Chapter 21 - Paul
By now, some of you may be wondering why, exactly, I choose to spend time with Kenneth Greevey. All I do is grumble about the guy and his many...let’s call them “eccentricities.” It’s the kind of behavior you’d expect from someone with a pain–in–the–ass coworker he’s stuck with or an obnoxious roommate who’s long overstayed his welcome. And yet I hang out with him voluntarily, on a regular basis. Why?
To explain this in full detail would require a lot of time, as I’d need to go into the background of an entire subculture. If you’re curious, head down to your local gaming supply store or comic book shop, find a group of people playing something with funny dice, and ask them why any of them would opt to affiliate with people with whom they constantly argue. You’ll get an education.
But seriously, here’s my capsule explanation: We are all imperfect. Yes, I’ve spent a lot of words detailing Ken’s flaws, but I’m no different. I’ve given him plenty of headaches, too, maybe even as many as he’s given me. In spite of that, we have a lot in common, and that’s rare around here. Ignore all of that crap you hear about nerds being the new cool kids. Wearing a retro t–shirt and owning a video game console doesn’t make you a nerd any more than wearing a football jersey and owning a set of weights makes you a jock. It’s so much more than that – an entire little world with its own practices, norms and lingo, none of which is well understood by the community at large. As a group, we are often defined by argument and strife, usually over the pettiest of things. If you’re part of the group, you learn to love this, or at least tolerate it. That’s what I’ve done – I learned long enough to put up with Ken’s little quirks, even if they drive me up the wall.
Enough about that, though. We’re talking quiz games here.
The weekend between the prelims and the rest of the tournament is tricky. Ken’s instinct is to spend the whole time in preparation, and he’s devoted. As trivia season nears, he transforms his already ridiculous bedroom into a dedicated study chamber. Anything that might become a distraction goes in the corner – no music, no video games, nothing that might draw his eye away from the goal. All he keeps out in the open is a laptop that plays a continuous stream of trivia game footage culled from every public source he could find. He sits in his old broken game rocker with the computer blasting the sweet sounds of Trivia Master past while he reads and annotates his collection of question books, books that he treats as though they contain some sort of revealed knowledge. He’ll sit there for hours, immersed in quiz nirvana.
I don’t have quite the same passion. My first thought is to spend that last quiet weekend relaxing at home, doing the things I can’t do when I’m busy with trivia. Over the years, we’ve come to a bit of a truce on this, and I think Ken has even come around to my way of thinking, at least a little bit. We always take a few hours to do something that has nothing to do with Trivia Master.
This year’s trivia free weekend started in Oscar’s Pizza for lunch. It was well past noon and Ken was late. That was curious, as he’s probably the most punctual person I’ve ever met, at least when he wants to be someplace – and even trivia comes in second to pizza on Ken’s list of priorities.
When he finally came in, he was red–faced and short of breath. “Sorry, got held up.”
“To go for a jog?”
“Only a little bit.” Ken threw himself into the booth. “Hey, you heard about this phone app that sends you specially curated trivia every morning for free?”
“There are probably a bunch of those, but in the first place, you don’t own a cell phone.”
“I was thinking about it for you.” Ken reached across the table. “I can set you up, just let me have yours for a minute.”
“I think you know my opinion on that, Ken,” I said. “Besides which, we aren’t here to discuss trivia. It’s against the rules.”
“I know, but I ran into someone on the way here and he told me about the phone thing. That’s why I’m late.”
“Getting in touch with one of your contacts?” I wasn’t joking – Ken really does have contacts, or at least he claims he does.
He shook his head. “It’s not like that. I met this kid, he’s new, he’s in the tournament, I’ve been helping him out a little.”
“You met someone?” As long as I’ve known him, Ken has had no friends besides me. It’s not that socializing is a mystery to him – he can make deals or gather information, but genuine friendly banter is a struggle for him. “Are we talking a friend, here? Someone you talk to about things other than quiz games?”
“That’s a little much but...yeah. It’s this kid named Leon, Mara I think.”
The name sounded familiar to me. “Have I met him?”
“He’s brand new, but I guess you could have bumped into him. Anyway, I ran into him on the way over. We talked for a minute, that’s why I’m late. I’m sorry.”
“Nothing to be sorry about! You made a new friend, that’s great.”
“Well, it’s not a big deal...” Ken leaned back in the booth, scanning the restaurant, trying his best to look cool. “You order yet?”
“Of course not. I know how fickle you are with your pies.”
“You should have ordered anyway. You know how slow this place is.” Ken sat up and scratched his face – a little tell that means he wants to talk about something sensitive. “Speaking of friends, Trevor told me that he saw you out front of the technical building on Tuesday. What’s up?”
“Nothing special, just killing time.”
Ken shook his head. “You’re never gonna ask her out.”
“I don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Ken could see right through me. “It’s me, Paul. You were waiting for Jane, same thing you ’re always doing when you stick around the school that late in the day.”
“Look, I’m taking my time. I think of it as a sign of respect.”
“Taking your time? You have been – ” He broke off for a moment to attempt to flag down a waiter before turning back to me. “Man, the service here sucks.”
“It’s not like you’re in a hurry.”
“Neither are you, clearly.” I could tell from Ken’s tone that a lecture was imminent. “Look, Paul, you’ve had half your life to talk to her and you did nothing. Now you’ve got what, eight months before school ends? Eight months.”
“Unless we go to the same college, then I’ve got at least four years. Look, isn’t there something better we can discuss than my love life?”
“Yeah, but you don’t want to talk about it.” Ken tried to grab another waiter, but we were rebuffed again. “Geez, the place isn’t even that full!” He looked around the restaurant. “I heard that they used to have arcade games in all of these pizza places. There were a couple in here when I was a kid. I miss those, they were so cool.”
“I don’t even know how you can lecture me,” I said. In retrospect it was stupid to keep this line of conversation going, but I wasn’t feeling so bright that day. “You don’t have a social life at all. You never go out anywhere, you definitely don’t go on dates. I don’t see how you can lecture me.”
“And you don’t know what’s in my head, Ken. You don’t have any special insight. I am capable of more than you think.”
“For all you know, I’m gonna call her as soon as we’re done.”
“Okay, Paul!” Ken was about to laugh. “I get your point. Let’s talk about something else.”
I won’t bore you with the rest of our conversation. Suffice it to say that it didn’t involve anything germane to my story – mostly chatter about movies and video games. I was a bit distracted, though. While I’d never admit it to him, Ken had a point. He does that from time to time – another reason I keep him around. What was I doing, skulking around some girl, waiting for her to come to me? What kind of man does that? I was pathetic, and I needed to change.
You know what? I’m going to talk to Jane and ask her out. After Trivia Master, I mean. I swear, it’s the very first thing I’m doing after the tournament ends.