I think the best way to start would be right from the beginning. The earliest that I can recall my “geek-roots” actually taking place would have to be when I was about 2 and ½ to 3 years old. While I didn't really understand what was going on in many of the cartoons I saw on TV at the time, I remembered absolutely loving the Thundercats theme. I didn't even have many memories of the show itself then, but the theme song always stuck with me, and eventually led me to give it another try when I was old enough to understand it. My other favorite cartoon was The Real Ghostbusters. I used to go absolutely nuts when seeing this come on TV every week (and again, loved that catchy theme song!), and wanted to get my own proton pack and costume (which I ended up actually doing not long after!). I didn't watch much of the original Transformers cartoon, but definitely loved the idea of the toys. I already had a love for mini-cars like Hot Wheels, so seeing vehicles like that actually transform into fighting robots was a shoo-in for me, as I’m sure it was for millions of others. There was also Peter Pan and the Pirates, a cartoon branching off the novel/movies that made me fall in love with the concept of real pirates and manning a ship with a crew to foreign lands. Finally, I can also remember wanting to re-watch the final scene from the movie Fantasia, “Night on Bald Mountain,” as I thought that entire scene with Chernabog and the ghosts was absolutely magnificent (and still enjoy it and its music today). My other interests were pretty average for a young boy; plastic army men and mini G.I. Joe figures were all the rage, as was running around outside and throwing footballs, basketballs, and baseballs around, even if I rarely caught them. I believe I also had a few Spider-Man, Superman, and Batman figures around. Those years weren't all about toys and cartoons however…
My cousin (who is about one year older than me) had obtained a Nintendo (NES 8-Bit) console with a bunch of games. The first one I played was the classic “Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt” cartridge. Right then and there, I couldn't believe what I was seeing. Being able to move something you saw on TV with a controller? It was the greatest thing I had ever seen. It didn't matter that the plot line for Mario made no sense (not like I had realized at the time), or that the aiming was off in Duck Hunt. This was an absolute marvel to behold. I think I learned large amounts of concentration simply from trying to master games like these. My cousin eventually got other games that I also tried my luck at, including The Legend of Zelda (loved that shiny gold cartridge), Mega Man VI, Super Mario Bros. 3, Little Nemo: Dream Master, The Bugs Bunny Birthday Blow Out, The Adams Family, and plenty more.
The 90’s seemed to poke its head out pretty quickly and effectively for me, especially around 92-94. Through those years, we saw the rise of some big TV shows for kids, and the rise of newer game systems like the Sega Genesis and the Super Nintendo (Sega Genesis actually came out in 1989, but didn't pick up quite so heavily in the US until around 1992 or so). There were many shows and games that caught my interest at the time. The biggest of all for me was the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers. Everything about the show was perfect to me. You had people in (what I thought at the time were) awesome costumes, martial arts fight scenes (even if they were kind of poorly done looking back), toe-tapping music thanks to Ron Wasserman’s awesome/cheesy soundtrack, and more or less the perfect market for more toys and such. Speaking of the music; it didn’t really hit me until recently, but looking back on things, my interest in the heavy metal genre of music probably originates from loving the music I used to hear in Power Rangers. I used to try recording the songs with my tape recorder, but found little success with the sounds of the fighting in the show overpowering it. I can attribute many other interests of mine all the way back to this series too. For starters, I am now a huge fan of many different types of martial arts thanks to the impact this show originally had on me. I used to literally dream of being a ranger myself, and learning actual karate seemed like the best way to start. Since the show was made in the 90’s, the writers always tried to make sure kids understood the values of self-defense over using your “powers” for evil. It was a cheap way to appease the parents at the time, but I admit, it had a real impact on me. I still believe that true heroes use their gifts to help others, and never for their own personal gain (great power, great responsibility, yada yada). Its cliché and cheesy, but it’s always been a part of who I am, and continues to be even today.
Some more great shows came from that same decade, with everything from the Batman, Spider-Man, and X-Men cartoons, all the way to comedy shows like Bobby’s World, Eek! The Cat, and even that ridiculous Attack of the Killer Tomatoes series (up until season 2…). Right before all of those was the rise of the Sonic the Hedgehog Saturday morning cartoon (known as SatAM by the fans, in order to distinguish it from the other Sonic cartoons made around that time). This paved the way for Saturday morning cartoons with me, alongside Spider-Man and Reboot. I gave everything else a try, but these were the shows that stuck with me the most that I can recall. There were some others I got into a bit later in the game like The Mighty Ducks series, Samurai Pizza Cats, Mega Man, and all the other Power Rangers spin-offs like Masked Rider, VR Troopers, Beetleborgs, and even Superhuman Samurai Syber Squad (for those who can remember far back enough). And to think, this was all before I got obsessed with everything Star Wars…
On top of all of the awesome, now flooding the TV, the Sega Genesis had become all the rage. My sister and I had to form a plan on how we’d get this one, as well as a basketball hoop which we wanted for some time. I don’t quite remember everything we did, but I do remember it involving a lot of chores. I also remember it taking forever (or at least feeling like forever!) to finally succeed. We didn't dare bother with Super Nintendo after that (a shame, since I’d later find out how amazing that system was too years later). Other than trying out a bunch of games from my local library like Power Rangers (of course!), NBA Jam, Street Fighter II, and more, there were some of the obvious games like the original Sonic series, Virtua Racing, Spider-Man, Earthworm Jim, Aladdin, etc. Honestly, I could populate this list forever, but I’ll keep going instead, as there are much more interesting topics to cover.
This one is a bit complicated… Everything generally started out fine for me when I started pre-school and kindergarten. First grade was even fine. I was afraid of teachers and authoritative figures, but I think that’s just the effect that Catholic School can have on you. In second grade, my eye doctor decided it would be best for me to get glasses. I didn't think much of it at the time, and neither did any of my classmates thankfully. Third grade passed and everything seemed to still be in the clear. While I wasn't particularly close friends with many of the people I went to school with, we still all got along just fine, and I was okay with that at the time. I didn't really have many close friends around that time thinking back. I thought I could consider everyone I went to school with to be close friends, but after fourth grade, I started to see this was not the case… Kids are cruel. The boys in my class started to notice I was shorter and weaker than most of them were, and I tended to cry a little easier than they did, making things fare even worse. To top it all off, they figured out that the first half of my last name can also mean ‘penis.’ From that point on, I was pretty much doomed. I was the butt of every joke you could imagine. All I wanted to do was make friends, but it was impossible by that point. Nobody wanted to be friends with the kid who sucked at sports, had genitalia in his last name, and cried whenever he got picked on or bullied. And I was bullied, a lot…
I used to think that I wasn't a music fan at all because all of the music the kids around me listened to was simply horrible to me. I didn't care for much of any pop music and all of the guys were mostly into mainstream rap. I didn't know what any of them saw in that kind of sound, and just wanted to dismiss music altogether because of it. It was also yet another factor that made me feel separated from everyone else. I was horrible at sports, shorter and weaker than the rest, hated the music they liked, and made to feel like I was a freak for liking the things I did. I seriously thought something was wrong with me, and that I was some kind of failure even before the rest of my life began. I used to cry at home all the time when I was in middle school because I’d dread going to back to school and seeing them every day. It was like a horrible mind game, trying to decide if I hated the teachers or the students more.
Now I don’t want everyone thinking it was all doom and gloom here, and I don’t want to come off like I’m looking for pity about this or anything of the sort. This stuff happens to thousands, if not millions of kids every day. I was just another one of those kids with no friends, so what I’m about to say may sound a little sad, but I looked to other things for entertainment since I was certain I was never going to have any real friends. This happened to be around the time the first Sony Playstation came out. We had now seen a jump in graphical capabilities from Nintendo’s 8-bits, to Sega Genesis’s 16-bits, and now Sony Playstation’s 32-bits. The Nintendo 64 was also right around the corner with you guessed it, 64-bits of graphical power. My cousin always seemed to have the Nintendo platforms covered, so I went with Playstation myself, and I’m glad I did. Final Fantasy VII was a huge deal for me. It pretty much made me an RPG fan then and there, and encouraged me to see what other games of its type came out over the last 9 years or so.
In the summers, even though I used to love swimming (to the point where I became a lifeguard at 15), all I usually wanted to do was go back home and play games instead. I remember Pokemon Red and Blue being another serious use of my time there. I was awesome/lame enough to actually go and capture all 150 of the original monsters in the game, and even got the mysterious #151 with the help of my friend’s cheat device. I also loved the anime quite a bit, despite the main character in the show being kind of screw up (I still feel that he is even now). Of course, Pokemon was “un-cool” for anyone my age (I think I was a whopping 10 years old), so I dared not even tell anyone at school that I liked it. I didn't understand why it was so hated by everyone around me once again, as the main character was even our age, and the concept just screamed fun, albeit keeping in tabs with Japan’s level of weird factor.
By around 7th grade or so, I started to change my tune and in a bad way. I decided that no matter what, I’d try to make friends, even if it was with the same jerks I hated so much. I tried looking forward and forgetting about all the things I once loved like Pokemon and Power Rangers, trying to go along with everyone else’s opinion that those things were babies and losers. I tried giving into the things they were into like sports and even some of their music. I literally just forced these things on to myself in an attempt to be more like the crowd. It not only didn’t help, but just got me laughed at even more.
I finally started taking tae kwon do lessons after wanting to learn real karate for 6 years prior. It didn't stop the bullying (as I never used my skills to hurt others, like I stated above), but it brought me confidence and I absolutely loved it. My teachers loved me as well. I went on to be part of their demo team, and got to practice with nun-chucks and bo staffs. I even remember one moment I was really proud of. My teacher was having us run up a matted wall to jump kick back and hit an x-ray paper from his hand (and he was standing on top of a ladder!). I managed to not only do this, but even hit the paper out of his hand. The people watching were absolutely shocked, and I admit, so was I a little bit. Let’s get one thing straight; my teacher was a power house and could have easily destroyed me, so having a little moment like that was beyond priceless.
Somehow, by some miracle, I survived middle school, and lived to take on high school. While significantly better than middle school, it still wasn't what I’d call “great” by any means. The majority of the kids there were still jerks, but there were at least a few exceptions to make it seem less overbearing than the previous years. My reputation pretty much dwindled the exact same way; people would meet me and think I was nice at first, then learn my last name, and immediately revert to laughing at me and never taking me seriously again.
I also learned about more of the social niche’s you usually encounter in places like this, and found myself taking to the “punk rock” style of things. Groups like Black Flag, Minor Threat, The Clash, The Misfits, The Dead Kennedys, and the Bouncing Souls became the centerpiece of my listening habits. This was a big deal to me, because it was one of those moments that helped me open up to other types of music, and even get accustomed to going to local shows to see other bands. This made me want to learn drums and guitar almost desperately, so I could get out there and feel like I was making something of myself, like the people on stage. It didn't really happen, but I at least gained basic knowledge of the instruments, to the point where I felt like I had also gained something inside. I tried to hide the fact that I was into “geek stuff” for the most part, because those things simply weren't “cool.” I almost tried to deny it with myself so that I would think I was cooler than I was.
By around junior year, I finally stopped trying to hide what I knew to be true inside. I still loved all that same “geek stuff” that I used to. I decided that I didn’t care what people thought about me anymore, and started going back to the old life. Anime became a huge part of those last two years for me, thanks to my cable network finally picking up Cartoon Network, and allowing me to catch up on anime that I was always told to be awesome, but never got the chance to see. Everything from Dragon Ball Z, to Gundam, to Cowboy Bebop, and back again was all there for viewing. I also started to learn about all of the strange edits that these shows would get when they were aired in America; changes to the script, some cheesy voice acting, deletion of episodes, deletion of any violence or perverted nature, etc. I think one of the first anime titles I set out to see in its original Japanese version on my own was Yu-Gi-Oh! Even though the series was put out on Kids WB and targeted to young kids, I thought the artwork seemed surprisingly Gothic for something presented this way. In my research, I found out that not only was the show heavily edited in America, with a script almost completely different, but that there was an entire season (dubbed “Season 0”) that was never even shown in America due to 4Kids (the company that held the rights for the American version of Yu-Gi-Oh! up until recently) making the decision that it was “too scary” for younger audiences.
