An Open Letter to Leonard Nimoy

The following story was performed live for Flying Monkey Arts Theatre on August 26, 2017. The theme for the evening was “Umbraphiles”. 

Dear Mr. Nimoy,

I wish that I had written you when you were alive, but I finally felt it time to clarify an event that happened on Labor Day weekend, 2009 in Atlanta.

I know how it must have looked, but I swear that I’m not a rabid fan. You see, I didn’t even appreciate your work until I was an adult. In fact, I resented you for a long time. It had nothing to do with you per say, but more your most famous character, Mr. Spock.

Mr. Nimoy, I grew up a Star Wars fan. I’d like to say that I was a Han Solo type, good with a blaster, could hold my liquor and was charming with the princesses, but in reality, I was a flop-haired, whiny farm boy. I grew up in the country, watered coon hounds from reused pickle barrels and shoveled cow manure for spending money. Yes, I was a real Luke Skywalker and not the cool grizzled, close mouthed one we’ve seen in The Force Awakens. No shots lined up at the cantina for me, only Aunt Beru’s blue milk.

Of course, at the time I was unaware of the stigma of young Luke. I was in love with the romance, the idea of knights, aliens, fast ships and light sabers. What’s that? Why am I rambling to you about Star Wars? I’m getting to it.

Unlike today, Star Wars could not be found everywhere, but guess what could be found… Star Trek. There were reruns of your show that I watched, but it was the equivalent of getting cube steak when what you really crave is a bacon wrapped filet mignon. I did however like the new show, it was… good. And this Jean Luc guy was like an Atticus Finch in space, but with agency. Pre “Go Set a Watchmen” Atticus of course. Luckily you passed before that revelation.

In my youth, Star Trek and Star Wars were very different religions. Think classic ideological beefs like Southern Baptists vs. Catholics, Leah Remini vs Tom Cruise or Westboro Baptist Church vs… everyone. There is no reason that a mutual love cannot exist between these fandoms, but the older zealous population, my uncle included, tried to brainwash the young by indoctrination.

My point is this, in my heart I was Rebel Alliance. So, when I was in the hallways of my 9th grade school, surviving socially on a thread, I was mortified when one of the high school juniors called out, “Hey, Spock! You dropped your keys” due to the fact that my house keys slipped through an open hole in my jeans pocket and the fact that when I was 14, had a bowl cut which made it easy for others to identify me as your illegitimate son.

This was enough to make any teenager with aspirations of climbing the social ladder cringe and at the same time resent you, my doppelgänger dad.

But Mr. Nimoy, our journey together is not over. Years later, my appreciation for Star Wars and all things George Lucas began to wane. I started devouring more media than what my younger self would have prescribed. Doctor Who, Firefly, Next Gen, BSG, Douglas Adams, Vonnegut, Philip K. Dick and yes, even your show, the original Star Trek.

Wouldn’t you know it, I fell in love. I was unashamed. And then, you were back in the public eye in a way that I’m sure you hadn’t been in many years. Your cameo in J.J. Abrams Star Trek reboot was charming and grounded the entire Kelvin timeline. To boot, thanks to a Terry Gross interview, I learned that you were an artist. A real artist, not a Jim Carey with a swinging harness and a paint brush, but a very talented photographer. Your photos of full-bodied nude women poised as objects of desire, lust and beauty was eye opening, empowering, subversive and thoughtful.

Anyway Mr. Nimoy, to the point at hand. It was 2009. My friend Jason and I had press passes for a small, now defunct, paper in Atlanta and had been assigned to photograph Dragon Con, the largest fan-run science fiction convention in the nation. We now had access to officially photograph as many B-celebrities as we could stand or if we’re being honest, recognize.

The day of the con, I found out that you and actors of your cult standing were highly sought out and heavily guarded. My friends said it couldn’t be done with our small credentials, but by the end of the afternoon I had convinced your handler to let us snap a photograph of you. I was elated. You see, in my heart I was a collector and getting a photograph of you with my camera was akin to scoring rare collectible Topps card, you know, the kind that came wrapped in wax paper with the brittle bubble gum paddle.

Hours later, as I bent over my camera bag, making sure that everything was in order, your handler gave the signal that it was time and waved me over, but my back was turned. The wave was meant for me. I was the one who spoke to your handler. I was the one who waited patiently near the kiosk while the other photographers and small-time journalist shot photos of the parade and the likes of lesser celebrities. I looked up and saw the rush of other photographers who had been standing with me seize their chance. I couldn’t believe this. I hurried over to the huddled mass of cameras and nudged my way through the other photographers just as your right arm left William Shatner’s shoulder, right as your smile faded from your face. Your face. I’ll never forget it. From warm and collegial to hard and severe in less than it takes to go from full impulse power to warp factor 7. You looked up, made eye contact with me and I can only assume at this moment that you thought that I was an ordinary fan who had not earned the right to photograph you and that I was riding the tailcoats of these professionals who had.

You then turned to your business manager and said WHO’S THIS, but all that I heard in my head was WHO THE FUCK IS THIS GUY?

In that moment, as my hopes fell, an almost involuntary decision was made. My arms raised and my camera went CLICK.

I slumped away feeling genuinely down on myself that I had upset you and that your impression of me was that of a crazed fan. And what was worse, I knew my photo was inferior to that of my peers. It took at least a day and a return trip home for me get out of my own head and realize that although I would never forget the interaction, that you would never remember it. And that’s the crux. It’s a fantasy. In the end, maybe all fantasies about meeting celebrities is about becoming personal friends with them. I can see how this is intoxicating and to others dangerous and I’m glad that meeting you broke me of that.

As mentioned earlier, I’m a collector and what I didn’t realize was that you gave me a rare gift that day. After Dragon Con, my friend, the other photographers and I shared our photos of you with your arm around William Shatner. There you were, Leonard Nimoy, smiling over and over