Are You a Dork?
You've seen them. Yes, you know just who we mean. Maybe it was at a football game. Under the glare of spotlights, before a roaring crowd, a lone man burst free and charged across the gridiron. The 20, the 10, the 5-and with a last surge of energy he crossed the goal line and broke into a delirious end-zone dance.Then they tackled him. The police, that is, huffing and puffing from chasing the poor slob ever since he stumbled out of the stands and dashed onto the field, carrying not a football, but a half-empty beer cup. The actual players, huddled 50 yards away, looked on with amusement as the interloper was dragged off the muddy field, while the crowd acknowledged his pathetic grab for attention with hoots and catcalls. Amidst the cacophony, a single voice from the stands rose above the din, summing up the common sentiment: "Get the hell off the field--you dork!"Dorks--can't live with 'em, can't shoot 'em. And you don't have to be a sports fan to know just who I'm talking about, either. How many times in your life--heck, how many times today, while driving to work or just trying to buy a cup of coffee--have you encountered someone who boldly imposed his bad judgment, poor taste, and questionable body odor onto you and everyone else in his path?Dorks creep up on us when we least expect it. You're minding your own business, standing in a slow-moving checkout line at Kmart. Suddenly you realize that the source of the delay is some schmuck at the head of the queue, who's trying to pay for a color TV with 700 rolls of pennies. You may try to be patient. You may even try to rationalize this ignorant, selfish act as a cry for help. But inside you're thinking: What a dork! Dorks are omnipresent. When flight attendants request that all electronic devices be shut off, dorks refuse to put away their Game Boys. With "Do not feed the animals" signs in plain view at the zoo, dorks offer up their chili dogs to the llamas. Dorks fall out of trees trying to steal cable. Dorks hum show tunes at funerals. Dorks snap their gum. Loudly.Dorks can't stop themselves from saying or doing the wrong thing at the absolute worst time, that is, when they happen to be seated next to you on the bus or at the movies. Virtually every day of the week a dork will commit some act that screams: "Look at me! I'm an idiot!" And the dork doesn't care!Dorks have always walked the earth, but if popular culture is any indication, we are becoming increasingly aware of the dork presence. Dork awareness is ascendant. Consider the evidence. A memorable IKEA television commercial features a scowling lad saying, "Hi, I'm Zack, the new dork across the street." When the popular band No Doubt played an acoustic version of its hit "Spiderwebs" on the radio recently, lead singer Gwen Stefani punctuated the song by ending it with a resounding "You dork!" Last fall, while reflecting on the dreary 1996 campaign, New York Times columnist Maureen Dowd recalled Republican vice presidential nominee "Jack Kemp spewing a transcendently dorky number of football metaphors." A quick scan of the Web turns up Dork home pages and at least two Dork of the Week sites.The writers of TV sitcoms seem to have discovered the concept of dorkiness in a big way. In recent weeks I've heard the term spring from the lips of characters on News Radio and Friends, among other programs. But, then, that should hardly be surprising. The narrative of sitcoms frequently hinges on the inconsiderate, dim-witted misdeeds of some dork. What would Seinfeld be without George Costanza, the dork nonpareil? So vital is the dork to American television programming that the 1996-97 season offered viewers a new show that's clearly a tribute to dorkiness.NBC's Men Behaving Badly features a pair of roommates whose favorite pastime appears to be sitting around their filthy apartment, drinking beer, and watching National Geographic TV specials for the hot parts. It competes, appropriately, with ABC's The Drew Carey Show, which centers on the sad-sack exploits of an overweight guy with a crewcut and safety glasses; Drew and his friends spend most of each program putting one another down for being chronic losers.Back in the real world, people want to know: Who is the dork? At this point in the essay, the unimaginative writer often turns to the dictionary for the standard definition--an option you might think isn't available to me with a colloquialism like "dork." But you'd be wrong, dork breath! My Random