I grew up geeky: comic books, sci-fi movies and television, the works. It led me to a career marketing comics and enjoying conventions of all stripes. However! While it is good to be a geek these days–with mighty Marvel movies making mucho moolah at the multiplexes and darker DC dramas dominating the (television) dial–back in my day (the halcyon ’80s) we had it tougher. I mean, I had to walk five feet across shag carpeting both ways to turn the channel to catch reruns of The Incredible Hulk!
But in all seriousness, geek culture was not as prevalent or accessible when I was growing up, so as a mature adult, I feel the need to thank and recognize the geek mentors who nurtured my nascent nerdiness along the way, and I’m starting with one who is significant to both my brother and me: Cousin Danny.
Uncle Bruce is my mother’s older brother, and six years after we relocated from California to Oregon (stow it, haters), he moved himself and Aunt Judy to nearby Gladstone with sons Danny and Bryan. At the time, I was six and Danny was nine–impressively older, but not terrifying like 13-year-old Bryan (I’ll be writing a separate tribute to Bryan in a future installment). So when we got together for holidays and whatnot, Danny was leader and playmate to me and my little brother BJ–young enough to enjoy a game that included spinning around his dad’s pool table while listening to “Beep Beep” by the Playmates on the record player, but old enough to transfix us with his genius.
Mild mannered and round cheeked, Danny was perhaps an improbable genius. I have to admit that he played the accordion. But! In his room (where we loved to hang out), he had all of the books to solve all of the different Rubix cubes–extremely cool to us–and even more impressive, he had a Commodore 64, a futuristic device that allowed him to type to other people across the country, in real time! It was like having a pen pal–without having to wait for the mailman!
It was Danny who showed us movies like Gremlins, Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, and War Games, all on VHS tapes copied by Aunt Judy super-long-play style from cable (they had HBO!). But even better: Cousin Danny was the person who showed us Star Wars and The Empire Strikes Back for the first time.
Now, would I have watched Star Wars and Empire without Cousin Danny? Of course. Would I have watched them repeatedly until I actually paid attention? Perhaps not. You see, as a young girl (around seven or eight), I initially dismissed them as “boy movies.” It wasn’t until the fourth or fifth time that I suddenly realized, “Hey! I like these movies. These aren’t boy movies at all!” And I was ready to see Return of the Jedi in the theaters. When I saw The Force Awakens this year (with my brother), I thought of Danny and smiled.
Danny also gave us our first taste of freedom: I vividly remember my brother and I being allowed to go see a double feature of Star Trek III: The Search for Spock and The NeverEnding Story with just Danny–no grownups. I was nine, with money in my pocket to go buy a second round of refreshments during intermission. Truly a heady experience.
Unfortunately, Bruce and Judy moved to upstate New York in 1988, with both cousins eventually joining them, before the whole clan settled near Atlanta, Georgia. However! I was reunited with Dan (Danny no more) a few years ago at–where else–Dragon Con, one of the biggest, craziest geek conventions on the planet.
While Dan has grown up to work in software development (of course), he still books a room at the Dragon Con host hotel every year, and he’s an integral part of The Outworlders, Atlanta, a “science fiction, fantasy and horror fan group that supports and promotes gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender themes within these genres.”
So I salute and thank you, Cousin Dan: hero, genius, geek mentor, and master of my old Speak N’ Spell. I hope you know you’ve made our lives much more interesting and entertaining, and may the Force be with you!