Dammit Jim! I’m a Nerd not a Nerd Herder!
I woke up on the impossibly lumpy bed, the dream still freshly imprinted on my memory: Aragorn had just begged me to become the Lord of the Rings and then showed me to a dirty bathtub. Gotta lay off the horseradish.
As the memory faded, I shook my head and looked around: a hotel room with two double beds and dusty medieval décor including dark paneling, chains and yellow paint the color of a nasty medicine I took as a kid. I was in one bed and my old friend, Jim sawed redwoods with a rusty chainsaw in the other. Thank the Maker I’d only had three beers last night or I might have soiled myself thinking I was in one of King Arthur’s holding cells. The smell of cheap disinfectant hung in the air like a bad omen.
Why did I let Jim talk me into coming here? This was not my scene! I was a closet case - I would never let my true nature be revealed! Just coming to this gathering was bad enough!
I noticed that the alarm would go off in about 30 minutes so I sprung from my lumpy mattress, grabbed a shower and jumped into some khaki shorts and a gray t-shirt. My outfit echoed my best sentiment about this trip: neutral. I tried to assume an air of nonchalance while Jim’s chainsaw was jammed by the beeping of the alarm.
After showering, Jim dressed quickly, eager to assemble with the others. I held onto my reluctance like a Louisville Slugger in the face of a squad of funkadelic zombies.
“I’ve brought stuff for us to wear if you are interested.” God, no! I shrugged the question off and held the offered outfit up to show Jim that it was too small, not bothering to determine the truth. Sweat formed on my brow in little beads - each one representing a reason I did not want to go downstairs.
“Suit yourself” he said, intending no pun. Since I was not playing along, he decided to forego his outfit as well.
We left the room and made our way down the heavily carpeted and garishly decorated hallway. I winced once again at the Arthurian motifs: shields and swords hung on dark paneling, royal purple carpet, pictures of knights, pee stains from faithful steeds. Pee stains? I was getting delusional. It looked like someone had kidnapped a drunken designer and forced them to decorate this place at sword point. Our room even had a round table. I fully expected to see the Sir Cumference Conference Room around the next corner. The rumor of a crowd came from the opening at the far end of the hallway.
I wrapped my dignity around me and attempted to instill a bit of Will Smith hipness into my step. Failing miserably, I realized I didn’t have a hip bone in my body. No wait! I do have hip bones but I don’t have a hip…bone….
Oh hell! Never mind.
We exited the hallway onto a landing that looked over the hotel lobby. The crowd sounds were no longer masked; nor was the crowd. I briefly squeezed my eyes shut, trying my best to steel my senses for the visual onslaught. I knew not what might assail my gentile countenance and delayed the inevitable.
Jim laughed, “Are you okay? Come on - we have to hurry.” I released the hold on my eyelids and threw my gaze like a net upon the abyss that was the lobby. All seemed okay. I moved down the stairs, each step being labored, and my clothes becoming sodden with the sour wine of trepidation perspiration. The people in my view were nearly normal. Some were on the fringe but most were within two standard deviations of the norm.
I hurried to catch up with Jim as though I needed his protection and focused on attaining our objective: the hotel’s main ballroom. Jim sliced through the crowd like a deftly guided blade and I followed in his wake. People laughed and talked merrily on either side as we passed and I began to feel a tremor in the Force. No, dammit! I DO NOT use the Force! Let’s just say there was excitement in the air. We quickly arrived at the ballroom entrance.
I checked my watch: it was the top of the hour and a security guard with big mutton chops and a round belly came to the ballroom doorway. His uniform was pristine as though he were going to be greeting heads of state. He checked his watch and nodded to himself, removing the velvet rope that barred the entrance. People began to press forward.
“Are you sure this is worth it?” I queried. Jim had talked me into paying an extra ten smackers that allotted us an hour in the ballroom before the faceless hordes entered.