House Dictionary explains that a dork is a "stupid or ridiculous person; jerk; nerd." I'm with the folks at Random House right up until the final word. Nerds may be many things, but stupid is not one of them. Nerds, I don't need to remind any of you savy readers, have exploited their lack of stupidity about things like baud rates and gigabytes to amass great fortunes. They use their wealth to do things like build gargantuan homes along Lake Washington, standing as monuments to nerdiness.Don't go looking for any monuments to dorkiness. Dorkiness isn't something to be celebrated. Unlike the nerds of the world, dorks are stupid. The dork hasn't been born who can wear a nerd's pocket protector. Dorks are perennial "D" students who graduate into the real world and rise to the top only in the most extreme cases of nepotism, dumb luck, or bribery. And when a dork is named CEO, a company is only days away from issuing public apologies and being sued by investors.You've heard of Murphy's Law? This is the Dork Principle: Whatever can go wrong will, probably with a number of casualties, as long as a dork is in charge. An etymologist at Random House with time on his hands actually bothered to research the origins of the word dork. The thinking goes that it may be a marriage of two other mild four-letter epithets, dolt and jerk. You may wonder: Must a dork necessarily be a male dolt/jerk?It's not an unreasonable question, especially since the second definition of dork is "Vulgar, penis." Does that mean women are incapable of crass and lunkheaded moments? There is ample evidence to the contrary. Remember Farrah hairdos? Leg warmers? "Pleather" patchwork purses? All dorky fads calculated to exploit the dorkish tendencies that are all part of being human. But these unfortunate memories can be explained away as brief lapses of judgment. Women, for the most part, are too reserved to be true, full-time dorks.There seems to be a strong whiff of testosterone to a genuine dork's every inept move and ill-timed utterance-a boldness, an in-your-face quality. Would a woman think it the height of comedy to walk into a McDonald's and order a Whopper? Would a woman build an anatomically correct snowman? Have you ever seen a woman wearing an "I'm with Stupid" T-shirt? Don't get me wrong. Dorks are human, too. Just like everybody else, a dork puts his shoes on one foot at a time. There's just no guarantee they'll be from the same pair. Or that they won't be Earth shoes. True dorks, after all, are a bit behind the curve when it comes to trends. Which is why a dork will order Bud in a brew pub, Sanka at Starbucks, fish sticks in a sushi bar. If you happen to be a dork, I'll bet I could walk into Tower Records and find your entire record collection--in the cut-out bin. So you're the one who keeps buying those Styx albums.Ooh. Did that one hit a little close to home? Are you beginning to wonder: Am I a dork? If you have your doubts, take the test. Don't bother keeping the results to yourself, though. After all, the world knows a dork when it sees one.SIDEBAR 1: Take the Test:Section 1Choose one.1. Your living room walls are decorated witha. framed fine-art prints.b. framed posters of the Old Milwaukee Swedish Bikini Team.2. You worship Shawn Kemp becausea. of his ability to combine grace and brute force on the basketball court.b. of the way he didn't beat you senseless the time you asked for hisautograph and, in your excitement, threw up on his shoes.3. Which TV personality projects your approximate level of style and charm?a. George Clooneyb. Andy Rooney4. Your last relationship failed becausea. she didn't understand you.b. she didn't understand why you had to leave the symphony early to make it home in time for Baywatch Nights.5. Favorite Beatle:a. John, Paul, Georgeb. Ringo6. You hate telemarketers becausea. they interrupt your dinner.b. they hang up on you. 7. The last time you visited an art museum, you were most impressed bya. a touring exhibit of one of the great master's works. b. the very reasonable prices in the snack bar. 8. The first thing you do upon checking into a hotel room isa. study the floor layout on the back of the door, so you'll know how to escape in an emergency.b. study the SpectraVision listings to find out if you've already seen the porn films. 9. You find yourself in an awkward position while dining with friends in a French restaurant: The sommelier has handed you the wine list, but you know nothing about wine. What do you do?a. Discreetly ask the sommelier to select an appropriate vintage.b. Ignore the wine list and order a round of Jell-O shots. 