Nervous Man in a Four Dollar Room
Jackie Rhoades – Joe Mantell
George – William D. Gordon
Narrator – Rod Serling
Yesterday in 1959 was the first episode ever aired of The Twilight Zone. What better way to celebrate than one of my favorite episodes ever? But, of course, even though I love it I’m sure the snark will still be there. On with the show!
We open on the eponymous Nervous Man nervously chewing the crap out of his fingernails. The phone rings and he jumps up to answer it. It’s someone named George and Jackie’s been waiting all of this very hot night for George to call. He wants to know what George had in mind for the night. George is obviously saying something Jackie gets upset about. Jackie starts to talk fast, telling George that he’s been sitting there and roasting all night. George obviously thinks that Jackie’s trying to cop out on…whatever it is. He tells George that George knows he has a tendency toward being nervous and he’s been waiting all this time in this very hot (presumably $4.oo) room. He just wants to know what George has in mind. Jackie says he’s not complaining, George knows he;s his number one dude. Ready to do anything. He just wants to know what the job is. Suspenseful music plays and it seems that George has hung up.
This is Mr. Jackie Rhoades, age 34 (yeah, right). And where some men leave a mark of their lives, as a record of their fragmentary existence on Earth, this man leaves a blot. a dirty, discolored blemish to document a cheap and undistinguished. sojourn amongst his betters.
What you’re about to watch in this room is a strange mortal combat between a man and himself. For in just a moment Mr. Jackie Rhoades whose life has been given over to fighting adversaries will find his most formidable opponent in a cheap hotel room. That is, in reality, the outskirts of the Twilight Zone.
Jackie is now lying face-down on the bed, rubbing the back of his sweaty head. There’s a knock at the door. Jackie answers it and the mysterious George comes in. George looks the very definition of ‘greasy hood’. His hair is sort of slicked back, he has a sort-of pencil mustache (that Vincent Price pulls off much better) and a tie that’s way too short to be tucked into his jacket. They say their “How do you dos”. Jackie says he’s good and gets all up into George’s personal space to tell him, yet again, that he’s nervous about the action tonight.
George says it’s quite a place that Jackie has there. Jackie seems weirdly proud of his room and says “for $4 a night you can’t go wrong”. George’s weird response is that you can’t go wrong but you might be “roasted alive or poisoned by small creatures.” Um, ok. Unless there’s scorpions or brown recluse spiders lurking about is a little unlikely. Jackie asks again what the job is and George asks if it makes a difference. Uh, yah! If Jackie’s supposed to do something it might be somewhat helpful to know what that ‘something’ is.
Jackie sputters a bit and says, no, it doesn’t matter, really. George asks Jackie what he wants to do? What’s Jackie’s heart’s desire? Jackie scolds George for pulling his leg. Jackie says he doesn’t mind a little shakedown or a little Bunco but he keeps getting all of the hard stuff. He almost got caught by the police the last two times. George seems very amused by this. Jackie says that if he gets picked up one more time it’s three strikes and out. George pokes a bit of fun at Jackie and asks what he does to sleep at night, hide in a locked closet?
Jackie asks (again) what the job is. Finally George relents and tells Jackie that tonight he’s going to let him be a man and show some muscle. He tells Jackie that there’s going to be no shakedowns, no deliveries to a fence, Jackie’s moving up in the world. Which, apparently in their world, requires a revolver. George tosses it on the bed and Jackie stares at it.
George goes on to explain that there’s an old man who doesn’t want to pay for their jukeboxes and doesn’t want their protection. They’ve tried to be ‘reasonable’ but it’s been no use. So, tomorrow, they want the old man ‘sprawled across his bar’ and everyone else will fall in line. Jackie looks very unhappy about this, as well he should. Jackie tells George that he can go to prison just for carrying the piece and that killing an old man is not for him. George grabs Jackie’s shirt and tells him that since Jackie is in deep up to his eyeballs he doesn’t have a say in what’s right for him.
Jackie says he’s strictly small-time. That if he mugged someone he’s got to do it from behind because he’s got no guts and George knows it. Jackie says he’s just nickle and dime. Why doesn’t George get some of his torpedoes? George says the minute they find the old man dead all his “torpedoes” will get picked up. Nobody will suspect Jackie precisely because he is nickle and dime and everybody knows it. George goes to leave and Jackie tries to grab him to change his mind. George bitch slaps him and says he doesn’t care where Jackie gets his guts from but he’d better find them, buy them or grow them in a pot but he’d better get them and do the job. George drops the parting pleasantry that the old man closes up shop at 2:00 and Jackie had better be there. George will be back at 2:30 and he’d better not find out that Jackie chickened out or else…
Jackie looks at the gun then calls after George, pleading. Then he leans against the door and starts some determined knuckle and nail chewing. He paces the room a bit then stops at the mirror. He starts asking his reflection what the deal is? It shouldn’t be hard to get rid of a dopey old man. He thinks it’s hilarious that George called the older gentleman a gleep. And I have no idea what that is. The only time I’ve ever heard it was in M*A*S*H in an entirely different context. Colonel Potter warns Radar that someone will bite him and give him the ‘gleep’. But doesn’t elaborate when Radar is confused. So if any of you know what it is please let me know!
