In his long black hair, flowing robes and elaborate uniform he is, beyond all doubt, the commanding presence in the basement of Bodacious Classics. He's more commanding, even, than Commander Bodacious, who owns the bar and spins the records.
Microphone in hand, Qaolin strides back to the dance floor. In the background, Commander Bodacious punches a button. Huge, muscular guitar riffs rip through the room. There's no mistaking the tune. It's all tattooed bikers, broken pool cues and flying beer bottles.
It's the anthem of ass kicking.
It's "Bad to the Bone."
On cue, Qaolin wails:
"On the day I was born the nurses all gathered 'round!"
"jIboghta'DI' Hoch ajmaHpu ma'Dech!"
He powers through the song like he just blew through swinging doors. The room goes quiet. Qaolin wields this strange, guttural language like a club, and his voice is the force behind the blow. It fills every corner of the bar with rage and fear.
If only he knew Klingon, George Thorogood would know true badness.
As he sings, Qaolin becomes absorbed, swathed in badness, and the song envelops him, envelops the room. Drinks are set down. Conversations halt. Everyone's eyes are on Qaolin. There's no way around it.
Qaolin is pure Klingon rock star.
When the song finishes, the singing warrior bellies up to the bar. Behind him, Commander Bodacious puts on a new CD.
"Arrhhhggg!" Qaolin cries, "The only force in the universe that can bring me to my knees: ABBA!" He turns to chat with a Storm Trooper on the stool next to him.
It is, of course, a strange road that leads one to this place, to a point in life where you apply makeup and a fake forehead, speak a fake language, go by a fake name, and practice twirling a fake sword so you can go to the bars.
Yes, it is a strange road indeed, and it begins in Iowa.
At least that's where it began for Qaolin, who back then was known only as Jim Covill, a struggling Art Education student who dressed less extravagantly, spoke only earthly tongues, and only sang karaoke occasionally in English (and by his own account, he sucked).
But it was back then in Iowa (the future birthplace of James T. Kirk) that Qaolin began his long birthing, and Jim Covill began his long, downhill slide into sci-fi geekdom. Once there, Covill joined his first "ship," "Starbase 11," and ever since has been pulled inexorably into the vortex of Star Trek.
For a while, though, Jim Covill was just a casual Trekkie. He and his wife would get together with other couples and watch some episodes of The Next Generation, then come back to earth. But a few years later, after he moved back to Portland, after his wife left him, after he started a shitty catering job, things started to get serious. Covill began to realize he didn't want to just hang out with toy-collecting, family values Trekkies any more.
Jim Covill wanted something more.
Around Stardate 1995, he found what he was looking for. While attending a Star Trek Convention in town, he met his first Klingons in full regalia. They were big. They were massive. They oozed belligerence. They seethed with virility. They were gorgeous, and Jim Covill fell in love like he'd been hit with a bat'leth between the eyes.
"Klingons," Covill says, "do everything to excess. They fight to excess, laugh to excess, love to excess, eat to excess." Klingons, in other words, are uber-males. Klingons are heroes. Klingons are like gods.
So instead of joining the men's movement, Jim Covill became a Klingon. Looking back on that fateful "con," however, Covill admits there were other forces at work too. "The captain of the ship," he says, "was a walking recruiting poster: full Klingon gear, tons of Klingon cleavage, and an attitude to match."
Before long, Covill became Qaolin. He founded the "House of Kiln" and began studying the language of his adopted race. He bought all the Klingon books and tapes. He memorized proverbs like "yIvoq, ach lojmItmey yISam." ("Trust, but locate the exits.") Soon he had Klingon mastered and began translating songs like, "My Way," "Oh Little Town of Bethlehem," "Born to Be Wild," "Take Me Out to the Ball Game," and others.
Then, he started to sing.
Many of the details of his journey are lost in a haze of smoky, beer-filled Science Fiction Nights. What is important is that it ended here, at Bodacious Classics, where he and others like him now congregate to watch movies like Army of Darkness and Starship Troopers before opening up the mike.
Bodacious Classics might not quite be Q'onoS, the Klingon Home World, but at least here Qaolin is surrounded by his kindred--like Quabor, who builds doors in his time off from Starfleet, as well as Bob'a'Q and Zlk Koloth who both collect disability and are members of the Qaolin's House of Kiln.
Also ever-present is Commander Bodacious, or Ralph McKee, who chain smokes in his Starfleet uniform. McKee is a recent and die-hard convert to this blend of science and fiction, and has owned the bar for five years. Bodacious Classics took a 50% hit in business when the Ross Island bridge closed and, in a move of desperation, he decked out the place in spaceships and aliens and Star Trek collectibles.
A few other wingnuts drift in and out of Science Fiction Night, too, like the Storm Troopers at the bar, one of whom sings "Rebel Yell," every Thursday. Sometimes Boba Fett stops in for a drink, and once in a while they'll get a guest singer, like the woman from Minnesota who sang a ditty she wrote called "Give Me a Klingon Male," an ode to the magnetism of Qaolin and his lot.
