By Jamahl Epsicokhan
February 20, 2004
It's time that I just admit it. I'm a two-face in hiding. That's all there is to it. For me, Star Trek is a either a strictly online endeavor or a mostly private aspect that you'll learn about me only if you get to know me really well and the subject happens to come up. Or if you Google search my name to do a background check, which at least one person I know has done. I do not go out of my way to volunteer my Star Trek connection unless it's really relevant to the conversation. Not even if I'm drunk.
I run a Star Trek Web site. That's not something one (or at least this particular one) volunteers to someone one has just met, even if one happens to be a fairly accomplished Web designer and review writer, and single-handedly publishes a successful site known in over a dozen countries. The merits are irrelevant. It still comes down to the words — and only the words — "I," "run," "Star Trek," and "Web site." Because only obsessive nerds do something like that.
Or at least that's the general perception so far as I've ever been able to tell. The thinking goes, if you are a fan of Star Trek, you are probably a social inept who is obsessed with the fictional specifications of warp drive and transporters, and all that other techno-geek stuff, and you probably wear pointy Spock ears and go to conventions and say, "Beam me up, Scotty!"
And, of course, you have not been laid. In a long while, at least.
Yes, there's a dubious stigma that often is attached to being a Trek fan, and it has led me to a pattern of behavior that I can only conclude makes me a Closet Trekkie. I'm a Trek fan, but I'm not forthright about it, except online where presumably you are actively seeking that aspect of my persona. While I don't try to hide it out of some feeling of shame, I also certainly don't detour conversations in the direction of Star Trek, or how much time I have spent writing about it. The way I see it, someone needs to know how cool a person I actually am (or am not) before they find out I'm one of those Trekker dorks. A social balance must be struck that puts me in your favor before the Trekkie factor brings me down a couple of coolness notches. Because if you're not a Trek fan, or a review writer, or a Web designer, or my parents, you probably won't understand at first. And so then to you I'm a poor, lamentable loser. Okay, maybe that's overstating the case, but you see what I'm getting at.
November 1994. It was nearing the end of my first semester of college. Since arriving on campus a few months earlier, I had been introduced to the wonders of the Internet, which at the time was still not quite a mainstream communications tool, although it would be very soon. The graphical Web browser was brand-new (Mosaic, developed right on my college campus by the University of Illinois' NCSA, no less!) and had not yet gone wide. I had discovered the text-based Usenet for the first time, and found some Star Trek-related newsgroups, where spoilers of Star Trek: Generations — the much-hyped jump of the TNG cast from the television to the movie screen — were being discussed. Kirk dies in Generations! Holy crap!
I went home the weekend of the premiere of Generations, which I'd been anticipating for months. I went to the movie with my parents — decades-long Trekkers themselves — and my sister (who then was in ninth grade; my, how time flies), but at the movie theater I ran into some old friends from high school who were also home that weekend, and I ended up sitting with them.
And there, in the theater, was a damn Klingon.
Now, this was opening weekend, but this was also Bloomington, Illinois, with a movie theater chain that can barely frame the picture correctly, let alone spend the money to hire some guy to dress up and greet people at the box office. No, this guy was in the screening room, and he was a fellow moviegoer and fan, who, on his own initiative, had decided he was going to the premiere of Star Trek: Generations dressed as a Klingon, right down to the ridged forehead.
"Yeah, there are going to be some losers here tonight," said one of my friends, in equal parts humor and genuine sincerity.
I remember feeling embarrassed for the guy, but at the same time feeling that any ridicule was rightly deserved. The thing about that, though, is that he probably would've been okay accepting any ridicule, because he was clearly comfortable in his role. It was all in the spirit of fun, and he didn't mind being a Klingon. He wasn't a Closet Trekkie. (I had just started writing Trek reviews a few months earlier, so perhaps I was exhibiting a defensive mindset.)
