Matches and Surveys

“So, you really want to get back into World of Warcraft?” I asked, somewhat taken aback by my friend’s regression into geekdom.

“Absolutely,” Dasad said in between sips of a chestnut praline latte – I swear Starbucks is taking advice from Yankee Candle in their choice of holiday blends. “Look you need something to occupy your free time outside of grading . . . mole tests or whatever the hell you teach in chemistry. MMOs are the perfect outlet.”

I nodded. The last week before my school closed for the Christmas break had proven . . . stressful, so much so that I considered stealing away around noon for a several pints of spiked nog. The mounting terror of children, emails, ungraded labs, January’s midterms, cloying principals, overbearing parents and those last-minute quizzes that you thought would provide an easy grade but . . . ah, the to-do list sought to smother my sanity. Only with three o’clock bell did the anxiety begin to drain away like poison from a wound leaving me exhausted and with a slight migraine.

I had met with Dasad hours later for drinks and coffee, confessing my near panic attack and utter thankfulness for the Christmas season.

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Conned: Episode 0

SDCC boundThree accounts.  Three computers.  If I thought it would improve my chances to heft some of the house’s scattered PCs — outdated, abandoned, or consumed by spiderwebs — down to my room, I might have risked electric shock and wolf spider bites to heave the towers into my room.  But I had three accounts, thus only three computers.

The other members of my party were working across the street at Katie’s new house, knocking down trees and feeding the sap-soaked limbs into the chipper, giving Mother Nature the ol’ Fargo-special (as I call it).  Thus, the task of procuring tickets to the  Comicon fell to me.

Now, we’ve attended comic book conventions in the past here in Baltimore and DC.  These are typically low-key affairs, occupying a single floor at the Baltimore convention center, which — to quote the Hulk — is puny in comparison to its counterparts in DC and Boston.  Still it manages to stock the panels with some pretty awesome writers and artists: Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, Don Rosa, and Neil Adams to name a few that I’ve seen (Batman and Uncle Scrooge fanatic that I am).
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Menacing

“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.
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Snowfall

Another snowstorm hit the northeast over the weekend, thus successfully closing schools and granting teachers and students a five-day weekend.  Wahoo!  Teachers are not known for laziness during their days off.  No siree!  I’ve built a kickass Paladin deck in the Hearthstone Beta, leveled my ranger to level 30 in Guild Wars, cleaned my room of excess clothes, filled my room with books, watched the excellent Lego Movie, and beat ‘Ganon’ in Link between Two Worlds.  Many of my students’ papers still need . . . correcting, but considering that I’ve accomplished so much I can afford to give myself the day off.  Oh, and I also managed to engage in some amateur photography as well.  At night no less.  ‘Cause let’s face it, I’m a badass.  Continue reading

Magical

Hydra“Dude, I’m thinking about . . . kinda getting into Magic again.”

Dasad paused the game, his beefy in-game character frozen while carving the body of a subterranean orc-mercenary. High-res blood and brain-matter splattered the screen, proof of the game’s ‘M-rating’ and hundred-billion weekend sales. He stared at me, his eyes screaming silent chords of betrayal and disbelief as if I had confessed to operating a meth-lab in my spare time . . . and refusing to split the profits.

“Why . . ?” he stammered. “Why would you play again willingly? I thought you were going to register on eHarmony with me . . . well, not WITH with me, but . . . you know, figuratively cruise for potential female life-mates on a digital frontier?”

“Well, Magic doesn’t prevent any of that.”

“Unless you plan on lying on your questionnaire, it does. Face it, you’re mutant-bait.”

“Maybe, but role-playing strategy games cannot hurt my love-life any worse than ’33-years-old and still living with parents,'” I remind him. “Or my dream of owning my own house to solely to store my extensive comic book collection . . .”

“. . . and Japanese porn . . .”
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Small Steps

To infinity and beyond!

The final frontier.  As a kid, I’ve never acquired the obsession with space travel that so fascinated the prototypical ‘geeks’ of my generation.  Before high school, my friends and I began to specialize: the road to anime, the way of the superhero, the path of fantasy, the . . .  starport to sci-fi.  Most of us would explore other genres as well, adopting one another’s obsessions in time.  I introduced Dasad to Tolkien; he led me to comic shops, where I began collecting Batman; our friend, Lloyd, reveled in mecha anime, magical girls, Dragonball and Pokemon.  We all loved video games so finding common ground proved easy.

