William Shatner
(with Chris Kreski)
(Pocket Books)
In case you've been living at the North Pole for the last thirty years, there's a phenomena called "Star Trek Conventions" where fairly normal people take leave of their senses, paint themselves blue, dress up in outlandish costumes, and seem to think that they've just arrived from another planet. They also have spent, and are spending, and will presumably continue to spend an immense amount of money on travel, hotels, tickets, costumes, memorabilia, art, souvenirs and Trekkie Gee-gaws.

In the old days, fan clubs didn't cost much. There would be free, signed photographs, and free meetings of like-minded people. Nowadays, it is licensing, copyrights, renting great halls, pulling in high-cost talent to talk to the folks and endless things to buy --- like little statues with numbers etched on them, so people will think they have "a limited edition" that will someday be valuable.

These conventions --- called "cons" by the cognoscenti --- have sprouted up like pigweed, and have become a meeting place for many lonely people who seem to have little else to do with their days and nights. Back in, say, 1950, these folks would have joined the American Legion, the Gray Ladies, the Elks, the Red Cross volunteers or the Shriners. Amidst all the tomfoolery, they would have gone out and done some good for the world, built children's hospitals, helped the impoverished, tended to the sick. But we live in a different world, don't we? It's no accident that "Star Trek's" starship bears the name Enterprise.

And it is of no importance at all, I suppose, that the original Star Trek lasted for only three seasons, that it was hokey at best, with a style of acting that went out with Buster Crabbe of Flash Gordon. It is of no importance, as well, that Star Trek plot lines were silly, simplistic and hopelessly hopeful about the future of mankind.

There are several individuals and corporations who have prospered mightily from this convention bonanza. The major beneficiary, according to Shatner's book, is a corporate entity by the name of Paramount, which has --- through copyrights and licensing --- capitalized on the endless need of people for outer-space treacle.

The other beneficiaries are those lucky few who happened to be out of a job back in 1967, when the original casting was done. One of these was William Shatner, later known as Captain Kirk. "Get a Life!" is his contribution to the esoterica of heavy-duty, non-stop marketing.

Not long ago, Shatner and his factotums were sitting around, trying to figure how in hell he could tap even further into this mother lode of mother lodes. Obviously the consensus was that instead of merely flying in and flying out of these conventions, he should hang out, see what was going on behind the scenes, and then write a book about it, sales of which would contribute to his cash flow. It was an excellent idea, but also a bit of a joke --- because Shatner, despite his vigorous protestations to the contrary, seems to have some distaste for the Star Trek co-fraternity.

At one point in the book, he says:

    Fifty-billion-dollars. Let me say it again so you can properly digest the magnitude of that number. Fifty-billion-dollars! That's the conservatively estimated total of how much money Star Trek merchandise has raked in throughout the life span of the franchise. What the hell are all of you people buying, anyway?

During one convention, he tells us, "When a lovely young woman prefaced her question with the phrase, Star Trek is the most important thing in my life," I couldn't for the life of me resist replying, I'm very sorry to hear that. And then there was the time when Kate, a member of a panel on which Shatner was participating, noted an "absolutely adorable" little baby in the front row:

    Kate: Look at that extraordinary baby ---- that beautiful baby has not stirred.
    Shatner: It looks like a little alien. Babies have big heads, and big eyes, and tiny little bodies with tiny little arms and legs. So did the aliens at Roswell. I rest my case.

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And so it came to pass that Shatner dressed up in costume, just like the crazies, with his own mask (dubbed Zontar, Master of the Universe), and wandered around, not unlike Nick Bottom, in "A Midsummer Night's Dream," passing unseen through the very world he helped set in motion. No one noticed him among all the other knobby foreheads, pig-tail wigs, horns, pointy ears --- the Klingons, Romulans, Scotties, Spocks --- even those who were dressed up as Captain Kirk.

In fact, the "real" Kirk ran into several Kirks, who were not in masks, and who may not have been real, either. Who is imitating whom? Is Shatner the real Kirk, or is this fake Kirk really Zontar, Master of the Universe? It's all quite confusing, in a Samuel Beckett kind of way.

Shatner goes to several cons, over the next couple of years --- interviewing people, taking notes, taking pictures. Then an amanuensis is hired on to put it all together in book form and --- voila! --- Get A Life!

The people interviewed in Get A Life! come across as very strange indeed. But the strangest of them all is an extra-terrestrial by the name of William Shatner. He and his co-writer, Chris Kreski, have dolled him up, made him nice. They play up his "self-deprecating wit and infectious enthusiasm" (to quote the poop sheet that came with the book). Still, we have a man who does and says some rather spacey things.

Shatner goes to Germany for a convention. Because of threats on his life, his sponsors hire security guards. He refers to them as My own personal Luftwaffe and Aryan behemoths. I made nervous chitchat with the Third Reich, he tells us. Ever tried to go to the bathroom with Hermann Goering standing guard outside the stall? he asks. For a country that has spent fifty years trying to escape from its past, reading such words must be puzzling, to say the least.

