My Cruise To Heaven, or How I Found Grace.

Warning! This is going to be one of my recollections, prone to sidetracks and tangents. Please use the facilities, or get something to drink, or just make sure you’re settled in comfortably. (Hums a few bars of the “Star Trek” theme.) Okay, ready? Let’s go!

First, though, a bit of background. I am a second-tier Trekkie, falling in love with the show when it was in reruns in the 1970s. This also coincided with my beginning to notice that girls were really kinda neat, and one of the REALLY neat ones was Yeoman Janice Rand on Trek, played by a lady named Grace Lee Whitney. Little did I know what lay in my future, more than a decade later….

The time: September 1987. I was at that joyous time when I had far more money than sense (as opposed to now, when I have neither), and I had booked myself on a cruise. But not just any cruise – this was Trek Cruise, a 3+ day cruise from Long Beach to Ensenada (Mexico) and back on a boat loaded with various Star Trek celebrities and a bunch of rabid, slathering Trekkies. I had just stepped on board, waiting to check in to get my cabin key and convention registration, when a lady I knew came running up to me. She was an organiser of sci-fi cons including the cruise, and when she started in about needing a favour, I began to worry that my trip was about to go down the tubes. But then came the magic request. “John, I really need your help. One of our guest escorts hasn’t shown up. Would you be willing to escort Grace Lee Whitney around during the cruise?”

Is a bear Catholic? Does the Pope poop in the woods? HELL YEAH!!!!!!

So there I was, the go-to guy for a lady I already had a crush on. A lot of the weekend is a blur these days, thanks to the various drugs pumped into me to try curing my migraines, but I have a number of scenes I’ll never forget. Sitting in the ship’s music hall, as Grace sang to me while checking audio levels with the sound man. (The room was rather cool, and by coincidence, I had bought a crew jacket from the third movie in the dealer’s room earlier. I loaned it to her, and have exclusive photos of her singing wearing that jacket. It hangs in a plastic bag in my upstairs closet, untouched since that day.) Standing next to her while lesser mortals came up begging autographs, and escorting her away through throngs of fans when the autograph time was closed. Sitting on the ship’s fantail with her over lunch, chatting about a thousand different things. To be honest, I can’t remember my cabin, nor the cabin mate I was randomly matched with. But one event stands out in particular.

There was a seaside bazaar in Ensenada, strung out along a gentle slope up to a scenic outlook point. which Grace wanted to browse through. So off we went, accompanied by James Doohan’s wife (Doohan was Scotty the engineer). One of the vendors carried a variety of wicker furniture creations, including one odd, hemisperical lump about 2.5 feet long, with a circular hole cut in the front. Both Jimmy’s wife and I were confused as to what it was, when Grace proclaimed “Oh, it’s a cathouse!”. Jimmy’s wife, bless her soul, had a mind that went right to the naughty meaning of the word, just as mine did – cathouse being old-time slang for a brothel – and we both busted out laughing. Poor Grace looked so confused, until she realised just what she said, whereupon she turned the most lovely shade of crimson with embarrassment! She tried to apologise, which didn’t work so well, because firstly, neither Jimmy’s wife nor I had taken any offence at her language, and secondly, because we now had her laughing just as hard as we were!

That was, as the old phrase goes, the start of a beautiful friendship. I followed Grace around the country, meeting up with her at conventions in Georgia, Florida, and Texas. Matter of fact, Grace was the reason I was in Texas when I met my wife-to-be, Tamy, so I owe Grace for that. I also learned of the personal Hell Grace went through with alcohol addiction, and how she worked her way back to health and sobriety with help from Leonard Nimoy, another wonderful soul from the Trek universe who has left us recently, and far too soon.

But I still have a little reminder of my lovely lady, besides the jacket. We bought a parts car for me to take apart and use the pieces to make my beloved 1987 Cavalier run again. The car came to us, sight unseen, from North Carolina, on the flatbed of a truck we had hired from one of the local furniture haulers for the Amish. The driver was going to push it by hand down the ramps, with my help and with Tamy steering, when Tamy suggested we try to start the car. She got the keys, climbed in, and started the car on the first try. That struck me as amazing, and since my best memories of Gracie picture her in a lovely white outfit, the same shade as the parts car, for the first time I named a car I owned. To this very day, over 10 years after we got her, Grace is still our prime running vehicle. Amazing Grace, indeed.

Thank you for allowing me to share this little bit of my past. For more than two decades, Grace Lee Whitney was a major force in my life. From adolescent crush, to admired celebrity, to companion and friend and even, indirectly, to matchmaker, when I look back in my past, I always see what wonderful effect she had on me. She was truly one of the most wonderful people I’ve ever met, strong of spirit, always positive in outlook, friendly and comforting – it’s no wonder that non-Trekkies will struggle to picture “the gruff old doctor” or “the Russian navigator”, but always, Always, remember “the gorgeous blonde in the beehive hairdo”. We’ve lost another great spirit from that little TV show that was cancelled after only 3 seasons, but went on to be seen round the world. And the world has lost a truly amazing lady. Godspeed and God bless, Grace. We’re all much richer having known you, and for my part, eternally grateful to have spent those few special moments with you. You truly were, and will always remain, my amazing Grace.

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Grace Has Fallen From Me.

