Written by Rick Archer
It was now
mid-October 1964. Junior Varsity Basketball tryouts
were in four days. I had never been more excited
about anything in my life. By practicing basketball
daily over the summer, I had seen the same kind of
improvement in my basketball skills that I had observed in
my chess skills. Like every other Freshman boy, I dreamed about
dating. I prayed my basketball skills would get me noticed.
Maybe some girl would see me play and take a shine to me. Not
only I could finally find a
girlfriend, maybe with her help I could regain status within
my peer group.
I was dying to
shed my cloak of invisibility.
Over the summer I
had developed a mild case of acne. My
mother hated pimples so much she could not stand to look at
them. Disgusted, she preferred to attack. She
would prick them with a needle, press out the pus, then
smear the wound with cotton saturated in isopropyl alcohol.
During the summer we had gone through this procedure four
times. On a Sunday night in late October, Mom decided it was time
for another treatment.
strenuously. I said whatever
was, it wasn't that bad.
disagreed. She won
the argument based on her previous success. I relented
after she reminded me the previous
four treatments had turned out okay. So Mom got out
her sewing needle. After sterilizing it with a
began to merrily pop away at the pimples. Strangely
enough, she took great pleasure in this process. After she was
done, Mom finished
her handiwork by cleansing the open wounds with isopropyl alcohol.
When she was
finished, Mom exclaimed,
"There! All done. In the morning,
will be completely cleared up."
Early the next morning, I
awoke with my face burning in
pain. My face felt mysteriously swollen. The swelling stretched the
skin on my face so tight that I was having trouble moving my
jaw properly. I touched my face and felt large bumps. I was
suddenly scared, very scared.
What was wrong with me? I rushed to the mirror and
in horror. I had the
face of a monster!
Overnight my face
had turned into a vast sea of angry red and
If I had ten pimples last night, now I had
one hundred. The swelling was incredible. Overnight my
face had swollen to twice its size. My face was now the
shape of a puffed-up balloon.
While I slept that night,
a lymph gland
infection had spread the acne like an epidemic. New pimples erupted
across my face like volcanic explosions reshaping the earth's
I had undergone a transformation straight out of a horror movie.
Except in my
case this was not a bad dream but rather a living, waking
nightmare come true.
my wildest thoughts could I have
imagined what my mother had done would change the course of my
life. My life would never be the same.
Normally my face was long
and slender. Now
I had a round face.
My nose, upper lip, and forehead remained clear,
but otherwise there was not one patch of
clear skin left. Furthermore I was in a lot of pain. My face
throbbed as my body tried to fight off the massive infection.
As I cried buckets upon
buckets of tears in sheer terror, I asked my mother what we should do.
Mom shook her
head in sympathy. "Well, Dick, don't worry, you can stay home today and I'm
sure this will
clear up by tomorrow." So I stayed home.
At the time, neither my
mother nor I had any idea what had gone wrong. I wondered why we didn't go straight to the doctor.
I assumed it was because we were so poor. If
we had begun antibiotics immediately, I have to believe the problem
would not have become as severe or long-lasting as it did. In
any case, my mother underestimated the seriousness of my condition.
My face did not clear
up after one day. So I stayed home a second day. Still
I could not stay home a
third day for a special reason. Wednesday would be the start of
basketball tryouts, the most important thing in the world to me. I would have gone to
school even if there was a hurricane outside. Nothing would
stop me, not hell nor high water.
I had made a mess of things in
the 8th Grade by quitting the school play, the spelling bee, and basketball
practice. Now here in the 9th Grade I was desperate for a second
chance. For the past five months, I had
been counting on basketball as my ticket out of invisibility.
I had been practicing every afternoon on my own for one to two hours
just for this moment.
With the music of 'On Broadway' playing in
my mind, I could not wait to see the
shock on their faces when I began to dominate.
'They say there's
always magic in the air, I won't quit till I'm a star!'
