The following and all of the other episodes to come are snapshots of what goes on in my head, now and in the past. There are times none of this will make sense. There will be times when I might get lucky and the blog I post will be well constructed and will flow like a mountain stream to an awaiting lake below. Other times it will seem like the ramblings of a madman and you’ll ask yourself, “What the……?”
You should probably get used to the latter.
EPISODE ONE HUNDRED THREE: The Mission: An Amazing Story That Helped Me Fly…
(The following contains spoilers for the Amazing Stories episode The Mission. If you have not seen it, go watch it first and come back. You MUST watch it. You have been warned.)
It was Sunday, November 3rd, 1985. I was a little more than a month away from my 14th birthday. I was sitting downstairs in the den waiting for the fifth episode of Amazing Stories to come on. I had become a huge fan of the show. I mean, a hero of mine, a certain guy named Steven Spielberg was involved and to me, he could do no wrong.
I sat in my dad’s black faux leather recliner that sat in front of the TV and watched the clock tick down to seven o’clock. I knew tonight’s episode was going to be special. Not only was it the first-hour long episode but it was written and directed by ‘the bearded one’ himself. All I knew, from the TV guide in our local paper, that it was about a World War II bomber and it was called…The Mission.
The theme song starts and I sit back in the chair. Only the light of the TV, one of those twenty-inch versions with that large tube screen sitting on a rolling cart that could be turned in any direction so it can be seen anywhere in the den. You could even pull it in front of the bathroom door that was to the right of it in case you didn’t want to miss your show and needed to ‘take care of business’ at the same time.
The show starts and I’m transfixed on the characters and the situation that’s going on in front of me. Later on, in life, I would come to understand the number of well-known actors in this episode.
Let me give you the rundown of the story. I group of guys in a World War II bomber, guys that have been together since the beginning of the war, are going on a bombing run. One of the guys, Jonathan, is the belly gunner. A man with a huge imagination. He draws all of the time and when he gets out of the war, he wants to work as a cartoonist. As they head toward their bombing run, they have attacked by German planes. Our heroes take them out but the last one, shot by Jonathan, explodes and a piece of the plane crashes into the plane and welds itself into the side of the bomber and right above the belly turret. Jonathan can’t get out.
And to add to the suspense, the German planes shot up the bomber so much, it caused the landing gear to become stuck in the wings, unable to come down.
Jonathan can’t get out and if they land, the weight of the plane will crush the turret and him along with it.
As the episode goes along, I’m sitting nearer and nearer to the edge of the recliner. This show is making it feel in a way that I have never felt before about any show. The story has been engulfed and I have no idea on how he’s going to get out of that gun turret.
A commercial comes on at the halfway point and I run upstairs to where my parents are. I interrupt their show on that TV. I try to explain what I’m watching and tell them how I don’t know how Jonathan is going to live. They smile and see I’m into it and excited but there isn’t much interest. I see this and run back downstairs before the show comes back from commercial break. I plop back down in the chair just as the show comes back on. I’m trying really hard to contain my excitement.
The show continues and they try to give him an open parachute so when he gets it strapped on, he can kick out the Plexiglas of the turret, he can jump away from the plane and to safety. But as he’s pulling the silk chute through the small opening at the top, it catches on a piece of sharp metal from the wreckage above him and rips a large hole in it.
The chute is useless.
Time is up to try this again and they are too low for him to survive the fall. While this is going on, a priest is talking over the radio that is being broadcast over the loudspeakers at the base where they are flying into and Jonathan’s British wife is there listening to every word.
I can not get closer to the edge of my seat. Any further forward, I’ll be on the floor.
As I said before, Jonathan is a cartoonist. And he carries a clipboard filled with blank paper. Attached to that clipboard are a plethora of colored pencils attached by strings. He even carries all this into the turret to practice during down times.
So, he’s sitting there inside his Plexiglas bubble, with no way out, and death looming just a few miles away on the runway. He decides the draw one last picture. He starts to draw the plane, his bomber, with speed and accuracy. He stares at this plane coming to fruition in front of him.
As he draws, his best friend, Static, decides that he doesn’t want Jonathan to suffer. He decides to shoot him to save him from such a horrible fate. As Jonathan draws with frenzy, Static crawls closer and closer with the loaded gun. His plane mates look on with horror but none stop him. They know this would be better in the long run.
