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Monday, July 5, 2010

Nerd in the Alley

When I was in middle school, I discovered sarcasm, and instantly I knew I had turned from a sweet boy to an asshole. Puberty’ll do that to ya. Just look at Haley Joel Osment.

In high school, I knew I was a schmuck. I quoted George Gobel in my senior picture, for Christ’s sake. Like that was going to get me pussy.

Later, in college, I was pretty sure I was just a loser—with a little bit of theatre fag thrown in for good measure.

When I met my wife, I was nearly convinced that I was a doddering idiot.

Then, when it came time to drive up to Providence for the first extended stay with the rest of her family, I was sure of it.

Certain members of my wife’s family may be socially retarded (Mrs. Apron’s terminology) or bizarre or dubiously-gazed-at in public, but one thing is for sure: when it comes to intelligence, they’ve all asked for, and received, seconds. And heaping portions, at that.

Ask my father-in-law a simple question and you will get an answer that may span the course of eleven minutes' time and you’ll need several advanced degrees to understand maybe a third of his response. Sure, he won’t make eye-contact with you while he’s giving you this answer, and you may lose some of it in mumbles, but it will be… um… really smart.


My brother-in-law is, well, not particularly worth conversing with. I once rode a bus with him and his attempt to flirt with a beautiful Asian girl he had been chatting up ended briskly when he turned to me and said, in a tone-of-voice approximately 96 decibels too loud:


But he’s seriously “intelligent” in that traditional sense of the word. Physics and whatnot. Whatever.

When I met my wife’s family for the first time, almost eight years ago, I was very much intimidated by their combined intelligence. My mother never went to college. My two sisters barely graduated, for different reasons, and I am… well… hovering somewhere above the average helipad.

Or maybe it didn’t have anything to do with actual or perceived intelligence. Maybe it was the geek factor. Or is the dork quotient? Or the nerd number? Well, whatever it is, or was, they had a lot of it, and I was worried that I perhaps didn’t have enough.

“I don’t think I’m dorky enough to be in your family,” I said, forgetting for a moment that I steadfastly refused to wear shorts until I was seventeen.

Musically, there is no question that I have no business being a member of this family. Her father is a bassoonist and clarinetist. Her mother is a harpist. Her brother is an almost savant-like pianist. Her sister plays trumpet. Before her neurosurgery, my wife played bassoon as well.

Me? Oh, um, I took piano lessons from a drunk lady for three years and learned nothing and I know five chords on the banjo. Pass the veggie burgers.

“You sing and act in Gilbert & Sullivan operettas,” my wife reminded me in a reassuring tone, “what could be more musically dorky than that?”

On Friday night, as we were out driving, I found myself explaining the meaning of the sea shanty “Bully in the Alley” to my wife.

“Well, you see, when the whalers would be off the boat on shore they would go drinking, and, invariably, one of them would get too drunk and would harass passing women and such, and his friends would say, ‘Fuck this,' and shove him in an alley, and so that’s where the song comes from—he’s the bully in the alley.”

My wife stared at me. And, with that stare, I knew I had finally achieved the zenith of dorkdom.

I belong.


  1. Lucky you!! My partners' Mum is a harpist also, and his father plays the oboe (?) and his sister is an incredible Opera singer. His folks have met and played for the Queen and Princess Di.

    Meanwhile, I am the girl who talks too much when she is nervous and has that awkward I'm-not-laughing-at-anything-apart-from-the-fact-that-I'm-so-nervous laugh, from a tiny corner of Australia, the most isolated city in the world.

    Luckily my boyfriend has zero of their talent and is somewhat of a rebel by their Cambridge schooled ideals, so they think he is punching way above his weight when it comes to me :-D

    It's awesome.

  2. I'm glad you two can make beautiful music together.

    Is that soooo corny?


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