I had shot lights out over at Cherryhurst Park all summer
long just for this moment. I wouldn't miss basketball
tryouts today for anything
in the world. I was sick over the fact that I would have to begin my
re-entry onto the SJS stage looking like this, but I would not
let this bizarre acne attack stop me. My mother
promised me the problem would pass, so I didn't dare skip today's tryouts. I had too much
riding on this.
It wouldn't be easy though.
Looking in the mirror that morning, I was ashamed to note my balloon face was
still the same shape as a
basketball. Paint the B-ball red, put a nose on it, give it one
good eye, add a patch over the other eye and we
could be twins.
I frowned. If
anything, the swelling appeared to have gotten worse.
to say, I still had no idea just how serious my problem was. My
mother said this would go away soon. However, she may have
known something she wasn't telling me. When my mother saw me getting dressed,
she stopped me. She wasn't so sure
going to school was such a good idea. Let's give it another day.
refused to listen. I had try-outs. So off to school I rode
on my bicycle. I was on a mission.
Mom was right.
Going to school proved to be a
terrible mistake. From the moment I arrived, students and teachers
alike gasped as they saw me for the first time. I will never forget their
looks of horror as long as I live.
The shame I felt was
overwhelming. Students actually stepped out of my way in
the hall to let me pass. Whatever it was that I had, they
wanted no part of it.
As their eyes
with fear and loathing, I could not help but recall the
heart-rending leprosy scenes
in the movie Ben Hur.
"Make way, fool, dost
thou block the leper's way? Just one touch and ye too shall
join the cursed!"
With my face bloated out of
proportion and my skin covered with layers of pimples upon pimples, how I had the guts to show my
face at school that day I will never know. That may have been the
most difficult thing I have ever done in my life. Maybe the
stupidest too. Damn it, I should have been at the doctor's
office, not at school.
But that wasn't my call, was it?
I trusted my mother knew what she was doing.
of walking around
school with kids staring at me ripped me to
shreds with shame.
Those kids looked
at me like I had turned into a monster. Strangely enough,
there were no rude giggles. I think they were actually too
grossed out to see any humor in this. All they cared
about was reassurance that this could never happen to them.
said a word to me. They just stared in horror. I would
have fled if not for my grim determination to stay for
basketball tryouts. I steeled my resolve. I was sure these pimples were
bound to leave eventually, probably next week. I was a quitter
last year; I wasn't going to quit again. I wasn't
going to sacrifice all that I had been working for just to salvage
my pride over my damaged appearance.
John's was the Land of the Beautiful People. One needs
to understand that the students at St. John's were not just smart,
they were also very attractive. People with wealth and
education have a wide choice of marriage partners. 'Good
looks' were a required part of the package. Therefore
it came as no surprise that wealthy parents were blessed with attractive
children. With every student making regular visits to get
braces or visiting a dermatologist as needed, St. John's students were
flawless. Beauty was taken for
granted at my school.
Now suddenly a diseased Quasimodo
had appeared in their
midst. The effect was sheer revulsion. In class I felt their
staring at me. Every whisper ratcheted up my suspicion they
were talking about me. I cowered and wanted desperately to hide under my desk. Guess what? I wasn't invisible anymore.
CURSE OF THE BLIND EYE
Here I was
on the third day of the
acne eruption trying out for the Junior Varsity basketball team.
the minutes to
the end of the day.
Despite my purple mask of shame, I was determined not to throw my
ambition away for vanity's sake.
After a long day of humiliation, the long-awaited moment was
here. Try-outs had begun. Oddly enough, the fact
that my face was shaped like a basketball was not my biggest
concern. I had played pick-up basketball for several
years now. One on one, two on two, three on three...
none of these combinations were a problem for me despite my
blind left eye.
However, I had never played regulation five on five
basketball in my life. With nine other men moving in
random directions to keep
track of, I was afraid my lack of
peripheral vision would prove to be just as great a handicap
in basketball as it had been in football.
The JV basketball coach knew about my blind eye. Two weeks earlier,
I had told this coach I was trying out for the team. I
had expected encouragement, but had seen him frown instead. After
lecturing me about the seriousness of my handicap, I could
was skeptical about my chances. However, he said if I
wanted to try out, he wouldn't stop me. He went to
office, then returned with an injury waiver and told me to get my mother to sign it.
