242 – The Signal

Puppet Yoda: uses Force, doesn't back-flip.

Post 242! We’re two-thirds of the way through the year and accordingly, two-thirds of the way through the OneADay challenge. Hasn’t it been something? I think it’s been something, though I’m not sure ‘something’ is a positive thing to be. Snails are something, and nobody likes those.

Except for the French.

And nobody likes them, either.

Heh, I’m just kidding, France. You’re okay.

I played Borderlands this weekend–my God, is this a gaming story? I thought we weren’t having any of those. Yes it is, now shut up–with a couple of good lads I know from my online travels. In fact one of them is such a good lad, his surname is in fact ‘Goodlad’, which for anyone else would be a hollow boast but in his case suits him rather well. We played a few levels, had some japes, talked smack, blew up a fictitious armoury and in the process were blown up ourselves.

It’s all right, though. We got better.

Along the way we made rather a lot of geeky references. Well, I didn’t; I spent most the game in silence as I tend to do when playing games online, letting other people’s chatter function as a sort of interactive radio station that would talk back to me if I ever talked to it. As in real life I find talking to people in video games uncomfortable–I never know which gaps to talk in and which are made when the speaker’s pausing for effect or taking a breath or privately belching or suchlike–but two other people in the party is, I find, the best amount: two gives me enough room to talk if I want to without putting any pressure on me to say anything. They were happy enough talking among themselves, and I was content just to listen.

Though I said very little I doubt my conversational input was missed. It’s handy that in the game my chosen character is the most charismatic of those available, cackling as he does while punching the heads off enemies fool enough to get in his way. On a few occasions–and not for the first time, either– Mr. Goodlad remarked he imagined my character, Brick, was what I was actually like in real life. Every time I ran into battle, punching the bad guys and setting them aflame, peals of laughter crackled over my Xbox headset. My advice to those of you reading who are equally socially phobic is this: if you don’t have a personality of your own, find a decent proxy.

We shot and punched and messed fools up, and frequently got into vehicular trouble by driving off tall highways and into landmines, and in one particularly embarrassing situation, getting the car wedged under a rocky overhang. While our third party member Mr. Moosegrinder was AFK, his in-game character sat dummy-like in the passenger seat, and Mr. Goodlad functioned as a sort of hell-bent member of the RAC, ramming the car with his own vehicle in a futile attempt to dislodge it. If Borderlands had been real life, upon waking  Moosegrinder would have wondered why he had such terrible whiplash, and also, why one of his legs was missing,

I had a good time–I think all three of us did–but one thing that did confuse me about session evening was the number of nerdy pop culture references slung about. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t find them annoying, or sneer about having to hang out with geeks–I’m absolutely the last person who should complain about that. The strange thing was that I so rarely talk to other people about the things I like, I was taken back when they launched into scene reenactments from the Monty Python films, or sprinkled our Borderlands session with lines from ‘80s and ‘90s alternative comedy like sugar strands over the world’s most violent cupcake.

I’ve never talked to someone who, apropos of nothing, suddenly breaks into an Adrian Edmondson impression–let alone one that’s absolutely spot-on accurate.

As we played I thought back to another geekery-laden conversation I had a couple years ago and how easily the people I spoke to fell into catchphrases, impersonations and quotations taken from things they loved. In that conversation, my pop culture starved wife was a confused bystander; I was on (legal) medication and had joined the nerd-fest with gusto, all too willing to drop her into shit in order to make new friends.

“What’s a flux capacitor?” she said, trying and failing to keep up with the conversation.

Eyes widened.

“Come on, you know this!” I said. “1.21 gigawatts, remember?”

“Oh,” she said. “Back to the Future, right?”

“Of course it’s Back to the Future!”

“I thought you of all people know, Lindsay,” said one of the people we’d met with. We were in a Starbucks, soaking up heat in a corner of the room while night fell outside turning snowy slush to ice. The staff had begun upending chairs and turning off lights but we weren’t ready to leave, not yet, and I suddenly realised I hadn’t had a conversation like this since secondary school. “You’re a physics genius and this is time travel.”

“We don’t exactly study flux capacitors in the lab,” my wife said, not unkindly.

“You know,” I said, stretching like a stage magician about to pluck a coin from someone’s ear. “She’s never seen Star Wars.”

Eyes widened further–so wide in fact, if they’d been glass they’d have fallen out.