One of the funniest comedy sketches I've seen was on Conan O'Brien when Triumph the Insult Comic Dog went to the premiere of Star Wars: Episode II and took scathing potshots at the fans waiting in line. ("You want to hear some spoilers? I've got a spoiler for you: You will die alone!") It was absolutely hilarious, and yet I was so glad I wasn't the target. Sure, it was all in jokey fun, but there was a part of me that cringed in embarrassment for some of those people. I felt good knowing that I could never be that particular target — because I know better than to go to a premiere of a movie dressed as one of the characters.
I certainly knew better than that Klingon dude.
During my time in the English Department at the University of Illinois' College of Liberal Arts and Sciences — and probably still today — all English majors were required to take English 300: Writing About Literature. This course, a three-credit-hour discussion class for upperclassmen, was offered in numerous sections, about 30 students per section, with a wide variety of topics in terms of literature, period, and form — everything from Shakespeare to contemporary American novels to 18th-century English poetry.
The class came implied as being one of the defining classes for English majors — not necessarily the hardest or most comprehensive, but certainly a class heavy on writing, reading, analytical thinking, and research. Hence the 300-level designation (which seemed even more significant because it was exactly round to the figure of 300) and the title, "Writing About Literature." It was a course you specifically had to complete to graduate.
As I flipped through the course catalog in the spring of 1997, I saw that all class requirements included several short papers in addition to a major research paper to the tune of 15-20 pages.
I never was much of a fan of the word "research." Writing didn't bother me (obviously); it was the hunting through card catalogs and scouring books for quotes that always made me vaguely queasy. (Research is probably a different beast in high schools and on college campuses these days. Is there even such thing as a physical card catalog anymore, or have all libraries gone electronic? It is probably a bad sign that I do not know, having not set foot in a library for quite some time.)
As I scanned the course catalog for a topic that piqued my interest, section T1 caught my eye:
ENGL 300 T1. WRITING ABOUT LITERATURE, Carringer. TUTH 3:30-5:30. TOPIC: Film Adaptation. We will use adaptation as a mechanism for rethinking, comparatively, the nature of the film medium. Adaptation is meant in the broadest sense, not just as literature into film, but also including such categories as film remakes and sequels and films adapted into literature. Sample topics in each category: the film industry's recent rediscovery of literary classics, especially Jane Austen; A bout de souffle and Breathless; Terminator and Terminator 2; Arthur C. Clarke's "novelization" of 2001. And a richly suggestive byway: writers adapting their own works (Didion, Nabokov, Richard Wright). In addition to substantial reading and screening lists, the work of the class will include: short papers; extensive discussion of your writing both in the classroom and on computer bulletin boards; a long paper on a case study of an adaptation selected by the individual student; and a final examination.
The instructor was one Professor Robert Carringer, from whom I had taken (and enjoyed) a previous film class, English 273, two years earlier and gotten what I considered an easy A. I had a good feeling about the new course, and having written plenty about film (and, more frequently, about Star Trek), I had a good feeling I could ace this class.
I went directly to my computer, logged into my UI Direct student account and registered for Section T1 of English 300.
That fall, it turned out to easily be one of my favorite classes. We read novels, screened film adaptations, and wrote papers. For me, it came naturally. It wasn't like college coursework but more like ... well, writing reviews. It was work, but work that felt like play. I did one of my short papers on The Shawshank Redemption, which, by the way, is a very faithful adaptation of Stephen King's novella in its themes and tone.
Coming up, however, was the long paper, for which I had to come up with a topic. In discussion, Professor Carringer recommended that all students stop by during his office hours and discuss topic ideas. I was toying with the idea of writing about Kenneth Branagh's 1996 adaptation of Hamlet, which, as it happens, I was also researching for a project in my Shakespeare class. My brain started thinking in terms of laziness: Could I do the research once and write a paper for each class? Perhaps even write one paper and turn it in to both classes? That wouldn't be unethical, would it? After all, it's all my work, and I'd tailor the paper for each class...
I also toyed — even more briefly — with the topic of Star Trek. Yeah, there's a ton of adapted material on that. Books, television, film, games. Maybe I should go there. Nah. Too pop-culture-y; not academic enough.
