I’m going to say it all started in the summer of 1977 with a Star Destroyer crossing a movie screen in an opening shot. Star Wars changed everything for me and plunged the six year-old me headfirst into geekdom. For the next five years, every birthday and Christmas could have been known better as “Star Wars Toy Day.”
Mere days after that fateful trip to the movies, my parents bought me two comic books. One was Avengers and the other was Hulk. Excuse me, The Incredible Hulk. I had absolutely no interest in the comics that were aimed for my reading level. I wanted superheroes and I wanted them in serious stories. But the vocabulary was above my reading level and so I kept asking my parents for definitions. They indulged but eventually got tired of answering the questions and sent me to the dictionary. I learned to use that reference and a wordsmith was born. I kept reading comic books. They became constant companions to me and I soon became knowledgeable about most every character in the Marvel Universe (my preferred comics publisher at the time.) I remember naming every character on the cover of Contest of Champions #1 and my mother remarking, “If you could do that with math you’d be the math wizard of St. Augustine Elementary.” Yeah. Math. Just wasn’t gonna happen. As an aside, I think my first game of Dungeons & Dragons was around that time, too.
Shortly after seeing Star Wars and devouring science fiction movies by the bushel, I happened to visit our town’s children’s library. There I found a book on UFOs. I was astounded. Here were people describing science fiction experiences…but they were true. Or allegedly, at any rate. There really could be aliens. This both fired my imagination and scared me like you wouldn’t believe. In the same section, I found books on Bigfoot and the Abominable Snowman. I asked my first grade teacher if these things were real. She not only said “no” but also told me that they were “stupid and a waste of time.”
Naturally, I then read everything I could on the subjects and caught Leonard Nimoy’s In Search Of any time I could…and I will never forget the creepy-yet-cheesy music for that show. Thus began a lifelong fascination with the paranormal. I’ve had a couple people actually call me “Mulder” recently and it made this geek’s heart sing.
Back in 2009, I visited Las Vegas. What was the ecstatic highlight of that trip for me? Winning big at blackjack? Nope. I might’ve won $50, I think. Great deal on a hot Asian hooker? Like that would ever happen. No, it was my visit to Area 51…or as far as you can get before they shoot you, anyway. Also had an Alien Burger at the world famous Little Ale’E’Inn in Rachel, Nevada. Dope.
But being a geek was not always a bunch of giggles. In elementary school, there were times no one wanted to be around me. They said, “All you talk about is space and Star Wars.” True, there is a gene or something in us geeks that makes us obsessive about the things we love to the point of nausea for those around us. Sorry. It’s an addiction. We’re the junkies of the pop culture world. But unlike alcohol or other drugs, geeks will not be destroyed by our addictions. Instead, we will be nurtured and enhanced.
Not that any bully would care. At age 12 other kids chased me out of a drug store because I was trying to buy comics. Around the same time, a few jocks found out that I had quite the collection of G.I. Joe toys and asked, “do you play with them?” capped with a mocking chuckle. Thought I said “no” and mocked back, the real answer was, “yes, of course I play with them.” While other kids got the Atari system I got an Apple II+. Kinda sets you apart in, Indiana. High school was a daily insult-fest and an occasional physical attack.
In the interest of self-preservation, I abandoned all geekish ways in my late teens. No comic books. No science fiction. I turned to heavy metal music as my new, protective shell. Yet even then I subconsciously gravitated to other geeks, practicing my geek ways such as comics and role play gaming in seclusion. Outside though, I never let on. Even when writing I would never allow myself to write science fiction. No, I was a “horror writer.” Then I wrote “literature” (pronounced, “litter-ahh-chure” in a mock English accent.) Finally, wanting commercial acceptance, I wrote “thrillers.”
Yet in attempting to save myself, I was really killing myself. That’s what we writers call “irony.” “You canna change the laws of physics, Captain,” a geek idol once said and he was correct. Trying to force fit a convention...whatever that convention might be, is a recipe for disaster. Your true nature eventually percolates back to the surface. The more you try to stuff it back down, the more miserable you become.
So I don’t stuff anymore. It’s a combination of society’s greater acceptance of geeks (just look at the success of shows like Battlestar Galactica) and my just not giving a shit what people think. Only now, at this middle-age stage of life, am I not hiding my tastes in entertainment from anyone. Only now do I see getting that Apple II+ computer as the head-start advantage that it really was. Now I have two computers at home…along with two iPods, two iPhones, two game systems, and I still want more technology. Only now, years after the fact, am I embracing what I truly like to write. And you know what? It feels great. I might not be happy at all with my current station in life but I am very happy with who I am.
So yes, I am a geek. Proud of it, too. For as Martin Luther said after the nailing of his theses to the church doors: “Here I stand. I cannot do otherwise.”The guy was right. Believe me I tried. Foolishly I tried in order to please a very vague and generalized "someone else." And I found that I truly cannot, nor want to, do otherwise.
By the way, geeks do have a sense of humor about themselves. For example, I find the following clip to be one of the greatest in Conan O'Brien's career.
Follow me on Twitter: @Jntweets