Once, I tried to egg my teacher’s house. I was in high school — a junior maybe? A senior? It was dusk. We drove by Mr. Webb’s house slowly. The plan was this: I’d stand up in the passenger seat, poke my head out the sunroof and launch two eggs — one right after the other. They’d explode on Mr. Webb’s porch, maybe even the front door. Then, we’d drive off laughing, high-fiving and hell-yeahing as we imagined him trying to solve the mystery of the egging.
The grand irony is this: when I look back on all the teachers I’ve had in my life, Mr. Webb’s the one who stands out, and there I was trying to egg his house.
I had him for two classes: mythology and a sociology class he called historical perspectives.
His mythology class was simple so long as you did the reading. He made that abundantly clear. You either read the books and passed his quizzes or you failed. There was no middle ground.
By forcing us to read, he kicked us over the threshold into brand new worlds.
Watership Down, The Firebrand, Lord of the Rings, 1984, Heiro’s Journey, The King Must Die, Dune and more. I remember him counseling us, goading us to push on through difficult chapters — particularly The Council of Elrond in Lord of the Rings. “Even I find myself getting bored in this chapter,” he said. “It’s long. But trust me when I say it’ll be worth it when you get through to the other side.”
Mr. Webb led me into the inky wells of the subconscious. When I climbed back out, I wasn’t the same. He taught me that reading was work. It’s a commitment — now more than ever. But it’s worth more than the surface depth we get from television and movies.
Mr. Webb gave me a tie when I needed one for Homecoming. I dyed it yellow to match my hair. It hangs in my closet today.
In historical perspectives, he showed us the connections between protest music and Vietnam; between the Beatles and LSD; between jazz and oppression. Music isn’t made in a vacuum. It comes from people struggling to convey things words alone won’t let them say.
Mr. Webb introduced me to Alvin Toffler and his alarmist tome on change, Future Shock. Published in 1970, the book’s main thesis was this: radical change is coming. It’s accelerating, and it can be crippling. You either learn to cope with it or you get crushed by it.
Mr. Webb took his own life not long after I graduated high school. Something caught up with him. I’m not sure what. I was angry and confused. I cried. I thought about Future Shock. I wondered what changes he had trouble facing.
I kept picturing his strange waddling walk in suit and tie. I saw that massive, red-faced smile, heard his voice — a voice that was always 10 decibels too loud. I thought about his love for literature and art (rumor was he had over 10,000 CDs — so many they took up an entire wall in his study).
I thought about the egging and how it went awry.
Here’s what really happened: I cocked my arm back to launch the egg. When I swung forward, the egg caught the edge of the sunroof. It cracked and splattered all over the passenger seat. My friend punched his steering wheel and cussed. In a pathetic, last-ditch effort, I tossed the second egg and watched it roll harmlessly onto Mr. Webb’s lawn.
“That’s exactly what I didn’t want to happen,” my friend said.
Now, we’re both glad I didn’t hit his house.
I wonder why I wanted to egg Mr. Webb’s house in the first place. All I can think of is this: he pushed me harder than I wanted to be pushed. He made me stretch. He made me put in time and effort — far more than any teacher before him and far more than any after. He showed me that you have to sit through a lot of goddamned Councils of Elrond to get to life’s good stuff.
Thank you for that, Mr. Webb. That you for making me laugh, for pushing me, for making me a better man. In many ways, I’m still that 17-year-old boy, and I look up to you. I always will.