6-year-old patrols the sky with Commando Cody
A Saturday morning, sometime in 1964. Sunshine was streaming in the windows when I woke up, and my first thought was, "I’ve missed it!"
I threw the covers back and jumped out of bed. My tan pajamas were covered with dark silhouettes of cowboys riding bucking broncos.
I hurried down the stairs to the living room and twisted the knob on the TV set in the corner.
A grainy black-and-white picture glowed into view as a cartoon tug boat pulled a block of Chunky candy under a bridge, while a deep voice sang "Open wide for Chunky."
The commercial ended and I breathed a sigh of relief. I hadn’t overslept after all — another 15 minutes and I would have had to wait a whole week to see one of my first heroes: "Commando Cody, Sky Marshal Of The Universe."
Commando Cody was the nemesis of crooks, gangsters and ne’er-do-wells everywhere, and each Saturday morning he fought impossible odds to prove that crime does not pay.
It was a good message, but that’s not why I watched. I watched because Commando Cody could fly.
With a jetpack strapped to his back and a shiny metal helmet, Commando Cody handed two jailbirds over to the cops and the program faded into a commercial for Jell-O. Commando Cody was over for another week — unless you were a 6-year-old with an imagination and a desire to fly.
I rummaged through the basement until I found a suitable cardboard box, and used kid-sized scissors to cut out my own version of a jetpack. It ended up looking more like a pair of lungs than a pair of high-tech cylinders, but it was close enough.
I spread my blue nylon windbreaker on the kitchen table and used masking tape to fasten my "jetpack" onto my back.
I slipped into my jacket, used crayons to draw a couple of circles on a small rectangle of cardboard and taped the rectangle onto my chest — the controls for my jetpack.
I didn’t have a helmet that would match Commando Cody’s and considered cutting a couple of eye holes in the plastic pail I used in the sandbox. I decided against it: I wasn’t sure the pail would fit on my head and two holes would probably render the pail useless in the sandbox.
Besides, everyone knew Commando Cody’s helmet was bullet-shaped and not flat on one end, like my pail.
I’d do without a helmet.
I ran through the backyard, my arms stretched out in front of me. It seemed like a reasonable imitation of Commando Cody until I ran past the swing set.
Maybe flying was possible after all.
For the next half hour, I swung high enough to kick the lowest branches on the maple tree in the backyard, dodging imaginary bullets from imaginary bad guys.
I stopped only when I started to feel queasy … that probably happened the first time Commando Cody used his jetpack … and I went back into the house to watch "Sky King."
Sometime after that, Commando Cody was forgotten.
Nearly 50 years later, a bout with insomnia brought him back. Coincidentally, he returned on a Saturday.
It was the middle of the night, and I was surfing the channels, just waiting until I was tired enough to fall asleep.
I got no help from a ThighMaster infomercial, a movie with English subtitles or a BBC newscast. It was the next channel that instantly turned me back into a 6-year-old.
There he was, streaking through the sky with his arms outstretched, jetpack strapped to his back and sleek helmet cutting the air. Commando Cody came to a graceful landing behind a 1940s-style delivery truck and ducked out of harm's way as two thugs with Tommy guns sent bullets pinging off steel doors and fenders.
A minute later, the police were loading the gangsters into the back of a paddy wagon, and Commando Cody was flying into the sunset.
I crawled into bed, fell into a deep sleep and dreamed that I could fly.
Anything is possible with a little imagination.