The Measure of a Fan

Our second day at Creation Star Trek Las Vegas was a little less hectic than our first but filled with fun stuff just the same.  In a way, it was nice to slow down the pace a bit and focus our energy on some special things we wanted to do.

The day began sluggishly, however, as we had to be up quite early and we were still exhausted from yesterday.  Our slow start was most evident in the ineptitude of two over-tired Trek fans trying to get into complex costumes and having a great deal less enthusiasm than one might expect – it was, after all, only 7:00 AM.  This was necessary though because we had to be at the Rio Suites by 8:00 AM for our beginners writing workshop which was directed by none other than David Gerrold, the author of the TOS episode “The Trouble With Tribbles”.   Having seen him way back in the ’70’s I knew we were in for a treat!  I didn’t realize just what a treat it would be, though.  I expected to be seated in a ballroom with about two hundred other people, straining to see and hear. Instead, we were nestled in a little space with only about 15 other fans and had Mr. Gerrold practically all to ourselves for two hours.  What made it even more special was the fact that my 13 year old son was the only youngster in the group and he received a great deal of personal attention from Mr. Gerrold throughout.  So excited was my son that, shortly after the heavy duty lesson began, he requested a pad and pen so he could take notes.  I wonder if he ever gets that enthusiastic at school.

We wandered the dealers’ room for a while after the writing seminar and then took a muchLeonard Nimoy needed rest back in our hotel room. We wanted to be as fresh as possible for the big events of the afternoon, both of which were high points of our day. After catching a presentation by the CBS merchandising rep, who showed off all kinds of nifty items that will soon be hitting store shelves, we had the great joy of seeing the incomparable Leonard Nimoy on stage in the main theater.  This was to be his last appearance at the Vegas con and he really gave it his all, telling stories, showing photos, reading poetry, and ultimately moving all of us in the crowd to tears and then to a 5 minute standing ovation as he said his farewell.  I had seen him 4 times in the past and this was, far and away, the best!

We had a short time to eat our lunch and did so standing in the large corridor thatFather and son in Star Trek costumes interconnects all the ballrooms. Since this is the main route between the theaters and the dealers’ room, and is often crowded with fans playing dress up, we were not particularly surprised when a young man stopped nearby to take our picture (we were still in costume, of course).  This type of impromptu photography has been going on between fans since the convention got underway.  We were, however, elated when he introduced himself as a member of the press from the Las Vegas Sun and asked us our names and where we are from.  It does seem as though we could end up in the local paper tomorrow and the potential for a little personal publicity made us all the happier that we had our Star Trek uniforms on.

Fans gather to attempt a world recordThe big event, and the one that put a beautiful finishing touch on our day, was the gathering of fans  in an attempt to set a new Guinness World Record for the most people in one place in Star Trek costumes.  The 45 minutes or so that we spent huddled together with over 1000 others was the culmination of weeks of anticipation (and hard work on the part of my lovely wife who handmade our costumes).  Moreover, it was a continual demonstration of the good will and friendly outgoing nature that permeates these conventions.  We met and talked to dozens of great folks.  We took pictures and posed for pictures.  We cheered at the tops of our lungs whenever an update on our approach to the record was announced.  The stage was lined with members of the media snapping pictures and taking video as 1040 of us surpassed, and ultimately obliterated, the previous record of 691.  When it was all over we wished a happy 45th birthday to our beloved Star Trek and it took quite a while to come down from the high of the afternoon.

Iamtosk and friend in dessert robesOne specific meeting of a fellow fan stands out from the many that took place today.  For some time leading up to this convention, I have been an active participant in the trekkbbs.com web bulletin board.  There is an ongoing thread there that focuses entirely on this Las Vegas convention and in it one of the members posted pictures of the costume he had wanted to make for the con. All of the other members who planned to be in Vegas posted promises in the thread to look for him.  Although I don’t know if any others were successful, I had the good fortune to meet this nice young man face to face and see the fruits of his labors – the desert robes worn by the character of Ezri Dax in DS9.  The encounter was a refreshing reminder to me that behind the words appearing daily on my computer screen was a real live human being who is genuinely nice, friendly, and obviously as big a Star Trek fan as I.  It was also an impressive statement as to the lengths to which we fans will go to demonstrate and share our love for everything Star Trek.  I can think of no better yard stick by which to gauge the measure of a fan.

