Friday, April 19, 2013

Geekdom Pt 2 - Geeked In The Aquarian Age

It was January of 1993. I was in New York on winter break from film school, and down in Tower Records on 4th Street in the east village. I had just discovered the income enhancing joys of grant writing for hire and feeling kinda flush, finding a bunch of preferred cassettes (Yep, I said 1993) on cool kids from middle school. One who's wrath against geeks was rather random. In my case, it was an attack on my wardrobe and the lack of designer names on my clothes. I remember he had several pairs of shoes (British Walkers, I believe) and sneakers (suede Pumas) in different colors that matched the colors in his outfits. His shirts were Chams (complete with the little plastic aviator worn on the top button). Most of my clothes came from Alexanders and Sterns, Macy's and Bradlees and any other long- gone, middle-class department stores that money-savy parents bought clothes for quickly growing kids in. He was
sale. I proceeded to the check out line and who's manning the register but one of the
waaaay to cool to buy clothes in department stores back in the day.

It was my turn in line. I stepped up and placed my purchases on the counter. He looked at me quizically, with that "I know you from somewhere..." look, that dissolved into a look of recognition, followed by one of slight embarrassment. Not looking up from the register, he asked, "didn't you go to 181?"
"Sure did." I replied, as I handed him my gold American Express card.
"What do you do now?" He asked, still not looking me in the eye.
"I'm in film school up in Boston."
"Film school. What are you going to do with that?"
I paused a second to let me mental response of "More than you're doing here." run through my brain, and said, "I dunno, probably go out to California and write for t.v... I seem to make my money writing.." grants of course.
I asked what was up with him. It seems he had started college on a sports scholarship and somehow flunked out in his sophomore year, and was still trying to figure it all out. Lacking a mature sense of mercy, I replied "Well, Bill Gates did the same thing." The rest of the exchange was pretty unremarkable except the discomfort that it caused him was evident.
I know it was a cheap shot, I know I could have used cash, I know my comments could have been less cutting, and the older and more mature me feels bad about doing it; but the 24 year-old me felt on top of the world.

The coming of age for the geek is an amazing thing. It starts to kick in around the age of 20 or 21; when your chronological peers start to mature and expand and suddenly, you're not so much strange as you are insightful.  It's an age where the cache that the cool kids and the beta kids floated on starts to lose it's steam and they are now suddenly called upon to step up their game into adulthood, and real life situations.

You see, the irony of childhood and adolescence is that it's a time of learning to live inside of a box and within a frame work; the very things that true geeks are bad at, because often times we see more possibilities than the social framework allows for. You see, your popular kids often become the doctors, lawyers, investment bankers, politicians and other socially acceptable status positions.
Occasionally, you'll see a cool kid or a beta rise to one of these posts; but generally their existence seems to be more a case of do or die. Due to the fact that they have a limited concept of success as well as the routes to success. Of course, coming of age for the geeks of Generations X and Y has an added boost and added challenges that can only be addressed by classic, outside of the box thinking.

 As we move further into the Age of Aquarius, we move into the age of reason. An age where it's no longer who you know, or even what you know, but how well you know how to use what you know. In other words, we ave moved into the age of the geek. There are certain indications of this, as older geeks pave the way. For example, back in 1990, I attended a party of the Harvard Black Law Student Association, where I remember  an awkward and lanky looking guy in a black Member's Only jacket (the official jacket of 80's geeks who were trying to look cool) holding court in a corner of the lounge just outside of the dance area. Despite his rather awkward ways, he was pontificating in such a manner that I jokingly asked one of my friends, "What's up with Leroy Howell, III over there?" People called him Barry... he was a geek... and now he is the president of the U.S... and obviously... still a geek.

To be continued...


Edward Rhymes said...

You are an excellent Griot brother. Wonderful and well-written piece.

Corey said...

I agree with Edward. What I'm having trouble with is your Geek identity. While my memory of the 1980s is a bit fuzzy, I seem to recall you as subversive, outspoken.....but geek? I'm not sure playing the viola alone gives you genuine Geek cred. So....what does Geek mean to you?

Mwalim Daphunkeeprofessor Peters said...

@ Edward - Thank you, bro!

@ Corey - Bro, we were in a school for the arts... geeks don't stand out in a place like that. It would seem that being invested in things beyond the superficial qualified folks for geekhood. What you saw as outspoken and subversive, a lot of folks just saw as weird.

Midge Guerrera said...

Nicely turned. I can remember being intimidated by the well dressed women who worked in a now defunct clothing store in Plainfield, NJ. Scrapping together my baby sitting money I went in to buy something incredible for a high school dance. Being uncomfortable, I looked uncomfortable which meant that more noses pointed down at me than I could imagine. Then a little voice in my pubescent brain said "wait a minute - they WORK here". I got it - I had saved and was the shopper. They were paid to wait on me. What an epiphany!

Mwalim Daphunkeeprofessor Peters said...

@ Midge - A wonderful epiphany and a wonderful moment to have it indeed, huh? It's a funny dynamic that you point to: the story you shared I've noticed seems to be common in women's clothing stores more than men's (Except, of course, sadly, when we bring ethnicity into the equation...). What my experience and observation has been of young men as customers in clothing stores is that the clerks seem to take a trainer like interested, acclimating the intimidated young shopper into the world of men's clothing. I wonder if it's a case of the oppressed acting as the oppressor.