BY D.J. WALDIE
Illustration by Richard Downs
it's a Friday night in January 1962, and the chill, blue-gray light spilling from the TV set in the side room is this week's episode of "The Twilight Zone." Tonight's story, like other Rod Serling scripts in the series, is haunted by the 14-year-old Cold War.
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A megalomaniac millionaire has built the perfect fallout shelter beneath his New York office building. He invites the three people he blames for ruining his life to join him there. With film clips and radio announcements, he pretends that the atomic Armageddon is about to begin. He taunts his guests with his safety and their vulnerability if they leave. Each can stay in the shelter, but only if they grovel in apology and beg him for the privilege. They don't, because Serling has given each of them his own stoic pride.
When they've gone, the millionaire sees the bombs actually detonate and the city destroyed. In belated horror, he rushes into the upper world and finds himself the sole survivor in a ruined landscape. He breaks down in his terrible solitude.
But, he'd gone mad long before. He sees a ruined world where he's alone, but he's actually cowering in the middle of an average urban sidewalk -- with cops and pretty girls and cars honking -- where nothing at all has happened.
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As some of us stumble out of the shelter of the Cold War into the light above ground, we still see concentric rings labeled fireball, peak overpressure zone, secondary blast damage and radiation effects superimposed at five-mile intervals on our hometown topography. My house, 24 miles southeast of downtown Los Angeles, fell outside the ring of immediate annihilation from a 20-megaton airburst above L.A. City Hall, as calculated by the Los Angeles Times in 1961. My house fell inside the ring of blast damage, fire and radiation.