Nerd Party

by Michael Channing

A while back, I got invited to a nerd party. Because nerds do that now. Back in my day, we festered in our own sweat in dark basements and programmed card games in BASIC, but now nerds drink beer and hang out with members of the opposite sex who are also nerds, which I would have sworn was an impossible configuration, like matter and antimatter LEGO. I accepted the invite because these people didn't know how socially inept I am, and I figured I'd never get the chance again. Plus, it might be fun to hang out with other nerds and talk nerdly things.

Nerdly things.

Only one problem: I was lacking more than just social skills. I didn't have cable or Netflix. Do you have any idea how embarrassing and shameful it is to be a nerd at a nerd party surrounded by other nerds and not understand a damn thing anyone is talking about? It was like being a goldfish in a plastic bag which had been dropped inside a fish tank where all the other goldfish were free to swim. I had heard of Game of Thrones, and Sherlock, and Supernatural. But those could have been Kentucky Derby contestants for all I friggin knew. I stood in my friend's kitchen while conversations in Parseltongue swirled around my lost little noggin.

Even when I understood what was being said, I had no chance of joining in because they had already had those conversations and simply referred to them in shorthand. The topic of relationships among fictional characters came up, and one woman said, "Rose and Ten." Suddenly, a light shown through the darkness. I got that reference! I knew all about Rose and the tenth Doctor. Let's talk about that. But "Rose and Ten," was the entire conversation. One woman said it, and another gasped and had an orgasm. Because there was so much previous dialog between them, so much emotion already invested in the subject, the mere mention of the romantic tension between the characters brought one of the women to climax. A wonderful thing to behold, but I was still locked completely out of the discourse.

Sexual banter was part of almost every interaction I observed. It was like being the only Wesley Crusher in a room full of Captain Kirks and Cylon Number Sixes.

I blame the generation gap. In my day, nerdly topics were treated as children's fare. They were both dumbed and watered down. We had shows like Manimal in which a doctor of mysticness used ancient knowledge to transform into animals and solve crimes. Or Automan in which a Tron knockoff teamed up with a computer programmer to solve crimes. Or Knight Rider, in which an inanimate object teamed up with a Trans Am to solve crimes. But now, nerds have it made. I'm sure there is still badly written, formulaic speculative fiction on TV today, but listen: Neil Gaiman writes for Doctor Who. There's nothing more I need to say to support my claim that today's nerds are living in the best of times. But there's also this: nerds now have sex and good writing, together. Before, if you wanted fantasy and nudity, you had to rent Deathstalker, which was a film series about guys with perms fighting bald bad guys for control of cardboard fortresses. They'd hit each other in the sword for a couple of hours until the bad guy decided he was dead, and somewhere in the middle, boobs happened. You couldn't enjoy the boobs because it was a VHS cassette, and thousands of frustrated nerds had already watched and re-watched that scene before you till it was a blotchy mess of scratches and tracking lines. It was an image on a TV screen, but it somehow still felt sticky.

But now, from what I hear, Game of Thrones has sex on display every few scenes and still manages to tell involving stories.

So it's not surprising that the younger nerds at the party were all flirting with each other and exchanging innuendos. None of that, however, had been in my nerd handbook. My education started with PRINT "HELLO, WORLD." Theirs began with CLICK IF YOU'RE OVER 18. I was lost and at home at the same time.

Of course, my unease originates from other sources, but it's fun to say I don't know how to talk to people because humans aren't NPCs equipped with conversation trees. But taking that silly idea to the logical other end of the pendulum swing is a frightening thought, that I just might be the someone's random encounter, but all the necessary data is missing from my choices menu. When a player approaches me and asks, "How do you feel about [popular show]," I don't have the programming to properly respond. Eventually, the player characters all figure this out and leave me alone to pursue the routine tasks of my assigned procedure. That glitchy character who keeps appearing and running headfirst into walls and knocking over the items you've carefully arranged on a table? That's me, trying to say "Hello" in an outdated language no one uses anymore.


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Chokes and Warbles, a collection of essays and poems by Michael Channing