How does one become a geek? Is one born that way? Or is it more of a learned habit, of finding activities that one enjoys only to realize that they are judged as being the domain of societal misfits?
The answer, is, yes.
See, coolness is learned. But I believe we are all born geeks. I mean, how does a newborn know what cool is? They obviously don’t. What – did 3-month-old Fonzie shun his teddy bear diaper for a black leather one? No. The Fonz was in the same clueless pool of unknowing formula-suckers as the rest of us.
But somewhere along the way, the cool kids got something. Not a memo, but they just somehow became attuned to what others perceived as cool, and emulated it. God bless these perceptive people, as I was too busy wrapping my toy soldiers with paper from my mom’s adding machine as she cranked out numbers as an accountant. While The Fonz was out practicing how to impart a nuclear wedgie to the local sap geek, I was hiding from him – under my mom’s kitchen table, giving my plastic army men an armor coating of paper. Fonz was coolness in training. I was oblivious of what the world thought of, well, anything.
So we learn one thing that geeks have in common. Loneliness. Or more accurately, contentment in being alone. That was me. I was not a social kid. The majority of fun I had as a kid was in activities concocted in my mind, and executed without the assist of anyone. As a result, I was creative and kind of smart. And alone.
Cool kids are neither creative nor kind of smart. Or alone.
What cool kids are, is popular. That requires social contact. They thrive in social settings. My brother was very cool. So was my sister. Not surprisingly, they had – and still do have – lots of friends. They have PhD’s in popularity. They have always had an innate sense of what to say in a particular situation and it always came out…cool. They got the laughs. So did I, but never intentionally. Cool kids get people to laugh with them. Geeks get laughed at. Which just makes us wrap our plastic toy soldiers with more adding machine tape.
See, those toy soldiers don’t laugh back.
This sounds like a sad tale, and it is not necessarily so. It is just a matter of Darwinian selection. Everyone can’t be cool. If everyone were, then nothing would be cool. Cool is a special, ubiquitous quality that certain people just get. And Lord, there were many times I wished I could get splashed with what my siblings had, like a Holy Water of Coolness. I wanted to be able to saunter up to cute girls like I saw my brother do countless times, drop a couple of syllables, and have them walk off with me like they did with him. When I would try that, I would stand there slack-jawed, my brain erased of any thought, and oftentimes I would just drool or blurt out some kind of inane, insane comment about how nice the weather was…when it was ten below zero out. Consequently, the girl would laugh at me, then turn and walk away…and pass along to her friends that I was mentally retarded.
I didn’t have the gift. The Cool Gods didn’t lay their hands on me. And I never learned it under the kitchen table with all those toy soldiers and all that adding machine tape.
Dweebs are over-achievers. Cool kids are usually under-achievers. This stands to reason, since the cool kids got the respect just by being in that groove they were in – there was no motivation to achieve when the world was already eating out of their hand. This helps to explain, at least in my own case, why I got two college degrees and bristle at any perceived hint of rejection. Us dweebs try to construct a coat of respect, since we can never be just accepted…or so we think. Those formative years of being chased after school, de-pants'd in the playground, and being given held-down wet willies have permanently etched scars in our psyche.
Cool kids don’t have to go to therapy. They are very happy in a world that revels in their appearance. Geeks keep psychiatrists in business. Don’t believe me? How much you wanna bet that Freud was writing in his tablet, as the poor sap was on the couch, “Major four-alarm GEEK’…?
Okay, maybe not.
Because that’s another construct of geeks. The combination of isolation, societal awkwardness and too smart for our own good equates to major neuroses. We don’t see the world as it is, but rather, as the dangers to our fragile psyches that it can be. As I mentioned, we do not feel accepted…even when we really are. If a girlfriend says something like ‘I’m going to run to the store for some milk’ we hear, ‘She’s leaving me for good.’ We are a handful for anyone close to us. We feel misunderstood. We need constant reassurance that we are good enough. The vicious cycle in completed when the girlfriend leaves and we are left alone, clueless as to why she thought suggesting the Marvel Comics convention as a Saturday night activity was a bad idea.
Oh well. This is my lot. We are all – or most of us – constructs of our formative years. For many it takes a lifetime to overcome these experiences, if ever at all. In my case it is a constant cycle of gaffes and inner searches for why I do and act like I do. Why do I over-exert? Why do I try to be right? Why do I think someone will be impressed that I know the last 50 U.S. Open golf champions, when what is actually happening is they just want me to shut up?
Move over, I need a seat on Freud’s couch.
I have some experience in 12-step recovery programs. Want to find out where all the adult geeks are? They are at these meetings. One thing I have learned from my time in these gatherings is, we all share a common trait – we did not feel accepted; we felt like we never fit in.
Note that I didn’t say we didn’t fit in – I said we felt like we didn’t fit in. Chances are pretty good we were fitting in quite nicely, and that we were being accepted just perfectly. But we just could not believe it. You were all lying. I know you think I’m a societal leper. I want to get away from this. I want to get away from you. I want to go crawl into…a bottle of tequila.
Because tequila doesn’t laugh at you either.
And tequila also had the added benefit of…making me cool! Two shots and I was funny. Three and I am charming. Unfortunately, after the fifth I was vomiting. So there was a small window of opportunity for me to feel comfortable with you before I was doing technicolor yawns in the Men’s room. It was a delicate dance, and one that I could never seem to do correctly. But, it was in these recovery meetings that I found kindred spirits. People that felt just like I did. And acted out just like I did. And most importantly, showed me how to overcome these feeling of inadequacy and live a contented, serene life.
And I can also tell you this – I never heard anyone in these meetings say ‘I was the popular kid.’