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Archive for January, 2016

Kirk lighting cake 2

Star Trek and I are turning 50.

Not that I think of us as twins or anything—that would be weird.

More like Irish twins.

I say that mainly to placate hordes of purist Treknocrats. The show’s first broadcast was in September, and my birthday is in January. Today, in fact. But let’s think about production time, the rejected pilot episode, and so on. All things considered, January 21st is a halfway decent marker.

So I’m asking you to work with me, Trek nerds. If you’re nice I’ll republish this in Klingon.

***

I’ve never been to a Star Trek convention. I don’t own any Star Trek costumes, haven’t devoured the technical manuals. Although I’m fond of the musical themes, I know when they should and shouldn’t be whistled.

I do admit to a deep affection for the original series. The fact that we are both a half-century old —well, I’m putting up a brave face. So far I’m having an okay time. But 50 is 50.

***

The cliché about birthdays with glaring zeros in them is that they cause you to “take stock.” And taking stock implies an assessment of past accomplishments.

Maybe that’s why a lot of people just take selfies.

Unfortunately, even a selfie brings on certain assessments, although these are mainly about appearance. If I post a selfie it’s gonna be postage stamp size, because right now I’m feeling, shall we say, drab.

Maybe a Federation uniform would be cool…

***

I’d like to be as robust and camera-friendly as William Shatner was at 50. Wait a minute—was he? It doesn’t matter. The comparison is absurd on every level.

I’m probably closer to DeForest Kelley, the not-very-macho ship’s doctor, when he hit the magic number.  This is a healthy realization.  Dr. McCoy always advocated taking it easy, avoiding dangerous habits and situations, as in “I’m a doctor, Jim, not a ____________.”

You fill in the blank, and feel free to be apocryphal. My favorite is “Roman gladiator.”

***

Of course, I’m lightyears away from the good doctor’s medical standards. Although I don’t actually recall him spouting prescriptions for healthy living, I know that if I ever found myself in the Enterprise sick bay, there’d be hell to pay.

And yet, despite neglecting my own mortal frame, I’m fully aware of the man’s genius. I’m still waiting for The Bones McCoy Diet to appear in bookstores.  It’ll sell like computer-replicated hotcakes.

***

When we were younger my best friend often likened me to Spock. He saw me as the more cerebral of the two of us, and he was probably right, even if he wasn’t exactly Kirk.

Anyway, if he did see himself as Kirk, I got the better end of the deal. Leonard Nimoy, may he rest in peace, turned out to be Star Trek’s guiding light. He directed its best movie, and he simultaneously embraced and transcended his signature role.

Shatner, and I love him dearly, is a different animal.

***

Having established that I shouldn’t compare myself to any of the show’s characters, I’ll focus instead on parallels with the show itself.  How about this—will Star Trek enjoy its 50th birthday?  Will it put on a brave face, or will it genuinely savor the milestone moment?

***

I’m sure Star Trek will get plenty of attention and best wishes from its millions of fans.  It might even get drunk. I, on the other hand, will enjoy a quiet gathering with my family, which is good enough for me.

Let’s face it, I haven’t accomplished what Star Trek has.  The Enterprise not only explored strange new worlds, it got blown up and rebuilt a few times.  And although a 1980 spine operation did, in a sense, reconstruct me, I’ve never risen like a phoenix from the ashes—which is a good way to describe the show’s journey through our culture. It was cancelled after three years, then metamorphed into a vast entertainment franchise.

Nice, Star Trek.  My hat is off to you.

***

And what of the boldly-going flagship at the heart of the series? Well, I’m more like NASA’s Enterprise—the original space shuttle, which was to be christened Constitution until Trekkers forced a name change.  A nice touch, but the shuttle Enterprise never made it into space.  It fulfilled its humble duties as a test model before going quietly to the Smithsonian, then a maritime museum in New York.

Now it spends its days playing canasta with old battleships.  How many adoring fans does it have?

***

I myself have none.  Still, it’s Star Trek that faces daily ridicule, not me. Oh, my first name garners the occasional “Beam me up, Scotty!” from amateur comedians.  But my gosh, Star Trek The Original Series—you really run the gauntlet, don’t you?  Over-quoted dialog, hamhanded music, clumsy fight scenes brimming with pig sweat and mussed toupés—these are the stuff of exquisite mockery. There’s no use denying it.

***

So why does a cruelly lampooned 1960s TV show make me think about the future, rather than the past?

The obvious answer is—Star Trek is still a million orbits ahead of anything 2016 has to offer, no matter how much we gush over our phones, Fitbits, and fart counters. I’ve got news for anyone who thinks we’re living in the Star Trek age: Kirk’s handheld communicator didn’t rely on a grid of hideous towers built across the galaxy. And there were no monthly surcharges.

***

But for me, technology is just a surface issue.  The real question is: What’s possible at 50?  Are we—the outmoded show and the obscure writer—still capable of entertaining people, of capturing their imaginations? Perhaps even moving them to laugh or cry? Is it time to trade in the warp drive of my dreams for a… a what?

I don’t even know. A paper airplane made from dismal 401K statements?

***

Go ahead—tell me my horizons are shrinking.  On balance, I am better equipped now than I was at 25.  I tell better stories.  I paint better pictures. I know myself better.

Not to mention that I’m married to a woman with a heart bigger than any starship engine, and we have three amazing kids—each one a strange and beautiful new world.

You can rerun optimism as many times as you want. But you can’t cancel it.

***

Next year, a young whipper-snapper named Star Wars turns 40. You think you have it good now, Star Wars?

Give it another 10 years. That’s when new life truly begins.

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