It was my senior year in high school, and I was sitting in Mr. Miller’s Physics class. He was a great teacher with a clear passion for conveying his knowledge of the natural world to his students. His third-floor classroom was a riot of geeky physics-oriented posters. “Black holes suck.” “Time flies like an arrow. Fruit flies like a banana.” “186,000 Miles per Second: It’s not just a good idea. It’s the law!” The shelves were crammed with lab equipment and toys that he used to demonstrate one physics principle or another. It was a popular class with seniors. Even among the honors and AP students, all but the most hard core academic achievers opted for “Miller Time” over AP Physics.
We were talking about capacitors and their ability to hold a charge and then discharge it later. I raised my hand and he called on me.
“So, if a capacitor could hold a charge, could that charge be released in a targeted way, sort of like a direct fire energy…”
My mind knew where this was going, and it was not good. Don’t say “phaser”! Don’t say “phaser”!
“Well kind of like a…um…”
Don’t say “phaser”! Don’t say “phaser”! Don’t say…
You. Are. An. Idiot.
I don’t remember the specifics of what happened next, but it was as one would expect, and it resulted in Mr. Miller signing my yearbook months later with an admonition against building death rays.
The thing is that, while that particular incident was unintentional, my geekiness was well known, particularly when it came to Star Trek. I had, after all, helped to charter a Star Trek club at school, going so far as to speak about it at two school-wide assemblies and then serve as Captain for three terms before being term-limited and promoted to Commodore and later Rear Admiral.
There was the typo at the end of a Star Trek club announcement on the school-wide PA system in which someone typed “Live long, Andrew Viertel” instead of “Live long and prosper.” I heard about that one a lot. My Algebra 2 teacher, in particular, got a kick out of it. That one was accidental, but there was far more overt and intentional geekiness on my part. I did oral reports in English class on role-playing games and fantasy novels. I even put on a one-man show in which I subjected my AP English class to me acting out Q taking Captain Kirk and company on a tour of the Star Trek version of Dante’s Inferno. I threw myself all over the classroom playing something like…Kirk, Spock, McCoy, Scotty, Sulu, Checkov, Uhura, Q , and red-shirted ensigns Target and Bullseye…yep, ten characters. Or eleven? Did Yeoman Rand make an appearance?
My performance was most definitely a tour de farce.
The fact is that I’m something of a geek. (Yes, present tense. Alissa recently caught me critiquing the Dungeons and Dragons session on The Big Bang Theory. Really, the guys weren’t doing it right.) Still my school days were far from the social hell for geeks that is depicted in pop culture. No one stuffed me into lockers or gave me wedgies. My friends did find great entertainment in making me snarf beverages, but I laughed as hard as they did.
I was generally accepted socially, even if I wasn’t “popular”. Though I was on the swim team, I wasn’t a standout athlete. My seventh grade PE unit on track and field was a particularly epic failure. My hurdling test featured me tripping over 4 of 5 hurdles and face planting over the other one, and somehow I managed on at least one occasion to miss—not fall short of, completely miss—the long jump pit. Perhaps I should have asked Mr. Miller to explain the physics of that particular maneuver.
I never ran for student body office until college (that’s its own bizarre story), and with the exception of one strange week in 1987 (and the ensuing relationship) that I quickly decided not to question, I was not particularly popular with girls. I wasn’t ostracized by them by any means. Many were wonderful friends, some with romantic potential, but as far as I know, there were no young women swooning in my wake as I walked the halls of Eagle Rock High.
I wasn’t even at the top of my class, but I had my niche in the form of extra-curricular activities. Most importantly, I had a solid group of really good friends. On the whole it was the type of experience that I hope my kids can have.
So what’s my point? Well, I have an odd little fear as a parent. What if my kids do, somehow, turn out to be “popular” or standout athletes or the toast of their peers in some way that I don’t have any experience with? I don’t know how to play such a role, let alone parent it. I know how to be a nice, quirky, geek who has enough social skills to find a group of friends with which to sample the smorgasbord of experiences that is childhood.
Fortunately, I don’t think I have to worry too much. Harry is in love with Star Wars, Voltron, and even the 1980’s Transformers. He’s constantly asking me about the minutest details of the most obscure vehicles. He questions the colors of light sabers and laser bolts. Yesterday he was asking why clone pilots and TIE fighter pilots have enclosed helmets while rebel pilots don’t. I had told him earlier that the more open face plate of the rebels helped with visual tracking in a dogfight, so he didn’t understand why the Empire didn’t take that into account as well. It led to a brief discussion about how design can reflect the values of an organization.
Annie loves her princesses. In fact, she needs more princes so Cinderella doesn’t have to share hers during the “dancing and kissing” parts of her dollhouse parties. (She’s not allowed to date until she’s 40 and will not be attending any parties, by the way.)
Of course, when it comes to sci-fi, she seems to prefer fighting princesses. She prefers Leia to Padme. Admittedly, both were fighting princesses but Leia’s wardrobe was more utilitarian on the whole. Likewise, when it comes to Voltron, she seems to prefer the flight suit clad women of the 1980s’ Vehicle Voltron and 2011’s Voltron Force to the 1980’s version of Princess Allura in her pink ball gown.
She’s also lamented that she doesn’t get Star Wars stuff; apparently her light saber doesn’t count. She can discuss the intricacies of Voltron with confidence. She sought a ninja turtle Happy Meal toy because the “girl” toy was lame. She went to a comic convention and was not intimidated in the least by the cos-players (except for the flaming skull guy) and even waved at Darth Vader as he strode the convention floor.
So I guess I’m not too worried. I mean, how can you not be headed down the path of geekiness when you get this for Christmas?