Still amid all the late movie marathons and gaming sessions, their interest in space and future tech never really stuck.  The nature of space and its prerequisite vacuum always seemed overwhelming and claustrophobic at the same time, like the paradox of a man trapped within infinity — or Marty always running out of time in Back to the Future.

Space is big. You just won’t believe how vastly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big it is. I mean, you may think it’s a long way down the road to the drug store, but that’s just peanuts to space. — Douglas Adams Continue reading

A Question of Secret Identity

“Nerd.  Nerd.  Nerd,” Dasad muttered, pointing at the sundry collection of costumed moviegoers, the vast majority sporting Marvel-themed t-shirts.  “God, we’ve landed in some antisocial geek convention. Again.”

“It’s just a movie, dude,” I sigh.  “Try to enjoy the energy from the crowd.  Everyone’s been waiting years for this moment.”

Dasad and I had decided see the Avengers a few Saturdays ago, a day after Disney had released it here stateside to glowing reviews both from fans and reviewers alike.  Many of us, myself include, were simply happy the film was so well received as it guaranteed the superhero genre had not yet jumped the shark.   However, not everyone was enjoying the growing anticipation — not vocally at any rate.

“You do realize that you’re a computer science major, right?” I argue.  “You work all day long building databases and designing web sites.  You’re not just a geek, man.  You’re a prince.”

“Ha! And what does that make you?” he laughed.  “You dabble in every nerd world there is: super-heroes, hobbits, anime, manga, and semi-clad bishoujo figurines.  All tucked away in your parents’ basement.  What does that make you?”

“A king.  But don’t tell anyone,” I whisper.  “I’m traveling incognito.” Continue reading

Luddites in Love

Lately I’ve been immersing myself in the works of O. Henry so much so that I decided to write my own for geeks like me.  Imitating another author’s writing style is not as easy as it first sounds — mostly because the gauge for success is rather ambiguous — but anything that helps me become a better writer . . . well, I’m not going to ignore.  

Regrettably, the sibling response was decidedly mixed.   Katie really enjoyed it, while my dearest brother after some consideration responded with a ‘meh.’   Needless to say, I’m anticipating proofreading his next law brief. Anyway, I hope you enjoy the story — more than Sean, at least.

Luddites in Love

With the exception of honeybees, ants, and reality TV starlets, the modern American citizen communicates more than any other species on earth.  Since the dawn of the iPod, it is said that the human species has stumbled upon the evolutionary fast-track to cyborg-ification.   Cell phones strapped to our ears; fingers typing out ten texts per picosecond; cat videos by the billions streaming on YouTube.  From dawn to dark, we expose our life’s tapestry of photos, quotes, and gossip before an expectant public like specimens in a digital zoo, to be ogled, examined, and meme-ed at the first opportunity.    The sum total of pheromones exuded by the world’s ant population palls to a day’s worth of status updates from an average college sorority. Continue reading

Awarding Behavior

Mom, Brigid, and Katie are visiting my cousin’s graduation and award presentation while I pick up Kevin from his morning exams.  Between you and me, I despise award ceremonies: too much pomp and circumstance for my taste.  Beyond elementary school  and kindergarten celebrations (most of my siblings and their friends loved showing off for their parents), what use do they serve?  For although the awards themselves laud the achievements and successes of the individual, the ceremony itself too often mires in extravagant spectacle, ambiguous speeches, and donation requests.