"Now, Captain Kirk was a man without fail," she crooned, "but give me a Klingon Male!"
Klingon groupies. Who knew it would come to this? Surely not Marc Okrand, the linguist hired to come up with a language for the 1984 film Star Trek III: The Search for Spock. How could he have known what life his creation would take on--a language of 2000 words with no native land, no native speakers, no etymological roots? How could he know what Klingon would become?
Klingon is now said to be the fastest growing language on the planet and is spoken from Brazil to New Zealand to Uzbekistan. You can read Hamlet, and Gilgamesh, and other classics in Klingon. The Klingon Bible Project is currently translating the good book from the original Greek, Hebrew and Amharic into Klingon. There is a Klingon Elvis ("K'Elvis"). There is a Scottish group called Clan MacKlingon. There is a gay Klingon group called the "Pink Empire." There are, aside from the normal Star Trek porn (The Next Penetration), fully nude Klingon photos on the internet by Doqtaj, who happens to be a member of Qaolin's house. There's a Portland band, Stovokor, that sings half English, half Klingon. There is a Klingon Book of Condolences for September 11. Comments posted include: "I disdain dishonorable acts like that of the Sept. 11 attacks. If possible, I will lead a squad of Klingon warriors into battle to destroy this perpetrator," and, "If only we could retaliate the Klingon way! Q'apla!"
You can even search Google in Klingon.
The flourishing of Klingon is hard to account for. Other artificially constructed languages, like Esperanto, have flopped miserably. Yet this one, created for pure entertainment, lives and grows. Why?
Behind it all is something more: The Klingon ethos. In our culture, there is a hole the Klingon fills: We have no warriors.
These days, every man with enough self-awareness to tie his shoes knows he should be able to express his feelings. He should try to validate those around him. He should be in touch with himself, and not have it result in an erection. And he should remember that it's all right to cry.
But heroes don't cry. The gods validate no mortal. And the only feeling the warrior is in touch with is that of his enemy's skull being crushed. The Klingon guise provides an outlet for these residual, primal urges: Aggression, strength and courage, tempered by a sense of honor. Klingons aren't just beer-guzzling, football playing Neanderthals. They aren't half-witted, steroid-swollen professional wrestlers. They aren't pimple-faced army recruits who play war on a computer. Klingons are something bigger.
Klingons are the stuff of legend.
It's an immensely attractive role, as Qaolin knows from experience. He knows the joy of raw aggression; the satisfaction of unabashed arrogance; the sheen of honor he feels as he dons his latex forehead.
Not only that, but Qaolin gets hit on by human women far more as a Klingon than he does as Jim Covill.
But Qaolin also knows that sooner or later, he must take off his cape, pocket his aggression, go back to work, and become a polite, post-90's man again. Because as nutty as he might seem, he does manage to keep things in a sort of perspective. Even though he stood in garb at the end of the Hawthorne bridge after he got fired, with a sign that said, "Will Work for Gagh," and even though he once joined a troop of 20 Klingons chasing a man dressed like a giant squirrel around at Norwescon, and even though he occasionally fondles his specially crafted Klingon disrupter rifle, Jim Covill isn't one of these guys who just dresses up like a human on weekdays.
No, Jim Covill is head of the House of Kiln--"Jesters to the Empire"--and he knows his place in the universe. Because even as he thumbs through his dog-eared copy of the Klingon Dictionary, or admires his signed photo of Worf, or practices his bat'leth twirling routine, or ponders building a house like a Klingon war ship, he realizes that it's all a big game.
"I'm a geek," Covill admits. "I'm 46 years old and I still like to play dress up and pretend. That's basically what it boils down to."
Jim Covill has embraced his geekness.
"The way I look at it," he says, "it's my duty to make everybody's day a little more surreal. You've got to be able to risk being laughed at, and not really give a shit."
And that he does.
At Bodacious Classics, Qaolin takes the microphone once more. Behind him, the Commander pushes another button and violins play while birds twitter. Overhead, a disco ball spins and the Head of the House of Kiln eases into a slow, velvety tune that everyone knows.
"bIQ'otlh wov DungDaq vegh 'oH DaqDaq jen!"
"Somewhere over the rainbow way up high!"
Qaolin rocks back and forth, lost in the song, his long hair swaying. The room goes quiet, rapt, and it is clear that he is a brave man indeed. Somehow, he has conquered all fear of what society says he should do, what he should be, and has found a courage to equal any Klingon in the Empire: The courage to love something totally, no matter what anyone thinks.
"bIQ'otlh wov 'em Daq lupuvchugh cha'parmey mach QaQchay?"
"If happy little bluebirds fly beyond the rainbow why oh, why can't I?"
Science Fiction Night: Thursdays, 7:00pm, at Bodacious Classics, 2433 SE Powell. 503-232-0852.