My father was obsessed with television sets. During the football season, he would have three televisions going at the same time and be listening to a game on his transistor radio. This was long before cable when we could get only three channels way out in the sticks of Blanchard, Louisiana. In 1965, he did something unthinkable. You’ve got to understand our financial situation back then. My mother had a job — not a common thing to have both parents working in 1965. She drove a school bus and my father worked at the post office. We weren’t rich at all. We lived in the country and raised most of our food in my father’s garden. To give you an idea of how poor we were, one year I wanted the newest toy sensation, Creepy Crawlers. You purchased the box and it it was a small “oven” that heated up metal molds with shapes of various insects. The set came with gooey plastic in a bottle you could squirt into the molds in various color combinations. Then, you put the molds in the oven and pressed the timer. In minutes, the opaque colorful liquid would harden into a translucent rubbery substance. You peeled your creepy crawlers out of the mold and you had instant vermin!
I wanted this for Christmas so bad. My mother and father pooled some money and bought me an expansion pack instead. Four molds and three bottles of goo. But, no oven! The expansion pack was much cheaper than the whole box. So, here I was on Christmas morning holding my little metal molds over the fire in the fireplace to make my creepy crawlers. Over and over, the things would catch on fire! It’s a wonder I didn’t suffer third degree burns!
Back to 1965. My father came home from Sears and Roebuck store with a huge cardboard box in the back of his old green truck. Much to my mother’s dismay, he had spent a pot load of money on something new. Something big! He and my brother loaded the box into the living room and my father revealed a huge console television. But, it wasn’t just any huge television (Only 24 inches screen — a baby compared to today’s monsters) it was a COLOR television!
Over the next few months I was stunned and amazed at the color images that flickered across the screen. Not all shows were in color. Certainly, Walt Disney’s Wonderful World of Color was! My favorite show at the time was still in black and white — Lost in Space. I was a science fiction fanatic and couldn’t wait each week to hear those famous words uttered by the robot, “Danger, Will Robinson!”
In the late summer of 1966, one of my mother’s new TV Guides arrived in the mail. For her, it was a little bit of Hollywood glamour in the red clay and pine hills of northern Louisiana. She loved to do the crossword puzzle which featured the names of famous movie and television stars. This TV Guide carried the image of two men dressed in gold and blue tunics with the title of a new show underneath. “Star Trek”. Star Trek? What was this? A new science fiction show in color! I read about the show set on the starship Enterprise with its leader, Captain Kirk and his alien first Officer Mr. Spock. Mr. Spock? Wasn’t that a famous children’s doctor?
On a cool September night, September 8, 1966 at the age of 11 I had finished my supper and was settling down on our couch in front of new color television. My mother and father were off doing something around the house. I guess I’m fortunate there were no Westerns on that night or I would have never seen this new show. The screen came to life with vibrant color — reds and golds and blues and exotic planet sets that blew my mind. I watched as this doctor, “Bones” McCoy showed up in coruscating sparks of light along with his Captain Kirk on a lonely planet to meet his long lost girlfriend who had married an extraterrestrial archeologist. The opening of the show was so ordinary and yet so exotic as if it was perfectly normal for someone to “beam” down from a starship onto the surface of an alien planet. There were no silly sayings or rambling robots. This was pure drama, straight to the heart of real characters. In later years, this paradigm shift would be responsible for me leaving behind the childish comic books of DC for the more mature comes of Marvel. I was enthralled, gripped, captured by the story that unfolded before me. The red shirt ensign getting the life sucked out of him by the beautiful woman who was Dr. McCoy’s love. How could SHE be a monster? She looked so normal and so beautiful! And, then the big reveal. At the end of the show when McCoy’s girlfriend is killing his Captain and we see the thing for what it really was! Oh my! I ran and hid behind the couch. I was traumatized but captivated. I could not believe my eyes. This was the most amazing show in the history of shows!
“Space, the final frontier. These are the voyages of the starship Enterprise. It’s five mission: to explore strange new worlds, to seek out new life and new civilizations; to boldly go where no man has gone before!” Then that fantastic fanfare with the warbling vocals almost alien in tone. To this day, it gives me a thrill.
I never missed an episode of Star Trek. I wrote a letter to stop its cancellation. Dr. McCoy would become my role model when I decided to become a doctor. I can say that my life was deeply affected by Star Trek. The three main characters for me represented the three aspects of our personality. Mr. Spock was the cold, calculating intellect, the superego. Captain Kirk was the visceral, go from the gut leaders the id; and Bones was the humanity, the heart that brought the two extremes together. My love for science grew out of Star Trek. My desire to be “just a plain old country doctor” came out of my love for the character of Dr. McCoy.
In 2008, I had the pleasure of meeting Leonard Nimoy at Book Expo America. I snapped a picture of him but did not have the privilege of getting a picture with him, but I did shake his hand and thank him for the character of Spock that so shaped and influenced my life. I missed out on seeing William Shatner during that trip and unfortunately, DeForest Kelley who played Dr. McCoy had passed away a few years before.
