In August, not long after I’d returned from summer camp with the Boy Scouts, the annual Las Vegas Star Trek Convention came around again. This would be my third year attending the convention, and this year, I would enter the costume contest.
Wearing a custom-made and fitted uniform from the movie era of the original Star Trek–specifically, the 2280s and ’90s, as seen in the films Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan through the first act of Star Trek: Generations–I made my way to the Las Vegas Hilton. The contest wasn’t until later in the day, so I wandered the convention area. I’d tried to make the costume as accurate as possible. Heads turned everywhere I went. People wanted to get their photo taken with me. Some people even thought I worked at Star Trek: The Experience.
I chatted with a few of the guests and the actors who were in the dealer room, signing autographs. This was the first time I met Wil Wheaton, and I was impressed by how personable he was. I’d never even heard of his blog, but my conversations with him and other fans around him brought it to my attention quickly enough.
Before long, it was time for the costume contest to begin. I entered my name onto the list, and quickly realized that I was just one of hundreds competing. Some of the costumes on display were rudimentary, like one person who wore a Star Trek-themed t-shirt with pins attached to it; others were ridiculous, like Borg Elvis; still others were more impressive than my own costume, like a group dressed as Bajorans, who would have blended in perfectly on the set of Star Trek: Deep Space Nine. Not everyone was in a Star Trek-themed costume: there was a pair of gorillas from Planet of the Apes; someone apparently midway through a sex change operation was dressed in what amounted to a chainmail bikini with a broadsword; and there was also a young woman in an incredibly well-done Illyria costume from the final season of Angel.
A crowd of thousands gathered to watch the contest, and as I quickly learned, they would pull double duty as judges: winners would be selected by whomever generated the most/loudest applause. I was a bit dismayed by this for two reasons: first, judging by applause levels seemed a tad… amateur, for such an otherwise high-quality convention; second, costumes like mine–an otherwise generic science officer, rather than a recognizable character–were disadvantaged simply because some people seemed to applaud anything with their favorite character’s name. In the end, the results were mixed. The Bajorans, rightfully, took first place. I took sixth, placing behind Borg Elvis, the gorillas, the aforementioned guy in a t-shirt who was apparently “Slacker Kirk,” and another person whom I can no longer recall. Illyria didn’t even place at all, which was a disappointment to me.
Work went back, more or less, to a steady routine. My new supervisor was able to give me a new performance review, as the minimum of four months had passed since my last one had been completed, and although he wanted to give me the highest rating, he had to lower it to a 4 because it was too difficult to justify a 5, since my last review had been a 2. My professional life was beginning to improve, largely due to the removal of my former supervisor from the flight.
Over the week of Halloween, my squadron held a mock deployment exercise, with a three-day bivouac following it. We processed through a deployment line on Halloween, which was a Monday that year, just as if we were really going off to Iraq or Afghanistan. Instead of getting on a plane, however, we got on buses that drove us up to our bivouac area, which was adjacent to my office in Area II.
During the second day, I participated in a patrol exercise, using MILES gear. Essentially, it was Laser Tag with the laser strapped to an M-16 with a blank adapter, so that every time the M-16 fired a blank, it would fire the laser; we were covered in sensors, and had to react to an alarmed sensor as if we’d actually been shot in that spot. We were transported from site to site in a deuce-and-a-half, and had to jump out the back and take up our defensive positions whenever we came under fire from an aggressor group.
Unfortunately, our lieutenant on the trip, who’d recently graduated from the Air Force Academy–though it was hard to tell, with his total lack of military bearing, horrible-looking uniform that looked like it’d never even heard of an iron, and an inability to perform even basic marching maneuvers–was unable to process the concept of jumping straight out the back of the truck before taking his position, despite being the last out, allowing him to watch every enlisted member on the truck do it right. Also unfortunate was the fact that my defensive position was directly behind the rear tire. As I lay prone, trying to bring one of the aggressors into my sights, the lieutenant decided to jump off the side of the truck, and he landed on my leg.
