"Bang! Bang! Youíre dead."
If youíre a male over the age of, say, 35, you said that a lot when you were a boy. Armed with anything from a stick to a cap pistol or simply your hand with thumb up and index finger out, you were a cop or a cowboy or an army man. And today you are probably not in prison, nor do you beat your wife or your children nor even do you torture small animals.
But children nowadays are discouraged, both by society and their parents, from using their imaginations to become Eliot Ness, Wyatt Earp or Sgt. Fury. Just try and find in a store that sine qua non of boyhood, a twin-rig holster set with a pair of shiny, silvery cap guns.
My pal Shafer claims he was the best cap-shooter in our neighborhood. Heís dreaming. On his best day, heíd still be reaching for his iron while my Mattel Fanner 50, its barrel smoking, had already ejected half a roll of perforated caps out its side-slot.
And Iím not, nor have I ever been in prison. Nor do small animals run from my sight.
Shafer says his favorite cowboy was Alan Laddís "Shane." Thatís why his record in our epic duels was similar to anyone who wore a black hat in a Roy Rogers movie. Shane was an excellent character, of course, but he had just the one movie and, in the days before cable and VCRís, you could only see him once in a while.
My guy was on every Saturday, and not only could he shoot Ė he flew his own plane. A twin-engine Cessna named Songbird. Yup, "out of the clear blue of the western sky, comes Sky King!"
Someday, archaeologists will pinpoint the beginning of the end for American civilization as the period of time when shows like Sky King were replaced by shows like Barney the Dinosaur.
And Sky Kingís niece, Penny? Ooh la la. My heart still flutters at her memory. You can keep your Annette Funicello. Sure, Penny was later replaced in my affections by Marcia Brady and Laurie Partridge, but the fleeting nature of childhood crushes is a subject for another column. Besides, you never forget your first. Iíve been thinking about all this stuff because Iíve been shopping for cap guns. Christmas is coming up, and there are a couple of little tykes I think should find a holster set underneath their trees. Naively, I tried the toy stores. If you can find cap guns at all, theyíre junky little plastic orange things. And good luck finding caps.
My search is now being conducted on eBay and cruising neighborhood tag sales. My old Fanner 50's would fetch a hundred bucks. Apiece. In mint condition, they would be worth more than my Hank Aaron baseball card if I still had it. Or at least what Hank would have been worth if he hadnít been stuck in the spokes of my bike to make it sound like a motorcycle.
I suppose there are several reasons why kids donít play soldier or cowboy anymore. Their fathers arenít likely to be war veterans the way our dads were. And there arenít any modern-day equivalents of Roy Rogers, the Lone Ranger, Sergeant Saunders or even John Wayne.
And thereís this thing about violence. Itís hard to figure why the same parent who wouldnít be caught dead letting a son or daughter have a toy gun will spend $300 on a video game set which will allow the kid to decimate entire cities in 3-D living color.
What is being overlooked is that those childhood heroes of ours werenít really about violence, they were about right and wrong. Good versus evil. The characters were about character. I remember one Sky King episode where he protected a group of Chinese immigrants who were getting beaten up because they were, well, Chinese.
Roy Rogers wouldnít have been Roy Rogers without his six-gun. For that matter, where would Luke Skywalker be without his light saber? There is a lot of talk these days about the gratuitous violence being fed to our children by the media. The "gratuitous" is the part about which we should be concerned.
Children should learn there are causes out there worth fighting for. The way of the world is that evil is usually vanquished by force. The United States Army has saved our country more than has the United States State Department.
Or maybe itís not that deep. Maybe itís just evolution, and cap guns have gone the way of hula hoops and marbles. But history and scarcity be damned, the little kids on my shopping list are going to learn the fast-draw.
And in doing so, they will fire not only their cap pistols, but their imaginations. Thereís nothing wrong with playing the hero.
October 15, 2000