Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Spock Days, 2009

With Leonard Nimoy, Mr. Spock himself, making his long-awaited first visit to the town of Vulcan, I figured I'd go ahead and post this piece I wrote at last summer's Spock Days, which got the spike because I guess a Toronto newspaper somehow had something more interesting to run than coverage of a strange event that had already happened on the other side of the country. Go figure.

Abbot K'Obol Chang-K'Onor of Klingon Assault Group (KAG) Kanada, a fan club dedicated to the culture and costumery of Star Trek's fearsome warriors, is glaring at me through his space-shades, sun glinting off sharpened teeth. Handmade leather armor creaks as he sets his shoulders; a twin-headed flail, replete with wicked spikes, dangles menacingly from his gauntleted hand.

"Your understanding of Klingon philosogpy," he growls, "is... imperfect."

As a senior Klingon cleric, the Abbot (aka Doug Welsh of Halifax) would know. His head freshly sheared in the "Shave a Klingon for Cancer" event here at Spock Days/Galaxyfest in the town of Vulcan, Alberta, I made the mistake of asking how he reconciles such charity work -- and the dozens of other good-cause events, from MS fun-runs to fundraising daffodil sales, in which KAG Kanada participates -- with the apparent cruelty of survival-of-the-fittest Klingon culture.

"Klingon philosophy is not about destroying the weak," he explains, as patiently as is possible for a Klingon;"Klingon philosophy is about making the weak stronger. We think everybody should be Klingon!"

They're making a good start on it here in this farming community of 2,000 that's trying hard to turn the sci-fi cachet of its 94-year-old name into precious nerd-tourism dollars. A concrete-and-steel replica of the Starship Enterprise presides over the highway, in view of the seed-cleaning plant; the futuristic headquarters of the Vulcan Association for Science and Trek offers souvenir Spock Ears and a rather cheesy virtual-reality "Vulcan space adventure"; Trek murals dot downtown, and street signs are styled after Starfleet insignia. With the KAG's 20th-anniverasry gathering coinciding with Galaxyfest, the town's rolled out the blood-red carpet: a local cafe's menu board offers, untranslated, such Klingon delicacies as "Throck," "Mool" and "Bartas bir Jablu"; the tavern of the Vulcan Hotel is offering $1.50 mugs of refreshing "Klingon Beer" -- pisswater draft tarted up with lime juice and red food coloring.

It's a strange intersection of cultures. Without its spacey trappings -- out of costume, you could say -- Vulcan would be more or less the epitome of the dire little struggling farmtown, but GalaxyFest's combination of rural county fair and Star Trek convention makes for a surreal appeal. An elderly lady sporting pointy-eared prosthetics rolls by on a handi-scooter decked out in spaceship regalia. The local old-folks' home leads the parade with a replica Enterprise float, complete with command-bridge cockpit and laser sound effects. Characters like "Ysnap the Peace Klingon",  her costume a combination of star warrior and glam hippie, line up along with weatherbeaten farmers and truckers for bratwurst Spock Dogs. Another Klingon tries to wipe away tears without smudging his makeup as a woman on the Community Stage karaoke-sings a country tearjerker about childhood cancer. Local dudes at the beer garden out by the softball diamond horse around with town mascot "Ee-Cheeya", a furry cat-thing modeled after Spock's childhood pet.

"It's amazing," says celebrity guest Lolita Fatjo, a veteran of Trek TV and movie production crews and now operator of a company that books guest appearances for Trek stars; "I've been booking talent for [Galaxyfest] for six years. Everybody I've sent up here has come back and said 'Oh my god, that was so fun.' Usually we go to a hotel, we never see the light of day, we're in that hotel for two or three days..."

Suzie Plakson, who's played several Trek aliens ("I'm a multiracial, global trekkie-gal") including Worf's half-Klingon mate K'Ehleyr, agrees. "A mainstream convention -- and I don't mean this as derogatory -- the description is 'mercenary'. Because it kind of has to be. But this is just pure heart. There's something more... organic about the Trekhood of this town. It's something woven into everything."

Still, this is Vulcan the out-of-the-way grain town, not Vulcan the planet of calculating space-philosophers. In front of the Cinnastop cafe, whose windows sport a mural of what looks to be Captain Kirk and Scotty running toward an alien mirage of giant milkshakes and hamburgers, a pair of shimmery-cloaked Talosians (the bum-head aliens from the original series, remember?) stroll by pushing a dummy replica of crippled Captain Pike, Kirk's predecessor. A trio of old ladies watch them pass, bemused looks on their faces.

"Well," one remarks, with that inimitable small-town cluck of the tongue; "there certainly are a lot of strangers in town today."


GF said...

I liked it, for what it's worth.

Anonymous said...

I know, buddy.

Anonymous said...


sorry, tis not cheerful nacht