As I turn 50 this weekend (technically Monday, but…), I realize that I am more than middle-aged. I’m an oldster. I’m soon applicable for a senior discount at Denny’s. I’m slowly going gray. Everyone on TV looks like a baby to me now. All of my favorite songs are ‘classics.’ The joints ache, and I happily drive a still-purring, modest 15 year old Honda. At least I avoided the mid-life crisis mobile stage; I think I worked that out of my system in my 20s via my former obsession with motorcycles. But I digress; the question I’m posing with this entry is: is one ever ‘too old’ to enjoy silly, geeky things?
If this latest birthday is any indicator, I’d say the answer is a firm NO.
Bit of backstory: In my 20s I collected little bits of scifi/geeky memorabilia, but for some reason kept much of it hidden, like a embarrassing porn stash. Here’s the weirder irony; I lived ALONE in those days in my tiny little ‘bachelor pad’ (a tiny, non-central A/C apartment in SoCal… yikes) and yet I always kept my apartment very ‘adult’ looking. Other than a few odd books on my shelves, and some Star Trek/Star Wars laserdiscs and other scifi VHS tapes in my collection, my home looked fairly ‘straight.’ Not many dead giveaways of my inner geekiness to frighten off any townsfolk who might come a knockin’ at my door. For some reason at that time, I felt compelled to act (or at least pretend to act) like a fully functional ‘grownup.’ And while I LOVED science fiction with a scary passion, my own private living space never really reflected that in any major way. Maybe it had something to do with trying to snag a girlfriend, I dunno. Or to just prove to myself that I was a ‘man’ (whatever the hell that means). But at any rate, I lived very deliberately non-geeky; outwardly, at least.
(above; below) Some of my recent 50th birthday acquisitions…
But tucked away in drawers and in bookshelves were copies of Starlog magazine (the internet before the internet), hardbacks of Clarke, a slightly tattered oft-read copy of Bradbury’s “Martian Chronicles” and tons of Star Trek paperbacks. They were there if one looked closely, yet they were sort of hidden as well. I felt a bit like “PSYCHO”‘s Norman Bates keeping his mummified mother in the fruit cellar…
Oddly enough, that was a time when I actually AVOIDED going to scifi conventions (WTF?!?). I didn’t even actively start surfing the web (let alone the online fandom communities) till sometime in the early 2000s. I can’t believe I am that SAME guy (!).
Then as luck would have it, I met my wife-to-be in the summer of 1997. We met through friends who were hip to my ‘true nature’. She turned out to be a total surprise; that rarest of unicorns; a smart, educated, professional-tracked geek woman (!). I’d heard rumors of such creatures, but had no idea they existed in the wild. She read comic books (subscribed to a few), she LOVED Star Wars (she owned the original and remastered versions), she also enjoyed the ALIEN movies, and she was cool with Star Trek too. She was not quite as into Star Trek as I, but she spoke the language. In the words of Star Trek’s immortal space hippie ‘Adam’ from season 3’s The Way to Eden, “We reached!”
So we started dating. 1997’s “Contact” and my laserdisc copy of “Beavis and Butt-head Do America” were two of the first movies we saw together; they pretty much set the pattern for our entire relationship. Couple years later we married, and a couple years after that she took me to my first (EVER) science fiction convention in Pasadena (home of JPL and “The Big Bang Theory”). My narrow world exploded. It was like I’d found my long lost tribe! I felt like author Alex Haley, as played by James Earl Jones, in the 1977 miniseries “Roots” when he proclaims:
These were ‘my people’; and my wife just delivered me to them. There were attendees who were my age (and much older) dressed as Romulans, Starfleet officers, Imperial stormtroopers and obscure aliens from barely remembered episodes of many other scifi shows/movies. These were adults, just like me, who had boring 9-5 jobs in the ‘real world’ but who also found a wonderful freedom, expression and fulfillment in living out their wildest dreams. The atmosphere was intoxicating. I met actors from Star Trek (Nichelle Nichols is adorable!), Planet of the Apes (Linda Harrison, who played my old crush “Nova”), Battlestar Galactica (Richard Hatch is a true gentleman and fan), and in a unexpected surprise, I met the two stars of my all-time favorite movie, “2001: A Space Odyssey”; Keir Dullea (“Dave Bowman”) and Gary Lockwood (“Frank Poole”; also “Gary Mitchell” from the 2nd pilot of Star Trek). They couldn’t have been nicer. Dullea liked my digital camera, and Lockwood was like the fun uncle at a barbecue; dressed in a bold Hawaiian shirt! Got both their autographs. I’ve seen and met Lockwood a few times since at other conventions, but that first-time meeting with he and his costar was special to me.
It was nerd-vana.
Then, in 2004, my wife took me to my first San Diego Comic Con (^); aka the Mother Lode of all scifi/fantasy conventions. Now at roughly 130,000 annual attendees, it was slightly smaller in those days, but no less jaw-dropping. Within minutes of my first day, I’d met my old TV crush Erin Gray (“Buck Rogers in the 25th Century”) who joked that she wanted to take me home with her after I’d complimented a performance of hers. I’m pretty sure I blushed. She was a doll. San Diego Comic Con was an embarrassment of geeky riches.
Later at this first SDCC of mine, I saw Carrie Fisher live onstage, and after a long wait in line, I met the entire cast of the cult TV series “Firefly” (a long wait which went surprisingly quickly with my newfound ‘line buddies’). Got all of the Firefly cast’s autographs as well as Buffy/Angel/Marvel-verse legend Joss Whedon (yes, I have Joss Whedon’s FRAMED autograph in my home library… I still get weak-kneed thinking about it). My wife already attended a SDCC when we were dating, but I (being a total idiot) didn’t tag along for some stupid reason. Who the hell knows…
If only I knew… I’d probably say this to my younger self:
Now, after about 15 plus years of attending these things (SDCC, Doctor Who conventions, Star Trek conventions, etc), I feel like the aged platoon sergeant; patiently instructing a few green ‘recruits’ I meet online or in person on how to navigate the wild jungles of scifi conventions. Some of these people I’ve actually been able to help, with advice on how best to spend their money, when to wait in lines and when not to, etc. My wife is still the platoon lieutenant, but I’d like to think I at least have my sergeant’s stripes by now.
So over those 15 years of conventioneering we’ve acquired a TON of collectibles; autographs, autographed books, photos, toys, collectibles, graphic novels, you name it. Some of it adorns my wife’s classroom (she’s an art teacher), some of it adorns our home office and reading room, and some of it is tucked away. But these days, it’s NOT tucked away for any fear of shame or scorn; it’s tucked away because we are merely making ROOM for next year’s haul.
So no, to address the original point of this entry? There is NOTHING WRONG with enjoying geeky collectibles at ANY age; be it lunch boxes, games, comic books or miniature spaceships. I was crazy-excited recently when, at the tender age of 49, I’d found a relative bargain on an Enterprise-B toy (from the 1994 movie, “Star Trek: Generations”) at the last Comic Con we attended this past summer:
Hell, if you’re an adult and have your own money, why not? Whose life are you living, anyway? Express yourself. And if your friends/family are hip to this and buy you a functional Star Trek communicator or an ALIEN face hugger plush toy for your birthday, then I say ENJOY it. And enjoy them; the people who ‘get’ you, and who love you for who you are.
I may be graying, arthritic and nearly ready for a Denny’s senior discount, but I’ll also flip open my Star Trek communicator with lots of geeky pride. I’d suggest anyone reading this do the same, whatever your passion. There is only ONE you in this universe; don’t waste it trying to be someone else’s version of you.
Live long and prosper!