A Stranger in a Stranger Land
The holidays are a wonderful time for some. The weather is crisp. The spirit of joy is in the air. Plums have been sugared and eggs have been thoroughly nogged. It’s a time when we get to revisit our families and get to know them all over again.
For true sci-fi-geeks, however, it can be a time of infinite boredom and torture.
How many of us have been in the following situation?
It’s the holidays. We find ourselves at a relative’s house and the game is on. It does not go off. Some people are discussing things using complex sports terms. Most of the time all one hears is a sportscaster doing color commentary. Every so often something will happen in the game, a whistle blows, and a commercial starts.
For the consummate geek, this is hell.
A perfectly good television set is being wasted on sports.
A geek, finding nothing of interest, will we wander through someone else’s home like a mindless zombie walker and seek either “brains” or a bottle of something with high alcohol content. The “brains” we seek are other geeks.
Sure, there are hybrid geeks that enjoy sports – many are writing for the Echo Base staff. I am not one of those hybrids. Sports bore me.
They BOOOORRREEE ME. And when I talk about boredom, it’s on a galactic scale. It’s like a speedster waiting for a clueless senior citizen to finish a transaction on an ATM. It’s like a man waiting for a glacier to melt. It’s like waiting for Haley’s comet to come back.
I just can’t watch sports – especially when I know there’s a Twilight Zone marathon going on somewhere. Sports don’t scratch the surface of my special cerebral itch I have in my head. Sports, to me, are the interest and past time of every brain dead jock who ever bullied me in elementary school. When I watch a sporting event, I can actually feel my intelligence being sucked out of my nostrils like I’m being embalmed by an ancient Egyptian.
What to do when you’re caught at a sports bar
I have friends who are sports nuts.
For instance, during the entire month of December, I worked for UPS where I worked with several of the drivers who were football maniacs. Almost all of them had no interest in movies, comic books, or science fiction.
It seems to be an inverse correlation. I don’t know why this is, but it seems that jock don’t get the entire sci-fi thing. They don’t get it. I don’t get sports. Most of the time, this isn’t a real issue. I can happily go through most of my days talking to no one but geeks. The problem gets bad when you can’t avoid sports people. While I was at UPS, I was a geek trapped with only one person to talk to on a truck for eight to ten hours. Things only got awkward when I discovered he was a rabid Eagles fan.
Conversations were difficult.
I make it my business to never talk politics except with a few intimate friends. Talking religion or philosophy is equally problematic. Eliminating television and movies from the mix makes it hard to fill the uncomfortable silences. There’s only so much I can do with matter-of-fact observations like the weather and how well the truck is running.
Still, sometimes they want to go out after work. When I can’t fake a seizure, I have to go out with them.
My advice is to be prepared.
It seems every weekend and Monday, after baseball season, friends of mine put on their team jerseys and transform themselves into football people. The metamorphosis is fascinating. It’s like watching old Lon Chaney, Jr. films where a mild-mannered man turns into a werewolf. I’ve seen boring account managers transmogrify into rabid football nuts in less than an hour. When the glasses come off and the face paint goes on, it’s like watching Darwin’s theory of Evolution in reverse. Homo sapiens move to Neanderthal and then to Homo erectus.
I’ve learned through careful observation to allow these people all of their social niceties. Let them groom each other for bugs before they put on their tribal face paints.
As an outsider, it’s best to play the part of a designated driver or interpreter. Should any of them get out of control after halftime, a sober, sane individual needs to explain things to police officers. The real challenge is to remain a neutral party during the game. Do this by not wearing any team colors or legitimately feign ignorance over the simplest of sports terms.
It’s all part of their rituals. Get them to the bar for their hot wings on time means never having to shoot them with tranquilizer darts when they get out of the car. Just let them scream their teams name for a half hour after face painting and before the game.
Team rivalries are always a problem. Eagles don’t mix with Giants or Jets. Jets don’t mix well with Giants. Dallas doesn’t mix well with anyone. Outside of that, I neither know nor care about the rules. It’s wasted hard drive space between my ears.
However, I’ve found a good working strategy for a geek trapped in a sports bar.
Rule 1: Don’t talk about sports… at all.
It’s like a whole other language. If you know nothing, say nothing. If you know little, still say nothing. Sports fans can sense an imposter faking sports talk. A faker emits an odor akin to dog poo to an observant sports fanatic. Speaking sports nonsense to one of them is like pouring an entire gallon of cattle blood into a piranha tank. Don’t screw this up or you’ll be lucky to get out of the bar with flesh on bones.
Rule 2: Drink… a lot.
Alcohol does a lot to deaden the dreadful pain of nonstop boredom. As a designated driver (DD) volunteer, limit your intake. Stop drinking after half time and switch to coffee. After all, the police know “amateur night” is every football night. Be sober if you’re the DD.
If you aren’t the DD, drink… heavily.
Alcohol is a good bridge between science fiction geeks and the sports fans. While an average sports fan won’t get the significance of a Pan Galactic Gargle Blaster, geeks can always talk about single malt scotch to them. If the bar doesn’t have scotch (which is too sad to think about), ask the bartender if they’re serving Guinness. Then drink that until they start to seem interesting.
If that’s not an option, talk about the last micro-brewed beer you drank and tell them it’s better than the piss water they’re currently drinking – which is probably Bud or Miller Genuine Draft.
Rule 3: Let them debate amongst themselves.
