A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS
PART TWO: HIGH SCHOOL HELL
2015, Richard Archer
THE END OF A
Ever since my Sophomore
year, the Weingarten's grocery store had been my sanctuary from both
school and home. Not only did I enjoy making tip money, I had
fun interacting with the customers and the boys who sacked groceries
Now at the start of my
Senior year, that door was slammed shut as well.
During these troubled
times, a person had to be very
patient to find my good side. Mr. Ocker, the kindly older man who
had first hired me in my Sophomore year, had no trouble reaching my puppy
dog side. However, Mr. Ocker had been transferred down to
The moment I met Mr.
Norris, the driven man who took Mr. Ocker's place, I knew I was in
trouble. I thoroughly disliked the
new manager of my grocery store. That
door swung two ways; he didn't like me very much either.
No surprise there. Now that
I think about it, there were a lot of people who didn't like me very
much in those days.
Norris brought out the porcupine. We clashed from
the instant we met. Mr.
Norris was young,
impatient, and brusque. He liked to bark orders. I
gathered that Mr. Norris was ex-military. He wanted to
run the store using the same authoritarian style he had learned in the
military. Mr. Norris was exactly the kind of person I didn't
respond to very well. His abrupt, critical style made me bristle.
Mr. Norris liked to give
orders. I didn't take orders well. If something about
the orders bothered me, I would frequently ask for a reason.
Mr. Norris did not take kindly to that. "I don't have time to
explain everything I do. Just do what I say, Archer."
I never challenged his
authority directly, but Mr. Norris could see the defiance in my
Based on the sparks between us, I
decided I would be in
serious trouble if I ever got drafted into the military. No doubt some drill sergeant like Mr. Norris would
have relished the opportunity to teach me to keep my big mouth permanently shut.
Life isn't easy
with a personality disorder. Ask me. Any perceived slight and I would snap back defensively.
Sad to say, but I sensed this was exactly the same kind of behavior
that had gotten my mother fired from some of her jobs.
Unfortunately, I just couldn't seem to keep my smart mouth shut.
Mr. Norris bristled when
I argued with him.
One evening in September of my Senior year, he decided he had
Mr. Norris told me to empty the
trash. I said I would empty the
waste baskets shortly, but right now I was preparing to take a
customer's bags to the car. Mr. Norris didn't like that answer.
Mr. Norris reminded me he had told me to empty them now.
With a wave of his hand, Norris
ordered another boy to take the groceries out and then ordered me to
follow him to his office.
Mr. Norris chewed me out
royally for a host of missteps. Then he proceeded to write me
'insubordination'. He made it clear that this was the first step
towards termination. He was going to
show I had been given fair warning. Then if I didn't shape up,
he intended to fire me. Mr. Norris said he wasn't the kind of
guy to cut me any slack.
Mr. Norris cited
me for four infractions.
1 - He didn't
appreciate my tendency
towards back talk when he told me to do something.
2 - He
didn't have the time to explain "why" every time he gave me an
order. Just do it and shut up.
3 - He didn't care how I did things under the
previous manager. When he said to do something his way, he
wanted it done "his way".
4 - He noticed that I neglected
doing many of my routine chores at the times when he wanted them done. He did not like the fact that I put
my chores off till the end of my shift to spend more time hustling tips.
From here on out, I was expected to empty the trash cans first or
mop the floors first or pick up the carts in the parking first.
my remaining time to work for tips.
Truth be told, I wasn't
a bad employee. I did everything I was expected to do without
being told. However, I did them when business was slow or at
the end of my shift. What Mr. Norris was really
angry about was my constant backtalk. I had never learned when
to keep my mouth shut. He would tell me to do something and I
would ask him a question to explain his reason or make some clever comment.
Mr. Norris hated that. He considered it insolence. His
skin was just as thin as mine.
defied the man; I just irritated him in much the same way I
irritated Mr. Murphy at school. Consequently Mr. Norris didn't
like my attitude one bit and wanted to get rid of me. However,
I never gave him a good reason to fire me. Since it is tough to fire
someone who hasn't done anything overtly wrong, this pathetic 'empty
the trash' incident was the best he could find.
The half hour I spent in
Mr. Norris' office is one of the indelible memories from my Senior
Mr. Norris decided to
write a document to justify what he was planning to do the
next time I gave him an opening. I sat there grim-faced
and silent for thirty minutes as Mr. Norris filled two entire pages
with an account of every misdeed he could think of.
It felt like an
eternity. The entire time I
had to listen to his comments about my poor attitude. Thirty
minutes of non-stop criticism made my porcupine personality sizzle
with resentment. Meanwhile Mr. Norris thoroughly enjoyed our half hour
will never forget the 'gotcha' smirk on his face as he ordered me to sign
his "You've been Warned" document.
I was skating on thin ice here.
I was seriously considering
going out for the basketball team in my Senior year. Training would
start in two weeks and I had a passionate desire to play basketball for my
school. However, based on this insubordination lecture and my running
conflict with Mr. Norris, I believed if I asked this man for time off to play
basketball, my job would not be here waiting for me when the season
Mr. Norris was clearly not in the mood to do me
Ever since I had bought
my car two summers ago, I had played pick-up basketball two, three,
sometimes four times a week at public gyms around the city. I
was clearly one of the best players in the gym. There was no
doubt in my mind that I would be a starter on my school basketball
team if the decision was based on talent alone.
