Thursday, February 17, 2011

The Once and Future Nerd

I'm pretty much a nerd.  I've read a few fantasy novels in my time that didn't have a British wizard on the cover.  I know three of the "Star Wars" movies by heart from wearing out the videotapes when I was younger.  I know that getting malaria cures one of syphilis because of the increased body temperature.  I know that the velocity of light (in a vacuum) is approximately 186,000 miles per second, or more accurately expressed as nearly 300,000,000 meters per second.

I know how to spell "vacuum".

But I am not the king of nerds.  I've read very few fantasy or sci-fi novels -- I tend to get bored with them.  I haven't even seen all of the "Star Wars" movies (skipped out on number 6... errr... 3).  I don't know anything else about malaria or syphilis.  I can't figure out when to change my car's oil.

And I have continual struggles trying to spell "successful".

It doesn't take much for me to recognize elements of my old nerdy self when I spot them in other people.  Like the guy at the Subway...

Near the shop, there's a Subway with a continuing staff of changing faces.  The most recent one was the acne-scarred face of a late teenager or early twenty-something.  He's less than average height, with brown curly hair that looks a bit too oily to have seen the shower today. 

When I first entered, he was instantly more chatty than a typical Subway worker.  He discussed the sandwich he was making for me, it's current cost-effectiveness given the current promotion, and he drifted on to his personal matters.

He was saying how tired he was (and I was making general "hurry-up/I'm listening" noises like "Ehm" and "Nyah".)  Then he commented that his good friend was pregnant by his old best friend, and that he'd stayed up with her.  "If I see him now, I might get arrested for assault!" he said in the emphatic way one does when issuing confrontational declarations toward an absent third party.

His uncomfortable assertions broke a flagon of resemblance across my head.  I used to be that guy -- and more recently than I would prefer to admit!  I remember the heady feelings created by having girls pay attention and tell me things.  I believed that I was the one who understood.  Only I could make everything better, and that if only I could dispense high school justice, the world would be improved.

I definitely recognized the signs in the young man in front of me, spreading black olives.  He thought of himself as the savior and the one true companion for this girl.  Been there AND got the t-shirt.

Talking about someone else's soap-opera of a life is one thing (whether real or largely manufactured).  But I felt myself feeling sorry that I couldn't offer him any corrective or guiding words.  Firstly, it's not my place.  And more importantly, words from a stranger aren't going to matter because that stranger doesn't know how he *feels*.  Ah, well.

In the end, I sat to eat lunch and he went back to the book that had a dragon on the cover.  The next customer in didn't so much as get a peep of conversation.  Whatever itch had been scratched.  Now it was time for conspicuous declarations of valor and chivalry to ring around in the head as the last oddly-echoing sentence in both of our ears.

I picked Cheetos as my side for an extra "I'm still eating" crunch.

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