Friday, February 27, 2015

Remembering the day I was contacted by Mr. Spock

Live long and prosper: Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock
Most everyone knows the story of Mr. Spock, aka Leonard Nimoy, coming up with the Vulcan greeting based on what he recalled seeing as a youngster attending High Holiday services with his grandfather.

Years later, it was that memory, he said, that led to his developing the iconic gesture – hand held out in front of his face, the middle and ring fingers spread apart in what is now a very familiar pose.

The four-word greeting, almost always uttered by Mr. Spock in his oh-so emotionless manner, also nicely echoes the Priestly Blessing – “Live long and prosper.”

Lenoard Nimoy managed to do both. He died Thursday from end-stage chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. He was 83.

About all I have to add is a bit of shameless name dropping.

Several years ago, when I was still working for the place with the printing press, I wrote a news brief about a little controversy brewing in the local Jewish community. Apparently some rabbis were upset with a new art exhibit at the Jewish community center, featuring nude photos of women draped in religious garb – tallis, tefillin – and not much else.

The exhibit was drawn from a book of photography, Shekhina, created by, you guessed it, Leonard Nimoy. Some critics found the photos revolutionary, others salacious. Most in the Orthodox community were outraged and demanding that the JCC shut down the exhibit and, if possible, beam Mr. Spock far, far away.

The following morning, when I checked my e-mail, I had a note from an LNimoy asking if I was interested in hearing the real story of the Shekhina. In utter amazement I realized that, well, Mr. Spock was trying to reach me.

After jumping over a few minor logistical hurdles, I eventually hooked up with the Vulcan on the Left Coast and had a delightful conversation that became the focus of an expansive feature story about his life, art and the genesis of the Vulcan greeting. I recall Mr. Nimoy telling me in detail how he sat next to his grandfather as a child, enthralled by the pageantry of the High Holiday services, especially the moment when the Kohanim blessed the congregation.

The rest, as they say, has become boob-tube history and Trekkie lore! On a personal note, it was also pretty cool talking to an actor I first spotted on the small screen as Spock in the late 1960s in the TV room of my frat house in Athens.

A footnote. After much give and take, the executive director of the local JCC announced at the time that he had spoken with all interested members of the Jewish community and would be taking their views into account as he decided the future of the Shekhina exhibit. Apparently he was still trying to figure out how best to handle the issue when the show finished its scheduled run six weeks later.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Working, playing and a peek-a-boo surprise

Kodak moment: Bailey Boo and Pops make two
It was one of those special moments, the instant when Bailey first took hold of my hand and tottered about like a drunken sailor. She has yet to fully find her sea legs, but is gamely attempting to push her way into the future.

She cruises about these days, lifting herself up, holding onto anything handy -- a table or shelf, bedroom wall or pile of boxes. It's all about getting from here to there, pushing and pulling and grabbing hold of the moment.

It's tough work, this leaping forward and figuring out the sights, sounds and logistics of life. After all, she's only 16 months old. But Bailey is a happy warrior, laughing and giggling her way around obstacles, gleefully offering up a word or two of gibberish that has recently started making sense.

The road is clear. The future beckons.

There's much to be learned by watching a baby. If lucky, the game begins with health and a little wealth; enough stuff, at least, to keep the focus on the natural and important bits of living -- eating, sleeping and pooping! Bailey's now exploring walking and talking; each day filled with something new and amazing.

So if you're in the game and have a baby around the house, it's an incredible and joyful journey. It can also be peek-a-boo surprising. I'll explain.

Just last weekend, the lovely Miss Wendy and I managed to spend some quality time with Bailey, a day filled with tottering around the house, sliding and gliding and giggling with glee. The plan was for Bubbe and me to watch over Bailey while Lauren and Josh had a night free.

After feeding and watering the baby, reading books and singing songs, playing with blocks and dolls and phones and remotes -- hey, anything with buttons and lights is in play -- standing up and sitting down and rolling about for an hour or so, it was time to put on our jammies and go to sleep. Yeah!

This is probably a good place to mention that playing -- lots of playing -- is a good thing. Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning. It's really the work of childhood. At least that's the thinking of Fred Rogers -- yes, that Mr. Rogers!

I wholeheartedly agree; but I digress.

Bailey, as she is want to do, cried out for a second or two after being gently tossed into her crib; then she rolled onto her tummy, found her thumb and a comfy corner and lightly floated away on a metaphorical cloud.

Here's another observation. There's probably nothing more stressful then a fussy youngster; and there's probably nothing more comforting then a happy, sleeping baby. After all, when Bailey is happy, everyone is happy.

And so it went for the next 12 hours or so, until night gave way to the lengthening and lingering shadows of morning. Wendy and I momentarily pushed aside the light, then grudgingly gave in to the demands of life, stretching and yawning and listening for the morning song of our grandchild next door.

But all was quiet -- too quiet! The sun was rising well above the horizon and Bailey had yet to cry out. It was a good hour passed her usual wake-up call and for an instant a seed of panic took hold of our hearts.

We wiggled out of bed and padded quickly to the nearby nursery, ever so gently pushing back the door. Light streamed into the room and I could spot a corner of the crib, but no sign of Bailey. I pushed the door a bit wider and still no sign of her. The seed was growing

Another shove, swinging the door fully open, and I found myself face-to-face with my granddaughter. Bailey stood with her arms atop one corner of the bed, her head resting comfortably on her hands, a little angel, just about perfect in all the ways that matter. She might have been resting their in regal repose for only a moment, perhaps an hour or more. A look of bemused indifference spilled across her features. Our tardiness was forgiven.

We stared at one another for an instant longer and then Bailey smiled, a gap-tooth grin that I took to mean good morning and where the heck have you been. The day was newly born and grand adventures rested mightily on the horizon. Life beckoned and time was wasting.