“Captain Plastic and Potato Woman,” Friend, Oct. 1980, 28
It was Saturday morning. To Greg that meant cartoons on TV. He woke up early, even before his father and mother or his older brother Tony were up. Tiptoeing into the living room, he turned the TV on low so he wouldn’t wake anyone. He loved to see the strong, brave heroes fight the monsters who tried to wreck the world.
Tony woke up and asked Greg if he wanted to go outside and play baseball, but Greg said, “No, I want to see the end of this show.” But when that show was finished, an even better one came on the screen.
When his father woke up, he asked Greg if he wanted to help him work on the car, but Greg answered, “Not now. This is my favorite show.”
And after that show, there was one that seemed even better than the first two.
Breakfast over, his mother asked him if he wanted to go shopping with her, but Greg replied, “No, I’d rather stay and see this show.”
“If you don’t watch out,” his mother warned, “you’ll turn into a TV set.”
But Greg didn’t pay much attention to her because he was watching the adventures of Captain Plastic, a hero who could turn himself into any shape he wanted to be.
I wish Dad were Captain Plastic, Greg thought. And I wish Mom were Wonder Woman and could stop bullets with her belt. And I wish life were more like it is on TV. Then he curled up in the large rocking chair …
The next thing Greg knew, his father jumped into the living room wearing a red cape and blue tights with a big letter P on his chest. “Hi there, son!” his father said, hanging from the ceiling like a lamp. In fact, he looked like a lamp.
“Why are you wearing that funny suit and hanging upside down from the ceiling?” Greg asked.
“Because I’m Captain Plastic!” his father said proudly, still looking like a lamp.
“No, you’re not,” Greg laughed. “You’re my dad.”
“Well, to you I’m your dad, but to the world I’m Captain Plastic.” And with that, his father came down from the ceiling and turned into a piano. “I can fly to London and back faster than you can say, ‘Where’d he go?’ But today,” his father said, changing back to Captain Plastic, “I have a cold.”
“You should go to bed and get plenty of rest,” advised Greg, remembering the TV commercials.
“Well, yes, but when Captain Plastic—the world’s strongest man—gets a cold, it’s even more of a problem because when I …”
His father sucked in his breath before letting out a great big sneeze, “Aaaaa-choo!” And his breath blew a hole through one wall of the house.
“You see what I mean?” his father asked. “That’s what happens when Captain Plastic gets a cold. Boy! I’m sorry about the wall. It was one of my favorite walls too. Well, I guess we’ll just have to put a big window there.”
Then his father looked like he was going to sneeze again. “Dad, you’d better go outside.” Greg warned. “If you sneeze one more time, you’ll wreck our whole house.”
“I know, but I hate to go outside and just sit on the porch. Some people make fun of me when I’m wearing my Captain Plastic costume.”
“Then turn yourself into something else,” Greg suggested.
“OK. I’ll turn myself into a big truck.” And with that, his father marched outside, sat down in the driveway, and became a giant truck.
Greg went outside and walked around the truck, admiring its glistening chrome hubcaps and its bright, metallic color.
Dad would love to drive a truck like this, Greg thought. But then he remembered that his dad was the truck.
Greg became confused trying to figure out what was happening. A few minutes later his mother came home from the store. “Whose truck is that in the driveway?” she asked.
“That’s not a truck—that’s Dad,” Greg told her.
“I thought so,” his mother said. “When I walked by, it sneezed.”
“I hope you weren’t hurt,” Greg said.
“Oh, no, but the sneeze broke our elm tree in two. Poor Dad has such a bad cold.”
“What did you get at the store?” Greg asked his mother.
“I thought you’d never ask!” his mother shouted. Suddenly in the house—Greg didn’t know how it happened—there was a banjo player and a drummer and a man with a large TV camera aimed at his mother. And his mother, who usually didn’t even dress up for Halloween, was dressed like a giant potato. “Hey, kids! Be the first in your neighborhood to have your very own potato!”
“A potato?” Greg asked.
“Sure! A potato is so much fun! Look, you can throw a potato just like a ball!” His mother tossed a potato through the hole in the wall. “Do you think that’s all you can do with a potato?” she sang in time with the banjo player. “No, sir! Why, you can boil potatoes and then take them out of the water and step all over them. Do you know what we call that? We call that smashed potatoes!” His mother jumped up and down on a pile of potatoes and the banjo player and drummer did a fast song and the cameraman caught all the action with his camera.
“Are you really my mom?” Greg asked when they stopped.
“Well, to you I’m your mom, but to the world I’m Potato Woman!”
“If you’re not my mom,” Greg said, “you’d better get those smashed potatoes cleaned up, because my mom doesn’t like messes in her house.”
“Do you think that’s all you can do with potatoes?” his mother sang, looking into the TV camera. “No, sir! You can put them in a glass of water for a few days and they’ll grow long roots. Very scary!”
