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Meeting Spock

“My folks came to the U.S. as immigrants, aliens, and became citizens. I was born in Boston, a citizen, went to Hollywood and became an alien.” — Leonard Nimoy

Leonard Nimoy, known to hundreds of millions of people as Spock, died recently at the age of eighty-three. My brother was a huge fan of Star Trek, the television show, and is a gifted impersonator of movie and television celebrities. In high school, he founded the student club STUD—Star Trek Underground Devotees. STUD meetings were essentially showcases for my brother to perform his original wacky versions of Star Trek episodes in which he imitated with uncanny verisimilitude every member of the crew of the starship Enterprise. His Spock was virtually indistinguishable from Nimoy’s Spock.

I could do a credible Bones, the chief medical officer, and a pretty good Scotty, who ran the impulse engines powering the Enterprise, but my Spock and Kirk lacked nuance. When my brother was so inspired, he would enact hilarious scenes involving the entire Enterprise crew, and keep his audience, however small or large, laughing for the duration, his imitations nuanced and then some.

“The miracle is this: the more we share the more we have.” — Leonard Nimoy

In 1967, my freshman year of college at UC Santa Cruz, I became enamored of Senator Eugene McCarthy who was running for President of the United States against Lyndon Johnson. He was pro-farmer, pro-labor, anti-corporate, and vowed to get us out of Vietnam as soon as he was elected. I joined thousands of other college kids in America and became Clean For Gene, which for young men meant cutting our long hair and shaving our mustaches and beards, and for young women meant wearing bras and donning skirts and dresses instead of jeans and halter tops. You may recall it was Eugene McCarthy’s strong showing in the New Hampshire and Wisconsin primaries that prompted President Lyndon Johnson not to seek re-election.

When Johnson withdrew from the race, Robert Kennedy entered and soon made famous the idiotic rallying cry, “There is light at the end of the tunnel.” Though not politically correct to criticize Robert Kennedy, who was assassinated shortly after winning the 1968 California primary, those of us who were devoted to Eugene McCarthy loathed Bobby Kennedy for entering the race against our hero.

But before that California primary vote, we Clean For Gene college kids worked hard to turn out the vote for our man. To that end, the McCarthy campaign asked us to come to Los Angeles and canvas neighborhoods to explain to voters why McCarthy was a better choice than Kennedy.

I traveled with a carload of fellow fanatics to Los Angeles where we spent a few days walking precincts for Gene. We were young, naïve, and full of hope, but more than this we did not want to get drafted and sent to fight an unwinnable war in Vietnam and die for a bunch of morons serving the military industrial complex. If McCarthy won, we would be safe to keep exploring the counter culture paradigm that came to be known as The Sixties, or so we hoped.

Hundreds of recently shorn and nicely dressed young adults convened at the McCarthy For President headquarters in Los Angeles and were asked to fill out questionnaires to determine where in that great sprawl of humanity we might best be deployed. Because I spoke fairly good Spanish, I was assigned to a predominantly Latino precinct. But before they turned us loose on the voters, we went through an orientation process in which several smart people explained the campaign literature and gave us tips on how to entice suspicious people to open their doors to us. And for inspiration, the orientation session climaxed with Leonard Nimoy dashing in to give us a pep talk and shake our hands before we hit the streets.

Leonard Nimoy had been a staunch Eugene McCarthy supporter from the beginning of the campaign, but Leonard, in his own way as highly intelligent as Spock, knew that Kennedy entering the race meant McCarthy had zero chance of victory. Nevertheless, he gave an earnest pep talk and thanked us profusely.

I then had a hellacious time—hilarious in retrospect—canvassing a Mexican American neighborhood where every single person I met was deeply committed to Robert Kennedy because Roberto was hermano of the deceased demigod John F. Kennedy. Thus the following drama played out dozens of times on that seemingly endless day.

Todd knocks on the door of a well-kept little house. The door opens. A man or woman frowns at Todd and says, “Si? Que quiere? No hablo Ingles.”

“No problem,” Todd replies in Spanish. “I speak Spanish. Here are brochures written in Spanish extolling the virtues of Eugene McCarthy, a friend of the farmer and the immigrant, a great man of peace, who is running for President.”

Thinking Todd insane, the man or woman reverently intones the name Kennedy and turns to look at a wall on which hang three large framed portraits, one of a hypothetical Jesus Christ, one of a hypothetical Virgin Mary mother of Jesus, and one of John F. Kennedy.

Persistent to a fault, Todd explains why McCarthy is vastly superior to Kennedy. The man or woman listens politely, says Gracias, and closes the door.

“I consider myself more spiritual than religious.” Leonard Nimoy

Returning to McCarthy headquarters the next morning, my cohorts and I filled out questionnaires otra vez, sat through another orientation, and once again Leonard Nimoy dashed in to give us a pep talk. Perhaps it was my dread of walking another precinct where everyone worshiped Kennedy, but Leonard’s pep talk struck me as hollow and disingenuous, and I was seriously thinking of giving up politics and going to the beach or catching a flick, or both.

Then some other exhausted dweeb called out, “Hey Leonard, do some Spock.”

And with great sincerity, Leonard responded in a voice half-Leonard and half-Spock, “This is not about me. This is about you doing whatever you can to make a positive difference in our society.”

Todd Walton’s web site is


  1. William Ray March 11, 2015

    If it is any comfort, when McCarthy knew for sure Nixon won in 1968, he said, “Now that we are under Nixon’s wing, we can begin to think of other things.” Then he paused and laughed. “That scans,” he added.

    “Thinking of other things” is what we have been doing since it was clear murder always stood watch as the politics of last resort for the status quo. Strange that Paul Wellstone died in a tailspin on a good flight-day after Cheney said to him, “There is more than one way to win an election, Paul.” The FBI, whose offices were three hours away in Minneapolis, arrived in a little over an hour.

    McCarthy also said,”If elected, I will go to the Pentagon.” (a parody of Eisenhower’s campaign promise “If elected I will go to Korea.”)

    Perhaps the best nomination speech of all time was McCarthy’s 1960 plea, “Do not abandon this man!” on behalf of Adlai Stevenson. Stevenson instead got Ambassador to the UN, where he faced down the Russians, and back in Washington in the meetings to decide whether to bomb Cuba, he was the only one to defy the military. He stuck to his guns, but the military (i.e., Curtis LeMay) didn’t mourn Kennedy a year later. LeMay had his entire H-bomb B-52’s in the air the morning of Nov. 22, 1963 in case of a subsequent USSR attack. There were instructions to the pilots to destroy their flight-books after landing.

    Just a great bunch of guys.

  2. Todd Walton March 11, 2015

    Yes, William, I remember when I first fell under Eugene McCarthy’s spell. He spoke at the Greek Theatre at UC Berkeley and I was stunned and delighted that such an intelligent person with such a subtle ironic sense of how the world works would dare run for president. Your allusion to Adlai Stevenson, another such brilliant, reminds me how often I have been completely out of step with the popular view. After the first debate between President Jimmy Carter and challenger Ronald Reagan, I gleefully declared, “Jimmy slaughtered him!” Only to learn that 98% of Americans polled thought Reagan made Jimmy look like a fool. So it goes.

  3. Dave Smith March 12, 2015

    And Todd… I didn’t miss the Vonnugut quote there at the end of your comment…

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