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Nerds' Night Out

By Tim Gihring
Aug. 2, 2007 | Minnesota Monthly

The theme of the first Geek Prom, which was held in Duluth's NorShor Theater in 2002, was "We are through being cool." But it's fair to wonder if the attendees -- wearing Star Trek uniforms, poofy '80s dresses, and tuxedos that looked like 1970s Wayne Newton rejects -- had ever been cool to begin with.

Consider the 2003 prom's royalty. Immediately following his coronation, Geek King Ben Fisher-Merritt announced that he was late for a Dungeons & Dragons match and left the party. Queen AnnMarie O'Malley's resume -- former comic book store clerk, high school debater who competed at nationals, pin collector (her favorite: "Poetry Kicks Ass") -- gave her equally impeccable geek cred.

Still, Geek Prom does, in its way, say "cool!" (or the equivalent in Klingon). The bash isn't a theme party for ironic hipsters; it's a chance for all of us to release our inner geek, even if we don't know Sulu from Solo, Xena from Xerox. "Obviously, everyone's welcome," says Geek Prom cofounder Paul Lundgren, a 32-year-old Duluth freelance writer who describes his career as "falling ass-backward down the media hierarchy for many a year now." If the Geek Prom excluded anyone, he or she would immediately become a misfit and would have to be let in.

Each year, the event has drawn about 300 "geeks, nerds, brainiacs, Einsteins, space cadets," et al., according to Lundgren. All the Duluth meteorologists have attended (are you reading this, Paul Douglas?), as have an ornithologist, numerous Trekkies, and "just about any kind of weakling you can find." What are they wearing? "Superhero outfits, marching band uniforms, dental headgear, futuristic ensembles for casual space travel," says Lundgren. Or, as the Geek Prom's website advises potential attendees: "you know, what you always wear."

During the first prom, some attendees shunned clothing altogether. "Geek streak!" someone shouted, and seven naked nerds ran through the party and out into the night. The stunt has been repeated every year since, and one promgoer even got it on video: Geeks Gone Wild!

Billed as "an awkward evening of romance," Geek Prom mostly attracts the young and the dateless. Last year's event was held at the Great Lakes Aquarium. "When you're dealing with people who are awkward at socializing, having a lot of fish around them that they can talk about, in an educational environment, is really helpful," Lundgren observes.

There was dancing -- or writhing, at any rate (a trophy was awarded for the best "spaz dancing," which Lundgren describes as "a seizure with music, and more foaming at the mouth"). And there were drinks: the Beam Me Up Scotty (Jim Beam, 7 UP, and Scotch), the Sleestak (from TV's Land of the Lost), and something called the Pocket Protector, "which actually tasted like a pocket," Lundgren says.

Geek Prom grew out of Lundgren's wish to restage the prom experience for grownups who didn't enjoy it much the first time around. But Lundgren, a former high school football player who actually looks more like Superman than Clark Kent, decided a simple prom rerun might be dull; adding the geek theme gave it a purpose -- and an audience. His friend Scott "Starfire" Lunt, organizer of Duluth's Homegrown Music Festival, agreed to help pull it off.

"Geek Prom is kind of a celebration, letting the nerdiness flow from you," Lundgren says. Even if you haven't built every computer you've ever owned, as Fisher-Merritt has, you probably have some ignominious obsession or uninteresting interest. Maybe you collect rubber bands, follow professional badminton, or are the ping-pong poobah of Pequot Lakes. Well, let your freak flag fly. "There really is kind of a geek in everybody," says Lundgren. "Most people are afraid to let that geek out."

The 2005 Geek Prom is scheduled for Saturday, April 9 at Pizza Luce in the Duluth Technology Village.