Self-identifying nerds, nearly three dozen strong, gathered in midtown Sacramento one recent night to do what it is nerds do best.
Namely, to geek out.
Wait, does that mean the geeks assembled somewhere else to nerd out?
(Well, yes, actually. The "Geeks Who Drink," a proudly nebbishy collective of local eggheads, were over at the Capitol Garage that same night for their weekly trivia game. And the Sacramento "Amtgards," a live- action fantasy role-playing flock, convened at Great Escape Games off Howe Avenue, sewing costumes and repairing foam swords.)
But these were the nerds, OK? Oh, it's so hard, dear reader, for a guy to get the correct derogatory epithet upon which to cast aspersions on an entire group of people, especially if the adherents embrace said slur and claim it as their own.
So, for clarity, these were unmistakably nerds streaming into the Bows & Arrows boutique on 19th Street after business hours. One look at the room confirmed it: These were role-playing lovin', math-and-science spoutin', ironic-wardrobe wearin', cheap-beer and retro-soda chuggin', All-American nerds.
They came, clutching playing cards and dice, board games and game consoles, at the request of nerd poobah Drew Walker, who every month or so sends out word that it's time to get out of mom's basement and emerge into the neon light of evening for fun and (role-playing) games.
You may have heard of these addictive games (heck, in your own closeted nerddom, may have played them): Magic: The Gathering, Pokémon, Burning Wheel, Settlers of Cataan, and that old fave, Nintendo 64 Mario Kart.
All were being contested around tables with folding chairs in the back of the vintage clothing store, while Walker livened things up by having volunteers lead power-point presentations on topics as scintillating as radiocarbon dating and entomology.
It was a night, in short, to let their freak flag fly. But, to the outside observer, there seemed something a tad hip about the nerds, cool in that Jobs/Gates we'll-inherit-the-world way.
"Probably, being smart and passionate is always going to be cool," Walker said. "The chic thing is sort of cliché by this point. Whatever people need to feel cool, they can call themselves what they want."
By adulthood, most self-dubbed nerds have long since come to terms with negative public perceptions. They don't feel at all sheepish to still be playing Dungeons & Dragons long since high school days.
"I don't feel like there's any reason to feel embarrassed," Walker said. "I mean, a lot of smart, fun people are into strategy and games that take a lot more than pushing a button and shooting a gun."
Wearing a Viking helmet with elongated horns, Walker grabbed the microphone and greeted the people, who seemed awkward about commencing activities. So, as something of a warm-up act, he had friend Yuri Kvichko give a 15-minute slide show explaining carbon dating.
"Hello, Sacramento," he said, and the room was so quiet you could hear a pocket-protector drop. "I just wanted to share a little knowledge Hey, can everybody hear me? Is this on?
"Radiocarbon dating is a dating method (assorted titters from the crowd at the phrase 'dating method') by which they figure out the age of most of our civilization."
As the night wore on, inhibitions and hoodies were shed, and people got down to serious gaming. The Mario Kart tournament, in which thumbs manipulated joysticks, and card-strewn Pokémon table drew the biggest crowds.
Tobias Lake, a 21-year-old Sacramento resident in a bowtie and blue Mr. Rogers cardigan sweater, bopped between the Mario big screen and the Magic: The Gathering table.
"I don't know a lot of people into nerdy things, so I came here," Lake said. "I keep to myself, usually."
Lake and Krista Bautista, 25, competed with each other in Mario Kart for at least 20 minutes, exchanging little more than a few words.
"It's a nostalgia thing," she said, "coming here to play."
Others were more bold. Mike Howell, 35, made his presence felt immediately. Sporting a T-shirt reading "Everything I Needed to Know I Learned From Gaming" and a full Brian Wilson beard, while carrying a briefcase-sized plexiglass box of cards, he set up a table and started a game of Dominion.
"One of the great things about (Dominion) is there's a lot of cards," he said. "But you only play a few at a time, so every game is different, you know?"
No, we don't know. Spending a couple of hours among nerds in their natural habitat makes you feel woefully inadequate and ignorant the same inferior feeling as when you call IT guys about computer problems.
You envy their ardor for these games that are as foreign to you as trying to read Sanskrit. You envy, too, how comfortable they are in their skin, how they proudly wear the nerd mantle.
By night's end, you are the one who is the outsider, the dweeb who can't even tell the difference between Garruk the planeswalker and Phage the untouchable.
NERDS MEET UP
To find out the dates for the next "Nerd Night" at Bows & Arrows, 1815 19th St., Sacramento, go to http://bowscollective.com/calender/events.php .
For similar activites in the area, check out the Sacramento Geeks Community Calendar at www.sacgeeks.com.