Once, Shatner tells us of pulling on a running suit, and going out for his daily jog. He manages to run the wrong way, and gets lost. The man who has taken us to so many strange planets, mind you, gets lost running around the block. He gets to a street corner, spots a truck, and he yells to the driver, tells him that he is William Shatner, that he needs a ride, because he's in a hurry. He gets the finger, instead.

Then there's his meeting with a woman who suffers from multiple personalities, who has "several members of the Enterprise crew inside of her, the triumvirate of Kirk, Spock, and McCoy." Clearly, says Shatner, humbly, the last thing I should be doing is playing armchair psychiatrist, offering ignorant, overly simplistic commentary on matters infinitely beyond my own layman's understanding of the human psyche.

Right. But then off we go to a session with her and her psychotherapist, where Shatner, or Kirk, or Zontar, quite beside himself with alternative personalities, starts playing armchair psychiatrist, offering ignorant, overly simplistic commentary on matters infinitely beyond his layman's understanding of the human psyche. "Jane," he concludes, "was far and away the most interesting fan I'd ever met."

Perhaps his most telling story is of the night, when he is in Africa, on safari, and an elephant chooses to park its large carcass right next to his tent. Shatner gets up and tries to shoo it away --- he tries to shoo an elephant away --- and as he is shouting and waving his arms about, he gets pooped on. Elephant poop. Lots of it. "Imagine twenty gallons of mashed potatoes falling on your head at one time," he reports. "Imagine the single stinkiest baby diaper you've ever encountered."

The last tale in the book is about Shatner's visit to the Greek Island of Santorin. The island is deserted. He visits it alone. 3000 years ago, it was a thriving community, but then came a volcano which destroyed it completely. Shatner climbs up the hill to the old, ruined public market. "On the surviving wall of what appeared to be a home, there stood a simple window frame, which I approached," he tells us. "Running my hand respectfully over the stone sill, I brushed away the dirt, blew away the dust, and noticed some graffiti which read --- I kid you not --- Star Trek lives. Star Trek is indeed universal."

Some idiot came to the carefully preserved ruins of a village and gouged stupid graffiti into the stone ruins that have stood there for thirty centuries. And instead of meditating on the tragic loss of our history and our heritage, Shatner is obviously bursting with pride at finding out, yet again, how important he is.

Ahh, Zontar, being given the finger --- or being shat on by an elephant --- may not be good enough for you.

--- Lolita Lark

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Plans and Instructions
For Historical Reproductions

Daniel Diehl and
Mark Donnelly
(Stackpole Books)
It may seem a bit heavy, but it sure is sturdy. And it takes you back seven- or eight-hundred years. When they could hew an oak trunk to make a Tax Box.

These lockboxes, the writers tell us, were hauled from village to village. The tax collector was called a "factor," which explains where Max Factor got his name.

The citizens would stick their halfpennies or farthings in a slot, and their name would be checked off the tax roll. If you forgot, or hid, the sheriff would come get you. Given the size of this mother, the authors estimate that it could hold no more than sixty-one pounds sterling, which is equivalent to one hundred dollars. No doubt there was a sign attached to it that said, "The factor does not have a key to this lock-box, and carries no farthings for change."

Elaborate notes are given for the exact construction of this box, including what kind of wood to look for, the dimensions, and the type and age of wood. There is a list of the metal parts needed, along with dimensions, and instructions on shaping the exterior (the suggested tools: adze or hatchet.) Detailed instructions for the hasps, hinges, coin slot, lid attachment, hasp catches, and finish follow, with top and side view drawings.

You might prefer to make one of the thirteen other projects, including a Church Pew, the lovely "Half-Tester Bed" (with an 500 pound overhang for crowning you or your visitors), a Paneled Coffer, a Settle --- a hard, very hard, wooden pew-like structure --- a Barrel Chair, and a wheelbarrow (see Figs. above and below). If you are thinking this stuff can be used, forget it. The wheelbarrow looks to be hernia-inducing, and the sitting-room furniture was for those who didn't take their sitting very seriously, and were on their knees in prayer, out in the fields, or playing the sacbutt with the local Catch-and-Glee organization --- bitterly drunk on bitter.

--- P. P. McFeelie

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Pack of Two
The Intricate Bond Between
People and Dogs

Caroline Knapp
The pretense of Pack of Two is that it's about Knapp and her dog. In reality, it is about yet another damaged, sometimes sad, sometime lonely person --- not unlike many other Americans --- who found that a dog could assuage a needy life. Those who have never had or doted on a dog will probably not get it. For the rest of us, some of it makes sense; some of it is a bit too much. As she admits, "it can be supremely hard to keep your own emotions under wraps, to keep them from coloring your view of the dog's experience." She fails at this, but her failure is charming.

The world has changed so much that the world of dogs had to change, too. When we were kids, there was a yard, and the dogs went out there in the morning, and stayed out there all day, and when they wandered off, one of the neighbors would call and say, "Toto is over here, if you want to come pick him up." The dogs stayed in (or under) the porch --- and usually never got in the front door.