Suddenly a giant potato with long arms sticking out of its body and with many eyes was slithering toward him.
“Potato Woman to the rescue!” his mother shouted. She took out a long, thin rope and lassoed the potato monster and flung it outside through the hole in the wall.
Just then Tony came into the room wearing a magician’s costume. “Hey, kids! Tired of the same old boring outdoors? The same old blue sky? And why do the trees always have to be green? It’s so boring. Right?”
“I like blue sky,” Greg said.
“Well, since you don’t want to go outside and play, we are changing things around. Now we bring you the new and improved orange sky!” Suddenly the sky turned a bright orange color. Greg thought it looked awful.
“And since you were so bored with the same green trees and grass,” his brother continued, “we now bring you the super sensation of the year—purple trees and purple grass!”
It looked horrible! Everything was the wrong color. “I think blue is the best color for the sky,” Greg told his brother.
“Well, thanks a lot!” Tony said disgustedly. “We went to plenty of work just to turn the sky orange and the trees purple because you didn’t like the color they were.”
“What makes you think I didn’t like the colors they were?” Greg asked.
“Because you wouldn’t go outside this morning to see them.”
Just then, his father the truck sneezed and knocked over three telephone poles. Greg ran outside to watch them crash to the ground. “Sorry,” the truck said.
“Dad, I don’t want you to be Captain Plastic anymore! You’re wrecking everything!”
“If you think this is bad, wait until I have the hiccups,” the truck said.
“Hey, kids!” his mother sang, now outside with the banjo player and drummer and cameraman. “When you’re hungry, ask your mom for chocolate covered potatoes!”
“I’m hungry now,” Greg wailed, “and I just want a peanut butter and jelly sandwich!”
“Oh, that’s so boring!” his mother exclaimed. “Here, try some super soup! It’s so thick that you can eat it like a lollipop. Here, try some!” His mother thrust the lollipop into Greg’s hand. “This will turn you into Plastic Boy, like your father. You’ll be the world’s strongest boy!
“I hope you don’t get a cold,” the blue truck moaned. “If you sneeze in school, you’ll turn your desk into a box of toothpicks.”
“I don’t want to be the world’s strongest boy! I don’t want to be Plastic Boy! I want everything to be the way it was before.”
“At least try it for a minute,” his father enticed. “Just take a lick of this super soup and think about becoming something. I know—think about becoming a TV set!”
Greg was sure he wouldn’t like that. But he took a lick of the soup lollipop and thought about being a nice color TV.
And before long he was a 17-inch color TV!
“A chip off the old block!” his father exclaimed proudly, standing next to his son and turning himself into a 27-inch color TV.
“I told you that if you watched too much TV, you’d turn into one,” his mother reminded Greg.
His father turned himself back into Captain Plastic again, put his arm around Greg, and picked him up in his arms. Of course, Greg was still a TV set. “Oh, look,” his father said, “he has an automatic channel selector.” Then his father looked like he was going to sneeze again …
“Dad, don’t sneeze!” Greg yelled through his TV speaker.
“Aaaaaa …” his father again breathed in sharply, raising his head high into the air.
“Dad, if you’re going to sneeze, at least put me down!”
“Aaaaaa … CHOO!”
When his father sneezed, he threw his arms into the air, tossing Greg high into the sky. Above the house and trees he rose, then above the mountains and even higher until he was above the clouds. A second later he zoomed past a large jet plane and saw the surprised looks of the passengers at seeing a 17-inch color TV set flying past them in the air.
I’d better think about being a plane, reasoned Greg. He knew that before long he would begin falling back toward the ground. And just then he did start back down. Before long he was below the clouds again, and he could see the purple ground coming toward him very fast. So he thought and he thought about being a plane until his feet turned into airplane wheels. I need wings most of all, he decided, now falling down below the mountains. But the wings were the hardest of all to think, and he was still falling … downward …
And then he suddenly woke up! He ran into the kitchen where his mother was making him a peanut butter and jelly sandwich, and he kissed her. “Mom, I’m glad you aren’t Potato Woman.”
“What did you say?” his mother asked.
Next he ran into the garage where his father was working on the car. “Dad. I’m glad you’re not a truck!”
“What did you say?” his father asked.
Then he ran outside and looked around. The sky was a brilliant blue and the trees were a cool green and Greg rejoiced in their beauty.
That afternoon Greg played baseball with Tony.
“Aren’t you glad the sky is blue?” Greg asked, lying back in the green grass and looking at the beautiful blue sky dotted with lacy clouds.
“I don’t know,” Tony said. “I’ve never thought about it much before. What other color could it be?”
“Orange,” Greg said, remembering his dream, “with ugly purple trees.”
And the next Saturday morning, Greg didn’t watch much TV. He was too busy playing outside!