By Chuck Strouse
By Scott Fishman
By Terrence McCoy
By Ryan Yousefi
By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
By Pepe Billete
By Ryan Yousefi
By Kyle Swenson
It's an uncharacteristically cool Southern California day. Every table on the terrace is full, and more people stand near the doors. Wilson takes the mike and welcomes his friends. He tells Aaron's backstory and explains how he came across Planting Peace. Then, with the same clever wit his fans are accustomed to seeing every week, Wilson stuns the crowd.
"Let's just say I know what it's like to have worms coming out of my butthole," he tells the audience. Plenty of people think the actor is probably joking. He isn't. Turns out that when Wilson was a child, his parents moved the family to Nicaragua, where he drank contaminated water and got an intestinal parasite himself. It was treated before he got terribly ill, but he says it was certainly uncomfortable — "not something a child should be going through."
The crowd is filled with familiar TV and film stars, who sip bottles of Voss water and eat plates of lemon chicken, ziti, and Greek salad. Several members of the cast of The Office are here: Jenna Fischer, Creed Bratton, Oscar Nuñez. Robert Ben Garant and Thomas Lennon from Reno 911! show up, as does Jimmy Jean-Louis, who plays "The Haitian" on Heroes. Slash and his wife are both enthralled by Aaron. The lead singer of Arcade Fire, Win Butler, whose wife's family moved to Canada from Haiti, performs solo for the first time in his career. Playing an acoustic guitar made completely of steel and singing partly through a megaphone, he covers the David Bowie tune "Heroes." "We could be heroes" — he belts through the crisp afternoon — "just for one day."
After Wilson's introduction, Aaron stands up and gives an impassioned speech about his first trip to Haiti, when he learned that these sweet children he had come to care so much about in such a short time had bellies full of worms that were eating a lot of their food. He talks about a mother asking him to take her child and another asking him if he had the money to rid her toddler of parasites. He gave away every penny he had on him before hitchhiking to the airport to fly home to Florida. By the end of his story, more than half the audience members have tears in their eyes.
The guests begin dropping off donation checks they've sealed in envelopes. Someone asks Will, Aaron's brother: "If your brother is a living saint now, what was he like as a kid?"
The teenager smiles. "We never saw him," Will says. "He was always out with his friends, and when he was home, he was normally in his room with a girl."
As the party winds down, Wilson and Aaron cut away from the pockets of conversation, getting a chance to chat together. Talk turns to Aaron's travels. He says he's leaving for Bluefields, Nicaragua, in a few weeks to look into coral reef conservation. That's exactly where Wilson was living when he contracted the parasite.
Wilson mentions that, if they'd be interested, Aaron and his brother can come to the set of The Office on Monday and hang out in his trailer. They can also watch them shoot the episode that will air after the Super Bowl.
Aaron, who never likes to plan, is hesitant to commit. Will is all but kicking Aaron in the shin before big brother finally accepts the invitation. Will immediately begins text-messaging his friends.
On the way back to his hotel from the W, Aaron's voice is gone. His throat is sore, his eyes are red, and he is shivering. Plenty of people wore wool sweaters to the luncheon while Aaron stood shaking in his T-shirt for hours. And he was so busy talking to people at the party that he never got a chance to eat.
Over a dinner of cheese cubes and crackers in the hotel concierge lounge that night, Aaron is pale and strains to talk. He doesn't like to think about it, but there are some serious drawbacks to his lifestyle. His health is one. Relationships are another.
"Even the most understanding girl in the world wants to be taken to the movies once or twice," Aaron says. "But I can't really do that. I don't have any money at all. And it's pretty hard to text someone 'I love you' from the middle of a field in Haiti."
He's also never too sure where his next meals might come from. But he doesn't worry much about that. "It somehow just works out," he says. For example, one day recently, Aaron had no food in his apartment. But just as his stomach was aching from hunger, he got a donation in the mail: organic cereals and whole grains. "I can't explain it; it's like I'll look around and it's a mini-famine up in the apartment. And then out of nowhere, somebody donates something. We can't exactly take a single box of cereal over to Haiti, so I don't feel bad about eating."
When he's not traveling the globe, he's making calls or shooting off emails for hours every day. If it's not deworming, it's the orphanages or the shelters. Or saving the rain forest. Or Clean World Movement. Or, now, the coral reef.