November 10, 2008

Naughty By Nature

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The many times that my family gathered on Friday nights after TGIF to watch 20/20, I often thought about the question of nature vs. nurture. Between the “Give Me a Break”-John Stossel segments and the ones where they said that children shouldn’t be allowed in pools or hot tubs because they sit on drains and their bowels get sucked out, there would be segments about long lost twins and the studies done to show that their similar behavorioral aspects are indeed from nature and not simply because they were raised together, because they weren’t.
I myself became an exemplar of the answer to the nature vs nurture question when I was shopping in a Detroit mall with my dorky, sweater-vest-wearing, adoptive single father and I happened upon a girl who looked exactly like me but had a spunky, single-parent adoptive mom. Wait, that wasn’t me, that was just another show on TGIF.
I became an exemplar when I went away to school at the tender age of 14, to be raised in loco parentis by weirdo teachers who lived in my dorms at boarding school and a giant bubble of peer pressure. It was then that I shed almost all of the tendencies that would have reminded anyone I was a “Weiss.”
I stopped randomly stretching on the ground, like my brother. I stopped spontaneously laughing when things were tense and awkward, like my mother. I accrued a moderate sense of style, unlike my mom and sister. But the weird thing is, every time I went home, I seemed to become creepily more and more like my father.
The tipping point was when I discovered the magic of Microsoft Excel. Oh wow, was that a big day for me. I found that I could plug information into categories and have the program automatically sort things for me every which way. It was as if Christmas and my birthday and Valentine’s Day all conspired to give me one big hug from an angel. I love facts, and now facts could be consolidated and organized into DATA.
This became a serious addiction for me. It was the year 2001, and Courtney, one of the girls down the hall, had this whirly machine in her computer that played movies. She called it a DVD player. To me that sounded like a sexually transmitted disease. I was jealous nonetheless.
We’d gather in her room on Friday nights (big party night before 11 p.m. curfew), maybe we’d get “co-ed” permission so some guys could come too and we’d watch movies. We didn’t like including guys because then we’d have to keep the door open and the lights on, which kind of ruined the cinematic experience, but we’d take one for the team if there was a love connection to be made. Courtney had all these movies I’d never heard of like Shrek and Pretty Woman, and she could recite all the lines of the movies verbatim. I was so jealous of this clearly useful life skill that I called my parents and cried that I’d never seen any movies. After my father asked me if I could hear anything, and I said no, and he replied that he was playing the world’s tiniest violin for my sorrows, I hung up the (not cell) phone and began my mission: I was going to make a giant extensive spreadsheet of every movie worth seeing ever and systematically go through them until everyone would bow their heads in respect of my passive and sedentary movie-viewing prowess.
It took me my entire freshman year to do, but I combed through Academy Awards and Golden Globes winners, plus any movies that were ever nominated for an AFI accolade, and I made a giant spreadsheet that included the movie, the director, the main actors, the year and every award it won of the aforementioned three. The list spanned back to 1915 with Birth of a Nation and came up to present day, which was, when I finished eight months later, 2002. I’d add to the list every year thereafter when the Oscars’ and Golden Globes’ nominations were announced. And there was nothing more satisfying in my tender teenage existence than watching a film and getting to highlight it on my 2000+ movie spreadsheet as viewed. By the end of high school, I had seen 25 percent of the movies, and I was pretty satisfied with myself, as is my nature.
But with my hindsight-20/20-John-Stossel-vision, the rub is that extreme excitement by vast quanities of data runs in my family. I never actually knew what my father did for a job, except that in involved e-mailing and free soda in the break room. I had visited his office in the big glass buildings in Redwood Shores many times, often to watch Stanford crew regattas which take place in the huge man-made lake that connects all the superfuturistic office towers. All I knew was the name of his company. People asked me what my dad did, and I’d say “transponster,” which I thought was witty because Friends was popular at the time and that’s what they said Chandler did when no one knew what he did for a living.
But, my friends, information has been revealed to me via my life coach Wikipedia that the company that my father works for makes databases. And even the one he worked for before that. In fact, my father is apparently one of the first people to have made data his occupation, back when computers used punch cards. As my brother describes it, “Dad wasn’t just a nerd when it was socially unacceptable. He was a nerd when it was absolutely unforgiveable.” He lugged his giant computer box around like a briefcase and wrote code on it when he was in bed. He even, for a period, worked at a company called “Dataquest.” If a Greek bard were to sing my tale, my life’s quest would be for data, no doubt. Even after my movie endeavor, I began to make a spreadsheet of every song that was ever on the Billboard top 100 from the year 1955 onward.
I love information, and I vomit with glee for information in vast quantities that can be organized and reorganized, highlighted, italicized, and cut, copied and pasted. If that makes me a freak, then so be it. Apparently its genetic.