AND SO the little boy turned to his sister who, like him, was six or seven or eight, and he told her she could find him by the railroad tracks next to the house, running like a horse. His sister nodded and the little boy went down the stairs and into the sun and when he got to the tracks he ran like a horse -- a very specific horse carrying a very specific rider but only the little boy knew that.

The little boy ran and ran. Whipping his hip with his arm, galloping along, raising puffs of dust that only he could see. In his head, he was on a beautiful white stallion named Silver and on that horse was his hero -- the only surviving member of a band of Texas Rangers, a man with a voice so deep it filled the boy with wonder -- the Lone Ranger.

In the afternoon, the boy could come home from school and turn on the radio. He would put his head down on his arm and listen to his favorite programs -- the ones about Batman and Robin, the Green Hornet, Sky King, Superman, Sergeant Preston of the Yukon ("On King, on, you huskies!") and, of course, the Lone Ranger.

The little boy knew all there was to know about the Lone Ranger. He knew how he had been ambushed along with other rangers, how he had been found by an Indian named Tonto, that he had a brother and lots more. He knew the Lone Ranger always sent Tonto into town to scout around, that the Lone Ranger has silver bullets that come from a particular silver mine and that when you returned with him to those thrilling days of yesteryear someone always would ask, "Who was that masked man?" and someone always would answer, "He's the Lone Ranger."

The little boy, like most little boys, had a vivid imagination. He was very precise about things, about the look of things, and so when television came along and his favorite radio shows went on the tube, the boy was always disappointed. Nothing looked right. Sergeant Preston dressed wrong and Superman was chunky around the waist but the Lone Ranger . . . He was the worst of all.

His name was Clayton Moore and he wore white tights like a ballet dancer. The little boy couldn't believe it. In his imagination, he always saw the Lone Ranger wearing dungarees and maybe a plaid shirt.The boy didn't like the looks of the horse or even the looks of Tonto, the Lone Ranger's faithful Indian companion, and when they returned to the days of yesteryear, the boy thought what he was seeing was not Texas at all, but a place called California. In fact, it looked a lot like the place where the Cisco Kid lived.

So to the little boy, Clayton Moore was never the Lone Ranger -- the true, actual, 100 percent genuine Lone Ranger. He was an actor playing a role. Nevertheless, the company that owns the Lone Ranger as an entertainment property recently sued Moore to stop him from saying he is the Lone Ranger. He is old and thick through the middle and the voice no longer is one that would make bad guys drop their guns without hesitation. The judge sided against Moore. He has ordered him to take off his mask and stop calling himself the Lone Ranger.

It makes you wonder right off if the judge will now issue similar orders to fat kids who want to wear Superman costumes or to kids with pimples who think they're Robin, not to mention Batman, and whether mothers will go to court to seek restraining orders against children who think that all they have to do to fly off the roof is say, "Up, up and away."

The judge did not seem to know the difference between the real reality of the imagination and the fiction of appearance. The boy knew his. He knew it the first time he saw a Santa Claus -- some guy with black shoes instead of boots, his socks rolled down around his ankles, his beard not matching his hair and, when you were on his lap, his breath so foul you had to turn your head away. The boy saw many Santas like this but this did not stop him from believing in Santa Claus. Growing up did that.

But the boy never did see a Batman who looked like Batman or a Robin who looked like Robin and no movie Tarzan could pound his chest and yell bloody murder like the Tarzan in the boy's imagination. Even now, years later when the boy has become me, those boyhood images remain clear and sharp and there's no doubt the judge was wrong but so was Clayton Moore. He's not now and never was the Lone Ranger.

The Lone Ranger is any kid who thinks he can run like a horse.

Hi yo, Silver, away!