The Geek is In

The trials and tribulations of being the in-house geek

By Sarah Wolf
March 01, 2005

I work at a relatively small newspaper in the middle of New Mexico, just to give you a sense of the isolation. We have cable television and People and DSL, but look around at the pickups and black leather jackets and it may as well still be 1986 out there.

My job description is that of low-level design grunt, someone who assembles the night life calendar every week and paginates the Wheels section. Small potatoes, but I’m happy there. In the last year, though, I’ve moved into the unofficial role of in-house geek. As far as the Features desk is concerned, my geekspertise straddles pop culture, theoretical automotive issues and computer questions. How d’ya get rid of that pesky pop-under ad? Ask Sarah. What are the cult television programs right now? Ask Sarah. What’s it mean when my car makes a squishy sound when I step on the brakes? Ask Sarah. Who’d win in a fight, a Wookiee or a Vulcan?

I’ve tried to educated the desk of forty- and fiftysomethings in my ways. I’ve introduced them to Television Without Pity and the Internet Movie Database. I explained why there can be both an Anakin Skywalker and an Anakin Solo, why Buffy the series was worth while, and why William Shatner’s having the Best. Year. Ever.

I’ve even gone so far as to give them a quick hit definition of leet (“It’s substituting letters with numbers, both to speed up response times in chat rooms and to annoy the piss out of parents and teachers”).

Still, for all my attempts at mainstreaming them, they can shock the hell out of me.

Take this last week. I wrote a little Oscar round-up. No biggy; I knock these funky trends pieces off for them all the time. It was a hunky-dory editing experience until the fifth paragraph, where I included a spoiler warning.

“What’s a spoiler warning?” my editor asked. “What’s a spoiler?”

I tried to explain the idea of a spoiler, how it ruins an important, hidden plot point important to a movie’s turn of events. I talked about Michael Medved’s shameless reveal of Million Dollar Baby spoilers without warning. I mentioned internet etiquette of blacked out spoiler tags and warnings under the threat of eternal damnation.

“So, you mean, a spoiler ruins the movie? Why don’t you call them a ruiner?”

Another example was their discovery of Red Bull. Red Bull, people. One of the reporters (who hadn’t heard of Red Bull until last Tuesday), was postulating the “kids” only drink it for its sugar content, caffeine color. “It’s like when they drink those blue sodas just because they’re blue.”

It went right over my head. Er, wha? Blue huh?

“Well, it’s red, so it’s not that, you know, boring brown soda color which makes it more appealing.”

Red. He thought it was red. Honest mistake, I guess.

The guy was talking about hanging around a convenience store to wait for middle schoolers to purchase the drink. I suggested his time might be better spent going to the upscale cocktail joints and asking for stats on Red Bull martinis. It was easier and far less likely to end up with a trip down Michael Jackson Lane.

“They use them in drinks?”

It was like I’d spilled Soylent Green’s secret recipe.

Ended up bringing in a round of Red Bull the next morning. I tried to start a discussion of its Far East origins and popularity in Europe, but they weren’t having it. Just the daily litany: “How do you know this?” “Why do you know this?”

I love these people, I really do, but some days it’s like beating my head against concrete.