not exactly fun
until the third rum
Then one school chum
interrupts the hum
and half-drunken fuzz
for a joke.
His Genuine Draft thunks down
(the emblematic drink of this small midwestern town)
and he says
“… are you still a nerd?”
(Before I proceed, a disclaimer
about this guy, not me,
a bit of a skeeze
he might say he hasn’t let the years change him
I might say he hasn’t changed his denim
Wranglers. Might be the same pair
he wore down there
under his gown, where
he stood up with the rest of us
mortarboard on like the rest of us
all the way down at the end of the line
fiftieth out of forty-nine
not so much ‘chum like a friend you meet’
as ‘chum like that stuff sharks eat’
no real friend of mine
and, certainly, it would feel sickly sublime
to simply dismiss him this time,
ask how his wife likes the wine
or how it feels standing in line
But there would be no enjoyment.)
We’re all together here
Feeling the booze and beer
and good cheer
sitting at folding tables
telling each other fables.
about the last twenty-five years.
So rather than rage,
I decide to engage
“A nerd? Me?
I’m not going to waste time talking
about roleplaying games, walking
to school every day hauling
three bursting gym bags full of rule books.
And all the funny looks.
I mean, you know that already, you were there
And at the time, it’s not like I cared
What anyone thought
What kind of stares I got.
No one was going to kick my ass
Not when there were only fifty kids in our class
And the biggest nerds in school at the time
Were five of the varsity football front line.
No: let’s move forward in time.
Am I a nerd?
The person who convinced me to write my first book
I met in college when she came over to look
at photocopied posters for a local gaming convention
(my personal invention)
which me and my friends were hanging… on every wall in campus.
And she wanted to ask us
if we’d ever played
Vampire: the Masquerade.
(We’re still close today.
I introduced her to her husband at one of those college game days.
Their daughter’s name is Ray.)
Am I a nerd?
My first job after graduation:
A friend said “Hey, this guy’s the one
We should pay to come
He’s literate, savvy, never
backs down from learning something new.
Just the guy for the tech support crew.”
What he didn’t mention when they made their choice
Was he’d never met me, or heard my voice.
The only handshakes we’d ever exchanged
Were via modem, connecting in the 2400 baud range.
For him, my qualifying certificate
Was building a text-only, multi-user dungeon
on the internet.
Am I a nerd?
My wife and I met Online,
the story of our times
but a dating site? Tame.
We met playing video games
Saving the world with ice and flame
Or bows and blades
Looting digital upgrades.
From twenty-player raids.
Our date nights
Were orc fights.
Sure, we became friends because we’re clever and witty
And had things in common, like saving Paragon City.
But you know what charmed her
What floated her
I kept up with her Buffy the Vampire Slayer quotes.
Am I nerd?
My kids would say yes
if I had to guess.
My daughter, nine, at recess
plays the part of a zombie princess
scary, but cool, in a ragged black dress.
Leading her armies onto the field
with a magic sword only she can wield.
(The other kid gets an unbreakable shield.)
Does she get teased?
Not that I’ve seen
And if so, she’d handle it better than me.
“You know who’s a nerd?!?” She shouts to the school.
“I am… but all of you are, too.”
A nerd, she explains,
is just a name
For someone who gets excited about video games
Or Science, or Music, going to space,
reading a book with a grin on your face.
The local sports teams, shooting some pics,
or baking soufflés with just the right lift.
Nerds just care
So you ask me this question to… what?
Make me blush?
See if my spirit is easily crushed?
I can’t even guess
so let me address
with something far less
than indignant fury.
“A nerd? Me?
“I just wanted to see
“If you liked what they did with the new Hobbit movies.”
And my wife,
thus far silent throughout the exchange
cries out in pain
“… now he’s really going to get going.”