Please note: this story is written in the third person because one of the main characters simply can’t be me, and the other character is definitely not me.
It’s been suggested that I make that particular fact clear up front, so there it is.
Also, the original title, “Static Electricity, Paperclips, and Convex Curves” has been completely been blown away by a friend’s suggestion of the title that you see above.
So with that, we now return you to our regularly scheduled story, already in progress…
Nerds and Girls.
Not only nerds, but socially inept nerds trying to impress said girls…
And of course, that brings us to our story, which happened some years back, less than 20 miles from where I’m writing this now.
By way of introduction, I’m sure there are many, many ways one could describe a nerd, but the common theme I remember noticing at the time was that often nerds were absolutely brilliant when it came to communicating with computers, and at the same time, absolutely unable to communicate with other humans.
Note – this didn’t mean they didn’t occasionally have the desire to communicate with other humans; they just didn’t have the ability to do it effectively. When it came to male Nerds communicating with female Non-Nerds (anti-Nerds?) – that effectiveness dropped to absolute zero.
As a professor in college was fond of saying, “You will see this material again.”
Enter Stage Left: A software engineer (um… Nerd) working at a rather large software company with a name synonymous with, oh, say, really, really small squishy things.
Seated at stage right: The receptionist for the building our Nerd worked in.
Note: The receptionist is astoundingly attractive, and our Nerd found himself absolutely smitten with her. He, as often happens with males, wanted to impress her, but none of the small talk worked. He’d talk about all the esoteric technical things he was good at, and she would smile and nod politely until he finished his attempt at communication for the day. When he was finished, she’d usually say she had to get back to work, and he’d slowly walk away, trying to hide his dejection, scuffing his feet on the carpet as he went.
This went on for quite a while.
Summer turned into Fall.
Fall turned to Winter, (he was pretty determined) and while the heat in the building kicked on, there was no heat, nor were there even sparks, between our intrepid Nerd and the Beautiful Receptionist.
This was about to change.
One day, as he scuffed his way to the door to get out of the reception area and into the office area, he reached out to open the door and got a horrific shock.
He’d built up a charge of static electricity because of all the scuffing on the dry carpet, and reaching for the door handle completed the circuit, and sparks literally flew.
Anyone having been around computers for a bit knows that static electricity is bad.
Nursing his sore hand, he made his way back to his office, a land of straight lines, of monitors, computers, and keyboards and sat at his desk to think this through. He put his feet up on that desk, and pondered a bit, trying to figure this spark problem out, and how to solve it, idly bending a paper clip into oblivion as he did so. He crossed his legs and thought some more, and in the end, poked the paper clip into the side of his shoe.
Somewhere, Thomas Edison’s ghost handed out another light bulb as the brain cells in our Nerd’s head put two and two together.
See, static electricity is created because electricity is generated but has no place to go. To oversimplify it greatly, clouds rubbing together (think thunderstorm), or shoes rubbing on a dry carpet, can create enough static electricity to make some pretty brilliant sparks.
But if you figure out a way to allow that electricity to bleed off a bit, you don’t have static anything.
And that’s exactly what our nerd figured out. He left the paperclip stuck in the side of his shoe, with the bent part dragging on the carpet.
He then scuffed his way to the door that had caused him trouble, and reached for the handle.
He walked away – took the paperclip out and did it again.
Scuff scuff scuff scuff scuff…. <SPARK!>
Okay – time to confirm it, to, as they say in software development and testing, “Can you repro(duce) it?”
Scuff scuff scuff scuff scuff….
… No spark. Hmmm…
Scuff scuff scuff scuff scuff…. <SPARK!>
But his testing was proving that his idea worked. He wasn’t the first to come up with this idea, but he came up with this on his own, and he was proud.
He had something that would impress people.
He could fire sparks at them at will – and he could turn the sparks on and off with a simple paperclip.
He could impress peop –
He could impress the receptionist.
He left the office and left the land of the straight lines, and went to the land of the curves, where the curves were all in exactly the right places. He was both smitten, and a man on a mission. He was going to impress this receptionist, and she was going to really smile at him now.
So he tried to explain it to her – and it didn’t work. In fact, it was, as is often the case, easier to illustrate than it was to explain, so he convinced her to come out from behind her desk so he could illustrate it for her.
So while explaining – he scuffed his way over to the door without the paperclip, and touched the handle.
And she saw, and heard, the spark.
Then he did the same with the paperclip back in his shoe, and he touched the handle again.
But wait – she seemed interested! Our nerd was on his way to scoring – uh – something… Even he wasn’t sure what it might be, but he’d never kept her attention this long before, ever. He was going to show her how brilliant he was, that he could control the spark, and that it wouldn’t spark, that he could (oh, dare he?) touch her, and it wouldn’t spark.
He was going to show her, yeah, that was it.
Actions speak louder than words, right?
So he scuffed, vigorously, from the door all the way over to where she was standing. Oh, this would absolutely prove that his idea worked, that he was smart, that he – that he could impress a – a girl.
He scuffed hard, harder than he’d ever scuffed, just to prove the power of the paperclip…
…which would have proven its power had it been in his shoe and not lying on the floor behind him where it had fallen out.
(Folks, that’s known as foreshadowing)
He got right up to her, and said “see?” and reached out his finger just to point – but it was pointed at her, and, given that he had entered the land of the curves, his finger was a few safe inches from one of them.
…had there been a paperclip.
However, the vigorous scuffing had created such a charge in him that one could say there was a spark between them.
Oh yes, there was a spark…
Just like before, she saw it.
And heard it.
And this time, she felt it.
And it was in the wrong, wrong, WRONG place.
The surprise on our Nerd’s face as he looked at his finger in disbelief – the ‘smoking gun’, as it were was more than matched by the absolute shock (pardon the pun) on the face of our receptionist.
While our Nerd looked back to see what had happened, our receptionist was experiencing a pain the likes of which she’d never, ever experienced, in a – a location which had never experienced such pain.
While she was still processing this, our Nerd found the source of the problem. He’d noticed the paperclip was gone, and retraced his steps to find it on the carpet. He got it, and came back to her, beaming, holding it up like a trophy, “I found it! I figured out what went wrong!” – and as his eyes focused from the paperclip to her face behind it, the expression that had started off as mild interest, but was rapidly transitioning through pain, a short detour at embarrassment, and then at the moment his eyes finally focused on that face of hers, came out of that detour and arrived fully at rage.
The beaming, triumphant look on our Nerd’s face was frozen completely solid by our receptionist, who turned around, and with her arms firmly crossed, walked back behind her desk, to the Nerd Free zone, and focused on her monitor… her phone, ANYTHING but him.
She couldn’t even look at him. She wouldn’t look at him.
Our Nerd, his frozen triumphant look thawing into an agonizing realization of what had just happened, was embarrassed beyond belief, and any attempt at apologies were immediately frozen again.
He realized that as attractive as the land of the curves was, it was a dangerous place for someone only used to straight lines…
He sighed the sigh of the deflated, the sigh of the lost, the sigh of the forlorn, and slowly turned back toward the door, twirling the paperclip in his hand.
And as the curtain came down on our little drama, the door, as if sensing what had happened, didn’t even spark as he opened it, going back to the land of the straight lines.
Where things were safe.