Setting out to find an unedited version of this series was made much easier when I discovered that its manga (the Japanese comic strip that the anime was based off of) was released in the states with very little edits (minus some small tweaks that didn’t affect the overall plot lines). I was able to see the bulk of what was deemed inappropriate, and gained a much larger appreciated for manga as a whole. Shonen Jump and its content (a manga magazine showing off all of the top shonen (teenage boy) titles) took over most of my reading habits by then. I got into series like Naruto, Bleach, Death Note, and my all-time favorite, One Piece as a result of this. I wasn't into as many games at the time, though I remember a lot of PS2, Gamecube, and eventually Xbox titles being very stand out-ish for me.
By senior year of high school, the impossible happened. I got a girlfriend for the first time in my life. And on top of that, she was a big fan of anime and Japanese culture too, so everyone thought we made a great pair. I would have thought that having a girlfriend might have helped others stop picking on me all the time, but it seemed I was wrong. The girls at school were all very nice and friendly to me at least. I always seemed to get along better with girls than guys at the time; in fact I’d say that still holds true even now.
Getting a car and license the summer of my junior year of high school, only made things even better. I was starting to feel more like an adult and was generally just enjoying life for the first time in a long time. Everyone around me was still terrible for the most part, but it didn't seem quite as bad once I started to notice the few great people out there.
Just starting to finish with high school, I remember discovering the channel Tech TV. This channel inspired me to get into more aspects of technology itself; programming, security, debugging, some basic hacking skills, etc. I learned quite a bit and even dreamed that I’d be able to have some kind of job in programming or software development someday. This would kind of come to bite me in the face when I tried pursuing it in college…
I remember quite a bit of things happening the summer before I started my first college semester. I started getting into comic books outside of manga for the first time, like the original Amazing Spider-Man issues, Ultimate Spider-Man, Batman graphic novels like Chronicles (reprinting of the first issues), Year One, and Dark Knight Returns, Sin City, and others. I started to realize how many excellent comics have come out of the US, France, Europe, and more that I had been missing out on, and wanted to make up for that as much as I could.
I also returned to the Power Ranger universe when I looked more into the fact that it was all based off the Japanese series known as “Super Sentai.” I found out that Japan calls these types of shows tokusatsu; basically meaning “live-action special effects series.” Mighty Morphin’ Power Rangers came from Kyōryū Sentai Zyuranger, Masked Rider came from Kamen Rider Black RX, Beetleborgs from B-Fighter and B-Fighter Kabuto, Super Human Samurai Syber-Squad from Denkou Chojin Gridman, etc. Not all of these shows were easy to track down (as some have been given fan translations, while others have not), but were more than worth finding just to compare. Ultraman was another classic all its own, as it inspired quite a bit of the other tokusatsu and kaiju (giant monster) projects we received over the years. People don’t realize how it’s like watching entirely different shows when you see the real thing. I was even more surprised to discover that Super Sentai first began back in 1975 with Himitsu Sentai Goranger. Themes like the spandex suits and notions like the red ranger always being the leader of the group became tradition, as were the explosions, the flying colors, the poses, and eventually, the giant robots too. These shows in particular felt more like an anime come to life, which to me was a great thing. I also discovered my favorite series of all time, Garo, throughout all this research on what was out there.
