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Saturday, February 28, 2015

I Am Spock (And occassionally Uhura) -- A few thoughts on Leonard Nimoy

A little time traveling.

When I heard of the death of Leonard Nimoy, my reaction was, well, uniquely mine...
My mind went to a kid named Bill and an odd jumble of a  pink house, in a small town in Texas.

Bill you see, was my first boyfriend (at least in my mind he was. Bill may have a different story). I was all of 7 years old.

I can’t remember how I first met Bill. I think perhaps it was the day he was in his back yard, hands on his hips, contemplating a peeling wooden dog house that looked like it was being held together by maybe two nails at the most. I, in my own backyard, ambled over, introduced myself, and somehow we ended up with various cans of rusted old paint and some dried out brushes we found in a shed, and we were giving the little structure a fresh new look.

As one of my first outside art installations, I remember my motif included some nice flowers, which I assume were daisies,  along the side, in multi hues. Not to be negligent,  I also had the idea that the dog should have something nice to look at while in the house as well, and promptly painted some scenes on the inside too.

I don’t remember if the dog house was big, or if I was just small, but yes, there was enough room for me to paint inside.  And in fact, I don’t remember there ever even being a dog, now that I think about it. But that didn’t seem to matter.

We were fast friends.

Our visits house to house became so frequent in fact, that either Bill’s parents or mine—I can’t remember which— put a gate in the chain link fence separating our properties, so neither of us would be climbing it henceforth and ripping holes in our jeans or worse, our legs.

Very convenient this, because we had a lot of work to do.

Bill’s house was a marvel to me. Rocking that paint that was a Pepto-Bismol hue, it was no ordinary house.  It had, what I’d later learn, is called “personality.”

Instead of being a regular square shape like most abodes in the neighborhood, this house was made of wood instead of brick, and was an odd jumble of at least 4 different geometrical shapes, all fitted together without rhyme of reason, and connected with tacked on wooden halls, as if they were arteries going into a four chambered heart.

It was like a fun house had mated with a New Orleans Painted Lady. And I loved it.

Nothing like Pepto Bismol pink!

Recently my brother told me that before Bill’s family, at some point,  the house had been occupied by one Charles B. Pierce, the director and producer of “The Boggy Creek Monster” and the “Town that Dreaded Sundown.”  Two movies,  one documenting our area's local monster, and the other not so lovingly,  our most famous serial killer.

Mr. Pierce must have been quite the eccentric. And I can almost picture some frenzied, coffee-fueled, scriptwriting going on in one of those lego block rooms in some begone day.

Whatever it’s pedigree, the pink house became mine and Bill’s stage for many adventures.

I recall the summer break when we decided  it would be a fine idea to stage a carnival for the neighborhood kids ala Spanky and his gang. I was the artistic director and the Public Relations person. Bill was in charge of sets.  I don’t know how many people actually showed up, but the planning  and building of the attractions was a hoot. And not to forget all those afternoons making new grooves in the yard with that Chitty Chitty Bang Bang go cart that appeared out of nowhere in Bill’s backyard. (Note, these are fun as long as you don't mistake a hot muffler for a handle. And if you do, butter does NOT help.)

There were also melancholy times... for instance when we found a  baby owl near Bill’s front porch, and how we tried to nurse it back to health, it’s large black eyes looking up with a mixture of fear and futility. We failed. I know I cried that day. I think Bill did too. Bill’s Mom gave us icing covered Pop Tarts, which she always seemed to have in great supply. And we gave the owl a little funeral in a small cardboard shoe box. I believe Bill said a few appropriate words.

When I think of Bill, I remember him with dark hair and brown eyes. Wouldn’t it be funny if I was completely wrong.

Memory is an odd thing, the patina of time makes the Polaroids in ones mind fuzzy around the edges.

But I do remember without a doubt  that he, like me, enjoyed monster movies and Godzilla and Tarzan (Johnny only) and “Hogan’s Heroes,” and most of all… “Star Trek.”

There was a time when “Star Trek” was on every afternoon following school, and it became an obsession for Bill and I to dash home to watch it every day, then, of course, run outside to re-enact that afternoon’s scenario, in the large yard studded by evergreen pines around the Pink Lady.

For some reason, unbeknownst to me, Bill always had to play Captain Kirk, which left me with the rest of the cast to choose from. 

Starting out, I took on the challenge of channeling Uhura, being that she was the only consistent women on the show, and a strong female character to boot, so I didn’t mind. (It’s only bothered me a little in hindsight , not that I didn’t like Uhura, but it would have been nice to be the Captain now and then, Bill. And,  no, your name being "Bill" is not a free ticket to ride.)

Even then, we were a great team. Rifling through the toy barn (also painted pink)—that magical shed on the property, full of those rusty cans of paint  that people save “Just in case,” and various pieces of long destroyed toys—looking for objects that could substitute for communicators and ray guns or alien artifacts harboring great and misunderstood power.

One time we thought it would be a good idea to recreate the infamous Kirk/Uhura kiss. After all we’d seen it on TV. Somewhere in the midst of a heated battle with Klingons, Captain Kirk leaned in to kiss me… I mean Uhura… on the cheek, our tender moment interrupted by Mr. Hamilton  shouting “hello kids” from next door. (He, unbeknownst to us, must have been taking a much closer look at our daily antics than we realized. )

It wasn’t long before my acting chops needed a boost however, and I suggested to Bill, that regardless of the fact that I was a girl, that if we used our imaginations, that I could also perhaps play Spock. He was one of my favorite characters after all.

Spock and The Captain.

And thus, the next day, the transformation was made. And I wasted no time perfecting my Vulcan Nerve Pinch and writing it in to the "original lost episodes" that we began to scribe ourselves. Charles B. Pierce would have been proud.

Sometimes it would be Kirk that would rescue Spock, sometimes vice versa, but it was all quite the adventure, taking turns saving each other, you know.

Of course, it did cut down on the kissing scenes.

I have to say that some of my finest acting to date may have been on the stage of our pink house and environs—explaining logic to “Jim” and shooting our ray guns— which may have formerly been parts of a T-Rex— at an onslaught of Romulans. And as for me, I was perfectly happy in my new role of Spock. It seemed…well… logical.

Not everything in life is...

I’m not sure when the last time I saw Bill might have been. It’s lost in my memory, filed away perhaps in the folder entitled “Things I choose not to remember.”  But the end for me seemed to be comprised of  two major events.

The first, probably mostly major to me….We were out playing putt-putt on a bright summer afternoon, and Bill, with his usual theatrics  and joie de vivre, decided to swing the club back like he was really playing golf.  Think: A steel mallet at full force. I had the misfortune of standing behind him and being hit square in the head, opening a huge bloody gash right on my eyebrow.

It’s true what they say about head wounds. They bleed. A lot. 

After leaving behind huge red puddles on the nice new cement of the Putt Putt Golf, a visit to the hospital and numerous stitches, Bill and his Dad came over to our house--a hollow knock on the  garage door. Bill was standing there, so upset, he seemed to have shrunk in size somehow, shoulder's down, apologizing to me. I didn’t really understand why. It was a accident. I knew he felt bad.  His eyes said “I’m sorry I didn’t save you this time” more than the words. 

I  remember mostly his eyes.

For some reason, my mind has erased such moments for  the second event... I remember it as if someone told me about it. Like they were people I didn’t know. But I know that’s not true.

Bill’s Mom worked with my Mom at the local Sears store. My Mom was the bosses secretary at the time (she later worked her way up to personnel manager). I can’t remember what Bill’s Mom did. I do remember that she was sweet and kind. (Note the aforementioned iced Pop Tarts). And she smiled a lot.

My Mom and Bill’s were friends, and met almost every day at the Sear’s coffee shop for their break. The shop was a glass enclosed 1970’s little place on the corner of the building, with Formica tables and colorful plastic chairs, and a grand view of the parking lot.

