He’s Dead, Jim

What I discovered when I wore a Star Trek t-shirt around town.

A few Christmases ago, my wife bought me a funny Star Trek t-shirt (see picture below). The shirt makes a joke about two things that happened in almost every episode of the original TV series: the red-clad security guards died (to convince us there was real danger in this episode!), and Dr. McCoy looked up in increasingly implausible shock to inform the captain, “He’s dead, Jim!”

trek_laundry_hes_dead_jim_tshirtWhat I didn’t realize when I received this gift was that I’d also received a ticket to meaningful community with my neighbors.

But you need a bit of backstory before I explain how.

I’ve written before that a crucial element of strong communities is shared stories. People bond over shared experiences, whether it’s their own story that they lived out together (“Remember that time?”), or a myth they all learned as a kid (“Ooh, Transformers, I loved those!”). And the best stories, the ones that really shaped us as a group, are worth telling and retelling, passing on to more people…even reenacting in rituals, festivals, or Comic Cons. My goddaughter’s father regales his girls every night with dramatic tales of great heroes from history (I contribute the darkest and weirdest fairy tales from Grimm or Andersen or Malory just to balance things out).

I guess we don’t have all that many great stories these days. Because the ones we do have, the ones we think are worth daydreaming about, dissecting, and bonding over, are nearly universal among people who allow themselves such joys. Harry Potter, Doctor Who, Star Wars, etc.

I say among those people, because for the rest, imagination is something for children. Feet firmly planted in the “real world,” they have all of the facts but none of the meaning. To them, the people who devote time to such childish pursuits are “nerds.” Fascinating; the people with the best imaginations, best equipped to both see possibility and anticipate risk, most well-versed in the stories and tradition of our culture (or other people’s), are socially ostracized and deemed irrelevant. In fact, they are encouraged to view their beloved pursuits as irrelevant; a niche interest to be hidden with its owner in the basement—not something to be brought back through the wardrobe into normal life.

Back to my t-shirt.

I’ve discovered that when I wear my Star Trek shirt, I make new friends. Every single time. The cashier at the grocery store, the barista at the coffee shop, the person pushing the swing near me at the park. Give them a reason, a visible sign of an invisible grace, that I am in fact a kindred spirit, and Clark Kent pulls open his dress shirt to reveal who he truly is. Next thing I know, I’m having an interaction that makes both our days better. Sometimes it’s just a minute of laughing together over a shared story. Sometimes we get into more detailed analysis of something about Star Trek. And sometimes, we have such fun that I invite them to our next happy hour. Out of those conversations have come new friendships, new startup companies, new community initiatives, and new stories. And at the very least, each time I put on that shirt, I know I’m going to escape anonymity and smile more today.

I can’t wait to see what happens to me when my new Doctor Who-Harry Potter shirt arrives.


From the Bartender

Every month, my wife and I throw a cocktail party for our friends, neighbors, strangers…anybody we can squeeze in our house who likes good drinks and good conversation. With each column, I like to share what I send to our “happy hour” email list so you can enjoy the drinks too.

I had a conversation with a speakeasy mixologist the other day who explained to me that the virtue of the classic martini is that when you combine the three ingredients at the right proportions, you get something completely unique. It doesn’t taste like gin, or vermouth, or bitters/olive/lemon. It tastes like a martini.

The same is (almost) true of a slightly more accessible cocktail: the Fitzgerald. This drink is what you’d get if a gin sour grew up and moved out of its parents’ house. See the recipe here: How to Bring Gatsby to Your Next Party.

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