Who was that Masked Man?

I watched The Lone Ranger after school on our little black and white TV.  The screen, framed by a dark wood cabinet, was maybe 13” diagonal.  You couldn’t sit too far from it if you wanted to see much detail, but the reception in the early and mid-1960’s was so shaky, at that house on the far north end of Colorado Springs, that we didn’t expect much in terms of picture quality anyway.

The Lone Ranger, of course, competed with Superman for a young boy’s attention on the television.  We had other heroes – G.I. Joe was notable in a military town such as Colorado Springs.  Growing up at the base of NORAD, and with Fort Carson only a few miles up the road, an army figure would be worthy of admiration and imitation. But he hadn’t made it to the small screen for every day viewing. (I did, however, own a G.I. Joe and would take him next door to Aunt Millie and Uncle Chuck’s house and play with him in their sand-pile next to the garage.) I wasn’t into comic books and the heroes that may have been deployed in those pages escaped my attention.

Superman, it seems to me, was a city boy’s hero.  We didn’t have any tall buildings to leap in Colorado Springs – with a single bound or otherwise. Sure, we had Penrose Hospital, the tallest building in the area at 12 floors, but there wasn’t another comparably sized building for 65 miles, in Denver.  The Holly Sugar Building, three miles into downtown from our two acres, hadn’t been built yet.  I didn’t understand superpowers. Speedy enough to outrun a bullet?  More powerful than a locomotive? Change the course of mighty rivers?  I could not relate.  I didn’t understand jumping into a phone booth to change clothes. I’m not sure I had even seen a phone booth or paid attention to them in our weekly trips downtown with Aunt Millie.  Superman’s cityscape didn’t fit me.

I could relate more to The Lone Ranger, though, and daydream about that life far more than I could about Superman.  The landscape in The Lone Ranger was more familiar – the plateaus and plains through which he and Tonto, his faithful Indian companion, rode were scenes from our own drives in southwest Colorado.  The opening credits of the pilot showed a map, stretching up from Texas, through New Mexico, and into Colorado.  It was my landscape.

His powers?  He was daring and resourceful in his effort to bring law and order to the unruly southwest territory. I wanted to be daring.  I didn’t know what resourceful meant, but I wanted that, too.  To me, the Lone Ranger’s ambitions echoed those of Superman in his fight for truth, justice, and the American Way.  But his motive was simple, clean as that white stallion on which he rode: bring justice to the rugged frontier.

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He was a fabulous individual (even the credits announced that fact). The Lone Ranger was mysterious.  He wore a mask, damn it, and traveled with an Indian Scout who pieced fragments of broken English into plots and strategies to outwit the bad guy.

Yes, The Lone Ranger shaped my image of boyhood heroes.

One afternoon, my dad came home from Aircraft Mechanics with some gifts in hand.  He had one of the machinists there shape a six-shooter and a rifle out of a nice piece of wood.  He also had a black piece of vinyl that perfectly matched that of the “masked man” on TV.  I put the mask on, tucked the six-shooter into my pants, and roamed the range of our two acres fighting bad guys.

We didn’t live in a neighborhood, though, and I had no Indian companion.  No matter.  Fighting outlaws, bringing justice to the territory laid out at 3250 North Cascade was my mission.

But there weren’t many outlaws to be found.  Phil and Deb were pre-occupied as I rode up on my thin, wooden, horse.  Aunt Millie wasn’t an outlaw.  She was usually good for some ginger ale, and something baked, followed by a “thank you, ma’am” nod of the head as I rode off.  I had no silver bullet to leave behind.  A crumpled napkin.  An empty glass.

I rode the border of our two properties, imagined threats thwarted, justice claimed.  Calm restored.

And here the storyline could take a predictable turn.  The cliché “profound insight” about the drunken father returning home, the polished wood pistol and Winchester impotent against the barrage of taunts and the ambush of emotion. Promises headed off at the pass. The vinyl mask insufficient to hide the hurt.

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