Down the road from where I live there is a bar that my dad would describe as “very trendy”. Maybe other people would describe it like this as well, but if I was called upon to give a review of this bar, which is called “The Moveable Feast” and which I like a lot – it has a big balcony and the lighting is shamelessly flattering – I would say, “It is the kind of place that my sweet dad would describe as ‘very trendy’. He would possibly even go so far as to use the word ‘groovy’ and do air quotes when he said it, air quotes used to indicate that he knows, as we all do, that it’s funny to say that something is groovy. I love my dad.” For reasons that will soon become clear, I find myself on extremely shaky ground whenever I need to explain why a thing or a person is cool, but please just believe me when I say that Moveable Feast is basically a cool place. A recent review said it was “dressed in second-hand finds from flea markets, junk shops and a defunct French restaurant, The Moveable Feast is a Moulin Rouge-inspired feast for the eyes,” a description which is not only fundamentally inaccurate but which makes me feel embarrassed for Cape Town’s restaurant-going public in the same way that the city’s excess of steampunk-themed coffee shops does. Why are we like this? Why would calling something “Moulin Rouge themed” be anything other than a grave insult? Please believe me when I say that it is cool, as opposed to “Moulin Rouge themed.” This is important for the story.
My boyfriend and I tried to go there for a drink the other day, walking past on our way to get Indian food. When we got onto the balcony, however, we saw that it was not going to happen—nowhere to sit. Picture a cool place that has a long curving balcony with a great view, and now picture it with lots of people sitting around on all the available chairs, wearing sassy outfits. People in in little pants and shirts made out of interesting material sitting where I wanted to sit. We stood around getting pissed off for a while and I stared at a group of people long enough to make them nervous but not long enough to make them leave, and then we abandoned our idea and went somewhere much less nice—a bar round the corner which no living person would describe as cool and which is patronised almost exclusively by frail-seeming tourists and lonely-seeming men in their fifties with that kind of dyed hair texture called “I spent too much time gaming and now my hair has gone all crispy and feels like an old German Shepherd’s fur.”
I decided to make the best of things and said that I was fine with this
I explained that a nerd is a person whose outer appearance inadequately masks a deep terror that everyone will always see them the way their classmates did in high school. People who invested their personalities in being clever rather than in being good company, who are even right now toiling away under the delusion that overt displays of precocity are tolerable. People who make a big performative deal about how shy they are but are not actually vulnerable in any human way and think nothing of foisting their issues onto others. People who use you as a prop to get people to see them while pretending to be so afraid of everything. The woman wearing big sassy red spectacles who I introduced myself to at a dinner party and she said, “Um AWKWARD. We’ve met before.” When I said sorry, and that I was bad at faces, she said “NO NEED TO MAKE THIS EVEN MORE PAINFULLY AWKWARD.
J told me that this was too specific a definition for such a vast group of people and that also, that’s not what a nerd is. When pressed on what he thought a nerd was, he said only that he abided by the traditional definition, and pointed to the different men sitting at tables nearby, with their computer hair and their weird trousers. These people, he said, are nerds. They are people who do nerdy things. When pressed on what he thought nerdy things were, he said “the things that everyone thinks are nerdy.” Back and forth like that, for some time.
On a number of occasions over the course of my life, I have replied “How much I hate nerds” in response to the question “What are you thinking about?” Most often, people have responded in a way that reveals themselves as being, if not actively on the side of the nerds, then sympathetic to their demands. I have always found this quite strange. “Hating nerds,” on paper, seems like the kind of thing that all right-thinking people would subscribe to. And yet. It turns out that every time I have spoken about how much nerds are my enemies, J and God knows who else has assumed that I’m referring to people who love computers. So one thing I have learned is that I sometimes come across as a mega bitch for no reason. Another thing is that I have no idea what other people think a nerd is. It’s so clear to me. Until recently, if you had asked me whether the definition of “nerd” was a matter on which we as a species had achieved global consensus, I would have said yes. And now here I am. What does everyone think a nerd is?
I asked my brother what he thought a nerd was and he said, incredibly, “particular body