The definition for “nerd” changes 12.7(π)² times faster than any other word. For instance, in our lifetime it has bounced between “panty unmoistening,” “socially unacceptable,” and “dangerously obsessive.” It can be confusing! But good news: I think I’ve found the Center of Nerd– an activity so dorky it anchors all variations or nuances of Nerd to a single constant:
In 1997, an original copy of DEVIL STICK on VHS retailed for $20 at JUGGLING CAPITOL. I assume today this mint-in-plastic copy is priceless, or was before I unsealed it after 23 years. DEVIL STICK is the no-budget project of Neil Stammer, a man who brags how much he loves an old Chinese toy called “devil sticks” though he mentions there was a mistranslation and they are, um, technically “flower sticks?” Neil loves devil sticks so much he moved to China for the proudly stated goal of getting better at manipulating them. Which brings me to my first criticism: Never has so much work gone into getting good at something so unimpressive. If you went on a decades long pilgrimage through Ukrainian factories to become the greatest sex doll sterilizer, your story would have a broader appeal than the man who moved to Asia to dedicate his life to twirling carnival sticks.
The first twenty minutes of the video is Neil alone, far from any microphone, in front of a black curtain. He has all the charm of a forensic pathologist explaining a morgue’s policy on outside snacks. If this doesn’t sound unpleasant enough, the soundtrack is entirely harmonica. On top of that, the video includes a steady hissing noise almost as loud as Neil and the harmonica. If you could die from being bad at producing VHS tapes, Neil Stammer’s body would have shattered into parts the moment he thought, “I should make a vide–“
The basics of devil sticks are simple– you bounce the devil stick back and forth between the two hand sticks. Neil warns it should take you a few days to a week to get the hang of this, which should be enough time to decide if you should really dedicate all this time to eliminating all sexual opportunities. Neil, arguably the world’s leading enthusiast for this hobby, doesn’t bother selling you on it. All this struggle to get to the endgame of “being able to devil stick” is like saying, “Digging through the garbage can be sad and messy, but every 72 hours you find an old yogurt lid!” Fucking use that as a pull quote on the DVD release of DEVIL STICK, Neil. Or this: Neil juggles batons with all the lifeless despair of a Ukrainian sex doll getting unsanitized.
Neil gives virtually none of the tips or advice you’d expect from an instructor of such a delicate art. Instead, he silently completes all the several possible tricks you can do with these things. It’s barely, barely better than secretly filming some asshole at a Renaissance faire and nowhere near as helpful as asking him, “Yon juggler, mayhaps you can illuminate me in the ways of these witchful sticks in exchange for watching me lay with my wife in the drench of her moon blood?”
Okay, this Under the Leg trick is pretty good.
Oh shit, Neil. Have I been wrong about how cool devil sticks are this whole time? If you picked up three sticks in front of a girl and said, “Oh, hey, I’ve seen these before. You kind of hit them back and forth?” and then you pulled this high kick? She would howl. Her uterus would fall out of her trying to get to you. She would die confused and horny and when the paramedics asked what the shit happened you would say, “I’m not sure. I was just hitting these sticks together and did a little, you know, kick like this.” And they would see it and all the flesh of their genitals would engorge together, dragging their shrieking, pain-wracked bodies toward your enchanting expression of talent.
Twelve minutes in and Neil is still robotically powering full speed through tricks. In many ways it’s pretty impressive. He’s got a passion that helped him create what has to be one of the top five most important works of devil stick media. He’s the best devil sticker I’ve seen, the only one I can name, and I feel so fucking bad for him and every choice he’s ever made. And with every trick chained together like this, you start to see how limited your options are when clacking a stick around. He’s like a Taco Bell chef putting a burrito inside another burrito, adding Cheetos, and giving the various states of this process 73 different names.
After fourteen minutes, Neil has run out of ideas and he’s been reduced to doing kickflips with the small sticks. It’s cute, and technically showmanship, but feels desperate. I don’t want to diminish how uniquely lame this is, but it’s like watching a modern dunk contest. Mankind finished inventing dunks decades ago, so dunk innovations are limited to adding a pointlessly weird bounce or putting on a cowboy hat first. Tricks like this tell a story more about the performer’s creative struggle than their amazing ability. And in one quarter of an hour, Neil Stammer has convinced me, passionately, that he and now we have seen everything devil sticks will ever offer. It is a tragedy. We are watching a man’s soul crawl further and further away from all meaning and joy while giving the limp sales pitch of “This Could Be YOU.” This VHS tape should be called Le Vide de L’ambition and screened in the Louvre.
Sure, I guess you haven’t wiggled the stick back and forth with one hand yet, Neil.
The first surprise of the film comes seventeen minutes in when Neil admits he never had time to think of a name for this trick other than “My Favorite Trick.” Which is silly because this is obviously “Mr. Juggler’s Cry for Help” or “The Talented Masturbator.” Neil, “Advanced Useless Endeavor, Behind the Back Variation” was right there. You could have called it “The Virgin Helicopter” or “Release Me From This Terrible Cycle, Devil Sticks (8 Minute Scream).”
I’m not sure Neil meant for this part to be left on the tape.
After showing you, just, fucking every possible trick, Neil goes out with a flaming, showstopping finale combining some of them. It’s a triumph! An inspiration! If you start now and dedicate yourself to devil sticks, this is the life you could have! So take that with you as you jou– wait, hold on. We’ve got these fire sticks and this dark driveway. You know what would make a fucking sweet ending for this video?
Oh, yeah. That’s a finale, Neil. Fire blow to darkness, fade in on JugglingCapitol.com, and that’s how you devil stick the crowd. By the way, I checked JugglingCapitol.com to see how they’re holding up in this post-devil stick interest world, and it’s very strange. This is either the new headquarters of some kind of juggler alternate reality game or the site owner handed over control to a WordPress robot and let it run wild. Here’s what it looks like today:
Indrani is a boring supermodel child of divorce who can’t process food in the daylight and JugglingCapitol.com has put her in charge of defeating a killer shark? This is nonsense. It’s nothing. For this I screwed up Neil’s perfect ending? Let’s pretend this never happened and backtrack a little. We’re going to go out Neil style:
Fuck yeah! Awesome!!
UPDATE 12/16/2020 11:00am PST
Jesus fucking Christ, it turns out the story of Neil Stammer’s devil stick did NOT have an awesome ending at all.