About this time, a Web site featuring "Jammer's Reviews," which had been around for well over two years, was becoming a larger and larger beast of its own, running on the university's free student Web space. (To this day I still find it amazing that they never hassled me over bandwidth issues.)
One afternoon, I went in to discuss with Professor Carringer my idea for a paper on the Hamlet adaptation.
"You know," he said, "I found a site on the Web the other day. I was visitor No. 47,329."
Then, sitting at his computer, he pulled up my site on the Web. He didn't explain exactly how he'd found my site, but it would've been easy if he'd done a simple search of my name on the campus computer system. (Maybe having been in two of his classes and having done well, he was investigating my extra-curricular activities.) I told him briefly what the intent of the site was, played it down, said that it was my hobby on the side that I tended to keep on the down-low, and then started in on my idea for Hamlet.
"But why don't you do it on this?" he asked, pointing at my site on his computer screen. "Or is this hitting too close to home?"
Maybe it was that exactly. Too close to home. (Even then I was a Closet Trekkie.) But I had also avoided writing about Trek in broader social terms. The one thing I always hated about studying English literature — poetry in particular — was the subjective (read: bogus) analysis of works free of a historical context. I can't tell you how many discussions I sat through, while listening to other students interpret something's meaning as if they'd just pulled the idea from thin air.
But then again, the Trek canon has a history with substance, and I could keep the analysis on track with specific evidence. My mind started churning away almost instantly.
So it was settled. My definitive English paper for my core English course in my English degree from the University of Illinois was going to about ... Star Trek.
My research was done before I had even started. All I had to do was think back, fact-check, and properly attribute. This paper was going to be so painless it ought to have been a crime.
Several weeks later, on the due date, I walked into class with my completed paper, "Four Series and the Star Trek Ideology" — which, of course, I had written no sooner than in the 48 hours previous to that class period, procrastinator that I was.
Before turning in our papers, for class discussion we all took turns explaining to the rest of the class the adaptation project we had tackled. When it came to my turn, I briefly encapsulated my theories on Trek in terms of broad media adaptation and humanistic theme.
And then Carringer said, "Are you going to reveal your secret?"
I could feel myself tensing slightly, before explaining to a classroom full of my peers that, yes, I run a Web site where, yes, I review every single new episode of Star Trek. Carringer went on to say that he was hit No. 47,329 on the Web site's hit counter.
"Dude, you should find a way to make some money off that," said one guy in the class.
I am currently making no money off this.
But I got an A+ in that class. It's the only A+ I ever got in nine semesters of college.
I should look up Professor Carringer. I really ought to catch up with him.
One of my co-editors at The Daily Illini turned out to be a Star Trek fan. I didn't know this for quite some time, for the simple reason that the topic never came up, and I never went out of my way to bring it up (are you seeing a pattern here?).
His name was Wade. (Not the same guy as my good friend Wade, who I've known since high school.) Good guy. He was in charge of the news enterprise department, which dealt with in-depth stories, and one of the most substantive news pieces I wrote was for him. It was a vaguely ominous three-part investigative study looking at Y2K and what the university was doing to prepare for possible computer malfunctions. "Fifteen months and counting" was the headline for part one. Which is amusing in retrospect, considering how much of a non-issue Y2K turned out to be.
Anyway, somehow my "secret" (which it was not; it was just a fact that needed a relevant context to be discussed) came up, and Wade explained his interest in Star Trek, and thought my Web site was way cool.
We had even planned to go see Star Trek: Insurrection when it came out in theaters later that December. Those plans fell through when he disappeared off the face of the planet, which I heard from another of my coworkers was on the account that he met some woman and was spending all of his time with her. (I submit that as Exhibit A that Star Trek fans do have normal lives, despite suggestion to the contrary.)
It turns out that Wade wasn't coming back to the newspaper or the university the following semester. (Neither was I, but that was already well known, because I was graduating.) He apparently was spending a semester in some other research program, or studying abroad, or something with the military — I can't remember, to be honest. But I never saw Wade again.
