“There’s a call to adventure. It’s something in the inner psyche of humanity…”
Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons
I’m slowly crawling down a dark hallway, flat against the pristine beige carpet while attempting to move silently and hide in the shadows. I hold my breath as I slide towards the door of the master bedroom that rests slightly ajar, like two perfectly poised lips, open and waiting to either kiss you or scream in terror. The bedroom light peeks out through the crack, creeping across the hallway and reflecting twenty years of family photos that line the passage. I imagine the stoic judgment of these frozen witnesses watching a costumed stranger attempt to escape their otherwise ideal home. Two generations perfectly coiffed and documented, proving that within this suburban ranch house resides another upstanding Texas family. As I glide past the off-white bedroom door, I sense movement within, but I’m too afraid to sneak a glance where I might glimpse a strange woman in her early 40s, so similar to my mom as she goes through her nightly ritual applying mysterious lotions and creams before settling down to sleep. I am worried that if I see her, she will sense my glance and look around alarmed.
I remind myself that this suburban Texas ranch house has the customary central air-conditioning blasting throughout, creating both a low ambient roar to help muffle the sounds of my escape, as well as maintaining an artificially stable environment. Like my parent’s giant refrigerator, it is as if everything in the house is organic and fragile, waiting to crumble and rot from the slightest change. If sweating were an Olympic event, I’d easily win the gold medal, so I’m also grateful I won’t nervously drip my makeup off along this journey. I try to resign myself that if I’m caught and arrested, or more likely shot on sight, at least I’ll die looking good. My friend Mike is also there, beside me in the cool darkness as we attempt our great escape. We successfully make our way past the bedroom and continue towards our next challenge: the dark living room, lit up with the bouncing light of a TV being watched from the comfortably clueless, plump suburban dad. How did two nerds looking for spring break excitement end up in this predicament?
New York 2000
I take a cursory glance for stray dogs or people along the dark street as I step out of the warehouse. During the year that I’ve lived in the desolate Brooklyn neighborhood known as Bushwick, I’ve realized that both can be equally dangerous to encounter in the night. My breath is visible in the brisk December air as I increase my pace for the three blocks walk to the subway station. The first street is fairly safe since we have two occupied buildings on this block filled with creative types who’ve decided that it’s worth the hassle and risk of living in illegal, non-residence warehouses in exchange for the extra space. This street ends at the Boar’s Head processing plant, where I take a left and quickly turn right again to walk along what is the most dangerous street in the route because it is dark and its few businesses are always closed at night. My senses are on full alert after living in New York for seven years I’ve developed Spider-Man-like Spider-Sense that alerts me if circumstances are dangerous.
If I make it down this block and turn left towards the subway, I’ll be in safe territory, with a fire station located just around the corner. Read the rest of this entry »
“Phaser banks, lock on to the enemy vessel. Stand by for firing orders. All hands, this is the Captain. We are going into battle. All hands, battle stations. Red alert. I repeat, red alert. This is no drill. This is no drill.”
Captain Kirk in the Star Trek original series episode “Arena.”
“Bob and weave! Bob and weave! Jab! Jab!” I hold my fists high to protect my face as I’ve seen boxers do on TV, but the gloves are too cumbersome and heavy for me. The gym is filled with the high-pitched squeaks of kids in sneakers running across the wooden floor, punctuated with occasional bursts of laughter echoing through the bleachers. I awkwardly shuffle from side to side as I hear Coach Hurry barking out orders. I’m wearing some sort of protective leather headgear that looks like it came straight out of a Little Rascals short from the 1930s as I stagger around the tumbling mats laid on the gym floor. Across from me is the blurry face of my best friend, David Gregg, peering out of another set of goofy head protection. David is also dressed in the standard P.E. uniform of an oversized Southmore Jr. High t-shirt tucked into the elastic waistband of stiff, grey running shorts, along with white, knee-high athletic socks striped at the top, and sneakers, which in Texas we called “tenny shoes.” I’m certain that we look cartoonishly ridiculous, feeling exposed and vulnerable without our glasses as we stumble around the mats hoping that the coach will soon loose interest. Instead he just keeps barking out orders, “Shuffle! Take a swing! Keep your gloves up! C’mon, FIGHT!”P.E. is the nerd’s version of hell. Read the rest of this entry »
After brushing my teeth, I walk out of the bathroom and cautiously peer down the dark hallway. Peeking out from around the corner, I see a huge butcher knife, gleaming in the darkness. A hand wearing a black glove holds the weapon tightly aloft, slowly twisting the knife so I will see the glimmer in the reflected light. I catch my breath and step into the hall, but before I can act I hear a maniacal laugh freezing me in my steps. A voice echoes through the rooms of the house as it creaks, “You’re going to diiiie tonight!”