Tomorrow is Yesterday

We had barely begun our walk down the long corridor that leads to the ballrooms when I spotted it scurrying along the floor.  “Look!”, I said to my teenage son, “A horta!”.  He knewStar Trek Horta the reference immediately and bent down to have a close look at it.  A resourceful fan had constructed it so that it could be remote controlled from a few feet away and, except for being a tad smaller than one might expect, it was a very faithful recreation of the silicon-based life form from the TOS episode “The Devil in the Dark”.  Two things occurred to me as the horta encounter transpired: this was going to be a good first day at Creation Star Trek 2011 Las Vegas and my son, attending his very first Trek convention, reminded me of myself 38 years ago attending mine.  In fact, my first day at the New York City International Star Trek Convention in 1973 began very much as this one did – with a homemade horta on the hotel carpet.

There are, of course, some significant differences between the Trek conventions of the early ’70’s and those of today; the sizes of the crowds and the prices being among them. Nevertheless, all the great things I remember from being a kid at my first con were still evident (and still great!) in 2011.  The array of stars was larger than any I’ve experienced at past cons and many of them were wandering around among the fans or seated in the dealers’ room so they were incredibly accessible.  The variety and amount of merchandise for sale would leave any Star Trek fan salivating.  The number of people adorned in costumes was mind-boggling and many of the uniforms and alien outfits were really well put together.  Most of all, however, the people at Star Trek conventions are just so friendly, outgoing, and positive that you can’t help but enjoy being around them.  To me, the interaction with other fans is one of the most enjoyable aspects of going to these things in the first place.

Us posing with Grace Lee As for the activities in which we engaged, they were many and varied. We got to see Walter Koenig on stage in the morning.  We met in-person and spoke at some length to Grace Lee Whitney, Tim Russ, Mariette Hartley, John DeLancie, Brent Spiner, Jonathan Frakes, Don Marshall, and Stephen Manley (all of Star Trek) and Richard Hatch and Herb Jefferson (of the original Battlestar Galactica).  We picked up some cool stuff in the dealers’ room and bid on some items at the auction.  My son’s tribble was a great conversation piece, especially with fans dressed as Klingons – one of them even “attacked” it!  We saw the TOS blooper reel and laughed out loud watching it. We laughed more when we took in Jonathan Frakes’ stage appearance – he is hilariously entertaining.  We got autographs from him and from Brent Spiner.  All in all, I’d say those things made for a good day…then there were the other fans who helped make it a great day!

There were people in attendance of all ages, colors, shapes, and sizes.  Some of them came from a few miles away and some from other parts of the U.S. and even from otherFans in costume countries.  There was no shortage of homemade costumes on display as well, many of which were outlandish and all of which were very creative. The common denominator in all these cases though was the great joy in meeting and talking with all these folks who were beyond friendly.  They made me feel comfortable, which was nice as I hadn’t been to a Trek con in over 15 years and they made my son comfortable, too.  I think it’s safe to say that he will look back on this day with fondness, just as I do when reminiscing about my first experience at a Star Trek convention.  In many ways, I was enjoying being a kid again vicariously.  It was like we spent a day back in 1973 at the International Star Trek Convention…and we’ll do it again tomorrow.  I guess tomorrow really is yesterday!

Consulting the Library Computer

In an effort to get “all geared up” for my forthcoming visit to Creation Star Trek 2011 in Las Vegas, I’ve recently taken my obsession with Star Trek to another level.  I’ve always been a pretty fanatical lover of Trek.  Although, like anything else in life, my over-the-top fandom has had peaks and valleys.  There were times when I was much younger that I ate, drank, slept, and breathed Star Trek.  There have also been just as many periods more recently during which I’d watch 20 minutes of a Trek rerun on SyFy and that was the extent of my involvement for weeks on end.