However, Mr. Brockman,
the basketball coach, was cold and authoritarian in much the same
way as Mr. Norris. He didn't like me either.
If Mr. Ocker had been
the manager of the grocery store, I would have taken my chances and
tried out anyway. However, after the insubordination incident,
I assumed that if I tried out for the basketball team, I would be
throwing my job away for nothing.
Reluctantly, I decided
to keep my job and skip the tryouts. This was the end of a
powerful dream I had been working on since the 8th grade.
Giving up basketball absolutely broke my heart.
No doubt had Mr.
Brockman snapped his fingers and whistled, I would have changed my
mind in a flash and come running. However, since that never
happened, I had a grudge towards the basketball coach a mile wide.
That matched an equal
grudge I had towards Mr. Norris. These two men had caused me
to relinquish my last possible hope of ever making a positive
impression at my school.
1967 had been a brutal month. My home had been transformed
into Little Mexico.
I had a
heated argument with my mother over this transformation that had
created a giant rift. I was so angry at her I couldn't see
straight. We had not spoken to one another since.
had completely avoided the subject of college at Christmas time.
This snub left me with only the slightest flicker of hope that he
would honor his six year old promise to help me pay for college.
never felt so alone in my life.
now January 1968, the start of the second half of my Senior year.
marked the height of basketball season. It caused me untold
agony to know my classmates were playing basketball while I sacked
grocery bags every afternoon.
also a new development in my home.
new boyfriend, Reymundo, was very possessive. He told her to
quit her job as a bar maid. So Linda stayed home all day long.
Bored out of her mind, Linda played Mexican dance music in the
living room every chance she got. Or she would turn on the
radio in her bedroom whenever she had sex. This marked the
transformation of my home into a walking talking mariachi band.
I hated this music with a passion. With organ music in
one ear and ranchero music in the other, I could not study.
With the sounds of sex in either room beside me, there was no
with tension, I was already at a breaking point. Every waking
moment was spent waiting for the day when I could escape this
that broke the camel's back came when David explained how my
father's salary might prevent me from getting a college scholarship.
I had applied to three colleges on my own. I had paid the
application fees on my own. Neither parent had lifted a finger
to offer money, advice, or a bit of encouragement.
saw how much college cost, I understood that my meager grocery
savings would never cut it. I had to get a scholarship.
However, once David effectively planted that huge seed of doubt in
my mind, I went from 'worried' to 'frantic'.
like I had absolutely no one to turn to. No mother, no father.
Mr. Curran tried to help, but there was little he could do to help
me escape the trap I was in.
when I snapped.
stood, I didn't have the slightest idea where the funds were coming
from. All day long at school the phrase "everyone but me"
rattled in my brain. I began to resign myself to the
possibility I might actually not make it college next year.
inappropriate bitterness towards my classmates knew no bounds.
It wasn't their fault I was in this fix, but I resented them anyway.
In fact, I hated the entire goddamn school for this fix I was in.
myself any more. My behavior was out of control.
judgment impaired, I began to do stupid things.
become a law unto myself. No one could tell me anything unless
I was in the mood to listen. Maybe if they said the magic word
'Please', I would pay attention. But if someone barked at me,
I would defy anyone's authority. I had stopped listening to my mother a year
I completely tuned my Calculus teacher out. I argued with my grocery store manager at
work so much that I was on the verge of getting fired. Mr.
Murphy ordered me to Detention Hall with alarming regularity.
Due to the bitterness in me, my smart mouth was making enemies
at every turn.
year had been a breeze for me, but here in my Senior year I was out
of sorts. I had
once been the most conscientious student in the school, but I was
shocked to discover my heart wasn't in my
studies any more. I just wanted to graduate and get out of
Throughout the year, I deliberately cut corners any
place I could.
of bad decisions. I had made a
huge mistake when I dropped Asian History for Calculus. I was
fascinated by history and had a charismatic teacher as well, but once I learned about the gigantic term
paper, I panicked. After one long night in the Rice University
library looking up references for my paper, I realized this paper
require serious amounts of time. There was something about
that organ music that discouraged me. In the mood I was in, I could not
bear the thought of any added work. So despite all the bad
things I had heard about the Calculus teacher, two weeks into the
school year I dropped Asian History and switched over to Calculus.
moment I took my first class from Mr. Flansburg, I realized I had
made a very bad decision. Not only was I stuck with the worst
teacher I would ever meet in my life, I was already two weeks behind
in his class. However, there was no turning back.
at my mother was off the charts. It was a really dumb move to
buy this awful house which prevented any possibility of a normal
place to study. My inability to concentrate on my Calculus
homework really upset me.
I also dreaded
taking Senior Chemistry. This was a mandatory Senior-year class for
anyone who had avoided science throughout high
would include me. I hated science classes like the plague. I wasn't interested in the
material. I didn't want to know how a battery worked. I
knew how to put a battery in a flash light. As long
as the battery worked, that's all I cared about.
unlike Calculus, I thrived in this class.
my inherent dislike for ions, acids, and redox reactions, I would go
on to score a 90 for the year in this course. And then of
course I promptly forgot everything I learned the moment I graduated.
does a disinterested kid make an A- in a course he doesn't like?
