Author Archive

Nerd Lust

“What’s your sine? It must be pi/2 because you’re the 1.”


Pick-up lines are a huge form with multiple genres within them. Pick-up lines are hardly ever used seriously–that is, to actually pick up dates. They’re told humorously, usually to highlight a clever play on words. The romantic message is used as a stock message along which to frame the wordplay, which is the real focus of a pick-up line joke. The combination of the two produces a corny and awkward and therefore funny effect. The nerdy pick-up line goes one step further to juggle an extra requirement–the incorporation of overly intellectual content. As nerd-dom is traditionally unsexy, this adds an extra level of amusement, not to mention cleverness. It’s a way for nerds to say, hey, we need lovin’ too.


The Bell Witch is Photogenic

Informant: “So, my friends–have you guys seen An American Haunting?–okay, so it’s basically a story about the Bell Witch, and it’s based on a real story that took place in Tennessee, in a city that is the only city in the United States that’s certified haunted by the federal government. Basically everyone moved out of the city, it’s completely abandoned now. And there’s a legend that says that if you go there, um, and you’re around there at night, at 3 in the morning you’ll see the Bell Witch. So, uh, a friend of a friend went to that city with a few other guys and they were walking around taking photos and stuff, and they were going through the buildings and there’s all these satanic drawings on the walls of the buildings. At around 3 am, they uh, they’re still taking photos and they took a photo outside of the church. And one of the guys feels something on his arm, so then they’re like ‘nah man you’re just playing, you’re just joking around.’ And they go back, open the camera up, and look at the saved photos–and you can see the silhouette of a woman’s face right next to the guy’s shoulder. And he posted this photo on Facebook too. And I’ve seen the photo myself, like you can see the witch’s face. I’m dead serious. But it’s true, I’ve seen the photo.”

Rituals, festivals, holidays

Pinning Ceremony: A Modern Pseudo-Engagement

Informant: “So pinning ceremonies are apparently, uh, a ‘Greek engagement’ is how she describes it. So if you are pretty sure you’re going to be engaged with your college sweetheart after you get out, you do this ritual ceremony in your respective [frat or sorority] houses, and like nobody’s supposed to know except for the head of your house and then they organize this like nighttime ritual where everyone who’s single has to like go and hold a candle–this is how she described it, I swear–and the guys have to all wear white and the girls have to all wear black. And the couple who’s, like, announcing their pseudo-engagement comes in and then everyone’s like ‘oh, that’s you!’ acting all surprised even though they know already. And then they pass a candle around, and then when it gets to them, the guy pins the girl with his fraternity letters.”


This is a practice that was described to my informant by a first-hand participant. This seems to hearken back to a supposed historical function of fraternities and sororities as a social environment for the grooming of marital relationships. It establishes any such relationship as part of the fabric of the respective houses, fixing the identity of the house and well as the other person into a permanent place in each other’s lives. It resists modern skepticism and criticism of early commitment to marriage, especially among the college educated, and chooses to embrace it.


Caught with your pants down

Informant: “I played golf in high school, and there’s all kinds of weird little things, like if you mess up your shot, sometimes people are like, ‘oh, take a Mulligan’ and that just means you can redo if you want, pretty much, for that shot. There’s another one, like, if you don’t hit it past–if you mess up your drive and you don’t hit past the front tees, then you have to walk with your pants down all the way to the flag.”



Informant: “In high school for our senior prank–we actually weren’t supposed to have a senior prank at all because the seniors the year before really fucked it up, really bad, they like really messed up our library–so, we did it anyway, and we hired a male stripper to come to the school during lunch time, into the cafeteria. The dean was very unhappy–it was so funny. ”

Friend: “How did high school kids coordinate a male stripper?”

Informant: “Well, this one group of kids called the male stripper, and it’s kind of really easy to get into our school, in general. Like if somebody wanted to kill a student, this would be a really good school to do it. *Laughs* It’s true.

