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Nerd alert

by Brian Clarey

Nerd alert

It’s a surreal moment when Rorshach, the hyper-violent anti-hero from Watchmen, faces down… Rorshach, more or less identically garbed in trench coat, fedora and ink-blotted facemask.

They’re at the top of the stairs at Geeksboro, Greensboro’s newest coffee shop and film palace, one devoted entirely to geek culture, which makes it, to my knowledge, the only such place of its kind.

It’s opening night, and I’ve never seen so many geeks together in one place… and that’s saying something — I was a Mathlete.

The geek was originally the guy in the circus sideshow who would eat the heads off chickens, usually a dull, dim-witted sort who entertained by repulsion. Geeksboro owner Joe Scott chose the name for its phonetic properties as well as its modern connotation — modern-day geeks are anything but slow — but personally I prefer the term nerd.

And this place is full of them. Academic nerds, comic-book nerds, coffee and beer nerds, film nerds, video-game nerds, hipster nerds, preppie nerds, bodymod nerds and rock nerds. Cosplay nerds queue up for the costume contest, the winner of which gets a free lifetime supply of coffee. Clusters of nerds sit at the low tables playing elaborate board games with names like Dominion, Khet, Kingdom Builder and Le Havre. Nerd parents usher their little nerdlings through the throng. Sexy nerds giggle behind retro glasses while nerds on the prowl scope them out.

At the counter, a line stretches to the door, past shelves loaded with board games and nerdy artifacts like a Daredevil action figure, Bender from “Futurama” and a statuette of Fin Fang Foom.

It’s glorious, a nerd clubhouse for the notso-cool kids who, for most of their adolescence found themselves relegated to the fringe — the kids who played in the marching band rather than on the football team, joined the color guard when they got cut at cheerleading tryouts, who joined the yearbook staff lest their pictures be completely omitted from the record.

Scott says he got the idea while driving around town with his wife.

“[We] went from bar to bar to bar, and the nucleus of every bar was sports,” he says. “I know so many people who don’t care about sports, or care about other things than sports. I wanted to make a place for them.”

He brought to the table film-nerd creds — he’s Movie Show Joe, with a radio broadcast and curator of the Mixed-Tape Film series. He’s also a comic nerd and a journalism nerd. He says his board-game nerdiness is coming along.

Believe it or not, there was a time when a nerd meant just one thing: the kid who got picked last for teams, most likely to be found stuffed in a locker or on the business end of an atomic wedgie.

But a generation of films with nerd protagonists, real-world nerd success stories like those of Bill Gates and Steve Jobs, nerd-empowerment tools like the internet and the balkanization of nerd culture — the fragmentation and rise of various nerd subgroups like jazz nerds and goth nerds and hacker nerds — allowed the nerds to reclaim their identities, and even craft the world in their own image, a skill that many a dungeonmaster knows so well. Somewhere along the line, the term “nerd” became a badge of honor and, in its own way, carried a cachet of coolness.

In that way, a place like Geeksboro is inevitable.

It’s a coffee shop with fabulous brews by Krankies, craft beer and wines, a pinball table and video-game consoles in a corner. Downstairs, the movie house will show cult favorites and art-house films — Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer began screening last week. Saturday mornings are for cartoons, Sundays for news junkies and weekend evenings for prime TV viewing. In between, the big-screen TVs on the walls are for video games.

Right now onscreen, Captain America does battle with the Incredible Hulk. Everyone knows the history between these two, both as foes and uneasy allies in the Avengers. Cap’s an amazing fighter, with a shield made of vibranium, but Hulk is the strongest one there is — you don’t beat him so much as remove him from the situation, no matter how much Super Soldier serum you’ve got flowing through your veins. That’s why the Illuminati, including Iron Man and Professor X, decided to send him into space, where he became an intergalactic gladiator.

Around the room, costumers vie for the grand prize. There’s a woman wearing a Death Star skirt, a few busty anime ladies, a female Batman and Robin. Lynne Buchanan, a makeup and tattoo artist whose nerd expertise centers on comic books and sci-fi films, is dressed as one of the bloody, gauzewrapped nurses from the video game Silent Hill 2. With her is YES! Weekly contributor Ian McDowell, whose nerdiness knows no bounds. He’s dressed, if you can believe it, as Leelo from The Fifth Element, a staple of comic-con hotties since the film came out in 1997. On McDowell, the thin wrap of bandages is jarring, disturbing even. It is perhaps the nerdiest thing I’ve ever seen — and I mean that in a good way.

Geeksboro; 2134 Lawndale Ave., Greensboro; 336.355.7180 To see Geeksboro’s film schedule and events calendar or vote on the costume contest, go to its Facebook page.

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