Scott Hardie | July 1, 2005
I'm a fan of Maria Schneider's Pathetic Geek Stories comic strip (link) formerly of The Onion, although it would be nice to see a new strip again someday. As you can see in the archives, the premise is simple: Based on reader submissions, Schneider recreates tales of pathetic teenaged loserdom, especially incidents brought on by the geek's own hubris or foolishness. Anyhow, even though probably none of us will ever be featured in the strip, I thought it might be fun to share a few right here, since each of us could probably think of a few (dozen). And I'm going to have a brand new one to tell if I'm the only person who participates, so join in. :-)

At my high school, we had a Radio Club whose primary function was to deejay the sound system in the lunchroom from a private, locked control booth off to the side. I joined hoping to have a little fun, but since I have to do every single damn project I ever undertake in my own grandiose way, I gave myself the on-air nickname of "Mr. X" with the intention of developing a big mystery out of my identity that I could slowly reveal with hints. (I even fantasized about showing up to a school function as Mr. X with a bag over my head to keep the rumors swirling.) After a quick introductory song, I briefly announced myself as Mr. X, but I hadn't even gotten halfway through the second song when a friendly acquaintance, the same guy who had introduced me to the club, came into the booth and told me I had to stop playing because one of the speakers had short-circuited and caught fire. My music choices (Mind Bomb and Galactic Cowboys) had been semi-hard rock, just enough for me to beam with pride at having literally blown out the speakers not ten minutes into my radio career. I chatted with the guy in the booth for the rest of the class period and kept asking him for the next week or two whether the speakers were fixed, since I didn't see any damage to them. By the time the music started up later that semester, I had lost interest. For years afterwards, I remained proud of myself and boasted to new friends about that time I blew out the speakers in my high-school lunchroom. It wasn't until sometime after my college graduation that I realized he had only interrupted me to spare me from being brandished the biggest nerd in the school on account of my pseudonym.

Lori Lancaster | July 1, 2005
[hidden by request]

Jackie Mason | July 2, 2005
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Scott Hardie | July 2, 2005
Well I hope somebody writes more; I don't want to be the only pathetic geek. :-)

Jackie Mason | July 3, 2005
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Denise Sawicki | July 4, 2005
I am sure I have plenty but I block most of them out in order to be able to go on with my life without being in a state of permanent embarrassment. I guess you could say I did one today - I biked 4 miles in to work knowing full well that it is July 4th but having no doubt in my mind that I do not get the day off. Apparently I do and I must have done so on the 6 other 4ths of July that I worked here because it is in the employee handbook and everything. But I have no recollection of this. I will probably do some work anyhow...

Most of mine are pretty typical and predictable if you know me. For instance, a guy called me one summer to ask me out. This was the summer before 11th grade so most people would say I was old enough to behave more rationally than I did in the months to come. I had no idea who he was as I had never had any classes with him, but I said "possibly" and then I thought I heard somebody laughing so I freaked out and hung up, convinced it was a prank call. However when I got to school that fall I had two classes with him and I spent the whole year pining over him from afar until finally, the next spring, I made what I considered a really bold move - I left a tiny note on his desk. The note was not signed by me or even addressed to him. It basically said in cryptic terms something about someone liking someone else who used to wear suspenders. (I don't think he was too far up on the coolness scale but he seemed to be moving up as the year progressed). Well the guy did not come to class that day because, as it turned out, he had a science field trip. So I never did speak to him. I think a normal person would have either dismissed it as a prank call and not thought of it or would have spoken to the guy as soon as they realized who it was.

A goofy one is from 10th grade or so when I had some extracurricular knowledge-bowl type activity at a nearby college. When it was over, one of the other kids' moms offered to give me a ride home. I actually had no idea who she was because I am oblivious, but I accepted anyhow. I knew seconds after accepting that it was a bad move because my parents were, of course, on their way to pick me up and take me home themselves. Nonetheless I let her drive me home, being too shy to speak up. It was winter and I was wearing flimsy dress shoes. I did not have a key to the house and my parents were not home for aforementioned reasons. As soon as she drove off, I had to climb through the snowbanks into the back yard where I proceeded to spend what seemed like hours looking for the spare key. After a while I could hear the phone ringing over and over again inside the house as my parents called looking for me. Finally I realized I would never find the key so I took a pencil out of my pocket and wrote "I'm in the shed" on a bag of charcoal and set the bag on the back porch and sat in the shed and waited until they finally came home and let me in.

