As we approach one of the holier days in nerd-lore, May the 4th [be with you], I am reminded of the true-life story of a kid who just wanted free candy and a chance to go out on his own.
A long time ago, in a neighborhood far, far away “Star Wars” was the one movie on everyone’s mind. It sure was on my mind. All the time.
“The Empire Strikes Back” hadn’t yet come out, much less the prequels. My friends and I gathered our action figures and acted out the scenes as accurately as we could remember. This was pre-internet and before most of us even had VHS, so we kept the movie alive as an oral tradition like “The Iliad.” I was about 10 and when I looked up at the night sky, I wanted to BE one of those action figures.
Back then, Halloween was a night of sheer madness, when parents turned their kids loose and trusted they would make their way home when they got tired. It was a time when the worst thing likely to happen to you was running into bigger kids who might pirate your haul. We were starting to hit the age when Halloween was the only valid excuse to dress up like your favorite character in public. You would even be rewarded with free candy! Any other day and the older kids would tease you mercilessly.
This was a year when my sister Marcia had fallen into the age gap between going out to collect candy and staying home to pass it out, so she decided to help me build a costume. She wanted to make something interesting, creative, crafty. I didn’t want to be one of the dozens of Han Solos or Luke Skywalkers swaggering around the neighborhood. At least two of my friends were planning to be Han Solo, so I would just have been the scrawny Solo in the back. I also wanted to be warm. Like my friends, I’d been a either hobo or a construction worker four years running, due mainly to the oddly Colorado phenomenon of the first snow of the year falling on Halloween night.
Marcia and I sat down to think of a costume. I had gotten a pack of “Star Wars” trading cards at some point, so we started by looking through those. As there were only about 10 cards in the pack and since I didn’t want to go as a tie-fighter or as Princess Leia, we settled on a Tusken Raider – the sand person. We had a good headshot on the card to go from, but to figure out the rest of the outfit, I borrowed an action figure from the kid next door. Picture and figure in hand, we gathered materials and went to work.
If you have little or no recollection of the creature that bonked Luke Skywalker on the head and tried to spear him early on in the movie, now is the time to scour the web for a shot of a Tusken Raider. They are basically robed desert-dwelling humanoids with goggles, a ventilator and strange steel horns poking out of mummy-like face wrappings.
We formed my ventilator by bending an aluminum pie plate to roughly fit over my mouth and a scrap of black cloth was glued-in for the screen. My goggles were two egg carton cups, spray-painted silver. More egg carton cups were wrapped onto my head with gauze. To complete the ensemble, I wore an old blanket draped over me poncho-style, and some dirty boots. I carried a broom handle to wave above my head at the appropriate time. I was all set.
Unfortunately, all the preparation was too much for my friends to bear. When the sun had finally dipped below the horizon, and the first flakes began to fall, they piled on the layers and were long-gone, already buzzing on the free-flowing sugar of the season. I stepped outside later, fully looking the part: a peripheral character that barely appeared in arguably the biggest blockbuster movie of all time. I was breathing a cocktail of paint and glue fumes through the pie plate ventilator. Looking at the world through the ends of two egg carton cups, I was in my own world.
It was out of the question that I should go out into the night alone, because the egg cartons didn’t allow for any peripheral vision and the fumes trapped inside the ventilator were affecting my fine motor skills. Even with the aid of my battle staff/walking cane, I still had to be led from door to door. Marcia walked me to several of her friends’ houses, and most of the houses in between.
Upon opening the door, unsuspecting homeowners were confronted by a lone figure that they did not recognize, waving a stick above its head, making a horrible grating noise, “Gluuurrrtlurrrrtlllrrrrr!” I aimed to be authentic. Truth be told, that’s about all that was left of my verbal ability anyway, after huffing paint fumes for a couple of blocks.
A few doors were slammed. But some, mostly those passing the goodies through security doors, merely took a step back and tentatively asked, “So, what are you supposed to be, little boy?” before tossing a piece of candy into my pillowcase. My singular response to all inquiries “Gluuurrrtlurrrrt!” wasn’t really enough information so Marcia would usually chime in that I was a Tusken Raider (a what?).
Some of my sister’s cooler friends had moments of sudden recollection and came closer to marvel at the realistic touches and the work that went into the costume. I felt like a star instead of an extra.
After walking a few more blocks and having my pie plate pop off a couple of times, I dragged my robe and stick home. I didn’t get as much candy as my friends that year. They came home with bags brimming, having walked miles and plundered neighborhoods far afield. I’d actually come home with something longer-lasting than those tiny boxes of raisins. I came home with the confidence to try things that were a little out of the ordinary.
That year, I learned that if you take a risk and you’re TOO different, you might not get as much candy. Since then though, I’ve learned that if you let your nerd flag fly, you’ll not only survive, but perhaps gain the respect of people who can relate. Your people are out there, this is how to find them. Everyone nerds-out on something, some more than others. It can be one of the classics like computer languages or sci-fi, but you can nerd out over movies or sports, cooking, coffee. Anything.
If you’ve ever caught yourself telling someone, “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for,” and waved your hand in a vain effort to change someone’s mind, you may be a nerd. The sooner you admit to yourself that you’re a nerd, the sooner you can breathe and just be who you are. Maybe try not to yell, “Urrrrgluuurrrtlurrrrtlllrrrrr!” and instead whisper, “May the Fourth be with you.”