Fifty years have come and gone. I’ve sat through every movie, every animated episode, every spin off. In 1996, I took my son, Sean, to Pasadena California for the 30 year celebration of Star Trek and met many of the stars of Next Generation and Voyager. He dressed in a Star Trek costume that year.
So, to honor Star Trek and its fifty year anniversary, I spent a lot of money and went to Dallas FanExpo in June to meet William Shatner. What a pleasure and a joy to actually meet Captain James Tiberius Kirk. Here is the photo I had made with Willam Shatner and notice the tee shirt I’m wearing.
Here’s to another 50 years of “boldly going where no man has gone before!”
They call him the Shat!
I am in Dallas at FanExpo, a massive comic con with over 50000 attendees. Thursday night I had the opportunity to spend an “intimate evening” with William Shatner. I decided to bite the bullet and purchase a ticket to this special event for my upcoming birthday. I’ll soon be 61! 61!!!
But after listening to William Shatner for an hour, who at the age of 85, is more active than I could imagine, I’ve decided 61 is very, very young!
This year is the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and to celebrate that milestone, William Shatner is appearing at this event. I lined up about an hour before the event with about 15 other people. We entered a good sized conference room and there were eight couches in two rows along the front of the room with about six rows of folding chairs behind them. I got the last couch seat.
We were soon informed we would all line up and trek, get it, trek, down the convention center to the photo area for our photo op with William Shatner. After this, we would return to our room and our seats and he would come and speak to us for about 45 minutes then sign autographs. Ordinarily, a photo op is $100 and an autograph $100 so the evening was a bargain!
I was wearing a shirt with a picture of the original Dr. McCoy and the quote, “Dammit, Jim, I’m a doctor not a . . .” Followed by four choices. When I finally walked into the photo booth, I was amazed at how good he looks for a man of 85. He appeared very healthy. He smiled at me and liked my tee shirt. I paused, had my photo snapped and then was whisked out of the booth.
He arrived in the room after the photo op and instead of sitting in the appointed chair, hitched himself up on the table on which he would be signing autographs. He immediately talked about how he had never been invited to a typical “Hollywood” party with a rowdy bunch of “naked women”. He said he preferred an intimate get together such as ours and would like to answer a few questions.
The first question was about how he and Leonard Nimoy met. He talked about Nimoy and their first work together on the Man from UNCLE and how he had no recollection. Then, he talked about working with Nimoy on Star Trek. He went on to discuss how deeply he missed Leonard Nimoy, his best friend. He talked about the day Nimoy died on a Friday and his funeral would be on Sunday morning. He said he was committed to a Red Cross event in Boston and would have to decide what to do. He then went on to talk about how quickly people are forgotten and how the pain from loss fades over time. But, Leonard Nimoy would not be forgotten. And, he talked about how Leonard would understand the importance of doing something that would make the world a better place such as helping to raise millions of dollars for Red Cross.
Another question led him into a long discussion of the difference between Star Wars and Star Trek. Story. Characters. He talked about how Star Wars was a “ride” and Star Trek was more story and character development. He then talked about story originating from a bunch of us “sitting around a campfire talking about how one of them stabbed a dinosaur in the eye” and Story was born. He then said in 10000 years we will be talking about UFOs and how we will tell the story of being probed “by a purple alien and having its baby”.
He was then asked if J. J. Abrams offered him a role in the original Star Trek reboot. He said he met with J. J. and read the script and it “was awful”. I realized he had given him another script other than the one that was shot. He told J. J. he would only be interested in a role if it “made an impact on the story and wasn’t just a cameo”. When he found out Leonard Nimoy was in the movie he called him and told him “Your realize that you are old and when you go back in time, you will still be old!”
He then talked more about Star Trek versus Star Wars and said that the first seven movies he was in made about $100 million and cost about $30 million to produce. And then, the next generation movies were supposed to make more money and they didn’t. I think where he was headed with this discussion was the idea that Star Trek works better as a television show because it can concentrate on story and character development. Star Wars is “a ride” and J. J. Abrams’ Star Trek movies were “rides”.
The last question was “Do you regret not taking a role you were offered.” He then talked about his past four weeks. He traveled all over the world doing various events and appearances and I don’t know how a man his age could do this! It was incredible. He ended up by talking about flying to Dallas Wednesday night for this event. He said he has had the opportunity to make a difference in the world like “ripples going out and coming back” and he wouldn’t trade any of that for a big movie role.
He said he has his immediate family in Los Angeles and has everyone over for Sunday dinner so he couldn’t be happier or healthier. He talked about feeling the pressure of time and how quickly life can be gone but he wanted to continue to live and make a difference as long as his health would let him.
A few short notes of some things he said. He talked about his appearance on the original Twilight Zone and the “little furry monster” on the wing. He talked about how in the “old days” in Hollywood a movie would have 10000 extras. How did you feed them? All those people “today are computer generated”. He mentioned his horse riding events and how he was a top championship horse rider and his events for charity raises lots of money.
