Uppermost House: A confluence of nerds

By S. Peter Lewis

BN Columnist

Last week, I attended a fancy awards/scholarship function at the University of Maine in Orono with my wife Karen; she being there because she was among the rarefied few on the Dean’s List. Dressing appropriately was a challenge for me.

I wear Docksiders because they’re comfy and I can slip them on and off without bending over or fussing with laces. It’s a convenience thing. (At 54, what isn’t?) My Docksiders are the best shoes I have, but they’re also my every-day shoes (e.g., gardening), so they’re sort of, well, distressed. So before I headed to the Orono shindig, I sprayed Pledge Orange Oil furniture polish on them, gave them a good wipe down with an old sock, and touched up a few places with a black Sharpie. Not the best choices, probably, but handy, and the shoes smelled nice. (Don’t tell Karen about this.)

As Karen and I were walking across the parking lot to the gala event, hand in hand, she looked at me sternly and said, “Don’t be weird, okay,” and I pretended to be all offended and said, “What? what?” with the appropriate pre-apologetic hand gestures. She just resterned her gaze and I got the point. As we entered the place, blinded briefly by the glare of sheer intellect that filled the air, I lost my appropriate-social-behavior bearings for a moment and heard Karen say behind me, loudly and under her breath, “Hat! Hat!,” and so I took off my ratty baseball cap and then shook some bald guy’s hand.

Well, this turned out to be a total nerd convention, with falutin language so high that the speaker’s jokes went right past me without even ruffling my ear hair. These were the kind of people, who laugh hysterically when someone quips, E equals emcee cubed. There were jokes about nitrification (whatever that is), a one-liner about some kind of parasite, and one particularly humorous story (that I almost understood) about the earth’s crust, which had everyone just howling. The whole evening would have been funner if I knew more Latin.

At one point, I turned to the other deer-in-the-headlights husband next to me (Vince, a carpenter) and commented, “You’re not wearing a tie, either,” and he just said, “Allergic,” and we were instant pals.

The highlight of the evening came when a young exchange student from China (the country, not the town east of Augusta) got up to receive two of the highest awards. He was just a hoot. Talked about the culture shock and odd Mane idioms and about how it took him weeks to figure out what wicked meant. Told us that one day someone shouted, “Watch out!” and he took it literally and so stepped toward a window and nearly got hit by a baseball. Vince and I both laughed at that one, even without the aid of an interpreter.

Near the end, just for something to do, Vince and I concocted a plan to both stand up and walk toward the stage when they called some guy whose name sounded like F. Malcolm Sedge up on stage (he was on the program to get an award, maybe for inventing a new color). “No one would know which one of us was the real Malcolm,” I said, and then Vince and I both hissed with giggles until we felt the pointed elbows from our assorted wives.

And we both got in a bit of trouble when we started filching food off of the plates of people who left early (either because they were bored or had to hurry off to their labs to paste a new element onto the periodic table). The pudding was particularly good, and we managed to snag several before our wives got wind of what we were up to and stopped our hijinks dead in their tracks with the stink eyes.

All things considered it was a good evening, even though I got in trouble for being a tad weird. And when my dear wife stood up to be recognized for her academic accomplishments I was just beaming with happiness and pride and joy and wanted to jump up next to her and shout, “This chick like totally rocks!”

But, I didn’t want to embarrass Vince, so I just sat there. Squirmed a little.

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