So, the very first day of fifth grade was the last day I hated going to school, because that’s the day I met a teacher who was a leader. And my story tonight is not really about getting kicked out.
It’s about getting kicked back in.
Because when I was a kid I actually wore a bucket on my head.
Everything that messes you up starts when you’re a little kid, right? When I was little my mom used to wear these wraparound skirts, right? And every time I would get shy, I would walk inside the safety of my mom’s wraparound skirt.
Well, the very first open house at school, with every parent, every teacher and every student in attendance, one of the teachers, Mrs. Carrilo, just happened to wear the same wraparound skirt as my mom.
From where I stood … identical.
So, I walked into the wrong skirt.
The school thought it was the funniest thing ever. They laughed. They called me names.
And I shut down.
See, this wasn’t at a time when bullying was considered bad. Back then, it was an art form. And only the strongest survived. I ate lunch in a ditch, every day at school. I didn’t talk to kids. That ditch was underneath a window, and that window was underneath the teachers’ lounge. I can’t tell you, to this day, what the kids called me, but I can tell you everything the teachers called me.
“The Quiet One.” “Monk Boy.” “That Silent Child.”
Until I walked into school in fifth grade.
In fifth grade I had a teacher who I thought was worth a million dollars, and I still do to this day. I think every teacher is worth a million dollars. But not the ones I had until I met Mr. Huber. On the second day of school he pulled me aside and said, “I know who you really are, but don’t worry. I won’t tell the world your secret.”
I said, “What?”
‘Cause I talked to one kid in the school. His name was Dan Lewis.
Mr. Huber said, “You sit in the back of the room, and you say things to Dan Lewis, and Dan Lewis tells the rest of the class. Dan Lewis is the Class Clown. You must be the Class Clown’s Head Writer.”
And I liked that.
In the middle of class, Mr. Huber would stop Dan, right after he said something, and Mr. Huber would say, “Did you say that, or did Ray?”
I got street cred for being funny without ever saying a word?
Is this a great world, or what?
Suddenly, kids talked to me. I have six friends now, six or seven. Dan, he makes seven.
And most teachers would say, look what I did. I changed that kid’s life. But Mr. Huber was like, “Nah, I’m not finished yet.”
He pulled me aside in the middle of the year and he said, I noticed you didn’t audition for the school play. Don’t worry. I’m the director this year. We’re doing Shakespeare. I save you a role. You’re going to play the lead.
My eyes bugged out like a cartoon. My jaw dropped down to the floor. He said, “Hold on, hold on. Have I ever lead you astray?”
WEST SIDE STORIES
This true story by Ray Engen was recorded live on Sept.5 at Sonoma Portworks, as part of West Side Stories, Petaluma’s popular monthly showcase of spoken word performances, hosted by Dave Pokorny. Each month, willing storytellers are randomly selected from the audience to tell a tale based on a theme – this month’s theme: “Kicked Out” – and the audience selects its favorite. The next West Side Stories show will be held on Oct. 3. The theme will be “The Big Cheese.” For tickets and information, visit WestSideStoriesPetaluma.com.