In a struggle to be happy and free

Drystone Wall

A funny thing happened in 1977

I still remember seeing Star Wars for the first time. My sister and my brother-in-law took me to the beach that day. As usual, I wanted to go home about an hour after we got there. Despite this, they continued to take me with them when they went and I love them for putting up with my bullshit. My brother-in-law decided that he’d take me after we got back from the beach. My sister warned me that the film started a bit slowly but I might like it anyway.

Later that day, I saw it for myself. I still don’t have a clue what my sister meant about it starting slowly, for goodness sakes! The only negative aspect of the entire experience was that we had one of those people behind us. A guy brought someone with him, much as my brother-in-law brought me. This guy, unlike my brother-in-law, thank god, said, “Oh, watch this scene! It’s so cool!” before every cool scene. I don’t like that kind of thing now, and I didn’t like it when I was ten years old, either.

Despite the peanut gallery behind us, the film was a revelation to me. Sure I watched Star Trek on television, and I liked it just fine, but this … this was something entirely different. Star Wars to made me realize that I was a science-fiction nerd.

It didn’t take long for science fiction in general, and Star Wars in particular, to creep into my preferences and habits. I watched more Star Trek on television. It didn’t have blasters, but Kirk had a pretty cool ship. It would do. Space: 1999 had a delightful European flavour and the coolest ships to ever grace the airwaves. I bought Star Wars cards and relished the single sticker in each pack. Coincidentally, just last month I found a clipboard with a few stickers on the back. I haven’t seen it in at least a decade. Really.

In the meantime, science-fiction came with me to school. I stuck a bunch of Star Wars stickers on my desk. As you’d expect, my teacher was far less excited about it than I was. I was crest-fallen. Not only did I have to make the coolest desk in the class crappy again, but I didn’t think those stickers would be usable again after I removed them. It was worse than that, in fact. I has to scrape them off and there wasn’t anything left of them afterward.

When the first Star Trek movie came out in 1979, I went to see it. I wanted to go so badly that I went by myself. My dad drove me and picked me up when it was over. I remember it was raining. The rain may have actually been the tears of Jesus because rather than being better than the show, it was worse. Much worse. Back to Star Wars I went, though Wrath of Khan more than made up for it a few years later.

The height of my prestige came near the end of grade five. The grade six teacher, Mr. Mancuso, wanted to take me to his grade six class for ten or fifteen minutes. I didn’t like the sound of this one bit because some of those grade sixers were mean. Oh, the stories I could tell you! He told me that he was trying to draw R2-D2 to show his students how, and he just couldn’t get it. He wanted me to come and show them. Me!

So I went. It was like being ushered to the big leagues on a sedan chair … carried by wookies! Damn straight. When I got to the grade six class, I saw Mr. Mancuso’s drawings on the chalk board and it was obvious that he was clearly out of his depth. He got the droid’s cylindrical body right, topped with the dome-shaped head, but that was it. Poor R2’s legs didn’t even reach the ground, and at this point Empire hadn’t been released so we didn’t know he could levitate. It was like R2 had undergone an amputation. See? I told you those sixers were mean. I fixed the drawing and went back to my class. Afterward, there was no happy ending in which the grade six class accepted me. Don’t expect any of that hollywood crap, because it’s not coming.

What happened was Battlestar Galactica came out. Yea, it was obviously derivative, but I didn’t know what that word meant at the time. Glenn Larson is largely a hack, but I was eleven years old. I took a real shining to the Colonial Vipers. Sure X‑Wings were cool, but they looked so damned fragile. The Vipers were compact and bad-ass in comparison.

Back in the grade five doldrums, Miss Campbell gave us an art assignment involving drawing a tree. I can’t remember the specifics, but I knew what I would do … and it would be glorious. Nothing like the drawing I planned had been submitted as an art assignment. That’s quite a boast for a boy in grade five, but it was more true than I could have imagined. As I said, I can’t remember the specifics, but the centrepiece of the drawing we had to create would be a tree. I could do that. I drew a tree right in the centre of the page. It was firmly rooted into the ground at the bottom of the page and the very top of its branches reached perhaps ¾ the way up the page. There weren’t many leaves, but that was by design.

To the left of the tree I painstakingly rendered a beautiful Colonial Viper flying into the scene. To the right of the tree I drew an X‑Wing Fighter flying into the scene. Yea, I know that if they were both entering the scene from opposite directions, they’d collide, but this wasn’t entirely representational. You’d understand if you could see it. Unfortunately, it didn’t survive.

The spacecraft weren’t just flying into the scene. They were shooting … at the tree. As a result, the tree was on fire, which is why there were so few leaves. The flames engulfed the tree and leapt skyward to the top of the page. I was so pleased with my handiwork. You want a tree, Miss Campbell? There’s your tree. But I was going to give her so much more, and she would be so impressed! When I handed it in, I must’ve been grinning like the Cheshire cat, though I didn’t know what that was at the time, either.

But of course you know what happened. I tried to fly too high, and the sun melted my wings. Miss Campbell wasn’t impressed. Not only did I get a very poor mark, but she even included a note on my report card about how I brought science-fiction into just about everything. For goodness sakes, she wrote it like my doing this was a bad thing! Happily, I eventually found balance. The shift started sometime in grade six, when girls stopped being so damned objectionable. It was a tug of war through grades seven and eight. Those girls were increasingly compelling, but Empire had just come out! Fate can be cruel.

By high-school however, things were on their way to working out and when I got to college, I’d struck the correct balance. You might think it took me a very long time to figure it out, but these things take time. As a measure of my success, the people I’ve known only as an adult are surprised at how nerdy I was. I don’t claim to have shed it entirely, (yea, I can hear you giggling) but I get the impression that they not only can’t imagine I was so nerdy, but they can’t imagine anyone could be so nerdy.

We all have our challenges.


Earthquake 2010


Inventions and sinfonias

1 Comment

  1. Debbie

    Well nerdy is much cooler these days than it used to be. Of course that could be wishful thinking on my part.

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