Jim Strait isn't one of those whacked-out Star Trek fans. He doesn't have a roomful of memorabilia from his favorite TV show; he doesn't have a secret Klingon name; he doesn't show up at my house in a Starship Enterprise crew shirt. Okay, so he does bring with him a videotape of a Star Trek episode, but that's because I've never seen the show before, and Strait is there to, well, set me straight about the joys of the best sci-fi show ever. While we watch that Star Trek episode, Strait tells me about the Trekkie club he belongs to, and fills me in on Leonard Nimoy's eyebrows, the Star Trek convention coming to Phoenix this weekend, and the kinky fans who want Kirk and Spock to be more than just friends.
New Times: Okay. Why Star Trek?
Jim Strait: For a lot of years, science fiction was kind of a downer -- stories about people who were going out into space to walk on the moon, battle some asteroid fields and some monsters, and that's about it. This show had a nicer attitude; it's not about a repressed society, but one that's eliminated war and prejudice, where time is almost nonexistent, and we're out in space discovering other worlds.
NT: (Pointing to TV screen.) What's with Leonard Nimoy's eyebrows?
Strait: Mr. Spock is half human and half Vulcan. His eyebrows weren't always that extreme; this is a very early episode, actually one of the pilots for the show. They toned down his eyebrows in later shows. His ears remained pointed.
NT: Me, I'm more of a Lost in Space fan. In Star Trek, you just don't have that interaction that you get with Dr. Smith and the Robot. So, do you collect Star Trek stuff -- action figures and limited-edition hand-painted collector plates?
Strait: No, but I'm probably an exception. I appreciate the [memorabilia], but once you start buying it, you have to find a place to store it. And a lot of the things that they're selling aren't necessarily accurate. It's not like in the early days of Star Trek fandom, when the licensing was a little tighter. Back then, there was a store in New York called the Federation Trading Post that sold hand-carved phasers, which is the gun they used in the series, and really authentic-looking communicators, which are like a walkie-talkie. Today they just put the show's logo on an electric razor, or whatever, and they call it Star Trek memorabilia. I'm not interested.
NT: So you belong to a Star Trek fan club.
Strait: We meet every two weeks, usually on Saturdays. Our club was formed in 1975, which probably makes us the second-oldest club in the country. We've lasted longer than others because our club has so much variety to it. We don't sit down and recite trivia or just talk about continuity errors in Star Trek.
NT: What do you do?
Strait: Well, we talk about all kinds of things. Like there was a TV show called Babylon Five, and we would talk about that sometimes.
NT: Do you dress up?
Strait: I understand they used to, at the very beginning. But our club is more relaxed now. There are other clubs that are recreation clubs, where they all have uniforms and ranks. It's like a junior ROTC group. We have a club tee shirt, but you're not required to wear it. We change out our logo from time to time, to stay current with the different Star Trek series.
NT: (Pointing at TV.) Wow. Look at that. That guy has silver eyes.
Strait: You're kind of missing out by not watching this episode more closely. Maybe we should talk after the show is over. There's quite a bit going on here.
NT: That's okay. Who's the guy with the purse over on the right?
Strait: That's the ship doctor.
NT: I thought the doctor was a Scotsman.
Strait: The Scottish guy you're thinking of is Scotty, the ship's engineer. The person you mean is Dr. McCoy, and he was put into the series later on. He and Captain Kirk and Mr. Spock were the primary characters, and a lot of the popularity of the show is because of the nature of the interaction among those three characters.
NT: What's with William Shatner? Why is he such a hambone?
Strait: His mannerisms are sort of overexaggerated, I guess. I think it's sort of the nature of his acting style. The original producer, Gene Roddenberry, had the idea of having Shatner re-create the character of Horatio Hornblower in a science-fiction setting -- the youngest captain going out, taking charge of his mission. Roddenberry wanted to use the series to make commentary on the times, and to retell stories that would be forbidden at the time on anything other than a kids' show, set in space.
