In a few hours, I’m hosting a conversation with Randall Munroe, the creator of xkcd, author of the awesome book What If? (I hear the audio version is pretty great), and a really great guy who I am privileged to call my friend.
Of course, the first time I met Randy, it didn’t go very well for me, which is the subject of this post From The Vault, In Which I Fail A Vital Saving Throw – originally published in August, 2008.
It was the end of the day, and my blood sugar was dangerously low. Colors and sounds were louder than they should have been. My feet and legs had been replaced by two dull, throbbing stumps that barely supported the weight of my body.
Most of the day, I’d been signing autographs for and talking with countless excited fans. Some of them shook my hand too hard and too long with a sweaty grip that trembled a little too much. Some of them stared at me uncomfortably. Some of them rambled incoherently. All of them were genuinely friendly, though.
I took it all in stride, because I’ve done this convention thing for — my god — two decades, and even though I don’t think I’m anything worth getting excited about, I know that it happens sometimes, and I know how people occasionally react. I never laugh at them or make them feel lame. I never make jokes at their expense. I am understanding and grateful that they want to talk to me at all. I wouldn’t want to talk to me if I was trapped with me in an elevator, and I certainly wouldn’t be excited about the prospect if faced with the option. I am always grateful, and take nothing for granted.
A voice boomed over my head, blasting right through my eardrums and exploding inside my skull. The convention floor was closing, it announced, and it was time for all of us to get the fuck out.
Red-jacketed security guards emerged from shadows I hadn’t noticed during the day. A handful at first, then a dozen, like zombies pouring through a breach in a barricade. They shambled forward relentlessly, single-mindedly driving a mass of exhibitors and straggling fans toward the doors.
I picked up my backpack, inexplicably heavier than it was before I emptied pounds of books from it earlier in the day, and heaved it onto my shoulders. My back screamed.
“You have to vacate the hall,” a girl said to me. She couldn’t have been older than eighteen, but clearly wasn’t going to take any shit from anyone, especially someone in my weakened state.
“I’m on my way,” I said. I turned to say goodbye to my boothmates, and saw the unmistakable visage of Jeph Jacques walk past behind them.
I’ve done this convention thing for a long time, so I knew that it was unlikely that I’d have a chance to say more than three words to Jeph before the convention was over. If I didn’t seize the moment, I probably wouldn’t get another chance. I smiled at the girl, faked to my right, and spun to my left around her. I nearly fell over from the effort.
“Hey . . .” she began. I took two quick steps away from her with my last bits of strength.
“Jeph!” I called out. He kept walking. He’s done this convention thing before, and, like me, knows that when someone calls out your name at the end of the day it’s best to pretend you didn’t hear them so you can just get the hell out of the hall and to a place where you can recover your hit points. This place is usually called a bar.
“Jeph! It’s Wil Wheaton!” I called out. I don’t know Jeph well enough to call him a friend, but we’ve talked at shows before, and I’ve always enjoyed our limited interactions. Maybe if he knew it was me, and not some random person, he’d stop so I could say hello. Maybe he wouldn’t want to talk to me if we were trapped in an elevator, but I knew the security guards were closing in, and if I could get into his Circle of Protection: Exhibitor, maybe I could stay there for a couple of minutes.
He stopped and turned around. He smiled wearily, and said hello. We shook hands, and I noticed that he’d been walking with someone.
“Hey, have you ever met Randall?” He said.
His companion turned to me and extended his hand. My brain screamed at me, “OH MY GOD OH MY GOD OH MY GOD THAT’S RANDALL MUNROE! BE COOL!”
Before I knew what was happening, my hand shot out from my body and grabbed his. I incoherently babbled something about how much I love his work. He tried to say something, but I just. kept. talking.
My brain screamed at me, “SHUT UP! YOU’RE MAKING A FOOL OF YOURSELF YOU ASSHOLE!”
My mouth, however, was out of my control. I continued to ramble, vomiting a turgid cascade of genuinely-excited praise and gratitude all over him.
A full minute later, I realized, to my abject horror, that my hand was still shaking his. I held it too hard in a sweaty, trembling hand. Darkness flashed at the edges of my vision, and I felt weak. I pulled my hand back, a little too quickly, mumbled an apology, and shut my mouth.
They said things to me, but I couldn’t hear them over my own brain screaming at me, “GET OUT OF THERE YOU COCKASS. YOU HAD ONE CHANCE TO MEET RANDALL MUNROE AND YOU BLEW IT! I HATE YOU! YOU GO TO HELL NOW! YOU GO TO HELL AND YOU DIE!”
A hand fell on my shoulder. I turned toward it, and saw the security girl.
“Sir, you need to leave the hall.” She said. “Now.” She had backup: a pair of similarly-aged teens, two boys working on their first mustaches. They fixed me with a steely-eyed gazes.
I have never been so relieved to be kicked out of anyplace in the world as I was then.
“I guess I better go,” I said. I took a short breath, and lamely added, “it’s really nice to meet you. I really do love your work.”
My brain did the slow clap.
His reply did not penetrate the wall of shame I’d constructed around myself, though I clearly recall that he didn’t make fun of me, or make me feel stupid, or let on that I was a sweaty, shaking, raving lunatic. He didn’t appear to be grateful that we weren’t trapped in an elevator, though I suspect he must have been. As I fled the hall, I was grateful for his kindness, patience, and understanding.
Once outside, I went to a place where I could forget my appalling embarrassment.
That place was called a bar.