Friday, March 01, 2013

The Man Behind the Curtain


Little epiphanies pop up unexpectedly, like the prize in a Cracker Jack box, and I always delight in them. I had occasion, a minute ago, to think of Frank Morgan’s line from The Wizard of Oz, when Dorothy, standing in the Great Hall of the palace of the wizard, pulls back the curtain to see a little man frantically working levers and pushing buttons: “Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.”

And it suddenly occurred to me that Dorien is “the all-powerful Wizard of Oz,” and I am a flustered Frank Morgan. And that got me to thinking of how, even in childhood, things which went so smoothly for others as to not create so much as a ripple on the little pond of their self-confidence would be, for me, rather like dropping a bowling ball into a cup of tea.

Those of you who’ve known me awhile have undoubtedly heard these stories, and to them I apologize for the repetition. But they do go to prove my point here, so I’ll repeat them yet again.

I turned eight in November of 1941, less than a month before the start of WWII. For the next four years, I was less concerned with the progress of the war than I was with keeping up, daily, with my favorite kids' radio programs. These programs routinely often offered “prizes” and incentives to buy the program’s sponsor’s products. Decoder rings were a popular prize, though I loathed rings even then and would never send off the required coupon from the sponsor’s product to get one.

There was an air of mystery to these prizes, and they were supposedly the key to let you in on the program’s protagonist’s secrets and inner thoughts. You could, by drinking several gallons of some unappetizing liquid and thereby collecting enough coupons, receive Captain Midnight’s Decoder Badge. At the end of each program, the announcer would read off a coded message from Captain Midnight (or whoever), which only those with the decoder badge…Captain Midnight’s pals, as it were…could decipher. I slavishly gathered enough coupons to send off for a badge and stood by eagerly, pencil in hand, awaiting the first personal message from my buddy Captain Midnight. It said: “Drmpf Freqitlgm Smpretreb.” Excuse me? I’d written down every single letter or number or whatever it was the announcer read, and diligently did whatever the badge said to do. “Drmpf Frequtlgm Smpretreb.” My friend Jerry, who had also gotten the same decoder badge the same day I did, had not one whit of trouble. “What did Captain Midnight say?” I demanded, feeling really hurt to have been left out of my hero’s confidence.

Drink Delicious Ovaltine,” Jerry replied. I threw the badge away.

Another time I sent off for a Jack Armstrong Pedometer which fit on your belt and would tell you exactly how far you’d walked between two points. I got it and wore it proudly to school. When I checked how far I’d walk it said “3,246 miles.”

Considering that none of the other kids ever seemed to have any problem at all with these wondrous devices, is it any wonder that I have occasionally tiptoed perilously close to the edge of paranoia?

So that’s why I created Dorien. To be all powerful and all knowing, and to get messages from Captain Marvel saying: “I love you and want you to be my special friend forever.”

Dorien's blogs are posted by 10 a.m. Central time every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday. Please take a moment to visit his website (http://www.doriengrey.com) and, if you enjoy these blogs, you might want to check out Short Circuits: a Life in Blogs (http://bit.ly/m8CSO1).

5 comments:

Kage Alan said...

Little Ralphy in A Christmas Story had the same exact message problem with his decoder ring. It translated to Drink More Ovaltine. He was slightly disillusioned after that, too.

One thing I remember is looking for Battlestar Galactica trading cards in packages of Wonder Bread. And, okay, the little terrariums in Super Sugar Crisp.

Jaime Samms said...

Dorien, I used to think there was some secret the whole of the word knew that I didn't, and that was why I always felt like I was on the outside looking in, seeing what was going on, hearing what was going on, but somehow, missing the secret *intent* of what was going on. Most days, I sort of still feel that way...

Dorien/Roger said...

Ah, Jaime: you're exactly who I write for...all those who feel they are alone in thinking/feeling what they do.

Nikolaos said...

Most amusing!

Dorien/Roger said...

Thank you, Nikolaos!