I’m no chauvinist, but there are some things we have here in the good old USA that flat-out clobber our rivals in other parts of the world.
I’m not referring to sappy clichés— the flag-waving jingoistic stuff, the poor-man’s abstractions: freedom, land of opportunity, etc.
I’m referring to concrete things and, in many cases, concrete individuals.
We, for example, have the darned best armed forces in the world. Few would want to test the assertion, especially when it’s backed with an F-16 or an Abrams.
We have some of the world’s greatest athletes, some of the purest steroids, the best methods for beating a drug test.
We have, hands down, the greatest hip-hop recording artists and the very best commercial pudding, compliments of the Kozy Shack Corporation.
Without question, we have the world’s greatest cheerleading squads (amateur and professional) and the most expansive satellite television system (“expansive” — note that I claim nothing about quality of programming).
I watched a program on the world’s most expansive satellite television system the other day and realized we have something else that beats the rest of the world. In spades.
We grow the world’s greatest nerds and science geeks. And I’ve found reason to adore them.
Anyone who follows the history of the computer industry, of the high-tech world, knows our nerds are superior. Granted, the copycats have gained momentum, riding their “Patent-schmatent” theory of invention and business like a big wave at Waimea Bay.
The Japanese, the Chinese, the Koreans, the Paraguayans and the Nepalese have stolen enough from us to make computers (albeit out of stainless steel, if we’re talking about the former Soviet Union and its satellites) and they can write some pretty nifty software because we’ve trained their technicians at American universities. But … have they sent anything impressive to Mars lately?
Nosireee, they have not.
I realized this, and more, the other night. I was sitting in the living room, eating Kozy Shack tapioca pudding straight out of the carton. I’d ingested a good 600 calories of the gelatinous miracle, when a news flash interrupted a repeat episode of Extreme Makeover just as famed Beverly Hills cosmetic dentist Dr. C. Wilson Wilson was about to apply porcelain veneers to Claudette’s painfully eroded fangs. The network cut away to the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
I know the place. I once walked past the lab facility on my way to a hotel after a visit to the Norton Simon Museum. I had spent an hour or two with several remarkable Rembrandts and a nifty Karel Appel or two and I was disoriented. Fortunately, the lab sat on a line running from the museum to the Sushitoria, where I enjoyed a killer spicy tuna roll before fumbling my way out of Old Town and back to my digs.
Anyway, the TV screen lit up the other night and there they were: The cream of the crop. A giant room was full of our nation’s finest nerds and science geeks, all going berserk in that poignant, I-never-had-a-date-in-high school, screwloose way they express joy. Pocket protectors were flying all over the place as the guys and gals boinged around, hugging each other (a celebration is the only chance a nerd has to caress a colleague) and feebly whooping and yahooing in reedy, cracking voices. In a rare moment of uncontrolled self-expression, a nerd tossed a piece of paper in the air. I saw a couple of shirttails akimbo.
It was a party.
As I watched, I took another bite of the pudding and thought: I’m proud to be an American.
In what was a prelude to a monumental announcement, the nerds reprised their recent triumphs.
They went nuts at the sight of a photograph of the Martian surface transmitted from one of their Martian landers. To me, the photo was, well, pretty damned boring. To the science geeks, it was gold.
So, I figured, that flat, grungy red, rocky plain on another planet, and a manned base on the moon must be important. It has to be: the nerds say so.
Then, the announcement: We’re goin’ back to the moon … and beyond. The intensity level at the lab jumped off the chart. The nerds were bobbing and weaving and skipping around like elementary school kids who’ve been told it’s pizza day in the lunchroom
I realized something: They’re thrilled, because they’re leaving.
And that’s OK. Because I’m going with them.
I have a great deal of respect for nerds. I know about nerds. I once tried hard to catch one.
It was in tenth grade, before I got shipped off to a boys’ school. The nerd’s name was Linda.
Linda was in debate club at the public high school, science club, economics club, Latin club. She was an office aide and played viola in the school orchestra. She was treasurer of the junior class, a member of the student council. She served as the National Honor Society president and took first place in the Colorado High School Science Fair with a dazzling examination of Godel’s theorem. She owned two slide rules, and knew how to use them. She actually took notes in class.
Me, I was a hockey player and, at best, a D student. I was missing teeth, had suffered several major concussions and I played the drums. Through the fog, I noticed Linda was incredibly well endowed.
