It’s Friday evening, February 28, 1964. A twelve year old version of myself sits down in front of the television in the family room to watch my favorite show, The Twilight Zone. The TV was black and white and received only two channels.
A year later, a third television station would begin broadcasting locally, giving my family access to all three, count them 3, nationwide networks; NBC, CBS, and ABC. Unfortunately, NBC’s “wonderful world of color” wouldn’t be viewed in my house for several more years and 200 plus cable channels were unimaginable, the stuff of fantasy and science fiction.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but the Twilight Zone episode which I was about to watch was going to so impress itself into my memory, that I would still recall it in detail to this day. It was also going to introduce me to the writer, Ambrose Bierce.
The episode was based upon a short story written by Bierce entitled, An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge. In summary, it’s the fictional retelling of the circumstances related to the execution, by hanging, of a Confederate spy during the American Civil War. In case anyone is interested in watching the film, I was amazed to discover that it’s available on YouTube. What an age we now live in!
I just finished watching it again. I have to admit that on second viewing, some 48 years after the first, I found the film a bit slow in getting to the point, but its style is stereotypic of what passed for television drama during the 60s; especially that produced by an introspective and angst ridden French director and crew.
For those so inclined, I’d recommend reading Ambrose Bierce’s original short story before watching the film. It’s much better than the film version and is also available from several sources on the internet. Who needs 200 plus cable channels when one has access to the worldwide web?
As much as An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge impressed me, the real reason that I enjoy Ambrose Bierce as a writer is another of his works entitled, The Devil’s Dictionary.
As I continue to age and evolve into a very comfortable state of chronic curmudgeonry, I find Bierce’s definitions of common words to be both insightful and entertaining.
Here’s a few selections from the dictionary almost guaranteed to bring on a wry smile:
CORPORATION, n.: An ingenious device for obtaining individual profit without individual responsibility.
ADHERENT, n. A follower who has not yet obtained all that he expects to get.
SELF-ESTEEM, n. An erroneous appraisement.
QUOTATION, n: The act of repeating erroneously the words of another.
SWEATER, n.: A garment worn by a child when its mother is feeling chilly.
Definitions as accurate today as when they were first published in 1906 and there’s plenty more where these came from.
Thank you, Mr. Bierce.
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