If ever there was a bad omen,
it had to be the Holy Roller organ music. The noise irritated me from the
moment I heard it.
The moment this
maddening sound drifted in from across the
street, I knew I was in trouble. Finding myself totally unable to
study, I had a really bad feeling about this new home.
Another bad omen arrived soon
after. In early September 1967, my application form to Georgetown University
showed up. As I looked at the
brochure, I gasped at the tuition. $5,000 a year. I had no
idea the tuition was so high. My grocery store savings were
projected to be $1,500-$2,000. I was sick to realize my savings
from two years of work were not nearly enough to pay for even one semester at Georgetown.
$5,000 a year seemed insurmountable. Where was the extra money going to come from??
Obviously a scholarship was my only hope, but I had no idea how one gets
a college scholarship. I assumed that after I got accepted into
school, that's when to ask.
The next bad omen took place
at the start of November. That is when my father's $100 per
month child support check failed to show up. For the past
nine years, my father's
child support payment had been as predictable as clockwork. So naturally
Mom was surprised when the check didn't show up on time... and
worried too. She planned to use that guaranteed money to pay her
monthly house note.
The missing check was serious. For
all his faults, my
father was a champion with child support. He had never missed a check before. Considering how much
Mom depended on that money, she was deeply worried. We were
still on speaking terms at that point, so she asked me to help figure it out.
I didn't have a clue,
but Mom came up with the answer. It took a good fifteen
of concentration to guess the reason, but Mom finally realized that my recent
18th birthday in late October was
Long ago when I was 6,my
father was transferred from Maryland to Houston. I had been put back a half
year by the Texas school system on some sort of age technicality. That explained why I was
a bit older
than most of my classmates.
Now it made sense. Mom
hadn't thought about it in years, but now she recalled my father's legal
responsibility for child support ended when I turned eighteen... even
though I was still in high school. So
Dad immediately stopped paying. It didn't matter to him that we
were deeply dependent on that money.
Mom groaned. She had
not seen this coming. She had attached no significance to my
turning 18. In her mind, she thought child support would continue
until high school graduation.
It had never crossed her mind that my child support would end at my
Mom paled visibly as
she realized that the house payment money was gone. Mom was fit to be tied.
Had she known this, she would have never made her ill-fated decision to buy this giant barn.
She realized she had made a serious mistake. Mom had no way to make up the
difference. She would
be hard-pressed to make that house note without my
father's much-needed child support. I understand to a modern
reader $100 in child support doesn't sound like much, but it meant a lot back in those
days, especially to us.
Money became ridiculously
tight. My mother began to worry
day and night how to replace that money. A very awkward moment
took place when I offered to give her some of my grocery store money to
make up the difference. I don't know if it was her pride, but she
turned me down in a huff. "I don't want your money, Richard. Save it
That was probably the last
warm feeling I had for my mother the entire year. Here she was
facing the loss of her dream house, but her code of honor kept her from
accepting my college money. I was impressed. However, what I
didn't know was that she had a disastrous plan of her own set in
The arrival of Janie and
Linda shortly after Thanksgiving was deceiving. How could I have
guessed the appearance of these girls was the worst omen of all? Janie
and Linda certainly didn't look dangerous, but beware beautiful Mexican
girls bearing gifts. Their
presence not only paralyzed my ability to study for two solid weeks
at the end of November, things would get much worse.
I made a series of terrible
decisions during my Senior year, but hindsight shows my one good
decision was to avoid
having sex with either girl. Upon arrival, both girls were
convinced the sooner they found a man to take care of them, the better.
That explains why they initially turned on the heat towards me, the only
available male. However, once they figured out that I was not
interested in taking care of them, they branched out and found better
options. To my surprise, from that point on, I didn't exist any more. The smiles,
the giggling, the touching, walking around half-dressed... all of that
had me thinking I was hot stuff there for a while, but when the truth
came out, my ego was badly deflated to say the least. Considering
I didn't have much of an ego to begin with, I felt stupid, foolish and
confused about the entire matter. It wasn't
till much later in my life that I realized my
misgivings had been accurate all along and that I had narrowly escaped a truly messy set of
Too bad I was so hard on myself. Avoiding temptation with those
girls was the only smart thing I did all year.
