My heart hurts a little today. Rest in peace, Gary.
We knew we were getting a new science teacher that year. Mr. Wheeler. He was a large man reminiscent of Santa Claus. From the neck up he had the head of a giant yard gnome. Or maybe he looked more like a well-fed monk. His beard only grew from below his mouth, not above. And his bald head was shiny.
In class, he demanded our attention. His voice was booming and passionate. Academically, he expected excellence. I remember one specific lesson when he spent an entire hour teaching us the importance of stating the unit of measurement when giving a number. For example, it's not 56 outside, it's 56 degrees outside. And I use the word teach loosely - we were scared into stating the unit of measurement.
One time, while preparing for our individual science fair projects, Mr. Wheeler required we all have private meetings with him to discuss the progress of our experiments. I don't remember a single student coming out of that meeting who wasn't sobbing. The man was able to make me cry with merely a look on his face.
So the school year went on with all of us fearing our new science teacher. Until one day, my friend Andy saw a colorful book on Mr Wheeler's desk: "What's a Monster Manual?" Mr. Wheeler looked slightly embarrassed. His face and bald head turned a light shade of red. "It's for a game called Dungeons & Dragons."
After that moment, a select few of us stayed after school every Friday night and played Dungeons & Dragons in the science room. Mr. Wheeler took on the role of Dungeon Master (the person who runs the game) and we learned the technical rules and intricacies of what seemed like an exclusive club that we were honored to be a part of.
Mr. Wheeler didn't come back to be our science teacher in the eighth grade, but we continued our new tradition of playing Dungeons & Dragons. I became the new Dungeon Master and tried very hard to fill the mighty shoes of our original Dungeon Master.
We played D&D for a few more years until we discovered girls had boobs (that required touching for some reason). Suddenly, we started driving and getting girlfriends and we didn't have any more time for D&D. But I'll always look back at those years with fondness and longing.
I never knew what became of Mr. Wheeler. We did learn that he and Gary Gygax were friends and that Mr. Wheeler probably had a hand in the development of this wonderful game.
And yes, given enough nerdy friends and at least one free night a week, I'd play D&D in a heartbeat.