One day that following January, no longer living on campus and with my undergraduate days officially behind me, I got an e-mail from Wade, wherever he was at the time ... and he proceeded to commit the cardinal Trekkie sin: He e-mailed me not to catch up as friends or let me know how he was doing, but to ask me, the apparent expert, a technical question about Star Trek. You know, one of those pointless questions relating to transporters or warp coils or something else equally forgettable and stupid.
I chided him good-naturedly: "Oh, come on! I can't believe you e-mailed me only to ask a tech question! So, what are you up to?"
Irrelevant tech questions, of course, are at the very core of Trek geekdom and the punch line to all the jokes. By extension, this is one of the big things that made me a Closet Trekkie in the first place. Because when people find out I run a Star Trek web site, they sometimes start asking questions like this.
My advice: Just Say No.
In the summer of 1996, I went on a weekend family vacation to Kings Island near Cincinnati, Ohio. I recommend Kings Island if you like roller-coaster-based amusement parks, although I haven't been back to the park in the nearly eight years since that visit.
We stayed in a hotel during that trip and ate most of our meals at nearby restaurants, and on at least two occasions we ended up eating at a place I had not previously heard of, called Fazoli's, which is a fast-food chain that serves highly Americanized Italian food, fast. (This will become relevant in a moment, but only vaguely. I felt like adding extraneous detail, because, as a writer with no editor, that's my right.)
In 2000, my parents took a trip to Las Vegas. When they returned from their getaway, they brought back with them your typical vacation souvenir fare. Included for me was a T-shirt from Star Trek: The Experience at the Las Vegas Hilton.
As you can probably imagine, Closet Trekkie that I am, I do not wear this T-shirt in public. Not ever, if I can help it. Maybe on laundry day, but if I'm doing laundry then I'm probably not out in public.
Allow me another digression to tell you a story about my own experience with Star Trek: The Experience. In March 2001, I went to Vegas and, of course, felt the eventual need to see the Star Trek exhibit. It's the kind of exhibit likely only to interest true fans. It had lots of old costumes and props from the various shows, a Trek timeline, a big model of the Enterprise-D hanging from the ceiling, a life-sized Borg standing in a glass case, etc. Not exactly compelling. Then there was a simulator ride that exited into a gift shop. Across from the gift shop was a restaurant called "Quark's" that served your typical American restaurant food. A cheeseburger was, surprise, surprise, called a "cheeseborger," and they had drinks with names like the "warp core breach."
For $30 a person it wasn't much (you could spend an entire day at Six Flags for that much), but, hey, it's vacation — which, naturally, is the mindset they're banking on. The simulator wasn't bad — although before you go into the simulator ride, you first watch a "message" from Commander Riker on the bridge viewscreen of the Enterprise-D. This sets up the storyline of the simulator ride. Then live actors in Starfleet uniforms lead you into a big room (with set design to look like the Enterprise) and line you up at one of several doors that enter the various simulator rooms. While waiting, the actors perform their little routine that interacts with the pre-recorded dialog coming out of the speakers. Jammer's verdict for the Experience as it was in 2001:
We went through the simulator ride twice. On the second time, there was some sort of technical problem, causing an unexpectedly long delay before the doors to the simulator opened to let us in. The poor actor had to improvise at this point, and there was simply nothing for her to do. She tried to contrive a fictional explanation for us to move from one line to another, having to do with warp fields or some other technobabble, and you could just taste the desperation. There's a point where you realize that all artifice has failed and a performer is simply drowning, hoping for a life raft; she had reached this point and surpassed it, and was still waiting for the doors to open. Finally they did. I salute her. She tried. It was laughable and pitiable, but she deserved an A for effort.
Upon exiting the simulator, I did not buy a T-shirt from the gift shop. After all, I already had one, and I was all too aware exactly how often I actually wore it...
Scene change back to my hometown in 2002, where there is a Fazoli's Italian Restaurant on the east side of town (built in 1999). I was out running a few errands, and I decided to stop for some fast food that might be a little less bad for me than Burger King. Ah, Fazoli's sounds good — although Dr. Atkins and all the other low-carb preachers out there might have to dispute the wisdom of pasta and breadsticks.