His negativity had shaken me very badly.
Well, there was only one way to find out. Strangely
enough, I got my answer thirty minutes into practice.
One of the first drills was a three-man fast break.
The idea is for three men to move the ball down the court
without dribbling. The moment one man gets the ball,
he passes it like a hot potato to another man until someone is close enough
to the basket to lay the ball in.
During this passing
drill, a boy named Tom zinged a basketball pass at me
with plenty of steam on it. Tom
had seen my head slightly turned towards him when he threw the ball. Unfortunately,
Tom had no way to know he was throwing the ball to my blind side.
Bad luck. I had JUST turned my head in the
see where I
I never saw the ball coming. The basketball
struck the blind side of my swollen face with great force.
Ordinarily this would
not have been much of a problem. Although the blow stunned me, it didn't
knock me down. Furthermore there wasn't much pain at
first. I was just a bit dazed. Then the real pain hit!
I am unsure why there was a four second delay, but
once the pain started, I felt like a bomb explosion
had taken place inside my head. That blow caused me more agony than I
can describe. The basketball had made direct contact
with the burning infection covering my face. Every pustule had
been compressed by the blow and decided to retaliate. My
face felt like angry fire ants biting me everywhere. I
was overcome by powerful stabs of burning pain.
The pain became
so intense that I dropped to my knees and covered my face
with both hands to hide my agony from prying eyes. It was frightening that the severity
of the pain refused to go away. Why wouldn't this pain
had been an accident, of course, but I was shocked at how devastating
the direct hit to my infection proved to be.
I could not understand
why the pain kept
increasing. Normally when I get hit by a ball, it hurts and
then the pain
subsides in ten seconds or so. Not this time.
We were well past the one minute mark and the pain was still
laid down on my stomach and place my hands over my scorched
face in agony. I
became really scared when the throbbing would
not go away. The pus in my horribly swollen, infected face seemed
for an eternity. What is wrong with me? Tears welled up in my eyes. It hurt so bad I
thought I might pass out.
Meanwhile everyone crowded around trying to understand why I was in so much pain.
To them, I had
received a glancing blow from a basketball. No big deal.
So why was I writhing violently and grabbing my face like that? They had no idea
what was wrong. What was I supposed
to do, tell the world that I had been knocked senseless
from an atomic pimple explosion? I couldn't decide what hurt
worse, my face or the degrading humiliation.
I kept my hands
over my face so people could not see me in such agony. This pain was unbearable. What I really wanted to do was grab my face with my
fingers and rip my skin away. Anything to get rid of
this leprosy. My face refused to stop
burning. As I lay there, I felt so helpless, so
This was truly the final straw.
Was there any hope left for me? First my face was so full of pimples I couldn't stand to
look at myself in a mirror. Then everyone at school was horrified
by my appearance. Now I couldn't even play basketball
thanks to the dual curse of my blind eye and this hideous acne. I wanted to die right there on
the spot. If someone had offered me a knife during the intense
pain, I might have used it.
And I am not sure if I am kidding either. That's how bad it was.
two, maybe three intense
minutes, the pain finally eased a
bit. I was woozy, but at least now I could stand up. A
couple boys asked if I was okay and I nodded. Tom, the boy who had
hurt me, was really worried. He asked what had happened.
I quietly whispered about my blind
eye to him. Until now, only the students who ate lunch with me knew about my blind eye.
Now my blind eye would become public knowledge. This
turned out to be a real mistake.
I was strong enough to
wobble around now. Full of shame, I stumbled towards the locker room. A couple boys offered to
follow me, but I said I was okay. You know what? These
guys were nice to me. I believed if I could just lick
this brief acne problem, I could definitely make friends
with these guys. That gave me a brief, fleeting ray of
But right I preferred to be alone,
so I went to the locker room by myself.
I sat down on the first bench I could find and buried my disfigured
face in a
pain had subsided into a dull ache that I could tolerate. The agony was over.
