“A Passage For Trumpet” is a Twilight Zone episode that originally aired on May 20th, 1960. It involves a depressed alcoholic who commits suicide and is given a second chance at life.
At the beginning, a depressed trumpeter name Joey Crown is attempting to get a job back at a his old club. He confronts his old boss in the back and begs him to take him back. He tells him that he has been on the wagon for six or seven months. They move to where Joey had set down his trumpet case. His boss sits on the ledge and Joey grabs his case; it swings open and a small bottle of alcohol shatters on the ground. His boss looks him with a mix of disdain and strained sympathy, stuffs some money into Joey’s coat pocket and reminiscences briefly on what once was.
Joey used to be a great trumpeter, a man who drew patrons to the club to hear the dulcet tones of his prized trumpet. Yet, despite the joy that his craft brought to himself and others, he fell into the dark recesses of the bottle. He lost the joie de vivre that fired his life, turned to alcohol, and was now relegated to begging for table scraps from his old boss.
Desperate for money, he goes to a local pawn shop to hawk his once-prized possession—his trumpet—for a lousy $8.50. He morosely regards his old instrument before handing it to the proprietor and heading over the watering hole next door. He gets sloppy drunk at the bar and drunkenly stumbles to the pawn shop, just as the shop keeper is placing the trumpet on display—selling his beloved instrument for $25.00.
He leans on the glass, his rheumy eyes begging for something the shopkeeper can’t give him. The shopkeeper says this before dismissing him with a curt hand-wave:
Look, I got overhead! Guys like you don’t understand that. What kind of responsibilities do you have? Nothing! Nothing at all!
Joey takes this to heart, thinking he has nothing and is nothing in life. Joey repeats “Nothing at all” to himself before he decides to fling himself in front a truck speeding by.
He comes to some time later. He approaches what he thinks is a local police officer he knows to talk about the “accident;” but it turns out to be an officer he doesn’t know. Also, the officer is curiously refusing to speak to him.
He wanders a block down to the local movie theater. He tries to engage the woman at the ticket booth, but he finds—once again—the woman is unfamiliar to him and she doesn’t respond to him at all. Becoming increasingly irritated, he approaches a couple men walking out of the theater, asking them for a light.
Joey is anxious that nobody seems to be recognizing his existence until he notices a large mirror on the side of the theater. He is shocked to find that he has no reflection. He—slowly—realizes that he is dead.
Stunned, he stumbles into the watering hole he drank at before. He finds a seat at the bar, all by his lonesome; just Joey and the bottle. He muses aloud about his condition and the gnawing sense of irrelevance that it portends.
He goes to the record player, sidling up against it intimately, knowing it holds the recordings of his best trumpet monologues. He caresses it, realizing that he did have something to live for. He had plenty to live for.
Depressed, Joey heads back to the club he used to work at. He is walking through the back of the club when he hears the familiar tones of a trumpet. He finds a talented man playing a pleasing tune on his trumpet. Instinctively, Joey compliments the man and the man responds, “Thanks!”
Bewildered somebody finally recognized him, he engages the man. Joey finds out that he isn’t dead, but rather that the other people in this world are dead. It is the afterlife’s way of giving the deceased space to come to terms with their own death.
The two engage in a brief back-and-forth in which they talk about Joey’s life. Joey rediscovers his love for the horn; he recounts the love he has for the people in his life. He realizes that at some point he crowded all that out—it isn’t stated explicitly, but he is referencing alcohol here.
Then this exchange occurs:
The Man: You’ve got a choice, you know?
Joey: A choice?
The Man: There’s still time.
Joey: Well, if I got a choice…I mean, if got a choice, then I’m going back!
With Joey resolute to live amongst the living again, the man decides to depart; but Joey chases him down, asking for his name. The angel responds, “Gabriel.”
Joey does indeed go back. He comes to on the sidewalk where he once jumped to his apparent death. The truck driver approaches him anxiously and whispers to him to never mention this incident to anybody so he can keep his clean driving record. He stuffs some money into Joey’s hand. Joey finds out this is enough to repurchase his cherished horn.
Later that night, he is on top of a roof, with the melodies from his trumpet floating into the hazy air of the city. A woman timidly approaches him, saying she is entranced by the ariose tones of his instrument. He sheepishly engages her at first. She discloses that she is new to town and wants him to show her around. He begins to justify her decision to move to his city, quickly realizing he is justifying his decision to live in this city and—subconsciously—his decision to live once again.
He eagerly begins to describe to her the appeal and beauty of his city while the story fades out while Serling narrates:
Joey Crown, who makes music, and who discovered something about life; that it can be rich and rewarding and full of beauty, just like the music he played, if a person would only pause to look and to listen. Joey Crown, who got his clue in the Twilight Zone.
There is a quote by Abraham Lincoln that resonates here: Most folks are about as happy as they make up their minds to be.
There is no significant backstory to Joey in this Twilight Zone episode, but one can surmise there must have been intense personal demons that pushed him towards embracing the Devil’s spit. Unable or unwilling to draw on others or his accomplishments, he sought out solace in a drink cup that will never, ever feel full enough.
Happiness is nothing more than a man finding stability in his mind, tranquility in his soul, and his place in life. It is the easiest ideal in the world: if only a man truly wants it.
That being right and said, happiness is an elusive emotion. The fleeting happiness we get from career achievements or significant purchases, from new sexual relations and from general unique situations can stoke one’s fires, but only for so long. It is all too easy to fall through the cracks and find yourself on the outside looking in on those who enjoy their life. On those who don’t need a passage to happiness.
Why would one need a passage to happiness? That’s because they can neither accept the beauty in their life nor transcend the muck of their life. Like Joey, they can’t appraise their life in a positive way. They might be depressed alcoholics like Joey; they might be an overworked corporate drone. Regardless of their social posture, they all are incapable of appreciating what beauty they have in their lives.
Most men don’t fall into the heedless arms of suicide, but most men don’t often get a second chance to reappraise their lives. Joey got a second chance to be honest about his life and his role in it. How many men fling their bodies in front of a moving truck and walk away with a new lease on life?
Life is a long and often boring journey, but one that we make with people and memories that carry us through the low bogs of the mundane and the depressing. Joey learned that he has to fit the nice dressing next to the sour as it goes down hard. Life isn’t perfect, but it can be beautiful enough if you learn to understand your place in it.
A man has to decide to be happy. He has to evaluate his life and what it means to him and that those that matter to him. A man has to weather the storms that will inevitably find their way towards him. He has to find his footing when he finally achieves his dreams.
Happiness, then, isn’t so much a goal in and of itself, but a state of equilibrium. Happiness exists as a ward against the depression of the soul and the ego of the mind. It is a decision that reflects the maturity that age can bring.
In other words: A man could be happy if he weren’t so focused on being unhappy.