Wil Wheaton was a dick. For many years, that’s what I thought, even though I’d never met him. I’d seen Stand By Me when it showed up cable. I’d even seen him on Star Trek: The Next Generation, even though that was only while flipping past whichever channel was airing it. But I knew. I knew it because it mattered that some guy, some actor, on the other side of the country was a dick. Gossip is the coinage of teenage youth. Besides, no tabloid magazine was necessary. I had a first-person account.
A few months ago, I wrote about my high school friend, John Aboud, and how he was part of the group of friends with whom I ate lunch every day. Also among that group was Grady Weatherford. Grady was a Junior that year, my Senior Year. I don’t remember how we added him to our group, but we did. And he was an actor. And during that year, he landed a role in Toy Soldiers, playing the all-important role of student. I had an “in”.
Never having worked on a movie, we quizzed Grady any day he was in school during filming of Toy Soldiers. I don’t remember who first brought up Wil Wheaton’s name. I didn’t even care about Wil Wheaton. I just wanted to learn the truth about Gordie Lachance, a.k.a. “TV’s Wil Wheaton”.
In what was inevitably a throw-away comment, we learned that Wil Wheaton was a dick. Who needs to question that? That knowledge was good enough for me. And my life continued happily for years.
While in graduate school, I spent the summer between my first and second year staying up late, playing on the new-fangled Internet, and watching random movies on cable. One night, I saw a movie called Pie in the Sky. I’d never heard of the movie, but it starred Josh Charles. Since I’d enjoyed his performances in Threesome and Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead, I stuck around when it came on.
So I’m watching and enjoying the movie when “that guy who I heard was a dick” showed up on screen as Jack, Charlie Dunlap’s (Josh Charles) best friend. I’m not going to describe what happened in the scene because you should watch the movie, but this is important: I laughed. So I thought “That guy’s funny. I wonder if he’s still a dick…”. Over the next few years, I watched Pie in the Sky enough to memorize most of the dialogue. Every time I watched, I always laughed at “that guy who I heard was a dick but seems to be funny”.
On November 25, 2002, I read Whitney Matheson’s Hip Clicks in USA Today. This is what she wrote:
“Hey! It’s that guy,” I thought. I wanted to know what he might have to say. There was no investment in clicking, just satisfying a curiousity. I clicked my way to WIL WHEATON dot NET.
I first recognized that his site was set up like this new internet phenomenon I’d heard about called a weblog, or “blog” to the kids in the know. I started reading. The first post I read included this paragraph:
A few months ago, I made this major decision in my life: I would stop applying a singular focus to getting work as an actor. I would continue to accept auditions as they came along, but I wasn’t going to break my back, or sacrifice time with my friends and family to play Hollywood’s game.
“Dicks” don’t sacrifice their career for their family. Do they? I read more. And more, until I noticed a theme. He’d lived his life, faced struggles, and transformed himself into a family man/writer/actor who was not a dick. Having never met him, I couldn’t be sure that he wasn’t a dick, but I could sense enough from his writing to assume the best about him. My old uninformed opinion fell away.
I bookmarked his site and checked in multiple times a day, waiting for each post. Last summer, he self-published a book, Dancing Barefoot, which I bought and read and enjoyed. When I bought Just A Geek, I jumped into the pages immediately and found a writer with a skill few writers possess: he made me laugh, out loud, while riding the subway. (I recommend Just A Geek. For a little more depth in a review, consider reviews here and here.) When a writer can do that, allow me to paraphrase a quote from Richard Bach: I hope Wil Wheaton makes a million dollars from Just A Geek.
As I said, I’ve never watched Star Trek, yet Danielle and I added an extra day to our vacation in Las Vegas when we learned that Wil Wheaton is signing autographs and performing at this weekend’s Star Trek Convention. We’ve already purchased our admission and autograph tickets, so after this
weekend, besides striking Star Trek Convention from my Crazy Things I Never Thought I’d Do™ list, as I did with the Miss America Pageant, I’m anxious to confirm that Wil Wheaton is not a dick, that he’s just a geek.