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Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Star Trek, Gene Roddenberry, "Ernest," and Twenty-Five Years

October 24 marks the passing of Gene Roddenberry, creator of Star Trek.  As of yesterday, it has been 25 years since he died.  What follows isn't my remembrance of that day, but of the day after, and how it crystallized for me the weight of Star Trek in my life.

On October 25, 1991, I was a junior in high school.  My locker was in a building nowhere near where my classes were, so I had to run there first to get my books before first period.  Apparently, my bus was late getting there, because I only recall seeing one other student at a locker nearby.

"I guess you're in mourning," Jamie said.

Obviously, I was known for being a fan of Star Trek.  My father showed episodes of TOS and TAS to me once I was old enough to sit upright.  We went to the movies and we watched TNG, too.

My answer to Jamie was, "Huh?  What for?"

"Gene Roddenberry died."  The look on my face must have stunned him because he immediately said, "Oh, I'm sorry.  I thought you knew."

"No."  I knelt by my bookbag and stared blankly at what was inside.  "I didn't."

I don't remember too much else about that day.  I was wearing gray pants with a distressing excess of pockets, as was the style at the time.  I was also wearing a gray Star Trek shirt.  It had partial wireframe schematic-type images of the Enterprises 1701, 1701-A, and 1701-D.  Pretty cool, but I can't find an image online.

At any rate, I went to my German class that afternoon.  The teacher, Herr Lane, turned to me before the bell rang and said, "I figured you'd be wearing black today."

"Yeah," I said.  "I would have if I'd known."

Since then, I have worn only black, with few exceptions.  I tell people it's because it's easy to coordinate, etc., but the germ of the idea began on October 25, 1991, and is about not being properly attired after the death of Gene Roddenberry.

That day was a Friday and, apparently, my mom promised my brother that we'd go to the movies that evening.  I don't remember how much say -- if any -- I had in choosing the film.  It's possible that I had wanted to see the movie in question at some point in time, but it's safe to say "I wasn't feeling it" that night.

Ernest Scared Stupid.

I recall sitting in a different row from my mom and brother at the Ballou Park theater.  I remember propping my elbow on the armrest and holding my jaw with my hand.  I was a proper morose teenager, but with a fairly decent reason that evening.

The trailers began.  Then ... one trailer in particular played.


I was utterly destroyed.  Watching it again, just now, for the first time in years, I was destroyed anew.  I remember sitting in that theater seat, crying, and trying to stifle myself while other previews were screened.

Ernest played on and he was, presumably, frightened into idiocy.  The whole time, however, I thought about the trailer and Star Trek in general.

That day, I realized that it was no longer just the shows and movies I shared with my father.  No, these were now mine.  These were my friends and adventures.  They meant the world to me.  The stories and the people involved were deeply connected to my very core.  And the man who made it all possible was gone.

Others in the franchise have departed since then.  DeForest, James, Majel, Leonard, Anton, and others, sung and unsung, in front of and behind the camera.  But this is a special goodbye for Gene.  His death laid me emotionally bare, if only because it was then that I realized how important to me it all was.