It was an experience that I will never forget.
Like millions of 10 year old kids at the time I planted myself in front of the television every day at 3 PM to watch The Adventures Of Superman on channel 11, towel firmly tied around my neck and dream of being The Man of Steel . Or at least flying with George Reeves who was still very much alive in the imagination of one particular 10 year old boy.
I was vaguely aware that I myself was NOT Superman, but I was determined to FLY with him one day!
To tell the truth I was never much like Superman as a kid (or for that matter as an adult!). I was actually more like another fictional character…Charlie Brown. At least when it came to flying kites. Like Charlie, my kites ALWAYS ended up finding a vicious kite eating tree. This was no small feat since I lived in the Canarsie section of Brooklyn where there were not many trees period, much less the kite eating variety! I can’t begin to tell you how many times I had VOWED never to touch a kite again only to be drawn in by the thought that maybe THIS time I might actually get the thing into the air.
It was on a particularly clear Saturday in late August. I was already all too well aware that school would be starting in a couple of weeks. There was already the barest hint of the coming fall because while it was still very warm, it was also becoming more and more breezy.
Hmmm….heat and wind. Could the fates be aligning for me?
Saturday was ALSO my allowance day. I am pretty sure that kids today do not have this traditional stipend given to them by their parents. At least MY kid never had an allowance. I just signed the back of my paycheck and handed it to her every week. It was a great time saver. But I digress. MY liquid cash amounted to $2.00 a week plus whatever I could wheedle out of my parents during the course of the week. Usually about another sawbuck as I recall. In any event, with two crisp one dollar bills burning a hole in my pocket I crossed the street at 102nd Street and Flatlands Avenue and went into Izzy’s Candy Store.
Of course my first stop was always the comic book rack. As I plucked the latest copies of Superman and Batman, my eye was drawn to an item that Izzy had placed on top of the spinning rack. My eyes grew wide and I did a double take, shook my head but it was still there. It was Superman himself!
Well it was a Superman KITE anyway.
There on a background of white plastic (most kites were still made of paper in those days) was emblazoned the image of The Man of Tomorrow in flight. AND it was not just any image. Not some hack artist who never actually drew a comic. It was a CURT SWAN drawing of Superman.
In all the annals of kitedom, THIS was the Mona Lisa of Kites! If Michelangelo had put a kite inside the dome if the Sistine Chapel this would be it!!! A masterpiece.
I knew it had to be mine!
With sweat beading on my upper lip, a quiver of adrenaline coursing through my veins, I pointed to the kite and asked Izzy what it cost.
.99¢…with another .15¢ for string that made $1.14. Quickly I brought all my third grade math to bear , channeled my inner Mr. Spock, and subtracted my comics and a couple of candy bars from my two bucks and …and….I still had $1.25!!! BINGO!
Presently I was back in my house, ripping up old bed sheets for a tail and assembling my prize…
Cross the sticks…tie the joints with extra string for strength…now…carefully…CAREFULLY attach the skin…the skin with SUPERMAN on it…run a string across the cross stick and gently make the bow…THERE!
I held it up for inspection. Never had I constructed a more perfect kite! I was sure the boys at NASA, if they saw this would immediately put me on the Apollo design team. If they only knew the aerodynamic skill that was…me.
But no time for such mundane endeavors as the Space Program. There was a kite to fly. Superman must take to the air. And I must fly with him! (from the ground anyway.)
Without hesitation I bolted from my front door, to be joined in mid stride by my Robin, my Sancho, my Regis Philbin…none other than my (also 10 year old) cousin, and the toughest kid on the block…Cindy.
Running side by side she asked…”where we goin’?”
I held up the kite as an answer and she let out a sigh…
But I could sense that no $%#@#$ kite eating tree would DARE chomp on Superman. Even kite Superman should be invulnerable to K.E.T.s!
Without another word we dashed into the alley that separated East 102nd and East 103rd Streets. That alley was the Sanctum Santorum for the kids in my neighborhood.
Photo supplied by SKHS (Superman Kite Historical Society)
Our eyes locked and with absolute trust I handed the kite to my faithful companion and she held fast as I began to run down the alley…letting out several yards of string…waiting for just the right amount of lead and then…
“LET HER GO!”
And then a remarkable thing happened.
The kite actually went UP. And when I say up, I mean UP! The wind caught it just right and very soon the 100 ft of string was all played out! Cindy dashed off for more string and pretty soon we had used all of THAT up too!
Superman was flying! And I was right there with him. Presently I tied the string off to a nearby fence and we watched the Man of Steel soar some 300ft over Canarsie.
I never felt so safe.
As morning passed into afternoon, the kite flew in lazy circles taunting the kite eating trees. I could swear I could hear them grumbling in frustration. Soon other kids joined in to watch The Last Son Of Krypton fly under my control.
There was Mark who was a Spiderman fan and didn’t count.
There was Eddie and his faithful pooch Hasbro. (Eddie loved toys).
There was Steven who would claw his way to middle management in later life.
There was girly, kootie filled Margaret who even then liked boys A LOT! (It was kinda creepy to a 10 year old let me tell you but some years later when Margaret had magically gotten LESS creepy I took her off to “fly kites” all by ourselves!)
And finally there was Henry…Henry my nemesis. My Luthor! Henry who always seemed to be there when my kites crashed…always with a taunt on his lips. His “HA!” was a killer. Now his humiliation was complete! (well almost. Some years later he would lose a fortune when the 8 Track tape market collapsed.)
The whole GANG was there. We were all having so much fun, except Henry who was even then plotting his next move in our never ending battle…that ummm actually ended five years later when I administered a knuckle sandwich after catching him “flying kites” with Margaret. (that girl LOVED kites!)
But all good things come to an end and all days come to an end. As the sun began to set I was left with a problem.
What to do with Superman?!
He was WAY up there! It would take me hours to gather up all that string and pull him down. PLUS he’s likely crash into a roof , or WORSE, a kite eating tree on the way down. I looked over to Cindy and she must have read my mind because my faithful sidekick had run off and returned with a pair of scissors. Our eyes met in perfect communication. Superman should fly free. A silence gathered over the gang and with a quiet reverence they witnessed as Cindy handed me the scissors.
A single tear trickled down her cheek and she nodded to me.
I cut the string.
We watched as Superman flew off…further and further until we lost sight of him.
I’ve always been glad we did that because as far as I know, Superman is still up there over the skies of Canarsie.