10. Favorite Sinatra:a. Frankb. Nancy11. Which more closely describes a typical big night out for you?a. dinner and a showb. dinner, and showing your date why waiters citywide know you as "Mr. Chew-and-Screw"12. Which more closely describes a night at the cinema for you?a. watching the movie with a friend, then going out for a few beers to talk about it b. watching the movie with a friend, and talking about it while drinking the beer you snuck in13. Examine the ink blot. Which of the following phrases best describes the idea it represents to you?a. man's inhumanity to manb. two greased pigs doing the horizontal hula 14. You don't listen to alternative rock becausea. it's just reheated heavy metal.b. none of it's available on eight-track.15. Before making love with a new partner, youa. have a frank talk about sexually transmitted diseases.b. thank God you washed your sheets last fall.16. The greatest influence on your life has beena. a high school teacher who told you to pursue your dreams.b. the infomercial that convinced you to buy the Ginsu knives. 17. Which late-20th-century scientific development do you consider more important?a. the Mars meteoriteb. stuffed-crust pizza18. A genie appears to you and grants you one wish-anything you want. Which are you more likely to choose?a. world peace for eternityb. a free weekend pass to World of Waves 19. In high school, you were voted a. Most Likely to Succeed.b. Most Likely to Die in a Hunting Accident.20. At your 10-year high school reunion, classmates were amazeda. by your success.b. that you hadn't died in a hunting accident. Score one point for all "b" answers. Add 100 points to your score if you still haven't figured out that "b" was the wrong answer. Section 2Answer the following questions. Score one point for each "yes" response. Have you have ever . . .1. backed into another car while talking on your cellular phone? (Add 10 points if you weren't driving a car at the time.)2. owned an AMC Pacer?3. named a pet dog "Snoopy"?4. referred to your wife or girlfriend as "my special lady"?5. been told that sucking toothpicks is "not cool"?6. used the word "negatory" instead of a simple "no"?Do you . . .1. insist on ending the message on your answering machine tape with a selection from the first Van Halen album?2. go shirtless in public the instant the thermometer creeps above 70 degrees F?3. entertain your nephews by lighting up farts?4. blow your nose on cloth napkins?Does your wardrobe include (add one point per item) . . .1. floral-print shirts, with really huge collars, made of petroleum-based synthetics?2. a white belt?3. a collection of leisure suits from the '70s, because you just know they're going to be back in style some day?4. any article of clothing bearing the Hard Rock Cafe logo (add one point for every dollar it cost in excess of $20)? 5. mesh tank tops?6. running shorts cut so they reveal a little more of your thigh than anyone cares to see?7. Dingo boots?Score one point for each of the following foods that can be found in your refrigerator or cupboard that you purchased for your own consumption.1. Cheez Whiz2. Lunchables 3. Yoo-Hoo4. Ho Ho's5. Count Chocula6. Gummi Bears7. JÉgermeister or SchnappsScoring0 to 5 points: You aren't a dork. In fact, you really shouldn't be such a stuffed shirt. Cut in line at the supermarket. Pass wind in a crowded elevator. Park in the handicapped zone. Wear really large belt buckles. 5 to 15 points: You have dorkish tendencies. People generally like you, but talk behind your back is rampant. You are not beyond hope, but immediate action is necessary. Throw out all your Meatloaf CDs and remove the Pamela Anderson calendar from your cubicle. Today.15 points or more: You are a dork. But, then again, you've probably been hearing that all your life. Information about support groups can be obtained by contacting the International Dorks Institute for Observation, Therapy, and Self-help (IDIOTS). Good luck. And stay out of our neighborhood, would you?SIDEBAR 2: THE DORK HALL OF FAMEDan QuayleDon KnottsHomer SimpsonJamie (Rob Schneider) on Men Behaving Badly Ralph Malph (Donnie Most) on Happy DaysBeavisButt-headCliff Clavin (John Ratzenberger) on CheersGeorge (Jason Alexander) on SeinfeldNewman (Wayne Knight) on SeinfeldTom Arnold (in anything)Jim Carrey (ditto)Chris FarleyWillard ScottWeird Al Yankovic