The answer is that I studied very hard. I actually surprised myself
with the depth of my effort considering I absolutely couldn't stand this stuff.
miracle can explain my performance? It was simple. What
a difference a teacher makes!
I really liked Mr.
MacKeith, my teacher. He was one of the finest instructors I ever had.
How he managed to keep my attention was a testimony to
this man's immense talent as an educator. Not once did I ever
surprise myself and find the information interesting, but I worked
hard in his class anyway simply out of respect for the man.
an example of my code. I would not do something just because
there was a rule or someone ordered me to do it. I
refused to follow any rule without question. If Mr. MacKeith
had bossed me around or ordered me to pay attention, I would have
tuned him out and turned in the same lukewarm effort I did in Calculus.
once I saw how passionate Mr. MacKeith was about his subject, I developed
a respect for him pretty much identical to the respect I had for Mr.
Salls. I gave my best effort in his class
for one simple reason - I chose to.
I absolutely drew the line at memorization.
I hated memorizing stuff I knew I
would forget the moment I left high school and would never need again.
What a complete and utter waste of time! If I wanted to know
something, I could just look it up.
it came time to memorize the Periodic Tables of the elements in
science class, I rebelled. For the first time, I
I wrote the entire Table down on a piece of paper and copied
it on my test. I didn't feel the slightest shred of guilt at
the time. Due to the cheat sheet, I finished my test early. Now I sat back and
stared at my teacher.
MacKeith spent the entire test hour reading a book. He
never once looked up. I should know because I had studied his
behavior enough times to realize how predictable he was. Mr.
MacKeith trusted us.
trusted us... that was the thought that kept running
through my mind. As I watched him read, I was full of regret. I didn't feel what I had done was wrong, but I didn't like the feeling
that this man had trusted me either.
I wrestled with my
conscience quite a bit over my mixed feelings. I finally
admitted that I felt guilty.
I did not want to cheat again in this
From this point on, I memorized whatever I was told to
memorize. That didn't mean I had to like it, but I did it anyway...
because I respected Mr. MacKeith.
Roller organ music from across the street seriously interfered with
my ability to study for the entire school year. I
found it impossible to memorize with that awful noise
Then to my consternation, just when things couldn't possibly
get worse, now came the mariachi music. I thought I
would go insane. I had no patience for this insult,
but what was I supposed to do, throw a fit?
had tried that at Christmas time and my mother hadn't spoken
to me since. No, that wouldn't work.
night in January the combination of the organ music and
mariachi music forced me to find a highly unusual solution to
my inability to study Chemistry. It was a Thursday
was already exhausted from my grocery store job and I
dreaded the Chemistry test I was facing Friday morning.
As always, I had waited till the last minute, but now I was
in trouble. There was a tremendous amount of noise
from across the street
and Linda's music was drifting in from the room next door. I
turned my own radio on as well, but that just made it worse.
my own radio distracted me.
As an only child, I had
how to tune out distractions.
I needed complete silence to study,
especially when it was material I wasn't very interested in.
the blaring noise and the ghastly shrieks, I wasn't getting anywhere
studying for my Chemistry test. Plus I was falling asleep.
concentrate, how was I ever going to get ready
for this Chemistry test?
remembered how easily I had cheated on the Chemistry test once before.
Now I was facing more memorization and
I was sorely tempted to try it again. However, I had felt so
guilty afterwards that I didn't want to do it again. My
respect for Mr. MacKeith had grown to the point that I couldn't force
myself to take this route a second time.
But what could I do? Studying
here in my noisy house was impossible.
I had an
odd idea. Why not go to sleep now, get up very early in the
morning, go to school and study in some quiet room before class?
what I did. I got to St. John's at 6 am. The place was
deserted. Not even the
janitors were there. I wandered
through the halls of the huge Science building looking for a quiet place
to settle. To my dismay, I found that the library door was
locked. Study Hall was locked. All the doors to the classrooms were locked
as well. Great. Now
As I explored, I noticed a faculty restroom located at the
very end of the long hallway on the second floor of the Chemistry
building. Since it was
located in the most remote corner of the building, I had never
been in this section of the building before. I assumed
a restroom door would not be kept locked and I was right.
I opened the door and poked my nose in.
The restroom was small, but that didn't matter. It was totally quiet and completely secluded.
That's all I cared about.
took another look at the sign on the door. "Faculty Restroom
Do I follow the rule or defy it? Well, there wasn't
any other place to go and I was running out of time.
Desperate times call for desperate measures. I
broke the rule and went in.
There was one
immediate problem. I could either sit on the toilet seat or I
could lay down on the cold tile
floor on my side with my head propped up in one hand. I tried both and
decided laying on the cold floor worked better. So I spread out and
put my book under my nose.
At first I worried that
someone might use the restroom, but no one came in. I eventually
stopped thinking about it and settled down. That extra chance
to study turned the corner. In this solitude, I was able to completely lock in.
With the cram session material fresh in my mind, I did well on the
test. I was proud of myself. My strange trick had worked like a charm.
Thanks to the ongoing
noise problem at my house, I did the same thing again two weeks later for the
That was the start of a tradition. Every Friday morning
before an exam, I would get to school early, cram like the devil and ace the test.
I did this for two solid
One day about ten
minutes before class started, the restroom door suddenly opened.
