Underoos: the underwear that’s fun to wear! Back in the ‘80s these were the thing to have. Nothing would have given me more nerd cred than having Batman on my butt.
By the time I discovered Underoos, my body had join the ranks of the “husky boys.” And there was another problem.
My parents wouldn’t let me be a nerd.
I was in kindergarten when a classmate asked me to play Turtles with him at recess. My first thought was: Reptiles are great toys! I was surprised when he pulled out four dark green action figures with weird, wide-toothed grins.
“There’s Raphael, Leonardo, Donatello,” he said. “Oh, and this one’s Michelangelo! They call him Mikey.”
He held up an orange-masked, sewer-surfing Turtle with nunchucks. From then on, when we played Turtles, I and I alone was Michelangelo.
It was like the Ninja Turtles were made just for me.
Every day after school, I’d hurry home and turn on the TV to watch the crime-fighting turtles and their sensei Master Splinter, the giant rat that trained them in the art of ninjutsu.
That Christmas and birthday, which happen to be on the same day, I unwrapped Mikey-themed flannel sheets and a sleeping bag for a little Turtle power on the go!
The cherry on top was a plastic Turtle tote with a custom-painted wood lid that said, “Cowabunga Michael.” Inside was my first-ever Michelangelo action figure, a Ninja Turtle T-shirt and a plush Mikey for bedtime.
All thoughts of Batman Underoos fled my mind.
But then, someone at church told my parents that the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles were evil—all of the eastern mysticism and gasp… “efforts to save the world” were problematic, to say the least. After all, Jesus was the only one with superpowers and only he could save the world, not cartoon Turtles.
I got away with watching a few more episodes until my cousin came over to our house one afternoon. It was cartoon time, and I suggested watching TMNT. She said she couldn’t because it was demonic.
As the professional middle child, I went into crisis-management mode and quickly suggested she could watch Sesame Street on the black and white TV upstairs. Dad overheard us. He quickly pulled me aside, called me a butthead and sent me to my room.
Shredder himself might as well have won that day because my fanboy flames turned into turtle soup.
After Turtlegate, my parents let me keep the toys but cracked down on I could watch on TV.
When Captain Planet burst onto the scene, my mom took one look at the Planeteers’ five glowing rings and turned the channel. Anything resembling crystals was a dog whistle for New Age indoctrination.
These superheroes fought ecological villains, but my mom wasn’t too concerned about a polluted planet. She was more worried about my mind.
Stepping into nerdom in the ‘90s looked bleak.
But then, in 1992, “Batman: The Animated Series” swooped in to save me. It came out after the success of the live-action movies. I couldn’t go to those because they were too scary. But this new Batman was cool and, oddly enough, cool with my parents, too.
Suddenly, I was on a slippery slope to nerdom.
I could watch the Saturday morning cartoon, but the comics, oye the comics, were my gateway drug. This whole world of stories was just beyond my reach.
We’d go to Pamida, and I’d quietly disappear behind the racks and read all of the Batman comics that I could before Mom found me. She wouldn’t ever let me buy them. The comics were too dark and sinister. Well, have you seen Batman? He’s not exactly wearing white after Labor Day for Pete's sake!
When my mom and my sisters would go to the salon, I’d sneak over to the comic book store and just stare in awe.
One time, my mom came to get me—and wouldn’t you know it—there was a big, old anime poster on the wall with a girl wearing nothing nothing but lightning bolts. My mom was none too happy to see this blatantly busty cartoon character, but I didn’t even notice.
I didn’t know how to tell my parents that I was far more interested in what Batman and Robin did during their downtime than Wonder Woman’s boobs.
In fact, I only bought boy action figures until my mom found Catwoman at a thrift store. Her outfit can only be described as purple and naked. Dad threatened to sand down her breasts. My little sister was tasked to keep Catwoman in her room.
As I entered my teens, I soon realized that other boys were checking out girls instead of afternoon cartoons. But was I still buying action figures? Um, yes! Did my mom make me a set of Batman pajamas in junior high? Maybe.
My older sister would use this against me.
One time on the bus, I annoyed her so much that she told a jerky kid about my secret Batman jammies! Just as he was working up his worst insults, I went into crisis-management mode again and discretely dusted my sisters hair with cracker crumbs.
“Look Drew!” I said, “Lora has head lice!”
Nerdery was one thing, but if you were caught with lice, you might as well have been struck with leprosy.
After I’d been outed for my love of Batman, I shoved my long grey underwear to the back of my closet and tried to be cool. American Eagle brought me more social cache than my action figures ever could. Sure, my eyes would wander when a new Batman movie would come out, but I tried my best to stay on the straight and narrow.
As fate would have it, my parents, my sister and all the mean kids in school could only keep me from being a nerd for so long.
After college, I finally had the time, the freedom and the disposable income to invest in things I liked. My wardrobe went from preppy polos to Batman tees; I have collectibles all over my house, including a 3-foot-long Batplane; and—it’s not pajamas—but my husband did find me a Bat Apron.
My crowning achievement is amassing around 1,500 comic books in seven years.
At last, nerdery is mine! And I’ll never let go.
Oh… and when I rescued my action figures from my parents’ house, I made sure I saved Catwoman and her breasts. It was the right thing to do.
By day, Mike Goll is a non-threatening nerd and graphic designer who works at Staples in Orange City. By night, Mike and his husband Dave serve their community by offering childcare options for needy heterosexuals desperately seeking a date night.
Ode is a storytelling series where community members tell true stories on stage to promote positive impact through empathy. The next show is 7 p.m. Friday, July 27 at The Marquee, 1225 Fourth St., in downtown Sioux City. The theme is “Lessons Learned.” Tickets are $10 in advance; $15 day of show.