I’ve written before about the traumatic experience of being publicly outed as a nerd on local TV news, “Doctor Who” baseball hat and all. When I saw that Channel 10 spot about the Hill School Computer Camp, a small meter deep inside me—the “personal coolness” meter—started spinning wildly into the red. Ever since that traumatic day in the early eighties when my jingly camp shorts and my calf socks were shown fitting a VAX tape drive, I’ve been laboring under a kind of Nerd Deficit. Ever since then, some part of me has been laboring to get that meter back out of the red and to zero, where normal people who read magazines and follow sports live.
(Playing lots of D&D in 9th grade and learning all the words to every Monty Python song ever made probably didn’t help much, but you do what you can, I guess. I wore one of those knitted guatemalan hoodies a lot in 11th grade, hoping that the Hippy would cancel out the Nerdy.)
So, several months ago, when I found myself in a scuba repair shop begging for spare parts, and the nice, rawboned guy handing me the surplus backplate asked me what I was going to do with it, and I was able to shrug my shoulders and reply truthfully “Oh, you know… three showgirls, a motorcycle, and a helicopter“, I finally felt my internal meter click back to zero. At long, long last, my Nerd Deficit was finally balanced out.
So I finally allowed myself to do something I had never done once in fifteen long years of self-imposed Nerd Remediation Therapy, and I blew all my slowly-gotten gains in one brief, giddy moment.
I walked into the “Fantasy” aisle of the bookstore.
Yeah, that’s right. I said it. The “Fantasy” aisle, not the “Sci-Fi/Fantasy” aisle at smaller bookstores, where you can pretend you’re just there for the Asimov. No, the “Fantasy” aisle, where all the books have covers of skinny women in metal bustiers and eyepatches riding polar bears, and the polar bears have eyepatches too. The “Fantasy” aisle, where nobody meets each other’s gaze. The absolute nadir of nerdy; the Umbilicus Urbis of neck-bearded comic-book convention-goers, the teeming shore where the unrepentant, unsalvageable, and uncool go to purchase their filthy books full of big-titted elves. I went, damn it, and I bought stuff.
It was great, of course. Of course it was — the illicit, taboo rush, the relief of finally coming to terms with who I truly am as a person. I am a nerd, damn it. Not just a geek, a nerd, and I actually enjoy reading books that have swords with names in them. God help me, this is who I am. In some ways, it’s who I’ve always been.
Then, I found I wasn’t alone. A friend of mine at work drops the name “Tyrion Lannister.” So I mention the title, furtively. “Uh, you guys, you know… like reading that stuff too?” “You guys are, like, waiting for the next book to come out in November?”
They were not waiting for the book to come out in November. They had traveled to distant countries and purchased the book there, bringing it back to read. They had ordered bootleg photocopies of the upcoming book over the internet.
They had made T-shirts about the books, T-shirts available for sale on the Internet.
They have planned a trip to a book-signing in New Jersey, there to have the bearded author sign their T-shirts and their copies of the book right there in plain sight of the world. IN PLAIN SIGHT, where people can, you know, see them and stuff. This is an amazing revelation, and they have invited me to come.
How do I reconcile this new knowledge? These are friends who are cool, by the standards of the world. They dress in expensive clothes and have been featured in magazines. They have chin beards and teach martial arts. They do the “cowboy-hat and plaid miniskirt” thing and totally get away with it. They pull the levers of trends in this country, and yet they have been to the aisle of shame, and they do not repent.
Has this self-imposed Nerd Deficit just been a cruel, self-hating sham? Am I free to read about polar bears in eyepatches? I may have to seriously consider revealing to the world that at one time I knew the difference between Qenya and Sindarin. Gulp!