Thankfully, the Internet provides the perfect means by which I (and countless others to be sure) can dive headlong back into all things Trek.  It’s almost as though I have my own LCARS terminal connected back to every database in Starfleet!  In all seriousness though, as well versed as I am in technology (I’ve been using the Internet in one form or another since 1990) it still never ceases to amaze me the depth and breadth of information that is available on most any topic – especially Star Trek!

I imagine that just about anyone reading this blog is already well acquainted with the sites I’m going to cover in this post.  All the same, there may be one or two folks like me who, only a short time ago, would have been unaware of the existence of so many terrific Star Trek resources online.  For that reason, I decided to compile a list of the Star Trek related websites I’ve been visiting lately.  This list is by no means exhaustive.  In fact, I would welcome comments with suggestions for others that I may be unaware of.

So, here goes:

http://www.startrek.com – The official website of the Star Trek franchise.

http://www.cbs.com/classics – Watch episodes of TOS and TAS online (this can also be done at startrek.com above)

http://www.trekweb.com – News and articles about everything to do with Star Trek

http://www.trekbbs.com – An excellent forum for chatting with like-minded fans

http://startrekofgodsandmen.com – Home of the terrific fan film made for the 40th Anniversary of the series

http://www.startreknewvoyages.com – The site of James Cawley’s excellent fan film series set during the TOS five year mission

http://www.starshipfarragut.com – More terrific fan films

http://creationent.com/cal/stlv.htm – Big, big, big Star Trek convention in Las Vegas next month

http://starfleet1701st.yuku.com – Forum operated by the fantastic 1701st Star Trek Uniform Club

http://www.therpf.com – Custom props and costumes used in role playing

http://www.startrekhistory.com – Absolutely incredible site with insider information about the production of the original TV Series

http://www.trekcore.com – All encompassing site with everything from rare photos to audio clips and more (from all series and movies)

http://www.startrekonline.com – Great Internet game set in the Trek universe

http://www.facebook.com/pages/Star-Trek-Fans/161013817304738 – Cool new Facebook group for we fans

As I had indicated above, there are undoubtedly hundreds (if not thousands) of other sites containing all kindsa’ Star Trek stuff and I’ll bet some of them are just great.  If anyone feels like to directing me to any of them, I’d be more than receptive.

LLAP

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – The Final Phase

To complete my series on mishaps and difficulties with Trek uniform costuming attempts, I am going to start out with what would appear to be a horror story.  The great part is that, although the uniform itself and the circumstances surrounding its aborted creation may have been horrific, the ending is a very happy one IMHO.

Stardate: 1986.6 – By the age of 19 I had already done several things that a geek like me wouldn’t have been expected to, at least according to Bill Shatner’s “evil Captain Kirk” from Saturday Night Live.  I had most definitely kissed a girl and I had already moved out of my parents’ basement and gotten my own apartment (with the lovely girl I had kissed, I might add).

I really was incredibly lucky to have fallen in love with someone so intelligent and beautiful but, to my added good fortune, she was also almost as much the Star trek fan that I was. We had purchased our first VCR (a BetaMax – LOL, I’m old!!) and the first pre-recorded movie we acquired was, of course, Star Trek: The Motion Picture.  The TOS episodes weren’t readily available on Beta yet so we got a bunch of blank tapes and started recording them from TV.  This way we’d have a monster collection of Trek shows to watch whenever we wanted.  We also worked diligently on collecting every paperback in the PocketBooks Star Trek series and read them all many times over.  We had just made tentative plans to attend a Star Trek convention – it would have been our first together – when this particular horror story began to unfold.

We thought it would be pretty cool to participate in the costume parade at the con and we each had a favorite uniform from the TV series that we planned to wear.  Mine was to be Kirk’s alternate command tunic – the green wraparound.  My lovely girl would have donned Uhura’s revealing mirror universe uniform.  Unfortunately, neither of us knew the first thing about constructing a homemade Trek uniform costume.  Although, at least my girlfriend knew how to sew and had made some garments in the past.  If memory serves, we didn’t have any patterns either and there certainly was no World Wide Web as we now know it through which to order them or do any research.   We did have some reference books to work from (The Making of Star Trek, The Starfleet Technical Manual, and Bjo Trimble’s excellent Star Trek Concordance) but otherwise we were on our own. By far our biggest impediment though was that we were almost always broke, so we didn’t have a lot of money to put into these costumes to begin with.

