Be nice to nerds. Chances are you’ll end up working for one. — Bill Gates
David’s brother Dana and I stood side by side, surveying the items arranged on his mother’s kitchen table. At one end, the contents of my purse. At the other, Dana’s daily cargo. His pile put mine to shame. Looking from his stuff to mine and back again, I queried, “How often do you—”
“Twenty-four/seven, three sixty-five,” Dana declared with pride.
“Even when you’re not traveling?”
“Yep,” said Dana.
“Can I make fun of you now?”
Dana nodded with the benevolent resignation of a city-dwelling Buddhist monk who is accustomed to being razzed for his undeviating choice of attire. As opposed to the philosophically simplistic robe of monks (intended to provide the bare minimum comfort while forgoing convenience), after his conversion to his current belief system, the major tenet of which is “Thou Shalt Be Prepared,” Dana chose as his vestment an article of technically enabled clothing, the TEC-Vest.
“It’s my fault,” David said to me as we drove to the gallery for his annual exhibition on Martha’s Vineyard. In addition to his mother’s birthday, David’s show was Dana’s reason for trekking to the island from his suburban Boston home.
“How do you have anything to do with this?” I placated.
“I gave him his first vest, remember?” That’s right, I thought. It was around five years ago. I’d only been dating David for about a year and had not yet met his brother. Dana, who worked for Kodak at the time, was coming to the West Coast for a printers’ convention in Los Angeles and had arranged to spend a few days with us in San Diego beforehand.
Dana pulled up on a sunny Saturday afternoon in a rented banana-yellow Mustang convertible. His baseball cap bore his company’s logo, as did the brightly colored T-shirt tucked into high-rise, dark-blue Levi’s that ended just above his unblemished sneakers. The most striking aspect of Dana’s ensemble was his belt, or to be precise, the curious and cumbersome crap that was attached to it. When I inquired about all the paraphernalia affixed to his belt, Dana obligingly disassembled. As he came apart, the following items appeared on the counter: a Blackberry, Palm Pilot, knife, measuring tape, wallet, digital light meter (to measure the intensity of light), and strips of paper in varying shades of magenta.
“What are those for?” I asked of the paper strips.
“Those indicate the Kelvin temperature of ambient light,” Dana answered.
“A carbon rod glows orange at 3200 degrees Kelvin,” offered David.
“Green at 4800 degrees Kelvin, and then a kind of blue at 5600 degrees,” said Dana.
“It’s not hot or cold,” David explained. “The degrees denote the exact color.”
“Yes, yes,” Dana agreed. “For example, the eye can’t tell that a fluorescent-lit room is a green hue. But with these babies,” Dana brandished his tools, “I can.”
It was all geek to me. Nevertheless, I nodded ardently, hoping to encourage a change of subject by way of feigning comprehension.
Dana had one complaint about his belt — when fully loaded, it caused the waistline of his jeans to sag. His brother’s grievance gave David an idea; that evening, he unearthed an old Eddie Bauer fisherman’s vest from the back of his closet. He’d purchased the garment years before with the idea that he might use it to hold film and lens caps while on photo expeditions. “I never wore it because I decided that unless you’re a war correspondent for CNN, it would just look, well, nerdy,” David said. “But maybe, I mean, if he can use it…”
Dana was thrilled to receive the vest. He immediately began reallocating gadgets from his belt to his new pockets. What began as a convenience ended up as an obsession. The original vest was discarded for a much snazzier wearable murse (man purse) dreamt up by Scott Jordan, the founder of Scottevest, who, as far as I can tell, is the only creator Dana currently venerates.
Since acquiring his life-altering carry-on, Dana has developed a blankie-like attachment to the objects he stows in each of his 28 pockets, 22 of which are “hidden.” “Do you find you lug around more shit just because you have a place to put it?” I asked Dana, who was working a needle and thread to modify a left breast pocket.
“I used to carry everything you see here in my briefcase,” he said.
Earlier, while showing me the loops to which he attaches his snap-and-release key chain, Dana had announced that he modifies everything. “Even the best-laid plans can be improved upon,” he said. Now he was appending a snap button so that his container of breath mints would lie flat against his body at the top of the pocket, rather than sliding down and bunching behind the foldable mirror and hairbrush he keeps on hand should one of his two daughters feel the need to groom — never mind that his daughters were hours away.
When I asked him to demonstrate the wonderment that is his Scottevest, Dana lit up with the enthusiasm of an evangelist tasked with a lost soul. A significant portion of the odds and ends he carries is not for him but for others. That’s the thing about Dana — he thinks about other people’s needs as much, if not more, than his own. He’s prepared on the off chance that someone nearby might need an aspirin, Sudafed, or Band-Aid (a modified first-aid kit attaches to the inside of one pocket via strips of Velcro).
“You never know when you’re going to have to go international,” Dana said, flaunting his passport. He carries two flashlights; should they both suddenly stop working, not to fear, the batteries are kept in this little compartment here. This is where the magnifying glass goes, and here is where the Scottevest promotional cards are kept. CPR mouth guards fit nicely right here. And there’s the compass, should one ever get lost at the airport. Other pockets store two thumb drives, earplugs, and two pens. Dana is not an official representative of the makers of his vest, but he might as well be — he recently made a YouTube video to accompany the letter he’s sending to Scott Jordan, in which Dana details his suggestions for improvements on the design, such as adding interior magnets so that items in the same pocket stay in their places.
“As crazy and geeky as this part may seem—”
“This part?” I shrieked.
Dana brushed away the barb as he might a mosquito and carried on, “Because I like to keep it handy, I clip my Blackberry to this epaulet.” He pulled out a set of wires hidden in the collar. “That’s why it’s tech enabled,” he said, pointing to the itty-bitty mesh pocket into which earpieces for an iPod or phone reside.
“What the hell? Whoa, whoa, whoa,” I said, circling around to Dana’s back, where I’d caught a glimpse of a knife in a leather pouch fixed to his belt. “Hey, Inspector Gadget, why isn’t that in a pocket?”
Dana laughed and said, as though speaking to an addled child, “You can’t bring the Leatherman on a plane.” He shook his head in amusement.
“Yeah, good point,” I conceded.
I examined the contents of my purse as they were laid on the table: three shades of red lipstick, two tubes of sparkly lip gloss, one tampon (not needed for at least two weeks), a mirror, iPhone, wallet, mint-flavored toothpicks, antibacterial liquid, a handful of hair ties and clips, a notebook, pen, prescription sunglasses, Listerine strips, and business cards. Do I really need all of this stuff to be with me at all times? I wondered how much easier life might be if I had an assigned pocket for every item and didn’t have to dig through my purse to find things. Suddenly, as with one of those 3-D Magic Eye posters that baffles and irritates until that happy moment in which the previously camouflaged image of a sailboat or dragon coalesces, Dana’s geeky obsession made perfect sense.