“The teachers and staff at St. Anastasia’s would like to congratulate the graduating class for this awesome achievement, and hope that you will remember us as the turning point for your academic and financial careers”  Translation: give us money when you succeed in getting some yourself. Continue reading

Studies in Stereotypes: Trekkies

Common practice in today’s world takes great joy in reproofing stereotypes.  Artists in particular relish breaking down the barriers that all too often pigeonhole groups of individuals with various – and often untrue – adjectives: stupid, violent, awkward, materialistic.  One could hardly dispute the honesty and justice of such protests, expounding the potential of each individual regardless of race, creed, sex, or homeland, stimulating understanding and erasing bigotry en masse.  Yet most reformers stop there, forgetting to seek the honesty and justice among the stereotypes as well.  After all, stereotypes – unlike rumors – possess some and popular foundation in truth.  Often outward beauty reflects inward beauty, power corrupts government, crime-ridden cities, bucolic paradise, the French chef, the Irish drunk, the girl cooking and sewing, and the boy grunting, spitting and scratching – all in the same fluid motion no less.  We cannot hope to surmount our prison walls if we ignore their existence.

Over the past week or so I’ve had the opportunity to encounter several of these proven stereotypes, instances where despite my best efforts at iconoclasm, some habits are just too deeply ingrained for escape.

#1: Trekkies look like Trekkies

Last Sunday Dasad treated me to an IMAX showing of Star Trek.  He has been a long time fan of the movies and the Next Generation series, thus like Virgil he was to be my guide for the day.  As expected the line began early and the theater despite its large size was sold out the day before; thus we made sure we arrived a good forty-five minutes beforehand.  A group of ten or twelve people clustered near the entrance and so until the crowd became more substantial, we wandered over to the arcade.

arcadeOne of the travesties of the modern world is the death of the arcade.  With the omnipresence of the home theater and game systems, most surviving arcades are the digital descendant of the ghost town: empty corridors, blank flicking screens, broken controls, lilting broken tunes emanating from crane games sparsely piled with stuffed representations of decade old cartoon series.  The change machine worked though.  Changing my dollar to some tokens we took our chance on the crane game, which true to form slipped down and up Shrek’s bulbous head as if made of soap.  Two dollars lost and no (working) game in sight, we scuttled over to the line which had doubled in size within a few minutes.

Normally at the house and in public, I attempt to diminish the weirdness of my more geeky hobbies through a combined use of sleight of hand, explanatory argument, and large words:

  • “Weird?  He’s an addict, Mom.  A physical representation of addiction and evil’s ability to erode good.  Gollum is one of the most unique and important characters in literature;”
  • “So what you’re saying is that heroes don’t matter, huh?  That heroism and the ideals of these heroes don’t play a role in our daily lives.  So what if they wear tights.  Don’t knock it until you’ve tried it;”
  • “It’s just the art style, guys.  If you look beyond the semi-naked nubile eye-candy, the stories are quite good, entertaining yet poignant.”

Yeah so, it doesn’t always work.  Nonetheless I continue to plug away, a never-ending (and possible futile) crusade to convince others (and possibly myself) that what I do has value beyond escapism.  The irony is that while Dasad and I try claw our way from the muck and mire of stereotype, others seem to revel in it.

No one donned any costume.  Apart from one bearded shaggy guy with oddly pointed but otherwise natural ears, no one looked like a Volcan. Or a Klingon. Nevertheless everybody in line looked like Trekkies.  It’s hard to communicate in words how my fellow movie-goers struck me, no general pattern or scent – although Dasad argued that his neighbors exuded a rather unpleasant funk.  I will say that if you consider an average shape or size for the human body, these people were the outliers, individuals much too tall, short, hairy, or obese, whose collective differences were not so much uniform as much as uniform in their collective differences.  If that seems a little confusing, just imagine fifty or so characters from the Where’s Waldo books decked out in sandals, cargo shorts, and a black T-shirts that read “There are 10 types of people in this world, those that understand binary and those that don’t.”

One lady, her frizzy grey hair tied off in a bun, wore cut off jeans, a tucked in T-shirt like the ones they wear at summer camp and a Transformers backpack, adorned with Muppet pins.  She talked freely and happily with a giant, a seven-foot man with a face that reminded me of my old physics professor: his eyes, nose, and mouth hidden behind a bushy mangled mop of black hair.  If the man had a beard or if the mange stemmed entirely from his head, I could not tell.  The woman snorted every now and then at something the bushman said when the line suddenly began moving.  Dasad and I entered the theater and found our seats.  A pod of Asian kids sat behind us, discussing the mechanics of something they saw on MythBusters.  A phone rang a few aisles up, playing a few measures of Final Fantasy’s ‘Vamo’alla Flamenco’ before cutting off (yes, it bespeaks my own level of depravity that I recognized the tune).  Below us several kids practiced holding the gap between their third and fourth fingers – I still need masking tape and/or rubber bands.

