps is a national nonprofit that gives people the chance to interview friends and loved ones about their lives. These conversations are archived at the American Folklife Center at the Library of Congress, allowing participants to leave a legacy for future generations. Learn more, including how to interview someone in your life, at StoryCorps.org.”
When it ran, in the early ’60s, TV sets hadn’t yet reached peak efficiency. Things went wrong: static, snow, vertical hold not holding, antenna blown cattywampus by a strong breeze.
Periodically someone would have to jump up and turn knobs on the front or jiggle wires in the back. The worst was the dreaded horizontal hold. When that got loose, the repairman was a phone call away. (Back then we didn’t just chuck electronic equipment.)
That was during the Cold War and the Space Race. Satellites and flying saucers and who-knew-what-else were up there. When the picture suddenly blurred and the order sounded—”Do not attempt to adjust your set”—viewers knew an alien force was in control. It stayed in control for the next sixty minutes, minus time out for commercials and station identification.
(During commercials, Earth reasserted control. But viewers helped continue the illusion by leaving the room or talking amongst themselves.)
David gave me a set of Outer Limits DVDs for our anniversary. (Please do not sneer at his choice. I gave him a towel shelf. Romance is not measured in bonbons and champagne. Anyway, we’d gone through Alfred Hitchcock Presents and Twilight Zone and were ready to move on.)
To date, we’ve watched four episodes.
First there was the story of the radio broadcaster who makes contact with an alien civilization. “I’m not supposed to be doing this,” says the human. “Neither am I,” says the alien. “Because your race is dangerous.”
Yeah, I thought, we are.
Then there was the one about the scientist who, for the sake of greed and glory, creates a microbe that destroys all but a remnant of the human race and turns survivors into freaks.
Yeah, I thought. Biological warfare. Drug-resistant bacteria.
Then there was the one about Orbit, a top-secret program designed to spy, eventually, on everyone on earth. The military supports research and development until the general who okayed the program becomes frightened of it.
Yeah, I thought. Drones, CC-TV, web-cams, little cameras in ladies’ dressing rooms.
The only part that seemed unreal about that show was the general saying he was frightened. I don’t know of any generals who’ve complained about drones.
To be candid, Outer Limits plays today like a documentary with bad lighting. What began as movie night has become depressing.
Tonight’s episode, however, afforded hope. Harry Guardino’s brain takes over Gary Merrill’s body and sets out to destroy everyone at a polar scientific installation. Sally Kellerman recognizes that Merrill’s brain is in Guardino’s body and helps Merrill subdue Guardino, and it’s all due to the power of love.
A vision of an Abominable Snowman makes a couple of appearances. I didn’t catch its significance, but David said it represented Guardino’s guilt for not going into a crevasse to save a fellow soldier.
Now is the time to confess that I wasn’t paying attention during the crevasse scene. I was writing this post.
And therein lies a solution: when fifty-year-old sci-fi makes me feel like Winston Smith, I’ll grab the laptop and type myself into my own literary reality.
P. S. Now is the time to confess that the Merrill-Guardino-Kellerman show wasn’t nearly so good as the others. Sappy and insignificant. Like 1984 would have been without all the…Never mind.
ROW80: Doing okay. Sent two short-short stories to my beta reader. Started revising first part of novel draft. To see how other ROW80 participants are getting along, click here.
Image of satellite by NSSDC, NASA[see page for license], via Wikimedia Commons. This file is in the public domain because it was created by NASA. NASA copyright policy states that “NASA material is not protected by copyright unless noted“.