Marc Alan Fishman: Unbelievable Freaks and Geeks Success Stories
The past few weeks, I’ve fallen accidentally in love with a show 14 years too late. The Judd Apatow produced Wonder Years of my generation (or technically… the generation above mine) has finally caught the apple of my eye and has me a bit nostalgic.
It’s hard to figure out how we end up in the cliques we do. Sometimes it’s proximity. Sometimes it’s commonality. In my case? Perhaps a bit of both. My first best friend, to best of my knowledge, became such because he sat across from me in Kindergarten. From then until fourth grade, he and I played together often both during school, and after. As we grew up, we were picked on. He, perhaps for his glasses, for being tall, and for being incredibly smart. Me? Thanks to a mother well-versed in podiatry, I was stricken with wearing proper orthopedic saddle shoes. Long before hipsters lay claim to them mind you. In fourth grade, a new friend came into focus. He joined the tall-n-smart kid and I, and soon we were sharing all our favorite pastimes. Lego building. Computer games. And thanks to the newbie? Role-playing games. I guess by the time you opt to waste a long summer day playing a homemade fantasy tabletop adventure versus going out for little league? You’re subscribing to a particular newsletter the cool kids aren’t getting.
Junior high school brought with it the rumblings of adolescence. Kids shot up like weeds. I didn’t. The athletes became more athletic. I didn’t. Girls transitioned from cootie factories to dance partners. And for those I associated with? It was a time to dream of future goatees, mustaches, and beards we would one day sport. The comic shop was our local watering hole. Our bikes were our cars. And the bullies still threw their insults, but they stopped landing with heft behind them. By the time we entered the hallowed hallways of Homewood-Flossmoor High School, our lives and their trajectories were being placed with aplomb. And yes, our newsletters were only getting nerdier.
Soon, with the freedom of personal transportation, and hearts filled with angst, we were living our Apatowian lives. Somewhere between the Seth Rogens and Jason Segels, Matt (my Unshaven Cohort, and best friend since 6th grade) was first amongst my inner circle to experience the roller coaster of love. To make it more apropos to my metaphor… it was with a bonafide bohemian freak (and the token tomboy to our now Fantastic Four). I was the bleeding heart James Franco mashed with Sam Levine of our group. Forever changing personalities to fit in with the various crowds during classes… forever pining for concrete direction. And while I was far too much of a puss to even entertain the notion of drugs or alcohol (something that has stuck with me now into my early thirties), I was always quick to immerse myself in a culture in order to sample another way of life.
I filled my ears with ska and punk. I buried hilariously maudlin thoughts in between bouts of Marilyn Manson discs. At my gothiest, I donned an iron cross ring on my thumb, an ankh ring on my pinky, and dragon cross (all purchased at Spencer’s Gifts or Hot Topic) around my neck… typically over my only rebellious shirt. Matt bought it for me for my birthday one year. It was a Marilyn Manson shirt that proudly declared “American By Birth / Anti-Christ by Choice”. I thought I was such a bad ass. Of course, I also figured I was Jewish, which was in essence declaring I was by proxy somewhat “Anti-Christ”. I never hated the guy, but really… what did he ever do for me? I picked up acoustic guitar soon thereafter, and replaced my Manson with the Barenaked Ladies. I dropped my sterling silver jewelry at the bottom of a drawer, and donned polos instead of tepidly offensive tee-shirts. By the time I graduated HF? I wore my freak flag proudly; I was a comic book nerd, with three great best friends, and I knew one day DC Comics would hire me to an exclusive contract.
For many of us, college becomes the ultimate test of our id. Without our families to watch our every move… we’re left with the freedom to explore every vice and virtue the adult world has to offer. For me? College was a time to really spend growing out my beard, sucking in second hand smoke, continuing to refrain from drinking, but most importantly… own my geekery, and seek a mate who could accept it, but also see beyond it. After a romantic life up to that point that consisted of four different dance dates (none of whom I ever even kissed goodnight), and one failed long-distance relationship (my prom date pity-loved me long enough to get me to my dorm room before kiboshing things hastily), it took only one semester to find my eventual wife.
And that kids, is how I met your mother. Whoops, wrong show.
If I were to find a point betwixt these winding thoughts? It’d be that I was damn lucky to grow up when and where I did. Being a nerd, a freak, or a geek in my time was not akin to any pop-culturally significant sitcom. Wanting to play D&D on the weekends was never a silly inside joke for fans of Community. A rabid discussion of comic book tropes was done with reverence for the books they came from – not the AMC show, or multi-plex monolith of the summer. My coming of age occurred during the Age of Apocalypse, the ascendence of Alex Ross, and the denouement of Alan Moore in lieu of Grant Morrison. And while no slushies were hurled at me for singing in the choir… it was clear as a magic missile where I stood on the totem pole of popular kids.
And I wouldn’t have had it any other way.
Photo by Stevie Rocco