He told an amusing story about flying to Dallas and having a bad cough. He was sitting beside “a little Asian girl” who had no idea he was Captain Kirk because she probably only knows Chris Pine and she thought “I might be dying”. At this point, he started coughing quite a bit and waxed profound about phlegm. “You’ll never forget tonight. See how intimate we are. We can talk about my phlegm.”
We then lined up and he signed and personalized autographs. I had a Star Trek Manga that came out in 2008 with a collectible poster of the illustrated version of the original cast. He signed it for me and once again said he liked my tee shirt.
I packed up my stuff and walked back to the room through a misting rain. Tomorrow, Doctor Who!!!!
Steel looked away. “I feel like I’ve only lived for two years, Claire. I can’t remember most of my life. I’m not ready to die.”
He felt her hand on his cheek. “Silly, I don’t want to die, either. I said I’m not afraid to die. Imagine you’re a caterpillar.”
Steel raised an eyebrow. “A caterpillar?”
“Just go with it, Jonathan. Your whole life is spent crawling along a leaf and eating. That’s all you do. You have no appreciation of where the leaf is. You have no idea of how far you are from the ground if you were to fall. You never see the bird that swoops down to devour you. Your appreciation of the universe is limited. And then, one day you feel this horrible sensation of dread. You feel a change coming. You’re going to die. You dread it. You fear it. You go on eating and crawling pretending it’s not going to happen. It happens. You spin yourself into a cocoon of death and know no more.” Claire’s eyes were wide with emotion. The night air grew still and close, thick with humidity. Time seemed to slow.
“And, then Jonathan, you awaken. Your body stirs and you realize you’re no longer dead. Your cocoon falls away and you spread out huge, luminous wings. You crawl away from your death shroud and you take to the air! You’re no longer a caterpillar. You’re a butterfly! You fly through trees and fields of flowers. You see the sun and the stars. An entire universe you never could have imagined is yours to appreciate. And suddenly, you spy a caterpillar crawling along its leaf. You watch your former self and you wonder how you could have ever wanted to stay like that.”
“That is death, Jonathan. We’re fat, clumsy caterpillars waiting for the day of metamorphosis. We fear the cocoon. But, when we emerge on the other side, we’ll look back from God’s eternal perspective and wonder how we could ever have wanted to stay like this.”
I’ve been overwhelmed at the response to this one passage in “The 13th Demon: Altar of the Spiral Eye”. Some say it is “profound”. Others say it is “comforting”. But, why?
Just yesterday, we learned from a very moving testimonial to the life of Steve Jobs by his sister that his last words were “Oh wow. Oh wow. Oh wow.” What did he see? Did he emerge from a cocoon and see his new form as a “butterfly” free from the confines of this earthly shape? Or, did he see the Creator in all of His splendor, majesty, and grace? No one can say for sure. But, he did see something.
This weekend, I also watched “The Captains”, a documentary by William Shatner interviewing all five actors who have played a captain of a starship in the Star Trek franchise. The most odd person was Avery Brooks who spoke in lilting metaphors and piano riffs and made very little sense whatsoever. The most concrete was Shatner himself, taking every opportunity to tell his own story of his life and how it was affected by his stent as “Captain Kirk”. But, what was most disturbing, most troubling was the answers he elicited from those he interviewed about God and what happens after death. Most answered, “I don’t know.” And, Shatner’s answer was his final lines as Captain Kirk in the ill fated “Generations” Star Trek movie that bridged the gap between the classic Star Trek universe and the Next Generation universe. As Captain Kirk lay dying his final words were, much like Steve Jobs’, “Oh, my!” I guess Shatner was expressing his desire that he hoped something was out there and whatever it is, he will be surprised.
Recently, the Discover channel premiered a show “Curiosity” and the opening episode answered the question, “Did God make the universe?” The physicists and cosmologists on the show were emphatic. There is no God. We don’t need God. The universe made itself. Even Stephen Hawking proclaimed there is no God and heaven is a “fairy tale”.
How then to put all of this together? I would say that each and every person listed above is nothing but a fat, clumsy caterpillar. Of course from our limited perspective, we can say there is no God; no transcendence; no afterlife. After all, what is our greatest desire? As a caterpillar it is to eat more leaves. In fact, give me a rain forest of leaves without predators and all of eternity to eat leaves! Wouldn’t that be the best existence? And, to defend such a Choice, for it is ultimately a choice; a worldview; a personal decision what to believe; yes to defend such a Choice we must say there is no butterfly! There is nothing beyond the cocoon. That makes all of THIS more important; more desirous; more under MY control. For the butterfly lies beyond my control in another dimension of reality that many would called the realm of “fairy tales”.
Steve Jobs triumphed the adage, “Think Different”. It is time for us to think different; think beyond the leaves and the clumsy state of existence and realize there is something beyond us; something that brought all of THIS into existence and something that has prepared an existence as fantastic and unimaginable as a butterfly is for a caterpillar. We are destined for that far country where we will fall at the feet of our Savior and say “Oh wow! Oh wow! Oh wow!”