“It’ll be great.” He replied over his shoulder. I sheepishly followed him, pulling out the blue name badge that allowed me early access. I had resisted melding the badge with my person up to this point. Doing so meant I was part of the gathering. I would become one of… one of THEM. I moved forward and showed the guard my albatross of access.
He nodded solemnly as though I was going to see Elvis’ corpse or something and I started to move past.
He grabbed my arm, “Sir! You must have the name badge on at all times.” I stared at him like he had just pinched me on the gluteus maximus. He spoke as though to a recalcitrant youth who was busting mailboxes and his was next.
I swallowed and undid the pin on the back of the badge as someone accidently bumped into me from behind. The petulant guard threw his best Clint Eastwood frown at those in the queue behind me and order quickly ensued. I slid the pin into my shirt, almost feeling the cold steel as it slid into the fabric like a freshly-sharpened Klingon shiv. The effect on my psyche was about the same as waving a communist flag in public dressed only in my skivvies.
The guard offered a bumptious smile and let me pass. I entered into the chamber and stopped, Jim already out of sight in the crowd. I exhaled my last draught of air as a respected member of society and took my first steps into the tainted world I knew was inside: a fantasy and science fiction modelers’ convention.
May God protect my soul.
All my life I had bucked my place in society. I have always striven to shuck my mantle of nerdness, my yoke of the unhip; those burdens that rode me like I was a rented mule. I was an empty milk jug floating on the surface of the cool sea, never able to penetrate. I had managed to obtain a modicum of respectability by fitting neatly into society’s model of an upstanding citizen. Now this badge gripped my persona like a Denebian Slime Devil. A what? No! Uh, like the scarlet letter - confirming my membership in the nerd herd. That’s the way life is you know: you are either in the nerd herd or you are nerd herder. I like to think I had delicately skated along the line of delineation committing to neither affiliation.
Now, here I was: A stranger in a strange land; immersed in a sea of plastic fantasies. I took time to gather my thoughts and then slowly look around. The ballroom of this cheesy hotel had been divided up into “stalls” that held anything and everything to do with models (and some art) from fantasy and science fiction TV shows, movies and stories. It was like wandering through the Mos Eisley Spaceport and noticing that everything had weird names and was overpriced. Did I just say “Mos Eisley”? I made the circuit, careful to keep my arms and hands in tight to my body lest I actually be confused with someone that was really interested in all of this. I hadn’t built a model since the seventh grade and now I was in a place where the lesser god of frivolous pursuits fell, feverish from some insidious infection and vomited plastic, resin, glue and paint (and instructions), as undesirables rushed in to pick through the heavings.
As I made the circuit, I began to notice items from TV shows and movies long since past that had brought me pleasure in my younger days. There were vendors that sold kits and vendors that sold already built models - some from kits and some made from scratch. I was actually amazed at the high quality of workmanship displayed and the variety of genre, but I still resisted the ever present ghostly whisper in my ear to move closer; to pick things up and turn them over. My fear of nerdification was strong and I fought it with every fiber of my being.
While pondering these things, the rest of the herd spilled into the ballroom as the allotted “early time” had expired and my ability to remain apart from others was sorely tested. I unhappily managed to bump into what I thought was a large troll with long, stringy brown hair in a black leather motorcycle jacket that read something like “Hell’s Klingons”. The creature turned immediately and I gaped at a large young man with tattoos that embroidered his hands and neck, imagining a butterfly knife already out of some concealed pocket flipping open to filet me on the spot.
He looked at me apologetically, “Sir, I am so sorry. My fault completely.” The effect of the unexpected words and politeness from this huge visage of toughness was like witnessing an Orc running a cotton candy machine. I responded in kind and we moved on. I felt like I had sidestepped a laser blast.
Just a few minutes later I came across two people dressed like grizzled space-travelling storm troopers. Amused, I attempted conversation in order to confirm their bizarre and perhaps haughty natures. Maybe I would only get a brusque “move along”.
