the archaeology of american nerdiness
When I was in first grade something weird started happening. Kids were getting taken out of class in groups of three or four, and when they returned they were … altered. I was pretty sure that the time had come, and we were finally being replaced by our replicant doubles, and I just hoped that when it was my turn I would meet my fate proudly and not beg.
Instead when it was my turn we were taken down the hall and down the stairs into our school’s fallout shelter (yeah, yeah, I’m old. Saw me in half and count the rings, why don’t you) and ushered into the presence of this:
This was a Commodore PET computer. (PET stood for Personal Electronic Transactor!) As a replicant double it wasn’t a great likeness. But it did play games. Specifically it played Hunt the Wumpus. As a result of this electronic transaction, I became a gamer.
(This is only partly true. We got Pong around that time too. But anyway somewhere in there I became a gamer, which is my point.)
I often get a surprised reaction to the fact that I’m both a books guy and a games guy. They’re supposed to be mortal enemies, fighting it out for a slice of the unexpanding pie of our entertainment hours/dollars. But then I’m surprised at their surprise. I mean, come on, you were introverted and socially anxious when you were a kid, right? Right? What else did you do besides read books and play video games? Where does this schism come from?
What, were you out there playing kickball? Jock.
After I graduated from college I had a publishing internship for about three months. I was the worst intern in the world. I have a truly humiliating proof of this, but fortunately this introductory paragraph is too brief to contain it.
About the only thing I learned during my short career in publishing — besides that I sucked at publishing — was that the trade lingo for the About the Author page is the “Ab Au.” (Pronounced “ab aw.”)
(Though I’ve never heard anybody actually say that besides the one editor who told me about it. Now that I think about it it’s possible he was yanking my chain. I was “that” intern.)
I have long been aware that the only interesting thing in my personal Ab Au is the weird fact that I went to both Harvard and Yale.
And it is weird. The other day I was watching the trailer for The Social Network, that movie about the founding of Facebook, and I was watching the scenes where Mark Zuckerberg is at Harvard and thinking, wow, yeah, Harvard, I bet that was some heavy shit. And then I stopped and thought, waitaminnit, I went to Harvard!
And Yale. Why did that happen?
Archaeology is not an exact science — it does not deal in time tables! — but yesterday I was moving a box of books up to the spare room, because the shelves in “my study”* give out at the P’s and this box contained the Z’s. As such it was mostly full of Zelazny novels, with a soupçon of Zola left over from college.
But it also contained this artifact:
This is the programming manual for the first home computer my family ever owned. Which looked like this:
This is a beautiful piece of photography, as it shows off perfectly the crap grainy plastic of the case, the crap membrane keyboard of the ZX81, and the perfect period crap wood-grain coffee table that often supported ZX81’s, and is their natural habitat.