When SEALs killed Osama bin Laden in a prison-like compound with little connection to the outside world a couple years ago, I half-expected them to find in the room next door a stringbean Washington, D.C.-area resident named Nick Vukadinovich – sitting cross-legged on the floor, wearing a dishdasha, reading Moby Dick by candlelight. He would look up and mumble: “Hi, is something going on?”
“Vuke” (rhymes with “puke”) suffers from – or fully embraces – a stunning lack of pop cultural awareness that could only be explained by being off the grid and on the run for more than a decade. This is particularly remarkable considering he lives in a busy city some have called Hollywood for ugly people, but has managed to shield himself from most of today’s staccato of sensational celebrity news, Twitter feeds, Facebook status updates, Pinterest “pins,” FourSquare reports and (ahem) amazing blogs riddling people’s senses with mostly useless tripe like a runaway machine gun.
Vuke wouldn’t touch any of the above ubiquitous media tools with Osama’s lifeless arm. He (Vuke, not Osama) tried using LinkedIn once and found the experience so dispiriting that he stopped searching for (or stalking) former classmates, colleagues and friends. (He wasn’t entirely successful; I got him to join my network).
His knowledge of celebrities and pop entertainment begins with the ’80s and ends at the turn of the millennium. Vuke could tell you how many times B.A. Baracas was drugged before a plane ride on “The A-Team,” but he wouldn’t know Kim Kardashian if he bumped into her big ol’ booty.
Cognitive dissonance for Vuke might be fancy speak for “I don’t know so I don’t care,” but that could create some problems when you don’t have a reliable reference point for conversation. Chats can stumble, particularly when sports (a mutual interest) and pop culture intersect, as they did one day when I mentioned an interview that sportscaster Erin Andrews did with Alabama’s evil head football coach, Nick Saban.
Vuke asked, “Who’s Erin Andrews?”
I could only shake my head. I replied, “The girl I’ve been spying on through hotel room peepholes.”
Vuke: “Doesn’t everything get really small?”
And then things began to spiral, and I felt as if I were being sucked through a wormhole and my body was getting stretched into thin strips of spaghetti while Stephen Hawking’s metallic voice narrates.
If the Jodi Arias legal saga needs a fresh juror, the judge should look no further than Vuke’s unnaturally elongated cranium. To his credit, he has successfully avoided CNN’s horrific HLN channel and Court TV, so he is guaranteed to know absolutely nothing about the sensational murder trial.
My intention is not to destroy Vuke’s reputation as a potential Trivial Pursuit teammate. Rather, I think there’s a commendable purity to getting almost all of your news from traditional sources like The Wall Street Journal, as he does on his doorstep daily, or PBS NewsHour. He’s able to maintain laser-sharp focus on the important things – work, study, family and himself – without becoming polluted by the world’s useless white noise.
Vuke is hardly a dolt – the guy is incredibly well read (history, science, film and politics are safely in his wheelhouse) and is a modern man – if by “modern,” you mean the American Revolution. Years ago in a dormitory setting, I caught him with his pants down, reading and highlighting passages from a biography about Thomas Jefferson.
I’m kidding. I think he was actually reading Thomas Paine.