Thursday, June 9, 2016

Admiral Byrd to the Rescue

One of your earliest heroes was a man named Richard Evelyn Byrd, about whom you first learned in The Weekly Reader, a publication of news-based event and curriculum-studded themes, which you devoured each time it was distributed in your elementary school classes.

In a way neither you nor the publishers of The Weekly Reader could have anticipated, their publication and its constant references to the exploits of Richard Evelyn Byrd led you to magazines printed on the sort of paper that gave those publications a generic name, pulps.

In those rough pages, heroes such as Richard Evelyn Byrd led your imagination on charges every bit as races and spirited as the opening of the box office of the Ritz Theater on Wilshire Boulevard for the sale of tickets to the Saturday afternoon matinee.

Richard E. Byrd was a rear admiral in the United States Navy. However odd and humorous the title of rear admiral seemed, you were for some time willing to undergo whatever necessary rigors to achieve the same rank yourself, the better to accompany Admiral Byrd on his extravagant and copious adventures of discovery, sometimes in places where men had trod before, only to be frozen for their pains, other times in places where he and his minions had in all probability set the first steps of the human species.

When you learned the specifics of the rigors necessary to become any officer in the U. S. Navy, much less a rear admiral, you thought instead to become the primary rescuer of Admiral Byrd, wanting only a recent copy of The Weekly Reader to advise you where he'd managed to have ventured this time in order for you to track him down, then lead him back to safety.  

Your primary tools for this excruciating work were a small, pocket-sized atlas of the world, also published by the parent organization of The Weekly Reader, a compass that had at one time been a premium in a box of Cracker-Jacks, a pen knife, and a half-full cardboard container of licorice cigarettes.

If Admiral Byrd seemed to have strayed too far off the known outreaches, perhaps a peanut butter and jam sandwich would have found its way into your equipment bag, but in any case, your rescue of him became a part of an activity you would later understand to be mixing metaphors. 

Having located his supposed whereabouts on a map, you'd mount an expedition to find him, which would be somewhere within the yawning reaches of a huge open lot in back of your residence in the 400 block of South Cochran Avenue, not far from the famed Miracle Mile of midtown Los Angeles.  

Sometimes, your searches for Admiral Byrd would take you to one of the outer edges of the lot, which would be the east-west-running Third Street, which always amused you because it was supposed to be the third block north of Wilshire Boulevard, but was, in fact, not.

Your imagined scenarios had Admiral Byrd and his men hunkered before a fire, trying their best to keep their hands warm. You would approach, and even though you were not at sea, ask permission to board, thanks to a mash-up of Tom Sawyer, and a neighborhood older person, perhaps six years your senior and, thus, to be respected above all adults.  Admiral Byrd would offer a crisp, "Permission granted," at which point you would advance, extending your hand. "Admiral Byrd, I presume."

Over the years, your heroes have evolved from explorers of geography to the men and women who explore a terrain more formidable yet, the outer reaches of the human condition. Great as your imagination and confidence were back in the years of rescuing Admiral Byrd, your new heroes have become those writers who can find you, at whatever remote escarpment you find yourself dangling from, lost or bewildered.

These worthies have come aboard via the mere fact of you having read them; they provide excellent charts by which you can reckon your way back to the mainland.


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