Sunday, June 24, 2018

I was a Planeteer, for an afternoon

I was reading a recent post from Dinosaur Dracula that brought back some memories from elementary school. It was the early 90's and I was really into Captain Planet. I wasn't so into it that I was ready to plaster the walls with posters, or use the bed sheets, but I made sure I never missed an episode. Every day, I watched the Planeteers use the powers of earth, fire, water, wind, and...heart(?) to summon the cool blue Captain to fight a ragtag bunch of polluting super villains. If I'm being completely honest, the villains were the real highlight of the show for me. With a group that includes a walking pile of nuclear rocks with a penchant for Hawaiian shirts, or a half man, half rat who loved pushing drugs, it's hard to be that excited by a bunch of teenagers with fancy magic rings. Still, the basic message of the show, polluting bad, recycling good, stuck with me.

It was one random afternoon in 4th grade that the power of the Planeteers compelled me. A couple of friends and I were running around, pretending to be Ninja Turtles, when we noticed that there was quite a bit of trash all over the playground. We huddled together, talking over a plan about as well as a 9 or 10 year old is able, and decided to take it upon ourselves to clean up the yard. So, the next 30 to 40 minutes were spent picking up the random pieces of litter strewn across the playground. Crushed pudding cups, torn up notes (Do you like me? Yes/No), broken pencils, a glove that had been hiding under the jungle gym for at least 3 months; it's amazing the crap that elementary school kids would just toss on the ground. At some point, one of our teachers came up to us and asked what we were doing. I'm not sure of the exact wording, but I'm pretty sure I blurted out something like, "We're the Planeteer club!".  All my friends watched Captain Planet too, so they were totally into it, giving each other high fives, throwing their arms into the air in a show of solidarity and victory. The teacher wrote down all our names and left us to enjoy the last few minutes of our recess, which were likely spent taking on an imaginary Verminous Skumm or Shredder.

Soon, we were back in class, ready to slog through the last couple hours of school. After what seemed like an eternity, our class was finally able to put away our books and get ready to go home. As we were packing up, the principals voice came over the P.A. system with the afternoon announcements. I never really paid attention to the announcements, because they almost never had anything to do with me. So, I was just sitting there at my desk, tired and leaning my head on my hand waiting for him to finish when I heard, "Finally, I'd like to give a special thanks to the Planeteers Club for their help in keeping our school playground clean", and he read off the names of my friends and I. I was floored. My buddies all looked over at me wide-eyed with amazement. We had made it on to the announcements! I mean, it wasn't much, but at that age, any time your name was said out loud in public, and not because you were in trouble, it was a damn good feeling.

When I got home, I was still flying high on the excitement. My imagination took off, and I started having 10 year old level delusions of grandeur. I love how quickly my thoughts would grow at that age. Today, I would be known as the kid who helped clean up the playground at Willis Wharf school. Tomorrow, I'd be the president of the Planeteers club, responsible for thousands, no, millions of kids going outside and cleaning up the world. Maybe I could even get to meet Captain Planet! Even better, maybe I'd get to beat up villains with Captain Planet! I fell asleep humming the Captain Planet theme song to myself, trying to find ways to seamlessly insert my own name into the lyrics.

The next day, I was ready to continue the fight against trash and litter on our playground. I'd brought a small plastic grocery bag with me, so I wouldn't have to keep running back and forth to the garbage can. Even at that young age, I was starting to think about efficiency. Before the bell rang to let us outside, I walked over to my friends, eager to enlist their help yet again.

"Hey guys! Ready to clean up the playground again?"
"Nah, I think we're going to play Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles today, wanna come?"

But, we were the Planeteers. We were going to clean up the world, one playground at a time. We were going to take pollution down to zero. We weren't playing, we were actually doing some good. Feeling dejected, I turned down their offer and went off to pick up trash on my own. It wasn't nearly as much fun as it had been with a group, but I was still able to clean up the yard before recess was over. That day, however, there was no thanks over the P.A., no recognition for what I had done. Just a reminder to tell our parents about an upcoming PTA meeting, and tomorrow's lunch menu. I kept it going for a couple more days, but only grudgingly. By the last day, I was starting to realize that walking around the playground picking up garbage by yourself just looks odd to other people. And if there was one thing I definitely was at that age, it was self conscious about how other people saw me. Seeing my friends climbing all over the monkey bars, beating up imaginary mutants and ninjas without me, I was starting to feel left out. I tossed out the small bag of garbage I had been carrying, and walked over to join them.

R.I.P. Planeteers Club. You were no match for the attention span of 10 year olds.


  1. Funny story!I'm sure the shows creators would be proud to hear It.It's always great when a positive show hits home and at least you carried out your eco friendly crusade for a little while.I'm sure whenever you see a candy wrapper or a piece of trash lying on the floor today you still make the effort to pick It up and dispose of it.

    1. Funny thing is, there's actually a Captain Planet Foundation now. I didn't realize there was such a thing until a couple days ago. Crazy that a 90's cartoon still has that much of an effect.


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