Beam Me Up, Jimmy

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.

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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela