America the bootyful
Not so long ago in some context or another I casually remarked that NESFA (the New England Science Fiction Association) was populated by obese unemployed programmers. It was a cruel thing to say, all the more so because the members are friends of mine of long standing (and even longer sitting.) Still, there is much truth in it.
In these situations it is traditional to blame the victim; to assert that the unfortunate are to blame individually and collectively for their misfortunes. This would not be fair. In its own way NESFA is a microcosm of America; changes over the decades in the greater culture are reflected in their small corner. I first met many of my NESFA friends back in the 60’s. Of course they were much younger then. I wasn’t; I’ve been much the same age for decades. (There is no explanation for this. I may be wrong about my years; it is hard to gauge what the years have done to you when you can’t see yourself in a mirror.)
They were geeks. (Whether the right term is “geek” or “nerd” is something I leave to the arbiters of culture.) That goes without saying; there are more pregnant virgins than there are SF fans who aren’t geeks. As it happened, the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s were kind to geeks, at least the more intelligent sort of geek. Said decades were the era of the rise of the machines (not to be confused with movies made by a then future governor of California), said machines being generation after generation of computers, and the ever larger masses of software that drove them.
In ye olden days machines were the tools of mankind. In time they became the engines of satanic mills that spilled soot and pollution over once verdant swards. (South Dakota is the land of the amber sward.) Computers introduced something new, dark, and perverted. Machines of old could kill you; they could enslave you; they could even help you rectify international borders. With computers, however, you could have a relationship.
Some people are social; some people are anti-social. Geeks, however, are xeno-social. That is to say, they have an alien sort of sociality. They were just the sort of people to deal with computers; they had the right sort of mentality to have relationships with computers.
Computers are the genies of our age. Servicing and mastering these genies had provided employment for an ever increasing tribe of lamp rubbers. (Has no one ever written an essay on the sexual symbolism of rubbing the genie’s lamp? Then there are lamp rubbers, but let’s not go there.) Some programmed the machines, some built the damn things, and some did things with them that had best not be described, this being a family website and all that.
Once upon a time, back in the middle of the last century, there was a crisis. Americans were buying appliances in record numbers. Appliances being machines, they naturally broke down from time to time. Americans then being a frugal sort, quite unlike their modern children, they natually repaired their broken appliances or, if not so handy, called the local appliance repairman. It was a simple equation; more appliances meant more appliances breaking down, and, in turn, more repairmen needed. It quickly became apparent that there simply weren’t going to be enough repairmen to fix all of those broken appliances. Thus the great shortage of appliance repairmen crisis.
Do you remember the great crisis? Of course you don’t; you weren’t born then. Even if had been around then you wouldn’t have noticed because it never happened. People stopped fixing broken appliances and industry stopped making appliances that could be fixed.
There is a lesson here. Appliance repairmen were the indispensible technicians of their day. Indispensible technicians do very well as long as there aren’t too many of them. When there are too many, society finds a way to dispense with them. Thus it is with computer people. You can’t dispense with them entirely – the genie is too useful – but you can replace the local high-priced breed with a cheaper overseas breed. So it has been for the past decade. The sad thing is that indispensible technicians seldom realize that their good fortune is likely to be a transient thing.
So that accounts for the prevalence of the unemployed among my NESFA friends. What about the obesity? I have often remarked (twice, actually, once in 1968 and once in 1973) that SF fandom leads society. Thus fans were living in communes before the decade of love and herpes. Similarly they experimented with serious obesity well in advance of the general swelling (swilling?). The reasons for this precocity do not matter; I can make some up if you insist, but it would be better (particularly for me) if you were to make up your own.
The long and short of it (to say nothing of the large and extra large) is that they (the plumpish NESFANS) are children of their culture; we live in a society that profiteers in the vending of calorie laden glop. They say that obesity is second only to smoking as a public health problem. It has been almost forty years since the surgeon general made his famous report on the perils of tobacco. Seemingly forty years is not long enough to extinguish a vice, let alone cigarettes. Given that, I anticipate that the national waistline will be expanding for a long time to come.
Denny’s Does Dallas
A little while back Our Lady of the Large Black Dog, her sister, her sister’s leman, and I were in Dallas, celebrating the fortunes and misfortunes of said sister’s sons, who wrestle steers to the ground in ridiculously short periods of time. In short, we were rodeoing.
Rodeo events run well into the evening. Once they are over and one has escaped from the parking lots surrounding the arena one is faced with the proposition of finding a place to eat. For some reason Dallas, at least that part of Dallas that we were in, is short of places to eat late in the evening.
In our first evening’s search for food we drove around looking for a place to eat. We ended up at Hooters. We hoped for better so we drove around some more. We ended up at Hooters again. Seemingly Hooters had a giant magnet that pulled us into its orbit. We gave into destiny and ate at Hooters. I can recommend Hooters to those who are indifferent to the quality of the food and service, but who are interested in those features for which Hooters is famed.
Having failed to find fine dining the first night, we gave up and went to a local Denny’s the next night (I’m sure Denny’s is trademarked; find a TM somewhere and stick it here.) I had offered to the company my opinion that Denny’s was bottom tier as far as family restaurants were concerned. Said opinion was greeted with all of the enthusiasm and respect that my opinions usually meet. Still, I was not prepared for what happened next.
We entered. We were seated. After a bit of time, a tall, dark man appeared at our table. (Actually, he was African-American.) I suspect that he was disgruntled with the dishwashers, because he apologized for not having inspected our coffee cups for lipstick. He said that he usually did, but that he had been rushed and hadn’t had time to check.
We were impressed. It is not just in the ordinary way of things that waiters apologize in advance for possible lipstick stains (and Ghu knows what else) on the crockery. Few restaurants advertise their sanitation in just this manner.
It was obvious what had to be done, so I did it. I borrowed a lipstick from one of the ladies and drew a happy face on my coffee cup. I then complained to our tall, dark friend that my coffee cup had lipstick on it, and held it up for all to see. He snorted. I hope I made his day. You have to do something for people fated to live in Dallas.
This page was last updated March 1, 2004.