We picked up some cheap (and dreadfully wrong) material and tried to get underway.  My girl’s fabric was a bright red double-knit … definitely on the right track but too bright and too thin, almost like a crepe.  Mine was very dark green, way too dark really, and was similar to the material from which bedsheets are made…so it had no flex/stretch capability whatsoever.  Undaunted we began our project anyway.  I think my girlfriend drew out something akin to a pattern for my shirt and she then cut the individual sections accordingly.  I don’t remember if she had cut out all the pieces and was assembling the final garment or if she had just done a few basic pieces to put together a mock-up.  Either way, before long I had a front and back connected to a right sleeve.  The fit was awkward and the material didn’t lay well on my torso.  Nevertheless, it was coming together.  But given everything I’ve just described, it was questionable whether this costume would be usable at all – and therein lies the first horror story.   The second, and much bigger, horror story is that we left that green shirt half finished – that was as far as we ever got on it.  The sexy red mirror universe uniform never even got started.

For a multitude of reasons that probably have no place being published in a Star Trek blog, we broke up at the beginning of that summer, having never attended the convention or even finished the costumes.  Although I initially thought there was hope of getting back together, I blinked my eyes and months had gone by.  Suddenly it was a year – then two. We each ended up marrying and starting our own families, neither seeing nor speaking to each other as two years became five and so on.

What makes this such a terrific story is the happy ending I alluded to earlier.  We two geeks each knew that we were meant to be together.  In a way it was almost like one of those great Star Trek stories in which destiny is fulfilled even if there is sadness along the way.  More than ten years after we had originally begun dating and nearly eight years since we had last spoken, we met at our tenth high school reunion and picked up where we left off.  Now we are rapidly approaching our fifteenth wedding anniversary and our Trek fandom hasn’t waned.  In fact, our thirteen year old son and I will soon be attending Creation Star Trek 2011 in Las Vegas – and we will be doing so in full uniforms created by none other than my lovely girl.

I will be blogging from the con and undoubtedly posting photos of my new and improved green Kirk wraparound tunic.  But no photos or blog posts can accurately convey the most important facet of this tale – even though the blog topic is “Horror Stories”, my time with the incredible woman described herein has been the antithesis of a horror story!  She completes me and I her.  And our shared love of all things Star Trek is one example among many of how our fate was “in the stars”!

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – Phase II

I find myself in a strange and unique situation, well…unique for me anyway.  After 40+ years of being a die hard Star Trek fan, collecting all sorts of books, toys, games, and videos, and attending numerous conventions – I am 5 weeks away from Creation Star Trek Las Vegas, the first convention at which I will don a Trek uniform costume.

This 45th anniversary celebration will undoubtedly be the largest Star Trek con I’ve ever been to.  It’s also going to be my first in nearly 15 years as I’ve shifted my focus to concentrate on raising a family and earning a living.  Now I have a 13 year old son who’s just as big a Trekker as I.  He will be coming with me and appearing in costume as well, as fans at this con attempt to set a world record for the largest single gathering of people dressed as Star Trek Characters.

Much attention around our house has recently been devoted to acquiring all the materials, notions, and other components from which my wife plans to lovingly construct our costumes.  As insignia, rank braids, etc. have begun arriving, many memories of my childhood are flooding back – motivating me to blog about some of my earliest costuming experiences and the mishaps that accompanied them.

Stardate: 1975.2: After finding my 8 year old self in possession of a homemade Star Trek uniform tunic with a houndstooth pattern on the material (see my last post for details) I knew the only way to go from there was up.  I desperately wanted to look like my heroes from television and the only reliable resource at my disposal was the dealers’ room at the annual New York CIty Star Trek Convention.  My family attended that con in ’75 but I cannot remember if there were uniforms available for sale.  If there were, they must have been prohibitively expensive because I definitely recall not coming home with one!  Fortunately, I did bag my second complete set of U.S.S. Enterprise insignia patches with a view toward getting one of them sewn on another shirt.

