Watch video about Pop That Zit here.
For a magical hour or so, Americans huddled around their TV sets Thursday afternoon, worried about Balloon Boy and his floating silver portabello mushroom ship.
It was actually a helium balloon built by Balloon Boy’s father, a self-described storm chaser from Fort Collins, Colo., a fellow who must be something of a publicity hound because he paraded his family on the reality TV show “Wife Swap.”
And inside the ship, we were told, was a 6-year-old aptly named Falcon Heene, apparently riding far above the Earth, spinning past the clouds. Who could turn away, even with the vague possibility that the whole thing was staged?
And with breathless TV anchors telling us the boy was inside, most of us feared it would all end badly.
Rescue plans were being hatched, involving the Colorado Army National Guard and a helicopter, perhaps with some poor sergeant drifting on a winch, the portabello ship flapping and twisting, disaster unfolding above the plains.
“This is a very, very tense time for everybody,” said an excited TV anchor, the one who also promised that the network would cut away during the landing to spare us the gory spectacle. It would be gory, because they were reporting that Balloon Boy’s 8-year-old brother had confirmed that Falcon was in the portabello.
And who wouldn’t believe an 8-year-old boy in matters of silver flying ships?
Despite the fear, we watched it soar through the clouds, twisting and glinting in the sun, Balloon Boy in his spinning mother ship.
I don’t know what you were thinking, but if you were a boy once, a certain kind of boy given to books about boys building flying ships at home out of spare parts and egg-beaters and stuff in the garage, a boy who knew the names of all the American astronauts, you could picture yourself in that soaring portabello mushroom.
“Flight of the Navigator!” said one colleague. “Boys don’t want to run away from home as much as they’d like to fly away from home.”
At least he got it. As did, I think, everyone of a certain age who remembers a time when spaceflight captivated the entire country, when every launch, every space walk, every landing was on TV in every school or at home.
I was thinking of another story, a fantastic story for kids, “The Wonderful Flight to the Mushroom Planet,” by Eleanor Cameron.
Here’s a painful confession. I “borrowed” that book from the Kolmar Avenue School Library when I was in about fourth grade and never returned it, probably breaking the heart of our school librarian, who wore her glasses on a beaded chain. (Sorry, Mrs. Kirsch.)
It was the story of two boys who answer a mysterious advertisement in the newspaper placed by a strange little man named Tyco Bass. The ad, as I remember it, went something like this:
“Wanted: Two curious boys to build a spaceship for a wonderful journey to the Mushroom Planet.”
They knocked on Mr. Bass’ door and he determined they were the right kind of boys for the job. These days, poor Mr. Bass would have been arrested, diagnosed and pumped full of strong sedatives before sundown.
But in the story, the boys built their spaceship in their garage, using odd springs and bicycle tires, sturdy plywood, old windshields and the like. The odd Mr. Bass turned out to be a supremely powerful, yet kindly, space alien, so he gave the ship the power of flight and the journey began.
Sadly, the book ended badly. Not the story, but the book itself. I saved it for decades, so my sons could read it, but they lost it on a flight from Istanbul. The airline couldn’t find it. It was gone.
Until Ballon Boy flew across the sky and the story came back to me.
Of course, now we know the terrible truth. Those of us who feared, or fantasized about flying in silver portabellos, have had the cold moutza of reality thrust in our faces.