I nervously attempt to short circuit the game, “Okay, David… enough already.”
The game will continue until he gets bored and we decide to flip through our old comics again, see what late-night movie is on TV, or settle down to work on our own drawings. It is a game where I am terrified, not that I’d die, because that wasn’t his goal, but that one of us would end up genuinely hurt. That danger is part of the game. It’s an adrenaline rush that David will be seeking for the next 25 years.
Long before then I had realized that the worst thing I could do was panic. David would feed off of any fear; increasing his intensity as his tall, skeletal frame chased me through his house. Spending the night at a friend’s house was always fraught with both tension and adventure, but none of my other friends pretended to be a psycho; chasing me through their homes while their parents peacefully slumbered away.
Later in my life, I’d hear stories of similar games between brothers and sisters. Stories where kids would end up hurt, sometimes being rushed to the hospital, but nothing ever fatal aside from scars.
Faces of Death #1: RUNNING WITH A SHARP OBJECT, FALLING AND DYING
My sister and I didn’t play such games. We were raised in a climate where we understood that the possible repercussions weren’t worth the risk. These reservations both helped and hindered me later in life. My mom attempted to ingrain a respect for limitations by warning us about the perils of strangers, unrestricted horseplay, venturing out of the neighborhood, promiscuity, and untamed wildlife. These lessons were often accompanied by stories where the inevitable result was death or permanent disability. I’d lay awake at night, tempted like most kids to break the rules, but also terrified that I might end up as another example on the list.
EXT. SHOPPING MALL – DAY
The bland, overbright facade of a mall on the outskirts of Houston, Texas on a hot day with an unbroken, cloudless sky and cars but no people. A seagull slowly circles the lot.
For many suburban teens in the 80s, the mall provided a mini-vacation from the blandness of our well-manicured lawns and idealized home lives. I could briefly escape the watchful eyes of my mom while I searched for anything that stood out as unique or interesting. Most of it was just as bland as our neighborhoods, but at least it offered a glimpse of freedom and provided a place to occasionally meet other outsiders. Mostly, it was just a place away from home to kill time; the ’80s equivalent to our modern coffee shops.
INT. SHOPPING MALL WITH VARIOUS STORES FROM 1980s
For Jeff walks into frame of camera from left to right, and as he reaches the center of frame, the camera tracks him steadily, keeping pace, full figure in frame. Muzak version of Islands in the Stream plays as Jeff walks past people and various stores: Chess King, Spencer’s Gifts, B. Dalton Books, Hickory Farms, ignoring them all until he stops and stoically turns to face one store.
SIGN ABOVE STORE ENTRANCE
Throbbing fluorescent lights spell out MERRY GO ROUND.
Closeup of Jeff’s unsmiling face who takes a deep breath as if he’s about to battle a mortal enemy and looks into camera.
Christ, I hate these commission-based stores… Everyone’s so damn desperate.
INT. STORE AS CAMERA MOVES FORWARD POV SHOT
Dark and filled with racks of new wave clothes, mannequins, as well as mirrors covering all available wall space. Everything is lit with tiny spotlights, making it difficult to focus on the clothes in the darkness. Strobe lights and a mirrored ball are positioned around the store, adding to the confusion. Loud, trendy music is blasting from speakers hanging near the ceiling.
JEFF (Voiceover whispered as if under breath)
Please leave me alone. Please leave me alone.
POV SHOT CONTINUED.
On cue, several employees spot Jeff and begin rushing towards him as if on a sports field. From right side of frame closeup enters Jon.
JON, late teens, tan and wearing a thin gold chain. Read the rest of this entry »
“Spock: Do you believe in the concept of service to mankind?
Nimoy: I think so.
Spock: Then perhaps you are here to be of service.”
“The show has certainly given me a sense of self-worth and particularly the relationship with the character of Mr. Spock has given me a constant guideline for a dignified approach to life as a human being.”
