Rod Serling & Painting Dean White’s House in Austin, Minnesota
February 17, 2013 § Leave a comment
That last post reminded me of a strange encounter I had several years ago. One day when I was helping my ex-boyfriend paint a house one summer in Austin, Minnesota. The old man whose house we were painting peeked his head out of his sliding glass door and pointed at me. He said “you, come here” and waved in his direction. Eric was just preparing to bleach the house with a power sprayer, and I really desperately wanted to be a part of it, but I decided to forgo the opportunity and obliged. He sat me down and said “you’re Filipino aren’t you??” … I answered “yes, how’d you know?!!!” politely feigning excitement. “Well,” he said, “Did you ever hear about the Bataan Death March during WWII?” … “uh, yes” I said. “Well, I was there.” He then recalled a crazy story from which I have yet to recover. He recounted how he was stuck in a foxhole with a buddy for over two weeks, drinking nothing but water off of leaves. They did shit outside of their foxholes, he told me—though it was a serious risk. To get to the punchline… he said that he used to reunite with his foxhole buddy once every ten years. “He was a Jew, you see, do you know what a Jew is?” he asked me… I said “yes” trying not to sound surprised. “Jews, you know, they don’t believe in the second coming.” I answered “OH!” he then continued “…My foxhole mate was Rod Serling.” (cue twilight zone music).
I’m pretty sure that I was one of the very few Filipinos that Dean White has met since WWII. In any case, so yes, it doesn’t take much digging to find connections between Rod Serling’s time in service in the Philippines and the Twilight Zone. To me, the whole thing made so much sense all of a sudden, the claustrophobia, unrelenting paranoia, death—these were all such vivid experiences for Dean and Rod. At the same time there was this surreal unfamiliarity surrounding them, a jungle more disorienting perhaps than even the ruins of Europe, which many soldiers still had at least distant cultural connections with.
Among the many gruesome things Rod witnessed during the war were the decapitation of a close friend by a food crate dropped by US Air supply. He also killed a Japanese soldier standing on Third Base in Rizal Baseball Stadium—a disorienting and tragic juxtaposition of the dark and the familiar. The Twilight Zone seems all of a sudden so strangely light.
Several of Serling’s scripts were set in the Philippines, and almost all of them drew upon his experiences in war. The stills above are from “A Quality of Mercy” (partially set on Corregidor) about a zealous American Lietuenant stationed in the Philippines who suddenly wakes up as a Lieutenant in the Japanese Imperial Army, and “The Purple Testament” in which a soldier has the unlucky gift of seeing who in his company is about to die. Anyway that day was one of those moments where you think how weird it is to be in this world, to meet the people that you do, how distant and close we all are &c.This is totally an aside, but a fascinating one. One of the weirdest things that Dean told me that day was that it was only the week before he met us that he first tried pizza. He considered it an ‘exotic’ food. I asked him what he thought about it, and he said “It was ok, but I wouldn’t eat it every day.” Anyway, it was funny, I thought because there are far more exotic foods available in Austin at this point.
In fact, I was shocked when I found amazing Mexican food there. It didn’t take me long to put together that this was one of the side-effects of one of the most contentious labor disputes in American history—the violent Hormel strike of the mid 80s. Following the strike Hormel divided itself into two, portioning off its slaughtering facility so that it would no longer legally be a part of the publicly traded Hormel Foods (thus, no longer being subject to stricter regulations). Shortly following this, as some tell it, Hormel sent untold numbers of buses down to Mexico to recruit new and very poorly paid laborers to work in the slaughterhouse. At first they brought only males, but now they transport entire families. They’ve opened up several amazing Mexican food joints. On more than one occasion truly disturbing racist bumper stickers caught my eye. I also was on the receiving end of some pretty terrible stares when I went out to the bars. Austin, Minnesota (Spamtown USA) is like this amazing and sometimes horrifying concentration of the forces changing the US. I should add to this later.