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.”

Fashion Revolution

“So what changes do you intend on making to my wardrobe?” I asked Fisch, who had invited me out to the mall for some lunch and a meterosexual shopping-spree. Apparently my current style of dress was insufficient for attracting members of the opposite sex, and renovating my wardrobe would prove the sole cure. Fisch — typically an extremely straight man with a slightly queer edge — revels in shopping for stuff like this.

“Dude, we’re not making a change,” my fashionable friend corrected me, as we weaved through a dense crowd of mall walkers. “We’re beginning a revolution.”

“At Macy’s?”

“Hey, you can have style without cost. Or at least that’s the way I roll.”

Fisch rolls in very odd places – cheap though they may be. My compatriot, a lawyer and an economist, strives for the paradoxical job of an honest politician and eventually the elected office of President of the United States.

“I am the best of the best,” Fisch told me once at the gym, while I lay collapsed choking on my lungs. “I choose to do it because no one else can, at least without sacrificing honor, integrity, and their soul.”

Honestly, anyone that seeks out that much responsibility must be a little crazy, which is why we get along rather well. Irishmen – according to Thomas Cahill, my mother, and my own familial observations – possess as much empathy for the insane and drunkards as they relish good humor and jibing authority. Therefore, Fisch and I, the politician and the writer, made for good company.

My Irish ancestors, poor farmers and scholars that they were, believed in retaining more of their money for food and books and less for Ralph Lauren. Thus, as we walked into Macy’s the knot in my stomach eased some. Living in a large family one never worries about having clothes; a simple phone call yields mountains of hand-me-down pants, sweaters, and shirts from various uncles and cousins. Why concern yourself with the latest styles when that same money could be invested in stories, games, or gadgets? Only the truly deranged would ever scribe socks or ties on their Christmas lists.

“We’re here to prove that with enough strategy, even geeks can dress well and still grab the girl in the end. Besides all that dorky stuff you like is cool now. Comic books, video games, anime . . . you wear that shit on your T-shirts, right?”

“I have a few shirts like that, yeah.” A dozen or two.

“Combine your dorky shirts with a wrinkled jacket and some faded jeans, and we’ll get you laid yet, Murphey.”

"Look, do you watch G4?"

"Look, do you watch G4?"

Somehow all this seemed quite dubious, and Fisch like any skilled salesman and politician, sensed this.

“Look, do you watch G4?” he asked passing through the malodorous air of the perfume department en route to the escalators.

“I’ve seen bits checking around,” I said lifting my dangling shoelaces above the teeth of escalators. “It’s like an MTV for gamers, right?”

“Yeah, well we want you lookin’ like the host of Attack of the Show. Dorky guy with hot girls. We want to stretch your current comfort zone just a bit, extend your boundaries.”

“Okay, sure,” I replied. “. . .extend my boundaries.” Sure, like China into Nepal.

“We’ll prove that you don’t have play lacrosse to get the hot girl, dude. This is going to be awesome.”

Did I mention that I hate shopping for clothes? One of the perks of working in a biochemistry lab – apart from liquid nitrogen and playing God – the informal dress always felt comfortable. Our bosses encouraged tact (i.e. no holes in the jeans or metal dog collars), long pants, and toed shoes, but otherwise Casual Friday lasted year-round. Clothing after all protected us, as much as gloves, goggles, and chemical showers, and experiments routinely got . . . messy. Safety classes advised that much of our clothing may become soiled, stained, or severely burned as a result of day-to-day research experiments. In some cases, such as if a jar of phenol accidentally spilt or soaked into our clothing, caution dictated that we remove our pants and shirt immediately and contact the emergency hotline (Phenol vapor acts an anesthetic as well as corrosive acid, and thus eat away at your skin without inflicting any pain. Retaining phenol-soaked clothes was like rubbing your body in Novacaine and then setting it on fire.). From these experiences, I developed little concern for my personal appearance and greater discretion in my choice of undergarments.

Back in high school, we never had much choice in our apparel either; slacks, dress shirt, tie, and jacket were the rule garnering these young men with the illusion of respectability. Yet except for the occasional joke tie that spun like a propeller or sang old Christmas tunes, no one cared about much less noticed our day-to-day wear. In college, I adopted the same dress, trading in my shirt, tie, and jacket for grey golf polos. It is thus that managed to live one-third of my life without a pair of jeans.

Thus, when Fisch called, I reasoned it was about time I bought a pair and at least to see how I liked them. Patrick bought his first pair just after meeting Tiff. I was buying my first pair with Fisch, discussing the revolution of geekdom and how clothes can secure my breed-ability.

“Videogames, comics and anime are popular and cool now,” Fisch said quickly, splicing through the jean rack. Geeks have accrued greater respect today . . . an attractive eccentricity, if you will, to members of the opposite sex.”

I told him that he had obviously not been to any anime convention.

“Outliers,” he said with a wave. “The point is that in the end, the geek, the dreamer, the visionary will succeed where the jocks and lax players have failed, hindered forever by their steroids and excessive keg stands. Meanwhile we’re ready to make history, much like Spartans against . . . ooo, this looks good. Try it on.”

“Didn’t the Spartans die?” I ask, fitting a white jacket from the sales rack tightly around my shoulders.

“Only in body,” Fisch said. “Nice, now we just have to secure some jeans and shirts then.”

“It looks nice,” I said cautiously. “But judging by these other guys around us. It’s not really everyday wear. I’m not really going to fit in.”

“So you only wear it on your date,” Fisch said. “Though why on earth would you want to blend in like everyone else is beyond me. You need to stand out, not enfold yourself into those ubiquitous banal trends of the masses. Lead for once . . .”

“Okay,” I said, considering if I had ventured outside my normal routine of late. Perhaps it was time for a change . . .

