Geek Speak

My geeky origins start in a line to a galaxy far, far away

Watch a handful of superhero movies, or read the comics they're based on, and you realize that all superheroes have an origin story. Geeks are no different. We all have our own origin stories. This is mine.

See also: We are geeks; we are stoners

One of my first memories is of standing in line to see the original Star Wars in its original theatrical run (yes, I know I am dating myself here). I was all of four years old at the time. Funny enough, I don't remember actually seeing the movie, just waiting in line and being excited for reasons I didn't understand, but that turned out to be completely justified. As with millions of kids since, that movie seared itself into my consciousness and changed me in ways that resonate to this day.

I was lucky to be standing there in that line. Lots of parents, even in the '70s, probably wouldn't have considered Star Wars to be suitable entertainment for a four-year-old, or at least wouldn't have been willing to stand in line for who knows how long with a restless pre-kindergarten kid to see a goofy movie about space wizards. My dad was, and I'm grateful to him to this day.

Really, the origin of my geekiness is as much his story as it is mine. Not only was he the one to stand with me in that line, he also took me to see a dozen other sci-fi future classics (and some stink bombs) with him before I was old enough to go on my own. He took me because he knew I loved them, but also because he did. Thanks to him, I got to see the first two Star Trek films, Blade Runner and Superman in theaters before I had a decade under my belt. At home, there was the original Star Trek series, The Twilight Zone and The Six Million Dollar Man on television, not to mention any number of films that we didn't catch in theaters, including a lot of stuff that was wholly inappropriate for a kid -- I saw Phantasm when I was about seven years old, and that fucking movie haunted me for years afterward. Still, it was totally worth it, not least due to how amused Phantasm director Don Coscarelli was when I told him that story three decades later.

Interestingly enough, my dad is not the kind of guy you'd think of as a geek. He played sports in high school, fought in Vietnam, liked to work on cars, jumped out of airplanes for fun. He's much more a "guy's guy" than a stereotypical geek, but he liked what he liked, and what he liked wasn't just football and fast cars, but intergalactic intrigue and maybe some dragons here and there, too.

Oh, and computers. His second major contribution to my burgeoning geekhood was bringing home a computer when I was ten. Reading that today, it's hard to imagine how unusual this was at the time. In 1983, computers were a novelty, at best, but he decided we should have one (he loves technology, too) and so we did. I remember learning how to program games in BASIC from magazines, and loading programs from a cassette tape. Later, when he started on his current career path, he'd bring home work computers, far more powerful than the little janky Atari model he bought us. The rule was we were allowed to play with them, so long as we didn't fuck them up. Naturally, I was always fucking them up, usually by modifying stuff like the autoexec.bat file to get some game I'd purchased to work, and the resulting need to learn enough to fix them before I got caught served me well in my first career path, doing tech support and, eventually, software QA. Not to mention it gave me the means to play some of the greatest games of the early days of computing, while most of my friends were stuck just playing Oregon Trail at school.

He contributed one other big thing, too -- the self-confidence and self-esteem to be the geek I was always meant to be. When I was growing up, it wasn't easy being a geek. We were outcasts, weirdos -- much more so than today, when only the geekiest and most awkward of our number attract widespread scorn. He taught me to ignore all that and just be who I am, not just with the interests we shared, but with stuff that, as far as I could tell, bewildered him, like Dungeons and Dragons. He tried to interest me in the sports, cars and other not-geek interests he had, but he never pressured me to do any of that, and he never acted like any of it was more important than the things I cared about, even though the rest of the world sure did. Because of that, the pressure to conform to societal norms of what was "cool" never got to me. I was always okay with what I loved, even though my peers felt compelled to mock me mercilessly for it.

For that, as well as for those early introductions to the joy of space wizards and primitive computer games, I owe him a debt of thanks. It's not quite as impressive an origin as if he'd put me on a rocket to escape our dying planet, but it will have to do. I'm just as grateful to him for what he did do, even if it would have been pretty cool to have super- strength due to Earth's yellow sun.

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Cory Casciato is a Denver-based writer with a passion for the geeky, from old science fiction movies to brand-new video games.
Contact: Cory Casciato