My Nerdoir

A nerdy, New Wave kid in East Texas during the 1980s.

Tag: dungeonsanddragons

Summit Bars and Other Strange Things

by Jeff

I was recently digging through a few old storage boxes when I discovered a package I had sealed away in 1983. At the age of 15, inspired by an article about time capsules in the Houston Chronicle, I carefully placed a Summit candy bar into a Ziploc bag, which I then wrapped in a bundle of aluminum foil, followed by Saran Wrap, before gluing the mummified package into a cigar box. To make it official I carefully hand-lettered the box “DO NOT OPEN UNTIL 2013” with a black marker. I loved Summit bars, so when I heard they were being discontinued I decided it was the perfect item to bury into my makeshift capsule.

I was surprised to see that the package survived the rat and roach-infested journey of my life from Texas to New York and then Los Angeles intact. Feeling like an archeologist, I used an X-ACTO knife to surgically pry open the seal on the box and extract the mummified candy from the cardboard sarcophagus. After carefully pulling open the plastic and foil, I was struck by the familiar orange and brown colors of the wrapper, still pristine after 33 years. It is a perfect graphic design from the time, implying a landscape with the “MM” forming a mountain top while the dot on the “I” becomes a sun. Read the rest of this entry »

Episode 11: Shore Leave – Nerdy Spring Breakout

by Jeff

I.

“There’s a call to adventure. It’s something in the inner psyche of humanity…”
Gary Gygax, co-creator of Dungeons and Dragons

I’m slowly crawling down a dark hallway, flat against the pristine beige carpet while attempting to move silently and hide in the shadows. I hold my breath as I slide towards the door of the master bedroom that rests slightly ajar, like two perfectly poised lips, open and waiting to either kiss you or scream in terror. The bedroom light peeks out through the crack, creeping across the hallway and reflecting twenty years of family photos that line the passage. I imagine the stoic judgment of these frozen witnesses watching a costumed stranger attempt to escape their otherwise ideal home. Two generations perfectly coiffed and documented, proving that within this suburban ranch house resides another upstanding Texas family. As I glide past the off-white bedroom door, I sense movement within, but I’m too afraid to sneak a glance where I might glimpse a strange woman in her early 40s, so similar to my mom as she goes through her nightly ritual applying mysterious lotions and creams before settling down to sleep. I am worried that if I see her, she will sense my glance and look around alarmed.

I remind myself that this suburban Texas ranch house has the customary central air-conditioning blasting throughout, creating both a low ambient roar to help muffle the sounds of my escape, as well as maintaining an artificially stable environment. Like my parent’s giant refrigerator, it is as if everything in the house is organic and fragile, waiting to crumble and rot from the slightest change. If sweating were an Olympic event, I’d easily win the gold medal, so I’m also grateful I won’t nervously drip my makeup off along this journey. I try to resign myself that if I’m caught and arrested, or more likely shot on sight, at least I’ll die looking good. My friend Mike is also there, beside me in the cool darkness as we attempt our great escape. We successfully make our way past the bedroom and continue towards our next challenge: the dark living room, lit up with the bouncing light of a TV being watched from the comfortably clueless, plump suburban dad. How did two nerds looking for spring break excitement end up in this predicament?

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The Devil in the Dark – The Story of David Gregg, part 1

by Jeff

After brushing my teeth, I walk out of the bathroom and cautiously peer down the dark hallway. Peeking out from around the corner, I see a huge butcher knife, gleaming in the darkness. A hand wearing a black glove holds the weapon tightly aloft, slowly twisting the knife so I will see the glimmer in the reflected light. I catch my breath and step into the hall, but before I can act I hear a maniacal laugh freezing me in my steps. A voice echoes through the rooms of the house as it creaks, “You’re going to diiiie tonight!”
I nervously attempt to short circuit the game, “Okay, David… enough already.”

Fighting skelton from Ray Harryhausen's, Jason and the Argonauts.

Fighting skelton from Ray Harryhausen’s, Jason and the Argonauts.

But it doesn’t work…it never works.

The game will continue until he gets bored and we decide to flip through our old comics again, see what late-night movie is on TV, or settle down to work on our own drawings. It is a game where I am terrified, not that I’d die, because that wasn’t his goal, but that one of us would end up genuinely hurt. That danger is part of the game. It’s an adrenaline rush that David will be seeking for the next 25 years.