Not bad I said to myself.

Not bad, I said to myself.

At the end of the day, we bought two stripped shirts, a rumpled white jacket, and a pair of jeans. Leaving the store we walked out to the parking lot and talked about some old classmates and future girlfriends.

“I mean, seriously, dude,” I asked leaning against my car. “What are the chances? Clothes are one thing, but you know me and my odd hobbies . . .”

“Higher than you think, Murph,” Fisch said. “I have a friend, who’s a professional cheerleader. She plays frickin’ Everquest at home, probably into D&D too. A twelth-level elf warrior or some shit.”

“Well, Everquest is quite addictive . . . like crack for gamers.”

“Face it, man. You start dressin’ right, and they’ll be no stopping the mob of hot girls racin’ to tear those clothes off you.”

“Right, well . . . as exciting as that sounds – and it does – these clothes were not that cheap. Just warn the deluge to strip me slowly, ok?”

“Trust me, it works for that guy on G4. Look at the girls he works with. Tina Wood and that Oliva chick are hot!”

I returned home, clothes in tow. Quickly I stretched my jeans, shirts, and jacket across the bed to admire. Not bad, I said to myself. Maybe there is some sense to Fisch’s rantings: a chance to stretch my boundaries without totally sacrificing my identity. His words seemed honeyed with wisdom and audacity. I felt ready to step into a whole new era.

Quickly I strode over to the computer and typed in G4, eager for more ideas, more insights into this ‘cool geek’ persona. The following video flashed on my screen:

As the video ended, I strode over to the bed and threw my clothes unceremoniously into the Macy’s bag. Neither for revolution or girls, would I ever emulate that Kevin twit . . . regardless of his fashion-sense and breed-ability. In the end I just felt embarrassed to be a gamer.

Tossing on some shorts and an old T-shirt, I jumped on my bed with a few books, and my DS.  After a few levels of Zelda and a page or two of my latest One Piece manga, I fell asleep, dreaming of princesses, pirates, and Tina Wood

Rain and Sound

Last night amid rain, wind, and storm we watched my brother play football. My interest in the game cannot match my father’s immersed obsession; his impatience and anxiety before a game are akin to a junky awaiting his next fix. Unfortunately, as a hybrid man and geek, possessed with my father’s basic understanding of the game yet mired with my mother’s complete lack of interest, I can sympathize with the obsession but not obsess about the game. However, tonight was an exception. The opposing team had purchased an announcer.

Thankfully in the midst of this drought, the storm never abated. The rain came in waves, alternating drizzle with heavy downpour; the wind thundered in gales of spray and yellow leaves. I had brought one of my wide-rimmed hats (a peculiar penchant of mine) for just such an occasion; however, eventually the makeshift barriers of hats, towels, and umbrellas were invaded by rain and wind. Everyone got soaked. Yet the greasy eloquence of the voice announced the events of the game with such skilled bias that all discomfort was quickly forgotten. With each slip, sack, and fumble, I anticipated a new commentary. His voice, a strange inflection of Macho Man Randy Savage mixed with Duffman and the Kool-Aid guy, flowed from speakers with near-perfect melodrama and mounting tension. Each sentence crackled like a rock song, punctuated with a trailing grunt or groan. His diction splashed with corn and cheese too delicious to admonish:

“NUMber FIFTY-six SMOTHered by a HORRible SWARM of DONS [my brother’s team]”

“Oh and the KICK was BLOcked by a HOARD of RAMpaging Gauls [the opposing team], oooh-ahh uuhhhh,”

“The first-PLACE Dons trail the unRANKED Gauls by fourTEEN with EIGHT MINutes and FIFTY-seven SEConds left to PLAY in the HALF, OHhh YEah!

All in all, a fun night despite the weather.

Distractions

On Friday, Desad and I completed the Xbox 360 game, Gears of War, in co-op mode on Hardcore. For those unacquainted with the video game lexicon, it marks the third Friday in a row in which Desad and I electronically fought evil subterranean monsters called Locust for five hours straight, while yelling random phrases like “Boomers flanking left! Flank! Boomers! Left!” and “Help me up! I’m geared. Hurry before the Berserker . . . ah s**t!” as well as the ever popular “What happened?! You died again?” We chose this over getting wasted with a lot of pretty girls.

I am the Renaissance geek, a man for all obsessions: anime, comics, biochemistry, video games, elves and dragons, epic literature, manga, word games, black and white movies, and Ren faires. I’ve done it all. A lover of all trades, yet admittedly a master of no one. Yet these multitude of distractions bare far more importance as I have begun school again and my obsessions are interfering with my homework . . . in a good way. This is particularly the case with a rich story, the essential read. For example, tomorrow I have a midterm for which, though open notebook, I have prepared very little, the cool autumn climate drawing me outside among the flame-colored woods and to another yearly reading of The Hobbit. Honestly the whole of human scholarship would benefit if instead of midterms it dedicated the whole month of October to reading beneath leaf piles Bradbury, Tolkien, Poe, Gaiman, Stoker, Alexander, Conan Doyle, and that wonderful unknown monk who inscribed Beowulf. Along with a vast multitude of other authors, who I consider “autumn writers,” these masters of the macabre and fantastical harvest such wondrous tales that for me makes this time of year so magical, so beautiful and necessary like the scent of wood smoke, crackle of leaves, and smiles of jack o’ lanterns.

Thus, teachers and professors out there must forgive me my departure from the syllabus, as I abandon papers and forget online discussion boards (who can remember to check the growing host of statements, opinions, and rants anyway?). Come see me again mid-January when the frigid cold and icy roads keep me chained to my assignments, and boredom snaps its whip to “Write! Write! Write!” lest I go mad with inactivity. Now is my time of the year, a season into which I can throw myself with great abandon.