Code, nerd culture and humor from Greg Knauss.

In high school, I played the father in a production of "My Sister Eileen." I was awful, of course, completely and profoundly inept, Geneva-Convention terrible. I had no place being up on the stage and that tiny secret was shared only by me, the rest of the cast and anybody who had the misfortune of being in the audience.

I only tried out for the part because I very badly wanted to date someone in the cast, and trying to get into the play seemed marginally more likely to impress her than sitting at home and goofing with the computer.

But I am -- and I'm saying this without even the slightest bit of false modesty -- the worst actor alive. It's not so much that I can't remember my lines or blocking, but that I have no feel for character, for what a particlar person might do in real life. I follow the script, step by plodding step, instead of bothering to understanding why the script is the way it is. I don't act so much as recite.

This does not lend it self to improvisation. And high-school plays usually offer you plenty of chances for improvisation.

Like, say, when the stage-manager who also happens to be playing the cop forgets to make his entrance. It happened twice in a four-performance run and both times, I ended up mumbling and going "um" and basically forgetting where I was.

"Ah," I said to actress playing Ruth, my daughter. "So. Ah." I gestured at the door, indicating that the person who was supposed to come through it hadn't and I had no idea what to do as a result.

"Um," I added.

Afterwards, she yelled at me.

But for all my woodenness and ineptitude, for all my fierce resistance to competence, for all my desire to flee the stage screaming like a little girl, there was one time when I managed do the right thing, to nail the character, and without even realizing it.

Dad is upset. He's visiting his daughters in their small, nasty apartment in big, nasty New York and he finds Ruth -- the older, competent one -- in fishnet stockings, selling cigarettes, and Eileen -- the younger, ditzy one -- being followed around by a parade of horny South American sailors. Much wackiness ensues as the daughters try to explain things away and dad finally gets a quiet moment to demand an explanation from Ruth.

"So tell me, Eileen..." I say. "Ah, Ruth. Whoever you are."

And I freeze. It came out without even thinking about it. Oh, God. I'm playing a father who doesn't even know the names of his own children.

But the audience laughs. They laugh. And it wasn't a look-at-the-dork-screwing-up-ha-ha laugh either. It was an actual laugh, the laugh of parents who recognize the situation. They've done the same thing, called their children the wrong name when they're frustrated or flustered or tired. A few people even ask me afterwards if that was a line that was supposed to be in the play, the situation is so familiar, so common, so true.

I hope Michael will remember that, because I keep calling him "Thomas."

Hi there! My name's GREG KNAUSS and I like to make things.

Some of those things are software (like Romantimatic and Buzz Clock), Web sites (like the Webby-nominated Metababy and The American People) and stories (for Web sites like Suck and Fray, print magazines like Worth and Macworld, and books like "Things I Learned About My Dad" and "Rainy Day Fun and Games for Toddler and Total Bastard").

My e-mail address is I'd love to hear from you!

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