I have never been normal, and for most of my life, this has been an okay thing. There are times, though, when being strange and geeky can be a bad thing. Usually to upper management. Once, at a party after a business meeting, I got to talking to George Allen, the vice president of Cargo Furniture, my company at the time. He asked if I wanted a mixed drink. I told him I didn't drink, and he said he felt bad that they didn't think of that, but wouldn't I just like to drink something just to try? I tried to change the topic to something, anything, to avoid saying to my company VP, "No, I don't drink alcohol, and no, I don't want to try." So I blurted out an article I read in Omni magazine about mixed drinks (trying to segue), and how they had a contest where people submitted funny things like "Nair and Bailey's Irish Creme = A Sineaid O'Connor," or "Midori and Dawn Dishwashing detergent = Honeydew the Dishes." The party for some reason got real quiet, and the VP said (as honestly as he could) that Nair was probably poisonous, which made everyone in the hotel room look at me. What an odd thing for the VP to comment on to the new guy. "What else did you read?" he asked with amusement tinted with possible concern. Well, "How to Built an AI Robot that thinks like an insect... ..." Silence. Dead silence. "Well," he said, trying to rescue me (George was a good guy, I later found out) "How ... obscure." Nervous laughter. My ears were burning, but I knew George just didn't know what to say. It all ended well (George got a Sprite from somewhere), but I will always remember those few times as an adult where being geeky and obscure were ... uncomfortable.
I rarely get along with other parents of kids. Either the dads are really sports-oriented, or scary. It seems the jock parents I have met are usually gentle people (on average), which goes against the media stereotype. But we have nothing to say. They try to bond with me on some sports team, and I either nod along or they ask me a question that sounds like, "So Benfry is doing point guard next season for the Red Devils, giving them a RBI advantage but that could mean coach Dennison will have a lot of team washout on his hands by the playoffs! Am I right? Do you think grep neek norp nock booya will ding helf nerp with the ball or will they snick the jep tork on halfright?" Total gibberish. I shrug. They are usually smart enough to realize I am not into sports by that point, and they slink away, like somehow they might have offended me.
Then there are the scary ones. Ones that have to mention how horrible it is that young girls are trying to look sexy. Repeatedly. Like they are trying to convince themselves more than me. "See that girl there, with the short shorts? What is she like, 12? I don't think she's sexy. Not me! No way! That's gross! Why don't her parents put something more respectable on her!?!?" Uh... dude? We're at a swimming pool. That's what people wear, see... "Mr. Sulu, ahead squick factor ten!"
So... I am a geek. I have always been so. I was reading by age 2, reading college level by age 8. I had a programmable calculator before anyone else my age knew what "RPN" stood for on an HP. I have corrected salespeople at computer stores, even to the point where I lost patience with them (recently, one salesperson tried to convince me that only a "trained professional" could install a computer power supply). I don't think I am better than anyone else, which is often the response you get. It was moreso in school, but in the adult world, you still have to curb what you say. I have had to repeat, "It's not worth being right," many, many times to avoid continuing pointless arguments. It's hard to hear someone say something so blatantly ignorant and just take it. There have been times I have caught lies and pinned people down with them, and that's not what I meant to do...
Years ago, someone I knew was talking about Lightsabers you could get from Park Sabers. The speaker, which we'll call Jimbo, started spouting stuff about how scientists were actually building Lightsabers. This sparked my interest. "What do you mean?" I asked. Jimbo puffed himself up. "Yeah, the people at Park Sabers have been sharing technology with the government."
Man, this was too good. Now, I could have just been a nice guy and said, "Oh, really? Wow..." and dropped it. But my geek muscles flexed, my hair bristled, and my lizard ridge changed colors. I was hooked. "Sharing technology?"
"Yeah," said Jimbo. Then he started going on and on about laser containment fields and EMI interference, and all kinds of stuff that ... to the average person, might sound as perfectly reasonable as reversing the polarity of the neutron flow. I kept asking him questions, and the facts became more and more wild and inaccurate. I started to ask him about where he got his info, because, as far as I knew, Park Sabers was invented by a machinist who liked Star Wars and had some spare aluminum parts, and a good eye for art and detail. In effect, I looked as if I was calling his bullshit, but in reality, I REALLY wanted this to be true. Real Lightsabers, how cool would that be? By the time I had realized that he was making stuff up, I had practically backed him into a corner. In front of people. Like an ass.
So I tried to save the situation by giving him what I call "feasible exit," which I used a lot when I used to work at an International Computer Help Desk. I the tech world, you do this when you catch a vendor in a lie, but instead of forcing him to confess he's a liar like we're all back in elementary school, you give him an exit by suggesting something that would save face, and thus, the pressure would be there to fix the result of the lie just to never have it brought up again. I told him, "But the magazine you quoted might have just theorized this, right? You're basing this on that one article." He saw his escape, and went for it, "Yes, I mean, it could be wrong, but it's a VERY good magazine." I agreed. We changed the topic. Jimbo avoided me after that, and with good reason. My geekiness and social ineptitude almost harpooned his ego. In front of people. Very bad move on my part.
But I am still glad I am geeky. I just have to remember to use my power for good.
This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000134.html