For Star Trek’s 50th Anniversary

I grew up watching Star Trek with my parents, and it played a particular role in bonding with my father. A 10th-grade dropout, a mechanic, a contractor and engineer with little regard for standards, measurements, or straight lines–nonetheless, my father was fascinated by the ideas in the show. Long after we’d watch a rerun of the original series, he’d want to talk about the Big Ideas coded into the adventure of the week. Working under a car, he’d muse how unlikely it was that we were alone in the universe, or urge that humanity needed to get out there, if only so we spread out and increased our chance of survival. The show made a philosopher out of a high school dropout who never read a book in his adult life.

christopher-pike

This is Captain Christopher Pike, confined to a wheelchair after being horribly burned by radiation. He’s only able to communicate by beeping: once for ‘yes’, twice for ‘no’. (I know–oddly retarded technology for 300 years in the future, but whatever).

My father and I watched Pike, in the first-season episode The Menagerie, reduced to cryptic yes/no signals. Beep. Beeeep Beeeeeeep.

I clearly remember my father turning to me and saying, “If I ever get like that, if I can’t live without being plugged into a bunch of machines, pull the plug. Don’t hesitate. Pull the plug.”

Thirty years later, a doctor called to tell me they’d tried everything they could think of, but my father wasn’t coming out of the coma they’d induced. Ever. It should have been routine, like waking from sleep, I was told. Which is why I’d left his side. Which is why I was three thousand miles away when things went inexplicably and permanently bad.

The doctor wanted instructions. In the background, I heard the life support machines. Beep. Beeeep Beeeeeeep. I didn’t hesitate. The doctor was kind enough to put the phone to my father’s ear, and I spoke to him while the tones of the machinery lengthened, became steady, then were shut off.

Sometimes Star Trek gets things wrong. There *are* no-win scenarios. But because of the show and its ability to fire imagination, I knew exactly what to do, and was equipped with the resolve needed in that moment. I couldn’t turn death into a fighting chance to live, but I could honor a final request and do it without flinching.

Portrait of the Artist as a Young Nerd

playing tron game comic-con 2009Rank on Tron machine at Comic-Con: 1

Drew a small crowd at the recreation of Flynn’s Arcade from the movie. In 1982 I was world champion at Tron for about 2 weeks…name printed in Electronic Games magazine, etc. My score still ranks #15 or #16 in history.

Later, this image appeared on CNN in an article about “Top 10 things we saw at Comic-Con this year.” The back of my head is famous.

Ray Bradbury’s Groupie from the Future

ray bradbury reading cropped

I met a man from the future at one of Ray Bradbury’s talks.

Around 10 years ago Ray would give classes on writing in San Diego once or twice a year. These turned out to be Ray reminiscing about being a writer, not so much about the craft. Not that I minded.

Sitting next to me was this elfin little old man. I noticed him because he was so obviously happy to be there: fidgeting, and winking at me, and nodding along at everything Ray said. As though he’d heard it before, the way a fan would show their familiarity with a much-loved symphony piece, say, by conducting with their fingers along with the performance.

Ray started into a story and the little man caught my eye, grinned, and whispered, “Oh, thees. You’ll love thees one.” He had an odd accent, like a Monty Python caricature of a French accent.

After the talk, there was a question & answer session. The little man eventually was called on, and he looked at Ray and asked, “Tell me, Meester Bradbouree, do you believe een…time travel?”

“No. It’s impossible.”

I was surprised how flatly dismissive Ray was. He sounded almost irritated with the question. This puzzled me.

The little man grinned widely. “Oh, you theenk so?” And tapped his temple.

Later, we lined up for autographs. Predictably, the little man is right in front of me. We get to Ray, and the elf gives Ray a pen to sign with. When Ray takes it, it flares to life like a lightsaber, glowing hot blue. Ray held it up, curious, inspecting it. “Oh, you like eet! It is my gift to you!”

As I walked to my car, I didn’t see how the little man left. Probably because I didn’t look up.