The Lone Ranger rode into town. He was wearing dark glasses.

These are strange times.

Of course you know that a judge ordered the Lone Ranger to unmask, because it turns out that the Lone Ranger is owned by a corporation and the corporation does not want a 65-year old actor named Clayton Moore roaming the supermarkets and shopping malls of the land in the trademarked corporate face gear. They think he's too old.

Hiyo Silver.

Silver is dead, folks, "My pal Silver died in 1977," said the Lone Ranger in his forthright, square-shooter way. "He was over 29 years of age. He ran like the wind . . . he did tricks. You only had to show it to him once, believe me. And for breakfast every morning, he had Cheerios."

Silver is dead and Tonto is ailing. "My sidekick Jay Silverheels is alive in California," said the Lone Ranger. "He had a stroke but he's up and around. He's not in a wheelchair. This is not true at all. Tonto is very much alive. He lives in the San Fernando Valley and is one of the nicest guys I ever met. It was a pleasure to ride alongside him."

Silver is dead, Tonto is ailing and the Lone Ranger has lost his mask. And you ask why America is in trouble, Kemo Sabe?

Kemo Sabe means "faithful friend" in Potawatomi.

The Lone Ranger said so. He still talks Lone Ranger talk. He rode into town for the nostalgia festival at the Biltmore. The nostalgia festival was thrilled to have him because frankly the nostalgia biz has not been so good lately and the Lone Ranger's legal crisis has made him hotter than a pistol.

He will not soon need a loan arranger.

Cheap irony abounds, pardners, here in the declining West.

Hiyo, Kemo Sabe, said the Lone Ranger, striding into the press conference. The press gawked, momentarily silenced by the heroic vision before it.

The Lone Ranger looked sharp in his white hat, his twin six-guns in the leather holsters, his manly western duds custom-made by Nudie's of Hollywood and his gold pinky ring and gold watch. His teeth are white and straight, his hair dark and his body trim enough to do any 65 year old proud.

The Lone Ranger is a jogger, amigos.

Where'd they get I was fat?" he asked. "I don't know."

He is not allowed to call himself the Lone Ranger and so he does not, for the Lone Ranger stands for justice, law and order, and he must obey the legally constituted authorities. The Lone Ranger is a cornball, junior deputies, and so he introduced himself as "Clayton Moore, who played the Lone Ranger for 30 years."

The Masked Man has been reduced to loopholes.

After several weeks of interviews the Lone Ranger has developed a standard line of patter. He says: The judge shot off my mask. I'm going to fight it. I want a jury trial. The public is irate. God bless my many fans; they're still behind me. This country needs heroes. Would you take the suit away from Santa Claus?

"I'm fighting for that which is right, " said the Lone Ranger.

"Remember, now," said Paul Saryian Jr., "this is indicative of the nostalgia festival." Paul Saryian Jr. was the proprietor of the nostalgia festival. He asked the Lone Ranger to cut the ribbon opening it. The photographers took picture of the ceremony. The ribbon, actually a piece of crepe paper, was stretched across the hotel room. It led to nothing. It led to a bare wall.

A small, affable blond man in a three-piece suit introduced as Lonnie Burr, one of the original Mouseketeers. The press reflected upon this information and produced a question for Lonnie Burr.

Q: Is it true you once went out with Annette?

A: Yes.

Q: What was she like?

A: She was a very nice kid.

Mousekeeters, that was not quite the answer the press was hoping for.

The Lone Ranger was signing an autograph for his pal Noah. Noah was a small boy he'd just met. You know, said the Lone Ranger in his deep, righteous boom, Noah was the name of a great man in the Bible.

I know, I know, said Noah.

Nineteen floors below this occurrence was the exhibit room of the nostalgia festival. "This is the worst one I've ever been to in my life," said a nostalgia consumer. "There's no dealers, nothing. Not enough nostalgia here, It's strictly movie stills. For six a half dollars it's riduclous. You must have 15 dealers in the whole place. Every one I've been to had 50 or 60 dealers."

"What can I tell you?" said Paul Saryian Sr., father of the proprietor. "They didn't show. Maybe tomorrow they'll come." He had just sold an old picture of Hedy Lamarr to a young man with a strange light in his eye, a man for whom the face of Hedy Lamarr held great meaning. "It's intriguing," he said, while across the room . . .

"You grew up!" said another young man to Lonnie Burr, shocked by recognition.

"Yes," said Lonnie Burr. "We all do,"

Lonnie was downstairs now, selling his book.

The Lone Ranger went to the grand ballroom to meet his fans. Paul Jr. introduced him. Paul said he's had his problems in the nostalgia trade. Last year Johnny Weissmueller was scheduled to appear and had a stroke. Since then they'd been in some bad hotels, he said. This show was almost canceled. He needed a draw. "I figured who was the top guy, the big buy? Clayton Moore."

Applause, The Lone Ranger came onstage with his hearty Kemo Sabe greeting and his dark glasses bought in Beverly Hills. He told the story of the Lone Ranger, how he was ambushed by bad buys and nursed back to health by Tonto. He rendered his interpretation of the California civil statutes relating to masked rangers. He told the the story of how Clayton Moore originally got the part.He recited the Long Ranger creed. Fight for that which is right . . . he quizzed the crowd on Lone Ranger trivia. "The man who made the silver bullets, what was his name?"

They knew.

There are no endings anyone, just transformations. Silver died, Tonto took sick, but the Lone Ranger is writing a book. It will be called, "I Was That Masked Man." Anbody know a good agent? Lives can be canceled in midrun but the show must go on. The corporation wants to make a new Lone Ranger movie with a young Tonto, a younger Silver and a Cloned Stranger. Somewhere even now a future-nostalgia festival is probably peddling their photos.

Now if only there were some way to play music in a newspaper, we could give you a few bars of William Tell and send this thing out on the proper note.

Try whistling.