Anyway, you can see why my main attempts at humor are in telling stories to get people to laugh at my stupidity. :P

Scott Hardie | July 6, 2005
Thanks, Jackie and Denise. Is that all? Nobody else here ever did something foolish in their teens and can share a gentle laugh about it today? It doesn't have to involve wearing a giant dreidel costume.

Dave Stoppenhagen | July 6, 2005
I can honestly say I have managed to forget most of High School and Jr. High, either by my past actions or great ability to shut things out.

Scott Hardie | July 6, 2005
Ok, you I believe, Dave. ;-)

Michael Paul Cote | July 6, 2005
OK - You have no idea how painful this is to bring back - I can only hope my karma improves from sharing this tidbit with the general public.

I had never been "smooth" when it came to dealings with the opposite sex, but when my family moved from MA to northern VT my freshman year of high school, my self esteem got shot to hell. All of a sudden I didn't have the comfort of my group of equally dorky friends to fall back on. In an attempt to make a change for the better, I tried to get in with some of the apparently "cool" kids. Low and behold, they seemed to embrace me with somewhat open arms. I then made the first blunder leading up to my downfall. I professed to one of my new friends that I really liked a certain girl (she was one of my neighbors, the first family that we met after moving, a family of 4 boys and 4 girls, her younger brother being my best friend). We saw each other every day as we carpooled to and from school.
This "new friend" that I revealed my infatuation to proceeded to convince me that my crush was, how you say, easy. Now rather than being shocked, I was intrigued as this young lady had always been friendly and apparently at ease around me. So, instead of doing a bit of checking on my own, I actually got up the nerve to confront her and blatantly ask if she would like to...
Needless to say not only was she shocked almost to tears, but I destroyed a friendship that took almost 5 years to repair. I can only be thankful that she kept my faux pas to herself. It did however cement my geekness for quite a while (until I lettered in wrestling my junior year.)

Dave Stoppenhagen | July 6, 2005
Yeah Lori and a couple of others have helped me recall things when I have brush with the past but those are patchy at best. But I guess I wouldn't be who I am today if I wasn't stupid then.

Jackie Mason | July 6, 2005
[hidden by request]

Amy Austin | July 6, 2005
Okay... certainly not that I'm claiming to have been in the "cool" crowd back then (and how come it seems like you never actually talk to those who were in their own "cool" crowds... even later on in life -- are these people still off leading "cooler" lives than ours, or are they just afraid to admit to being assholes as children??? I digress anyway...) -- but I just don't have many stories like this. I have, perhaps, one good story that doesn't have much to do with hubris, but does, in fact, illustrate me as the "geek" and one who learned early on the lesson of keeping well to yourself to avoid such treatment by others! And of course, if you've ever really and truly "blocked" a potentially embarrassing/traumatizing/harrowing experience, then you won't even be aware that you've done it, so... ;-DDD

I remember well the transition to the 7th grade. I always loved school (the scholastic learning part, not so much the people part) and was excited to start junior high. The start of junior high is also really the best & most critical time to stand a chance of "*fitting* in on the ground floor", so to speak. ;-D My parents were separated at that time and going through their divorce. By the time I completed the 8th grade, my father was remarried. So, during much of my childhood (and most intensively during this time), I stayed with my paternal grandparents, who are nearly like second parents to me -- I love them dearly and owe them much.

However... if you think that the back-to-school shopping is hard enough with your folks, only one or two generations removed from your ugly duckling woes (if they're young!), then you should really try doing it with the people who lived through the Depression and both World Wars! Of course, they know that it doesn't make any good economical sense to buy clothes at the MALL for people who will only be able to wear those pricey clothes a handful of times, perhaps! Of course, they don't know the ostracization that can occur for taking your child clothes shopping at... PIC 'N' SAVE!!!