I was so immersed in my studies that I was completely startled by the interruption.
I screamed at
the top of my lungs in fear.
At the sound of
my banshee wail, poor Mr.
MacKeith jumped back like he had seen a ghost! Now he was
screaming too!! He quickly slammed the door shut in fear.
in the hall, Mr. MacKeith had no idea what was going on.
When he first opened the door, he had caught a fleeting glimpse
of what had to be a dead body lying on the restroom floor.
Then that body had suddenly come to life
and screamed at him. Of course his fear instincts had
steeled his nerves and decided to open the door again.
Meanwhile, I was
panic-stricken. Oh no! I had just scared my teacher out of his
adrenaline and fearful of the trouble I was surely in, I
bolted up off the floor. Just as I arose, Mr. MacKeith
reopened the door to investigate.
There I was pale as
a ghost. Mr. MacKeith's eyes grew huge. I began to apologize profusely. I swore I would never
do this again. I admitted I had no business
being in here.
I was so nervous I
couldn't stop talking.
finally put both hands up as if to ask me to hush up for a second.
He said, "Mr.
Archer, please calm down. It is
okay. I am not mad at you. We will both somehow survive this moment. Now, will you please explain what you are
I told him about my
noise problem at home and confessed that I had been studying in this
little restroom for several months.
I was so worried.
I was certain I was going to be suspended. After all,
this was a faculty-only restroom. I was definitely
Finally Mr. MacKeith
nodded. He put his hands up again to signal he had heard enough.
I got the message and stopped talking.
Mr. MacKeith smiled at me and said,
"Mr. Archer, it is not a crime to be sitting on a restroom floor.
A bit unusual,
perhaps, but not a violation. And yes, this is a faculty restroom,
but I am the only person who uses it. You have my permission
to continue. From now on, I will just knock first to save us
both the trouble of screaming again. Now please get to class. Your test
starts in five minutes and I have business to attend to."
I sprinted to my
classroom. My heart was still racing. I could not
believe Mr. MacKeith had let me off the hook. I knew I
broken a rule. Why didn't he punish me?
never said another word. Nor did he ever use that
restroom again on test days.
From that point
on, I practically worshipped the man. To his students,
he was no-nonsense instructor, but for a moment there he had
dropped his stern teacher's mask to reveal that he was a
really great guy. The fact that he gave me permission
to continue to study in there shocked me and thrilled me at
the same time.
The gracefulness with which Mr. MacKeith handled this highly
embarrassing situation speaks volumes about the man's dignity.
I appreciated the mercy he showed me no end.
I dedicate my A-
in Senior Chemistry to his
memory. I worked hard in his class because I respected him
unscathed from my cheating incident and from violating the
off-limits rule. I would not be so lucky on my next
One day during the
second half of my Senior year, I was called into the Headmaster's Office. I turned white as I
entered the room.
There was Mr. Salls, Headmaster, Mr. Murphy, Dean of the Upper
School, Mr. Lee, football coach and head of the athletic
department, and Mr. Osborn, Mr. Lee's second in command. These
were the four most important administrators at St. John's.
They all had a frown
on their faces and they all had their arms crossed. This
didn't look good. Oddly enough, I didn't have the slightest idea what I had done
wrong. However, I knew I was in trouble for something.
Mr. Lee spoke first. "Mr. Archer, will you
please explain to us why you have two hundred dollars worth of unauthorized
St. John's sports equipment in the back seat of your car?"
Uh oh. My heart sank to my stomach. Now I knew. Busted.
It was true that I kept St. John's sports equipment in my car.
I used it for my after-school basketball adventures.
So how was I caught?
Well, it wasn't difficult.
drove a Volkswagen Bug to school, a cheap used car I had bought with my
grocery store money. I was too embarrassed to park this sad little
car next to the
shiny brand new GTOs and Mustangs of the rich kids in the student parking lot.
Instead I always parked the car in a spot across the street next to the athletic department
where no one would notice that this pathetic car belonged to me.
I didn't want anyone giving me a hard time about my
I suppose one
somebody in the athletic office had parked their car next to
mine. They had noticed the stuff laying in my back seat, then said
something to Coach Lee. Then they figured out the car
belonged to me.
It wasn't hard to know where this stuff came from... there were several red and white tee-shirts with the SJS logo
plainly visible. In addition, there were two expensive leather basketballs that had "SJS"
clearly printed on them.
There was other stuff too. Softballs, gym shorts, gym socks, you name
it. All of it was laying there in plain sight
in the back seat. Not only that, I left
the windows rolled down to help the clothes dry out after playing basketball.
Anyone could open the door and inspect it with their own
hands if they wanted to.
Now I was facing the four most
important administrators in the school. They
wanted an explanation.
Since I had not asked for
permission, these men had every reason to ask why that equipment
was in my car.
I told the men that
I was just "borrowing" the stuff.
I fully intended to return it. If I
wanted to steal it, then why would I leave it completely visible in my
unlocked car next to the Athletic Department?
That argument had one advantage - it was the truth.
I hadn't bothered to conceal the equipment because I intended to return it at the
end of the school year.
explained to the men that I
played pickup basketball two or three afternoons a week after school. I
would drive to different public gyms around the city looking for pickup
basketball games. Why not borrow St. John's
gym clothes? I
explained I had been recycling St. John's gym equipment for several
I admitted I did
this because I didn't feel like washing my own clothes. It was
very embarrassing to admit I was too lazy to wash my own clothes,
but I confessed this was reason I borrowed the clothes.
