Evan Owens was a funny man with a weird sense of humor, an irreverent outlook and an uncommon talent for painting word pictures. For several years his desk and mine were side by side in the newsroom at the Muncie Evening Press. In the afternoon after deadline we enjoyed meaningless conversations about nothing at all. Horatio Alger books were a favorite topic. Evan kept a long row of them at the back of his desk.
Once in a while when city editor Jack Richman had finished the last of his duties and was headed for Frosty Miller's Tavern we would hail him with a question about Horatio. Jack wouldn't slow down or even glance our way. He'd just say, "You two belong in an institution." He could have been right.
One rainy winter morning several reporters called in sick. Jack Richman was ready to spit nails and then Evan called. Jack's only words were, "Evan, you're not allowed to be sick. Get down here!" He soon arrived, red-eyed, nose dripping.
Our telephones had buttons so reporters could take calls at their desk regardless of who answered the phone. Evan would talk only on the phone on which a call came in. When a reporter would yell, "Evan, line three," Evan would get up and walk to the desk of the reporter who had hailed him and use his phone.
At times Evan was secluded in his own little world. One day as deadline approached people rushed to a window at the sound of a loud crash. A city bus had smashed its way into the front of the Strand Theater. Jack Richman yelled, "Somebody better get down there." Roy Bigger said, "It's OK, Jack, I see Evan coming back from City Hall. He's almost to it."
When Evan walked into the newsroom Jack said, "What's the story on the bus, Evan?" Evan stared around the room, bewildered. "Bus? What bus?"
City Court had just adjourned one day when an elderly man thought his car was in reverse and crashed into City Hall. Evan watched in amazement as the man shifted gears and backed full speed into a parked police car. He shifted again and took another hunk out of City Hall. Again he threw it into reverse and wiped out a second police car. Finally getting the wheels turned, he roared across a side street and smashed into an office supply store.
Evan ran to a phone, forgetting a reporter should never arrive breathless. When Jack Richman picked up his phone I could hear Evan say, "A car. . .a car. . .a car. . ." That was enough for Jack. "Well goddammit, Evan, what about a car?"
An assistant editor who hated Evan always held down the city desk on Saturday. One day after he had been particularly critical Evan, a touch typist, deliberately positioned his fingers over the wrong keys. He wrote a two-page story, grinning slyly all the while. When he filed it the editor read, "Xzsbtuq. . ."
Years before I knew him Evan's older brother, a doctor, died, leaving a wife and young children with no means of support. Evan married the widow and raised the children as his own. They loved him as a husband and father as time passed.
Because the father of my uncle by marriage had been a singer with the Metropolitan Opera, Evan decided I could sing. Whenever there was a company party, he would have a few drinks and then seek me out. "Sing for us, Dick," he'd say, "sing for us." This would go on for a while until finally in desperation to end it I'd get up and sing. People would cheer and throw pennies and nickles. Evan would beam.
When he retired, the company gave Evan his typewriter so he would use his wonderful talent to write stories. He never did. Too bad because Evan could take the most commonplace event or person and weave a fascinating story.
From reading Evan's stuff I learned to write a few paragraphs and then drift off onto an entirely different subject and then tie them together in the final sentence. I learned from Evan that nothing is dull or boring except to dull and boring people. Watching him taught me that no matter how battered a fedora might be, no matter how greasy the hat band, it never reached the point of being ready to throw away. Nowhere else have I found someone willing to have a "serious" discussion for an hour with neither party cracking a smile or believing a single word that was said. Only Evan Owens could do that. He was one of a kind. I miss him.
A Stodghill Says So blog