What I did not know at the time was that Janie and
Linda's arrival was no accident. If my mother had explained, quite
a bit of heartache could have been bypassed. Linda and Janie's
appearance was part of a scheme Mom and Ramon had cooked up. My mother was
certain she was going to lose the house without a new source of income.
So Ramon had invited the girls up. Once they got here, Mom hoped
they could find a way to get the girls to pay rent.
That explains why shortly after they got here, Ramon told the girls to go
out and get a job. We already know the rest. La Familia was just around the corner.
It would have helped
immensely if Mom had explained things up front. Why didn't my mother tell me
this? Pride. Mom was too ashamed to admit the main reason she turned her house into Little Mexico was to get enough rent money from
her guests to replace my father's missing child support. It
wasn't until our huge yelling match in late December that Mom finally blurted
out the truth.
What a shame she hadn't told
me sooner. Thanks to the huge fight, we weren't even speaking.
Oddly enough, now that I
finally understood the fix she was in, I gave my mother no more grief about the Mexicans.
I still detested living in this house, but I understood my mother's dire
financial situation too well to punish her further.
mother's inability to explain things directly in the beginning had cost our relationship dearly.
There was a permanent wedge between us. Not only was I little more
than a boarder in my own house, I operated totally without supervision.
Shortly after the blow-up, I
got a message at school to meet my father for lunch.
showed up at the usual meeting place the next day, I realized my father was not going to invite me to his
house for Christmas this year. This was new; I had always spent a
Christmas day with him. Not this year, he said. Today's
lunch would be our Christmas meal instead. He said I was older
now and should understand... whatever that was supposed to mean.
assumed it meant was that his wife couldn't stand to have me in her
house again. Trust me, the feeling was mutual... I couldn't stand
Dad gave me a Civil War book about Stonewall Jackson, plus a Christmas card with a ten dollar bill in it.
Thanks, Dad. Touching.
meal, I was very upset that my father never said a word about college or
neglect of this all-important subject signaled real danger.
My mind drifted back to the promise he had made
five and a half years ago. At the end of the 6th grade, my father
had stopped paying tuition at St. John's the moment he was no longer
legally obligated. At the time, he promised to save up for college
instead. In my mind, I referred to this moment as the Sixth
If he had kept his promise and banked the tuition as he
said he would, I estimated he would have close to $4,000 saved for me.
I scoffed. In my
dreams. I didn't trust my father then and I didn't trust him now.
was right around the corner. Soon the college acceptances would begin
coming in. However, I still had no idea how to pay for college.
One would assume this was the time a father would bring up the subject
of college. No such luck.
When Dad ignored any talk of
college during our Christmas lunch, I was disheartened.
This was a bad omen indeed.
I should have said something, but I was too
bring the subject up. If I said anything, I was certain he would
tell me the truth and dash my
hopes for good. I simply wasn't strong enough to bear the disappointment.
My fight with my mother was still fresh in my mind. My mother had
hurt my feelings badly. I didn't want to admit how upset I was that I wasn't welcome in her
home anymore. Whether she meant it or not, it really hurt.
Consequently I was simply not brave enough to risk alienating my other
parent as well.
Rather than take the chance of being crushed now, I preferred to cling to my long-shot hope that my father would come
through for me in the end. So I remained silent.
When this meal was over, I
was in a terrible mood.
the Christmas snub that upset me. I was used to my father's
indifference by now.
Besides, I didn't want to go to his house anyway. What upset
me is that I felt deserted by both parents.
My "Little Mexico" argument with my mother
had taken place just days earlier. She didn't want me in her home
and now it looked like my father wouldn't help me with college.
What a pair.
If my father could not be
counted on to help with college... and I was becoming more certain all
the time this was the correct
conclusion... then I was in big trouble. Therefore, starting with
my father's Christmas snub, I began to worry about money night and
day. Without my father's
help, I was way short of the
necessary money to make it to the Promised Land.
About three weeks after my
father's Christmas Snub, I heard something during school lunchtime that disturbed
As for college tuition, I was down to two remaining
possibilities... a college scholarship and a local scholarship known as
the Jones Scholarship.
