Mike Jahn

UserpicThe Day That Spock Gave My Son a Tribble
Posted by Mike Jahn

I remember the day that Mr. Spock gave my son a Tribble.

It was 1975 or early 1976. I know because the magazine I was writing for folded soon after. Not with any help from me, I like to think.

The rag may have folded thanks to new owners, who came into town from one of the flyover states and wanted to make a dramatic entrance into the Big Apple.

-- They decided to symbolically “kill” the old magazine so as to replace it with the new. They produced a tiny coffin and had the staff – except those writers and editors who were horrified and refused to participate – drive nails into it, “burying” the copy of the old rag inside. Among them was the poor old owner, teary eyed, whose family had run it since the 1930s.

--Installed a time clock next to the reception desk. The entire editorial department refused to use it, and the new owner was forced to forget the thing.

--Brought in one of those Rotary Club motivational speakers, who got the editorial staff together and delivered a lecture on how to motivate those who reported to us.  Not one of us had someone reporting to him or her. Not one.

So the new rag soon folded, perhaps landing in a coffin adjacent to the old. Right after that my ass was kicked down the stairs for asking if the rumor that you could buy your way onto the front cover for $5000 was true. So much for my career planning skills. And I was still disgusted with them for the coffin thing. The mag went under, but not before Mr. Spock gave my son a Tribble.

Here’s what happened. After I stopped covering rock for a living I spent a few years covering TV and interviewing its stars. I got to know Gene Roddenberry, and as I recall became about the only reporter who thought that this man had a prayer in the world of resurrecting his dead TV show. Also, we both sailed and he invited me to go out on his 35’ foot boat, a small offshore ocean racer.

Roddenberry was obsessed with boats. True Trekkers are advised to rent "The Enemy Below," the 1950s battle of wits between an American destroyer and a German submarine, and prepare to have their jaws dropped.

I got his home phone number and the offer to call anytime. I never did, so he may have given me the number of a phone booth, but I doubt it. I got some good Star Trek stories that I will get around to another day.

It occurred to me quite recently that I had gotten to be friends with the creator of Star Trek and never once said, “Gene, if you ever need a writer …”

Don’t ask me about career management.

Unconnected with Roddenberry, one day my five- or six-year-old son, a fanatic about the series, and I wandered into a store called the Federation Outpost. It was in Midtown, East 53rd maybe. There, wearing a deerstalker hat, smoking one of those pipes that bend like the plumbing beneath the sink, and a cloak was Leonard Nimoy.

He was in town preparing to take over the role of Sherlock Holmes in a touring company. Playing Holmes was a staple of his theatrical career going back before he became our favorite Vulcan. You see the resemblance, of course. Both Spock and Holmes were cold, logical, possessive of encyclopedic knowledge, analytical, and a tad smug.

The fact that Spock dressed up as Holmes and tried to look inconspicuous in a store dedicated to selling Star Trek merch is worthy of several doctoral dissertations. Nonetheless he pulled it off. No one recognized him. Except my son and me.

I introduced myself as a journalist and a friend of Gene’s. We talked for quite a while, mostly about his love of the stage and about Holmes. I didn’t like to ask obvious questions. What Trek question would I ask him, what was warp speed like? Did the ears give you a rash? Did you ever do Uhura? We liked one another, and he reached into a barrel of Tribbles that the owner swore were the real thing from the show, and bought my son one for $10. He still has it.

This yarn is apropos of nothing except that I will try to see the new Star Trek movie this weekend. Maybe my son, now four days shy of 39, will come with me. Maybe he will bring his Tribble and the three of us will munch popcorn and see how it all began.




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