Speed dating at the Vault of Midnight
by David Alexander
Upstairs at the Vault of Midnight, customers peruse comic books, toys, and other pop culture knickknacks. Downstairs, past a smattering of superhero posters, past shelves of indie comics, past a room full of board games and back issues of more comics, eight gray plastic tables wait to be occupied. It's a frigid, blustery night, but soon a couple dozen self-proclaimed nerds looking to meet other nerds will fill these tables.
This is the third installment of Nerdy Flirty Speed Dating, the brainchild of Nerd Life Productions. Nerd Life comprises four friends: Josh Schramm, Daniel Loines, Will Blattman, and Marcus Schwimmer. Schramm says their only goal is to make enough money to continue doing events--they use the seven-dollar registration fee from the daters to rent the Vault's basement and pay for materials and refreshments.
"We just want to create ways for the nerd community to do things ... I don't want to stereotype anyone and say we are trying to get anyone out of their parents' basements," says Schramm with a laugh. "Nerd culture has become so normalized." Schramm, twenty-eight, says they started the event because they would have loved something like it when they were younger. They also host a podcast--"Two Nerds and a Wookie"--and put on the Lord of the Rings-themed "Trivia Night in the Shire," also at the Vault.
Liz Sullivan, the store's general manager, says the speed dating caters to the crowd that frequents the shop, giving them one more reason to visit the store.
Back in the basement, people begin filling the room--the women first. Each of them sits facing the door where a Cobra banner, from the cartoon G.I. Joe, hangs. Schwimmer gives the ladies a pep talk about the event's mechanics. Each man will sit across from a woman of his choice, and the two will have three-and-a-half minutes to talk. Then, the men will rotate. Each of the twelve women will get to talk to each of the thirteen men.
The participants, who are
all between twenty and thirty-five, wear nametags with a randomly assigned nerd moniker. "April O'Neil"--the reporter friend of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles--sits next to a statuesque woman whose nametag reads "Harley Quinn," the female sidekick to the Joker in DC's Batman series.
The men, who have just heard a similar speech from Schramm upstairs, file in. The room erupts into a cacophony of conversation.
A dark-haired bearded man sits across from a slim, stylishly dressed woman.
"I'm Captain James T. Kirk," he says, shaking her hand.
"I'm Poison Ivy," she replies.
"How dangerous," he says, smiling.
Jon Smith (nerd alias: Captain Malcolm Reynolds from the cult TV show Firefly) asks a redhead with several facial piercings--twenty-year old Jenny Blattman, sister to Nerd Life's Will--what kind of video games she plays. Most of the dialogue, though, sounds no different from that of a typical date. People discuss work. They discuss school and the weather. In typical Michigander fashion, a man wearing a Spiderman nametag points to his hand, and the woman sitting across from him does the same, to show where they're from.
After every three rounds, there's a break to let the daters write down comments. Then Schwimmer shouts "Switch!" and the men rotate again.
While the nerd daters chat, the organizers bicker like old friends. Schwimmer, dressed in a crisp white dress shirt, slacks, tie, and Space Invaders socks, has an esoteric conversation about the difference between an X-wing and a B-wing in the Star Wars universe.
The daters have been given slips on which to write their alter egos, real names, and contact information. When everyone has had a chance to talk to every potential date, Schwimmer asks the daters to approach two tables and place their contact slip in the envelope of anyone they'd like to see again. Schwimmer interrupts the chatter to have people weigh in on whether Iron Man and Captain America are A-list superheroes.
"It was less awkward than I thought it would be," Smith says afterward. "I didn't go into it expecting much. It felt friendly. I'd do it again."
A man who asks to be identified only by his alter ego, "Martian Manhunter," says the "nerd" topics were a good icebreaker. However, he wished he had had more time to talk.
"I feel like a lot of conversations got cut off just when we were getting started," he says. "But if I had a minute more, I probably would have wanted another minute."
"Ms. Marvel" wears horn-rimmed glasses and a bob cut. She attended the previous session and says that while this round was better organized, she clicked better with people last time. However, she liked the experience enough to bring a friend, who also declines to give her real name, going only by Storm.
Jenny Blattman, who's new to town, says she figured she'd see if she could get to know some people who share her interest in comics, TV shows, and movies. But she doesn't give out her contact info to anyone.
The event exposed her to new people, Storm says. While she enjoys many so-called nerdy things, she isn't actively into any fandom.
Ms. Marvel says being into comics and cartoons isn't something she can discuss with colleagues at the university.
"Most people in the academic community think it's lame," she says. "These people don't think it's lame."
[Originally published in March, 2014.]