Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The Perils of Public Geekery

Today I went to the mall with my friend Darren for lunch. He went to Eddie Bauer to buy a shirt, and as we were standing up at the counter, I was talking to him about my last two blog entries, and about the quandary posed by the definition of Dr. Sam Beckett's lifetime. After about a minute, the clerk behind the register turned to me and spoke without preamble.

"Do you have a girlfriend?" she asked.

"Um...uh, no," I stammered, a little unnerved by how forthright her question was.

"I could tell," she said.

I stood there a little dumbfounded, not knowing whether to laugh or be insulted. After a pregnant pause, she followed up with, "I don't mean that as an insult, of course." Ever nonconfrontational, I replied with, "Oh, no, not at all." Without sarcasm, even, if you can believe it. She started going on about something inane, wherein a bunch of guys were paired with one girl and...to tell you the truth, it didn't make a lot of sense, and I expect she was just trying to cover her ass.

It got me thinking. I understand the joke she was trying to make. I was speaking quite geekily (self-consciously, of course; as though there were any other way to refer to an aspect of Quantum Leap as "an existential quandary"), and she was trying to leverage the stereotype of geeks as socially inept. I get it. I'm not without a sense of humor. But the way that she felt comfortable berating a perfect stranger got under my skin a bit. Did she think it made it all right to say, "I don't mean that as an insult, of course"? What if I'd gone up to her and said, "People think you're ugly, right? I could tell." Would it be more acceptable if I assured her afterwards that I didn't mean it as an insult? Somehow I don't think so.

I also had a case of thinking of wonderful responses a couple of minutes after the fact, some blustery, some self-deprecating. Here's a sampling.

Clerk: Do you have a girlfriend?
Fargus: Yeah. She's in New York at the Hot Chicks Convention. She's the President.

Clerk: Do you have a girlfriend?
Fargus: Yeah. She's at a modeling show in Paris. She's running the lights.

Clerk: Do you have a girlfriend?
Fargus: It's none of your goddamn business. Give my friend his credit card back so we can get the hell out of here.