Part of what has changed are the demographics of this country --- and that has changed what we do and what we don't do with dogs. A quarter of the population lives alone, one in two marriages ends in divorce, and there are 21,000,000 women who are divorced or single mothers. These are the candidates, a new breed --- if I can use that phrase --- of dog owners.

Dogs! No matter what we do, they love us. Says Knapp, "A dog is like a sponge: his instincts are triggered by our moods and behavior, his emotional state shaped by the needs and wants and feelings that we communicate to him." She gives some examples from her own life, describing how hard it is for her to leave the house, to leave Lucille behind. There come times when she can scarcely leave, cancels dates or appointments because she's worried that her dog would be bored or lonely or sad. As you can guess, it's a mirror-shop all the way around here, and Knapp is telling us as much about herself as she is about the part German Shepherd who adopted her.

We change when we get a pet. For Knapp, instead of reading the New Yorker, it's now Dog Fancy magazine.

    I found myself examining the protein content on the back of a bag of dog food instead of making my own dinner,

she tells us,

    or wanting to curl up in bed with the puppy instead of my boyfriend...I'd look up and think: what happened to my life? Have I gone completely mad?

Like many of us, Knapp has lived alone. She who wrote Drinking: A Love Story joined AA to stop boozing. She has a psychotherapist, she's alone a lot, she worries. She was doubtful about getting a dog, but then found that once it came into her life, her days were turned around. She reports,

    I didn't set out to fill those longings deliberately. Certainly I didn't sit back one day and think: "Gee, I've lost both parents and quit drinking and my life is full of gaping holes; guess it's time to get a puppy." Instead, I woke up on a Sunday morning in August, an unplanned day looming before me, and I thought: What the hell. Maybe I'll go to the pound and just look.

Many of her old friends "get scared" when she starts telling of her involvement with Lucille. Friends are, thus, of the "before-dog" and the "after-dog" category. And, at points, her narrative makes us wonder if she is a bit bonkers about Lucille. She takes her to a once-a-week "dog-care" center. She wonders if her dog likes it, is happy, or would she rather be at home. She even went off to a summer camp for dogs and their masters. Did Lucille like it? Or was it a scam designed for the masters? Dogs make us show our inadequacies, no matter how far out. It's as if Knapp --- in her questions --- is looking for some sort of leadership. She confirms this by writing, "All dogs can be guide dogs of a sort, leading us to places we didn't even know we needed or wanted to go." As for pure dog-love,

    We might talk a good game about unconditional love, about wanting it and not getting it from humans, but imagine a spouse who acted like your dog, who woke up every morning writhing with joy at the mere sight of you, who jumped up and down every time you walked into a room, who never uttered a critical word, who never took you to task for being irritable or neurotic or lazy, who gave you all the power. In theory, that might sound fabulous; in fact, behavior like that could drive you around the bend in about five minutes.

She concludes,

    Dogs can give us what people can't. Perhaps because they're members of a different species, and so the line between them and us is clearly delineated, a dog can love you like that without raising questions of fairness, without triggering some confusing or destructive imbalance of power, without making you squirm.

Knapp comes up with some interesting facts. That there are probably 55,000,000 dogs in this country --- and more than a third of Americans live with dogs. The average owner will spend a minimum of $11,500 on the animal during the course of his or her dog's life. Almost all owners say that their pets are "family members." The majority of today's dogs "are allowed to sleep in their owners' bedrooms, and almost half of them in bed with a family member." There are not only behavior classes for them, but people who claim to read their minds, so you can communicate with them. Too, there are parks where people bring their dogs to socialize with other dogs, and there are "pet hotels," with "bone-shaped beds and special doggie room-service menus." There's even a health-and-fitness center for dogs in Westwood, California --- with "treadmills, Jacuzzis, and swimming pools designed for dogs."

Boris Levinson, an American child psychiatrist, coined the phrase "pet therapy" in 1964, following observation he made "when he began to use his dog, a shaggy creature named Jingles, in sessions with severely withdrawn children." Since then, it's been found that people in nursing homes, in juvenile halls, or in prison, perk up, come to life, become less difficult to deal with, if they have a pet either for their own, or to share.

§     §     §

Knapp tells us that "Easily half of today's dog owners name their dogs after people." True. In the old days, it was Rover, Duke, Spike, Spot, or Old Dog Tray. Nowadays, she says, "the choice of human names reflects a "heightened emotionality." Which is my main bone of contention --- bone of contention! --- with this book (beyond the health-and-fitness center for dogs and that hotel with bone-shaped beds). It's those names. Someone should report owners to the ASPCA who abuse their dogs with terrible names. We should be filing injunctions against those who afflict their pets with Cookie, Bridgette, Elmore, Thurston, Tomato, Spanky, Homer, Riley, Oz, Claude.

Me? I'm not guilty. One of my two pups is called Pantouflas --- Spanish for "bedroom slippers" (he's the little one in Fig. 1 above).

The other one is Doggie. That's him down there below. Does he look miserable with that appellation, I ask you?

--- Carlos Amantea

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