Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock, and boldly going

I remember hiding behind the rocker in our family room during one of Captain Kirk’s innumerable kissing scenes back in the 60s. I was probably seven or eight years old and my brothers and I always hid from them, screaming, “Yuuuuuuuck!”

Spock from Star Trek (the original series)

Spock, courtesy of Memory Alpha (and Paramount)

I never really got over that urge when it came to Kirk. When I was fourteen, though, I fell head over heels for his first officer, Mr. Spock, who was on Channel 44-WTOG with the rest of the Enterprise crew every weekday afternoon.

My son, who grew up on Star Trek movies in the VCR and is still nuts about Transformers, is mourning Leonard Nimoy, who died Friday, as a wise paternal figure of his childhood, lost now.

Meanwhile, I find that I’m mourning him in that nostalgic and vaguely “oh shit” way that comes with watching as, one by one, the crushes of my youth grow old and die. That will be me someday.

But let’s give our major youthful crushes their due. Spock was a great character! Half human, half alien, he had been brought up to be logical, but was ultimately just as driven by the desire to belong (and mate! Eeek!) as the rest of us. He spoke to every nerdy kid who never quite fit in but wanted to. He spoke to all the hapless virgins who either weren’t ready for sex yet or didn’t have a clue how to get any. He suffered from a kind of species-wide Asperger’s Syndrome before any of us had ever heard the term.

And yet he was sexy as hell.

I’m not sure why. I think some of it was simply the way Nimoy inhabited the part. He had real intensity. Or maybe it was because less is more. Spock could be counted on not to slut around every chance he got like a certain other senior officer. If Spock fell in love with a woman, it was more than a roll in the hay, even if his love was doomed because, you know, spores.

Enterprise orbiting a planet

USS Enterprise, courtesy of Memory Alpha (and Paramount)

Star Trek inspired me to figure out how to take the city bus to the Clearwater Public Library so I could read Star Trek books and then, when those ran out, work my way through most of the other science fiction and fantasy novels in the teen book section. That was a great introduction to some wonderful writers (especially Ursula LeGuin). And it forced me to learn how to navigate the outside world on my own, which built confidence I would need for later adventures.

After all, if the Enterprise crew could explore strange new worlds and seek out new life and new civilizations, I ought to be able to get downtown, even if I did occasionally take the bus to the projects by accident. (That was educational, too.)

I won’t even go into the writing Star Trek inspired, or the many friends it made me, but I’m not sure I would have developed the confidence to publish my fiction without it.

So, Leonard Nimoy, here’s to you. Thank you for the inspiration. Thank you for making a supporting character on a doomed television series so damned fascinating that the whole planet mourns your passing. I hope that you’re still out there somewhere, exploring strange and wonderful new worlds on the other side.