"It's 4:00 PM?! Holy shit! How did it get to be FOUR FREAKING IN THE AFTERNOON?!"
It's 4:00 PM, and I only have thirty minutes before I have to leave. Anne will come home while I'm out, and I've been spending the last few hours cleaning the house, so she won't walk into chaos when she arrives. It's taken me longer than I intended, leaving me little time to iron my pants and my shirt.
I'm a ball of stress, because when I try to handle an iron, I may as well be using my feet. I'm a ball of stress because Ferris refuses to eat, and really wants to play with me while I'm adding wrinkles to my shirt. I'm a ball of stress because I've been invited to the formal dinner at Ruddock House, at Cal Tech, and I can't pull myself together.
See, I desperately wish that I was a smarter, nerdier, more educated person than I am, and I'm about to go sit in a room full of people who know more about math, physics, engineering, and how to creatively blow things up than I ever will. So I am very nervous. I want to make a good impression, and I want to participate in the discussions intelligently. I also know that most of the room will be people who are at least familiar with Star Trek, if not full-on Trekkies, and it's going to be really embarrassing when they realize that the smart kid from TV totally doesn't rate.
So I've asked my friend Shane to come with me. He is a Cal Tech alum from 1992, and he lived in Ruddock House. I figure that if I clam up, he'll help me feel comfortable, and draw attention away from what a lamer I am.
it's 4:15, and my clothes are actually more wrinkled than they were when I started. For a brief moment, I wish polyester was back in fashion. This wish passes quickly as I remember what it felt like to actually wear polyester when I was a kid. I decide to kick Ferris out of the room, and focus, dammit.
I get the wrinkles out of my shirt, and hang it up, expecting it to fall onto the floor. Thankfully, it does not. Ferris has parked herself outside my bedroom door, and is sniffing at the space between it and the floor.
It's 4:25, and my pants are looking good, but the area near the pockets is giving me trouble, so I add water to the iron, hoping for steam.
What I get is a puddle on my pants.
The door begins to breathe.
I shake off the pants, and press the iron into the puddle, turning it mostly to steam. I hope it will dry before I get to Tech.
The doorbell rings. It's 4:30. I let Shane in, and while he entertains Ferris, I choose a tie. I wonder if I should go for my Star Wars tie, or my Where's Waldo tie. I hold them both up, and decide that I'll go for a much more conservative tie, which I call my "1950's Science Teacher Tie."
Shane changes into a shirt and Looney Tunes tie, and we're ready to go. I sure hope my pants dry.
We make the short drive to Tech, listening to Boingo Alive, catching up. I don't get to see Shane at all these days, as a consequence of our schedules and stuff, so it's nice to get a few minutes to talk about what we're doing, and how our lives are. I don't tell him how nervous I am, and if he notices, he doesn't ask.
We arrive at Tech, and make our way into Ruddock. We find Abe, who has invited us to dinner.
Abe and his roommates are dressed casually, sitting in their room. Shane and I realize that we're an hour early.
Oh jeeze. At least my pants are dry.
I don't' want to make this guy entertain me for a whole hour, so I tell Shane to take me around the campus. I haven't seen it in over 10 years, so it will be fun. We tell Abe that we'll catch up with him in the dining room at 6, and head out.
Shane gives me a very nice 25 cent tour, and I wistfully long to be in college, when the primary cares in the world are getting good grades and hooking up with a DG on the weekend. I think about how much there is for me to learn, how much there is for me to understand. I think about how much knowledge I don't have to pass on to my step-kids. I envy the people on the other side of the walls, as we walk past the various residence halls.
Thirty minutes later, we've circumnavigated the entire campus, and we're back in the dining hall. Fifteen minutes later, and the residents begin filing in.
I talk with many of them, answering questions about Star Trek and my website. I find out that Abe is one of the editors of a humor publication for Ruddock House called The BFD, so we talk about satire and comedy. Shane sees people he graduated with, and he slips through the crowd to go talk to them, leaving me. I look inward, expecting to find panic...they're going to realize that I'm not cool, I think...but the panic isn't there. Though I'm not nearly as smart as these people, I'm amongst friends. I am amongst people of a similar mind, and I feel welcome and at home.
We joke about nerdy things, though I quickly become aware of the difference in our ages. I'm much older than these guys, so some of my nerdy references sail over their heads -- not because they're dense, but because I'm talking about something that happened before they were born.
Dinner is served, and we take our seats. I really enjoy the company of the people I'm sitting near, and the meal is excellent. The time flies by too quickly, and dinner is finished.
The president of Ruddock stands up and says that there are several guests tonight, and now is the time for them to be introduced.
A student at the end of our table stands, and introduces his guests, and the student sitting across from him does the same. I begin to get nervous, knowing that I'm going to be standing up in front of all these people in less than a minute. I close my mouth and run my tongue across my teeth, hoping that my Standard Issue British Teeth haven't snagged any food for later. Finding none, I turn my attention back to the students who are now standing across from us. It's the Ruddock librarian, a very nice, mirthful young man who was introduced to me earlier in the evening as "The Biggest Star Trek Fan Of All Time." He stands, and announces to the dining room, "Hi. My name is Wil Wheaton..."
There is much laughter, and I shout out, "I hated you on Star Trek!!"
There is even more laughter. I allow myself to smile...that was pretty funny.
It is Abe's turn to introduce me, and I stand up.
"This is Wil Wheaton," he says. There is applause and some whistling. I feel really embarrassed and self conscious. It's really strange to me to feel this way, but it happens every time I'm the focus of people's attention and I'm not on stage. I manage to wave at them all, and say "Thank you," before settling back into my seat.
The rest of the introductions are made, as well as some announcements, and the dinner is done.
I could hang out all night with these people, talking about Lord of the Rings and The Simpsons, but Shane has to teach a class early in the morning, so we must leave.
As we're on our way out, a guy asks me if I'll participate in the good-natured teasing of their RA, a very pretty girl who, he tells me, had a big crush on my when she was young. I ask him what he has in mind. He tells me that I should go up to her, and kiss her hand. I decline, because it seems a bit presumptuous, and I suggest he think of something else while I sign the Ruddock guest book.
When I return, he has a devilish idea: I should walk over to her, and tell her that I'm a big fan of hers. I agree.
I walk across the room, and she looks up. I guess the group of guys is following me, because she blushes, and proceeds to describe to them the various ways she's going to dismember them.
"Can I shake your hand?" I ask her, taking her hand in mine. "When I was a kid, I subscribed to Hot RA Magazine just so I could have your pictures on my wall!"
She laughs, I laugh, and the guys laugh. She describes further acts of torture they'll be enduring, as I produce my camera from my pocket. I ask her if she'll pose for a picture with me, and she agrees. We snap the photo, and then it's my turn to pose with some people for a few others.
We thank Abe for the invite, and he tells us that we can come back for a non-formal dinner any time.
I can't wait to go back and enjoy their company again. The genuine kinship these people seem to have is warm and wonderful. I hope they realize how lucky they are, and don't take this time for granted.
I certainly didn't.