The Boy Who Cried Falcon

Little Falcon Heene was a very naughty boy. What did we all learn from his little dalliance with homemade aviation?

By Drew Magary
|  Friday, Oct 16, 2009  |  Updated 9:52 AM CDT
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AP

Six-year-old Falcon Heene is shown with his father, Richard, outside the family's home in Fort Collins, Colo., after Falcon Heene was found hiding in a box in a space above the garage on Thursday, Oct. 15, 2009. Falcon Heene at first had been reported to be aboard a flying-saucer-shaped balloon fashioned by his father and then carried by high winds on to the plains of eastern Colorado.

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By now, you know well the story of Falcon Heene, the little boy who had America worried sick to death Thursday afternoon when he untethered his father’s giant jiffy-pop balloon and let it soar thousands of feet over the Colorado landscape.

If you were like me, you watched the potentially devastating footage of Heene’s balloon listing through the air and worried that the boy was either trapped inside, or had presumably fallen to his death after tumbling out mid-flight at some unknown point beforehand. Or you thought it might be a hoax perpetrated by the Mylar Producers of America. They’re a nefarious lot.

Once it was discovered that young Heene was never in the balloon, but rather alive and well and hiding in his parents’ attic after the ordeal, everyone watching was placed in the same situation as Heene’s parents. You were relieved the boy was alive. And you wanted to slap him silly for scaring you to death like that.

Simultaneously, it was hard not to hear the news and feel like YOU were six years old again, hiding in a corner, hoping to avoid your parents’ wrath after you did something you KNOW was bad. Really bad. Burn-down-the-house bad. Every kid on earth has been in that position at one time or another.

I personally broke at least 75% of my father’s tangible assets when I was a child, and subsequently would hide in various places around the house, hoping he wouldn’t find me until he either A) Forgot about the incident entirely, or B) I died of dehydration. That’s how kids’ brains work. Which is why they go to school.

Falcon got his parents into hot water again when he appeared on CNN hours after he was discovered hiding in the attic. He told the show the stunt was done for a TV show. The next day, the boy appeared to get sick on live TV and inexplicably vomited into a container while filming a segment for NBC's "Today" show.

Falcon's dad, Richard, told the "Today" show Friday morning that speculation the ordeal was a deliberate made-for-TV stunt was "absolutely not" true. "What do I have to gain from this?" dad asked on the morning show. 

So the story of Falcon Heene, in the end, turns out to be a rather sweet one. You can practically picture the little boy cowering in the corner of the attic, crying his eyes out because he knows he’s gonna get it.

But that’s one of the surprising things about being a kid. Sometimes, you screw up so incredibly badly that your parents are just grateful you’re alive. Instead of castigating you, they’re more likely to grab you and smother you to death with kisses (which, for a six-year-old, may be worse than a spanking, but I digress). And that’s reassuring on some level. For us adults, it’s nice to know a big news story like this turns out to have a rather comical, relatable, and nonviolent ending.

And for kids, it’s proof that if you’re gonna screw up, you better make sure you do it big. Big as a hot air balloon.

Drew Magary is a co-founder of Kissing Suzy Kolber, a writer for Blue Star and Deadspin, and author of Men With Balls, now in bookstores.

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