Friday, June 24, 2011

Nerd Shirts

So, a few months ago my roommates started reading this book called The Game by Neil Strauss. The “game” it refers to is essentially pick-up artistry, and it outlines all the ways guys can make themselves appeal to women, no matter how unappealing they may actually be. One of the concepts in this book was called “peacocking,” which is when men dress in gaudy, vibrant and often outlandish attire in order to attract the attention of women, similar to the bright colors of the peacock. Well, even though I’ve never been the most fashionable of guys–considering my stocky build and general lack of funds–I nevertheless have a number of trademark wardrobe items. 

First off, I’m a big fan of Hawaiian shirts. Do I look kinda goofy in them? Yes. Yes, I do. But they’re comfortable, they make me look a bit less portly and they certainly make Bruce Campbell look smashing on Burn Notice. I’ve got ‘em in just about every color, with everything from floral designs to beachfront villages. But they’re not the crown jewel of my shirt collection.

I’m a die-hard novelty T-shirt collector, ever since my eldest brother first brought me a pair of Spider-Man T-shirts when I was about 11. I’ve got a few that I’m particularly fond of . . . the “Hulkamania” shirt, for starters . . . the Homer Simpson “Scarface” parody is probably my all-around favorite . . . the red-and-black, skull-and-crossed spoons “Cereal Killer” shirt . . . the “Couch Potato” shirt replete with a lounging Mr. Potato Head . . . even the “Mullet Removal Team” shirt is pretty clever. But when I really want people to know who I am and what kind of useless junk my mind is full of, I wear my nerd shirts. I’ve got my old Spidey shirts–bless ‘em, they still fit, although one is about to fall irreparably apart–and I have my Batman shirts, one of them black with a corduroy-like logo on the front. I have my Leinil Yu-drawn Marvel heroes shirt, grey with monochrome sketchwork. I have my black X-Men shirt that shows Wolverine practically leaping off my chest past the “X-Men” logo. I have my treasured Green Lantern shirts, one dark green with a glow-in-the-dark emblem, the other a brighter shirt with detailed shading and stenciled-in muscles. I have my Star Trek shirts, one of them a sky-blue tee with Mr. Spock throwing up the “V for Vulcan,” “Live long and prosper” gang signs . . . another a gold Captain Kirk shirt which I acquired after eating about 15 boxes of Frosted Shredded Mini-Wheats (because sending in $10 would have been too easy) . . . and of course, a blue tee with a blueprint of a phaser, with the caption “Set Phasers to Stun.”

Yeah, I’m well aware that I sound like a complete and utter goofus at this point. I know I’m a nerd, and frankly, I enjoy being one. Here’s the kicker: not just conventional “nerds” like my shirts. 

I’ve told the story of my first time eating at Shakespeare’s Pizza, when a cute girl saw my Captain Kirk shirt and complemented me on it, giving me the Vulcan salute. But this isn’t an isolated incident! Within a week of this, I went to a free Ludo concert on Hitt street, where a girl stared at me from across the street for 15 minutes before walking over and asking me where I got my Mr. Spock shirt. At the same concert, a lesbian girl also came over and told me she liked my shirt. Granted, the whole lesbian part didn’t work in my favor, but still, I appreciated the compliment.

 Every now and then I get noticed while walking with friends at the mall or other public places. One time I wore my "Set Phasers to Stun" shirt at Target (located on one end of the mall), where we had gone to get Icees (tasty stuff, highly underrated). A cute girl comes into the store, sees my shirt, compliments it and goes on her merry way. My roommates are stunned; my shirt is amazing. 

My shirts also got noticed in class and on campus. I wore my “Set Phasers to Stun” shirt to class, and my Spanish teacher–the absolute whitest, blondest, most random and yet most awesome Spanish teacher ever–got a real kick out of it. Another day, I wore my Captain Kirk shirt and got noticed by a girl who was talking with some friends near Speaker’s Circle. She and her group of friends all called me over and complimented me on my shirt. It was a pretty flattering moment . . . which then took a turn for the weird as I turned to walk to my next class and found myself face-to-face with a long-haired, bearded hippie fellow. He stared at me for a moment, giving me a complete once-over, and then smiled and said something along the lines of, “That’s incredible. I have to hug you for that.” Having done so (with much joyful vigor and brotherly love), he said, “Have a f***ing positive day, man!” 