One day, Mom was running late and didn’t make it to their usual coffee break on time.  A car crashed through the glass window that day, killing Bill’s Mom, as she sat there alone. Just drinking coffee.

She may have been the first person I ever knew who died.

I don’t know how long it was after that, but Bill’s Dad remarried. They sold the old pink house and moved away.

Eventually a lock appeared on the gate between our properties.

I never went there again.


I have thought about all of these things. Most within a few minutes of hearing of Mr. Nimoy’s death. I’m sure too, that your mind took you on a journey as well, also uniquely your own…a journey that made you think what relevance he had in your own life.

I wonder if someone like Mr. Nimoy understood all that?  I mean…how much those characters were a part of our memories. I like to think that he did.  I know he embraced what he had created, at least later on. And that he understood that the character— that ensemble cast, the stories—meant something to a great deal of people.

I love it too, that he created the Vulcan Nerve Pinch because he was tired of staged on-screen fights, and  he also created the “V” symbol that every single one of use who grew up on the show practiced over and over again until we got it.

Admit it, how many of you automatically did that “V” symbol within moments of hearing of his passing! I know you did, and it makes me smile.

Because I did too.

In my current line of work, I've have the great fortune to travel near and far to places that as a child I  could only dream of going. China, Russia, Brazil, Chile...Madison, Wisconsin! To a little girl full of imagination, growing up in a small Texas town, they would all have seemed as equally exotic to me and unattainable...except for the fact that at 7, I had already traveled frequently to the Klingon home planet of Kronos!

In the course of events, I’ve met many of the Star Trek actors, and it always seems surreal. I’m not that affected by actors to tell you the truth, having worked in film production for many years. They are doing a job. Their’s is just on the other side of the camera. But I admit, when William Shatner once told me I looked nice, I was giddy. “That’s Captain Kirk Dammit,” I said in my head. (And maybe out loud too. I can’t remember.)

While I was at some shows with Nimoy in recent years, I regret that I never really got a chance to talk to him much. (I guess I'm still shy by nature.) My impression is that he was a class act, and true professional, and a supporter of many causes that I also believe in, as well

I think you can see the essence in his character by the fact that he  took the high road and remained friends with all his Star Trek co-stars during times when many of them were squabbling with  each other and didn’t talk for years.  

The more I read about him and his career just makes me like him more:


So, here’s to you Mr. Nimoy for the inspiration, the joy, and whatever that secret ingredient was that you guys added that made us want to be you.

And for the hint, dare I say hope, via your show— which really was positive— that perhaps nobility and friendship are things that will always exist.

"Kirk: I want you to know why I couldn't let you die... why I went back for you..."
Spock: Because you are my friend."

That maybe as you said in an 1986 interview that it gives us the ideas that “mankind is humane and will do the right thing eventually to each other and to others…. And we all like the idea that there are great mysteries still to be explored.”

Your last post on Twitter, February 23rd  was a brief and beautiful statement, and it was a summation of my own mind meanderings today, I suppose:

“A life is like a garden. Perfect moments can be had, but not preserved, except in memory. LLAP”

 I know...

When I’m home at my Mom’s in Texas, I sometimes sit in my Dad’s old chair by the backyard window— the chair he used each night when he was alive, and I look through the trees towards the old pink house— still there, still painted like Pepto-Bismol, but needing a new coat… or perhaps some nice daisies along the sides…if only one could find a few squirreled away rusty cans of paint and a young soul or two to do it…and I still see imprinted on that canvas what use to be. 

And I find myself reaching up without realizing , to touch the “putt putt” scar, hidden by my brow.

Then...  I remember Bill and I remember “Star Trek,” and I  see an 8 year old Captain Kirk and a not so logical Spock, boldly setting out to change the world . Not really knowing at that point what the world even was.

Yet on our little plot of soil, turned into a vast universe in our imaginations, it somehow seemed…well… limitless. And you know what, Mr. Spock, as illogical as it might be, thanks in part to you,  I still feel the same.


— R. Witterstaetter
Somewhere in Costa Rica
March, 2015

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