My basketball coach was nowhere to be seen. Not only had the man failed to
speak to me when I was on the floor, he didn't visit me here in the
locker room either. Obviously he knew my blind eye was the
problem and understood I was in no real danger.
Suddenly I felt abandoned. Why did he refuse to give me any encouragement? I seethed with
anger at the realization he never wanted me
here in the first place.
With that thought, I despised this
coach. The coach was probably glad I had gotten hurt because
it proved his point. He didn't want a cripple on his
team, especially one that looked like me. As I sat there alone on the
locker room bench, I was beaten. I did not have the
courage to go back to basketball practice today. I did not want to face the questions
potential wisecracks. I told myself that I
would come back tomorrow or maybe wait till next week when this acne outbreak went away.
resentment, I made a silent vow that I would be back soon
and I would show this jerk what I could do. Maybe
tomorrow. Maybe next week...
Tomorrow? Next week?
Guess again. I had a serious infection that was going untreated and
the infection was growing stronger by the moment. If anything,
the basketball accident may have exacerbated the problem.
Although my mother kept
reassuring me it would clear up in a day or two, she didn't know
what she was talking about. Every day we
delayed going to the doctor had added two more months to my recovery
This had been a very cruel moment. As I rode my bike
home, I cried bitterly. All those dreams, all that
time spent practicing went down the drain. No one had
even seen me shoot the ball. They would never know how
good I was.
My dreams of playing
basketball this year were over. I was embroiled in the worst crisis of my
- FATE AND
Does Fate really exist?
certainly believed so. The Norns were three female
giants who ruled the Destiny of the Vikings. Verdandi,
Uror, and Skuld were said to appear at a person's birth in
order to determine his or her future.
miles to the south, the Greeks possessed a similar
Lachesis and Atropos were known
as the Fates. The Fates were three old
women who controlled the thread of life for every mortal from
birth to death.
Fates were not the final arbiters of Destiny.
The immortal Greek Gods meddled with the affairs of man at
every turn. Consequently the ancient Greeks held a morbid preoccupation with the
Olympic Gods for the simple reason that these capricious Olympians
loved to interfere with everyday matters.
The best example
was the Trojan War. According to
Homer, author of the Iliad, the Trojan War was
the direct by-product of the Gods constantly playing havoc
with mankind. The Trojan War was provoked by a beauty
contest between three Goddesses who asked Paris to choose
which Goddess was the most beautiful. Aphrodite
cheated. She won after promising to help Paris kidnap Helen of Troy as his
Athena and Hera
sore losers to Aphrodite. They
sent the Greeks off to Troy to start a war. Legend
says one thousand ships were launched to rescue Helen and teach Paris a lesson.
Not to be outdone, Aphrodite and Apollo interceded on the side of Troy. They made sure to give Troy a fighting chance against
the massive Greek force. Once the war began, all the other Gods lined up to see how
they too could manipulate the outcome.
In the end, it
was the cunning Athena who won the war for Greece. Athena whispered the idea for the Trojan Horse into the ear of
the Greek hero Odysseus. In other words, a person's
Fate was only as good as the God or Goddess who championed
was preoccupied with the concept of Fate.
began with the discussion of 'The
Will of Zeus'.
made sure to reinforce the Greek belief that man
is vulnerable at all times to
supernatural forces he cannot control.
Mankind's only hope was to seek the favor of their Gods.
Consequently, elaborate temples were dedicated to the Greek
Gods and visited frequently.
Iliad, the characters constantly refer
to Destiny and
For example, valiant Achilles, the main character of the book, was
given an overall invulnerability to injury by Zeus.
This allowed him
to become the greatest warrior of all.
Achilles had one fatal flaw. Fatal flaws were a
favorite theme in Greek mythology. Thetis, mother of
had forgotten to cover her baby's heel with the magic
waters of the River Styx at birth.
Once she realized
her mistake, Thetis knew that Achilles was left with one area
vulnerable to the Archer's bow. Therefore, at the start of
Achilles not to go to war.
"Doomed to a short life,
Achilles, you have so little
not only short, but filled with heartbreak too...
so much more
pain than all other men alive.
