Fanboy 4D Taping
by Eric J. Kregel
part 1 of 2
Toggles! I have recently visited your website and found out I own your book. Imagine that! Ever since I was a kid, I loved Duke Spear and watched the show religiously, almost memorizing every show. I noticed on your streaming video section that episodes #7 and #9 were blurry. How would you like to get fresh, digitally recorded episodes for only $3 a piece? Write back!
This e-mail began it all. Simple, straightforward: one fan of the great sci-fi show of “Duke Spear” from the early eighties to another.
Yes, I am a fan of Duke Spear. I don’t mind the cheesy keyboard soundtrack, the puffed out shoulder pads, the spandex, the big hair, or even the plastic monsters. I don’t think television has ever been the same since the network pulled the plug on Duke Spear after the third season.
What’s worst, for those of you who are now giggling at a grown man’s obsession with this kid’s show, I’m not only a fan but I’ve made it my profession. Ten years ago, I wrote a book chronicling everything about the show: episode guides, character bios, behind the scenes, and anything else a fan would want or, hyperbolically, need. To promote the book, I ran a website that has, in its eighth year, become my sole income (most of my money is made through pop-up ads and video sales).
Duke Spear and I go a long way, so it wouldn’t be odd that someone offered to sell me episodes of the show. In fact, it made my morning. The production company vanished four years ago and I bought the rights to the show, to broadcast them “as I have them,” meaning my personal recordings, from a VHS machine back in 1990. All of them were blurry; episodes #7 and #9 especially so.
So to find these episodes, especially with the boast that it’s in digital, was a wonder. Innocently, I bit and paid the fellow. Two hours later, they came to me attached to an e-mail.
I had never seen such clarity! I could have sworn they must have been recorded in High Definition, but that made little sense from a show shot in 1983. The characters — Duke Spear, Vetta Dering, and Dr. Dale Kruchow — were people again, not pink blobs sifting through the fuzz and distilled light of my broadcasts.
When I watched them, memories flooded my mind. As a teenager, the idea of marrying science and fiction was new to me. Certainly, traveling through space wasn’t a new idea but the idea that we could discover the world, play out philosophies, and learn about people through a space opera was opened, as if I was in a dark room suddenly filled with light, by Duke Spear.
Duke Spear ran from 1983 to 1986, up against other major shows of the era. Duke was a former professional hockey player from Edmonton whose former college professor, Dr. Kruchow, found a way to travel from our world into other worlds by dimensional travel. Vetta, a nosy reporter, snuck aboard Duke’s ship and became part of the crew. At the end of the pilot, they were hired by a superior race of people to fight crime by traveling through dimensions. They were given a cool ship, tight fitting spandex uniforms, and a talking robot.
I was eleven when the first show aired and it walked me through Jr. High and into High School, my first date, and the awakening of myself as a man. The first two were merely chronological, but the latter was due to watching Duke Spear.
In the middle of Spear’s first season, I noticed Vetta Derring. She was played by the actress Myra Firestorm, a half-native/half-Irish raven haired beauty with green eyes and dark skin. She was my first crush, my first notice that girls were something more than just classmates. All to Myra Firestorm.
At the end, it was Myra Firestorm who caused the show its cancellation. She wanted out — seeking a “serious” acting career — and left mid-season in 1986. They tried replacing her with a blond, but the chemistry wasn’t there and viewers, except maybe me, dropped off. Myra, with the exception of a beer commercial, was never seen again, except in re-runs.
I went onto to College, Grad School, and my doctorate work, specializing in Medieval Mythology, until my first, late wife gave me as a Christmas present a whole box of video tapes for Christmas. She traded for them on-line and got me the whole series. Elated, I re-watched them and discovered a show with tight plots, all right acting, and some of the best scripts that were ever out there.
So I wrote a book, interviewing the writers, actors (except Ms. Firestorm, who could not be contacted), and producers of the show, getting a tidy handle for my book. After launching my website, I never had to teach a class or write a research paper again. All because of my murky videos of Duke.
A week after receiving the cleanest copy of Duke Spear I’ve ever seen, another e-mail came:
How did you like those copies? I’ve got a million more! Lets keep in touch, duke4ever. In fact, let me make this REALLY interesting. How would you like to see an episode from season 4?
Too many things about that e-mail struck me strange. First of all, there was/were/are/would be never a season four. I talked to everyone involved and episode 79, “Curtains,” was the last time anyone ever did anything, officially, for Duke Spear.
Secondly, there was a greeting at the end of the e-mail, using the word “toggles”. As uncommon as that expression might be (try never!), I only knew one other person who used such an idiom. Blake Henry, my roommate in Grad school. I studied literature, he studied astrophysics. A brilliant man who I lost touch with the day after we graduated.
Rumor had it he went crazy working on a super-theory, intending to unite macro and microphysics together. He was said to be drooling on anti-depresents in his mom’s basement, somewhere in Manitoba. Also a fan of Duke Spears. Toggles and a possible fourth season? It deserved, at least, a reply to which I muttered something about being interested and send me a sample.