She first became aware of me when I attempted to copy her answers during an ancient history test. I thought the word Assyria was hysterically funny, and every time I encountered the word in the text, I laughed so hard I lost what little concentration I could muster. I was woefully unprepared for the exam. Linda showed me a bit of kindness. She gave me two answers; I got a D.
Eventually, we sat together every day outside the band room waiting for orchestra practice to begin. She talked about how easy calculus was; I bragged about how I could a chug a quart of 3.2 beer with nary a drop coming out of my nose.
As our relationship progressed, we made forays to the lawn in front of the school after lunch. I made a few clumsy moves on Linda, even stole a kiss.
I’ll never forget what she said after that kiss, peering at me over the top of her eyeglasses like I was a fetal pig splayed out on the dissection table in biology class.
“Neque femina amissa pudicitia alia abnuerit.”
The phrase was music to my ears, the splash of crystal-clear waters on polished marble. I’m on my way to home base, I thought.
I had her write down what she said and I took it to my nerd friend, Starkle, for a translation. Turns out it was a quote from Tacitus: “When a woman has lost her chastity, she will shrink from no crime.”
I got the hint; Linda was not about to become a criminal. My dreams were shattered. The gulf between us was too wide. I was a mere amusement, and there was no chance I would succeed in my attempt to scale Mt. Nerd. I returned the slide rule I’d purchased, complete with belt-mounted carrying case, and went back to reading purloined copies of Modern Man magazine.
What remained, however, was a deep appreciation of all things nerd.
That’s why I say it’s time to turn the whole shebang over to these goofballs; they’ve got vision. Let them do what they want; they know things the rest of us don’t.
Take for example a missive from one of the chief nerds, David King, director of NASA’s Marshall Space flight Center.
‘Next comes Mars, our nearest planetary neighbor,” writes King. “Did Mars once support life? Will it again?”
“We intend,” continues King, “ to answer the first question as visitors, and the second as inhabitants. But Mars is just one possible destination. Others could include the icy moons of Jupiter, which might conceal oceans capable of sustaining life…”
Dave goes on to rationalize the project: lots of jobs, spinoff technologies that will benefit everyone, blah blah blah. First, a manned base on the moon, then a colony on another planet. The nerds talked the president into a thumbs-up on this, taking advantage of the fact its pretty darned easy to convince our president of just about anything.
The critical thing, once the frosting is scraped off the cake: The nerds are leaving the planet! They’re working at a feverish pace in order to skedaddle. They are blowing this pop stand and I, for one, plan to be with them.
I intend to write Dave King as well as the folks at the Nerd Nerve Center at the Jet Propulsion Lab and offer my services as a cook. I’ll double as a member of the janitorial crew, keeping the slide rules (or whatever they use these days) as clean as possible, polishing the thick lenses on all those eyeglasses.
Since I’m a pudding aficionado, I regularly travel a culinary highway that leads to the nerds’ hearts. They don’t like anything too spicy and since there won’t be a Subway nearby where they can purchase the 6-inch veggie sandwich, pudding it will be. It’s bland, easily digestible, the perfect nerd food.
The Kozy Shack Corporation will be unable to ship huge quantities of its delightful products to nerd space outposts, so I’ll produce the pudding. I’ll make myself indispensable and, thus, save my life.
I’ll produce a light, fluffy tapioca pudding with a tropical edge for my nerd masters, — something in harmony with their light, fluffy personalities — ala a recipe from Mark Bittman.
I’ll combine about 2/3 of a cup of quick tapioca in a saucepan with a little under a cup of sugar, 3 teaspoons vanilla extract, 1 cup of milk, 1 cup of coconut milk and a couple pinches salt. I’ll stir the mix as I heat it over medium heat until the tapioca gets transparent then I’ll take the mix off the heat and allow it to cool for several minutes. I’ll beat in the yolks of 4 eggs and let the mix cool for several minutes more. I’ll beat 4 egg whites until peaks form then fold them gently into the pudding mixture.
I can see us now — me and all the nerds and science geeks — kicking back on our recliners, bowls of pudding in hand, our bow ties perfectly straight, our pocket protectors in place, gazing out the huge windows of our biosphere, watching a tiny light in the dark night sky suddenly flash bright then disappear.
Someone will throw a piece of paper in the air.
I hope Linda is there, and that she’s ready to let her femina go amissa.