The Red Ranger

I’ve always been in love with fantasy. Childish imagination begins with fancy and fantasy; there’s pretty much no other explanation for how much nostalgic charm the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers and the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles still hold sway over me to this day. Well, there’s probably that self-deprecating explanation of me being a gigantic nerd who just wants to do roundhouse kicks, but that’s quite literally beside the point.

I wanted to be the Red Ranger. And not just any Red Ranger; I had to be Jason. You had two types of guys in the early 90s: those of us who wanted to be Jason, and those fellows of a questionable sort who wanted to be Tommy. All of my best friends were Jason fans. This was definitely on purpose. Young Me was personally offended when Jason left the show and Tommy went through that whole redemption arc from Green to White.

The 2017 reboot confirmed all of these biases are alive and well twenty-four years later. What a delightful, absurd, theater experience. Still want to be Jason. Still want to fall in love with Kimberly. You never forget your first love, after all. The original Kimberly was definitely my first crush. I’m older than this new one, and that’s something I’m going to have to take a minute to get used to.

The funny thing looking back on all of it is that we were all, at best, Billy. And not the super amazing Billy that stole the entire reboot. I’m talking nerdy white boy Billy. That’s how life goes, I’ve learned. We’re constantly drawn to that chaotic centrifugal force of the Hero and the Savior Complex is born within us. But growing up is learning that, you know what, Hufflepuffs are just as freaking awesome.

A Note: I’m a Gryffindor. Pottermore says so. But I’m only not a Hufflepuff in the same way that Harry is barely not a Slytherin: lots of begging, squirming, and I’m terrible at finding things. Mainly because I never lose things. Except this ring this one time, which is a Slytherin trait. But I found it again…like Frodo and Sam.

I’m getting ahead of myself. This story is still in the early 1990s. You know how you know that’s getting further away? This next scene takes place in a Blockbuster. Try to imagine the last time you even saw the abandoned and/or remodeled shell of a Blockbuster where you could still tell it used to be one? I’ll give you a second. Go ahead and Google Maps that one that used to be by your house. I’ll wait.

Are we back? Welcome. If your Blockbuster is still visible, may I humbly suggest relocating? We have 4G here in the more modern places of the world. Panera delivers. It’s a whole new world. Beauty and the Beast is even live action now, but the jury has already delivered the verdict you don’t mess with the animated classic. I have yet to see it to add my totally important judgment to the fray.

Six-year-old me is following Mom around Blockbuster, trying to sneak glimpses at movies that look way cooler than the ones in the kids section. I don’t remember really seeing any specific ones, except maybe Wayne’s World—which Dad owned so it probably wasn’t even there. We arrive at the kid’s section and Mom begins looking through them. I think Blockbuster is the reason I have a love for the magic of a well-made movie…and the magic of a shitastic spectacle. There’s a fine line, and those are the best films; looking at you Independence Day. For an example of a film on the wrong side of the line, watch Independence Day: Resurgence.

Mom grabs one. I distinctly remember thinking, Mom, no. That looks weird. It’s a good thing we have others in our life to say, “Well, yeah, but weird isn’t such a bad thing.” This weird movie Mom held in her hand was the BBC animated version of The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe.

I watched it three times before we returned it, and I know that we rented it again.

Not long after that, Toy Story was released in theaters and my world was forever changed. I’m beyond blessed to be a part of the Pixar Generation. For all the jokes about Millennials, as a generation we got to be best friends and grow up with Woody and Buzz and I think everyone else is just jealous. That’s the real reason for this generational divide that seems to keep expanding to infinity and beyond.

During this time—and I’m not sure entirely when, but I know it happened before Dad moved out, so it’s in this same window of my life—I also experienced the original Star Wars trilogy for the first time. Unlike seemingly every other gigantic nerdy friend in my life, this was not my watershed moment. Thank you very much, while everyone dreamed of becoming Jedi, I dreamed of sailing on the Dawn Treader.

But let’s not be hasty, now. Bet your ass I wanted a lightsaber.

C.S. Lewis, which I believe I read a few years after devouring the BBC animated adaptations, was the gateway drug into an addiction I plan to happily pass on to my kids. But little did I know that this fantasy drug would manifest into something more immense and powerful: the desire to be a writer.

When I talk to other writers, most seem to have a moment where they just knew that they were supposed to be doing this. For me, I’ve never had that luxury. Growing up, I wanted to train dolphins at Sea World or build rollercoasters for Busch Gardens. Yes, I grew up in the I-4 Corridor and it was the best possible place. There was even a span of time where I wanted to be an architect. Then I encountered geometry in tenth grade and that house of cards tumbled into a bloody jumble of spades into hearts and clubs into diamonds. A real mess.

Tenth grade is when society expects us to have some notion of what we want to do with our lives. Which is ridiculous if you’ve talked to a sixteen-year-old recently. I didn’t really like most of my subjects in school, even though I was a fantastic student. I had no idea what I was supposed to actually want to do with my life or what I was supposed to study in college. I’d written poems for years, but I never considered myself a writer. I knew they were terrible, but I kept trying. Looking back, I wish I still had that principled dedication. That’s more admirable in a writer than I ever knew until recently.

A few years later, I liked reading more than I liked anything else—and had enjoyed my dual-enrollment English courses more than any of the other ones—so I declared myself an English major. Now, nearly five years after obtaining my degree, many people close to me swear they asked me at the time: “So what do you do with an English degree?”

I promise you on my life, not a single one of them asked me that. Maybe because at the time they believed in my identity as a writer even though I’d barely put pen to paper. If that’s the case, they quite ironically now don’t believe that at a time where I can’t see myself doing anything else. Whereas, when they believed in me, I didn’t even know I was worth believing in.

That’s something, isn’t it? There’s a lot of Tolkien to be discussed here, but for both of our sake, I’ll hold off on that…for now.

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