This wasn’t the only time I had a fellow dude react positively (no pun intended) to my nerd shirts. I was leaving my economics class one morning only to be stopped by a monk, hailing from India, who told me I was wearing a sweet Batman shirt. I also had a not-so-positive (but nonetheless humorous) reaction when I wore my “muscle”-toned Green Lantern shirt on Free Comic Book Day, only to pass a scrawny, semi-Goth looking kid and his girlfriend. As soon as he saw me, his eyes widened, and he began to stare at my shirt. He shook his head in disbelief and exclaimed, “What the f***, man? You know what I mean, man . . . I mean, seriously?!” before continuing on his way laughing. I thought about retorting that at least I didn’t look like Justin Bieber leaving Marilyn Manson’s yard sale, but decided to let him have his moment. But the best (and most bizarre) was yet to come . . .

It was Cinco de Mayo. I was wearing the Kirk shirt and black slacks, essentially looking like a short-sleeved spittin’ image of Shatner (with the slick ’60s combover and the not-so-slick ’80s middle-age-esque spread. Ugh.). I had gone with the roommates and some friends from work to Shiloh’s, where I had a few people, the majority of them girls (no longer so surprisingly), smiling and saying, “Nice shirt.” Then we went to Trops, where I used my sweet Designated Driver card to get a tasty non-alcoholic slushie. As we’re all hovering around the bar area, a drunk guy sitting toward the end flashed me the Vulcan hand signal and requested I put him in the Vulcan death grip. I was a little wary; after all, he was pretty drunk, and for all I knew he was just looking for an excuse to punch somebody. Still, with my friends cheering me on, I complied. The guy feigned paralysis briefly, and I lamented that my “attack” would have been much more effective had I actually been a Vulcan. He laughed and replied, “Yeah, humans suck!” But what happened later, outside this bar, took the cake.

After Trops, we went to The Field House, which is a nice place with a big dance floor and a spacious upstairs area. There was a huge crowd there, but there was also a $5 cover charge, so we weren’t sure we were going to get in. Suddenly, one of my roommates said, “Screw this; we’re getting in.” Sure enough, about a minute later, the doorman returned inside for a moment, and while his guard was down all seven of us walked right in the front door. Unbelievable.

Anyway, we spent the rest of the evening there, but when this bar closed, everyone pretty much just stood around outside, too drunk to know what to do or where to go. While I hung around with my roommates and waited for them to lose some of their euphoria so we could head back to the house, I noticed a tall, drunken brunette leering at me from a few yards away. I didn’t think anything of it at first and returned to talking with my friends. All of a sudden, I realized that somebody had grabbed a handful of my butt, and wasn’t letting go! I turned around in shock, thinking somebody was trying to steal my wallet, but it was just the drunk girl, whose grin had increased tenfold and seemed very pleased with herself. 

“Can I smack it?” she slurred.

Aghast, my response was a Moe Szyslak-like, “Whaa-aa-aaaat?”

My roommates were ecstatic. “Yes! Do it!”

I was more shocked than anything . . . frankly, I was kind of insulted and repulsed . . . why in the world would she want to even touch me . . . except for the fact that she’s drunk and I’m dressed like Captain Kirk, I guess . . . but this was definitely a first. I raised an eyebrow incredulously and turned my back to her, leaving my fanny open to attack. 

“Bend your knees!” the girl commanded, laughing. I wasn’t too thrilled, but I bent my knees slightly.

A resounding SMAAAACK! rang out as she delivered a grade-A spanking. She was jubilant, I was disturbed, my roommates were laughing uproariously and a guy who was standing to the side (who may have been her boyfriend) was just kind of gaping in open-mouthed shock, pretty much the same reaction I would have had as a spectator to this bizarre spectacle. Whaaaat a night (I would later tell my roommates that I was wayyyy beyond “peacocking”–I was “peaKirking.”

