Monday, March 2, 2009

Check Out the DNA on that Babe

This is the third in a series of seminal stories from my sordid and nerdy youth. I got the idea from Wil Wheaton and his book The Happiest Days of Our Lives. I'm getting them out now before I return to cancer anecdotes. I hope you enjoy them, because I can only think of one more.

Coming soon: Sexual Harassment at my First Sci-Fi Convention

A couple of times in the course of a normal life, everything crystallizes together in a single perfect moment.

At the beginning of the year, NPR's wonderful Wait, Wait... Don't Tell Me told me about a story where a guy in Scotland came from a New Year's costume party dressed as Thor, the Norse god of lightning. When he walked in, he encountered a burglar, and snapped. Charged the guy, who jumped out a window, leaving his shoes behind. Today, Mr. Torvald Alexander of Edinburgh is still basking in the envy of the rest of the male world.

To quote Wait, Wait host Peter Sagal: "Someone's robbing your apartment, you're six feet tall, and you're dressed as Thor -- sometimes it's just YOUR DAY." If Torvald lives to be 200, he will remember that moment more clearly than anything else in his life. As will the burglar.

Which brings me to one of my own moments...

I was an undergrad at Auburn University. I was still majoring in Computer Sciences, so this would have been sometime around my... third year? Sure.

CompSci folks tend to clump together, like gazelle when they think a tiger is near. Not so much physically clumping, but socially. (The tigers in this analogy are sorority girls.) My own cluster was about six people thick, which was larger than average at a school not known for its nerds. (Don't laugh -- we are known for our astronauts, so eat it, Harvard.)

One Monday morning before class, one of my clustermates, Rick, told me about a fraternity party he had attended that weekend. I don't know how he got invited; I am guessing he helped someone change the light on the frat house porch and just stayed. Anyway, he told me about this amazing girl at the party. He didn't get up the nerve to go talk to her, but she was tall and slim and had long brown hair and laughed a lot. She really cranked poor Rick's tractor. Unfortunately, he didn't get her name. I guess it wasn't written on her clothes where he could see it from a distance. He had high hopes that she would come to the next frat party he got invited to.

She still might. I don't think that party has happened yet.

I don't recall if it was after class that day or sometime the next, but very soon after he told me about her, we were walking out of the computer building together when Rick grabbed my arm.

"Christian!" he hissed. "That's her!" He was pointing across the street at a group of girls talking together.

It wasn't hard to pick out the one he meant. She was tall (noticeably so, compared to the others), thin, with long brown hair.

She was also my younger sister, Laura.

Time stopped. The sun got a bit brighter. A universe of possibilities opened up before me. Somewhere, a dog barked. I picked the best possible option: I pulled out my Thor hammer and charged Rick.

No, really, I said something like "wait here -- I'll go see if she's got time to talk, and then I'll wave you over." He was all for this sort of "warming up" technique.

I hadn't seen Laura in a week or so. Auburn isn't all that big a place, but we moved in different social circles. By that I mean she went to frat parties and I was a computer sciences major. But I came up behind her and got her attention.

It worked better than I could imagine. She turned, saw me, said HEY! and gave me a hug that undoubtedly made Rick jealous. During the hug, I gave Rick the thumbs up and motioned him over, hoping he would remember to watch for traffic.

By the time Rick made it across, Laura's friends had dispersed, and she was saying "are you doing anything this weekend? You should let me make you dinner!"

Me: "This is Rick."
Laura: "Hi Rick!"
Me: "Rick told me he saw you at a party last weekend."
Laura: "Oh yeah! Wasn't that a great party? I have to get to class. Call me about dinner! Nice meeting you, Rick!" And she wandered off.
Me: "Nice job impressing her with your oratory, dumbass."
Rick: "She wants me."

Priceless. For the rest of the week, I was a god to Rick. We had endless conversations like this:

Rick: "Are you going to call her for dinner?"
Me: "Yeah, why not?"
Rick: "Will you find out if she has a boyfriend?"
Me: "I expect so." (She did, and he was a putz, but I figured that was a good exit strategy for after this stopped being fun.)
Rick: "If not, are you gonna ask her out?" (We were all native Alabamians. He might have asked this even if he knew who she was.)
Me: "No, she's not my type. But I'll talk you up if you want."

