Captain Kirk, yellow shirt, crouched in thinking-man pose on the original captain’s chair, maintained a dominant place on our Christmas tree until Kirk shimmied down the branch last year and made a kamikaze plunge to the tile. The lower half of his leg snapped at the boot, sitting morbidly askew from the rest of him. “Damnit Jim!” I said in my habit of making a joke to stave off tears. My nephew had given this ornament to me when he was three because he thought it was his Uncle Joe on an elaborate toilet. What? You thought I’d cry because it was Captain Kirk? Well, you’d be wrong.
* * *
A five-inch tall polar bear led the mutiny, and Kirk and Spock, locked in the cheap plastic chute of the transporter room, waited for a lucky break. Moments before, the ship-wide chaos of Scotty’s IBS attack had seemed to be just this sort of break, but I, and by “I” of course I mean Dr. McCoy, had repurposed two pieces of Styrofoam that had once cradled either end of a wireless router to magically cure Scotty of his flatulence problem when sandwiched between them for precisely three seconds. Undeterred, the polar bear, wedged into the captain’s chair, then pointed all four paws toward Ceti Alpha Five.
This crew always goes to Ceti Alpha Five, polar bear or not, because I like saying Ceti Alpha Five. I say it the way Ricardo Montalban’s Kahn, with his shiny prosthetic pecs, had said it. Like he’d forced his hand into a mug of scalding coffee and was going to keep it there and talk all the while to prove his craggy masculine resilience. Ceti Alpha Five! Through gritted teeth. Each syllable lingering on the verge of turning into: Mother fucker, that’s hot coffee! That and because I don’t know any other place in the Star Trek universe besides Vulcan – which is always a bummer locale. All tunics and poker faces.
I was on elbows, stretched out on the playroom floor, marching Bones around, making prints in the carpet, when my daughter Hannah began to pack everybody back into a boot box, completely unimpressed by magic Styrofoam.
“Forget it,” she said, “If Scotty can’t fart anymore, what’s the point?”
I’m ninety-seven percent sure Hannah had asked for this Star Trek set for her birthday. Eighty-two percent, maybe. Point is, it’s hers and not mine. Spock, Spock is mine. But the rest is hers. Spock and Bones. And Uhura. Those are mine. But that’s it.
* * *
Okay, look. Let me explain it to you this way. When I was a kid, we had a room under the basement steps big enough for an array of musical instruments including an accordion, a harmonica, a ukulele, bongos, and a Sear’s wish-book-variety acoustic guitar with plastic strings. If we wanted to play, that’s where we had to play it, in the same space designated for tornado warnings and the piss-warped toy trunk that wouldn’t shut. Long story, but I’ll just say that the two are related.
I can tell you how I patiently wrestled with one instrument at a time, trying to eek out something remotely like “You Light Up My Life.” I can tell you the guitar was my favorite, and I strummed until the plastic strings snapped with a sproingy sound like they do in cartoons. I can also tell you how I grew up to take guitar lessons on my pawn-shop Stratocaster from a guy named Bob who looked like a Spinal Tap roadie and told me to sing whenever I played so someday it’d be just like walking and breathing. This could be the back-story of a Jack White, say.
What are my prodigious musical accomplishments to date, you ask? Why, I can play the intro to Metallica’s “For Whom the Bell Tolls,” the verses for Radiohead’s “Lucky” and Oasis’ “Wonderwall,” and the entirety of the Beatles’ “Blackbird.” And that’s it. Nothing original. Nothing else. This is pretty much the story of me and Star Trek – a lifetime of exposure with absolute minimal retention or impact.
What else is a kid without cable to do but scour all available airwaves for that wonky one-off channel that could only get its hands on old, syndicated shows like “Perry Mason,” “Dobie Gillis,” and “Star Trek” coming through between scrolling bands of static? It was just there, like my older sister swabbing spit out of her flute on the sofa or the rake leaning in a corner ready to fluff the shag rug. Then, when the movies came along, somehow my little sister and I just ended up at the theater, on opening weekend, first showing. I don’t know how that happened. It’s like when Kirk and McCoy beam down to M-113 in “The Man Trap” and meet who they think is McCoy’s old flame Nancy, but Nancy isn’t Nancy. She’s a shape-shifter who in reality resembles a grimy, suction-cup-fingered Sherpa rug on the move. That wasn’t us in those theater seats shrieking at the first appearance of the opening titles. I don’t know who that was.
You know what really got me, though? Whenever any one of the Enterprise crew would arrive in some strange place, the developed Genesis, Nimbus III, or the penal colony on Rura Penthe, I’d hyperventilate from the anticipation of whatever horrible fate potentially awaited them. I even choked on a Jordan Almond in Wrath of Kahn when Chekov and Captain Terrell poked around the containers housing Kahn and his rock-opera rejects. It’s like J. J. Abrams had a direct line to the darkest recesses of my childhood fears when, in his reboot, he sent Kirk to Delta Vega and the guttural howling of an alien creature commenced in the distance. Word is, Abrams’ next installment will focus on a young Kahn! Well, you know, the word that other people who aren’t me who care about such things pass along to those of us who listen on accident and think, “hey, yet something else I can add to my useless knowledge of things I really, really don’t care about at all.”
* * *
Hannah and I stood by, my hands clamped around her slight shoulders, as Joe applied Gorilla Glue to Kirk’s nub, Kirk’s boot resting on a folded paper towel in the shadow of Joe’s hands. I mean, it’s not like I was holding my breath in this very moment. It’s not as if I’d ever gotten misty eyed while attending a concert by the great Jerry Goldsmith leading a symphony through the Star Trek theme or bought a box of cereal just for the beam-up badge inside or dreamt that Leonard Nimoy drew a unicorn for me on a fast-food napkin. I was just there to keep Hannah out of the glue.
“I think it’d be cool if we put a toothpick on him instead of his boot,” Hannah said.
When Joe affixed the boot, the glue squashed out in every direction leaving what looked like a lip of a white sock. A toothpick would have been okay with Hannah, but this, this sloppy aberration of Kirk’s attire was not. After it dried, she got a black Sharpie and colored it in.
“Kirk wouldn’t let his sock hang out like that,” she said, and she was right.
I gave Kirk a lick-of-the-thumb spit shine like a mom cleaning ketchup off her kids’ face and let him convalesce in the china cabinet right next to the figurines of the holy family.