Nerd alert

Carlton's seat for Dragon*Con
Carlton had the best view of the Dragon*Con parade last year.

Does dressing in the costume of your favorite super hero make you a nerd?

Does carrying a plastic gun or laser sword make you a nerd?

Does donning pointed ears and makeup to resemble an elf make you a nerd?

Does getting up early on a holiday weekend to go downtown and watch a parade of these people make you a nerd?

My nerd tendencies have always had an uneasy coexistence with my jock inclincations. Before the days of fanboys and geek chic, I had a sense that my interest in “Star Wars,” “Lord of the Rings” and other art forms from that genre had a place, but not a very public one if I valued my reputation.

Dragon*Con Parade storm troopers
Hey, these aren’t the droids you’re looking for. Put that gun away!

As pop culture references to such things have become more mainstream, I’ve been a little more willing to give my inner nerd some room to breathe. And now that I have three boys who have fully embraced “Star Wars,” “Harry Potter” and “Batman” I am confronted with a dilemma: do I encourage their interest in imagination-inducing entertainment or dampen their enthusiasm for elements of nerd culture and get them to embrace more mainstream elements of pop culture?

Last year I completely gave in to nerddom by taking the whole family — even Carla — downtown to see the spectacle that is the annual Dragon*Con parade. You know Dragon*Con right?

It is the big gathering of nerds held every Labor Day weekend in Atlanta. Officiallly, it “is the largest multi-media, popular culture convention focusing on science fiction and fantasy, gaming, comics, literature, art, music, and film in the universe.” I can’t challenge their assertion because, frankly, I haven’t traveled much outside of our solar system.

Batmobile at the Dragon*Con parade
“Engine to power. Turbine to speed.” No, I’m not talking about the Batmobile, I’m talking about Barron’s heart when he saw it!

We didn’t buy tickets to the event, so it was a fun, cheap way to spend a Saturday. The boys got to see people dressed in costumes of their favorite characters, including a 1966 replica Batmobile (Barron’s current obsession) and I got to relive a portion of my own childhood with all the Star Wars costumes.

The float and characters promoting the haunted houses were a little much for Carlton, who was 2 years-old at the time. Otherwise, it was a family-friendly parade.

So why am I going back again this year?

1. It’s fun. It’s not every day you see people trying to bring to life fictional characters who live only in your imagination, on the movie or television screen or in books. It has the same vibe as running into a celebrity at the airport, only that usually doesn’t involve plastic weapons.

2. It’s a time to bond with my boys. I’ve dedicated a lot of space in this blog to talking about how I bond with my children. Camping is one way. Engaging in the “campy” elements of pop culture is another.

3. Who doesn’t love a parade? I still remember sitting on the frozen curb as a child watching the Cotton Bowl parade with my friend, Ryan, one New Year’s Day. It’s a spectacle, and the democracy of the Dragon*Con approach of taking all comers (who sign in and arrive at the check point on time) is refreshing. There’s really no skill involved. And it’s interesting to try to pick out what each group of nerds is representing. There are some pretty obscure corners of pop culture represented, and fortunately, my friend, Rob, is an expert who can help identify the more niched references.

4. Sometimes the real world is just a downer. There’s world hunger, hurricanes, war in Syria, stalled economy, crime, etc., etc., etc. Being transported to another place and time for a few hours may not be productive but it does make it easier to cope.

5. I’m still a kid at heart. As much as I try to repress my urge to pick up a light saber and run around the yard joining in my boys’ Jedi combat, I must have an outlet for my inner child. Yes, it’s a little nerdy to always be quoting Obi Wan Kenobi (“Trust your feelings”) or Gandalf (“It’s the deep breath before the plunge”) at the office, but giving space for these fantastical diversions moderates the highs and lows of a workday.

So if you’re looking for me Saturday morning, I’ll be at the corner of Peachtree Street and International Boulevard hanging out with my boys watching the denizens of Dragon*Con strut their stuff. And if that makes me a nerd, well, so be it.

Do you have hidden nerd tendencies? What’s your secret nerd indulgence? Go ahead and get it out in the open. You’ll feel better. We won’t laugh. I promise.

New South Bracketology

There are times I pretend to be an expert: any discussion of running, life in the New South, Star Wars and fantasy football.

There are other times when no amount of pretending can cover up glaring ignorance: parenting, relationships, basic plumbing and filling out NCAA tournament brackets.

2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament bracket
Here it is, in all its glory: the 2012 NCAA Men's Basketball Tournament bracket. After one day, mine is taking on water.

The mania that has swept the country during the NCAA men’s and women’s basketball tournaments (although primarily the men’s) overshadows real news of importance in people’s lives. The never-ending Republican primary plays in the background as gas prices soar, tensions rise in Afghanistan and Iran and severe weather spreads across tornado alley through the Midwest and South.

All that stuff impacts people’s lives, but for a few days, the NCAA tournament distracts us from all that and gives us something else to think about.

NCAA Final Four logo
What teams did you pick for the Final Four? Leave a comment below with your picks and join the madness!

Of course, the Internet is to blame for this. Back in the day, you had to go out and buy an actual newspaper to fill out a bracket. I can’t remember the last time I put pencil (definitely not pen!) to a bracket on newsprint. Maybe 1997? In any case, the ubiquitous bracket online and the obnoxious presence of ESPN have conspired to empower anyone to fill out a March Madness bracket.

The result? More ground lost to women in the battle of the sexes.

That’s right, the bracket is no longer male-only turf. All it takes is for one woman to post a bracket on Pinterest and suddenly, millions of women discover that they, too, can compete. Perhaps their significant others have been hiding this bracket from them in order to preserve the last bastion of competition where men can pretend to have superiority.

The democratization of the bracket now has more women entering – and winning – NCAA tournament pools. Why? Women aren’t bogged down in details like offensive rebounds, road records and defensive styles. Their picks reflect the truly random nature of the NCAA tournament.

Vandy takes down Harvard
The Harvard of the South defeated the actual Harvard in round one of the NCAA men's basketball tournament on Thursday.

Back when I worked in newspapers, it was always the sports writers who did the worst. All of their knowledge only clouded their judgment. The newsroom pool was usually won by a copy editor with a degree in English literature who made her selections on the basis of which school had the best library or most published authors.

I’m just grateful that my wife hasn’t shown any interest. The humiliation of losing to her in an NCAA tournament pool would only add to the list of subjects in which I can no longer debate her with any credibility. That list includes colors, the arrangement of furniture, baby names, etiquette, television and relationships.

This is really the only week the tournament matters. After the field is narrowed to 16 this weekend, the majority of the country’s brackets will be hopelessly mangled, and the tournament will join the other current events as background noise to our lives. Only the real, hardcore fans will stick with this thing to the end on April 2.

Besides, the real fun lies in figuring out a way to avoid work on Thursday and Friday of the opening week to watch the games. Again, the Internet has brought about a huge sea change on how people slack off from work to watch basketball.

Back in the day, you had to sneak away for a three-hour lunch to watch games or somehow get a portable television into your office. Now you can just log on to ESPN.com and let the Gamecast take it from there – not that I would EVER do that.

When the number of games diminishes to three or four a night, and they all appear in prime time, the illicit nature of the tournament will be gone, along with most of our final four picks, and life can return to normal.

So at the risk of being held accountable by my faithful readers, I will reveal my Final Four selections: Kentucky, Missouri, Florida State and North Carolina. I predict North Carolina will beat Kentucky in the championship, 76-69.

Your guess is as good as mine.

Have you filled out your bracket? Who made your final four? Who is your champion? Leave New South Nation your picks in a comment below and join the fun!