(For those of you who do not know Pic 'N' Save, it was a chain of stores in the Southeast, perhaps most prominently Florida, that would not even be the equivalent of Wal-Mart... or even K-Mart today (well, maybe K-Mart... but without the big-name product line endorsements), except for as a major ingredient in the recipe for social death of a pre-teen! Basically, the "Pic 'N' Rip" (as the kids liked to call it) was one step below these chains and one step above Family Dollar and Dollar General, names that should be more familiar to everyone, since they are still in business.)

Well, I didn't have much choice about it -- this was where Meemaw took me for my back-to-school wardrobe. I am certain that I wasn't excited about it, but I also understood that it was far less expensive than the mall, which, of course, translated into "more" buying power for me, and I tried to allow this naive financial sensibility to take the place of genuine excitement in my mind. But then, it's not like I was even picking out the clothes by myself, either.

There was one particularly awful shirt that the only thing I liked about it was the color (purple), but Meemaw really wanted me to get (and wear!). It was a puffy-sleeved number (light purple with darker purple striping) that had a white scalloped portrait collar (think female Buster Brown) with ruffled edging on that (that matched the other fabric), and (as if it couldn't possibly get any worse) a solid dark purple sash/tie that was meant to go around the neck of this Victorian flashback. Of course, I had to relent... just as I did on the day of yearbook pictures, when she insisted that I wear the monstrosity. I don't recall wearing it more than two or three times, but it is forever recorded (in B&W, at least) in my frickin' 7th grade yearbook!

This isn't the real geek story, just some background information to drive home the painfulness of the actual experience. Later that same year, I endured a fashion critique that may not have been worthy of Joan Rivers, but it had an equally cutting impact. I remember a girl in junior high who started out quite popular and stayed fairly well so throughout high school -- Felicia Watson. She was a big blonde (so big, in fact, that it makes me wonder in retrospect if she wasn't actually a little older and/or a grade or two behind... but then, I was a grade ahead, too, so I may have just been small) and -- of course -- a cheerleader. She was also in at least one of my classes, and I don't think I'll ever forget the day she decided to speak to me.

I thought she was just being nice to me one day when she said, "Oh, what cute shorts!" or "Nice shorts!" -- something to that effect. Although I was quite surprised, I politely smiled and sincerely thanked her. To which she said (in front of a group of equally "cool" people, of course), "Where'd you get 'em -- PIC 'N' SAVE?!?!!!" I was immediately crestfallen and hot with embarrassment, since it wasn't *my* choice to shop there... but, just as so many teen angst movies have demonstrated over and over again, a lot is already decided for you by your economical status, what you have, what you wear, and who your parents are in the community. Just like in real life -- teen *and* adult -- I guess.

I've thought back on this maybe a handful of times over the years, and it's one of those moments that I wish I could go back -- with my adult sensibilities -- and do over. My l'esprit d'escalier for the moment might have been something like, "Oh, yes -- how astute of you... and here I thought that the great clothing deals there were my own little secret. How many pairs do you own, Felicia?" Of course, this is so easy to say in hypothetical world. My reality of re-visiting those years might turn out more like Drew Barrymore's in "Never Been Kissed"! ;-D

Michael Paul Cote | July 6, 2005
There is one turn and maybe this is Karmic in its relevance, when I went back for my 10th year reunion. I was at the time working as a manager/teacher for the Fred Astaire Dance studios, single and not the klutz that I was in high school. One of my coworkers agreed to go with me and when the time came for reintroductions and the "bringing up to date" part of the evening, the majority of the "cool" guys that set me up were "married, working at the mill (or some such 'cool' job) with x kids. Meanwhile, I got quite a bit of attention when I described my job as a professional dancer, competing nationally, etc. I got even more attention when the dancing started. It was quite pleasurable turning down the same women who, 10-12 years ago did the same to me. Not to mention the looks on their husbands faces when they were asking me. Maybe there is justice.

Scott Hardie | July 7, 2005
Good stories, Mike. I hope the first one wasn't too painful to share. If it still hurts, and you can't laugh about it, it's probably not a good pathetic geek story. The part that gets to me is that it took you five years to repair the damage; nothing bothers me more than having hurt a friend and not being able to make up for it.

