Tete-a-tete Archives

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Tete-a-tete: The geek gene runs strong in our family

Teenagers say the most mind-boggling things sometimes. Younger Sister, who is now 16, and Youngest Brother, now 17, often amaze me with their tendency to view themselves outside of the family context. They seem to take it for granted that their interests are unique unto them and have no precedence whatsoever within our family.

For example, when we were visiting our grandfather a few weeks ago, I took Youngest Brother to a comic book and gaming store I found tucked away in the downtown. Youngest Brother and his friends are big into Magic: The Gathering, a strategic fantasy game played using special cards, and I saw that the store mostly sold cards and decks for this game.

Youngest Brother spent a happy half-hour or so going through cards in the dark and dusty store and chatting with the owner. As we left, he thanked me for bringing it to his attention.

“I appreciate you coming with me,” he said, “especially since I know it’s not really your kind of place.”

Dear, sweet Youngest Brother. Where do you think you get your affinity for geeky pastimes?

Oldest Younger Brother and I developed a love for comic books – and a tendency to embrace what were once likewise considered geeky activities, like video games and anime (Japanese animation) – at very tender ages. This is due in no small part to the fact that comic books were a huge part of Dad’s own childhood.

Dad grew up in a coal mining town in Pennsylvania where the rats in some of the abandoned mines were getting a little out of control. To encourage the residents to remedy this issue, a five-cent bounty was offered for every rat tail brought down to City Hall. Dad and his friends would shoot the rats with their BB guns, bring the tails to City Hall to collect the bounty and then spend that money on comic books and candy.

Thanks to Dad’s crack shooting skills, Oldest Younger Brother and I grew up reading a lot of these comics. Amongst the expected superhero comics were titles that really appealed to me, like Richie Rich, Archie, and old “Mad” comic books and magazines. Since most of these comics were from the 1960s and ‘70s, Oldest Younger Brother and I were the only kids in our elementary school who knew what a “happening” was.

Both of us eventually expanded into our own areas of interest. Oldest Younger Brother voraciously read the various X-Men and Disney series (all of which I regularly borrowed), and I loaded up on “Animaniacs” (based on the cartoon show of the same name) and New Kids on the Block. That’s right – the popular boy band from the 1980s and ‘90s had its own comic book series, and it was awesome.

I also discovered the newly reissued EC Comics, including “Tales from the Crypt,” “The Haunt of Fear,” “The Vault of Horror” and “Weird Science.” Episodes of “The Twilight Zone” were just being released on videotape at that time, and I loved how the stories in the different series under EC Comics embraced that same ironic and thought-provoking reversal of audience expectations.

As you may imagine, Dad, Oldest Younger Brother and I are all quite comfortable in comic and gaming stores, even the dustiest and most dimly-lit ones. Over the years, I’ve spent many happy hours in these flea market-esque environments, combing boxes and bins for issues I didn’t have, pondering the purchase of collectible figurines and admiring the artwork and sparkly dice that accompanied the various card and tabletop games.

Unlike Youngest Brother, I’ve never developed a long-term interest in gaming. I played video games growing up – I still think that the Moon Theme from the “DuckTales” game for Nintendo is one of the greatest songs ever written – as well as computer games like “Myst” and “The 7th Guest,” but my enthusiasm for comics and, eventually, manga (Japanese comics) and anime proved stronger. That may explain why Youngest Brother’s interest in video, computer and card gaming is so strong: he ended up with my share.

Sometimes you do things for a family member because you love them, like taking your daughter shopping for a prom dress when you have no idea what the difference is between a drop waist and an empire waist or going to a football game with your brother when your favorite thing about the sport is being able to stand up and yell for a bag of peanuts.

Other times, you do things with a family member because you both enjoy doing them. I was pleased as punch to dig through the back issues while Youngest Brother hunted for cards for his Commander deck.

So teenagers, before you start believing you’re all alone in your interests, talk to your family – there’s a good chance you inherited those interests from someone. Then you can bond over shared excursions, information and experiences. They might even help you find some cool stuff you didn’t even know existed, like a small comic book and gaming store in a corner of the downtown.

– Teresa Santoski

Originally published May 7, 2015

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