Many years ago I was a substitute letter carrier in a small California town. The post office had a service then called "special delivery." It meant a carrier would come to your home with a piece of mail to assure its delivery by a specified time. My first day on the job I was handed a stack of special deliveries and a map, and sent on my way.
The excitement of starting a new job paled compared to what I felt upon looking at the name on the top letter: Mr. Rod Serling.
At the time, one of the most popular shows on TV was "The Twilight Zone." The science fiction/fantasy show was written, produced, and narrated by Mr. Serling himself. Every week he'd introduce the show dressed in his trademark gray suit. My family never missed an episode.
My palms began to sweat as I approached the Serling house. I couldn't swallow. I was about to meet not only my first real celebrity, but also a man I held in awe. I envisioned Rod himself opening the door, in full gray suit, welcoming me to ... the Twilight Zone.
The door swung open and I was face to face with a five-foot tall housekeeper in a blue uniform and yellow rubber gloves. A second later, two large golden retrievers blew by, almost knocking me over. Hot on their heels was a frantic man in an open bathrobe. He zipped past me, robe billowing, allowing a full view of silk boxer shorts. "Help me" he cried over his shoulder as he sprinted down the driveway. I was pretty sure this was Mr. Serling, but it was more of him than I cared to meet. I dropped my letter and map and took off in pursuit.
It took a moment before I realized I was in uniform, chasing a nearly naked Rod Serling down a residential street.
After two blocks, the dogs split up. Mr. Serling followed the first one, disappearing over a hedge into a private yard. I kept after the second. Several houses later I saw the dog sitting on a front porch. As I approached, he wagged his tail and came to me. I grabbed his collar. Success!
My problem now was that I had no idea where I was. I did not know the neighborhood, and my map was sitting on Serling's front porch. I tried to backtrack, but every house looked the same. There I stood in my red, white, and blue, the man everyone stops to ask directions, too embarrassed to knock on a door and ask where I was.
I wandered with the dog for probably 15 minutes. Finally the Serling housekeeper pulled up in a van. She told me the other dog had come home of its own accord and Mr. Serling was concerned about me. She knew I was lost, I knew I was lost, and certainly Mr. Serling knew I was lost, but he and she were too kind to say so.
Mr. Serling was waiting when we arrived. He instantly put me at ease and invited me in, grateful for my help.
There I sat, across from Mr. Twilight Zone himself, too intimidated to drink my coffee, but thankful he'd closed his robe. Mr. Serling sensed my predicament and began to tell stories about the show and his dogs. I drank it all in, not believing where I was or what was happening. His words flowed past me in a blur and I only remember him saying something about the animals actually being in charge of us.
At this point he stopped talking and stared at me in the strangest way. He abruptly stood up, thanked me for my help, and said to finish my coffee. With that he left the room. I returned to my rounds wondering if I'd offended him. Had I said something? Had I been too quiet?
Weeks later, my wife and I were watching that evening's episode of "The Twilight Zone." It was about an astronaut who lands on another planet and finds people just like us. The aliens take him in and are kind to him, even providing him with an Earth-like apartment. Then one morning he awakens to find himself behind bars. He's on display in a zoo and all the aliens are pointing and looking at him.
Then it hit me. In my mind I returned to the moment when Mr. Serling seemed to go blank over coffee. Had that been the moment when an idea for a new episode had struck? Perhaps it had been the idea for the episode we were now watching. Mr. Serling had left hastily to write it down before he lost it.
The creative spark is a wonderful thing that separates us from the animals - or, as in Rod Serling's case, from our golden retrievers. I was enormously pleased then, and I'm still pleased now, to think that I might have witnessed a bolt of inspiration strike a man whose creativity I admire so much.