Revenge of the Nerds

I’ll admit it. I’m a card-carrying member of Mensa. I remember reading about the organization a long time ago, probably when I was in my twenties. I always wondered what Mensans were like. And I also wondered whether I would qualify, and if I did, whether I would fit in.

I had an image in my head of people walking around at a party, all wearing black horn-rimmed glasses. They all seemed very friendly, and I expected that they might welcome me. But only if I qualified, which was the big question.

I never really expected that I would qualify. I did very well in school, but I worked hard at it. I didn’t think of myself as exceptionally smart.

On Friday August 3, 2007, I experienced the second in a series of major traumatic events that would deeply affect my life. I know the exact date, because I have something that reminds me on my Google Calendar for that day. It’s a reminder that simply says, “Call Mom”.

I hadn’t talked with her for a few days, and I was just starting to rely on my BlackBerry to remind me of things like calling my mom. The BlackBerry is long gone, but the important events remain synced to Google Calendar.

I remember dialing the number on that Friday night (no, my BlackBerry didn’t have a dial, but that’s another blog post), and my father answered the phone. That was unusual. My mother ALWAYS answered the phone, and it was always on the first ring. And he had bad news to tell me. My mother was in the hospital. She had pancreatic cancer and had probably about six months to live.

I remember sitting on the couch while I was on the phone, and not being able to move. I think I stayed there for at least an hour. One of the givens in my life was that I could always call my mother, and she’d answer the phone on the first ring (or sometimes I wouldn’t even hear any rings), and the sound of her voice would always be a comfort to me. At this moment I knew that this was going to come to an end very soon.

Also my my Google Calendar, I can see an event for the next day, Saturday August 4, 2007. Game Night. Yes, I remember now. I had previously scheduled a game night for Saturday night. My first thought was that I would have to cancel it. How could I enjoy myself after receiving such crushing news? I should be packing and otherwise preparing for my trip to Philadelphia to see my mother. But, it was scheduled to be at my house. If I canceled it, I would have to call all the people and explain. I didn’t know if I was up to that. Plus, I thought it might help to have some close friends visit me, and hopefully they would be supportive. It would be better than going through it alone. And I wasn’t quite ready to leave for Philadelphia; it would take me a few days to make the preparations. So I went ahead with the Saturday game night.

I don’t remember much about that Saturday night, other than that it felt very surreal, and that people were supportive. I don’t even remember who was there. But I do remember that it helped me build up the strength to complete the plans for my trip to Philadelphia, and I was on a plane, with my eleven year old daughter, by the following Wednesday.

On February 9, 2008, almost six months later to the day, we lost my mother. In the weeks that followed, I was feeling sad and distraught. Something made me decide to finally take the Mensa test. I think I was looking for something to boost my mood. I thought if I passed the test, it might make me feel happier.

So I looked online, and I found a day and time and test center. And I went and took the test. It was on Saturday February 23. I know this, because on my Google Calendar for that day, there is a reminder that says, “Mensa Admission Test, take pencil”.

A few weeks later I got my result and found out that I had passed. And yes, it did make me feel happier. It brought back the feeling I used to have in school when I did well on a test or in a class. Nerds thrive on these feelings, and it had been a long time.

Soon after that, I received the Oracle, which is the monthly newsletter for Orange County Mensa. It had a calendar of events. I thought it would be interesting to see if the picture I had in my head matched reality, so I went to my first Mensa event, an open house. Saturday July 5, 2008. This one wasn’t on my Google Calendar, but I found my email RSVP for it. The event was at the home of one of the members.

What I remember from that night was that I felt welcome, but I also felt like I didn’t fit in. I remember one person in particular who was talking with me on the patio. I remember that he told me Mensa members have a high level of Asperger’s. I couldn’t tell if he was serious or joking. Eight years and many Mensa events later, I’ve come to the conclusion that a sure sign of a person with Asperger’s is that you can’t tell if they are serious or joking. Example: “Of course when they bring the maple syrup after the pancakes, it’ll definitely be too late.” [Reference: IMDB Rain Main Quotes]

After that, I wasn’t interested in going to more Mensa events. I had achieved my objectives. I found out that I qualified to get in, and I went to an event and saw what it was like. And it wasn’t for me.