Garo (also known as Golden Knight Garo) revolves around Kouga Saezima, the “Golden Makai Knight of the East.” With his crazy-looking sword, he hunts down creatures in the night known as “Horrors,” with his companion Zaruba, a talking ring (seriously, how awesome is that!?). In his pursuit, he encounters a young girl named Kaoru, trying to make money in the art field. Kouga manages to protect her from a Horror attack, but not before the Horror’s blood stains her. It is said that anyone stained in a Horror’s blood will die painfully in 100 days unless they are cut down before then. Instead of executing her, Kouga decides to keep her alive and search for a way of purifying her, while continuing his quest to end the threat of the Horrors once and for all. Things really pick up once Kouga begins to encounter other Makai Knights as well. Unlike other tokusatsu shows of its type, Garo was different because it was created specifically for the “adult” audience, while the other shows like Kamen Rider and Super Sentai were geared more toward the younger groups. This show combined a lot of the best elements of titles like Vampire Hunter D, Bleach, and other anime series that I loved. To top it all off, the fight scenes were actually very well done; almost as good as a lot of the Hong Kong martial arts films out there. I figured I’d stop having time for stuff like that and One Piece when I started college, so I tried to cram it all in that summer.
I started college assuming I’d be considered an outcast again, just like all the other times. I was absolutely shocked. Not only did I meet people that were generally nice and welcoming right off the bat, but for the first time in my life, I finally found people I could honestly call my friends. Some were geeks like me, others not so much, but it didn't matter; they were all special to me, and I’m still grateful for every last one of them. It was like I finally had friends I could go to, with all of my different random interests. And even better, they ALL respected me for who I was. They didn't judge. In fact, some of the girls there even found this to be an attractive quality. That NEVER happened to me before! I’ll give some quick examples: My (new) friend and I were watching episodes of Ultraman Hayata (the first series) in one of the lounge areas, while trying to re-enact all of the fight scenes as they were happening onscreen. Two girls that we happened to know from our classes came over to see what we were doing. After looking at it for themselves, they actually enjoyed it quite a bit and started talking with us more whenever we saw them. On another occasion, I was sitting in the same lounge area with my PSP. Two girls I know came over, and both of them literally proceeded to rest their heads on each of my shoulders and watch me play. Seriously, the impossible had occurred and hell had officially frozen over. I was in heaven, or so I thought…
It turned out that computer science was not so easy of a degree to obtain as I thought/hoped it was going to be. My Intro to Computer Science professor had a degree in nuclear physics, and my Pre-Calculus professor pulled no punches. This major wasn't going to work, and I needed to think fast if I was going to stay on top of things. I ended up changing my major to Management Info Systems, which ended up being much more… manageable. I had a much easier time learning Java programming, I had more time to study math with, and got to try all sorts of other interesting subjects that I had never thought of trying before (like Business Law, The Art Of Film, Music History, etc.). These classes got me even more interested in other hobbies I had never considered. I gained a new appreciation for classical music, Gregorian chant, jazz, and eventually post industrial and other styles (including rap, once I discovered there was great rap outside of the mainstream). I also learned about the differences between vinyl record, CD, and MP3 sound quality, where I found myself preferring the vinyl sound for most styles. For film, I learned all about famous directing and camera techniques, as well as how to catch things that filmmakers like to throw in to films, just to see if you’re paying attention. Programming was as fascinating as I hoped it would be, with Java, C++, and C# paving the way. Honestly, the world just seemed a whole lot bigger to me; and I loved every second of it.
I had also landed a job with GameStop, which I kept for four years before moving on to the job I took and still have at the time of writing this blog. While I can’t say it was the greatest job in the world, it taught me quite a bit about the retail industry, how corporate decisions can truly affect everyone that works under them, and how even the most horrifying customers can be made tolerant with the help of a good work force. I loved my work group and still visit them when I can.
There’s not too much else to say at this point. With my bachelor’s degree and current job, I still try to move up and learn as much as I can about the world and its many features. I continue to play video games/watch movies and shows at night, use my breaks at work to read whatever I feel like (whether it be sci-fi, fantasy, business, graphic novel, or anything else), and still try to make time for the things I like and the friends I love. What people always need to remember is that nothing is impossible. Everyone can find ways to do the things they want to do in life, and still succeed in all the areas required to living a full and successful lifestyle. It’s all about time management and confidence in yourself. I fell down sometimes, but I always got back up again; sometimes by myself, and sometimes with others by my side. Having people that appreciate and support me: that’s something we all need in our lives. I wouldn't trade it for anything in the world. Thank you for reading this, and if you’d be so kind, I’d love to hear your stories as well, geeky or not. Take care, everyone.