Monday, February 26, 2007

My Weird Little Oscar Story

I've commented on the weird little coincidences in my life before. When I hung out with other bloggers Friday night, we discovered that we all had some little connection with one another. This kind of thing happens all the time in my life.

When I was a senior in high school, in 1979, at Lyons Township, in Lagrange, Illinois, I had a teacher named Scott Siegel. He was a pretty cool guy. He was only a few years older than us, had a white man 'fro and wore funny ties-- they'd have Donald Duck and other cartoon characters on them. We always wondered why. The class was Consumer Education, and the format was very casual. There was a lot of discussion. One day, we all did stand up comedy. Siegel was very open about his personal life. He was, like me at the time, a devoted runner. He talked one day about a conflict he was having in his marriage-- that he wanted kids and his wife didn't.

Flash forward 20 years. I had just married wife #2, who was a first grade teacher in Evanston, Illinois. One day she was talking about the fact that she had one of a set of twins that were in her school in her class that year, and that their father owned the company that made the Oscar statutes. She mentioned that his name was Scott Siegel. I asked how old he was, and she said mid-forties, and wondered why. I dragged out my high school yearbook and showed her a picture. Sure enough, it was him.

A few weeks later, I went to a recital at her school. Scott was there and I went over and chatted with him. His father, it turns out, owned the company that made the Oscars-- and other statues-- and Scott inherited control of it when his father passed away.

A couple of months after that, there was a social function for the school in a tavern on Southport Avenue in Chicago and I had a chance to have a drink and chat with him. I reminded him about what he'd said about his wife not wanting kids. It turned out that the conflict was fatal to the marriage. He divorced, married wife #2 and had kids with her. I also asked about the cartoon neckties. He said that his class fell within the Business Department at my high school, and that the department chairman forced him to wear a tie. To tweak him, he got his wife to make ties out of material with cartoon characters. Not surprisingly, Scott did not get favorable reviews and was "RIF'ed" (Reduction in Force-- teacher euphemism for "laid off") a couple of years later. I guess I wouldn't give a shit about my job either if I knew I was going to inherit the company that makes the Oscar.

Although he was really only a few years older than me, it was still strange having a drink with and talking as a peer with an old high school teacher. It was especially strange that our kids were only a couple of years apart in age.

There was one little perk for my now-ex-wife to having Scott as a parent of her student: his company also made the Golden Apple awards, given for teaching excellence. Scott's son gave her a Golden Apple statue. Though it wasn't official, she richly deserved it.


Erik Donald France said...

One more shining example of our interconnectedness. Seems like two or three degrees of separation now, doesn't it? Very cool story.

Dale said...

I love these cool and sweet stories of yours Johnny Yen. Bubs' account of your night out sounded like a blast.

Anon. Blogger said...

The way the world is so 'small' amazes me. For all the moving we did as I grew up I am in awe of how often I find connections. The internet has made it even more pronounced.

Great story.

Barbara Bruederlin said...

What a fine story. I sometimes wonder what happened to some of my favourite teachers, the ones whom I credit for influencing my life choices.

Conversely, I also wonder if the ones I wished would burn in hell actually are.

Flannery Alden said...

Great story! I hope to bump into one or two of my favorite teachers some day. I probably will, too, since I've returned to my hometown.

Johnny Yen said...

Thanks! Maybe it's got to do with the mobility of our society, but wherever I travel, whoever I talk to, within ten minutes it seems like we have some mutual acquaintance.

Thank you. Yes, it was a wonderful oasis of great conversation and tiki in the midst of a grinding Chicago February.

Anon. Blogger-
The internet has probably hastened connections-- people are drawn to certain things by shared interests. But there are still strange, strange coincidences that pop up.

I was able to contact a high school teacher who influenced me a lot-- gave me praise, and consequently self-esteem when I badly needed it. It was pretty nice.

Around the time my son was born, I went to visit an old teaching colleague who happened to be transferred to my old grade school (the one I mentioned in my "Take the Star out of the Window" post). It so happened that she was friends with my old third grade teacher, who I hated. It was strange-- she seemed much nicer. She was now teaching sixth grade, and it occurred to me that she probably just didn't like teaching younger children.

I'm having the opposite thing happen-- I'm running into grown-ups who were my students at the beginning of my teaching career. Some of them have children themselves now.