Ray Bradbury Theater – By the Numbers (09/11/92)

bradbury02We get a brief prologue of a drill sergeant shouting marching orders.  Well, he’s a drill sergeant that is wearing a t-shirt — maybe that happens, but we also get a glimpse of his white pants, which don’t strike me as standard issue.  And his soldier, which we see only in quick shots of body parts, freckles, and a rippling reflection in a pool is a young boy.  We’re not given enough data to know for sure what’s happening, but we can put the pieces together if we want to.  I initially thought this was a mess, but I’ve reconsidered.

rbtbythenumbers01Flash-forward 10 years.  A man on a train orders 2 martinis and tells the waiter that one is for him and one is for whoever might sit in the empty chair across from him, “It saves time.”

Because nothing entices a stranger, particularly a young lady, more than a pre-mixed, lukewarm drink with a soggy olive offered by a stranger.

The man sees another younger man come in and instinctively neaten a stack of linen napkins on a cart.  This brings memories back to the man who seems to have no name.  Fortuitously, the alcoholic car of the train is nearly full, so the young man takes the seat and is offered the martini.  He tells the young man that they met previously — 10 years ago on a hot summer afternoon in a Malibu hotel, by the swimming pool.

rbtbythenumbers02Back then, the boy had worked for his father managing a pool at a luxury hotel.  The father drills him with military precision, marking every second as he runs from task to task straightening stacks of towels, lining up chairs, collecting stray glasses.  While the father has a white shirt (sleeveless — generally the sign of an idiot) and long white pants, the 10 year old boy is wearing next-to-nothing, just a small blue Speedo.  This lends an air of creepiness to the episode that really is not part of the story.

Finally after all of the chores are completed at exactly 12:00:00:00, the boy runs to unlock the gate for the waiting guests — both of them — maybe it is off-season.  The boy unlocks the gate, is ordered ABOUT FACE and ordered to the edge of the pool where he is commanded to HALT.  The father turns and begins pumping some fairly unimpressive iron.  The man and his friend think it is inhuman that the boy can’t take a dip, but the boy has a smile on his face

rbtbythenumbers03The men tell the father that they think he is acting like an idiot. The father tells them that this is his turf.  He has an agreement with the hotel that their jurisdiction ends at the pool gate. Any dissent, and they will be removed “bodily.  I possess a Black Belt in Judo, Boxing, Rifle Marksmanship Certificates. Shake my hand and I’ll break your wrist, sneeze and I’ll crack your nose, one word and your dental surgeon will need 2 years just to reshape your smile.”  Apparently he has a similar jurisdictional agreement with the local police, attorneys and child protective services.

He’s not a monster, however.  He does give his boy time to frolic in the pool — 40 laps worth.  One of the men swims a few laps along side the boy, but can’t keep up.  After a break to serve a few drinks poolside, he is back in the pool.  Again, this is very creepy. Outside of Thailand, who wants to be served alcoholic drinks by an almost naked 10 year old boy?

rbtbythenumbers04The guy’s friend, mustache-guy (because no one has names in this story) predicts that one day the boy will murder his father. That’s why he invited his friend writer-guy to this luxury hotel — maybe this scenario will relieve his writer’s block; or maybe a little shoulder massage is worth a try, too.

Once the pool closes, the father orders the boy to stand at the edge of the pool for an hour.  The father leaves his watch on a towel and tells the boy to consider that the watch is him standing there.  When he returns, now dark, the boy is still at attention.  When the father picks up the towel and the watch falls in the water, the helpful son dives in without permission to get it.  His father merely says, “Waterproof,” smacks him up side his noggin and gives him demerits.

It finally ends when the father finds a used towel after the boy had cleaned the area.  He irately orders his son to stand at the edge of the pool and not move for an hour.  Then dear old dad trips over the towel and falls in.  Turns out dad can’t swim, and is now screaming for help.  He had tricked the boy before and punished him — see the watch incident, for one — so the boy is waiting for an “AT EASE.” before he dares to move.

rbtbythenumbers06The now-grown boy gets up, and heads back to his room.  He stops and sheds a single tear as he straightens the napkins again. Presumably, writer-guy comforts him by following him back to his berth as the last shot is the classic train going into a tunnel.

Interesting little slice of a weird life episode.  But for god sake, get the kid a real bathing suit next time.  Maybe even a shirt when he is serving the guests.  Does the Health Department not have jurisdiction here, either?


  • Mustache guy was named Sid.
  • Very few deviations from the short story, although framed slightly differently on the train.


One thought on “Ray Bradbury Theater – By the Numbers (09/11/92)

  1. Nice bit of antagonist getting what he deserves. The boy did nothing wrong. It is sad that children are sometimes conditioned in similar ways in real life.

    Ray Sharkey, who played the dad, did some great work on the TV show “Wiseguy” in 1987.

    I can only hope that in the future the kid got himself some board shorts and a killer AC/DC T-shirt….

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