Fast forward one year to Saturday June 27, 2009. Father’s Day weekend. I wasn’t going to spend Father’s Day with my daughter, because she was in Singapore with her mother on a month-and-a-half trip. I had a girlfriend, but we were starting to have trouble with the relationship and didn’t have plans for Saturday night. I looked at the Oracle and found that there was a Mensa event, Games “R” Us. I liked games, having had numerous game nights with friends. So, I decided to give Mensa another chance.

I remember arriving at the house of the host, and trying to mingle with the other people. Again, I didn’t feel like I fit in. They were certainly nerdy. But, I didn’t feel like I had anything in common with them. They were playing strategy games, like Risk, which I had no interest in. Then I met Sally.

Sally was an older woman, from New York, with Jewish ancestry. She was about the age of my mother, and she reminded me of her. She was the first Mensan I felt comfortable with. And she seemed to fill a void that had been there since I lost my mother a little over a year earlier. She asked me if I wanted to play Scrabble. I remember that we played in the kitchen.

I was never much of a Scrabble player. I had played it with friends in high school who were more verbally advanced than I was, and I never did well. Plus, I was already feeling kind of inferior about being in a room full of Mensans. I felt like I wasn’t as smart as they were, and perhaps someone made an error grading my admission test. I said yes, and we started a game.

I went first. After much thinking, the best word I could come up with was RAN. Six points. Sally quickly put down all seven of her tiles. SOUNDED. Two double letter squares, plus a 50-point bonus for using all seven tiles. A bingo, as it’s called in Scrabble. 65 points. After one round, the score was 65-6.

I started feeling that my fears were founded. These people were MUCH smarter than I was. I didn’t belong here. We played through the rest of the game. Final score: 506-178. Sally asked me if I wanted to play again. I politely declined.

I was thanking the host and on my way out, when people in the dining room asked me if I wanted to join their game. I told them that these strategy games weren’t for me, and they said they were playing a word game and I would like it. OH NO! NOT ANOTHER WORD GAME! They didn’t know about the shellacking I had just received at Scrabble. Again, I politely declined, and I went home. And this time, I thought I was really done with Mensa.

April 24, 2010. My mother’s birthday. Something made me look in the Oracle again, and I saw that Mensa Games Night was scheduled (it had been renamed from Games “R” Us). Although I had made up my mind that more Mensa events weren’t in my future, this one was in a house in Lake Forest. Three miles from home. It was either going to be “Three strikes you’re out” or “The third time’s the charm.” So I went.

The people were so nice! They were welcoming, and the games were fun. I didn’t play Scrabble, but we played other games, and I held my own. Yay! I fit in. That night was fun, and I felt like I wanted to come back.

The host invited me to another event two weeks later, “Philosophy of Mind”, where we watched a video of a college professor talking about arguments for and against the existence of God. That was fun too. These two events started a sea change in my life. I had a new circle of friends who I remain close with to this day.

Over the next six years, Mensa Games Night would be something that I look forward to and attend every month. We play Taboo, which had always been my favorite game, and one that we played at my past game nights before Mensa. It’s a regular party game, not one that requires super intelligence, just fun.

One of the other games we play is called “Encore”, another fun party game. In Encore, a player chooses a card with a word on it, and the two teams take turns singing songs with lyrics that include that word. I have a love/hate relationship with Encore. It’s fun to hear the different songs people come up with. But, the game goes on for hours, and it’s hard to stop, and I often go home very tired in the wee hours of the morning.

One of the most fun things about Encore is that in this group of so-called four-eyed eggheads wearing horn-rimmed glasses, every time we play, someone plays a turn using the theme song from Gilligan’s Island, which is apparently rich with Encore words. This has become a high point of the game night experience. Yes, I had found “my people”.

Last night was Mensa Games Night. And as luck would have it, we ended up playing Encore. In one round, the word was “So”. This proved to be a tough word. Although many songs have lyrics with the word “So”, it’s not a word that stands out. We had long periods of thinking between turns in this round, and people came up with songs such as Carole King’s “So Far Away”, Linda Ronstadt’s “It’s So Easy”, and Pink Floyd’s “Wish You Were Here”. Then I suddenly had a burst of inspiration. I gasped with excitement! “I have one!” I exclaimed. And with great enthusiasm, I played the next turn.

So join us here each week my friends
You’re sure to get a smile
From seven stranded castaways
Here on Gilligan’s Isle!

[Reference http://www.metrolyrics.com/gilligans-theme-song-lyrics-gilligans-island.html]

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