Here are more of "My Cool Things." I'll finish this series in the next entry.
When I was seven years old, my family moved to a suburb of Chicago. Our new home was modest, pleasant, and agreeable in every way, except that it was located under a high-traffic, low-altitude approach path to O'Hare Airport. At first we didn't like the constant noise from the jet engines, but surprisingly, we adjusted to it quickly. Somehow we learned to tune out most of the constant roaring.
Before long I discovered that sitting in our backyard and watching the endless parade of airliners was an entertaining pastime. I had never flown on a plane, so I found myself wondering how being a passenger on one of those jets would feel. My daydreams quickly grew into imagining the experience of piloting a plane. I saw myself sitting in the cockpit, my hands on the controls, maneuvering the powerful aircraft with practiced ease. My parents had been airline passengers; they spoke about the force of taking off pushing them firmly back in their seats, and the exhilaration of climbing rapidly to a great height. In my mind I guided planes through many imaginary flights like my parents described, and still more breathtaking flights which I created in my dreams. I decided that I would be a pilot when I grew up.
Through junior high and high school I considered several different careers, but becoming a pilot was always close to my heart. Then one day after I had graduated from high school, my dream was abruptly shattered. I spoke with a professional pilot who told me that to be a pilot you had to stand at least 5 feet 10 inches tall. I had stopped growing at 5 feet 7 inches in height. There was no escaping the cold facts. I would never pilot jet airplanes. Eventually I recovered from my disappointment and moved on to other dreams. But even today I know that piloting aircraft would be adventurously cool.
Like many eight-year-old boys, I loved dinosaurs. I didn't have any dinosaurtoys or action figures, which my parents probably would have bought for me if it had ever occurred to me to ask for any. Instead, I spent hours memorizing every available fact and theory about these ancient reptiles. My information was provided by many oversized, heavily illustrated books produced for my age group, which my Dad did buy for me.
When I couldn't corner anyone long enough to share my enthusiasm for the Mesozoic era and its inhabitants, my interest turned to more creative applications of my hobby. I'd lightly sketch a member of each dinosaur species on construction paper, carefully cut out each image, and fill in the details of an artist's conception of that dinosaur using a 64 piece set of Crayola crayons. My room would become a child's recreation of the Mesozoic world as I placed each dinosaur in its native construction-paper-and-crayon habitat. One corner of my room became an ocean or inland sea where marine dinosaurs hunted prehistoric fish. Nearby was a swamp where Brontosaurus and other giant sauropods waded while eating soft water plants. A drier landscape could be found by my closet, where Tyrannosaurus Rex and three-horned Triceratops battled, surrounded by a menagerie of other familiar and obscure species. Flying dinosaurs perched in tall, prehistoric trees.
Transforming my bedroom into a world of dinosaurs took much time and effort, but the enjoyment it brought me was well worth the work. I would make the various dinosaurs carry out what I imagined were normal activities for them. They would interact and go on reptilian adventures until their construction paper forms wore out. Then I'd continue reading my dinosaur books and searching for another patient listener who I could privilege with the wonders of ancient Earth. Long before the era of video games and DVDs, being a boy who was passionate about dinosaurs was imaginatively cool.
This is the fourth entry of a five part series.