As you might know, my childhood, in the sixties, were spent on the Space Coast of Florida and looking back it’s easy to realize that there is no place else I’d rather have spent it. I mean it was rural, woodsy and wild as well as a modern place of national pride that so very much represented how bright the future could be. Plus, it was just plain groovy: from watching rocket launches at Cape Canaveral from my backyard to watching Star Trek and I Dream of Jeannie on the TV, all while wearing psychedelic beach pants and enjoying the new exciting taste of a nice glass of Tang.
I lived across the street from the Max K. Rhoads Park, which was a kind of community serve-all; ball games, playground, swimming, a huge BBQ pit, several pavilions with grills, and a large hall for weddings and such. My brother Andy and I spent nearly every free waking hour there hanging out with Barry, the son of the live-in caretaker, doing what little barefoot boys from Florida do. There was always free food and soda whenever there were people having a party or picnic. I’ve found that people tend to be generous to eight year old boys that are so serious about their playtime.
One such time, after stashing some Penthouse magazines in our secret fort in the woods that bordered the park, we decided to head to the hall where we could see people gathering, FREE SODA! I can still smell the BBQ while I’m writing this and could smell it then as we crossed the two or three acres from the secret fort to the hall. I remember that it was rock & roll music that day, and the people were drinking and smoking. We headed to the BBQ pit where, indeed, we got that free soda from the two old guys manning the pit. They were asking us if we were invited, and Barry, who was always full of shit, offered up a bold-faced “Yeah!”, before the guilt and embarrassment had time to wash over my face. I know now that they were just toying with us, I mean we must have looked like little barefoot pig-pens by this time, mingling amidst all the dressed up guests for the party. The pit-master laughed and told us to go and play and that he’d save us some chicken when it was done.
After that we started off to the other side of the park where there was another small party with kids. I can’t remember for sure, it may have been an all girls’ party or perhaps one with older kids because we hadn’t closely investigated that part of the park. We never made it closer because on our way, the most wonderful thing happened. I found a red Cricket disposable lighter! TREASURE!!! It might not sound like much now but those things were new on the market and this was my first one! As the three of us were passing around my incredible find, a strange noise from out of nowhere increasing in volume and frequency stole all our attention. Honing in on the source, we looked up. Overhead about three stories high and descending quickly, was a clown wearing a jet-pack! What the hell? A clown wearing a jet-pack dipped down right over the three of us, then back up, and over the lake, and off into the distance, in a straight line!
The experience must have stressed out my little brain because I don’t recall much after that. The next thing I remember is that it was getting dark and Barry went home to his trailer and me and Andy swam through the lake on our way home (we didn’t have to take a bath if we swam through the lake). We told Mom about it, gave her all the details, we did everything to convince her but she didn’t believe us. Why should she? This was, at the time, something that might have appeared in movies or on TV. Definately not something a clown would be flying over the park on the Space Coast of Florida in the late 60s.