An hour later, fanboy846 sent me an e-mail with a video attachment.
True to his word, it was a full episode of Duke Spears. Vetta was back, alongside her replacement, and they were shooting across different dimensions. A new opening for the show, but with the same music, the same hair, and the actors... and they didn’t look a day over their age in 1986! The episode, “A Crime in Time,” was one I had never seen, with a whole new story arc with the same expressions and sensibilities as the old show.
Where did you get this?
was all I wrote back to fanboy846.
An hour passed and I got a reply:
I have 7 more seasons, all like new. It normally costs $1000 per season, but I’ll make an exception for you. What city do you live in?
Now I didn’t like this. Overnight, we have all learned internet etiquette, such as what “:->” means, you don’t give people’s address away, where to do “safe” shopping, and, above all, not to give away ANYTHING personal on-line. The fact that he asked me, after producing something impossible, rattled me. I left my computer, went out for some beer and pizza, hoping not to go near my address box for at least another day.
The next morning, another e-mail was waiting for me:
Let me make this even more interesting? Ever wonder what a female Sherlock Holmes would look like? How about if your favorite cartoon hero, then white, was black? Ever wonder what a Hindi Wonder Woman would look like? I have all of the answers. Just tell me the city your computer is in and I can give you what you want, but refuse to believe exists.
My city, much like an address, is, again, breaking the civil laws on our on-line community. A second try, as if these imaginary shows were a piece of cheese in some elaborate mousetrap to get me to say my address, city, and postal code on-line made these mails now a threat, more than an invitation.
And that phrase! Toggles? Again, it took me back to my grad school days with Blake Henry. Blake, the man who was so naturally in shape that he woke up one morning, felt bored, and entered our town’s marathon. Blake Henry, who read things for fun no one else could understand. Blake, who ended every chat with, “Toggles!” Did he find me? Is this an elaborate hoax on his part, to reconnect with an old buddy? With anyone else, this would make sense except for the fact that Blake hated practical jokes. He didn’t get them, he didn’t repeat them, and he, when one happened near him, would quietly ignore that such a thing occurred. In other words, Blake wouldn’t have found some video and claim he’s got his hands on “missing” episodes of our favorite TV show just to see me: he would just call me up. And yet, who else uses such an expression?
Is this you, Blake?
I wrote back.
I mailed him my city’s name and took the cheese.
Mostly. This is for real, Ben. I have over 250 of Duke Spear that do not exist on this planet. Tell me what city you live in and you will see them all for free!
After that, I received no more e-mails for a week. This was hard on me, at least the first couple of days, since I felt like I had stumbled into some great mystery, unraveling a secret plot concerning TV shows. Then work took over, along with my daily routines, and I soon forgot about such mysteries. Toggles!, Duke Spear’s missing fourth season, and the rest soon became nothing more than an odd memory, full of sound and fury signifying... you guessed it.
Exactly a week from the day I received my last e-mail, a knock came on my door. I opened it to see who was visiting and I found Blake Henry... or an older version of Blake.
He was balding with a monk’s circle on the top of his head, 150 pounds overweight, sad worry lines around his eyes and mouth, grey skinned like a smoker, and a few inches shorter than I remembered. He just stood there, sweating and shaking.
“Hello?” I asked.
“Ben Menser?” the balding, heavy man asked. I nodded. “You’re firstname.lastname@example.org?” Again, I nodded. His eyes darted to the right and then to the left. I caught a flash of red from the corners, leaving me to guess he hadn’t slept right. “Stay away from the fourth season of Duke Spear, if you know what’s good for you. Stay far away or this will happen to you!”
He raised a Styrofoam cup to eye-level and, with a look of strain in his face and a shaking of his arm’s muscle, crushed it in his hands. With this simple act, he demonstrated that he was a threat... at least to disposal coffee cups.
With a grin, I pointed to the piece of garbage in his hands. “That right there?” I asked. “That’s what will happen to me?”
His fist faced me, with his index finger pointing at me like the tip of a rapier. “Just watch it!”
“Blake?” I asked, still giggling over the death of the Styrofoam cup.
The heavyweight man twirled around and stormed off, marching down my street and away from my house in a dramatically menacing glory.
When I got back to my computer, a message was waiting for me:
I wrote back:
I need to see you right away. I’m on the first plane to your city, I’ll be there tonight. Something out of my control has happened.
Blake? Is this you?
Yes and accept no imitations. I’ll see you tonight, Ben.
After reading that, I took to cleaning my house. Living as a widower and a bachelor, I rarely had people over. Occasionally, my parents will stop by but I can always catch them on the landing, barring them from witnessing the chaos that’s my life.
This was different. This was a friend, an old friend, a friend who knew me before the death of my first wife and the divorce of my second. Who knew Ben, a fellow who was convinced he was going to change the world, who now works chronicling the insights and achievements of someone else, someone fictional like Duke Spear. I didn’t want to hide my sad life, but I also didn’t want to rush over and knock down my guest as soon as he came in.
So I cleaned myself up.
Copyright © 2008 by Eric J. Kregel