When I first heard mention of the now-infamous balloon boy, I was instantly glued to the story. I was on my way home from a job interview, and heard on the radio that a six-year-old boy was trapped at 10,000 feet in a hot-air balloon. “That poor kid,” I thought, “he must be absolutely terrified.” When I arrived home, the very first thing I did was to turn on the news and watch, hoping to catch some image of the poor lad and see if he was going to be safe. Of course, when I saw the balloon and learned more about the story, I knew something was amiss. As a fan of the Discovery Channel show “Mythbusters,” I immediately thought of an episode busting the myth that a child could be taken into the air by a handful of helium balloons. When I saw the video, learned of the balloon’s dimensions, and put my memory of that episode together, it became clear to me that there was no way the balloon took off with a six-year-old inside. Later that day, it turned out I was right; the boy was found in the attic of his own house and soon we were told that the whole thing may have been a hoax. While the family of young Falcon Heene has yet to be charged with any crimes, there are a great number of people already trying to determine how father Richard Heene should be punished for what appears to have been little more than a publicity stunt.
The charges facing Richard Heene are not terribly serious, but they are charges nonetheless. The one with the most weight, and the greatest likelihood of sticking, is the charge of filing a false report, a class 3 misdemeanor. Just like any other misdemeanor charge, there is an almost zero probability that anyone will have to serve any jail time after (what I expect will be a quick) conviction. Also just like any other charge, though, the judge will have leeway to consider a more creative sentence. I am reminded of a “Seinfeld” episode in which a man was to serve as George’s butler in exchange for hitting his car. This is exactly the kind of case in which a judge should be very creative in sentencing. But what should we do? There are three possibilities in my mind, and here I will list them in ascending order from worst to first.
Punishment #3: Money Damages
The idea here is pretty simple and straightforward; Heene inappropriately drew the use of millions of dollars worth of rescue equipment that could have been put to better use preventing crimes or saving lives. Taxpayers have a right not to have their contributions wasted by some selfish jackass bent of puffing up his own ridiculous ego. I suppose this fact puts Richard Heene in the same league as Wall Street executives, except for the fact that he actually tried to hide the fraud he perpetrated. Either way, he should have to pay back the cost of all the resources, public and private, that were marshaled to help find a child he falsely claimed to have lost. In addition, he should have to refund the cost of all the airplane tickets for all the flights delayed at Denver International Airport while the airport was shut down during the flight of little Falcon. Finally, I think he should have to pay back all the money businesses lost while their employees were watching the news online rather than doing their jobs. Actually, scratch that one. It might set a precedent that I could be sued for damages should an employee read this during business hours.
Punishment #2: Force Richard Heene to Use the Nickname “Dick” for the Rest of His Life
And it should always be required to be said with the emphasis necessary to drive the point home that the guy is, in fact, a dick. You may have asked yourself during the last few days, “what kind of person does something like this to their family for personal gain?” The answer, of course, is DICK Heene. It’s entirely appropriate that this man’s name should also be a descriptor of his personality. While we’re at it, we could re-name Harry Reid “Pansy” and Glen Beck could change his name to “Ludacris,” (except we can’t, because Beck’s not cool enough to be a rapper) and Dick Cheney… well, he can keep his name. Frankly, forcing the guy to go by the name DICK Heene is still more merciful than what he did to his poor son by naming him “Falcon.” It’s only fair that the man be forced to suffer the same type of indignity he would heap upon another, after all.
Punishment #1: Ban Him From the Airwaves
We all know now that the reason for the hoax was to gain additional notoriety after being on “Wife Swap,” with the ultimate goal of pitching his very own reality show where Dick Heene could get paid just for being Dick Heene. Just like my father would make my curfew earlier whenever I tried to get my curfew extended, we should make certain we give this man the opposite of what he really wants. Since what Dick Heene really wants is to be famous for being famous, we should give him exactly the opposite by never allowing his face, voice, or name to be anywhere near a television ever again. Don’t talk about him on the news, don’t give us updates on which of his kids puked in an interviewer’s lap on national TV, don’t ever even tell us that his name is now officially “Dick” and that he has to pay reparations to the entire state of Colorado for wasting our time and tax dollars. I dare say that Dick Heene should have a restraining order against him requiring that he be at least a thousand yards away from any type of media. Just ignore him. If we’re lucky, he might go away.
Stay tuned tomorrow when I unveil who’s really at fault for the “Balloon Boy” fiasco, in part two of this thrilling miniseries. Remember, you don’t have to pay for your seat, which is good because you’ll only be using the edge!