Long before then I had realized that the worst thing I could do was panic. David would feed off of any fear; increasing his intensity as his tall, skeletal frame chased me through his house. Spending the night at a friend’s house was always fraught with both tension and adventure, but none of my other friends pretended to be a psycho; chasing me through their homes while their parents peacefully slumbered away.

Later in my life, I’d hear stories of similar games between brothers and sisters. Stories where kids would end up hurt, sometimes being rushed to the hospital, but nothing ever fatal aside from scars.

Faces of Death #1: RUNNING WITH A SHARP OBJECT,  FALLING AND DYING

My sister and I didn’t play such games. We were raised in a climate where we understood that the possible repercussions weren’t worth the risk. These reservations both helped and hindered me later in life. My mom attempted to ingrain a respect for limitations by warning us about the perils of strangers, unrestricted horseplay, venturing out of the neighborhood, promiscuity, and untamed wildlife. These lessons were often accompanied by stories where the inevitable result was death or permanent disability. I’d lay awake at night, tempted like most kids to break the rules, but also terrified that I might end up as another example on the list.

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Episode 5: Mirror, Mirror – The Path to the Nightcage

by Jeff

I move in slow motion, trapped in the crowd after a concert at Music Hall in downtown Houston. My friends, Michael and Steven, slowly move in syncopation as we awkwardly descend the steps of the balcony, taking tiny steps to assure we don’t kick or trip someone else. I am wearing grey parachute pants, a button down paisley shirt, and black lace-up shoes. The crowd is mostly white and dressed in new wave clothes. I am elated after seeing the Psychedelic Furs, and especially after seeing the remarkable opening act, Talk Talk, but I’m also self-conscious since I’ve realized that parachute pants have become passé. Although my friends and I appear to fit in with the crowd of fans who are mostly older than us in their early 20s, I still feel like an imposter. Damn pants. We move along with the crowd as it shuffles through the tight doors of the theater, and all I see are backs of androgynous people, my vision obscured by masses of hair sticking up, mine included. It is August 3, 1984 and in two weeks I will turn 17.

Yours truly, age 16.

Yours truly, age 16.

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Episode 1: One Way Ticket to Midnight – Discovering Taarna

by Jeff

“He had a strange feeling as the slow gurgling stream slipped by: his old life lay behind in the mists, dark adventure lay in front.”J.R.R. Tolkien – The Lord of the Rings

In 1978, when I started junior high at Southmore Intermediate School in Pasadena, Texas, I never dreamed that over thirty years later my lifelong appreciation for comic books, science fiction, fantasy, and my fellow fans would become a guide to my own adventures. IMG_134023595302473 In 6th grade most teachers seated the students alphabetically, so I quickly noticed a funny kid chatting behind me in every class. I was a skinny, pale kid with glasses, but David Gregg was a taller, impossibly skinny kid with glasses. I’m not sure how we first talked Marvel comics, Star Trek, or Tolkien, but we both had voracious appetites for anything nerdy. David also owned a copy of the Star Trek Concordance by legendary Trekkie, Bio Trimble, with its beautiful die-cut cover, and he had a memory unlike anyone else; an ideal trait for any nerd. He could see a still image from any Trek episode and name the source; with credentials like that, it wasn’t a surprise that we became great friends.

star-trek-concordance-by-bjo-trimbleOver the years I came to regard him as a brother. We would regularly talk on the phone after school, discussing the nuances of things like the new issue of the Fantastic Four, or trying our best at creating our own stories, but always laughing at how silly they seemed in comparison to the books we loved. Like many people involved in fandom, those early teen years were the most formative for my developing interests. It was only a matter of time before I attended my first comic book convention, which was at a convention center near the Astrodome. dome_postcardI don’t remember how David or I heard about the convention, but my mom dropped us off for the day, and later his mom picked us up. This was such a memorable event that I can still recall the dim fluorescent lighting, the musty basement smell, and the chilling air conditioning—a Houston staple. In one room they were showing Star Trek episodes and blooper reels, oddball cartoons, and old science fiction films. The dealer’s room felt like a large basement at a friend’s house, filled with rows of artifacts from alien worlds just waiting to be explored. That hunger for exploration and discovery filled my youth and still drives me. I’m a “digger,” such as in crates for music and books, piles for clothes, and libraries for information.

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