If I couldn't count on my
father, then a college scholarship was officially my best hope. A
college scholarship was
no sure thing, but I believed I had a pretty good chance.
In fact, I told my friend David that exact thing as we ate lunch at
school. If I could get a scholarship at St. John's, then surely a
college scholarship should be no problem.
David said not so fast. David attended SJS on a half-scholarship
and he worried
about college scholarships almost as much as I did. David proceeded to
tell me something I
had never thought of before. David said a couple years ago his older brother was
unable to get a college scholarship because his father made too much money.
Now that it was his turn, David was worried about the same problem.
His brother was saddled with a huge college loan debt and David was
certain a similar fate awaited him as well.
I replied my father's salary
was not an issue. I had nothing to
worry about because my father wasn't even in the picture. St.
John's knew this for a fact which is why I had gotten my full scholarship
here. Surely the same principle would apply for college.
David disagreed. First
shook his head "no", then said emphatically,
wouldn't be so sure about that, Rick. Any college is going to
expect the parents to pay, especially someone like you from a rich kid's prep school. A college
doesn't know you from Adam. It has no obligation to take your word for it that
your father is a jerk. If colleges did that, every kid in America
would say they had just been disowned by their parents upon graduation.
Why would any parent
willingly pay all
that tuition if all they had to do was tell the kid to lie and go to college for free? There's cheaters everywhere
in this world. That's why colleges go over the money parents make
with a fine-toothed comb.
Just how are you going
to explain how your father is able to send two kids to private
school but doesn't have a cent for you?
I bet they're going to
take one look at your father's salary and say 'Sorry Charlie, Daddio needs to pay up.'"
I was stunned.
David was absolutely
right. I had no reply for that.
My jaw dropped. I felt
sick. My father's
money was going to count against me whether I liked it or not.
How was I ever
going to explain my father bizarre attitude to some school that had never heard of my
Maybe I could get my father
to write a letter on my behalf. I dismissed that idea in a
nanosecond. My father didn't give a shit about me. My
father's attitude was that I was on my own. He would never cooperate.
No doubt money
was tight in my father's home at the moment. After all, both my step-brother
and step-sister were currently
in private schools. Their enrollment at private schools similar to
SJS was a source of real irritation to me. I
bitterly recalled how my father had
sanctimoniously preached the value of public school after he refused to
continue to send me to St. John's following the 6th grade.
Public school was good
enough for me, but his two children by his second wife deserved private
school. No doubt the child support my father had
discontinued was helping to pay their way. I got the message loud
Although I still hadn't
given up hope that father was good for his 6th grade promise, I was
Now I had to deal with the
thought that my father's salary might sabotage any chance at a
scholarship. That was sickening.
David was right, my father's salary would count against me unless he
cooperated in some way.
That would never happen. My father would not have
touched a financial aid form in a thousand years. I doubted
seriously my father wished to print on some form the reasons why he was
unwilling to spend a single dime on me.
The blood drained out of me.
I stopped breathing. I felt sick. My disappointment was so
powerful that I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.
A huge bitterness arose.
My fear that I might not have a way to pay for college had just been
amplified to crisis level.
After lunch, I staggered to class. I had
the same sick feeling one would have after a doctor reveals the presence
incurable disease. The more I thought about what David said, the
more upset I got. The thought that my father's salary might work
against me was unfathomable.
I had German class after
lunch. When I walked in, I was
almost in tears. Mrs. Anderson, the nice lady
who taught German in my Senior year, asked us to translate
a long paragraph of German into English. I finished first, mostly
because my heart wasn't in it.
With nothing to do, I began to
scan the room. I looked at all twelve students one by one.
Every student in this room had come to school today secure in the knowledge their father's
money guaranteed they were going to the college of their choice.
I shook my head in dismay.
An overpowering wave of bitterness surged through me.
While my classmates didn't
give attending college a second thought, I now believed there was a good
chance I wouldn't be going to college next year. This thought made
me furious. Who at this school worked harder than me??
Was it really possible my father's job could present a
nearly insurmountable obstacle to my chances of getting a scholarship?