What I didn't tell them
was that I hated the basketball coach. For some reason, my
dislike of him justified my behavior. Nor did I tell them
about the fight with my mother back in December.
What I didn't tell them
was this was also my pitiful way of representing my school. I felt more regret over
giving up basketball at St. John's than I could possibly imagine.
Ever since the 8th grade I had dreamed of basketball glory.
My acne attack ended my
for the 9th and 10th years of school.
I could have gone out for
the basketball team in my 11th year, but
my problems with my mother made it more important to buy a car.
So I kept working after school instead. Besides, I told myself,
there's always next year. I would go out for the team in
my Senior year.
I dedicated my entire
Junior year to developing as a basketball player. That used Volkswagen
allowed me to drive the gyms throughout the city
in search of good
Every free afternoon
saw me driving to
city parks such as Fonde Recreation Center, Denver Harbor, Godwin Park,
Freed Park, and Stude Park. Wherever there was a public gym with a basketball court, I would visit
Now it was my Senior
year. Last chance. I faced a huge dilemma. Do I go out for the basketball team or
do I keep my job sacking groceries? I was good, no doubt
about it, but ultimately I expected the coach would reject me.
It wasn't worth the risk.
So I gave up.
was forlorn. This was my last chance to show my
school what I could do on the court. I wouldn't mind a little
taste of glory. The thought of
those pretty cheerleaders rooting for me would be a
dream come true. I still clung to a vestige of my long lost hope that playing
basketball would help me take my place as
a proud member of the student community.
In my heart I felt
tremendous school pride. I was a St. John's Rebel through
and through. But in all these years, I had never had the chance to prove
my love for my school to the other students.
This was my last chance to show my classmates that I too had immense
loyalty to St. John's.
In the end, it all boiled down to
desperation. As desperate as I was to
show off my ability, I was
more desperate to find a way to pay for college.
Given my concerns,
the correct choice was to keep my grocery store job. It crushed me to give up this chance, but I
believed I had done the right thing.
disappointment was overwhelming. I had a deep sense of regret I just couldn't seem to shake.
Skipping basketball that year was agony for me.
Once I decided to skip
going out for the team, my bitterness knew no limit.
Heartbroken, I continued to
play basketball at the city gyms. Wearing the SJS school gym
uniform was my only solace. I pretended to be playing for my
However, looking at the
stern faces of these four administrators, I just didn't have the
strength to tell them this story.
Nor did I have the
courage to confess I didn't dare wash my own clothes because that
would give my mother the satisfaction of knowing she had forced me
to give in.
During that fateful yelling match in December, my mother snapped at me
and suggested it was time I learned how to wash my
own clothes. Due to my anger at her, I didn't want to give
her the satisfaction of seeing me wash my own clothes. I decided I had a better idea. Why not borrow clean gym clothes from St.
John's? The chip
on my shoulder was in full bloom at this point. I was mad at everyone... the
basketball coach, my classmates for their wonderful lives,
my store manager, and of course my mother as well.
I bet the other St. John's kids didn't have to wash their own
clothes, so why should I have to?
So I made the dubious
decision to sneak
clean SJS gym clothes out and dirty gym clothes in. Let St.
John's do my wash for me.
couple basketballs followed me out as well. I knew what I was doing
was questionable. I justified my actions by saying my classmates had
everything taken care of for them. This would be my own
special privilege. Thank you, St. John's! I will return the basketballs when I
graduate and leave for college.
I didn't think it was stealing. I was
'borrowing'. After all, I left all that equipment in my
car in plain view. If someone saw it, all they had to do was say something.
When no one said anything, I assumed it was okay.
At the point when I was finally
confronted, this 'borrowing' had been going on for two
months. I had been doing it for so long I no longer gave it a second thought... which
explains why I had no idea what I was in
trouble for when I first walked into the office.
Now as I stood
in the Headmaster's Office with these four administrators staring at me
in exasperation, having all that gym equipment in my back seat didn't seem like a very good idea any more.
So would they think I stole the
clothes or would they accept my explanation that I borrowed the clothes?
I didn't think
explaining my grudge against the basketball coach would help win my
case. No, I probably shouldn't bring that up.
I didn't really want
them to know about the pride I felt at wearing a tee-shirt with an
SJS logo on it. That embarrassed me.
I didn't think
explaining that since the other kids got their clothes washed for
them, I should too. Probably not a good idea.
I didn't think telling
them about the fight with my mother was a good idea either.
Unable or unwilling to
share the full truth, I decided to blame the decision on my
'immaturity'. First I
explained about my nomadic after-school
basketball career, then I admitted I
the clothes because it was convenient and because I was too lazy to wash my own clothes.
immature on my part, but what was the harm? They had giant
washing machines that handled everything in bulk. What
difference did it make if I used a few clean gym clothes for my own
I added that I intended to return
it all when school ended.
Then I reminded them the clothes were laying there in plain sight
right next to the athletic office and the door was unlocked. That
wasn't exactly how a
thief operates, yes?? If I wanted to steal, I would keep
the loot hidden.
