From The Trenches
You are not Cool. And that's very cool.
They're known as Cool Guys. You know, the ones who wear shorts and flip-flops in January in the middle of a lake-effect blizzard in Buffalo or in the downtown rush-hour slush of post-icestorm D.C.
Or, really, anywhere and anytime it's so startlingly inappropriate that it leaves the rest of us mere weather-affected mortals thinking: Wow, look at that Cool Guy --- not even liquid nitrogen could freeze his godlike epidermis.
Or so Cool Guy hopes we think.
The species Nonchalantus Extremis is not merely recognized by his plumage, which is shockingly sparse and commonly of a khaki color. He is also distinguished by his insouciant slouch and his distinctive habit of talking on a cell phone throughout a wait in any checkout line. Cool Guy will be overheard by even the most reluctant of eavesdroppers, loudly making plans for "brewskis" or arranging to pick up that "awesome" red Porsche for a test spin. There may or may not be anyone on the other end of the line at the time.
His habitats, also, are predictable: Starbucks is preferred, but anywhere with free wifi will do in a pinch.
And all this has what to do with Civil War collectors? With very rare exception, you are not Cool Guys.
In fact, there's an argument to be made for Civil War collectors being the single greatest enclave of unapologetically nerdy people on the planet. And God love you for it.
As a rule, you only wear shorts with flip-flops when it is 75° or better outside and you happen to be on vacation. And you may even wear them with white socks.
You dress for the weather and for conditions. For instance, anyone who wants to check out the best new but non-trendy, sensible, stunningly ugly footwear need go no further than any concrete-floored show venue. Anyone interested in how to survive an unexpected two-week stay on a windswept polar ice cap need look no further than the trunk of any relic hunter's vehicle. Long johns, down jackets, moth-eaten army blankets, extra camos, disreputable-looking but effective woolen socks, battery-operated handwarmers, it's all there.
I once knew a relic hunter who created a battery-operated headwarmer out of battery-operated handwarmers; it looked like his hair was clapping. I submit that it doesn't get any geekier than that.
And it's not just the pronounced contrast in clothing that separates Cool Guy from the collector. Cool Guy is a study in slow and calculated movement, for nothing is deemed worthy of rushing to. In sharp contrast, a collector unashamedly behaves like a jackrabbit on crack when a deal is on the line. A relic hunter, in his haste to find the best artifact in the best spot, will earn himself the dubious merit badges of lattice-like thorn scratches across his face, ripped pants, and bruises that can't even be accounted for. The effect is not so much Adonis, Greek god of nature, as Seymour, victim of slippery cow patties.
This blatant geekiness extends to how you interact with the opposite sex. If Cool Guy is drinking (an obscure seasonal craft brew, natch) with his friends at a bar (which has free wifi, of course) and spies, say, Scarlett Johansson perched on the barstool next to him, he will instantly go into Cool Guy attack mode. Which is to say, he will utterly ignore her and begin to make calls on his cell phone, usually involving something about a red Porsche.
Insert mental image of Scarlett, no fool she, rolling her eyes here.
Collectors and relic hunters, by contrast, if faced with Scarlett Johansson or even, let's face it, Ernest Borgnine in drag, will stammer, drool, buy drinks, and offer the pink slip to the car, which is more likely a mud-spattered truck or an aging Volvo than a cherry red Porsche.
You will even, quite anachronistically, open doors for her, and for that alone --- trust me on this—Scarlett would rather go out with you than Cool Guy.
My empirical knowledge of the difference between Cool Guy and collectors doesn't extend merely to having dated Cool Guy --- every female has. Nor does it rely only on experience gained from working in the collecting field for more than a quarter century.
No, it stems from the fact that I am one of you. Not the "guy" part, of course, but the nerd part. If anyone requires proof, let me just point out that I have smily-face, toast-shaped handwarmers that attach to my computer's USB ports. It's possible that they out-geek the clapping-hair look, but who cares? They work.
So --- and I sincerely hope this offends no one --- on the whole, Civil War collectors and relic hunters are not Cool Guys. No, you are lowercase cool guys, because your coolness is so honest and unstudied, so completely accidental, so peripheral to your aims and who you really are that you do, in fact, wind up being very cool indeed. And best of all, without trying so hard that you earn ironic Capital Letters.
Oh, and about Cool Guy: He's freezing his cojones off, and he still can't believe Scarlett left with the nerdy collector.
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