Do not go, my son. If you go, you are
doomed twice over."
As I rode my bike home
after the blind side basketball accident, the direct hit on my face
made me think about Achilles. I bet
could not hit my face again from that distance if I gave him
twenty tries. Furthermore he had to throw that pass at
the exact moment I had turned my head away or I would have simply
caught the ball. This had been a very strange
perfectly-aimed blow reminded me of the poisoned arrow that
had struck the Greek hero Achilles in the only place he was
vulnerable. Achilles would die a slow death. I
had always scoffed that an arrow shot from a hundred yards
away could have such accuracy. Today I wasn't laughing
any more. Just my luck, I finally had something
in common with my hero.
For sake of
clarification, I had not yet begun to think of my life in
terms of Fate. However, with the benefit of Hindsight,
the significance of this event came clear.
Despite a lifetime of
playing basketball, this unlucky incident would be the only time I would ever
be hit in the face on my blind side. Therefore, this bull's eye
hit was a rare
occurrence indeed. The accuracy and unique timing
of that basketball pass has made me wonder if the Hidden
Hand of God had been responsible. I certainly have my
suspicions. Due to the significance of the event
combined with remote odds of a direct hit, I list this as Supernatural
Event #5 with a rating of 4 Stars out of 5 on the Mysticism Scale.
the Acne Attack, I did not think of it in terms of
Fate when this event unfolded. It would not be
until college that I became intensely preoccupied
with the vagaries of Fate. However, with the
benefit of Hindsight, I list it as Supernatural
ask a question.
When is an accident just an accident and when is
an accident an Act of Fate?
I do not
have a good answer for this question. To
me, the answer boils down to Probability,
plus a subjective assessment I refer to as the 'Weirdness
example, I have had several car accidents as an
adult and never once gave 'Fate' a second
thought. There was nothing 'Weird'
about any of the accidents nor was there any
particular 'Significance.' In other
words, my sense of what normal human call 'Reality'
was not challenged.
as the Path
of my life unfolded, through Hindsight I would learn that the Acne
Attack was the
single most important 'Significant' event of my life.
It was a true game changer.
As for 'Probability',
the Attack seems strange because my mother had
previously done this icky pimple procedure four
previous times without any negative consequences.
She had her pimple-popping routine down pat...
sterilize the needle, open the pimple, remove the
pus, and use isopropyl alcohol on clean cotton swabs
to cleanse each wound individually. Yes, I
know it is disgusting, but get past that. The
importance is that what she did had worked four
times in a row. Why did it have such drastic
adverse consequences the fifth time?
the 'Weirdness Effect', there were three circumstances
that should be taken into account.
how often do we see a child change from a
nice-looking kid into a freakish leper overnight?
the unusual nature of the basketball strike to my
to increase my suspicions
about supernatural nature of the acne attack.
Stupidity' seems to play a role here. In retrospect, I do not
blame my mother for not anticipating the danger of popping a couple pimples.
It was an honest mistake. Based on those four previous
occasions, there did not seem to be any discernible danger. However, I definitely
blame my mother for not taking me to the doctor immediately.
mother sees her child with a bloated face and a sea
of red pimples and tells him not to worry about it? My face was riddled with a hundred purple pimples
and she seemed to think it would all magically going to go away. Four days later,
the infection was throbbing to the point where I could
barely stand the pain any more, so I begged her to relent.
By the time we got to the dermatologist, he said the problem was so
badly out of control that it might take up to a year of
Oh my God!! Every time I looked in the mirror and saw the
red pustules on my face, I hated my mother beyond reason.
This was the most horrible thing that ever happened
to me. I just wanted to strangle the woman.
Our relationship would never recover.
where things took a crazy bounce. I did not
insist we go to the doctor because I knew my mother
was broke. I was trying to be brave to help
out my mother. But for some reason, I completely
forgot that my father was responsible for all medical
bills. Had I remembered, I would have begged
to go see the doctor immediately. Was this a case of
Cosmic Stupidity? It very well may have been.
my mother? What was her excuse for what borders on
criminal child negligence? My mother knew damn well my father
would pick up the tab. Since I was on his insurance
plan, the divorce decree stated my mother would not have to spend a dime. So why
not take me to a doctor? Mother ended up waiting four
days. What could have been going through her mind?