“Good day, sir” was the reply. I stood amazed again. Further conversation revealed the equivalent of Eagle Scouts in the guise of Empire draftees. They were indicative of my brushes with the show-going populace: cheery, polite and courteous.
Upon further investigation I found two personages that had appeared in old science fiction film and TV. They were busily hawking signed photographs for $25 and I caught them at a time where no one else was in line and was able to enjoy lengthy conversations. When Jim had told me they would have celebrities here, I had assumed it would be limited to someone who had done a voiceover of Spock’s third cousin twice removed in “Star Trek - The Animated Series”. The celebrities were actually a notch or two above that level and graciously answered my questions about their days in the limelight.
Start the Nerd Quiz
I was beginning to enjoy myself! How could this be? I was finding delight in having old memories of favorite shows and movies grabbed by the hair and dragged to the forefront of my memory. Fighting the infection by avoiding direct contact had worked. However, I had not counted upon osmosis being the introductory agent of enjoyment.
It was at this point that it hit me - my friend Jim, an avid collector of these artifacts and one of the coolest guys I know (motorcycle rider, weightlifter, played in a band, shaved head and van dyke, etc.) was off somewhere negotiating like a Ferengi merchant for a replica of a famous robot. I was immediately thunderstruck by the contradiction like the blow from an ogre’s club. Jim had no fear whatsoever of crossing over into the herd; no hesitation about wading into the morass of a craft that was unrecognized. I was wearing ego’s inimitable three piece suit in the middle of a nudist colony; I was a piece of green bell pepper that had fallen into the chocolate pudding at a salad bar. No - It’s no use. I am what I am. I should use a more fitting illustration: I was one of the Joker’s underlings and I had mistakenly stumbled into a weekly meeting of the Justice League of America and had knocked over Wonder Woman’s espresso maker. It was time to cross over.
Then and there I flung off the mantle of conformity and reveled in my nerdity. I began to happily browse the displays, mingling easily with people that probably saved up their allowance to go to a Star Trek convention. I released any reluctance to be witnessed oohing and aahing about the realism of a diorama related to the first “War of the Worlds” movie. I engaged in conversation with a vendor who constructed and sold various helmets and was prideful that I was able to identify their origins with alacrity. I even unpocketed my digital camera and began to take pictures.
I had been assimilated.
Continue the Nerd Quiz - Name the Movie or TV Show (all models from the show)
Captain’s Log - er, um Epilog: While Jim made out like an Elven ranger, bagging multiple trophies to take home to his collection, I managed to avoid unsheathing my wallet and thusly gained a small victory. The spoils of my foray are in the form of pictures which I share with you here.
As for my new found embrace of the hidden geek, once returned to “normal” society, I found that I accepted my old self again, walking the tight rope between herd and herder. Comfortable, however, that I could now easily be herded.
Apologies to “Bones” for the title.
Here is a link to the actual show.
(All links come from the Internet Movie Database - My favorite place to got get lots of movie and TV trivia that only a nerd could love!)
A - Yvonne Craig - Batgirl in the original Batman TV series(1966-68); she was also in a Star Trek episode (not to mention acting AND singing in "Ski Party" with Frankie Avalon)
B - Robin Curtis -Lt. Saavik (after Kirstie Alley) in Star Trek III (1984) and IV (1986)
C - Star Wars IV - A New Hope; a Jawa (1977)
D - Predator (1987)
E - The Day the Earth Stood Still (1951 version); Gort; No - you do not get extra credit for naming Jim correctly
F - Forbidden Planet; Robbie the Robot (1956 - the woman was "Alta" played by Anne Francis)
G - The Rocketeer (1991) - Helmet and rocket pack
H - Lost in Space (1965-68); Dr. Zachary Smith; "Oh, the pain!"
I - War of the Worlds (1953) - Alien craft
J - Creature from the Black Lagoon (1954)
K - The Green Slime (1968)