Crackerjack was originally written as a gift for a younger fan who wasn’t really old enough to be reading my racier material. This fan likes Star Trek:The Next Generation, so I decided to set the story in that universe, but I didn’t want to be on the Enterprise, and I didn’t want to be dealing with too many of the characters.
As a story written for a young person, I wanted a young character, so I hit upon the idea of grabbing Wesley Crusher. He has often – completely legitimately – been criticized as being a “Mary Sue” type of character. This is a character who is impossibly good, impossibly smart, impossibly lucky, etc. It’s a parody of a true character. I wanted Wes to be a bit different.
I also wanted Geordi, as the story was to be about prejudging. Partly that was due to racism, and partly due to his obvious infirmity, blindness. As a pair, I felt they could work together, too, and would believably want to help each other. The title refers, not only to the treat served at ballgames, but also to “an exceptionally good person or thing”. The reader is left to determine just who really is crackerjack.
The story begins with an old man asking his grandchildren if they ever heard of the time he watched Ted Williams hit a home run. They clamor for a story and he obliges. His tale begins with the two friends returning from a ceremony on the Kreetassan home world, when they suddenly run into a strange cosmic phenomenon. The phenomenon throws them back in time, to Earth. Because the shuttle they are in is damaged, they are forced to make an emergency landing. Duke Ellington is playing on the radio, and there’s a reference to fighting in the Middle East, and to British residents needing to go to bomb shelters.
They need supplies in order to get back, so they will need to head into civilization.
They change their clothes so as to mimic period garb, but the visor sticks out like a sore thumb. A decision is made to outfit Geordi with sunglasses and carry the visor along in a duffle, if needed. They replicate some money and follow a river toward what they figure is the nearest town.
While in town, they sleep out in the open. In the morning, they realize they’ve been sleeping in a familiar place, at the foot of the statue of Lincoln, at the Lincoln Memorial. They’re in Washington, DC.
As Geordi waits, Wesley runs out to look for a place to get breakfast. It rains a bit, but then the rain stops. When Geordi puts his palm up to check if the rain has really stopped, someone presses coins into his hand, thinking he’s a panhandler. Wesley finds a lunch counter and leads Geordi there. When they enter, the proprietor refuses them service and they are directed to a sign on the wall that says, Whites Only.
A newspaper then reveals the date – September 1st, 1941.
How do they get to the ballgame? How do they get back? All can be revealed by reading, of course.
Star Trek often covers socially difficult subjects such as racism, so I wanted to confront it head-on. The time period, I feel, is a great one, as it is pre-war and pre-Jackie Robinson, but attitudes are starting, slowly, to change. Plus the presence of a Whites Only sign was very logical for the time and place in question.
Geordi, of course, was a logical subject for racism, in particular because his infirmity makes it impossible for him to actually see why people are prejudging him. Wesley works, not only as Geordi’s companion, but also as a wide-eyed observer who doesn’t understand why the people of the time are acting like they are – and why some are kind or even overly protective. The people of the time aren’t just one big mass. Some care, some act but are inept (such as an anonymous person giving Geordi charity), while others are pettily cruel.
Time and Place
One of the ways I set the scenes was with music of the time. Take the A Train is played, but so are The Boogie-Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B, Stardust and Frenesi. Each chapter begins with a link to a YouTube video. The music is mostly horn-driven and tends to be from big bands.
The chapters also each begin with a picture. There’s Ted Williams, another is of a streetcar, another is of a row of brownstones, etc. The pictures are all in black and white, not only to evoke the sense of an old black and white film, but also to bring home the idea of racists seeing the world in terms of only black and white.
Furthermore, I wanted to evoke a bit of the old TOS episode, The City on the Edge of Forever, although that one takes place in 1930. One of the backdrops to the story is the prospect of imminent war, where bullets aren’t going to care one whit about the race of the person they strike. In Crackerjack, the bullets are going to be flying at Americans in only a little over three months’ time.
An interphase is a canon construction, and refers to a kind of temporal, spatial or somatic displacement, often without intention. While I handle interphases in other stories, I wanted this one to be more of an engineering problem, rather than a philosophical musing. For Wesley and Geordi, it’s a problem to be solved, rather than a reason to question existence.
Another aspect of the story is framing it as a tale told by an elder. The elder is Wesley, who you never otherwise see as an extreme elder. I wanted it to be his perspective and his long-term hindsight that would shape the narrative. Also, as Wesley learns about racism, I wanted him to be teaching his grandchildren the same lessons, that there are some people who don’t get along with others, and sometimes that’s for the most unfair reasons.
Memory is also key to this story, as it is about Wesley’s memories, but also the memories of the people they meet, and the memory of the reader about that time, or about what they’ve learned of that time, or what they, personally, have experienced of racism, and also of human decency.
But don’t worry about forgetting. Your memory has enough film in it.
The music was great fun to put together.
- The story opens with Duke Ellington’s Take the A Train, which is not only used to set the scene but also to evoke motion, travel and distance. In this case, the traveling is temporal as well as spatial.
- Next is Helen O’Connell’s Green Eyes, meant ironically as Geordi cannot see anyone’s eyes, and his eyes are kept hidden.
- Betty Jane Bonney with the Les Brown Orchestra sings Joltin’ Joe DiMaggio in order to place the reader at the ballgame, even though the Yankees aren’t playing.
- The Ink Spots’ We Three is to remind the reader that the three principals in the story, even though they are spending time together, are all fairly lonely people.
- With the Andrews Sisters’ Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy of Company B, the reader is reminded that war is looming on the horizon. Every life is about to change.
- Artie Shaw’s Frenesi serves as a romantic theme, but the whip cracks in the background are an indicator that Wesley and Geordi cannot dawdle. They need to return to their own time.
- Dinah Shore’s Stardust is another romantic theme, but also evokes the stars, where Geordi and Wesley must return.
- Finally, Frank Sinatra and Connie Haines (with Tommy Dorsey’s band) singing Look at Me Now brings the reader closer to Wesley’s present as an old man. In particular, with its lyrics about not having cared about love before, and changing so that love becomes the most important thing – that’s what I wanted for the elder Wesley to be like, to be someone who had learned that nothing beats love and family.
The story is rated K.
I was pleased with how this one turned out, but the problems are solved rather neatly and easily. If I were writing for an adult, I probably would have thrown in more obstacles, and I might have made the racism harsher than it was, but I like that it’s not quite as hard-edged. I don’t think I needed to really hit people over the head with it.