Here's my thought process from earlier that day as I was getting dressed:
Hmmm, getting low on fresh clothes. I guess I've been going to the bars too often, because too many of my clothes smell like smoke. Ah, I think I'll wear this. Yes, my black Star Trek: The Experience souvenir T-shirt is clean. I'll wear it under this Tommy Jeans shirt. It's a little chilly out there, but not that cool; I'll wear the Tommy shirt like a jacket, without zipping it up. Underneath it, the T-shirt will hardly be noticeable.
I stepped up to the counter at Fazoli's to place my order.
"Hey! Star Trek!" said the guy behind the counter, who looked to be in his early 20s. "Have you ever been to one of those conventions?"
"Nah," I said, trying to ignore the comment. "I'll have the baked spaghetti parmesan and a medium Coke."
"You know, I really liked The Next Generation, especially that one where..."
I think he said something else, but I don't remember what, because by now I had tuned him out. The guy had crossed the line of normalcy into the land of geekdom, and I simply didn't want to be there. Not then.
The first rule of Trek Club is, you do not talk about Trek Club.
The second rule of Trek Club is, you do not talk about Trek Club.
When you see another Trekker in the real world outside of Trek Club, you don't acknowledge him, because even if you did you wouldn't be talking to the same person.
Maybe I'm a jerk, or maybe it's one of my general rules — but after writing reviews about Star Trek, I don't feel a need to discuss Trek to some guy behind a counter, from whom all I want is my baked spaghetti parmesan and a freakin' Coke.
I have not worn my Star Trek: The Experience T-shirt outside the walls of my home since that day. I hope my parents understand that it's not because I don't like it.
You know what makes writing Trek reviews go from geekish to acceptable? Getting paid for it. There was a brief time — for about four months at the end of 2000 — where SPACE.com paid me to publish my reviews on their site. It was the Holy Grail of freelance jobs, because I was already doing the work. Literally, all I had to do to get paid was include an extra e-mail address in the "To" field when I sent out my reviews. That was a sweet job — too good to be true, as I correctly believed.
Also, as an added bonus, I suddenly found I could emerge from the Trekker closet. It was okay to be more up-front about my writing, because there was a paycheck involved. I even envisioned a bar conversation between myself and a tall, attractive brunette:
"So, Jamahl, what do you do?"
"I'm a Web designer."
"Really? Sounds interesting." (lying)
"It's not bad. I also write detailed episode reviews of Star Trek: Voyager and Gene Roddenberry's Andromeda."
"Uh, I see..."
"But it's okay, because I get paid for it."
"So, how did you end up doing that?"
"I, uh — I posted them on the Internet for six years until a correspondent of mine recommended me to one of his former associates who offered me the freelance gig."
"So ... you did it for all those years for free?"
"Uh ... yeah."
"Excuse me, I need to find my friends. But I'll be back."
Well, I guess that didn't work as well as I thought. Time to buy a beer.
SPACE.com subsequently shuttered their sci-fi department and no longer needed the services of a number of freelancers, myself included.
But for a time, I didn't have to be a Closet Trekkie, because I was a Trekkie in someone else's employ. Which is acceptable to the masses. Money is always acceptable to the masses.
At first, I thought if anything was going to officially "out" me from the Trekkie closet, it was going to be my quote in TV Guide magazine. The premise of the article was whether Enterprise could be saved, and the TV Guide reporter had gathered opinions from several noted Webmasters of independent Star Trek-related sites.
But as the March 1, 2003, issue approached release, I began to realize that, no, this may not "out" me after all, because the only people who would be reading a TV Guide article about Enterprise were presumably people with at least a passing interest in Star Trek. So I was basically safe.
Naturally, I'd already told all my friends and family members about it; it is a national publication, after all. And as much as I may sometimes be in the closet about my Trek habits, this was one of those rare occasions where I had something relevant enough to say that I could actually steer a conversation in that direction. But I still didn't need all my coworkers at the newspaper to know about it (lest I get bombarded with questions about fictional technology), so I exercised a certain amount of discretion.
