John the Great the Geek
geek (gi:k). [Var. GECK sb.¹] U.S. slang. (See quots. 1954 and 1961).
[1876: see GECK sb.¹]. 1916 Wells Fargo Messenger Oct. 29/2 A new Wells agent struck our town the other week, and say - you never saw a more enthusiastic geek! 1954 WEBSTER Add., Geek, a carnival 'wild man' whose act usually includes biting the head off a live chicken or snake. 1961 Times Lit. Suppl. 27 Jan. 62/2 He picks up waitress, a simple girl, and enslaves a 'geek', a dumb sideshow stooge whose daily routine consists of being exhibited in a pit which he has to dig for himself.- The Oxford English Dictionary, Second Edition, Clarendon Press, Oxford, 1989
I'm not quite sure when I first realized I was one - probably sometime in junior high, when other kids won't let you forget that kind of thing. Geek. Now, it's a word I wear like a favorite shirt. I was one before it was branché to use it to describe boy billionaires, Wall Street darlings, and television sirens alike. Geek. I'm pretty sure that being one means that I wouldn't be joining a Beverly Hills 90210-style clique any time soon. But, childhood scarring aside, I'm pretty normal.
I mean, it's not like I bite the heads off of chickens every day.
Apparently, geekiness runs in my genes: My parents regularly watched the X-Files, starting well before it got popular. In fact, I think they were watching it even before I did. My brother plays piano and trumpet when he's not playing video games, a geek double-whammy. But I should be kind: after all, he's generously taken care of the two cats I left behind since I moved to France.
Los Angeles, California is what's printed on my birth certificate, but San Jose should more properly hold the title of my birthplace. Showing an unusually early attraction to geek culture, I'd insisted that my family move there when I was just six weeks old (they maintain it was actually thanks to my dad's promotion). About a year after the birth of my brother, we again moved at my behest - this time to Minnesota. Unfortunately, I was disappointed to find out that 1) snow is much better left up in the mountains, where you visit it, not where it is visited upon you and 2) yes, my baby brother was indeed moving with the rest of us.
I suffered through Rochester, Minnesota (okay, it's not as bad as that; but neither is a toothache, when you get down to it) until I graduated from high school. Deciding that Minnesota wasn't so much the problem with my life as was staying in a small, two-business city (even if the businesses are IBM and the Mayo Clinic), I moved to Minneapolis to attend the University of Minnesota. In both of these cities, I regularly participated in Mother Nature's feasibility experiments of absolute zero on Earth (she failed - the best was "only" a record of -60°F / -51°C in February 1996).
It was my year at university in Nantes, France that made me start seriously thinking of leaving behind the Land o' Lakes. Despite my best intentions (and worst threats to the airline company, which refused to refund my return ticket so that I could buy a Peugeot and settle down), I returned to Minneapolis to finish my BA in French and International Relations. It wasn't until many years later that I finally got my courage up to make the trans-Atlantic move.
I love computers - at least, I love working with them. My matchmaker was my father, a now-retired employee of IBM; my first affair was with a Sinclair ZX80 in 1980 or 1981. Computers and I were no strangers at that time, though: I had been exposed to them while still living in California. I fondly remember getting to visit my dad at IBM, going through umpteen levels of security, scrutinizing the big boxes that purportedly were calculating geniuses, and being thrilled to bits by the huge printers - which spat out seemingly endless streams of ASCII Snoopy art and played "The William Tell Overture." And you thought the Web was a waste of time.
I'd say that my interest in computers is rivaled only by my love of music, which translates into having a large CD collection rather than being a musician (my brother got all that talent). I did get to play music... as a DJ for a spell at the University's student radio station. But it was short-lived: I gave it up when I left to study in Nantes.
While it may sound over-romanticized, my year in France was probably the single best experience in my life. Still, I didn't make it back to visit until autumn of 1996 - almost six years after my first sojourn. I visited again in autumn of 1998 as part of a two-week trip to five countries. All that time, I was hoping to one day live in France - just never sure of how I'd actually do it. For better or for worse, I complicated my chances by assuring myself that I wouldn't move overseas for just any old reason, but for a good one.
It wasn't until 2000 that several factors converged and I moved to France - ironically, around the time of the first dip signaling the forthcoming crash of the Web's "new economy." But I did it: Paris became my new home (hey - when you go all the way, go all the way). France often lags slightly behind the US, and the Web boom was no exception: I lost my job when my employer closed its Paris office in June 2002.
Instead of ending my French experiment, this actually marked the beginning of an even bigger, more exciting phase. Three friends and I, all left unemployed by the same closing, founded a new company of our own. Specializing in interaction design, Matchbox is not simply any old reason for me to continue my stay in Paris but a good one.
And this is where My Life as a Frog begins...