My Nerdoir

A nerdy, New Wave kid in East Texas during the 1980s.

Tag: startrek

The Naked Time

by Jeff

Do you have photos of moments in your life that make you cringe? I have a handful of them, particularly from my early 20s, when I was searching for a path out of Texas. I had moved beyond my flashy New Wave days of makeup and big hair into a strange hybrid uniform of 1940s suit vests, cardigan sweaters, giant t-shirts, over-sized jeans, white boxer shorts, and black wingtip shoes. In 1993, my last year in Houston, the real crime was my goofy Roman haircut. I’m not sure why I thought I could make such an unflattering style into something cool.

This can work if you’re rugged,

or a rock star,

but not as a nerd.

My fashion faux pas was a personal line in the sand against the rise of grunge and its impact on the local art and bar scene. After graduating from high school, I had no trouble meeting interesting, attractive girls from the art and new wave scene, but my artsy friends and I saw ourselves as perpetual outsiders, happy to avoid trendy clichés. What we didn’t realize was that by identifying ourselves as outsiders, we were fulfilling another artistic stereotype. At least this stance offered us a small sense of self-worth and dignity in an environment that felt increasingly static. The Houston nightlife included the new bar Emo’s, which catered to the trendy grungy/alternative music scene that was rising at that time in which the standard patron was an avowed fan of Jane’s Addiction and the Red Hot Chili Peppers. On a typical night, the bartenders usually ignored me and my nerdy, un-inked friends, while the regular patrons were quickly served — reinforcing the message that we didn’t belong. This left us feeling invisible to anyone outside of our artsy circle, but it fueled our self-righteous resolve to reach escape velocity from the endless orbit of Texas.

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Always.

by Jeff

Odo – When you return to The Link, what will become of the entity I’m talking to right now?
Changeling – The drop becomes the ocean.
Odo – And if you choose to take solid form again?
Changeling – The ocean becomes a drop.

Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, “Behind the Lines”

I.

I fell asleep while watching TV, but woke just before dawn to see this scene lighting up my room. Through the dreamy haze, I jumped up to film it with my phone, realizing that it was too beautiful to pass up. The clip is a detail from the opening credits of the late 1960s Lassie TV series.

The Lassie shows always intrigued me with their melancholy theme songs providing an underlying sense of longing and despair.

Each episode usually featured a formulaic conflict, followed by an unrealistic resolution. Lassie personified the dream that even though circumstances might look grim, any obstacle could be overcome through perseverance – and the assistance of a brilliant dog. Sitting in front of the TV during my summer mornings, Lassie’s super-heroic actions provided me with a daily lesson that alpha canine is superior to homo sapiens. This dream was juxtaposed with the lie hiding underneath – hard work and prayer don’t provide any genuine resolution. No god will intervene at the last minute, the way the god-dog Lassie miraculously appears to always save the day.

II.

During several times in my life, I have experienced moments of pure relaxation, which I equate to the serenity of a peaceful death. In those moments I’ve been able to let go of everything – thoughts, emotions, surroundings – and float in a pure, ego-less bliss. Occasionally, I have experienced a work of art which gives me the same tranquil feeling. It seldom occurs anymore with paintings, but I can still occasionally attain it with abstract music and film. Read the rest of this entry »

Summit Bars and Other Strange Things

by Jeff

I was recently digging through a few old storage boxes when I discovered a package I had sealed away in 1983. At the age of 15, inspired by an article about time capsules in the Houston Chronicle, I carefully placed a Summit candy bar into a Ziploc bag, which I then wrapped in a bundle of aluminum foil, followed by Saran Wrap, before gluing the mummified package into a cigar box. To make it official I carefully hand-lettered the box “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 2013” with a black marker. I loved Summit bars, so when I heard they were being discontinued I decided it was the perfect item to bury into my makeshift capsule.

I was surprised to see that the package survived the rat and roach-infested journey of my life from Texas to New York and then Los Angeles intact. Feeling like an archeologist, I used an X-ACTO knife to surgically pry open the seal on the box and extract the mummified candy from the cardboard sarcophagus. After carefully pulling open the plastic and foil, I was struck by the familiar orange and brown colors of the wrapper, still pristine after 33 years. It is a perfect graphic design from the time, implying a landscape with the “MM” forming a mountain top while the dot on the “I” becomes a sun. Read the rest of this entry »

Episode 11: Shore Leave – Nerdy Spring Breakout

by Jeff

I.

“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?

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Episode 9: Arena, part 1 – The Gym Class Horror

by Jeff

“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.”

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“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!”

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Captain Kirk prepares to fight.

P.E. is the nerd’s version of hell. Read the rest of this entry »

We Are Spock – Remembering Leonard Nimoy

by Jeff

“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.”

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“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.

My friend Arlene Martel, the wonderful actress who played Spock's wife T'Pring, gave me this great photo of her leaving the studios where she ran into Nimoy and someone took this great photo.

My friend Arlene Martel, the wonderful actress who played Spock’s wife T’Pring, gave me this great photo of her leaving the studios where she ran into Nimoy.