I wish I had been familiar with Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing back then. The whole situation reminds me of when Don Pedro pretends to be Claudio so he can woo Hero in his place, and Claudio starts freaking out that Don Ped--... never mind. Stay in school.

Word of my godhood spread among our cluster. It was a good week, and I was de facto Cluster Leader for a few days. But that turned out to be my undoing.

One little-known fact about nerd clusters is that your more successful ones have a Token Girl. We need someone to translate in case a sorority girl asks us for directions. It's a tough job, translating "bear north-north-west for roughly 400 yards" into "go to the light and turn left." Our girl was Kristen. Kristen was petite and blonde and could hang with or surpass any of us on the Knowing Obscure Crap scale. She caught wind of this "Christian the Love God" theory and was immediately skeptical. She would have had an easier time with it if I claimed to be Thor.

She was also a friend of my sister's. When Rick and I encountered Laura, for once I was happy Kristen wasn't with us.

But near the end of the week, I was by myself in the cafeteria, and she dropped down across the table from me. "What's going on? When did you become a love god, and why don't any women know about it?" She could say things like that with a straight face without sounding mean, which is why nerd clusters would take a bullet/wedgie for their Token Girls.

Reading between the lines, she was saying "our cluster only has one leader, and she's perky and blonde -- by what right do you usurp power, and why should I not have your head cut off?"

I told her the story much like I'm telling you now. By the end, she was in tears, had nearly slid under the table, and had to leave. I completely understood, and didn't blame her for blowing my cover. I don't know if she told Laura or the cluster first, but I do know that Laura took it better than my suddenly former disciples. They got over it soon, since I was still the one with the hot sister.

Things returned to normal. Kristen regained the near-infinite power you would expect a cluster leader to have. Rick and I had to put up with comments like "Rick, if Christian grew his hair long, would you date him?" Laura had something come up that weekend, so we didn't have dinner.

Two terms later, I gave up on computers and switched to journalism, where the ratios were reversed: I was the leader of a cluster of girls majoring in journalism and public relations. (Eat it again, Harvard.) You can't keep a love god down.


Nicole said...

Awwww, now I miss my nerd boys from college. I called them my harem.

The Man Version said...

Noisy, you would have been an excellent Token Girl :)

Nicole said...

Aww thank you.

And, btw, that was very nice of you to not just shove your friend in the first place and go "Dude, that's my sister!" And clever to put it to your advantage... for as long as it worked.

The Man Version said...

Thanks, but honestly, the best reaction sort of pointed to itself, to paraphrase Babylon 5 :) Rick was a friend, and he hadn't done anything wrong, so it never occurred to me to bust his chops. If he had taken a more "look at that ass, I am gonna tap that as soon as I get her drunk" approach, then he might have needed an educational shove into traffic. But he was just a little smitten with a stranger he saw at a party.

I was expecting Laura to blow my cover instantly, or to come to lunch with us where she would have said something like "talked to mom lately?" Still would have been a good laugh. But to just ask me to dinner and leave... sometimes the dice roll just right, and you get to be a love god.

Also, I would have enjoyedit if Laura had dated someone I liked, like Rick. Would have been a new experience for me. She eventually latched on to a good guy, but she went through more tools than a building contractor first.

(Hmmmm... I should be careful. I don't know if she reads this blog. HI LAURA!)

Once he knew she was my sister, the resemblance between us was obvious, which is probably why none of my friends ever seriously pursued anything with her.

I need to track Rick down. See if he's blocked out his memories, or if the first thing he asks is "how's your sister?"

Lisa Townsley Winn said...

What a great story. I am old and my memory is weak so I had to consult my Invictus 1986 and look up her photo. She was very cute (and still is I'm sure). We all got much better looking when we lost the 80s hair and wardrobe. It's nice that you and Laura were getting along so well and you didn't say something like "Aw you gotta be kidding that's my sister!"

Christian said...

I'd have to go back to see what Laura's hair was doing back then. When I flip through Invictus '86 (that's our high school yearbook, everyone), I normally get to my own picture and then slap the thing shut.

Was that the year Laura was going to play bass for Duran Duran?

gsanderson said...

Who cares about Laura, this is about me!!! You do realize this calls for retribution, don't you?

Kristen the Token Girl

The Man Version said...

Hey! I took a wedgie for you!

Wait... no I didn't. I think that was Alan. And I think that was for being Alan, not for you. And I think the rest of the cluster gave it to him.

Okay, retribute away :)