Wednesday, October 07, 2015

Be Careful What You Wish For

"It isn't just an antique shop where you pick up the pitiful remnants of other people's failures; it's a shrine to failure itself! That's what it is."

Arthur (Luther Adler)

You probably wouldn't recognize the names of any of the actors who appeared in the episode of the original Twilight Zone that premiered on this date in 1960. But the actors' faces would be familiar to anyone who has watched much TV programming that was produced in those days. They were popping up frequently in supporting roles.

As for the episode itself, it was a very Twilight Zone–esque story — a middle–aged couple struggled to make ends meet with their small antiques shop. One day an elderly woman came in looking to sell a bottle. She claimed it was a family heirloom, but the husband knew it was an old glass bottle that wasn't worth anything. She found it in a trash dumpster. He also knew the old lady needed money for food so he went along with her story and gave her a dollar — even though he had no money to spare.

After she left, the man knocked over the bottle and it turned out to contain a genuine genie. You probably wouldn't recognize the name of the actor who played the genie, either, but he offered the couple four wishes.

The owner of the shop was skeptical. As proof that the genie was telling the truth, he wished for some broken glass in a display case to be repaired. The genie touched it, and the cracks disappeared.

Convinced that the genie was telling the truth, the couple wished for a million dollars in $5 and $10 bills, which came cascading from above — inside the shop.

In a fit of generosity, the shopkeepers gave a lot of their money away to folks in the neighborhood who, like themselves, were down on their luck. The last person to visit the shop was an IRS representative, who informed them that they would owe taxes on their windfall. When they counted up the money they had left and deducted the taxes they owed, they were left with $5.

The genie reminded them that he had urged them to think carefully before making a wish. A wish could not be undone except through the use of another wish. The shopkeeper asked the genie what could be wished for that would have no "tricks" attached. The genie said it had been no trick. There were consequences with any windfall. If they had made a wish that took into consideration the taxes, that outcome might have been avoided.

"No matter what you wish for," the genie said, "you must be prepared for the consequences."

The shopkeeper decided to wish for power. What kind of power? the genie wanted to know. President of a corporation?

The wife pointed out that the corporation could go bankrupt.

Mayor of a city?

Could get voted out of office.

The shopkeeper had the answer: He wanted to be the head of a 20th–century foreign country who could not be voted out of office.

So the genie granted him his wish — he was Hitler in the bunker at the end of World War II.

That led to his final wish — to be a simple, struggling shopkeeper once more.

And so he was.

The shopkeeper and his wife decided that their life wasn't as bad as they thought — and agreed to spruce up the old life since they clearly couldn't afford a new one. The wife pointed out that they came out ahead, anyway, noting the glass in the display case that was repaired in the first wish. Unfortunately, though, the glass was broken again a few seconds later, leaving the two precisely where they had been before the genie came into their lives.

I guess the lesson of the story was that you should be careful what you wish for — although, really, shouldn't there be something better to it than that?