An Open Letter to Leonard Nimoy

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

Everyone Loves a  Ventriloquist

Everyone Loves a Ventriloquist

The following story was performed live for Stories Under the Stars at Burritt on the Mountain on July 27, 2017. The theme for the evening was “When Disaster Strikes”. All stories were presented by Out Loud HSV

Photo by Mike Matthews.

Imagine, a poorly disguised King Saul seeks anonymous consult with the Witches of Endor about an upcoming battle. The last necromancer and magician had mysteriously “disappeared” from the kingdom when their powers fell short. You see, soothsaying does not work on demand. Recognizing Saul through his make-up, one of the witches improvises by grabbing the closest inanimate object (which happened to be the wine flask) and begins making it speak. The battle weary and superstitious Saul believes it to be the work of sorcery and evil spirits, but we all know it to be the wiggling of the bottle and the throwing of one’s voice. This was the birth of VENTRILOQUISM.

Vengeful for being put on the spot, she then goes on to tell Saul (through the talking wine flask) that his armies will fall and that he and his sons will be cast into the abode of the dead… and guess what, she was right. Next battle, Saul’s armies are defeated and as a direct result he commits suicide. King Saul – 0, Witches of Endor – 1. This story only quickens the gut feeling that I had many Christmas’s ago. Ventriloquism will betray you.

It was November 1985. I was sitting on the floor of my grandparent’s living room as I snacked on a small plate of Ritz crackers and sipped ginger ale. While my parents talked politics and books with Granny and Pop, I perused the middle section of the holy tome that was known as the Sears Catalog Wish Book.

I scanned each page carefully even though I had no idea what I was looking for. I thought that I was growing too old for the menagerie of stuffed animals that I called close friends. I had yet to bridge my adolescence with wish list items that may have been more age appropriate for a child in the deep south such as a camouflage tent, duck boots or even a .22 rifle. At most I was a budding 7 year old artist in a 9 year old’s body.

Somewhere between Cabbage Patch Dolls and Gobots, something caught my eye. The callout was huge. “Can you say ‘It’s Howdy Doody time’ without moving your lips?”

OF COURSE I CAN DO THAT!

This may have been the thing that I was looking for.

I kept reading…

“Everyone Loves a Ventriloquist! Pick your favorite character and become the life of the party. Instruction booklet included.”

Later I would question my desire for this awkward toy. Through the muffled bedroom door, I could hear my father’s many interesting questions for my Mom about my Christmas list. I could also hear her verbal melee in defense of me expressing myself creatively. Aware of their different parenting styles, my 9 year old self would have known to direct these questions to the more responsible party, SEARS.

ME: Dear SEARS, why are you selling Charlie McCarthy dolls to the children of the 80s?

SEARS: Market research shows us that kids genuinely love the same Vaudeville characters as their grandparents.

Christmas morning, 6 AM. I run down the stairs, wake my parents and make quick work of the wrapping paper that’s keeping me from my gifts. I finally made it to the long, rectangular box that held my new, more mature pal. I opened the box more slowly than the others to savor this important moment. With the front flap pulled down, I saw it. It was a vinyl headed, dead-eyed doll, laid neatly in its own cardboard coffin. In an instant, I felt that I had betrayed my worn and familiar stuffed friends who sat waiting loyally for me on my bedspread. I gingerly closed the flap and placed the heavy box back on the floor behind me. Although a smile was placed on my face, my true feelings were still handsomely gift wrapped in paper and sealed with scotch tape.

After thanking them, my parents went back to bed and I went to my room to play with my new gifts. As I sat on my bedroom rug, I fanned out each present from left to right in order of appreciation. The dummy had not even made it to the sprawl. Curiosity finally bested me and I unboxed the toy. If the blank stare from the painted eyes hadn’t clued me in to why I felt so queasy, then the blonde hair should have. All of the family that was coming over later that day for our traditional lasagna lunch had dark hair or at one time in the past had dark hair. This Devil Doll with a head of yellow was some sort of Rolf type from the Sound of Music. He may have been in love with Liesl, but he was fated to RAT OUT the entire Von Trapp family. One good thing about stuffed animals is that their fur color had never been a point of derision.

I had always carefully named each of my stuffed animals. Kinderly, Cubbie, and Big Eyed Dog had all quickly become part of an adoptive network. We may have not been related, but by God we were family. I dared not name this new character, for I knew he would not be staying.

Although, this oversized, hinged-mouth abomination made me feel physically ill, I knew that my family would soon be here and they would want a performance. I had to practice. I pulled the figure to me, slid my arm inside the cadaver and then began speaking through clenched teeth.

Family arrived. Lasagna was eaten. Manischewitz put way. I reluctantly brought out the dummy for my visiting relatives, tried on a voice and then realized, in front of a live audience that this gift mirrored my uneasiness of outgrowing my childhood things.

After lunch, I snuck the dummy into an opaque garbage bag with the ripped wrapping paper, ribbons and other boxes. Even though my dad didn’t see me do this, I’m sure that if he had, he would have been politely silent.

I spent at least one more year playing with my stuffed animals before they made their short journey into our attic.

Perhaps most children who are given ventriloquists dummies are destined to sneak them into the garbage when their parents aren’t looking. Maybe Sears was obligated to sell these antiquated toys due to an ancient contract between their corporate shareholders and the Witches of Endor.

But nevertheless, when you are home next holiday, after your presents have been opened, your wine drunk and your lasagna eaten; if it is an option, make your way into your attic, find your old stuffed animals, look at them directly in their cute button eyes and thank them for standing beside you on your path to growing up.

The Last Cattle Auction

The Last Cattle Auction

“Each year since 2003, during the last two weeks of September, SlowExposures transforms rural Pike County, Georgia, into a showcase of contemporary photography that interprets the American rural South.” – slowexposures.com

This year, 66 images out of about 1,000 were chosen to be in SlowExposures. It was my first time entering any photography show. To my surprise one of my five entries was chosen. It was a piece that I called The Last Cattle Auction.

Storyteller

Storyteller

After I moved back to my home town with my wife and new baby, we quickly started getting out in the community. We had to. Even though a slower pace was one of the reasons that we moved here after having lived in Atlanta, we weren’t quite ready for the shift.

The place that we were drawn to most was the small independent book store in Zebulon, A Novel Experience. We wanted our lil’ one to get out, see people and to hear language in many different places, so we were pleased to learn that this newly found book store offered readings every Saturday morning for anyone who was willing to come by and sit. Unfortunately, shortly after we started going, our regular storyteller had to relinquish her Saturdays and we were left with only books.

storytime

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Two Degrees from Kevin Bacon

I actually used to post that I was two degrees from Kevin Bacon on my résumé. During my senior year of college, I was a featured extra in a movie. The movie was Road Trip. I thought stating this on paper would be a good ice breaker for interviews. It was.

It wasn’t a good movie, but it was a great experience. With my professors’ collective permission I missed a few classes, and I learned the value of “hurrying to wait.”

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