Nerdy Triumph for a High School Introvert

I have some pretty terrible self-awareness. At least, I used to. Not only can I be overly self-conscious, but I am super adept at convincing myself of things that are simply not true — about myself. It wasn’t until I was 23 that I finally understood my body shape. I had been buying jeans 3 sizes too big, shoes 2 sizes too big, and pants that ran “long.” I’m 5’3. But I fully believed those were my sizes. To be fair, I did grow up in the ’90s…. still…

It’s also taken me this long to finally understand what it means to be an introvert. I always wondered why, even though I loved being in a large group of good friends, I always had to slip away, find my own quiet hiding spot. It’s why really loud, energetic people who aim their energy at me really piss me off.

But being introverted was a huge issue all through my education – I just didn’t know it. No one seemed to understand why it was so hard for me to participate in class, why group projects and sitting in a circle caused me to “white-out,” a term I use when I’ve been unexpectedly presented with a draining activity without any chance to prepare. It’s like my brain shuts down everything, diverting all power to getting me through the situation. Because of all this, in high school I was usually described as quiet, weird, snobby, and smart. I guess they weren’t wrong, though I wouldn’t call myself snobby so much as elitist, but minor semantics.

Being introverted and anxious meant I spent a lot of time dwelling over “embarrassing” moments that in reality, most of my classmates probably forgot about 6 minutes later. Like the time in 6th grade I couldn’t pronounce “Knickerbockers.” Or in 7th grade when a homework assignment for English class included guessing a football game score, and I said “2-3.” Or when I cried in front of the class in 1st grade. And 3rd grade. And 5th. And 9th. And freshmen year in college. And my first semester in grad school. And my last semester in grad school.

But it’s also why I remember the little triumphs so well – again, something everyone else most likely forgot in minutes.

It was junior year health class. Yes, health class. It was taught by the football coach, who was a nice enough guy as far as I knew. Gym teachers and coaches were hit or miss with me, but Coach Richards never pushed me too hard or made me feel stupid, so I had no qualms.

This particular day in class was right before a break, because Coach R decided against teaching any new material in favor of a game day. We must have been divided into teams, and the winning team would get bonus points on their test or …. something, I don’t remember. But he was asking trivia questions, going up and down the rows. This was good, since it meant I’d only have to answer 1 or 2 questions at most. It was bad because for those 1 or 2 questions, I’d be put on the spot.

Because he was the football coach, a majority of the questions revolved around sports, of which I knew nothing.  Great. He got to me, and asked a general pop culture question, which I answered correctly, but without much fanfare. He made his way through the room again. I prayed that class would end before he got back to me. It was getting close. My heart was racing, my stomach in knots. Please not another question.

“Miss Pugh,” Coach R started. Damn. He looked at his note cards which contained the trivia questions, and his big eyes got bigger. “Ooooh,” he said, wincing. WINCING. “This is a tough one.” The class, or those on my team, groaned loudly. I sat perfectly still.  He started.

“What movie — ”

A movie question. At least if I got a sports question, there’d be no expectations. Now if I get a movie question wrong, I’m humiliated because I don’t know the answer to what I actually care about.

“What movie is tied with Titanic for the most Emmy wins?”

Wait. Really? I took a moment to process the question in my head. I heard the class groan again, but I knew. Ignoring the fact that Coach R didn’t know the difference between the Emmys and the Oscars, I quietly answered.

“Ben-Hur.”

I could actually hear the confusion from my classmates, like I had just made up words. Coach R, a look of complete shock on his face, nodded. “Yes. Well done.” The class erupted into cheers.

For that moment, I felt vindicated. Like all the time I spent with my dad, Mr. IMDb himself, watching documentaries and awards shows and countdown series paid off. I DID know stuff. Maybe not sports or cool bands, but so what.

It’s hard to be super-obsessed with things that aren’t necessarily popular. Geek is chic at the moment, but it wasn’t always. Even now, at my current job, I get “NERD ALERT”-ed for openly loving theater and old TV and Disney.

And it still stings. But I don’t cry over it anymore.

 

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How Many Oxen Does One Really Need?

With the release of that gorgeous library of MS-DOS games brought to you by the Internet Archive, how could I not jump on writing about that greatest day in Computer Class –   Oregon Trail Day?

Unlike almost every other game in school, I loved computer games, not because I was necessarily good at them, but because they suited my introverted self. Unlike gym class, because gym class was about sports. I didn’t care about sports; I didn’t know any of the rules. My father wasn’t particularly athletic and my mom hated sports after growing up with four competitive brothers, so gym class was utter torture for me. Not because of physical activity required, despite popular belief, but because I had no fucking clue what these games where, even though everybody else seemed to be born with that knowledge. Usually I was so worried about not doing the right thing, I would panic and freeze. It was publicly humiliating. So as I got older, I developed the “Daria Defense:” I just acted like I didn’t care. It was easier to handle than admitting in front of 30 of my peers that I didn’t know how to hold a bat, or throw a football, or catch… anything.

Computer class was a glorious reprieve from classroom anxiety. If I didn’t understand something, I was free to fail and try again without anyone being the wiser. I could take my time studying the screen, experimenting with keys, maybe slyly observing my neighbors and learning from them. Playing Oregon Trail was amazing because I could play it on my own.

Elementary-level computer classes were interesting in the early 90s. When I was very young, the Catholic school I attended had several computers crammed into what looked like a custodial closet with a window. We were two or three to a computer, taking turns with the different typing programs.

When I started public school, the computer room was a bit more established. There was typically a computer for each student. While most classes were full of typing (which I loved and was very good at), occasionally we would play games.

Oregon Trail day was the best day in computer class. When the teacher gave us the go-ahead, the whole room would buzz with excitement. “Are you gonna be a banker?” “Duh. Bankers are rich!” “I’m naming one of my people after you!” “Why do we need so many ox?”

When the energy came down to a dull hum, everyone was deep into the trail. I always liked the rivers, for some reason. Holding my breath, waiting to see if my little wagon would make it across… oh, the drama. Though, I did get a little disheartened when I named my people after my family, and then they died.

I also remember a game similar to Oregon Trail, but more complex and it took place in the Australian Outback. You could look for food, and determine whether fruit was safe or poisonous… but I have no idea what it was called… Outback Trail…? I don’t know.

For me, the funny thing about The Oregon Trail being available now is that… it’s kind of boring. And that’s a rare reaction for me. I usually live in nostalgia. But I guess I just didn’t have that strong of a connection to this specific game. Now, Sega games like Sonic 2, Castle of Illusions, or Aladdin? Those I’ll play for days.

Still, it’s great to have access to The Oregon Trail now, even if I only have a mild emotional attachment. I mean, where else would I have learned about dysentery? Oh, wait! Mrs. Doubtfire! …. Huh.