Friend: “My cousin hired three male strippers for my grandma’s ninetieth birthday. She almost died.” *mad laughter from everyone*


Pranks involving strippers in inappropriate places are funny. People are amused by juxtapositions of the seemingly vulgar and the seemingly dear.



Informant: “My brother is a really big stoner, and so he’s really picky about his bags–nobody really uses bags anymore because nobody buys dimes anymore because now everyone has a club card but–like, back in the day, when you actually bought everything like dime-bags and dub-sacs they all had their own little prints on them. So you’d have like diamonds or piggies or the little playboy bunnies. Or like whatever the insignia was, and so like–”

Friend: “There were the really fancy ones too.”

“Yeah, like the big guns and the Ferrari diamond. But yeah, my brother used to collect ‘em, and he was convinced that certain bags were better, like not because they were better for holding the weed but just like, better luck to have your weed in. So like, he liked certain bags. And I think he liked the diamond ones the best. The really simple diamond ones.”


Aesthetic plays a major role in many “unofficial” activities that have nothing dictating them except for the tastes and preferences of individual participants. I think baggies were originally sold in jewelry stores to hold tiny jewelry parts, and then appropriated by dealers to push marijuana. The repeating images printed on the baggies took on symbolic meaning, some widely shared and others specific to the individual. Diamonds are a simple yet elegant symbol of high worth. Preferred prints were a way to assert an aesthetic association and identity, even subconsciously elevating one’s own affinities to be imbued with enchanted properties.


Don’t be the Du-rak

Informant: “We all started calling each other the ‘du’–it’s ‘durak’ but we just shortened it to du. And then like each of us went to college and taught that game to our friends, and I feel like all those people now use the word du, like oh, you triple du’ed. You’re the durak. You’re the du. You wanna play some du. I dunno. And it’s funny cause it comes from some Russian ass shit that we had no–like, we have barely a little bit of contact with who, this like intermediary–and the kids who we taught it to have like no even conception of, the don’t really have the context for it.”

[So you learned it from like, some transient Russian link?]

“Actually, not even me, like it’s more like–those weren’t the people who taught me that game to be honest anyway. I mean, I knew them, and they taught our friends. Well–yeah, they taught our friends. But like, I didn’t directly learn from them. Um, I guess it’s the same with you.”

“There are kids who bet on it, back at Stuy [the high school we went to], and we just do it just to pass the time, I guess, it’s just really more like, just when we’re hanging out. It’s just like one of these, one of the more… chill ways to pass–just like, do something while talking. I mean, kind of the whole point of the game is, it’s like not about winning–it’s about not losing. So… it’s fun to play with friends cause… instead of just tryna be the best, you just kinda end up tryna fucking each other over and… I dunno. It’s like a different kinda competition.”

[So now tell everyone reading the archive how this game is played.]

“Well, it goes around in a circle and everyone has to defend themselves, one by one. And the way that the attacking and defending works is that the player on the right initiates it, by throwing cards, which the player who’s defending must either beat or, if he has the same card as the one or more cards that are thrown at him–because only doubles, triples, or one of a kind can be thrown, or four of a kind–um, he may pass it so that he adds his card onto the cards that are attacking, and the player to the left of him has to defend. Um, so by attacking and defending, you get rid of your cards, because when you successfully defend of an attack–that is, put a higher card of the same suit on every single one that’s attacking you–those cards are out of the game. But if you can’t successfully defend, you pick up all the cards. Um, and the point of the game is to not be a loser, cause the loser is the durak, that means stupid in Russian. So yeah, like, when you bet on it, I think basically the loser pays into the pot which goes to everyone else–I’m not exactly sure but, anyway, the loser–the real shitty thing about being the loser is that in the next game, the first person to go is always the person to the left of that. Like, it goes around in a circle, and so the idea is that if you lose, you’re gonna be the last person to go in the next game, which is a serious disadvantage because obviously the people who go first have more of an opportunity to get rid of their cards.”

