Falling Leaves: the Ardes blog

Archives filed under "childhood"

Holy Land

Ray Drainville

Culled from my Facebook posts:

I was born in the depressed industrial town of Waterbury, Connecticut. For about the first half of my life, I lived within 30 miles of it & so knew the town pretty well. As a child, it seemed like a big city to me. It’s not.

In any event, looming over Waterbury, on a hill, was a huge, glowing cross. This was the site for a kitschy Catholic attraction called the “Holy Land”, a 1/4 scale representation of Christ’s life. My understanding is that the cross has been replaced, but I vividly remember flying back to the UK from Newark & passing over Waterbury: you always knew you were there because of the huge looming cross. The attraction is not maintained: there are some wonderful pictures of this decaying place.

My mother brought me there as a small child & inadvertently added to my confusion about religion. My father always brought me to a tiny church in a village called Bethlehem: I clearly remember thinking, “If this stuff is so important, wouldn’t it be a bigger deal?”. Now, however, as we walked through a depressing plywood Jerusalem, with statuary about waist height, I thought “Well, people were supposed to be smaller then”.

Star Trek, Childhood

Ray Drainville

Apparently I’m merely one of many, many people who form the target market for the new Star Trek movie. The movie returns to the original TV characters: Kirk, Spock & many others; and it winningly creates a late 60s retro feel. It’s got a lot of little things in it that would appeal to someone who watched the original series—one of the first to die is even a red shirt. What I didn’t expect was an emotional response & the need to explore the meaning of that response.

Establishing My Nerd Credentials

It’s difficult to convey the magnitude of the effect the show had on me as a child. Like many people my age, I happened across Star Trek in my 70s childhood, when it was syndicated & run on TV daily after school. I was immediately hooked. Growing up in rural Connecticut, I ran around in a yellow velour shirt with a genuine! Star Trek patch sewn onto it. My mother was even kind enough to sew gold stripes on the sleeves to complete my fantasy of captaining a starship. The “aliens” I’d encounter would inevitably be my dog or whatever bug or snake was unfortunate enough to cross my path.

When I was in second grade (around age 6), there were two “gangs” in my school: the “Star Trek” gang, led by me as my hero, Captain Kirk; and the “Planet of the Apes” gang, led by an appropriately monobrowed kid I only remember as Joseph. Our Enterprise was a (to me) huge tree behind the school, from which we’d explore the universe; the Apes gang sat on a bunch of rocks farther away from the school and screamed at passers-by, perpetually threatening them. I look back upon that and marvel how we expressed contrasting visions of the future: one utopian, where the world united to explore the universe; the other dystopian, where humanity had been virtually destroyed itself & ruled by creatures representing the very worst within us.

Coming Full Circle

The cynical reader might think I’m exaggerating the difference between these two “gangs”: I’m not. Media consumption, particularly of favoured items, has a tremendous impact on a child’s outlook, on what he or she hopes and dreams and imagines. I don’t know if this outlook is lasting, but at the time it’s pronounced.

But when you get older, you learn—quickly—that science fiction isn’t cool: evincing any enthusiasm will not likely get you the ladies, green or otherwise. It further paled by the pooping out of some fairly lame movies & the existence of hardcore fans who argue about “canonical” stories & made-up languages (I mean, c’mon, people). For me, the whole idea of what ST was about—of hope for the future—was submerged into this compendium of disillusionment, of people trying to squeeze every last dollar out of the original series. Eventually I completely forgot about something I so loved as a child; to paraphrase Paul, I put away childish things.

And so we come to the just-released movie. When I heard about it, I decided to watch a trailer and was surprised to find tears in my eyes; the same thing happened at the movie’s end, when Spock’s voice intones “Space…the final frontier…”. That notion of putting away childish things was in part to remove myself from the lame, ancillary hangers-on—the lousy movies & the superfans. (And indeed, aren’t any superfans, whether for a TV show or a sports team, just fucking embarrassing?)

What hit me was more than nostalgia. It was almost a kind of mourning, for a time in one’s (my?) life when it wasn’t absurd to think the future offered hope & not ultimately disaster. It was also a deep sadness emanating from having buried something of immense importance to me as a child, of belonging to something greater than yourself, greater even than the earth: a humanistic desire to explore & understand, not just the world, but the universe around you & your place in it.

From the stars, knowledge, indeed.

Planet of the Apes

Ray Drainville

Richard Strauss: What hath I wrought?

Gotta love that warbly voice-over.

I’m pretty sure that I, or at least friends of mine, had at least half of these items when I was an impressionable youth—it all seems so familiar.

But you have to wonder why the humans just keep getting caught. Is this fun?