It is a fact of Trek fandom that hardcore Trekkies (or Trekkers, or whatever people of my ilk are being called these days) can’t resist playing dress up. In any other realm this fascination with costumes would probably be confined to small children. However, sci-fi fans are cut from a different mold and the almost obsessive desire to dress the part of one’s favorite character doesn’t end with adulthood. In fact, it almost seems that it gets stronger. Nonetheless, the first entry in this series of costume tales does concern a small child – namely: me.
When I was about 7 or 8 years old (many moons ago) the Mego company introduced a line of Star Trek toys. The “Star Trek Lives!” phenomenon I described in my last post was at its peak and so it was altogether fitting that the stars of my favorite show began doing personal appearances at retail stores to promote the new Mego toys. I had been dying to have a gold Star Trek tunic anyway and, to my knowledge, Donmoor had yet to release their collection of excellent Trek uniform shirts – or if they had, my mother didn’t know about it. All the same, she was willing to aid me in my quest to have a custom-made Captain Kirk tunic in which to greet Mr. Leonard Nimoy when he came to Alexander’s Department Store in New Jersey.
We had already attended the International Star Trek Convention in New York City and thanks to my Mom’s good nature (and deep pockets) my brother and I came home with very convincing Enterprise insignia patches and patterns for uniform shirts. When the Nimoy appearance was announced I pleaded with Mom to make my special shirt post-haste. I don’t know where she found it but my mother was able to acquire a bolt of beautiful double-knit material that was the perfect solid gold on one side and had a gold-on-white houndstooth pattern on the other side. She also got a great little piece of black material for the collar and very accurate gold braid for the sleeves. So begins the horror story.
Mom’s only sewing machine was a 100 year old Singer treadle model that she had gotten from her grandmother. She knew the Star Trek uniform backwards and forwards from having watched the show with me so many times and having taken me to the early cons. She also knew that there was no way she’d be able to put together such a complex garment in such a short period on that antique machine. So she boxed up all the material, the pattern, the braid, and insignia and shipped them to her good friend in another state who was a sewing wiz with a top-of-the-line modern machine. She assured me that I’d have my shirt in time for our date with destiny.
If memory serves, the package with my prized tunic arrived a day or two before the Leonard Nimoy appearance. I’m pretty sure it was summertime but it may as well have been Christmas as I was so excited to open that box! Then – – – utter and complete horror! My mother’s friend had done an incredible job. Every stitch was perfect. The collar, the insignia, the captain’s rank braids were all in just the right places. But our family friend, who wouldn’t recognize an episode of Star Trek if her life depended on it, had made the shirt with the houndstooth pattern facing outward and the solid gold inward. I was crushed. This would never do! I’m fairly sure I cried when Mom told me there was no time to fix it and I’m certain I cried when she forced me to wear it to Alexander’s anyway. It was one of those things that parents do when they’ve totally forgotten what it feels like to be a kid – “Yes, you have to wear it. Connie worked very hard on this for you and you will wear it!”.
Unlike some childhood horror stories, this one has not one, but two happy endings. I think I was still wiping away tears when we reached the front of the line at Alexander’s Department Store and I shook Mr. Nimoy’s hand. Being a parent himself, and just a plain classy guy – he didn’t miss a beat when he said to me, “That is a fantastic uniform shirt! Very original. I really love it!”. Leonard Nimoy made my day that summer afternoon at Alexander’s. Some 15 years later I had the opportunity to meet him again at a Trek con in New York City. When I relayed the story of the tunic gone wrong he remembered, laughed out loud, and told me how fortunate I was to have a mother who’d go to such lengths to please her son. And he was right.