NT: So you were telling me about your fan club. Do you have officers, and elections?
Strait: I'm the phone and e-mail contact person. We have a club historian who keeps track of old news clippings, and the standard officers: president, vice president, treasurer. We gave them Star Trek names -- Captain, First Officer, Communications Officer. When it was determined that the First Officer wasn't doing his fair share a few years ago, we came up with the position of Refreshments Officer, and we purchased an ice chest. His job is to keep it filled with ice, and we all chip in 40 cents for a can of pop, like that. [One of the other] things we do is something called Sci-Fi Jeopardy. It's a science-fiction version of the game show, with audience participation.
NT: That sounds like fun. Is there a lot of infighting?
Strait: It does happen. Generally, we get along with one another fairly well, but there are sometimes different cliques that form. At one time, there was an offshoot of fans that wanted to get more involved in The Rocky Horror Picture Show. They just went off and we didn't really hear from them again.
NT: What a bunch of losers! Hey, I read that your club activities include going to the zoo and a lot of bowling.
Strait: We've found that sitting around reciting Star Trek trivia gets really boring after a while. We're a group of people with similar interests who like exploration, like going to the zoo or going out and doing a model-rocket launch. We used to have horseback riding, too, but the members with the horses left after a while.
NT: I heard about something called slash fiction -- sort of Star Trek porno.
Strait: I was hoping you wouldn't ask me about that. Okay, the history of that is, suppose you're a Star Trek fan, and you collect stuff from the show, and you go to the conventions, and you dress up like the characters on the show, but you still want more. There are fanzines for the show that are filled with story lines made up by fans. None of these are sanctioned. One of these ongoing story lines suggests that Kirk and Spock are more than just friends. I'll tell you that there are conventions devoted to trading just this kind of fan fiction. They're primarily attended by women in their 30s.
NT: I'd rather not think about Leonard Nimoy having sex.
Strait: I understand [these fanzines] include very graphic, hand-drawn illustrations. I saw one once, but I'd rather not comment on it.
NT: I won't press. Now, do you ever get ragged on for being a Trekkie?
Strait: (Long pause.) Sometimes. Most of the people I'm around have the same basic interests. Sometimes, at my homeowners' association meeting, my neighbors will say, "Oh, Jim, you're getting too Star Trekkie." And I always think, "What's too Star Trekkie?" I'm not like some people, who are so into the show that if you try and poke fun at William Shatner, they get very upset.
NT: No way!
Strait: I can sort of understand that, because if you really, really appreciate the show, it can become almost a part of you. You can watch the show over and over again, and still enjoy every minute of it. It's amazing. I went through all the original episodes once to count the number of times that [Dr. McCoy] said, "He's dead, Jim."
NT: I'll bet you're going to the Trekkie convention this month.
Strait: I'll be there. The group that's putting it on uses our club as volunteers.
NT: What's in it for you?
Strait: We're Star Trek fans! We want to promote fandom. We want to be there in case a fan needs information about the show or our club. We're there to make sure that fans are entertained and not disappointed. It kind of bugs me, because I used to think Star Trek fandom was about the show, but lately it seems like the fans that go to the conventions show up to buy autographs and merchandise. They don't want to join clubs; they don't want to sit around and watch the show and talk about it.
NT: They're just silly autograph hounds!
Strait: I've seen most all of the cast members at the conventions. Meeting them isn't a major thing for me, but it's hard for other fans to realize that these people are actors who appeared in a TV show, and they're not necessarily interested in the genre the way we are. Believe it or not, some of the actors know next to nothing about the series, even though they appeared in it.
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NT: Do you ever wish life were more like Star Trek?
Strait: Well, Star Trek is fiction, so it's hard to imagine life being really like that. I do have the desire for our civilization to have the bright future that Star Trek paints. Not so much going toward the stars, but that we'll keep expanding and growing as a people.