I’ll write a more complete entry tomorrow,. but it is my heart-wrenching duty to inform you of the passing of Grace Lee Whitney, Yeoman Janice Rand in the original Star Trek, and my personal dream girl. She has died at age 83, and the world has lost one of the most pure, kind, and caring souls I have ever encountered in all my travels. A stunning beauty regardless of age, a singer with a voice like a heavenly choir, and  delightfully funny lady, I was truly blessed to call her “friend” for many years, and nary a day has passed I haven’t thought of her. I’d recommend you go rent a copy of “Some Like It Hot” with Jack Lemmon and Marilyn Monroe – though Grace has a only a small part, she can outshine even the stellar Ms. Monroe.

I’ll sign off for tonight – I’m so choked up, it’s hard to write. Rest assured, though, that if you look up into the night sky, it will look quite a bit brighter tonight, for a dazzling soul has joined the firmament, and even the stars themselves will seem a bit pale as Grace Lee Whitney, a truly amazing Grace, joins her fellow Star Trek actors in Eternity.

Good Night, Gracie. We’ll always have Ensenada.

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The Passing Of The One Saddens The Many.

How do you eulogise someone who you’ve only met very briefly in passing, yet was a key past of your life for decades? How do you pay proper respect to someone who touched so many lives, in many ways beyond that for which he was known? How can mere words give proper tribute to someone who literally became part of the world’s consciousness, and conscience?

Leonard Nimoy was many things, and did so much more than portray the beloved Mr. Spock from Star Trek. A writer, director, author, musician, and a guest star on dozens of TV shows and movies across five decades, he should be lionised as a man for all times and tastes. Yet it was that brief span on a failed NBC sci-fi series that brought him first to the American psyche, then to the world over. A little cult TV show, written by a true genius (the great Gene Roddenberry), gave us an insight to a truly utopian future. War, poverty, disease, and so many other human foibles had been conquered or marginalised, and our window to that wonderful future was through the eyes of a great yin and yang. While Captain Kirk plowed through each and every challenge with his heart on his sleeve, it was the cool, calm, logical Mr. Spock that attracted such a loyal following. To this day, Spock’s death scene in “The Wrath Of Khan” is some of Hollywood’s most poignant footage, and the groundswell of protest at his seeming end powered the original series to four more movies, not to mention several TV spinoffs and a host of films – not to mention, being the catalyst that brought my wife and myself together over25 years ago.

Leonard Nimoy was so much to so many. To sum his life up in a few words seems so meagre, so insufficient. Perhaps the best tribute to him is to measure how many lives he touched, over so many years, across so much of this planet. And in that measure, he will truly stand for the ages, a monument to how large an impact one person can have. In summation, I can only quote the words of Captain Kirk, and say of him, “Of all the souls I have met in my journeys, his was the most …. human.” It was, indeed, we, who have lived long and prospered so much from knowing him.

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Just Checking In, And A Brief Mention of Leonard.

I’ll post a proper send-off to Leonard Nimoy sometime tomorrow. Today has been a twin pain in the butt. First, we get rid of the neighbor couple who have been harassing us non-stop for the post several months, including filing false reports with the dog warden (which got them in trouble with the police – dumb-ass rednecks) and the police, and trying repeatedly to catch me when I’m outside so the husband could attack and try to beat me up – hence my silence since before Christmas, despite finally getting most of my PC problems fixed. Then some guy shows up this afternoon after they left, passing himself off as a real-estate rep, and proceeds to first accuse me of trying to break into the now-empty house across the drive, then telling me we have NO right to the driveway (yes, THAT problem again), then threatening to come over and beat me up! I’m really starting to think I need some live rounds for some of my WW2 toys….

Not to mention a bad 3-week spate of headaches. PLEASE don’t mention them! A real round of skull-crackers, rendering my mental capacities to the level of half-set Jello. Just the thing to go along with crazy neighbors.

Until we meet again, as our sadly recently-passed Mr. Nimoy was famous for saying, may you all Live Long and Prosper.

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How To Set The Bar REAL Low!

Here’s a quick giggle for you. I was checking out news stories, and clicked on a link for a rather non-descriptive headline. So I go to http://www.osundefender.org. It’s a newspaper in Nigeria – according to their proud banner, “The 6th Most Visited Newspaper Website In Nigeria”.

Are you freaking KIDDING me?!? SIXTH?!? And you’re PROUD of this?!?

Guess all those Nigerian princes wiring money to the US can’t be wrong, eh? :D

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Goodbye, Ernie.

On the northside of Chicago
Lies pure frustration’s hub.
But Wrigley Field is quiet and sad
As we say Farewell to Mr. Cub.

A true Cubs fan stays faithful
Through every error, foul, and flub.
We learned to be so steadfast
From the spirit of Mr. Cub.

Though decades pass without a win
For our beleaguered club,
And though they oft leave our patience
Worn to a nub,
We shall always love our Northside boys
And cheer from every pub.
So Rest in Peace, dear Ernie Banks.
Farewell, our friend, Mister Cub.

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Je Suis Charlie Hebdo

To believe in a religious faith is fine. To get angry when someone pokes fun at it is acceptable. To murder someone over a cartoon transcends asinine, overreaches obscene, and vaults directly to despicable. And to kill almost half of a satire magazine’s staff, then to walk over to a prostrate wounded police officer and shoot him to death, goes beyond even my rich vocabulary to condemn. This isn’t revenge for Mohammed, this isn’t Islam triumphing over Christianity, this is just one thing – cowardice that should make the heavens themselves open up and strike down the loathsome wastes of DNA that assaulted the offices of the French magazine Charlie Hebdo.

Today, I Am Charlie Hebdo. We should all be Charlie Hebdo. And we must make sure that freedom of expression, no matter how loathsome some may find it, should continue unabated.

We owe those who perished today, nothing less. Je suis Charlie Hebdo.

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