Finally, the magazine issue hit the newsstands. A day or two later, Terry Greenberg, the editor of the paper, came to my desk and asked if that was me quoted in TV Guide. Yes, I told him, it was.
"I sort of figured," he replied. "After all, how many Jamahl Epsicokhans can there actually be out there?" (For the record, I'd personally be stunned to learn that there was even one more, anywhere. Which brings up an interesting truth: I could never actually stay obscured in the Trekkie closet from anyone who knows my name and knows how to use an Internet search. But, then, if they're looking, there's no need for me to have to worry about hiding, since they're the one taking the action.)
Terry found my Star Trek activities somewhat fascinating. He was an old-school Trek fan. His favorite of the Trek movies was Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan. Naturally. That's virtually everybody's favorite Trek film if they were born before 1980, and especially if they were born before 1965.
But Terry also had a surprising amount of respect for Deep Space Nine, which, despite being the best of the Star Trek series, is constantly overlooked by many people. So, props to him.
"How would you like to be the subject of my next column?" he asked.
Terry had a column that ran every Sunday — sort of a general column to the readers, written in first person by the editor, him, discussing general issues of reader feedback to our newspaper (you know, things like, "Why did you publish that photo of the victims' grieving family at the graveside?"). Sometimes he would write about whatever stray topic came to mind. And now he wanted me to be the subject because of our shared Trekkian interest.
Why not, I thought. This will be my official coming-out event. It's not like it was my idea, so I have an excuse.
When I had a few free minutes the next day, I stopped by Terry's office and did the interview. I made it a point while I was there to make sure I addressed certain issues, which by now should seem familiar. At the risk of sounding like I'm repeating myself, I'll quote from the end of Terry's column, which ran on Sunday, March 9:
Jamahl will continue with his hobby for now — but he makes it clear he's not one of those obsessed "Trek" fans who attend conventions in Spock costumes with fake pointy ears. "Being a 'Star Trek' fan can be a dubious label," he said.
It looks a little harsher in print than the way it sounded when I actually said it. In the interview, I said it in an offhanded way, with kind of a laugh. Oh well. The column was met with little fanfare (although my Mom thought it was really cool), aside from a few people coming up to me at work and saying, "Hey — Star Trek guy!" And Terry, who could relate, couldn't help but every once in a while let out a Kirk howl of "KHAAAAAAAN!" when he passed by my desk.
Anyway, a few weeks later, while the fact that I was Star Trek Guy was still fresh in people's minds, our paper's resident light humor columnist, Bill Flick, who appears three times a week in our features section, stopped me as I passed by his cubicle. He had a Star Trek-related question. I'm of course happy to answer these questions whenever possible, so long as they are not about fictional technology.
"What's the name of that one guy on Star Trek, on the original series?" he asked. "I think he's an Asian guy? His name is — Zulu or something."
"Oh, you mean Sulu?" I said.
"Yeah. Him. What's his job on the ship?"
I had to think for a brief moment, and then said, "He's the navigator. Out of curiosity, why do you ask?"
"Well, apparently, in Iraq they're using something they've named 'Sulu Time' as a standardized time to avoid confusion between the time zones."
I honestly had not heard anything about that.
I shrugged and said to him, "Hmmm. I honestly had not heard anything about that."
Quoting from Flick's column that ran on Sunday, April 6:
Star Trek fans, another grand tribute is upon you.
We here at Flak Central have been advised via e-mail, by a Central Illinois fighter pilot serving us in the Middle East, of a problem we'd not thought about.
It's the time.
As in, just what time is it?
It can be confusing when it's 0100 hours in Washington, and they're giving orders to jet fighters in Kuwait to strike at 2300 hours, but it's already 0800 hours in Iraq, where life is nine hours ahead.
So, to make time simpler, specially created by the government, has been something they're referring to as Sulu Time which, as we understand it, is five hours ahead of Washington but four hours behind Baghdad but makes time uniform ... so to speak.
That title for it? It's after Sulu, the original Star Trek Enterprise pilot.
Everyone in Washington, we're told, has reset their watches to Sulu time, including apparently President Bush.
Finally, he's ahead of his time.