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 »

Episode 7: The Corbomite Maneuver – Cosplay at Star Trek, Las Vegas

by Jeff

I’m on a brightly lit stage hiding under a black curtain that hangs from the shoulders of the large puppet head I made for my costume. To the hundreds of Trekkies in the audience, my costume appears to be an imposing alien from the episode “The Corbomite Maneuver.” This is my version of the same frightening face that the crew of the Enterprise see on their view screen, but like the creature they come to know as Balok, I also have a surprise.

Balok as the crew of the Enterprise originally see him.

Balok as the crew of the Enterprise originally see him.

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The Balok head that I built.

The MC of the costume contest matter-of-factly says, “So what we have here is a well-made Balok head…” I hear a smattering of laughter along with polite applause before I lean towards the mic and pompously declare in a deep voice mimicing the character, “Greetings, Earthlings. I am pleased to see that you are all seated in awe of me.” I pause for the laughter to settle before bellowing, “Is it safe to reveal my true self?” After I hear a few people yell, “Yes!” I come to life, tearing open the curtain and stepping out to reveal the other costume I’d been hiding; my interpretation of the actual Balok, who in a Star Trek variant on the Wizard from Oz, is revealed to be a bald, child-sized alien with bushy eyebrows and a penchant for a drink called Tranya.

The actual Balok portrayed by Clint Howard.

The actual Balok, portrayed by Clint Howard.

My hair is stuffed under a sweaty, latex bald cap. The ridiculous red eyebrows glued to my forehead are made from a fake handlebar mustache that I cut in half and flipped upside down. Strapped tightly around my neck and hanging in front of me as if it were my own body is a headless 3-foot-tall doll, dressed in a silver, shiny costume I sewed. The rest of my body is clothed in black to hide my skin and enhance the effect of the doll/puppet, which has a small stick attached under his right hand, allowing me to raise and lower his glass of Tranya. Read the rest of this entry »

Episode 5: Mirror, Mirror – The Path to the Nightcage

by Jeff

I move in slow motion, trapped in the crowd after a concert at Music Hall in downtown Houston. My friends, Michael and Steven, slowly move in syncopation as we awkwardly descend the steps of the balcony, taking tiny steps to assure we don’t kick or trip someone else. I am wearing grey parachute pants, a button down paisley shirt, and black lace-up shoes. The crowd is mostly white and dressed in new wave clothes. I am elated after seeing the Psychedelic Furs, and especially after seeing the remarkable opening act, Talk Talk, but I’m also self-conscious since I’ve realized that parachute pants have become passé. Although my friends and I appear to fit in with the crowd of fans who are mostly older than us in their early 20s, I still feel like an imposter. Damn pants. We move along with the crowd as it shuffles through the tight doors of the theater, and all I see are backs of androgynous people, my vision obscured by masses of hair sticking up, mine included. It is August 3, 1984 and in two weeks I will turn 17.

Yours truly, age 16.

Yours truly, age 16.

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Episode 4: Amok Time – Triggering my Trekkie Sleeper Cell

by Jeff

“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.

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Episode 3: The Space Seed – Uncharted Paths Away From Home

by Jeff

“It is better to rule in Hell than to serve in Heaven.”
Captain Kirk quoting Milton’s Paradise Lost.

The opening phrase: “Space, the final frontier,” introduced me to the mission of the starship Enterprise, to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before. This phrase, known as “The Captain’s Oath,” introduced the show by summarizing just what would occur during the following hour. It was a bold adventure I obsessed over during my youth, and by the time I graduated from high school, I’d decided that my life should also be an adventure.

Me on the Bridge in the Captain's Chair

Me on the Bridge in the Captain’s Chair

In the Houston area in the 1970s, NASA was everywhere. When I was born, my mom worked as a secretary at NASA during the height of the Apollo missions. My earliest memory of watching television is seeing the Apollo 11 moon landing with my parents when I was only about 2. The details are faint, just like the grainy images relayed from space. As I grew older, I had friends whose parents worked at NASA in specialized jobs as engineers, or astronaut training. In school, astronauts would occasionally visit as special guests, bringing beautifully detailed models of rockets to explain the fundamentals of a moon landing. From my young perspective, it was a perfect era of hope, when the world seemed to be coming together, and space exploration was a part of my daily life. This was also a time when my parents, attempting to surround me with their idea of suburban utopia, protected me from news about the war in Vietnam, the Civil Rights Movement, or anything they deemed too upsetting. Like most sheltered kids, I only experienced a small, idealized selection of a much larger, more nuanced picture, but thankfully, outer space exploration always played a key role.

After school every day, I’d watch two back-to-back episodes of Star Trek, which transported me to exotic worlds far removed from Pasadena Texas. Later I realized how much those shows informed my morals, philosophy, and sexuality, as well as provided a framework to understand the importance of teamwork and leadership. At this time I still didn’t know there was anything Trek aside from the original TV series and the fascinating but clumsy animated series, though I was familiar with a few related toys. For my 8th birthday, my aunt Carolyn gave me a paperback set of the Alan Dean Foster stories from the animated series, and the first model kit I ever built was the phaser, communicator, and tricorder combination package known as the “Exploration Set.”$_57 (1)

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