Yesterday, in r/losangeles, someone asked folks to share their weirdest celebrity encounter. This comes up about every three months, and regular posters in that subreddit know that it’s only a matter of time before the entire thread is horrifying, shocking, come-on-that-never-happened tales starring Andy Dick. Like, every single time. And the stories are always different, though basically the same.
So I went into that thread to see how long it took for the Andy Dick stories to get to the top (4 hours) and saw someone relate how they saw Gary Busey at LAX, and he was just sort of badgering everyone who was near him. I commented that I have seen him at LAX two different times, separated by at least a decade, and he was doing exactly that both times. You know that Far Side “How Nature Says Do Not Touch”? This is where I gesture toward Gary Busey and his teeth.
In response to that, someone asked me to flip the thread and share my weirdest fan encounter. I don’t know that I have one that’s weird (the space between weird and terrifying in this instance is measured in microns), but I do have two that are especially memorable, so I shared those.
I’ve had people behave in appalling ways, treating me like a thing, like a Pokemon to be caught and displayed. One guy followed me into a bathroom at an airport, literally trying to shove a pile of 8x10s into my face while I was at the urinal. I’m a generally laid back person, and I lost my shit at that guy. In retrospect, I should have just peed all over him. His version of the story must be … interesting.
But that’s a real outlier. I’m so lucky that I seem to draw the attention of kind and gentle people more than anything else, so those are the people who tend to approach and interact with me.
My favorite (well, most memorable) experience in recent memory was about … maybe six or seven years ago. My wife and I were in San Francisco for work, and we were waiting at a light to cross the street. This guy comes up from our left, jogging, and as he passes us, this sixth sense I have developed to keep me safe tells me that this guy just made me, and I need to be aware of that. Luckily for me, there are endless escape routes in this moment, but something in this guy’s body language tells me I won’t need them. (Hypervigilance, which is part of my body’s response to trauma, takes all of that stuff in, processes it, and blares it all back at like an air raid siren in the span of about a second and a half. WE ARE AT DEFCON 2 PEOPLE.)
He stops jogging and does that jogging backwards thing. He says, “Are you on The Big Bang Theory?”
He’s jogging in place which always looks funny to me, even though I’m a runner and do it myself.
I tell him that I am. His face lights up. “I knew it! Oh man! I love you on that show!”
WE ARE BACK AT DEFCON 5.
Then he takes a second while he’s thinking of something and says, “this is embarrassing. I know that your character is Wil Wheaton, but I don’t know what your name is.”
That’s when I got to tell him that I am Wil Wheaton Prime, and that the Wil Wheaton he sees is a character.
“I had no idea you were a real person!” He said. Then, he kind of caught himself, like maybe he’d insulted me or been unkind.
Oh buddy. You have no idea.
“Oh, I assure you, I am a fully functional human being with a backstory and everything,” I laughed.
He laughed with me. The light changed. We did a terrorist fist jab, and went on our separate ways.
I related this to Anne last night. She remembered all these things, because she was there for them.
“Weird shit happens around us a lot,” I said, “because of this weird job I have. But I read that whole thing, and I gotta tell you how grateful I am to know that I’m never showing up in one of those threads as the bad guy in someone’s story.”
“Except the bathroom guy,” she said.
I laughed. “I would love to hear that guy justify how he was the aggrieved party in that story.”
Of course, I know what that guy told himself. He told himself that he waited at the airport for hours and I owed him. That’s a thing that happens all the time, and it’s why I have this blanket policy of never engaging in photos and autographs at airports, ever, for any reason. And I don’t feel guilty about it. I used to, sure, thanks to all my mom’s conditioning, but I gotta tell you, the day I said to a belligerent guy at PDX, calmly and simply, “No, I’m not signing anything for you and I don’t care how long you waited here. You chose to do that, and I don’t owe you anything. Respect my boundaries.” And walked away while he sputtered in self righteous anger? Yeah, that felt great.
I am a fully functional human being with a backstory and everything. 99% of people I encounter know and honor that, and I am so grateful.