He tells his reflection that he wishes he could trade himself in. He kindly tells his reflection that it’s not his fault, it’s the breaks. Why couldn’t he be different. He asks himself why he’s so scared all the time. He feels like he’s had a long life. Too many nights in the tank, in the stir, in cheap-ass hotel rooms like the one he’s in now. He’s paying $4 a night to roast to death. Other than the heat it looks like a halfway decent room. I’ve certainly seen worse. He gripes some more about being a nervous little nail biter. Then he tweaks out and yells at the long-gone George that George isn’t any judge of character and should peel melons or handle apples and oranges because he ain’t no judge of people. Jackie laughs maniacally and calls himself Jackie the Killer. Or, Jack the Ripper, perhaps?
He tells his reflection that he ain’t no killer. But he’s got to kill tonight or else he’ll be killed. If he does it, he’s dead. If he doesn’t, he’s dead. He whines a bit more and tries to light a cigarette but doesn’t have any matches so he whines about that a bit more. Then some eerie music plays and a puff of smoke blows at him from behind him.
Jackie’s reflection greets him. His reflection looks suave with decently brushed hair, an unwrinkly shirt and not dripping with sweat. He’s also standing straight while Nervous Jackie hunches. Nervous Jackie freaks out and starts to run for the door. Mirror Jackie orders him back. Mirror Jackie watches Nervous Jackie a bit while Nervous Jackie worries that he’s going crazy. Nervous Jackie asks Mirror Jackie who he is. Mirror Jackie says that he’s a part of Nervous Jackie that he used to have so long ago that Nervous Jackie doesn’t even remember.
Mirror Jackie says that a long time ago Jackie was up for grabs. He could have gone either his way or Nervous Jackie’s way. He went Nervous Jackie’s way. Mirror Jackie asks Nervous Jackie if he knows what he means. Nervous Jackie says no. Mirror Jackie says Nervous Jackie’s way was “a cheap, weak, scared half vulture, all mouse.” Jackie pretty much sticks out his tongue and says he’s got flesh and bones and is going to put the finger on someone. What does Mirror Jackie do for a living? I’ve gotta say I’m on Mirror Jackie’s side. Nervous Jackie is leaving and Mirror Jackie can’t stop him. He goes to grab his coat from the closet but there’s a mirror there, along with Mirror Jackie. Nervous Jackie washes his face in the bathroom and of course Mirror Jackie is there, too. Eww. Nervous Jackie goes to leave the room but, surprise! there’s a mirror there too where a scolding Mirror Jackie awaits. For a cheap hotel there’s mirrors for days! Nervous Jackie heart attack gasps his way back into the room and flops on the bed. Mirror Jackie yells at Nervous Jackie to not pass out on him now, they’ve got a big night ahead of them.
Nervous Jackie opens his eyes and the first thing he sees is the gun on the table. He grabs it and starts to head out of the door but Mirror Jackie stops him and asks “Where do you think you’re going?” Nervous Jackie wants to know what business it is of his! Mirror Jackie says “Everything”.
Nervous Jackie says he’s talking to himself. Mirror Jackie says exactly. Nervous Jackie is talking to the part of him that NJ never lets come out. Nervous Jackie says that Mirror Jackie has no invitation to come out now. Nervous Jackie asks “Who needs you?!” and Mirror Jackie says, “He does!”
Nervous Jackie says of course Mirror Jackie would think that. He’s just as scared that Nervous Jackie will get picked up by the police because Mirror Jackie will get pinched, too. Which has always called up a very odd mental picture. It makes me think of two big fingers ‘pinching’ someone up and out of a crowd and popping them into jail.
Anyways, Mirror Jackie says he’s kept quiet until now because he can’t let Nervous Jackie go out and get themselves both killed. This takes Nervous Jackie aback and he says, “Get killed?” like he didn’t just say it himself. Mirror Jackie insists that he has the right to live and won’t let Nervous Jackie go out and get themselves killed because Nervous Jackie hasn’t ever gotten away with anything.
Nervous Jackie says, quite reasonably and calmly, that if Mirror Jackie is the same as him then they’ve had the same breaks so how come every move Nervous Jackie made turned out wrong? He finally asks as if he really wants to know, rather than argue for the sake of argument. Mirror Jackie says that every time he tried to talk Nervous Jackie would listen to somebody else. that was his mistake.
Nervous Jackie proclaims that he was a runt. A skinny little runt so what chance did he have? “If you want to be in a gang when you’re a runt you’ve got to go along or they’ll give you the business and yell at you.” The Mirror Jackie says oh yes, NJ went along and made Mirror Jackie go along, too. Mirror Jackie says NJ ‘s first chance to do right was when he was ten years old. A teacher’s necklace broke at a picnic and she laid it down. The bigger boys dared Nervous Jackie to steal it. Nervous Jackie protests that he didn’t really want to steal the necklace. But he was a runt and they dared him. Whew! Good thing they didn’t double-dog dare him!