That thought absolutely blew
my mind. My entire life had been wrapped around college ever since
the acne attack three years ago. The thought of being trapped at
Little Mexico for another year was more than I could handle right now.
As I looked around, some
very dark thoughts entered my mind. My sudden fear about not being
able to go to college next year led to an absolutely devastating attack of
envy towards my classmates.
At a time when I had no
idea how I would ever pay for college, it infuriated me that every
single one of my senior classmates BUT ME had parents who were
going to take care of their college education.
Unbelievable. Was it
really possible everyone in my class might go to college but me??
For the rest of the day the
words "everyone but me" bounced through my head
And with that, the
resentment towards my classmates began to build.
I once asked Mr. Curran why
St. John's didn't offer any useful classes like typing or car repair.
Mr. Curran laughed and said St. John's was a college preparatory
school. Their intent was to prepare their students for college.
These children were the daughters and sons of Houston's elite.
Since none of
these students would ever be a car mechanic or a secretary, there was
no need for these kind of classes.
College was the only goal.
Mr. Curran was right.
The pursuit of a college education had been drilled into my mind since the moment I had first
stepped into my 4th grade classroom. St. John's had preached the goal of
scholastic achievement for nine years. Indeed, thanks to my
superior education, I was extremely well-prepared for the next stage...
if I could just get there.
Going to college was the
single most important thing in my entire life, not only as a way to
train for a future career, but as a way to escape my mother and my
miserable home life.
College was my Promised Land, Holy Grail, and Mt. Everest all rolled into one.
I thought about college
constantly. Every fiber was directed at hanging on
until I could leave Houston and find sanity.
However, David's lecture on
Daddy's money had
convinced me I had a serious
problem, but no answer. Money was a real
The three colleges I had
applied to were expensive out-of-state private universities. When
I looked at the cost of tuition plus room and board, I paled
considerably. At a private university, I was looking at annual
bills somewhere around $5,000 plus $1,000 more room and board (obviously these numbers are meaningless today, so multiply
times 10 to get a better picture).
As it stood, without
a scholarship, there
was no way on earth I could pay for an out of state school.
College loans, maybe, but I needed parents to guarantee loans.
That wasn't going to happen.
For the very first time it occurred to me I had
more than enough money to afford a in-state school. That would
have been a very practical solution. Why hadn't I thought of that before?
had a blind spot... I wanted to get out of Texas no matter what. In my desperation to save
application fees, I had deliberately chosen not to apply to
less expensive schools here in Texas like the University of
Texas or the University of Houston. Nor had Mr.
Salls brought the subject up. He had 'Johns Hopkins' on the brain.
What a joke.
Now it looked like
my failure to consider a state school would come back to haunt me.
I kicked myself
because I had not applied to Rice University like I wanted to.
That was the one school that might be able to give me a scholarship
despite my ridiculous situation with my father. Surely I could
just drive over to Rice and explain my problems with father face to face
with someone in Admissions. I would suggest Mr. Salls as my
reference. Surely Mr. Salls would go to bat
However I was so desperate to escape my mother, the thought of
applying to a school here in Houston had never crossed my radar.
Too late now. I was stuck.
My chance to apply to Rice University would have to wait another year.
I could find some source of serious money, I was
scared out of my wits that my freshman year of college would consist
of another year of Weingarten's grocery sacking, more Little Mexico,
and perhaps a few scintillating
classes at Houston Community
College. Why not look on the bright side? At least I could take a typing class. Or learn how to fix a car.
Or maybe learn Spanish and figure out how to seduce a Mexican girl.
I was full of despair.
Thanks to David's bad news
about my father's salary, paying for
college was now a monumental nail biter for me. I brooded
over money every spare moment of the day.
"Everyone but me" continued
to rattle around in my brain on a daily basis.
began to resent the good fortune of my classmates in a completely new
way. Sure I
had known envy before, but not to the point that it bothered me like it
My scholarship at St. John's had made it
possible for me to get the finest education money could buy even though
I had no money. Yes, my low socioeconomic status was a source of
irritation to me, but the fact remained that my Rich Man - Poor Man
situation had not kept me from competing with my
wealthy classmates... until now.