Exactly what my first memory of Star Trek is unclear. It could be one of two things. It is either watching the animated episode Yesteryear on a small black and white TV in my dining room or seeing Devil in the Dark on the “big TV” in the family room with my dad. I couldn’t have been more than 10 or 11 years old. (It wasn’t until many years later I learned the names of the episodes.) Since the story involving Devil in the Dark is slightly more interesting, I’ll go with that one.
At some point I must have asked my dad how can a rock be alive? Dad simply said “the universe is really big. Who knows what’s out there” (or something like that. He was a printer, not a biologist). I was always a curious kid, so I noodled this over for some time. I realized I didn’t have the resources to answer my question, so I decided I would become an astronaut and find out.
I never did become an astronaut, but I did become a philosopher. So, I’m still looking for answers, just slightly different questions and with a lot less space travel. More on that in a bit.
I was aware of Star Trek as a thing but knew next to nothing about it. In an eighth-grade computer class Mr. Wilcox partnered me with my now very good friend Bill Binder to make a video presentation using what passed for “state-of-the-art” middle school computer technology at the time. As I recall it was Bill who thought we should do something Star Trek related, and I suggested they visit the planet of the Smurfs.
The final product, I’m sure, was an awful project (thankful, no record exists … I hope) and has been erased from my memory, what I do recall about the day of the in-class premiere is being laughed at by classmates at recess. Star Trek, apparently, was something that only nerds and losers liked, and being an already insecure adolescent, I wanted nothing more than to not be a nerd or loser. What little Star Trek I had internalized was pushed way down. I mean seriously, deep, deep down.
I had an interest in sci fi (Star Wars was my big thing), but Star Trek was a bridge too far. I judged people who like Star Trek, even my friend Bill. Sometime during my freshman year in high school some friends and I were making plans. Wayne made it clear that he was not available until after 1:00 on Saturday because Star Trek: The Next Generation was on. I mocked him a bit, but Wayne like lots of ‘cool’ stuff. How could my friend with such good taste be interested in something so lame? In the interest of science, I decided I needed to look into this new Star Trek. You know, to better understand my friend.
Turns out, I liked it. I liked Star Trek. But Star Trek was for nerds and losers. It was OK. This could just be my secret. I started to watch TNG on a regular basis, and caught reruns of TOS when I could. But I kept this secret for about two years.
Middle of my sophomore year in high school I was hanging out in the auditorium with Wayne (we were working on a production “The Roar of the Greasepaint, the Smell of the Crowd”) when some punk made some smart ass comment from his perch high upon a set piece. Over the remaining years in high school that smart ass punk, Lino, became my best friend.
Lino was a social anomaly in high school. He slipped between cliques and circles with great ease. He was a drama geek and a jock. He talked Star Wars with the dorks and went to parties with the popular kids. I was solidly a drama geek/dork. When I heard him make a juvenile joke about pon farr, he got my attention. (I don’t recall the joke exactly but I do remember it involved Spock and a sock. I’ll leave you to imagine the rest). When I asked him if he liked Star Trek he paused, not sure what to say. Though he had fluidity between social circles, this interest of his might cost him. On the sly he said ‘yes,’ and it was over for the two of us from that point on. We were openly Star Trek guys. We got together to watch the latest TNG and DS9 episodes. We went to conventions (which, at that time happened a few times a year in our area). More than once we crossed an international border (U.S. into Canada) to eat at Harvey’s and look for hard to find Playmates figures. It was liberating to honest about out interest, and the start of me finally not concerning myself so much with what other people thought.
Fast forward two decades when Lino and I went to Motor City Comic Con. It was out first convention together in years, and our first with his then 10-year old son, Theo. After waiting in a surprisingly short line to meet Lieutenant Saru (Doug Jones), I told Jones a little bit about my story:
I thanked Jones for doing what he was to keep Star Trek alive and kicking. The best friends I have in the world are my friends because of Star Trek. Today I was at the convention with my best friend and his son, bringing our next generation into the Star Trek family. I was caught off guard at how emotional thanking Jones made me. Star Trek has meant so much to me over the years it is almost cliché, so I won’t get all maudlin about it here. I did however take this picture with Doug Jones, which has become my favorite convention memory and one of my all-time favorite real-life Trek moments:
This image sums it up. Star Trek is fun. It brings people together. We learn from it; we laugh at it and we discover things that surprise us all the time.
Living Long and Prosper … even you judgy “cool” kids from high school.