Thursday, January 2, 2014

Oh, You Watch Star Trek?

On November 17th, I was asked to participate in an episode of The Nerdologues: Your Stories, whose monthly storytelling sessions turn into a podcast.  On December 23rd my portion of the podcast was released!  The whole episode is great, but the recording of just my bit is here for the purposes of shameless self-promotion and also for my mother, who would only skip the rest and just listen to my story anyway.

“Exactly what in the nine hells ever made you think you were worthy to stand close enough to me to breathe the same air?  Go back to your sweat smelling ass cave and rot so I can go back to pretending you don’t exist.”

Or, at least, that’s what it sounded like she said.  The reality was far more innocuous but had the same impact.

It was high school, and it was the middle of the 1990’s, and I had a dozen acquaintances but no friends.  I existed in a no-man’s-land of being both a jock and a nerd and doing neither very well.  It’s not that I was trying hard but incapable, it was that I didn’t care enough to try hard enough to be good at . . . well, anything.  I was on the varsity football team . . . third string.  I was taking the Advanced Placement Chemistry class . . . I got a 1.

And I don’t remember which class it was, but there I sat when someone from across the room called me over.  Her name was Bekkah (B-e-k-k-a-h), and she had very curly red hair, and it was a simple, “Hey, Mark, come over here,” that beckoned me.  So I did.  Bekkah, whom I knew, introduced me to Bonnie (B-o-n-n-i-e), who had straight dark hair and bore the mystery of someone I didn’t know, but I knew the company she kept.  Probably she lived in one of the wealthier neighborhoods than mine.  If I had known what a trust fund was, I would have suspected her of having one.  Not disparagingly.

I sat.  We chatted.  Later I would learn that Bonnie had confided in Bekkah that she, Bonnie, thought I, Mark, was SO hot, and wanted to talk to me but didn’t know how to approach me or what to talk about.  This is what prompted Bekkah to call me over.  But by the time I learned that little bit of information I was no longer capable of being flattered by it.  I’d been instead flattened by such a powerful rebuke that was totally unfair yet completely true but made me question my whole worth as a human being.

I no longer remember exactly how I phrased it, but it came out that I watched Star Trek.  And 47 seconds into an otherwise pleasant conversation, her smile dropped, and she said to me simply, “Oh, you watch Star Trek?  Go away.”

As I walk-of-shamed myself across the classroom back to my own desk,  I remember thinking That’s it?  That’s all it takes?  I was stunned that the whole quality of my character was weighed, measured, and completely dismissed as unworthy because of something so trivial as a single TV show I liked to watch. 

It wouldn’t be the last time.  When I was 12 I got a Next Gen communicator pin that I still had when I was 19 and happened to be wearing when I was rear-ended (gently) by another driver on a short stretch of road right by the local mall.  We pulled over, inspected the damage.  There was none that I could see, so I declined to take her information because I didn’t see the point.

Then suddenly she asks me, “What is that?” and pointed to my chest.  “That” clearly had nothing to do with the cars, so clearly she was starting a new topic.  Slowly it dawned on me that she was continuing the conversation.  It’s weird to me when women do that.  I’m like, Oh, is – is this flirting?  Am I being flirted . . . on?  I don’t  . . . I’m not sure . . . what . . . I’d better say something back . . .

Well by now I’d grown accustomed to people dismissing me because of the things I enjoyed, so I was in the habit of hiding that bit of information before people got to know me better.  But it was too late.  There it was, out in the open, pinned to my shirt.  I had been about to say, “It’s a Starfleet comm badge,” but if she didn’t already know that, that wasn’t going to explain anything, so I said instead, “It’s a Star Trek pin.”

But I may as well have told her, “It’s the remnants of an uncooked egg, which spent three days decomposing in the sun before being farted on by a cadre of fat Lithuanians before finally being cracked open and spread across my sweatshirt,” because that, at least, would have justified to me the scorn in her eyes when she said to me, clearly giving me another chance, “Why are you wearing it?”   

If you’d been a casual observer of this exchange, standing just beyond earshot, you might have believed my answer – being composed of four words – to be one of the following.

a)      I like the smell.

b)      I like Star Trek.

Because without another word, she simply got into her car and drove away.

These exchanges and so many like them are what make me feel, today, like I’ve stepped into a Rod Serling anti-nightmare where the nerds have taken over the popular cultural landscape.  It’s like we were wizards (from 3rd edition before the balance issues got sorted out in 3.5) who lost our hit points real easy at lower levels while the fighters and barbarians dominated the board, but now that we’re all epic level we found out that the cultural power balance has shifted in our favor, so we’re safe and secure in our towers lobbing intellectual H-bombs into every major movie theatre near you that you couldn’t possibly understand because we know you never even HEARD of Joseph Campbell and your degree requirements only included, like, one physics class and while you’re crumbling like the ignorant, low charisma score havin’ meat shields we knew you to be, meantime the children of the people you used to scorn and/or beat up for fun are “bronies,” who not only have a safe community in which to share their love of a particular piece of pop culture, but they also have parents who have a first-hand understanding of what it’s like to be mistreated for life choices that don’t harm anybody.

So thank you, Bonnie, and all the all the he-Bonnies and she-Bonnies that came after you, for you taught me to treat people better than you treated me, and elevated the quality of art that I am capable of producing and perpetuating.