Nine Common Geeky Phenomena, and My Personal Connection to Them

My old Star Trek website

These days, it's cool for everybody to talk about how geeky they are. (How many times have you heard inarguably non-dorky people say, smilingly, "I'm such a dork"?) It seems like almost everybody you talk to these days will claim that they were a nerd in high school, which is blatantly untrue. Were it so, jocks would have never existed. So just to set the record straight – since no matter how hard I try, I'll never be able to escape the appellation of "nerd" – I want to elaborate upon my own geek cred.

  1. Comic books: For me it was all about the X-Men, which I started reading in 1979. I followed several other Marvel titles, but I adored the X-Men. I even subscribed by mail, while saving up my allowance to buy back issues. (Frankly, I only liked the ones illustrated by John Byrne, who began in 1977.) 1980 was such an awesome year for those comics. The Dark Phoenix saga and all that. When Byrne quit in 1981, my interest in the X-Men – and in comics – waned. It was completely dead by 1984, and I never got back into comics as an adult (except for "mature" titles by Dan Clowes and Adrian Tomine). But from 1978 to 1981, I wanted to be a comic book artist and invented many superheroes. My juvenile illustration skills did not meet my own standards, however, and I was too lazy to develop them any further.
  2. Computers: I only intermittently hung out at my junior high's computer lab, because I knew it was populated by social pariahs. And while I had zero interest in joining the "in" crowd, it was important to me not to become unpopular. At home, though, it was a different story. In 1982 I was given an Apple II (not a IIe or a II+), and that's what I used until I left for college seven years later! I tried my hand at BASIC, but as with superhero illustration, I realized that my programming skills were weak and yet I was uninterested in improving them. (I am a "technodolt", as my mother would say. I still bristle whenever anybody assumes that I know how to fix a broken computer, because this assumption is clearly based only on my looks and not on any proven ability.) I got a modem in early '84 and from that point onward, my computer was solely for game playing and online socializing (on bulletin board systems, the ancestors of Facebook). Both of those activities absolutely dominated my 1980s.
  3. Star Trek: I saw the first four movies and enjoyed them somewhat, though notably the one I liked the most was Star Trek IV: The Voyage Home, which was very lighthearted and mainstream. I never watched any of the TV shows. Whenever I was channel surfing and a rerun from The Original Series popped up, I kept moving. To this day I have yet to watch an entire TOS episode, and have only seen 4-5 Next Generation episodes.
  4. Star Wars: The first film came out when I was 7. This is the perfect age to start enjoying Star Wars. When Return of the Jedi came out in 1983, I was 13. This is the perfect age to stop enjoying Star Wars. In the intervening six years, I amassed an impressive collection of action figures and vehicles, and even built my own miniature "walled city" for them – literally on my bedroom wall. These narrow, flimsy, multi-tiered constructions were made of cardboard and Scotch tape, with Kleenex tissues folded up to make miniature beds and pillows, rope ladders made from toothpicks and string, etc. I never played with this city. I just enjoyed building it. My friend Mark had a more substantial village in his bedroom, and we did play with our figures there.
  5. Anime/manga/other Japanese nerd stuff: I was never interested in any of this.
  6. Sci fi/fantasy: I watched Ralph Bakshi's animated Lord of the Rings movie several times, yet I could not get through any of Tolkien's books. So I liked his ideas but not the execution. I tried to read Frank Herbert's Dune in 1984 but similarly got bored and gave up. So in terms of books, sci fi and fantasy were not for me. Movies were different: I watched Tron and The Dark Crystal several times, just like Star Trek IV – but that's because they were fun movies, not because I preferred the genres. The same holds true today.
  7. Dungeons & Dragons: I halfheartedly played this a couple of times when I was 12 or so. But I hated its reliance on boring things like statistics, a multitude of dice, and so on. So I never got into it. However, from the time I was about 9 until maybe 12, I bought and painted countless tiny pewter D&D-inspired figurines from hobby shops. That was my real love.
  8. British TV shows: I didn't watch Monty Python's Flying Circus until MTV reran episodes in the late '80s, at which point I became a moderate fan. (The movies never did much for me.) I can quote from it, but only random lines that nobody else really quotes. I never bothered with Dr. Who. It just looked so cheap and stupid back then. I missed out on Fawlty Towers as well. However, I was a big fan of The Benny Hill Show, which I admit with some shame, and an even bigger fan of the more obscure Dave Allen at Large.
  9. Geeky music: I was an avid listener of the Sunday night Dr. Demento show from early 1981, when my sisters moved out and I could listen to my own radio in my own bedroom, until 1984, when my modem friends and another Sunday night radio show called "Stone Trek" introduced me to progressive rock. And I can affirm that prog rock was definitely not a cool thing for teenagers to be listening to in the '80s, when I was really into it. In the mid- to late-'80s I got bored with that genre and began listening endlessly to Kate Bush and Robyn Hitchcock albums. (Now those are two artists with strong nerd followings.) Still, if you told me in 1987 that I would one day take more pride at having seen the Ramones than in having seen Jethro Tull, I would have thought you were crazy.