I'm Not The Nerd I Used To Be


Recently, I’ve begun to question my nerd cred. While I’m nowhere near the bro-main of Axe Body Spray and UFC on pay-per-view, the proclivities of my geekier friends leave me in the dust. In fact, when my girlfriend drags me into a comic book store in search of an out of print Warren Ellis book, and I blithely smile at the employees as they offer their expertise, I doubt whether I’m any kind of a nerd at all.

Honestly, I’m much more comfortable watching football at a bar than playing Magic: The Gathering. But, once the Super Bowl is over and I have some whiskey in me, I just want to play Scrabble. I’d probably crush anyone in the sports bar at a word game. And I’d hold my own against any D&D fiend on a basketball court (even a Level 18 Fighter/ Thief). I really only thrive when I’m bringing a gun to a knife-fight. I kind of win by default, but on the inside, I’m still thinking, “I hope no one realizes I have no idea how to use this gun!”

I don’t fit in with either culture. Although I speak both languages, neither the vast emptiness of deep space nor the padded mats of a gym feels like home to me. I struggled like Manny Pacquiao escaping a chokehold to get through Season One of the recent Dr. Who reboot. But, at the same time, the idea of wearing an Affliction t-shirt leaves me so cold I could crawl inside a Tauntaun for the night. As I said, I am effectively bilingual, but I only have the fluency of a tourist. Yes, I know who Nathan Fillion is, but please, please don’t quiz me on Firefly plot points. I will fail. Miserably. In the same vein, I love Kevin Garnett, but I will, without a doubt, fail to make the playoffs in any fantasy basketball league. My tastes exist in a cultural no-man’s land.

So why am I so attached to this nerd identity? In part, it’s because my sense of self developed in my formative years. As a kid, I read fantasy novels and participated in role-playing games. I did musical theater in high school. I watched Star Trek: The Next Generation with my parents every week. While I played and floundered in youth sports and cowered at the violence of action movies, I excelled in the geekier pursuits.

More practically, though, I’m a much more believable dork. I look the part. Geek-chic fits my general demeanor: Helpful, polite, witty. Visually, I am very nerdy. I am not muscular. I slouch. Most notably, I wear thick-rimmed glasses. Glasses like mine were once the province of the true dweeb, the guy who needed those chunky plastic rims to hold lenses of bulletproof thickness. Now, though, they’re more fashion than function. Weezer’s Rivers Cuomo is the avatar for the bespectacled dork, even though over the last two decades, his lyrics have gone from the niche, “I’ve got a dungeon master’s guide/ I’ve got a 12-sided die,” to the more general, “Girl, if you’re wondering if I want you to… I want you to.” Like Rivers, I feel like I’ve outgrown the persona that people ascribe to me. But I still need the lenses. So what’s a guy to do?

It’s especially easy to identify as a nerd because the bar for certain things is set so low. My social skills are, to many, a pleasant surprise. Romantically speaking, it benefits me to present myself as a dweeb. Because girls who are looking for a “dude” will be put off by my lack of physical strength and refusal to tolerate housewives, real or desperate. But women who are used to meek weirdos are often dazzled by my lack of anxiety over meeting the parents or opening jars. Don’t get me wrong. I’m still plenty meek and weird. I just try to keep it at a functional level.

If I’m being honest (and isn’t that what this is all about?) I’m not a “nerd” or a “bro.” I think, technically, I’m just a “wimp.” That’s kind of hard to admit. There’s no wimp community. Bros bond over cars, sports, and Coronas; Nerds have comics, video games, and LARP-ing. It’s much harder to make friends when your common ground is compulsive politeness or a collection of Notorious B.I.G. t-shirts that you cover up with other shirts. I’m not obsessive (nerd) or abrasive (bro). I just don’t want to get in the way. The nerds have had their revenge, but sadly, that revolution was not mine. A similar wimp uprising will never take place, simply because we’d spend the entire time thinking: “Is everyone going to hate us now?”

If pressed on the issue, I’ll readily admit my lack of Nerd XP (experience points, if you lift weights). But there’s really no other way for me to dress. I can’t pull off jock, prep, thug, or Jersey Shore style. It’s argyle by default.

So if we meet, and you assume I’m a nerd, that’s fine. I probably won’t correct you. But that’s not because you’re right. It’s because wimps don’t like conflict.

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