To say that hurt would be an understatement. He probably weighed about 170 lbs., plus another 75-100 lbs. of gear, and it was a good five or six foot drop from the top of the truck to the ground before he landed on me. But, simulated or not, we were in the middle of a firefight, and my adrenaline was pumping. I brushed aside the pain and concentrated on taking out the aggressors before they could do the same to me.
When the patrol ended, and we’d returned to our base camp, one of the sergeants noticed that I’d started limping. Someone else had seen the lieutenant land on me, but had figured I was all right because I hadn’t spoken up. One of the Senior Airmen in my flight drove me to the base hospital, and while my leg wasn’t broken, it was still injured sufficiently to be given a prescription for painkillers that was actually stronger than “Vitamin M” (aka Ibuprofen, or more accurately the brand name Motrin, which the military medical establishment handed out like Halloween candy), and I was placed on crutches for the next two weeks. I went back to the bivouac, and finished off the mock deployment the next day.
My next big mistake started off on the Friday before Halloween, before the bivouac had begun. I went to a party at Quark’s Bar and Restaurant, in Star Trek: The Experience. Once again, I wore my Star Trek costume, and this time, the competition wasn’t so steep as it had been during the convention; I took first place in the contest. While I was at the party, I met a girl. Her name was Megan, and she was wearing a renaissance faire dress, tying it into Star Trek via an episode where Q forced Captain Picard and his crew to play out the roles of Robin Hood and his Merry Men (leading to one of Lt. Worf‘s seminal lines: “Sir, I must protest! I am not a merry man!”).
Megan and I started dating, pretty much immediately. It was… intense. I was… an idiot. I barely knew this woman, and I let myself get caught up in something that, at long last, made me feel good about myself. After nearly a year of being told that I was a worthless excuse of a human being, who “brought discredit upon the Air Force,” who didn’t deserve to be promoted–let alone keep the rank I already had, having someone tell me, in both word and deed, that I was special, and that I was worthy of her time and affection was, quite plainly, intoxicating. It also blinded me to things that I should have noticed, and it would have saved me a lot of heartache if I had.
An episode of Star Trek: Voyager once dealt with a character in a similarly unhealthy relationship. He sought the aid of the ship’s Vulcan tactical officer, to learn how to purge his emotions. The Vulcan described the younger man‘s emotional state as shon-ha’lock, or “the engulfment,” in which reason is subsumed by a torrent of overwhelming passion and desire. The character also described it as the “most intense and psychologically perilous form of eros.” It was a perfect description of what I, too, was experiencing. I was emotionally vulnerable, and she took advantage.
Only a few weeks after we met, I brought her along to meet my family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday. I was completely caught up in my emotions, and she was playing off them like a pro. While we were in California, we went to Knott’s Berry Farm and Universal Studios. We also paid a visit to the family that had adopted her daughter. They were good people, and welcomed us into their home. I would later find out that she was taking advantage of them, as well.
Upon our return to Las Vegas, I made another mistake: I added her onto my cell phone plan. Within days, she all but vanished from my life. She wouldn’t answer when I called her phone, and sent me texts and emails claiming that she was sick and had lost her voice.
When Christmas came around once more, I flew out to see my mom’s side of the family in Wisconsin again. I hadn’t seen Megan in nearly a month, but I was still convinced she was “the one” for me. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Fortunately, things didn’t go quite as badly as they could have. The beginning of my realization that Megan had used me came soon after I returned home to Nellis.
And found a $900 phone bill waiting for me.
Merry Christmas, and a big “fuck you” from Megan. It was amazing how someone with laryngitis could use up so many minutes on a cell phone plan that she not only had overage charges, she had nearly a thousand dollars of them. As the year drew to a close, I dedicated myself to finding out just how the hell she could run up such a massive bill.
Right after I cut off her phone.
And the best… er, worst… heck, both… was yet to come…