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Rules of Distraction

By Chris Colcord

Fort Wayne Reader

2009-03-10


When I was in college, I got a summer job working construction in Fort Wayne, which made for ripe comic material — I had zero facility with anything mechanical and every day on the job brought a new machine. My foreman, a hard drinking Irish guy, not without a sense of humor, relished the opportunity to intimidate the college boy, so I spent most days trying to man a piece of machinery I had no business operating. Miraculously, I didn't kill myself (or anyone else) that summer, and even though I never got appreciably better with backhoes and Bobcats and two-man augers, I did somehow manage to ingratiate myself to the blue-collar guys I worked with. I became a sort of company mascot, the hapless rookie, and even when I screwed things up royal I remained cheerful in my ineptitude. Consequently I ended up making friends with most of the guys in the crew, guys I never would have sought out as friends on my own.

One of the guys in the crew was a lonesome sort, who, I discovered, led one of the most monastic lives I had yet encountered. He didn't talk much, but from what I gathered, it seemed that he went to work, and to church, and that was it. He lived with his parents, he never dated, he spent most of his time in his room. The guy was my age and I have to admit I became engrossed by his story — I had recently discovered Faulkner and so I was always on the lookout for oddball, American gothic types, and this guy seemed like a walking novella. Whenever we had a break I tried to get him to talk about himself more, but he wouldn't budge, and only parceled out information one fragment at a time. It wasn't until the end of the summer that I put it all together and figured out that he was a total Dungeons and Dragons fanatic who spent most of his free time locked in his room, playing the game.

I like a cheap, cruel joke as much as the next person, but for some reason I couldn't bring myself to ridicule the guy for his obsession, even though he fit the stereotype of a D&D player to a tee: misfit, no girl, lives with his parents. Usually, I'd blast a guy like that for being such a dork, but I held back. I'd like to say it was because he bailed me out at work so often, that he was a work friend, that I was maturing and learning to accept odd people from all walks of life. But that wasn't it. The fact was, I was beginning to become a dork myself.

This was the year that the Watchmen comic came out, and although I wasn't a huge comic book fan, I totally flipped for the Moore/Gibbons strip. It was the first time I truly obsessed over a pop-culture phenomenon--Star Wars, Star Trek, D&D, none of the usual geek-fads registered with me, but for some reason this ultra-violent, ultra-reactionary fable totally knocked me out. When the bound version came out the next year I bought two copies, and I've probably read the story a hundred times. I became ridiculously, disproportionately fascinated by all things Watchmen, which meant that it became a little absurd for me to look down on the D&D fanatic as a hopeless dweeb. Kettle and pot and all that.
As everybody in the universe knows by now, the movie version of Watchmen opens this weekend, and the expectations from the dork populace are high. I bought tickets online for the first show, the midnight Thursday show, which means that for two-and-a-half hours, I will be at the absolute epicenter of Fort Wayne dorkdom. The Ground Zero for geeks. I should be embarrassed by all this, but the fact is, I've learned to accept the fact that occasionally I need to distract myself from reality and go to a galaxy far, far away, and if that puts me front-and-center with fellow misfits, well, so be it.

The tricky thing is, of course, knowing when to come back. And that is the rub. All too often I find myself wasting hour upon hour doing something obsessive, all under the guise that I'm "taking a break" from the strife of my own existence, but the fact is, I'm just distracting myself from the realities of my life. And that's bad. Or, to put it another way — going to a movie is fine, but spending twenty hours a week reading about it online isn't. The problem with distractions is that it becomes too easy to stay distracted. I told friends about my plans to go to the midnight show, and a couple laughed at me, but none of them had a good response when I pressed them about something reciprocal — namely, their insane golf addictions. Isn't it a little weird, I asked, that you spend virtually all of your free time in the spring and summer obsessing about your golf game? That's different, they say. But I wonder. It seems there is an endless menu of diversions to keep us away from our own existence.

I'm not trying to go all Matrix-y on you, but ask yourself, the next time your video game "hour" turns into six, the next time you watch the Season Four DVD of some show you’ve already seen, the next time you play four rounds of golf in two days, ask yourself if you're still in control of all this. I hate to be all Zen and positive-thinking and self-actualizing but the fact is, there's probably something you should be doing with your life, and allowing the distractions to overwhelm the day-to-day stuff won't get you anywhere. I'll fly my geek flag proudly this weekend, but after the movie, it's time to pack it up.

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