The four men listened
in complete silence.
they kept fidgeting in their chairs. I could tell they had trouble making sense of the strange story I was
telling them. They seemed puzzled.
I had to give
them credit for sensing I was leaving something out.
Coach Lee knew me well.
He was a good man who commanded my complete respect.
Coach Lee was the head football coach and the man who had explained how worried
he was that I would get
hurt playing football. With such a limited enrollment in our
small school, he could have used a big, strong boy
like me on his team. However, my welfare was more important to
admired Coach Lee for doing the right thing.
Once I accepted that I should not play,
Coach Lee accepted my offer to keep the varsity football statistics. I traveled with
the team to all their games and tracked the yards gained on every
play. I had been doing this for four years and had been
extremely reliable. So Mr. Lee had developed a quiet
appreciation for me.
In addition, Mr. Lee and
Mr. Osborn knew how much I loved basketball. For the past four years
they had watched me play basketball in the physical education classes
they supervised. By my Senior year, I was virtually a one-man
team. No one in P.E. class could check me. Mr. Lee asked me how I had developed such a deadly
shot. After I explained that I had been practicing non-stop
since the 8th grade, he asked me why I didn't play
varsity basketball. I explained my job after school and he
just sort of nodded. I think Coach Lee knew I had problems.
So as my fate hung in
the air, I watched Coach Lee in particular. I had the feeling
the final decision was his. Mr. Lee had the oddest
look on his face. Mr. Lee glanced at Mr.
times as if to say, "Are you getting this?"
What I think passed
between the coaches was a suspicion that there was more to this
story than I was saying. Well, they were right, but I wasn't
going to humiliate myself with some pathetic explanation of how this
was mostly related to my anguish over skipping varsity basketball,
my issues with my mother and my intense
dislike for the basketball coach, and my unfulfilled school pride.
None of this was going to win me
I got the distinct impression these men were at
a complete loss to know what to do with me. When I finished my story, I was
dismissed from the office. Obviously the four men were going to talk it over.
I had such a sense of dread in me.
expected the worst.
Surely I would be suspended.
If they decided to suspend me, I would accept the
punishment wordlessly. I felt I had done something wrong.
Suspension could have
been easily justified, especially with Mr. Murphy in the room.
I had been arguing with him non-stop for the past two years.
Once Murphy pointed out my defiance of his authority and my frequent
visits to Detention Hall, it would be obvious to the other three men
that I was in great need of more serious measures.
Mr. Norris couldn't
quite fire me because I never did anything outright terrible.
However, here at SJS, this gym
equipment issue offered these men the perfect opportunity to lay
down the law once and for all.
I assumed I was doomed.
Later that day, Mr. Lee approached me in the
told me to return the clothes and the basketballs and to
this again. There would be no punishment. All I
had to do was promise I would not
Don't worry about that! After the terror I had experienced
facing these four men earlier in the day, I would never dream of
doing it again.
I was astonished.
Just like Mr. MacKeith, they had let me off the hook. I was
mystified. I had a hard time believing I had only received a
slap on the wrist.
So I got off scot free.
That afternoon as I cleared the equipment out my car,
I gave it some serious thought.
Was this a case of theft
or not? Well, yes, it was theft if they didn't trust me.
But seeing the clothes there in plain sight was an argument in my
favor. My mistake was that I didn't ask permission. The
fact that I did sneak the equipment
out behind people's backs did not sit well with these men. If nothing else, I should have been
punished for not asking permission. However, we were getting close to the end of the school year. That might have worked in
my favor. Maybe they didn't see what good throwing the book
would accomplish at this late stage.
My sense of justice said that I deserved at least some sort of punishment for taking those clothes.
This school had a strong reputation for discipline. I had been at
this school for nine years so I knew about incidents where other
kids had been suspended for various offenses. Therefore I knew that
discipline was a reality,
not a myth. I could not figure out why
I had gotten the kid glove treatment when other kids got suspended.
First Mr. MacKeith had
let me off the hook. Now Mr. Lee had let me off the hook.
Why were they going so easy on me?
A GERMAN TEST
In February 1968, I was
caught cheating on a German test. I won't justify my behavior.
As I have made clear,
the events of December and January had caused me to snap.
My mind was saturated in depression and bitterness. I wasn't
thinking clearly anymore. Like reckless driving, sometimes
when you can't hurt the people you are mad at, you hurt yourself
instead. All that anger has to go somewhere.
German was my best subject bar
none. Nevertheless, I decided to cheat on one of the tests.
In a situation similar to the Chemistry test I had cheated on, I was
expected to memorize material that I thought was a total waste of
I saw a perfect
opportunity to cheat.
One day in February 1968
I was allowed to take a makeup German exam in a room by myself.
I had missed the test because I was sick.
Except that I wasn't
sick. I was incredibly pissed off at the world.
Something I prefer not to mention just yet had sent me reeling.
Then like the straw that broke the camel's back, a completely
different problem led directly to the cheating incident.
One night at Little
Mexico, Manuel, the little
two-year old kid, hurt Terry in some way. I didn't see it
happen, but I heard Terry's yelp of pain outside my room. I
ran out of my bedroom and down the stairs in a flash. Terry came to
me instantly for protection.