Mirror Jackie comes back with yeah, and they dared him to break into the grocery store a year later. Mirror Jackie got dragged along, too. And they got caught and spent eleven months in reform school. Mirror Jackie wants to know what that proved. Nervous Jackie pouts a bit and says no wonder he never listened to Mirror Jackie. All he does is talk his ear off and pout so much he’s walking on his lower lip. Dude, you really shouldn’t call someone else a whiner. because that’s all you’ve done for the last twenty five minutes. At least Mirror Jackie has a cause for his anger.
Nervous Jackie says that he only knows one thing: He’s got to go out, do a job and if he doesn’t you can scrape him off the mirror with a spoon (although I think a squeegee would work better). Mirror Jackie tells NJ that he’s got less time than he thinks. Mirror Jackie points out that Nervous Jackie never has time. He didn’t have time for the parole officer who actually wanted to help him. Nervous Jackie could have listened to him but instead joined another gang. And was back in jail six months later. Wait a minute. Wouldn’t he have been about thirteen or thereabouts. It seems like he would be back into reform school, not jail. Mirror Jackie says that the parole officer couldn’t help him anymore than Janey Reardon could have. Nervous Jackie looks startled as he loads the revolver. Or checks it. George didn’t give Jackie any bullets.
He gets a wistful smile as he repeats her name and then calls her “a good kid”. Mirror Jackie corrects him and says that Janey Reardon was a beautiful woman. He says that Janey tried to set NJ straight and that Mirror Jackie loved her. Nervous Jackie says Mirror Jackie has a lot of nerve, he can’t love, he’s just a piece of glass. Mirror Jackie says they needed her and he could love, But then Nervous Jackie joined a bigger gang and started shakedown rackets. A real ‘big shot’. They spent two years in the pen on that one. By the time they got out Ms. Reardon had gotten married and moved away.
Nervous Jackie scoffs and says he can take or leave. Mirror Jackie mocks him and basically calls bullshit on it. Nervous Jackie gets irritated and asks what Mirror Jackie wants. Mirror Jackie wants his turn. He wants to take over, permanently. He wants his turn and, frankly, Mirror Jackie sounds like a much more stand up guy. He wants to live with the goodness, guts and dreams that Nervous Jackie left behind.
Nervous Jackie tells him fat chance. He’s going out to do his job and no one else will tell him what to do again. Well, probably not because you’re either going to be dead or in jail. The phone cuts off his rant and Jackie picks it up. It’s George. Jackie starts stuttering and whinging saying that he’s on his way out the door right now.
Nervous Jackie puts on his coat and then realizes that his reflection has taken off. Mirror Jackie comes back though, and tells Nervous Jackie that if he walks out that door they’re both dead. He wants his chance. He wants a decent job, some friends, a caring woman. Nervous Jackie say he has friends but Mirror Jackie disagrees. He says that none of those guys are his friends.
Jackie gets pissed and tells Mirror Jackie to come on out. He rips the dresser away from the wall and actually seems surprised that Mirror Jackie isn’t back there. He whips the mirror around and freaks out when he sees Mirror Jackie back again, smiling.
Later. George walks in. Jackie is sitting in a chair with his face in his hands. George tells Jackie that he’s going to take his skin off foot by foot. Nobody went to the bar tonight. The old man is still in perfect health. George wants to know what he’s got to say for himself. Jackie looks up but you can tell right away that it’s Mirror Jackie. He tells George that he resigns. Which I read as a polite 1960 way of him telling George to go eff himself. George is surprised at Jackie’s new-found balls. He says George can have his gun back plus the following: a foot stomp, elbow to the stomach and sock to the jaw.
Jackie tells George to get the hell out. He unloads the gun and throws it at George, telling him not to come back for anything. He throws the bullets away and calls the front desk to say tha his name is Jackie – make that John Rhoades, and he’s checking out. Jackie, pardon me, John Rhoades looks in the mirror and Nervous Jackie is in there, chewing his nails and wondering what they’re going to do now. John says that now they’re going to look for a job, maybe get married and maybe stop biting their nails. With one last look at the mirror John Rhoades leaves the room.
Exit Mr. John Rhoades, formerly a reflection in the mirror, a fragment of someone else’s conscience, a wishful thinker made out of glass. But now made out of flesh and on his way to join the company of men. Mr. John Rhoades, with one foot through the door and one foot out of The Twilight Zone.
I’ve always liked that episode. Usually mirror people are evil and I thought at first it was going to go that way but it changes directions quite abruptly. I was very happy to see Mirror Jackie win out at the end. I also liked that Mirror Jackie’s dreams weren’t to be some big time gangster or big time anything. It was just to live a normal, peaceful life. I’ve always wondered why Jack is a nickname for John. They’re the same amount of letters so it’s not any shorter.
Thank you for joining us and please come back for next week’s episode of The Twilight Zone: A Thing About Machines