Nineteen seventy and we were moving, from Hyde Park in Chicago – Barack Obama’s university neighborhood – to Shorewood, Wisconsin. My parents expected the move to be insignificant, since we were going from an intellectual neighborhood to a prosperous suburb, near a college of its own.
It was not. Compared with cosmopolitan Hyde Park, Shorewood was a backwater. Socially, I seemed to the other kids to be like a professor. That was not a good thing. I had one friend who was sort of arranged for me, but he and I did not have enough in common to continue for long. It was only in the fall of 1971 that I sat in a study hall across from Bill Evans, a classmate. He handed me a piece of Hot Dog candy and said “This is for you.”
I thanked him for that, which was rather opposite behavior from what I got from most others then. We talked, and found we had some interests in common – collecting coins, playing cards, following sports, and girls. We took the bus to downtown Milwaukee and ate Ned’s pizza and Suburpia sandwiches. We shared a lot of things with each other about the mysteries of early high school, lived by us at a place where official communication about anything seemed rare.
Bill and I stayed active friends through college, when we both ended up at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee. Then, the year after graduation, I left the area to start one of my careers. We didn’t stay in touch until I contacted him and a mutual friend in 2010, and the three of us met for a fine Mexican dinner and recapped the antics of our pasts. When I, the designated driver that night, took him home, I told him about my idea for writing a book about the jobs crisis. He said it sounded like a good read. I put him on the list of people to ask for help, naming it and contributing to questions to which I wanted opinions. He did the same for Choosing a Lasting Career.
Several of the things he said found their way, paraphrased, into the volumes. Paraphrased, since he wrote them in an inimitable style. Here are some of his words over the past three years:
· Upon being told I would be married: “Mazel tov, may the two of you share much joy, the two of you are too old for kids so get a nice pet. The Rebbi from Fiddler on the Roof” (Bill played that role in theatre.)
· “If you reside in the 1%, your concern is how do I make my money grow because in my position I do have that power, and how do I get rid of as many of the 99% as I can without lowering my net worth, one day it will be written on a bathroom wall, ‘When money is your God, salvation is unattainable, because that God knows no mercy or redemption.’”
· “If you want to blog about something, how is this? GM under its new UAW contract has the right now to hire new assembly line workers at about $14 an hour at a plant in Ohio I believe.”
· “We bail out GM, because if we don't the loss of pensions in a bankruptcy case would have killed off the Pension Guaranty Corp, whipping out protect of pension for far too great a portion of society. I am sure that the per hour productivity of the assembly line workers has been going up, but without a matching wage rise, typically, the reverse a downyturn in per hour wage rate. I’m going to leave in downyturn, a typo, because it's a good Alice in Wonderland term.”
· “Lamplighters still exist, Jim, they are now electrical linemen for utility companies.”
· “Jim, you are the only person i know who could generate a well written paper on the attributes of Eastern European Hamburgers, and have it make sense.” (What a nice compliment!)
· In answer to a question of whether an end to all natural life-ending conditions would make people more or less risk-averse: “Your answer lies in the hands of a Minister, a Priest, a Rabbi, an Ethicist, a Philosopher and the two drunks at the end of the bar.”
· “As the wise man said, I went out into the world to spread my knowledge, only to discover I had nothing but questions, only then did my journey begin, only then did I see the wonder of life. Now I fear the day I have no more questions, for life will no longer be so grand.”
I still and will always have plenty of questions, but for Bill, life is no longer grand. He died yesterday. He had had a long illness, and was only 56 years old. As Mike Royko said about John Belushi, he had known for a long time that life wasn’t fair, but it shouldn’t cheat that much. Yet I would have been cheated so much more if Bill had never been born.
This post is dedicated to the memory of William Thomas Evans, Junior, February 16, 1957 – May 23, 2013.