Wednesday, January 23, 2013

adventures in Brookings: the Geek Shoppe edition.

As I’ve told you again and again, Brookings was the number one destination of my youth. Dentist appointment? Go to Brookings. Visiting Grandma Lorraine? Go to Brookings. School supplies? Go to Brookings.

Once I got my driver’s license, even more of my time was spent in Brookings. When my friend Allison and I were looking for something to do on a slow Saturday, we’d hop in my crappy car or her crappy car and head southeast. Compared to Arlington, Brookings was chock-full of entertainment choices. Our favorite spot was a store we lovingly called the Geek Shoppe.

The Geek Shoppe has been in its spot in downtown Brookings for as long as I can remember. It’s half pet supply store, half hobby shop: you can buy turtle food and replica Lord of the Rings swords all in one stop.

When you walk in the Geek Shoppe, you’ll immediately notice the smell. It’s a smell unlike any other: a distinctive bouquet of live fish and unshowered high school boys. You’ll get used to it.

The other thing you’ll notice is the sheer volume of stuff. The Geek Shoppe is a one-level store, but it’s split into two parts via a couple of steps. The ground floor, if you will, is packed full of shelving and fishtanks. Back when I used to go to the Geek Shoppe, the whole left side was filled with board games and t-shirts, the middle had shelves full of pet supplies, and the right was part fish, part cash register, and part ads for free cockatiels. If you were to go up the steps to the raised area, you’d find the replica weapons, books/comic books, and a table full of teenagers playing Dungeons and Dragons.

At this point, you’re probably wondering if I am a closet Dungeons and Dragons player, or if I collect comic books and keep my glasses held together with tape. But no: I’ve never bought a comic book, and I don’t even know what the goal of Dungeons and Dragons is. So if I don’t care about any of that stuff, what drew me to the Geek Shoppe? Two things: the fish and the owner.

The Geek Shoppe had the best fish. While their tanks were scummy, the fish inside were all sorts of crazy shapes and colors. There were tiny crabs and neon snails that could also come home with you. I never bought a fish at the Geek Shoppe, but Allison sure did: she named them Napoleon and Spartacus, and they lived long goldfish lives.

The pride and joy of the Geek Shoppe was a three-foot-long pacu (vegetarian piranha) named Milo. 
This is not Milo himself, but this is the same look he'd
give you if you stopped by his tank.
Milo would blink at you plaintively if you stopped by his enormous tank, and if you came at the right time of day, the owner would let you feed Milo his bananas and blueberries. Allison and I first started going to the Geek Shoppe in the very early 2000s, and Milo was a fixture. Sadly, just this summer, my cousins and I stopped in the Geek Shoppe for old times’ sake and noticed that Milo’s tank sat empty. My cousin Monica – never afraid to ask questions – approached the owner and asked where Milo was. Of course, poor Milo had gone to the big fishtank in the sky.

So now let’s talk about the aforementioned owner of the Geek Shoppe. Allison and I didn’t learn his name for many years, so we always called him “Mr Geek.” Mr Geek was the epitome of a hobby shop owner: he had a calculator watch, for crying out loud. But let me tell you: he was the friendliest guy. He would overhear Allison’s and my conversations and would giggle from behind the counter. We were a different breed, after all: he was used to the not-at-all-chatty Dungeonmasters who occupied the back half of his store.

During our sophomore year, Allison and I had a science teacher who kept an aquarium in her classroom. For reasons unknown, all of our teacher’s fish had kicked the bucket. As we stared into the Geek Shoppe’s fishtanks, Allison noticed some suckerfish. "Weren't the fish that just died suckerfish?” she said. “We should get some for our teacher because she's dead... I mean, the fish are dead, not her." Mr Geek about busted a gut. Our conversation turned to Oscars: “Didn't our old science teacher have an Oscar?” I wondered aloud. Mr. Geek, ever the fountain of knowledge, said, "If he was orange and black and had a big mouth, he was an Oscar." 
In case you were curious.
I added, "His name was Oscar the Oscar. Very creative.” If memory serves me correctly, this comment actually had Mr Geek doubled over the counter. Our comments weren’t really that funny, but for the humor-starved, we were hilarious.

Looking back, I do feel kind of bad that I never really bought anything at the Geek Shoppe. I know I bought some kind of sculpture for Allison’s fishtank, and I may have bought some kind of weird peach soda. Shamefully, just last April, I missed a golden opportunity to patronize the Geek Shoppe. It was the night before my 25th birthday, and James and I had gone to Brookings to have early birthday Pizza King with my parents. As we were walking back to our car, I spotted a giant stuffed dinosaur in the window of a doll/dress shop. It was AWESOME and I HAD TO HAVE IT. Of course, the store was closed, but we called the next day and bought it over the phone. Yes: I bought myself a stuffed T-rex for my 25th birthday.
My mom was willing to pick it up for me after she got done with work. The store closed before Mom would be able to get there, so the shop owner – Mr Geek’s mother! – sent it to the Geek Shoppe right across the street. Mom went to pick the dinosaur up there, and Mr Geek had one just like it in his store! That’s what I get for not shopping around.

Should you ever be in Brookings and in need of some dragon figurines – or simply to kill time – I’d highly recommend you stop by the Geek Shoppe. It’s an experience like no other, I assure you. Say hi to the fish for me.

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