ettuce- The least loved of leaves, the blandest of toppings, a tasteless, yet tenuous green thing stuck to your teeth. It's the first piece of produce to spoil in the fridge, and last you remember to add to a taco. True, it's the main ingredient of salad, but as such it's so often left on the plate, drowned deep in dressing, forgotten, ignored.
It's a given: Lettuce is dumb. But so was I when I chose it. And so is the story of how that came to pass.
To begin, close your eyes, (but then open them, because you won't be able to read this with your eyes closed), and picture the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk's various arcades. The smell of sweat and suntan lotion mingling with that pungent mushroom odor of too-often handled quarters.
The sounds of Double Dragon, Poll Position and Street Fighter 2 filling the air, as well as the occasional "intruder alert" exclamations by an ancient but worthy "Berserk" game.
That's where I was working the summer before my enrollment to Santa Cruz -- and where I fell face-first into the world of the geek.
I had just graduated High School in Philadelphia, and -- with four friends who
had also assumed we were getting involved in something cooler -- had trekked out to the Boardwalk for a summer of fun, sun and demeaning uniforms. All my friends save one got to work at the rides. But Brian and I -- we were sentenced to the arcades. The Boardwalk arcades were staffed by an odd group of people I would later learn self-identified as geeks. Jeff (Pweent), James (Uberman), Eric Matsui (Ericsan, among other logins). And all of whom bowed to our shift supervisor, Rebecca Bateman, nowadays known alternatively as "Ruhue" or "Mommy."
Through them a world was opened up to this one-time football playing, mall enjoying, mullet-wearing mainstreamer. A world that I would have mocked, openly, had I not been largely lonely and friendless in this new odd land of Santa Cruz.
So football games were eschewed for watching Highlander at Rebecca and James' Story Street House or MST3K viewings at Echo. On a Lions run, I got to know Rebecca's then SO, Jon Luini, who was fond back then of putting curly fries up his nose. In our witty High Schooley nomenclature we referred to him as "Jonny Whip-Whip Ponytail" since we already knew a 2 Jons, and Jon was fond of flicking his long tresses about, and frankly, we were intimidated as hell by him.
Though there was frequent mentions of "b" and "unix" I'll admit to seldom understanding this world in which all the above lived. But it sounded much cooler than the one I currently lived in, because that one featured helping people who can't figure out how to start pinball games.
So one day, during a dull stretch policing the Neptune's Kingdom mini-golf course and video game cove, (as opposed to the more exciting days, when we'd catch someone trying to molest a pirate mannequin) I was pleased when Pweent and Uberman encouraged me to get a UCSCB account when I moved up to campus that fall.
They explained the importance of a login, "it's like a secret identity" and we played around with several names: "Punisher," "Stinky," "MGKrebs," "LLobster" are the few I still remember, although we compiled a lengthy list on the back of a used scorecard.
As I was leaving, Ruhue came by, heard what we were doing and exclaimed: "Yes! Get an account. You can send us letters."
Now it's time for the confession: There I was. 18. Gawky. Awkward. Working at an arcade. And then there was Rebecca: older, (she was able to buy BEER!), sophisticated (she liked music I never even heard of!), artistic (she owned a painting easel, and used it too!) sultry (well, as much as you can be in a boardwalk uniform) mysterious (I knew nothing about her), and, let's face it: female. After all, this was an arcade.
Yeah, I had a crush.
So, in the midst of this discussion, I thought I'd impress this blond goddess with my wit.
"Lettuce? Why would I want to send you lettuce?"
We all had an awkward laugh, because it was an overwhelmingly stupid comment.
Weeks passed, and summer ended. My friends left, and I started school. Despite instantly hating UCSC with the white-hot passion of one thousand Yvonnes, I soon found myself in the basement of the communications building filling out a high-tech piece of paper with a hi-fi stubby pencil, picking a login for a UCSCB account...
I couldn't remember any. Now as previously mentioned, like every young
man of my generation, I had that little crush on Ruhue. Trees and sea
lions and poorly kept gravel roads probably did as well. If you factor
the integers of pi long enough, you get a little sonnet written to her
and maternal Ms. Bateman. So I wrote down "lettuce," not because I was trying to impress anyone, but because, I was getting glared at by the pale woman behind the desk, who seemed significantly uninterested in helping me think of anything better.
A few days later, the account was opened.
For a while I lurked on UCSCB, ICB, and the various forii of the day. I dealt with the oddness of my fellow Kresgites by spending all my time in that college's oft-neglected Stat Lab, shared only with Mr. Todd Courtois and the odd homeless graduate dropout. With the pinball flash replaced by the VT-101 flicker, Lettuce was born.
For the almost 10 years since, people have asked why I chose such a seemingly odd and unglamorous name like "lettuce." That I was an odd and unglamorous person was never answer enough to those seeking deeper meaning, and greater significance from the least cool member of the vegetable family.
But I chose to keep the real story secret.
Because it was a really really dumb story.