Now quoting from his column that ran on Tuesday, April 8:
Finally, an apology for bit of misinformation or our own gullibility in our Sunday column. Zulu Time is military time, not Sulu Time, and is actually based upon Greenwich Mean Time. Our regrets for the mistake.
If I'd had any clue about this, I'd have said something. I'm not a military person, and I'd never heard Zulu Time mentioned in the media. (Of course, I certainly hadn't heard of "Sulu Time," either.)
I absolve myself of the entire situation.
I have a good friend named Andy. He owns the entire collection of Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS videocassette. He joined one of those Columbia House programs where you get the tapes sent to you over time. (A very long time: He joined in the mid-1990s and only within the past year or two finally finished the program. It took at least half a decade for him to get the entire collection mailed to him.)
It's too bad for him that DVDs didn't exist when he started his collection. Whereas now you can buy the entire run of TNG in seven DVD box sets, on VHS you end up with two episodes per tape, leaving you with somewhere in the neighborhood of 90 tapes.
So, then, where do you put 90 Star Trek: TNG videotapes? Sitting out on shelves, naturally.
There was a time that Andy felt it a point of pride to have his entire collection visible for people visiting his apartment to see. After all, when you pay something approaching $1,000 for a video collection, it's only natural that you would want to show it off.
Then someone — a female friend of ours, or maybe one of his sisters — informed Andy that maybe he shouldn't have the Star Trek tapes out for all to see. Or at least, not so many of them. It might be perceived as a social demerit.
The important fact here is that the person making this suggestion was a woman, and the buried implication in her suggestion was that, y'know, having Star Trek tapes sitting out at your apartment could be a point against you in a dating situation. Most girls just aren't all about the Star Trek. And, God knows, first impressions — or apartment visits — are crucial.
For the same reasons, whenever I had a woman over at my apartment, I'd always feel this bizarre need — in humorous, offhanded, self-deprecating fashion — to explain away the Star Trek: First Contact movie poster that was on my living room wall. It was a birthday gift from my parents back in 1997, but I got tired of explaining it, and realized that it was easier just to take it down. My apartment needed redecorating anyway. I'm too old for that stuff.
(Factoid: Per the advice given to him, Andy ultimately moved a lot of his TNG tapes into cabinets with closed doors. Not too long afterward, he moved into a house with his girlfriend. Coincidence? I think not.)
Andy and I have had many a conversation over many a beer about this social phenomenon, and, indeed, the very concept of a Closet Trekkie. We have concluded that we like Star Trek and are into it perhaps more than the average viewer, but we aren't social misfits about it, and don't want to be lumped into the same group that gave rise to the famous William Shatner "Get a Life" sketch on Saturday Night Live. Does that make us self-hating Trekkers? Not at all. We're just discreet about it. We do not wear it on our sleeves or volunteer it needlessly. Because that leads only to ridicule in the mainstream world we live in. Or something.
On Super Bowl Sunday 2004, I organized a small get-together with a number of my friends (about half female and half male, if you want the demographic breakdown). I have a fairly good-sized DVD collection, which is clearly visible on a big open cabinet in my living room. While the game was in its uneventful first quarter, one of the girls was eyeing my DVDs from a little ways across the room.
"What's that 1-2-3-4-5-6-7?" she asked, unable to make out the words above the large printed numbers.
"Oh, those are Deep Space Nine box sets," I said. For some reason, I didn't feel a need to actually preface it with the words "Star Trek."
"It's Star Trek," Andy clarified.
I wonder why he made the clarification. It was as if he wanted to make sure my geekdom did not go unexposed, perhaps my price for not putting the boxes out of sight in cabinets with closed doors. Not that I cared.
But I wonder why I subconsciously took the vaguer route of not including the words "Star Trek" in my answer to her question. Maybe because it was faster to simply say "Deep Space Nine." Maybe because I take a certain pride in DS9 as the lesser-known, superior Trek and I wanted to stress it specifically rather than use the more generic term, Star Trek.
Or maybe it's because I'm a hopeless closet case that still balks at uttering the words Star Trek in a social setting.
I think I need help.