As I held my dog, I
could see the little boy was crying profusely, but he didn't look
hurt. I had never seen Terry bite anyone and there were
certainly no bite marks on the child. I think the little boy
was crying because Terry's howl of pain had scared him. I was
certain the boy had done something to hurt my dog. I was
My mother heard the
sound too and rushed into the living room. So did Enrique, Manuel's
father. He came barreling down the stairs right behind me. He was angry
too because his little boy was crying. In Spanish, he spoke
excitedly to my mother
and pointed at Terry. I had no idea what he was saying because it
was in Spanish, but no doubt he accused Terry of
biting his kid.
Raising my voice, I told my mother, "Terry
didn't bite that kid. There's not a mark on him. That
kid hurt the dog and you know it."
My mother barked, "For
once, Richard, can we please skip the argument? The kid will
live. Just take Terry
upstairs and be done with it."
I looked at my mother
incredulously. Why wasn't she sticking up for the dog to
Enrique? Why wasn't she chewing out Enrique for not
supervising that spoiled brat? If I knew any Spanish, I would give this guy a
piece of my mind. However, due to the language barrier, I
didn't see the point of sticking around. In a huff, I took the
dog upstairs and slammed the door.
That didn't mean my
anger went away. I was very upset. In fact, I was so
upset I couldn't settle down enough to study for my German test. I just sat on my
bed with Terry and seethed. No one hurts my dog. I
wanted to lash back in the worst way.
The next morning I
called in sick to school. I was in a really bad mood. I
took the day off to protect my
dog in case Enrique was in the mood for revenge. While I was
home, I finished studying for the German test. It was just as
well that I stayed home.
Things were really bad
for me. I needed a
break in the worst way.
I was worn out.
My worries about paying for college wore
me out. My envy and bitterness towards my classmates wore me out.
My home life in Little Mexico wore me out. My problems with
Calculus wore me out. The
holy roller music wore me out. The mariachi music wore me out. Studying for Chemistry tests on a
bathroom floor wore me out. Arguing with my manager at my after-school job wore me out.
My bitterness towards both parents wore me out. Skipping
basketball upset me no end. My loneliness wore me out.
You name it, it wore me out.
My life was crumbling around me one piece at a time.
I was scared. The
stress I felt was unreal. I
knew I was losing control.
The next day, as expected, Mrs.
Anderson allowed me to take the test on my own. I met her that
afternoon in the German classroom. She handed the test to me,
then left. Since Mrs. Anderson liked me, I doubted seriously
she would return.
I had decided to cheat
today. I had cheated once before in Chemistry.
Afterwards I had decided I would never cheat again... in Chemistry.
Today I had decided to cheat again because the world was being mean
to me and I was entitled to a break. I knew there was no
chance of being caught, so I was going to make a statement. I,
Rick Archer, was entitled to skip being forced to memorize stupid
stuff that I would never need later in life.
Our German classroom was
located upstairs in the most deserted corner of the school.
Being upstairs, there was literally no passing traffic. This
eliminated any chance of accidental discovery.
I was all by myself behind a closed door in this remote
room. It was late in the afternoon and there was complete
silence. I would certain I would hear anyone coming
because they had to climb the stairs to get here. The situation offered an effortless
opportunity to cheat. All I had to do was open the
usual, I handled the vocabulary segment and the translation segment
of the test without problem. Yes, I had studied for this part.
I didn't need to cheat. I was good at German.
I was in a bad mood. Make that a very bad mood. Between
my dog getting hurt, my anger at my mother for letting the
Mexicans live with us, and the fact that everyone was going
to college but me,
I decided I was privileged to cut corners.
For this test I
was supposed to memorize the names and
the most famous works of great German authors such as Wolfgang Goethe, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse,
and Gunter Grass.
Oh, let us not
forget Friedrich Nietzsche, my favorite
philosopher because he had such a cynical view of life.
Although I liked
discussing these men in class, in my opinion, this wasn't German.
The Literature portion of the test was worth 20 points out of 100.
Here is what is ironic about my decision. Just in case
I was asked to take the test in study hall, I had studied
this part too. Therefore I was cheating for the sake
of cheating, not because I needed to. Even though I knew most of the names anyway, I had decided to cheat on this
portion of the test for the sheer reason that I was angry at the world.
memorization was a total waste of my time. Why bother taking the time to memorize this stuff
when I knew I would forget it for the rest of my life. Why
not cut a corner?
I was cheating as a
form of protest. Why do people expect me to memorize stuff I
can just as easily look up later in life?
I was not at all
surprised to see I would be
allowed to take this makeup test in private.
Half an hour
passed. Not a sound. This was as good a time as
any. Why not?
It would take about three minutes to copy the names. So I simply pulled out the book
and began copying the list.
exact moment I opened my book to the section on German authors, a German classmate named Frank opened the door and walked in.
No warning, no knock... Frank just threw open the door and barged in.
I was incredulous. Why didn't I hear him coming?
froze the moment he saw me. By his startled expression,
I could see that Frank had no idea
anyone was even in
Frank immediately apologized
to me. He had German homework to do, but couldn't find
his book. The last place he had seen his German book
was in this room during
German class earlier in the day. Not only did Frank assume
his book was in here, he added he didn't expect anyone to be
here... hence his bad manners to throw the door open without
At that moment, Frank noticed my open book
and his expression changed in a flash. Something didn't
look right to him.
