News stories involving small children in peril always seem to make our insides go kerfloppy. Baby Jessica trapped in a well drew our collective attention for days. The international fight over Elian Gonzales tugged at our heart strings. And the high courts of Malawi finally allowing Madonna to adopt little Mercy sparked all kinds of controversy. So, of course we spent a day last week following the peculiar tale of the Jiffy Pop looking, homemade, hot air balloon perilously floating thousands of feet above the environs of Fort Collins, Colorado, carrying, quite possibly but not certainly, the precious cargo of six-year-old Falcon Heene.
On a completely almost-unrelated topic, I recently found out that decades ago Michael Jackson was a student at my son's school. In commemoration of his vast success the school's auditorium was named after him. After his various encounters with male youth and then subsequent court appearances, his name was removed from the building. Now that he's passed away, the school is thinking about reversing that decision, and I'm trying to figure out where I stand with this. Am I against a non convicted predator's name splashed across the building where my son invariably will play the all important role of Candied Yam for the Thanksgiving Pageant? Would The Michael Jackson Auditorium bother me? Would The Mary Kay Letourneau Youth Center? The Roman Polanski Taqueria and Carwash?
I first heard about Balloon Boy on Twitter. (This was confirmed by updates on Facebook.) And all I could think was, Where the fuck were his parents? Because my son would absolutely want to get into a balloon and release it from its mooring. Sebastian is a boy boy and does stupid boy boy things. And when you ask him why he did whatever stupid thing he happened to do that day, his response is the same. Doesn't matter if he cut the dog's ear with garden clippers or hit his sister in the face with a fly swatter, he will shrug his little shoulders and say in a high pitched voice, "I wanted to see what would happen."
It's what boys do. Even I, on my birthday last week, had a stupid boy boy moment. I had just finished a chilled martini on the beach at sundown, when I noticed a water source flowing from the shore to the ocean. There seemed to be an embankment on either side of this small stream and I couldn't figure out if it was a permanent structure or made of sand. I walked over, put my foot on the edge, applied weight and immediately the ground gave way. Of course, it was sand. I lost my balance and was about to fall into the water and ruin my suede shirt. My only other option was to torque my body and throw myself on the ground, quite possibly causing injury. I chose pain over soaked suede. The "pop" echoed down the beach and my body promptly went into shock. As I write this my knee still hurts like the dickens and my limp is prominent. Why did I do this? I wanted to see what would happen.
So, there's no way in Bikini Bottom I would allow my six-year-old son anywhere near a hot air balloon. As the story unraveled I found out that the Richard Heene, the boy's father, said something idiotic like, "I told him not to go near it," and I about shit myself.
Hey, Richard, some parental advice... You never tell a kid to stay away from something and then think your parenting is over. You have to keep a sharp eye out because boys are stupid. And while I got your ear, what are you doing building a hot air contraption in your back yard where your kids have easy access? Are you that big of a numbnuts? And if you really don't want your kid to go soaring into the sky, then don't name him Falcon! You should have chosen a more earthbound sounding name like Colt, or Prairie, or Peninsula.
Now, of course, we all know the kid was never in the balloon, and the parents probably set the whole thing up as a publicity stunt to get their own reality series. I guess the fame they tasted when they did two episodes of Wife Swap wasn't enough. And since it looks as if Jon and Kate are imploding, I bet the Heenes saw this as a good time to jockey for the next first family of reality TV.
What gets me most is not that they pulled the wool over our eyes, but that Richard and Mayumi Heene thought nothing of including their kids in the hoax. These mini Heenes blatantly lied to newscasters, police and Larry King alike. What's the lesson here? It's okay to lie to the authorities as long as you get air time. When did getting on reality TV becomes more important than one's integrity?
Do you think there was a moment when either Richard or Mayumi Heene thought, "You know, this might be a really bad idea." Perhaps when friends and family called with concern. Maybe when the National Guard got involved and sent two helicopters to search for the poor lad. Or perhaps when the Denver Airport had to be shut down delaying thousands of passengers. But no, neither parent spoke up. They played upon the concern and goodwill of those of us closely watching. Ladies and gentlemen, we were punked. And here's where I sense an incredible disconnect. Let's say this stunt gets Balloon Family their own reality show. Who of us would really want to watch it?
In regards to punishment, I think jail time seems wrong, since it would leave the three boys parentless. Fining them the maximum of $500,000 for conspiracy seems exorbitant, especially when that money could go towards educational funds and Italian sports cars. I think they should be made to pay fifteen thousand dollars for rescue services, and then Richard and Mayumi Heene should be forbidden from ever being on television again. Make the message clear... Hey starfuckers, your fifteen minutes are over!