The world is built on “cool.” And, deny it if you want to, we all have an uncontrollable urge to pursue it. It’s like hungry, horny and getting enough to drink – hydration: we need it to live. That’s why everybody’s teenage years were so godawful. Not only were we being pistol-whipped by our hormones, but every time we turned around, Susan and Dave, the “cool” kids, were standing there. They had bodies by Mattel and clothes by Yves St. Laurent. They knew exactly what to say on every occasion, never had an unfortunate zit and certainly never felt the need to fart. In a word, they were cool. Of course, we knew we would be way cooler if only we had the opportunity, but mostly we cursed our fate for being born incurable nerds.
As adults, we pursue “cool” in more subtle and sophisticated ways — what we eat, what we sit on, how we get around, what we watch on TV, even the way we speak. (Slang is a very refined bit of “cool.”) Plus, we convince ourselves that “cool” doesn’t matter (we’ve outgrown it) because one of the essential elements of being “cool” is … you don’t care about it. And there’s a whole it’s-hip-to-be-square industry that’s grown up around that. But regardless of how we chase it, “cool” is always out there. It’s the way we define ourselves in relation to every other person on the planet. And like it or not, some people are better at it than the rest of us. It even extends beyond the grave.
For example, Hunter S. Thompson, the King of Gonzo Journalism had his ashes shot out of a cannon. His buddy, Johnny Depp, did the shooting (this was back when Johnny was still “cool”) and Jack Nicholson, John Cusack, Bill Murray, John Kerry, Ed Bradley, etc., etc. all showed up to wish Hunter S. well on his final journey. Personally, I think with that much “cool” standing around the cannon, they probably didn’t even have to light the fuse – it just spontaneously burst into flame.
Meanwhile, Gene Roddenberry, the guy who created Star Trek, had his ashes taken into space on the Space Shuttle – kind of a “There and Back” posthumous adventure. He also had some of his ashes (along with Timothy Leary’s and a bunch of other guys’) shot into orbit aboard a Pegasus XL rocket. Unfortunately, after several years, the orbit deteriorated and the capsule disintegrated when it re-entered Earth’s atmosphere. But talk about totally cool — especially since the whole Star Trek phenom — from Jim Kirk to the latest Picard — is the ultimate sci-fi travelogue for nerds. Star Trek has never been “cool” beyond its geek niche, but clearly Roddenberry is.
However, the best nerd-to-“cool” tale ever told is that of Eugene Shoemaker. Here was a guy with a Thomas Dewey moustache and a personality to match. He loved rocks — and not just any rocks: he was an astrogeologist. (I don’t even know what those people do.) Anyway, he was so good at it that, when he died, his colleagues convinced NASA to put his ashes on the Lunar Prospector, a capsule designed to crash on the Moon. On July 31, 1999, it did just that — with a special polycarbonate “urn” containing Shoemaker. So Eugene is the first human being buried on the Moon. How “cool” is that? Too “cool!” (Eat your heart out, Clooney!)
So when all those people are putting on the brag about their “cool” walking tour of Greenland, or their “cool” new Nespresso machine, or their eco-friendly bicycle with heated seat and handlebars – remember: they might think they’re “cool” (just like Susan and Dave did in high school) but they’re never going to be buried-on-the-Moon “cool.” That’s reserved for nerds like us.