I quickly closed my open
book. Frank could not possibly see what chapter I was on. I wasn't exactly caught red-handed, but my hands were
definitely pink. The way I rapidly closed that book was definitely
suspicious. I remember the puzzled look on Frank's face; he was
not sure what he had seen.
Frank quickly grabbed his missing book
from his desk and
left the room without further word. I didn't know if Frank
would report me, but I definitely did not like the look on his
Once Frank closed the
door, I sat there stunned.
I was incredulous.
This was only the
second time in my life I had ever cheated (Chemistry was first). I was completely alone in a
small upstairs room in the furthest, most remote corner of the school.
There was at most a narrow three-minute window for someone to catch
me. No one but Mrs. Anderson knew I was in here and she didn't
So how was it possible that in this
brief flicker of time someone would walk in? Frank
had come out of nowhere!
Did Mrs. Anderson send
Frank? Very unlikely. Frank was totally shocked to find
me in there. The look on his face was complete surprise.
I am certain Frank wasn't acting... if he had been sent to catch me,
then why bother acting??
He had discovered me
cheating by accident, I was sure of it.
As I calculated
the odds of his appearance, I was befuddled. This was
a 1,000 to 1 shot. Frank had no business being here in
the first place... that was strange enough. But how did he manage to walk in at the
exact moment to catch me?
This was a coincidence of the highest
This moment defied all laws of probability.
I have had a
superstitious streak in me my whole life. The more I thought
about Frank's sudden appearance, the more I was convinced Frank was
meant to catch me. I didn't have the slightest idea what
mechanisms were in play, but this incident had an otherworldly feel
to it that I couldn't shake.
Now my mind turned to
assess the damage. I went around school for the rest of the
day with the darkest
thoughts. If Frank did turn me in, I fully expected to be
called into the Dean's Office. I could be in serious trouble.
The following day, a
young man named Dunham stopped me in the
hallway between classes. Dunham was the president of the
student council. Taking one step into the Quadrangle
for privacy, Dunham said there was an odd incident that he had been asked to
speak to me about.
Dunham didn't accuse
me of anything. Nor did he ask me if I had cheated.
Instead, Dunham said he considered
me a great student and that he couldn't IMAGINE someone
of my talent would ever need to cheat.
Dunham patted me lightly on my shoulder
with one hand and then walked away.
It was over in 20
seconds. I never got a
chance to say a word. I just stood there
staring in shock as Dunham disappeared down the hall.
I swear my mouth fell open at the brilliance
of Dunham's approach.
This young man knew exactly how to play me - accuse me and I would turn into a
porcupine. Instead he had complimented me and appealed to
my sense of decency.
What charm! What utter bullshit!
worked. I immediately flipped from porcupine
to puppy dog.
I felt completely
ashamed of myself. How stupid could I be? I could have
ruined my reputation permanently.
Due to the supernatural
timing involved in catching me and the highly undeserved decision
not to punish me, I decided the Universe was sending me a message.
I would never cheat again
in my life. Not at German, not
at Chemistry, not even at cards or any other walk of life. I
was done with cheating.
remainder of the day, I thought about Frank, Dunham, and
getting off scot free.
I had been caught red-handed at cheating. I should have been brought before the disciplinary committee, but I
had been given a warning instead... and a strange warning at that. Someone had decided to
cut me some slack. But who?
I have little doubt this incident was discussed behind closed
doors at great length. We had a very strict Honor Code that had
been drummed into us on a non-stop basis for my entire time at the
There had once been a star athlete at St. John's who had been caught
cheating on a final exam. He was forced to leave the school in
complete disgrace and was barred from participation in graduation
exercises. Even though he had been a sports hero, his name would be
tarnished by this extreme punishment. This young man had brought so much glory to the school.
If they would treat him harshly,
what kind of treatment could a nobody like me hope for?
And yet in my case,
someone had decided to give me a warning instead of taking me
down several notches like I deserved.
With those other students as
examples of the perils of being caught cheating, I was flabbergasted
that they had shown me mercy.
Who was watching over
There had to be someone's unseen hand involved in this. I had no
doubt that Dunham was coached by someone. I mean, Dunham was a bright guy,
but his approach showed wisdom way beyond his years. It was almost
like he "knew me". Hmm. Dunham didn't know me
from Adam. Someone told him what to say, I was sure of it.
I suspected that
someone was Mr. Salls, my former German teacher and current
Salls was known as the toughest disciplinarian in the school.
If that was the case, then this made no sense. Why would Mr.
show mercy?? As Headmaster, surely he couldn't let this kind
behavior go unchecked.
None of this made a bit
of sense to me. The only thing that was clear to me was my
My mind rolled
back to the 8th grade when I had been caught stealing candy
from the grocery store. There seemed to be an obvious
parallel between that behavior and this.
What was I thinking? Was my life really so bad that stealing
candy bars was going to make a difference?
What was I
thinking? Was my life really so bad that I cheated on
a test just to prove that I could cut a corner and get away
They had let me
walk on the candy bar theft and now they had let me walk on
the cheating incident. Why so many second chances?
I concluded that
I was one heck of a screwed up kid.
I wanted to talk
to someone about my problems in the worst way. The
only person I could think of Mr. Curran. However, I
couldn't bear to let him know I had cheated on a test and I
knew I would have to tell him.
So I told no
one. I just hung my head in shame.
I really hated