“You’ve. Never. Seen. Star Wars?” my new friends said. To people with geeky proclivities those who haven’t seen Star Wars are mythical beasts: they’re unicorns whose horns we want to file off, to turn them into horses like the rest of us.

“Oh, thanks,” said my wife, witheringly.

“It’s okay,” I said. “I’ll sort her out.” Sure enough, I did: I bought the original trilogy on DVD and forced her to watch the films on consecutive nights. I think she enjoyed them, though not as much as she’d enjoyed being the last unicorn running free,

I like a lot of geeky crap, yet I don’t consider myself a fully-fledged geek, probably because I haven’t had too many conversations like the ones I’ve listed above. For all the stereotype, geeks are social creatures while playing board games in solitary and devouring entire seasons of TV shows on your own is its own brand of sadness. In spite of that, I like to think of myself as a well-rounded individual who doesn’t fall easily into the hole marked ‘geek’–we all do. There’s more to us than science and science fiction, than quoting comedy and impersonating comedians.

But social geekiness? I have a theory that people find like-minded individuals through a primal sort of call and response. I’ve seen it in action before–in fact I’ve probably picked this theory up by osmosis from a documentary about how humans subliminally seek partners with similar physical traits to themselves. I know, it doesn’t make sense–shouldn’t we all be looking for people who look completely different to us, in order to diversify the gene pool for our future offspring?–but find a mixed group of people in relationships and you’ll likely be able to pair each person with his or her partner based on their physical characteristics alone

Anyway, I’m getting off track here. My wife’s old flatmate was definitely a call-and-response kind of person. She was abruptly loud, wildly flailing and excitable to a ridiculous degree. Everything was superlative to her, and though it was charming in short bursts she didn’t believe in paucity, and being in her company for prolonged lengths of time was at first wearying, then thoroughly irritating. When her over-reactions weren’t met in like she always seemed lost and confused, so she must have been overjoyed when she met a man who always responded to her cries at a similarly high volume. Like a sea creature with a fog-horn call, she’d finally found her mate.

Is that what Star Wars and Monty Python are to us? Is that in part the reason why so many of us wear t-shirts with our favourite bands on the front? Though they’re too large now, while I was in the process of losing weight I bought three t-shirts from Last Exit to Nowhere, an online shop selling movie memorabilia. The shirts don’t have movie titles on them: they reference films in much more subtle ways, like advertising a certain imaginary product or location featured in the film. One of my shirts had Devil’s Tower, Wyoming on the front–a nod to the pivotal monument from Close Encounters of the Third Kind. When I wore it while visiting my wife’s family her uncle spotted it and started talking about Wyoming national park as if I’d been there. My wife had to explain to him that I hadn’t, that I’d only worn the shirt because Close Encounters is my favourite film: in this case my call hadn’t been correctly responded to and I realised–quite thankfully–that my wife’s Uncle Mark wasn’t a suitable mate.

I drop pop culture references into my writing all the time. I have no way of telling if anyone notices them but I like to think when you do, you smile in recognition and the smallest possible connection is made between us. I don’t need to reference anything, just as I don’t need to wear movie t-shirts and my mates don’t need to quote Monty Python and the Holy Grail. Whatever we like, we’re perfectly capable of liking it on our own, in isolation.

But isn’t it better when we share something we like with other people? My poor wife would have been content to go the rest of her life having never seen Star Wars, but even though the Star Wars films are far from my favourites, forcing her to watch them has opened her up to a of thirty years of pop culture, and given us a whole new language to call and respond in. She mightn’t know her way around the galaxy far far away as well as we do, and as far as she’s concerned IG-88 might as well be a mid-western highway, but at least now she doesn’t look at me askance when Yoda syntax I speak in, and she’ll understand at least a little of what I’m talking about when I say the Ewoks are the most powerful ground army in the entire Star Wars universe.

And aren’t call and response the foundations of friendship anyway? “All you have to do is call and I’ll be there, yes I will, ‘cause you’ve got a friend” and all that Carole King nonsense?

Maybe one day when someone calls out to  me I’ll respond rather than sitting in silence, punching heads. Hope so very much, do I.

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3 Responses to 242 – The Signal

  1. Lindsay says:

    That’s a bit of an exaggeration. I knew what a flux capacitor was! I also knew how Yoda spoke. I may live in a cave, but we do have cable.

  2. lankysanchez says:

    Woohoo! Immortalised in a Campfire Burning blog post am I, yes.

  3. The least impressive way it’s possible for a human being to attain merit.

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