“Whenever the attacks are being held out, it’s everyone against one. It’s never just one-on-one. Anybody can play a card that is already on the board, anybody can attack but only using the numbers that are already out there. But six is the limit [of attacking cards] because you only get six cards [to defend with].”

[Anything else you'd like to say about durak.]

“Um… durak all day all night? Durak every day? Du life.”


My informant is very concerned with authenticity. He makes it clear, somewhat regretfully, that he did not in fact learn the game from the actual Russian kids. But his friends did, and that counts for something. The kids that he taught it to here in California have no link whatsoever, which doesn’t make them any less worthy, but still there is something lost to them. The original context is important to him. This ‘original’ context, however, is only original to him–a far cry from the gambling rooms of Soviet Russia. Still, it colors his own personal understanding and relationship to the character of the game, so even though it’s always changing as it goes, he holds on to the one he knows.

In our high school, durak formed a subculture of jaded kids who rejected the utilitarian idealism of the American Dream, who preferred to gamble in hidden alcoves nestled at the turn of hallways. Others adopted it more casually, recognizing it as the perfect focal activity for a group of friends to engage in while hanging out–something to do, to take the pressure off of silence, which allows the way for organic conversation and genuine connection while exercising mental acuity.

The dynamic of the game itself fosters a unique competitive atmosphere, as I think my informant described very well. Everyone gives up the conceit and delusion of being a “winner” and instead gets their kicks from trying to delay each other as much as possible. It’s some cynical ass shit that proves oddly refreshing to the hopes-and-dreams-fed American sensibility.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Just Some Ish

Informant: “The earliest place I’ve heard it is in Camp Lo tracks. Camp Lo is a hip hop group from the early 90s. And then, kind of I feel like I started hearing it simultaneously–it was never new to me, it never sounded like something people just started saying–but my friends started saying it recently. Friends from totally separate parts of the country started saying it simultaneously.”

[How do you use it?]

“You use it like you use any word that doesn’t mean anything. Substitute it for something you can’t think of. I don’t know, it’s just some ish.”


Ish sounds like a more refined way of saying “shit.” Rappers in the 90s sometimes used it to cover explicit tracks so that they could be played on the radio. In this way even censorship is subverted to give birth to new speech. It’s highly associated with urban culture, and above all an indication of style. It’s a flair of speech that joins you into a refined urban aesthetic. And you can use it in place of absolutely anything.

folk metaphor
Folk speech

Brick City

“That’s brick.”

“It’s brick outside.”


This is New York City slang for cold. My informant has been saying this for as long as he can remember, as well as all of his friends. In fact, most of their speech consists of slang that is informed by creative metaphor and play on words. To more proper English speakers speech in slang might come off as ungroomed, but it often exhibits a high level of sophistication, aesthetic, and active interest in subverting official linguistic norms rather than passively obeying them. It’s highly associated with urban identity, a way to indicate your street smarts. And, in fact, you can count on the brick facade of a New York City brownstone to provide some cooling relief on a hot summer day.

Folk Beliefs

Feng Shui

Informant: “Never have your back to the door. If you’re in a room and you’re organizing your room, you shouldn’t put a chair or like a couch where like the way you enter the room is behind you.”


My informant learned this principle from her mother and aunt, who are constantly reinforcing the principles of feng shui in their homes. When we first moved into our apartment, her mother insisted on evaluating the premises and informing our furniture placements. Neither of us objected; there is something about the way a room is arranged that definitely affects the way you feel in it, however inexplicably. Feng shui is concerned with ordering a space so as to optimize the ambiance and mental comfort within it–this is achieved by creating balance and harmony among its physical components. This particular principle considers your mental comfort by ensuring that you are never surprised from behind. Having your back to the door, you forfeit control and awareness of the portal which guides flow in and out of the room, and potentially allow yourself to be startled.