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About those ears…

Updated May 18, 2023 - 7:59 pm

In the still short time that I have been spending the better part of my waking hours in Boulder City, the thing that has most hooked me in has been the seemingly endless stream of neat local events. Pure smalltown America stuff.

We came to Nevada after living a dozen years in Altadena, Calif. which —despite being on the northern edge of a huge city —always had a kind of small-town simplicity that we loved. When our daughter was small we would take her to the local Christmas parade to see Santa and there were lots of cool community events.

I see that out here in Boulder City and realize that I have missed it. Walking around Spring Jamboree with my wife was a blast — a potent reminder of our days growing up in the San Fernando Valley back when that was still the edge of civilization. And the parade and pep rally they did for the elementary school kids as they began mandatory testing made me —a guy my wife claims is the very definition of a curmudgeon —almost, kinda, sorta sentimental.

So, all of this stuff brought back memories of my own school days. Including this one that should come with a “Kids, don’t try this at home” warning.

I was very much not a good student. I made an unfortunate —at least in terms of my scholastic future —discovery when I was still in what we then called junior high school.

I figured out that I was pretty smart. The problem was that instead of taking that knowledge and using it to push myself, I figured out that I could get a solid B average in terms of grades while putting in very minimal effort. So, maybe I discovered I was smart, but decades passed before I figured out how dumb I was in terms of the path I chose.

I should have worked harder. I know it would have made things easier on my parents. I had a younger brother who contracted leukemia at age 10 and who died about a year and a half later. He was 12 and I had recently turned 14. It was on the last day of school, when I was in eighth grade, and for the next few years the family struggled with that loss. Me being a better student probably would have lessened the burden my parents were under.

But teenagers rarely think in such terms. At least I didn’t. And since I was still getting pretty good grades (with almost no effort), my parents had other things to worry about.

High school was a hugely important time for me, but not for the usual reasons. I still talk to a couple of friends from that time, but only a couple and I have been to precisely one high school reunion since I graduated in 1978. How I came to actually go that one time is actually a fun story that maybe I’ll tell another time.

But high school is when music kind of took over my life. I took a music theory and harmony course that I still call upon and played in a jazz band (badly) for a year. But the choir and the instructor who led it, Don Gustafson, kind of changed my life and gave me some kind of anchor in very weird times.

But none of that helped in terms of general student stuff. By the time I was a senior, it was really bad. I was never a kid who got into trouble. I didn’t even drink until I was in my mid-20s and was, at that time in my life, very active in my church. But I was a terrible student.

The worst part was that I turned 18 a few months before the end of my senior year which meant I could sign my own absence/tardy notes and I totally abused that ability. I remember walking into a first-period biology class 20 minutes late and the teacher stopping class and saying to me, “Mr. Evans. If you are not going to bring your book to class, kindly do not bring your guitar.”

So all of that should set the scene for my graduation.

It was a huge graduating class. More than 1,200 kids. They had to hold the ceremony in the football stadium at the local college where I would later (in my mid-20s after I figured out I was never gonna be a rock star) get my journalism degree and meet my wife.

There were four stages that graduates would walk across to get their diplomas and they operated as a kind of round-robin. A name would be called and while the student walked to the podium on that stage, they would announce another name on one of the side stages. And around and around it went.

For reasons I do not remember, they had recruited kids from the drama class to call the names. And, there was a big overlap between the drama kids and the choir kids. (Kevin Spacey, Val Kilmer and Mare Winningham were all in both groups but a year or two ahead of me. But we all sang in the 16-voice, late-’70s version of a show choir called the Inspirations).

I had no idea it would happen but the girl announcing names on my stage was in that same small vocal group and was being extra dramatic that day. As the other names were announced in semi-monotone on the other stages, it became my turn and she paused for a beat and the whole stadium seemed silent and then she very dramatically said into the mic:

“Biiiiillllll Evaaaaaaannnns!”

And every head in the place turned toward the main stage, including my parents who were, as it turns out, seated next to the bishop of our church whose son was also in my graduating class.

That is when I did it. I wasn’t making a big statement or trying to say anything important. I was just trying to be funny and maybe get a little more attention than was my due.

I reached into the sleeve of my graduation gown and pulled out the contraband I had hidden there. A set of Mickey Mouse ears. I took off my cap, put on the ears and walked up to get my diploma.

The principal gave me a deadly look and hesitated before handing me the rolled-up document. And that was it. My one and only moment of high-school notoriety.

My parents were, of course, mortified. And that stuck long after I had forgotten about it. Years later when I returned to the States from a couple of years in southern Chile and started to finally get my life together and approached my parents about going back to school, my dad said, “You already showed us what you think about education.”

Ouch. But he was right, I thought high school was a joke and made that public in a big way that obviously embarrassed him. I, just as obviously, went to a community college where I could pay my own tuition.

Now, as we put together an issue of the Boulder City Review that includes all kinds of special high school graduation content and I see all of the cool ways that the community is celebrating these kids, it makes me feel like maybe I was kind of a jerk.

It all worked out. Had I gone to a bigger school, I would have never fallen into journalism by accident (another story for another time) and I would have never met my wife. And we just celebrated 35 years of marriage.

So, Mom and Dad, I guess I’m kinda sorry about the ears. But it is more of a “sorry, not sorry” thing. It was a dumb joke but in some ways it led me to a life that I am constantly grateful for.

M. I. C (“We see you with those dumb ears on”) K. E. Y. (Why, because you were a young, dumb, jerk). M. O. U. S. Eeeeeeee.

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