Being an ordinary, flesh-and-blood human boy was boring. What kid doesn't want to be Superman, or a Princess, or Doctor Doom? When I was 8 years old and getting beaten up by the other kids in 3rd grade, I certainly wanted to be something more than just a vulnerable lump of flesh. I wanted power.
The Banana Splits show had an occasional cartoon segment called "The Arabian Knights." It featured a prince whose rightful throne had been usurped, who banded together with some Arabic guys with magical powers. It didn't take many viewings to convince me that I, too, was actually a prince. The throne I was destined to ascend had been taken away from me, and I was condemned to live the life of an ordinary kid. My parents had no idea they were harboring royalty.
But this particular fantasy didn't last long, because soon, on Saturday morning TV, a show came along that completely displaced "The Arabian Knights" in my mind. This new show was called "Jeannie."
For those of you who didn't grow up in the 1970s, it was a time when many cartoons were nothing more than kid-oriented copies of popular live action TV shows. My Favorite Martian became animated as "My Favorite Martians," with Uncle Martin's one-antenna'd young nephew Andy as a regular character. Emergency! became "Emergency Plus Four," with a group of teen-agers driving the +4-mobile. Gilligan's Island became "The New Adventures of Gilligan," with nearly all the voice actors from the original reprising their roles. (Except for Tina Louise, that scallawag.) There was even an animated version of the original Star Trek TV series.
"Jeannie" was one of these cartoon-series-based-on-a-TV-show. It was an animated copy of I Dream of Jeannie. They had to change a few things to make it more kid-oriented, though: the stars were no longer Air Force officers, they were teen-agers. The main star, Cory Anders (voiced by a pre-Star Wars Mark Hamill), rode around on a motorcycle and surfed, because he was the popular kid. One day, he found an antique bottle with a miniature woman inside it, and when he opened it, in the words of the theme song: "Out came Jeannie, pow! And junior genie Babboo." Jeannie spent most episodes trying to foil Cory's dating life out of jealousy, and Babboo was a bungling oaf whose spells usually backfired.
I was enthralled by the fantastic powers these genies had. Even the bumbling Babboo had more power than I had ever posessed in my life. I wanted to be a genie. And so, I decided, I was a genie.
You see, I had become trapped here in this world and lost my powers at the time I was "born". I didn't come from Earth, nor was I born a flesh-and-blood boy from flesh-and-blood parents. I was Johnny the Genie, a magical genie from the world of ... Cartoon Land. Cartoon Land was the world in which everyone and everything was a 2-D animated drawing. I wasn't just a genie, I was a cartoon genie! In my native Cartoon Land, all my magical powers worked, and there was nothing I couldn't do.
But ... one day while I was zipping around Cartoon Land, I made a horrible mistake. There was a billboard in Cartoon Land, that showed a picture of what you and I today think of as "the real world." This billboard was actually a two-way portal. When viewed from the other side, the billboard looked like a cartoon landscape with the words "Cartoon Land" emblazoned across the top. That day, in Cartoon Land, I was using my genie powers to make myself run super-fast. I ran so fast that I couldn't control where I was going, and ended up running through the billboard and out into the world you petty mortals think of as reality. This put me in Minnesota, in the small town of Shoreview near Saint Paul.
But the problem was, I was still running too fast to control my course after I entered this world! I continued moving at super speed, zipping down the street, until I plowed into a house on West Turtle Lane. And even then, I kept hurtling along, until at last I ended up zipping into the womb of the woman whom I would later call my mother. The experience somehow de-aged me, transforming me into a powerless, flesh-and-blood fetus. The woman who I was now inside of mistook me for her own offspring ... and the rest is history.
And now, thanks to the cartoon show "Jeannie," I'd been awakened to this wonderful truth. I wasn't Roger M. Wilcox. I was Johnny the Genie. By then the family had moved to California, but some day ... some day ... I would make the trek to Minnesota and find that billboard. And when that day came, I would at last step back through the portal into Cartoon Land and reclaim my birthright.
Unlike my previous flirtation with being a prince, this particular fantasy lasted. I insisted on being called "Johnny" by my parents and brother. Even over a year later, near the end of 4th grade, I called my eighth typewritten story "Johnnys Amazing Wether Machine" instead of "Roger's Amazing Wether [sic] Machine." My parents even took it as a symptom that I might be suffering from some psychological problem. (I didn't actually believe I was a genie in my heart of hearts. I merely wished it to be so. I had to maintain the charade of insisting I was Johnny the Genie, lest the spell would be broken.)
I've never actually ventured back to Shoreview, Minnesota, the town of my birth. My dad tells me he buried some kind of a time capsule in the back yard of our old house when I was born. He drew up a map of where the time capsule was buried, which he told me about when I was a kid. He'd said said he planned on giving me the map when I turned 18, but unfortunately, he either lost or forgot the map (or both) by the time that age finally rolled around. By now the time capsule has probably been either found or destroyed by landscapers.
And I would have no idea which street I'd have to look on to find the fabled billboard portal to Cartoon Land.
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