Kirby: Nothing more humbling than a goofy yearbook photo

By Robert Kirby

Tribune Columnist

Published: June 8, 2014 06:04PM
Updated: June 8, 2014 01:01AM
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Robert Kirby, Tribune columnist

There came a day when I — like most problem children — stopped taking my father completely seriously. It was a liberating but dangerous moment.

I was about 11 years old at the time. One day while rummaging in the attic for some overlooked nitroglycerin, I came across something far more dangerous — a book titled “The 1949 Goobertonian.”

What at first glance seemed to be a mug shot collection of felony dorks, zoomers, screeches, goobers, propeller heads and wieners was actually a 1949 high school yearbook.

Vaguely disturbing was the realization that the book was not a joke. Every one of the photos in it had originally been taken with a certain pride and serious intent.

And then I found the photo that changed my life. King of the 1949 Gooberites was a Skeezix named “Robert Kirby, senior class president.”

I was shocked. Could it be possible that the man who ruled my life with an iron fist, a guy who occasionally made me ride home from church locked in the trunk of a Rambler, had once been a Brylcreem noodle? How was that possible?

A laugh of derision welled up in me. This was immediately followed by a bolt of fear. How was I going to keep a straight face the next time I was threatened with a drubbing from a guy who looked like this?

Answer: I couldn’t.

That evening when the old man commanded me to stop forcing a potato bug into my little brother’s ear, I couldn’t take him seriously. The yearbook picture of the King of the Gooberites popped into my head.

I finished a guffaw of disrespect while airborne from the front room, up the stairs, down the hall and into my bedroom.

Wisely keeping disrespectful thoughts to myself after that, I still couldn’t escape the knowledge that I was being supervised by someone who had so little self-respect that he had allowed such a photo to be taken of himself.

I didn’t realize my day was coming. My first yearbook picture — taken when I was in the eighth grade — failed to survive. In fact, it didn’t even make it home. My entire class looked like the Lollipop Guild. It ended up in a ditch.

My ninth-grade yearbook was left behind when I changed high schools in the middle of the year at the request of certain officials. I should thank them. If my kids saw the picture of me in that one, I’d never live it down.

Eventually, my daughters found my other high school yearbooks. My reputation as a smooth mover suffered a fatal blow.

“It’s a good thing Mom didn’t see this picture before she married you,” they still say. “We would never have been born.”

There was no Photoshop salvation back then. When you looked like a troll in a paisley shirt, nobody really cared if the shirt had sleeves. In fact, they were probably so alarmed by your face that the clothing completely escaped their notice.

As upset as everyone is lately about Photoshopped high school pictures, maybe we should just leave them the way they are. Not because censorship of yearbook pictures is bad, but rather because a lack of censorship keeps people humble.

Robert Kirby can be reached at rkirby@sltrib.com or facebook.com/stillnotpatbagley.