We sat next to a rather obese couple, a man and his wife, their bodies overflowing atop and around the arms of their chairs. While the pre-movie ads rolled, the lady squeezed through the row and left the theater.  Dasad leaned over to me.

“Now there’s a never-ending cycle,” he whispered.  “Fat people get married, reproduce, and have kids who cannot help but become fat as well, right?”

“Why are you asking me this?”

“Think about it,” he continued.  “It’s in the genes, right?  No way to escape that.”

“Not necessarily,” I say in a low whisper, a little embarrassed.  “Obesity is not necessarily genetic.  Even if it were two people with the same phenotype, the same characteristic, may yield different children.  Mom and Dad both have dark hair, but Pat and Sean are blonde. And you also have to take into account lifestyle too.”

“Right, so a child living in such an environment will do nothing but eat.  It’s doomed to follow its parents’ footsteps.”

“Again,” I said after a minute, “lifestyle isn’t like computer programming.  Kids react differently depending on their parents.  They might rebel or seeing the health issues their parents have or might have, they might become fitness gurus or baggers at Trader Joes.”

“Still it’s more than likely . . .” Dasad said.  “It’s just rather sad and disgusting.”

pizza“Dude, I wouldn’t say that.  Stereotypes can be quite misleading.  They might be a nice couple: kind, courteous, generous, loyal, hardworking.  The kind of people who do anything for their friends, family or even their co-workers.  They might even . . .”

Just then the woman returned carrying a mega-sized drink, a tub of popcorn and a pizza.  She bit into a slice of pizza navigating through the seats and shoes, balancing the rest of the food on a cardboard tray.  Still walking she twisted to take a sip from her cup; a glob of tomato sauce fell onto my pants leg.  Pepperoni splattered my shoes.

“. . . be rather disgusting, yeah.”

EPILOGUE

Before closing up shop here I should note — stains notwithstanding — that the movie was awesome.  I’ve seen it twice, and frankly if you’re able IMAX is the way to go.  As I said to Dasad, if the original series had only a smidgeon of the humor and charm of the flick, I might have joined his Trekkie club long ago.  He only nodded.

“Yeah, it was pretty good.  Even after the second time,” he said.  “When I got back home last Friday, I even dreamed about it some.”  Now I believe in karma, that all things balance themselves out, that those that mock and deride others will eventually get their comeuppance.  Thus I felt fairly certain that the following conversation will come back to haunt me one day.

“Dreams, eh?”  I mutter, feigning boredom. “So you dreamt of space hotties, huh?  That semi-clothed green-skinned alien girl was pretty hot, right?  Was she on the spaceship with you?”

“Huh?  Wait . . .”

“Were Kirk and Spock there too?  What were they doing?  Wait . . . I probably don’t want to know that.”

“Hold on . . .”

“And that bald guy from X-men.  Capt. Piccadilly, right?  Did you dream of him too?”

“Picard.  His name is Picard.”

“So you did dream about him . . .” I laugh.  “He’s buff.”

“Look, dude, I’m not that much of a geek.  It was just this one time.  I do not dream about the Enterprise every night.”

“Uh huh . . .”

“Seriously.”

“Ok then, but seriously you had to think the whole space/time thing was kinda lame, right?  That aspect was a little cliché,” I said matter-of-factly.

Khan“No, well, it was their way of staying true to the canon of the original films while totally changing everything,” Dasad sighed.  “Frankly I thought it a little weak too.  Also while the characters were great, the villain was horrible.  No pathos.  Nothing like the Borg or Khan.  Now there was a villain.  He had the intellect, power, and every reason to hate Kirk and the Enterprise.  I remember when I first saw him . . .”

“You got really turned on, didn’t you?” I laugh.

“Okay look, you suck.”

“Did you see Ricardo Montalban in the Naked Gun too?  Or was he only sexy in that Alladin vest and long flowing Bon Jovi locks?”

“I hate you.”