Leonard Nimoy – I am not SPOCK
Spock has been with me for as long as I can remember. Unlike other characters from movies or comics, Spock was someone I identified with from my first encounter, and that impact has never faded. Throughout my childhood, Spock set the standard for how to remain calm in a moment of crisis, especially for an overly sensitive kid. But foremost, he taught me to control my emotions when life seemed overwhelming. To maintain an ability to step back and survey the situation from afar, allowing for a more reasonable judgment. He was also the quintessential outsider, being half Vulcan and half human, never fitting in with his home world, and yet also being an alien on the Enterprise.
I was a sensitive kid in Texas, raised to hunt and kill animals as a rite of passage, so I identified with his struggle. The contrast of growing up obsessed with Disney movies of anthropomorphized animals, yet having to hunt them in real life, was a conflict I could never resolve. Spock at least provided a role model, which was far better than the “pray about it” resolution I was taught at First Baptist Church.
This weekend, on the passing of Leonard Nimoy, I read numerous eulogies, most stating the same thing: that in spite of Spock’s emotional distance, his character was the true heart of Star Trek. I fully agree.
It’s strange to feel moved by the death of a celebrity. The Spock side of me says, “But Jeff, you didn’t even know Leonard Nimoy. Sure, you have read his memoirs, and you even came close to meeting him, but you didn’t actually know him. Your emotions aren’t logical.” Yet I can’t shake the malaise that has lingered since I woke on Friday with the news of his death. Unlike most celebrities, Leonard Nimoy and Spock are inseparable. He not only played the role, but he also helped develop it over the course of the series. Read the rest of this entry »
“Rise ahnd shine! Rise…AHND…shine!”
I woke every school morning to my mom’s southern voice abrasively carrying through the house. I dealt with it by imagining her as a Pterodactyl, and I’d mimic her catchphrases with dinosaur screeches as I flapped my arms and ran around the house like a scene in a Ray Harryhausen film.
“RAAAARise RAaaaRR and ShiiiiineRAaaaarr!”
My mom or dad would always make some type of breakfast for my sister and me, before I’d move into the living room to watch The Three Stooges as I dressed for school. Occasionally, when my dad had a few extra minutes, he would join me for the end of an episode where we would laugh together. He’d sometimes thrill me with stories of watching those same film shorts in the theater when he was a kid, along with a featured western, and I’d listen in awe at how ancient that time seemed yet still felt so relatable.
Less relatable were my father’s interests in more traditionally masculine pursuits, like sports and hunting. I played Little League baseball from the age of 6, and after my initial discomfort, I grew to enjoy it until I was 15. My first year of playing T-Ball left me a self-conscious misfit. Even my glove showed that I didn’t belong, since my parents had given me a red leather glove as a gift for Christmas that year. I’d mostly ignored it until that season began, but couldn’t help but notice that the other boys had regular leather gloves, not something that looked like a bright red toy. Thankfully my parents insisted that I stick it out.
“After a time, you may find that having is not so pleasing a thing after all as wanting. It is not logical, but it is often true.”
– Spock in Amok Time.
In June of 2001, I lived in a loft space in the Bushwick neighborhood of Brooklyn. Bushwick hadn’t yet become the art and fashion hub that it is today. I often saw junkies slouched inside cars as they tied up their arms for the next fix. When walking to the subway, I’d stay alert to avoid being cornered by the pack of wild dogs that roamed the neighborhood, as well as the groups of bored boys looking for an easy victim to corner. Each week a car would be abandoned on the street and set on fire, the flames just further exposing the cold, hardness of the industrial brick buildings. The bland gentrification that Mayor Giuliani force fed the city during the 1990s wouldn’t reach Bushwick for another decade.
This was an important moment, since everything I’d worked towards during the previous decade had recently aligned. I was represented by a respectable gallery in New York that had held my first solo exhibition, and it was well received and reviewed. Despite this success, I was buried in a debilitating depression unlike anything I’d experienced before. Instead of basking in my newfound freedom by enthusiastically working in my studio, I was avoiding life by sleeping as long as possible, which ideally was 2:00 in the afternoon, when a local channel showed two episodes of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I’d eat a cheap sandwich while watching the shows, staving off my loneliness with the familiar comfort of the characters standing in as a rough approximation of family and friends. For the first time in my life I had no responsibilities aside from my time in the studio, but my freedom paradoxically left me feeling more depressed and trapped than I’d ever been while growing up in Texas.