Sports fans will talk incessantly, ad nauseam, about the chances of whatever teams are currently playing and the Super bowl. To them, this is high intellectual thinking and represents the pinnacle of their observation skills.
I’d tell you more, but last time I tried to listen to one of these conversations my eyes glazed over after hearing stuff about pass completions and interception percentages.
The best strategy is to sit and nod while slowly drinking your scotch or Guinness. If one of them wants your opinion about any of it, feign deafness or go to the bathroom. Even better, have them hold your drink as you go. When you get back, they’ll have forgotten the question.
While I’m making light of sports fans and comic book fans, my take on why each has to do with how they follow their passions.
Here’s the way I see it. Sports fans value loyalty and team dedication. It’s part of being a fanatic. When sports fans meet rival sports fans, they seem to be morally obligated to 1) put down that other person’s team and 2) beat their breasts like a gorilla.
Not my rules. Just watch out when they throw the poo.
Geeks aren’t like that. A geek can be both a Doctor Who fan and a Star Trek and Star Wars fan. A geek can enjoy Marvel and DC or any of the independent publishers. There’s no risk of being called out for being a traitor to your favorite mythology. I personally like stories from both DC and Marvel, Star Trek and Star Wars, and Doctor Who and American sci-fi shows.
In sports, when players switch teams to a rival team, they may as well have urinated on all their fans. Fans condemn traitor players.
In comics, when a writer like Grant Morrison, Frank Miller, or Neil Gaiman switches from writing from Marvel to DC (or vice versa), geeks flock to their work regardless. Typically, many writers work for multiple publishers.
There are many differences between geeks and sports fans. However, in the end, the simple difference is some people like fiction and some people like news.
Sports fans deal in reality. Geeks deal in fantasy. While sports fans deal in statistics and player performance, geeks talk about theory. There’re a lot of “what ifs” when geeks discuss their favorite stories.
Sports fans discuss things as the game is played. They talk as things happen.
Geeks and sports fans watch television differently. A sports fan can hold a conversation with someone else between plays – and if he misses a play, he’ll watch the instant replay.
Usually, geeks are glued to a story from start to finish. It’s rare they have a conversation while they’re watching a show or movie – unless they’ve already seen it. When they do talk during a program it’s to say “watch this” or to clarify a point. The only replay comes with a recap of scenes before a program. Only during commercials is there discussion. Nowadays, geeks can’t even do that. Without commercials with Netflix and Hulu, shows have played hell on every geek’s bladder, forcing them to pause their show until they’ve finished their bio breaks.
But why do we watch what we watch?
The payoff for sports fans comes when they’re with their like-minded fans and their team wins. In that moment, there is an endorphin rush. The collective victory comes in a flash when they were right and the rival fans were wrong. In their mind, they’ve won. Victor comes through faith in their team. Winning is staying with their team through the slings and arrows from naysayers who take an opposing view.
It’s hard to find a winner or loser with sci-fi. There are only people who don’t “get it”.
With Geeks, it’s all about the story. To them, stories are like pizza. When it’s good, it’s really good – and when it’s bad, it’s still pretty good. MST3K geeks use a bad movie as an opportunity to riff on it. Good stories are fun. Bad stories are hilarious.
Really good sci-fi or fantasy to a geek is like a gourmet meal.
The geek’s endorphin rush comes with the entirety of the story. Should he miss even one element of it, the story is diminished. If he failed to understand the significance of a plot point, it’s the same thing. That’s why geeks talk about stories, there is always a new facet to an old story and yet another rush with that. Talk to any Star Wars fan after they’d seen Rogue One and then see if they watched Episode IV: A New Hope afterward.
The Jonathan Winters Paradigm
In the sixties, executives told Jonathan Winters some of his improvisations on Jonathan Winters’ Attic were a little too high brow – especially when he did historical figures. They simply said, and I’m paraphrasing, “After a long day, after eight o’clock, people don’t want to think.”
I’m here to say that some people do want to think. As a geek, I want to do a bit of mental yoga when I get home. Had I been old enough in the sixties, I’d have been watching The Twilight Zone to get my fix. And I need my fix. My fix comes with watching things that challenge my perception of reality.
I’m being more than a little facetious and a tad pretentious when I talk about sports fans. I’m biased because I just don’t like the culture sports perpetuate. I should not knock other people’s passions. To be fair, watching sports with like-minded people cultivates camaraderie and is a bonding experience.
In business, they’d call this team building and following a mission statement.
Sports fans get their rush from living vicariously through their team’s victory. While fans don’t do anything to train for a game or risk any real injury in the game, they get the euphoric thrill whenever their team wins and whenever their rivals lose. This is history in the making.
So there is a real take away for the sports fan.
Geeks get their rush in debating characters and the plots. These (as well as pretend scenarios) get that small part of their brain an aerobic workout they love. The benefit is a thorough understanding of an imaginary situation in a story.
This is art appreciation.
And that is a major difference. Art is created from nothing and made into something interesting. History is made from what’s already there and understanding the events that created it.
Art is right brained. History is left brained. Art is invention. History is reporting. Art is appreciating. History is lived.
There’s an entire world of entertainment that my mind is closed to. I am not proud of this. It is a gap in my experience. I would be better-rounded if I knew more about sports. It’s like what my mother told me about beets and broccoli. I should try it. I might like it.
By the way, I hate beets, but I’ve learned to like broccoli. So maybe I’ll watch a game.
Maybe it will be a lot like broccoli.