Flash forward two months. I went to see “Green Lantern” in the theater, opening day, with a truly entertaining and wonderful girl friend of mine (note that “girl friend” has a vastly different context than “girlfriend.” I have plenty of the former, but none of the latter . . . *sigh*). I had to work that day (on a local newspaper’s editorial staff–best summer job ever!), so I thought it might not be appropriate to wear a nerd shirt; I wore my Hawaiian shirt with the beachfront village and palm trees instead, leaving my “muscle”-toned Green Lantern shirt in the car. After work, I quickly and eagerly changed shirts, wearing the Hawaiian shirt over it, open. In the theater, I was struck by how many people there were either elderly or middle-aged; not a youthful crowd that day. Nevertheless, it was still a pretty good movie–not as good as I had hoped, but not as bad as I had feared (I do encourage comic fans, sci-fi fans and action movie fans in general to watch it, though, especially with a friend. It’s fun, if nothing else). 

As we stood to leave, I noticed several of the middle-aged crowd wearing Green Lantern T-shirts–nothing fancy, just green shirts with the classic logo. A few smiled and eagerly complimented me on my shirt, prompting my surprised friend (who isn’t a comic book fan, per se) to say, “Wow, I’m here with the most popular guy in the theater.”

Exiting the theater, I noticed a tall, pale and skinny man, maybe pushing 30, talking on his cell phone. The lanky fellow had long, dark brown hair and was wearing a dark Hawaiian-style shirt and black shorts. He almost didn’t notice us, but when he did . . . his jaw visibly dropped, his eyes widened, his cell phone hand immediately dropped to his side and he began to gape slack-jawed at me.

“Duuuuuuuuuude,” he intoned, as if summoning some dark creature from the beyond, a worshipful tone in his voice. “Wheeeeeeeerrrrrrrrrrrrre?!”

I realized he was staring at my shirt, and I told him a friend of mine had spotted it at Spencer’s Gifts in the Columbia Mall (I’m typically kinda freaked out by Spencer’s, but I’m grateful to have found the shirt). The guy nodded solemnly, taking mental note. “I’ll look for it online,” he said.

After my friend dropped me off at my car, I went to Sonic for a Java Chiller (amazing–you should try one). I parked in the slot directly in front of the door, and the carhop, a stocky red-haired girl with glasses, came out to take someone their order. As she walked outside, her eyes instantly settled upon me. A shy, awkward smile creased her face as she made eye contact, and I was again unsure as to what just happened. Minutes later, she brought me my Java Chiller, and as she gave me my change, she quickly added, “By the way, I love your shirt.”

I replied, “Haha, thanks. I’m kind of a nerd; I just saw the movie today.”

Then I realized she may have been referring to my Hawaiian shirt, and quickly backtracked. “Wait, did you mean this shirt or . . . ?”

She looked just as awkward as I felt, and said, “Ummm, both of them, I guess.” 

Thus endeth that awkward moment.

The point I’m trying to make is, nerd shirts are a great ice-breaker. They may have some stigma of social deviance attached to them (“nerd” is still a bit of a hostile, demeaning term in today’s society, even though it is gaining more social acceptability. Even people who refer to themselves as nerds, such as myself, still tend to blush or “admit” it rather than say it with pride), but if they reflect something you genuinely like, they can be an excellent way of standing out, of making people notice you. And even the least outwardly-nerdy among us still remember watching “Spider-Man” or “Star Trek” as a kid. Pretty girls won’t give the neatly-dressed nerd with a pocket protector the time of day, but take it from me, they will acknowledge the guy who confidently wears Mr. Spock or Batman on their chest. And let me tell ya, even the slightest of quirky smiles, the quickest of “Live long and prospers,” and the most hastily-mumbled blurtings of “Hey, nice shirt” is enough to make this nerd’s heart flutter just a little bit and make him stand just a little bit taller, even if just for a moment or two.

*Writer's note* When the time came to pick up my books this semester at the University Bookstore, I wore my Mr. Spock shirt. A girl who worked there said I was her hero for wearing that shirt. Heck yeah, I've still got it! ^_^