The author in a homemade Star Trek shirt

The humble author in a homemade uniform tunic. Circa 1975

I think I must have been like thousands of other kids my age – pestering my mother to do something, anything to assist me in my quest to have a cool Star Trek shirt. Her second attempt was definitely an improvement over the houndstooth, of which there are no photos (thank the maker!).  But here I am in all my glory sporting the first Trek shirt I owned that I was proud to wear… even if it was the wrong color and was missing the customary black collar.

It was wintertime when we went to that ’75 ST con and my long-sleeved homemade shirt made its debut very soon afterward while the weather was still cold.  Needless to say, I also wore it as often as possible that whole summer! But when I returned to school that fall I made a new friend who had his own custom made Trek uniform shirt.  As we got to know each other better, I came to find out he was as big a Star Trek fan as I and it was through him that I eventually became aware of the first commercially available (to my knowledge anyway) line of licensed Star Trek shirts for kids. They were from Donmoor and were just about the coolest thing I had ever seen!

My friend got his blue “Sciences Division” Donmoor shirt for Christmas that year as I recall.  I was so impressed and, at the same time, so jealous!  I had to have one.  I really wanted the Command gold (which I would eventually get) but my first one was Support Services red [insert “redshirt” jokes here].  I think I received it as a birthday gift in January of ’76.  We didn’t go to the annual NYC Star Trek convention that year but I had my shirt so I was pretty happy anyway.  Sometime shortly after I got the red one, we found the gold one at a local department store and I was walking on air.

Donmoor Star Trek shirts

Donmoor Star Trek shirts - photo courtesy of John Cooley

There are actually two horror stories associated with my beloved Trek shirts from this time period.  Having grown into a somewhat obsessive perfectionist adult, I must say that the first horror story was the Donmoor shirts themselves!  They were initially available only with short sleeves.  Eventually long sleeve versions were introduced and I don’t think they even had the rank braids – but they also had black cuffs at the ends of the sleeves!  Furthermore, the colors were wrong – these shirts were far too dark.  After a fair amount of research I believe I have found out why.

Donmoor Color Samples

Donmoor Color Samples - photo courtesy of John Cooley

Apparently, Donmoor requested and was given swatches of all the original series uniform colors.  Since they were designing a product for children and anticipated a fair amount of wear & tear and multiple washings, they darkened these shades considerably so that eventual fading would produce something close to the true original colors.  My new found friend and I discussed this more than once and we decided we didn’t care – these were still the coolest Star Trek shirts either of us have ever owned!

The second horror story involves my Command Division gold “Captain Kirk” shirt.  It was, after all, the one I had been wishing for since I first started watching Star Trek.  Once I owned the Donmoor version, my red shirts were mostly relegated to dresser drawer duty unless the gold one was in the laundry.

My school friend and fellow Star Trek aficionado was a huge fan of the TOS episode “Shore Leave”.  He was of pure Irish decent and simply loved the Finnegan character.  Knowing that I was equally fond of the Kirk character, he once suggested that we should learn all the stunt moves from their outdoor fight sequence in that episode.  How cool!  We watched it as many times as we could (there were no VCRs in homes yet but it was on fairly often in syndication – we probably saw it three or four times over the course of the school year).  By late spring we could do that fight move for move in our sleep.  We even used to joke about growing up to become Hollywood stunt men.  One day we decided to wear our prized Star Trek shirts to school – his blue and mine gold.  We re-enacted that fight on the athletic field much to the delight of all our friends.  Unfortunately, the lunch aid who saw us was convinced we were really fighting!  Being only 9 or 10 at the time I hadn’t given much thought to dirt and grass stains, a multitude of which I collected that day.  But when the principal was sent out to “break up the fight”, he grabbed me by my sleeve and ripped the stitches.

Uggh!  Even with all the imperfections I now recognize as an adult, that shirt was priceless to me as a kid.  And it was ruined.  My mother tried valiantly but the stains never fully came out and the repair job on the ripped sleeve was obvious.  Years later, probably in high school, my friend would tease me about ruining that shirt – he’d say, “You should have had it ripped across the front if you really wanted to look like Kirk!”.

Star Trek Uniform Horror Stories – Phase 1

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.