So this is where
my story takes a dark turn. The Acne Attack becomes
startling example of Cosmic Stupidity.
I define 'Cosmic
Stupidity' as senseless behavior that is so totally out
of character that a Mystical Explanation is superior to any
Realistic explanation. In life, there
is normal stupidity, and then there is the abnormal kind of stupidity
that allows the captain of the Titanic to speed
recklessly through a known ice field
late at night despite multiple dire warnings.
For all her
faults, my mother was an intelligent woman. I say give her
some credit. She had enough medical knowledge to know to
sterilize the needle. She had the sense to use
isopropyl alcohol, a powerful antiseptic. Therefore, I
believe my mother should have recognized that I was in danger. How many
mothers see a son whose face is the shape of a balloon
and assume the problem will just go away? She knew I
was in great pain; I told her so. The swelling and the
pain were obvious signs of infection. So what made my
mother turn a blind eye to the situation?
the past my
mother had never hesitated to have me treated for any other
illness. For example, when I came home sick from the Boy
Scout camping trip - the Fred Incident - the doctor came to
see me the same day.
In Hindsight, I
later came to realize that my mother's behavior during this incident was so
utterly senseless that it could be said her behavior
was completely out of
character. So, yes,
my mother's decision to avoid the
doctor until it was too late was so uncharacteristic that I have to wonder if
the woman was Cosmically Deceived.
If Athena can whisper
to Odysseus the idea to build a Trojan Horse, then
perhaps some Hidden Being whispered to my mother not
to worry about it?
So we are
back to Greek Mythology. Thetis, mother of
Achilles, made the fatal error by leaving her son's ankle
unprotected. Was Thetis a victim of Cosmic Stupidity?
Perhaps my mother's common sense was blinded in a similar
way. She assumed that my swelling was surely
temporary, so why not wait a day or two... or three... or
four? That delay
was enough to doom me to be permanently scarred for the rest
of my life. Sad to say, my Destiny would pivot in a
very dark direction due to this event. Given the perspective of a lifetime
of experience, I have no doubt the freakish Acne Attack was
an act of Fate. I give it a rating of 5 Stars out of 5 on the Mysticism
- THE MYTH OF
Myth of Sisyphus
the futility of striving. It
tells the story of a deceitful man whose punishment
consisted of pushing a giant rock up the hill. Whenever he
neared the top, he would lose his strength and the giant
boulder would roll back down to the valley. It was his
Curse to return to the valley and start the process over again
knowing full well it was useless.
I too had a Curse.
I had a Curse of Blindness. I would never play basketball.
I had a Curse of Disfigurement. I would never act in a play. I would
never dance at a high school party. I would never date a single girl
at my school.
Worst of all, I was scarred for life...
in more ways than one. As the poorest kid in the school with
an inferiority complex to match, I now added 'Ugliest Kid' to
my resume. That was a tough combination to lick. My
whole world had turned black.
That thud you hear is
the sound of my personal Rock of Sisyphus falling to the valley below.
Welcome to High School Hell.
HIGH SCHOOL HELL
Cut my eye out
(01), Near Miss with the Stock Car (02)
Nine year career at St. John's
Divorce, start 4th Grade at St. John's,
Mom falls apart, Dad abandons me,
inferiority begin to develop vis a vis the Mother's Guild, fascination
with Mrs. Ballantyne begins
5th grade, Terry
runs away for over 2 days
6th Grade, Hurricane Carla, Dad refuses to send to SJS beyond
6th grade, Granted half-scholarship to SJS
Fred Incident - Illness at boy
scout camp leads to invisibility, Katina Ballantyne joins my class
unconscious playing football due to blind eye,
Caught stealing candy at Weingarten's ,
Discovery of chess book (03),
Granted full scholarship to SJS, Summer basketball project
9th Grade, Acne
Attack (04), Basketball strike on swollen face (05)