Generally speaking, I'm a fan of nerds. Not the "grape and strawberry" pebbles that get passed of as candy treats to unsuspecting children, but rather those individuals who society has deemed "overly intellectual, obsessive, or lacking social skills." This epithet has been used as a pejorative for as long as I can remember, even before the Fonz was the arbiter of what "cool" was. As a matter of fact, as it was explained to me back in the day, only nerds wore Fonzie T-shirts.
I had a Fonzie T-shirt. I would love to say that I wore it proudly, but I didn't wear much proudly in my youth. I listened to the increasingly harsh words from my peers, or perhaps my betters if we were to take the social strata of junior high school as the measure. I seemed to always be at least a note or two behind when it came to pop culture's evolution. I couldn't understand, for example, how wearing sneakers with four stripes on them made me any less cool than those around me who wore only three on theirs. It did not fully occur to me that the difference between our shoes was the brand name and hence the price. Mine came from Penny's. Theirs were Adidas. For real. Having that conversation with my mom only seemed to cement my social status even further. "Would you really want to be friends with anyone who would only be friends with you because of the kind of tennis shoes you wore?"
If I were to have answered my mother truthfully, I probably would have said something like, "If only that was all that it took." I knew that having the right clothes and shoes was just the beginning. Perfecting the attitude that went along with that look was a leap that I was ill-prepared to make. As desperate as I was for acceptance, I was unable to remain unfazed by the seeming ambivalence of the in crowd. All the reassurances in the world could not keep me from feeling that those were the words that were keeping me stuck at the bottom of the adolescent pecking order. I was encouraged to be myself. That is precisely what got me into trouble.
I played tuba in the concert band. My glasses were as thick as the tangles in my hair. Even my vain attempts to become part of the sporting life put me on "B" mat wrestling and a spot as backup shot put on the track team. Unbuttoning that one extra button on my polyester shirt just made me all the more horribly self-conscious. Who was I fooling? I would much rather be at home playing Atari or memorizing Monty Python records. The dress code in my basement was considerably more lax than the one generated by those disapproving teens who surrounded me at school.
This is probably why I light up when I hear some kid out on our playground giving someone else grief about how "you got your shoes from Payless." Good for them, I say, since that family is saving things for the really important things in life. Like Atari cartridges and Monty Python records.