Jonathan draws and draws. Th plane is complete. Then, he creates the wheels. Instead of normal looking landing equipment, he draws a couple of huge yellow tires with red and white striped poles for landing gear. He colors them in and gets on the radio and asks the Captain to try the landing gear just one more time.
Static’s gun can be seen coming into view above his head.
I am breathing hard and I stare at the TV screen with wide, unblinking eyes.
The Captain puts his finger on the landing gear switch and repeats what the priest says…
“The former world has passed away.”
He flicks the switch down.
At this moment, I have no idea what is going to happen. I was so lost in the story and the tension, I couldn’t think. I was on that plane with them. I was in that gun turret with Jonathan. All my other thoughts were a million miles away. I could not think.
Sparks came from the holes of the landing gear, the music goes from tension inducing to uplifting. The landing gear was coming down.
THE LANDING GEAR WAS COMING DOWN!!!!!!!
But….it wasn’t the normal landing gear……it was the landing gear from his picture. The large yellow wheels and the red and white poled landing gear.
I jumped up and screamed ‘YES‘. I watched those big cartoonish tires lock into place and I cried.
I cried big giant wet tears and laughed all at the same time. I came close to being hysterical. That was one of the only times in my life I can say that I was actually nearly hysterical.
I watched Static pull his gun back, saying he couldn’t do it and cry. He didn’t know what was going on just a dozen feet away from him outside the plane.
The plane landed and they cut him out of the gun turret. Jonathan was in a trance. The Captain, being a very smart human being, told them not to jostle him one bit. They pulled him away from the plane where his wife meet them as they laid him down. The cartoon landing gear stayed right where they were until the Captain slapped Jonathan to take him out of his trance. Once that happened, the yellow wheels and red and white pole landing gear faded away and the plane crashed to the tarmac crushing the turret.
I was ecstatic. I wanted to watch it again. I was so happy and excited about what I had just seen. I saw magic. Real…magic. I was overwhelmed. The credits rolled and I ran back upstairs to my parents and tried to make them understand the importance of what I had just witnessed. They listened and nodded. I’m sure I didn’t explain it very well and to the best of my recollection, they saw that what I saw was important but there was no way I was going to make them feel like I did.
They were adults. Adults would never be able to get their head around it.
When I went to bed take night, I couldn’t sleep. It took me a couple of hours to finally doze off. I could only run what I had seen through my head over and over.
For the next few weeks, I thought about that episode nearly non-stop. It had possessed me. I was amazed at how the story had sucked me in and left me wondering what was going to happen. And I was amazed at how emotionally vested I got.
To this day, I have only been so vested in a story a few time that I had no idea what was going to happen.
And as a TV show goes, this one is the tippy, tippy top for all shows I have ever seen in my life…
Now…I said all of that to say this. What saved Jonathan was one thing and one thing only:
The power of imagination.
Since I watched this show so many years ago, I have remembered that the power of my imagination could save me. It may not save from being crushed in a gun turret, but it could save me from boredom, it could save me from loneliness, it could save me from deep depression.
And it has.
I tend to see things that most other people don’t see or notice. I am more accepting of changes or odd things more than a lot of people. I can sit for hours and think and dream and not get tired of it.
My imagination has saved me many, many times. It has given me hope and I cherish it. When bad times come crashing in, my imagination and dreams have protected me from getting too hurt, it’s given me an escape.
I’m glad that we have the technology to watch things we did when we were a kid and be able to watch it over and over if we choose to.
I re-watched this episode not too long ago. And even though I knew what was going to happen, I got sucked right back into it. And when those big yellow tires came down, I cried.
It still touches me and it takes me back to that black recliner and how I really did sit on the edge of my seat. That was an important moment in my life where I believed magic can really exist in this world.
I’m lucky. There are many people who don’t find one of these moments in their life, a moment from their childhood that they take with them into adulthood. These moments become a touchstone to when things were simpler, where it’s easier to believe that big yellow tires that you created in your mind can save you.
Thank you, Mr. Spielberg.
-Loyd Elmore Jr
March 23rd, 2018
I’ve decided to keep a blog about how I’m dealing with depression. I’m going to consider this a form of therapy. It might not help anybody else but it might help me.