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Going Gonzo Geek

By June Kallestad

Hanging with geeks can be intimidating. Their wit is quick. Their knowledge of the inane is deep. And when you’re surrounded by them, be prepared for one-liners to fly over your head to hit the funny bone of another geek within range. If you’re not “one of them” you won’t get it.

Consider yourself warned. Duluth will be the geek/nerd/spaz/outsider (enter movie trailer voice of Don LaFontaine) Vortex of the Universe on April 18. It’s not for the weak of spirit. Those too geeky to get a date in high school will strut their stuff. Those who hid their inner nerd trying to be cool will let it flow. It’s a time for those who can’t dance to take over the dance floor and spaz out. And it’s uniquely Duluth’s event. Uh, except for those off years when the event planners couldn’t resist the call of the Science Museum in St. Paul. Science experiments and lecturers spouting minutia? Who can blame them?

The idea for Geek Prom sort of jumped into a conversation between Paul Lundgren and Scott Lunt in 2001. “And then it was just too good to let go of,” said Lundgren. Now in its ninth year, the Geek Prom is almost reversing the spin of the vortex — it’s cool. So be prepared to know the origin of this phrase: “These aren’t the droids you’re looking for.” It just may be this year’s prom theme. As in past years, Klingons get in free, and new this year, two Imperial Stormtroopers can get in for the price of one. (You might want to spend some time on Google.)

The truth is everyone is welcome at Geek Prom, because everyone harbors a bit of nerdiness within — a few socially awkward moments, a little quirky obsession, on the outside of the in-crowd at some point. But, if George Clooney were to show up at the doors of Geek Prom? “He’d be turned away. He’s just too cool,” says Geek Prom committee member and 2005 Prom Queen Crystal Pelkey.

But wait, says Lundgren, “Once someone is rejected, they’re immediately one of us.” So it seems, even George Clooney can make it into Geek Prom. And if he can, you can.

But why go? It’s a little known secret that geeks have all the fun. They’re not worried about their clothes, their hair, or being smooth and in control. In fact, if you show up at Geek Prom with an air of cool sophistication, smell good and keep a beat while dancing, you just may be shunned.
And if you can’t make it with the geeks, well, what does that really say about you?

Jonathan Lee, this year’s prom host and Chief Delegator of Duties, recalls one of his favorite Geek Prom moments. In 2004, the prom was held at Pizza Luce. “In walked some regular customers who had no idea what was going on. And they were ‘awesome.’ I could tell by the way they smelled. They looked at the crowd and I heard one guy say, ‘What a bunch of <bleeping> nerds.’ And they walked out. I loved it.”

Back at ya, buddy. Dig out that ugly sport coat or hideous bridesmaid dress, tape up your old eyewear, and wear your pocket protector with pride. Geek Prom, as its Web site promises, is a night of awkward romance, cheesy music and spastic fits of clumsy dancing. The Spaz Dance contest is the anti-Dancing with the Stars—a free-for-all of uncoordinated body jerks. And if you’re dorky enough, you just might be crowned Prom King or Queen.

Royalty from past years judge the current crop of the uncrowned. And since geekiness comes from within, each past King and Queen have their own selection criteria.

“John and I really like science,” said 05 Queen Pelkey, referring to the king she was crowned with. That means they’re not above dismissing someone who fails to identify the elements of the Periodic Table. “We also like sci-fi experts, who know every little thing about it. And people who are into gaming are some of the best geeks around. You can really get a feel for who is authentic and who is just showing up in costume.”

Pelkey credits winning the crown to the cards she made for the judges — each with a Backstreet Boys theme whose memorabilia she’s collected since she was a pre-teen. On the cards she listed all of her geekiest qualities (her love of Star Wars is a little out of control, she admits). And Pelkey wants to remind every King or Queen wannabe that this year’s judges accept bribes, so don’t hold back.

But if getting a prom crown conjures visions of Carrie in your mind, there are other reasons to go to the Geek Prom — one year they dissected a cow’s eye, another they had a geologist with a table-top volcano discuss tectonic plates. Last year’s highlight was a Dungeons & Dragons character factory. And if you can act out the hologram scene from Star Wars, you just might win the talent contest.

To get all the details of the April event — and convince yourself that you actually can go out in public with high-water pants and red socks — go to