Growing up, I was bullied somewhat for being so fat. (Little did I realize how physically intimidating I could have been if I had tried.) The bullying wasn't terrible, but like a lot of the same kids who went to high school in the same generation as Columbine, I had violent revenge fantasies towards a few tormentors. In shop class, once we finished carving the penguin-shaped money banks or whatever our lame-ass assignment was, we were free to use the electric saws to make our own creations. Our teacher was remarkably calm about it for a guy who had once cut off four fingers in a jigsaw and had them surgically reattached. Anyway, I had bullying on my mind that semester, so one period I carved and sanded myself a wooden knife, about the size of a kitchen cutting knife. It was probably the best handiwork I'd done all semester, perfectly symmetrical and smooth and with a fairly sharp edge. I carried it around in my backpack for a week or two until the shop class conversation turned to our extracurricular creations, and I showed off my fine handiwork to a few buddies at our desks in the front row. The teacher, who'd been reading a magazine at his desk, seemed intrigued and asked to see it, and I was so eager to impress that I handed it to him with a big smile. He looked it over, said "hmm nice work," and tossed it into the junk bin before going back to his magazine. I didn't say anything for a moment, then just sat down at my desk and sheepishly resumed the conversation with my friends as if nothing had happened. Maybe one reason why I don't own a gun today is that I'd be prone to hand it over to a burglar if he told me it looked cool. :-)

Scott Hardie | July 7, 2005
Oops, didn't answer you, Lori, sorry. I wasn't talking about Chad, but someone else from the radio club who I shouldn't name if I don't want him looking this up *nudge*Amy*nudge*. And I wish I'd been even dimly aware of the rumors surrounding me in high school about our mutual acquaintance; I didn't have a clue until years later. :-)

Amy Austin | July 7, 2005
Oh, rest assured, Scott, that Felicia Watson was named quite consciously. I don't care if she ever does manage to find it -- in fact, I'd rather like for her to know that I found her behavior back then to be quite bitchy and asinine. Since I am no longer vulnerable to any embarrassment concerning the incident, there's not much in it that I fear coming back on me... unless she'd like to offer up an apology now and/or ask me to remove her name, which she is certainly most welcome to do (although not bloody likely, I'd venture). And besides that, "Watson" was actually one of two surnames that I remember being associated with her, the other one being far less common. I don't even recall which one she was first, but I think it was the other one, which signifies to me that there must have been *some* sort of family upheaval in her life... perhaps the source of her quintessentially supreme bitchiness??? I wouldn't be all that surprised to find that she has since married (and possibly divorced?) and therefore goes by yet another name that I do not know or care to.

Scott Hardie | July 7, 2005
Ok ok, just a suggestion. ;-) It's an uncommon first name, I'll say that much.

Michael Paul Cote | July 7, 2005
Oh I can laugh about the first story. Just not in her presence.

Lori Lancaster | July 21, 2005
[hidden by request]

Denise Sawicki | July 21, 2005
Is it just me who is seeing all Scott's comments as having turned into blank spaces since Anna decided to leave??? I thought it was some statement of solidarity. Yet Lori, you appear to be having a conversation with Scott so perhaps you can see words there.

Mike Eberhart | July 21, 2005
It must just be you. I can see all of Scott's comments...

Lori Lancaster | July 21, 2005
[hidden by request]

Denise Sawicki | July 21, 2005
Um is this "make Denise think she's crazy day" ? :) If not, any internet experts know why this could have happened?

Dave Stoppenhagen | July 21, 2005
Did you hide his comments? Or cleared your browsers cookies and temp internet files?

Denise Sawicki | July 21, 2005
Ah thanks :P I must have accidentally clicked the hide button. Now don't I feel silly :)

Dave Stoppenhagen | July 21, 2005
No problem, troubleshooting it's what I do for a living.

Scott Hardie | July 21, 2005
I would have responded directly but I didn't think Denise could have read my solution.

Lori: I guess you could spin that whole relationship into a Pathetic Geek Novel if you wanted to. :-) As for rumors, I guess it has resulted in my being hyper-paranoid about my social standing today. There is such a thing as being too polite, as I've learned from one acquaintance.

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