“Am I some kind of condescending prick for feeling mildly embarrassed for these kids?”
“Well,” Kevin said after some consideration, “it’s a Sunday night in May and this IS a Walmart parking lot. You would think that there’d be some better way of spending your time . . .”
Kevin and I had parked our car and stared in wonder at the convocation of pick-ups and supped-up Hondas at the far end of the Walmart. Carroll County Maryland has never proven itself the most . . . urbane area in the state, but occasionally my neighbors go out of their way to check off every stereotype in the book.
Local teenagers leaned against the bumpers and sat on car roofs, watching some kid attempt to drop-kick a basketball at one of the parking lights. Occasionally, he’d routinely lose control, and their heads would turn with the syncopation of a Wimbledon crowd to gaze at kid and ball bouncing across the asphalt. Another weird feature: there was no music. Nothing audible at least. It seemed the kid and his basketball was the main event here.
“I mean Arby’s is just down the street . . . There’s even a liquor store in that shopping center. The proximity to alcohol alone constitutes a party.”
“Of course,” Kevin added, nodding. “Then again, we’re wasting a whole hour shopping at Walmart to buy Star Wars DVDs. And not even good Star Wars DVDs, but the stupid Phantom Menace. Are we really much better?”
“Yes. Yes we are.” Even Jar Jar’s incessant stupidity surpassed staring at the local yokels chase down an errant basketball, which even now had rolled under a decrepit Chevy, becoming lodged. The kids gathered around the metal kidnapper and contemplated the sudden halt to their ‘fun.’
“Besides,” I said. “I thought you said that you’ve never seen it?”
“Not at all. And Shannon and practically every geek in the world agrees that this is a good thing.”
I had considered this.
“True,” I say practicing my speech. “It’s an honest to God train-wreck, but in a way, it’s also a rite-of-passage, like visiting the DMV or paying taxes. Sometimes it’s good to stare at a train wreck lest we mistake it for avante garde art or a multimillion dollar practical joke.”
“Lest?” Kevin frowned. “What the hell is a ‘lest’?”
“An archaic but awesome way of saying ‘unless.’ Look it up. Makes everything you say sound quotable.”
“Ookay . . . Do you ever think that what you . . . what we do is a waste of time?” Kevin started. “I don’t mean Episode I, but the all the geek stuff? The cons, the collectibles, the games . . . do you think all of it is a waste of time? You can’t get paid to geek-out.”
One of the boys — interestingly the only boy wearing shorts — crawled beneath the truck and began violently kicking the lodged ball. The kids cheered at this Herculean effort. Seconds later, two objects explode from the undercarriage. The first flew several feet before clanging against the asphalt; the other pinballed into three parked cars, setting off an alarm. The kids scattered like geese after a gunshot.
“No,” I said, shocked for a moment at how emphatic that sounded. “I mean, I love this stuff. It’s as simple as that. I’m a 33-year-old geek and will die — hopefully — a 99 year-old geek. Whether others consider all the dragons, batmen, hobbits, and space cowboys high-art or even worthwhile doesn’t really matter, nor should it. Besides getting paid to do geeky stuff is great, but hardly required. I don’t read The Count of Monte Cristo because someone paid me to.”
“But it’s sorta . . . dorky though to be . . . your age and get into all this kid stuff . . .” There was a question there, between the pauses and awkward silences.
“That’s other people talking, dude. Look, if you do it right, man, you should wake up each day like a kid on Christmas. Every morning excitement should burst from your veins, eager and willing to start a new science project or travel to a new world . . . or save the princess in the next castle. ‘Cause there’s always another castle. Boredom should prove not a cog in the wheel of adulthood, but a dirty word. We need to embrace that which does make us children again. You see?”
The parking lot had mysterious emptied of all teenagers, relinquishing half-finished sodas, a few bags of Taco Bell and the bent and broken ‘organ’ from a 1978 Chevy.
“On Tuesdays, I wake dreaming of laser swords, goblin armies, theoretical elements, black holes, and blog posts. I wonder whether an orc hymn is dissonant or more akin to a Gregorian chant. Are there bacteria in space? And if so, do they build cities in asteroids? If properly prepared could Batman take on Galactus? If I stand in front of the microwave, could I transform into the Incredible Hulk? That’s just one day of the week! Then on Wednesdays, I think about Hearthstone, which you can mock freely. Seriously dude, I’m addicted to the game.”
We shopped inside the Walmart for a few minutes, finding the movie buried beneath a pile of forgotten Adam Sandler flicks. The girl exhibited that enthusiasm typical of all retail employees: ‘If I stay here one more hour, you have my permission to run me over with a shopping cart.”
Once outside again, a few concerned car owners had gathered around their blinking, honking vehicles, inspecting the doors for signs of entry. No one seemed interested in the old Chevy; perhaps the truck like many in the county had been left to rot in the Walmart, which more or less adopted it as a mascot for their clientele. I immediately regretted thinking this, realizing the thought was at once cruel and thus, most likely true.
“I just don’t want to be the guy sitting outside a Walmart,” Kevin mumbled. “The guy bouncing a ball against a pole simply to kill time between work and school and sleep.”
“Nobody does,” I said. “But that’s not the world’s decision either. It’s up to you to decide whether you’re just mindlessly hurling a ball against a pole or researching the trajectory of an object hurled against an arch. Sometimes worth is not inherent, but lies in the perspective and goal. Like watching Phantom Menace, for example.”
“Ah,” Kevin smiled. “Full circle.”
“It’s what I do,” I smiled. “Come on let’s explore how not to write comic relief, and if we’re lucky, we bought the edition where Darth Maul kills JarJar instead of Liam Neeson.”
“Is that true?”
“I like to think there is. Somewhere.”