Mike Davis
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Chapter 18: Blind Spot... how I learn the truth about Mr. Salls
Chapter 19: Johns Hopkins... first year of college




Written by Rick Archer




"Good morning, Rick.  What do you have for me today?"

"I have a mystery for you."

"Excellent.  I like mysteries.  What is your mystery?"

"It has something to do with Mr. Salls and my scholarship to Hopkins."

"That sounds interesting.  What does this concern?"

"As I have told you, my Senior Year was prolonged misery from start to finish.  I was so preoccupied with my problems, I think I completely missed what was going on behind the scenes.  Although I spotted several clues, I failed to connect the dots."

"So did you ever figure out what took place behind the scenes?"

"I think so, but I would like to run it past you."

"Of course."


"Over the first few months at Hopkins, I made a real stab at finding a girlfriend at Goucher, the women's college north of the city.  However, after being compared to the furniture on top of Emily's painful betrayal, my pride was far too damaged to return to this school for the time being. 

The moment I swore off women, I had a lot of free time on my hands.  Back in high school, I substituted pick-up basketball for dating women.  Now I did the same thing here at Hopkins. 

I played at least an hour of basketball five days out of seven.  Without basketball, I can't imagine how I would have retained my sanity in college with all the loneliness and frustration. 

Each afternoon as I laced up my basketball shoes, I would remember that Mrs. Ballantyne had told me she didn't date much in college.  Instead, she played a lot of tennis.  With a grimace, I realized her words were starting to make a lot of sense.  I was following in her footsteps.

I also thought about Ralph O'Connor.  It was Mr. O'Connor who had arranged my scholarship to Johns Hopkins.  I was fascinated to note the basketball gym was named for him. 

Every time I passed his name, I asked myself again who this Ralph O'Connor person could possibly be.  I speculated he had to be pretty important to get Johns Hopkins to give me a full college scholarship based on his word alone."

Dr. Hilton interjected, "How do you know that Mr. O'Connor arranged the scholarship on his own?"


"That is a good question because it goes directly to the heart of my mystery.  Let me answer step by step.

Early in my Freshman year, I ran into a boy named Doug.  I thought I recognized him and I was right.  Doug was a member of the 1966 St. John's graduating class.   Hopkins was not a large school, so it was inevitable our paths would cross eventually, especially since Doug's name was not 'Maria Ballantyne'. 

After learning Doug was now a Junior here at Hopkins, I asked what brought him here.  He said Mr. Salls had been extremely influential.  I rolled my eyes and wondered if Mr. Salls had used the same corny line on Doug he had used on me...  "In my opinion, this school is a perfect match for your talents." 

I asked Doug if he had a girlfriend. 

"Are you kidding?  At this place?  All I ever do is study.  What else is there to do?"

I nodded.  My sentiments exactly. 

Not long after that I ran into Charles, another former St. John's student.  Charles had been a year ahead of me in school.  He was a member of the 1967 SJS graduating class.  Charles was surprised to see me and asked if I had seen Doug yet.  After I said yes, we exchanged polite small talk, then moved on.  I didn't ask Charles about his love life because he hadn't shaved in a week.  That kind of spoke for itself.

It really bothered me to see Doug and Charles at Hopkins.  To begin with, I did not think it was a coincidence that three boys from St. John's were here.  Mr. Salls must really like this place, but why did he like it so much?  Furthermore, why would any young man go to Johns Hopkins, much less three of us?  The absence of women put a real curse on this place.  The other thing that bothered me is how lousy Doug and Charles looked.  Don't get me wrong, I looked just as bad.  And that leads me to my point.  All three of us were lost souls dedicated to a lonely life of little else but constant study.  Hopkins was not exactly a fun place to be.

During my brief chat with Charles, I had the oddest feeling he had been scholarship students at St. John's.  Now that I thought of it, Doug probably was as well.  Like me, both guys had been stuck at the lowest end of the St. John's social totem pole.  Now that they no longer wore the disguise of a St. John's uniform, I could see they were middle-class guys like me.  I cynically concluded they were probably here at Hopkins because they got a scholarship just like me.  What other reason was there to come here?  However, I failed to ask them if they were on scholarship.  If I had, I would have solved the mystery right there. 


One day, the Hopkins newspaper reported a Texas businessman named Ralph O'Connor had arranged a lacrosse game between Hopkins and Navy to take place in the Houston Astrodome.  The article said Mr. O'Connor was an influential Hopkins alumnus who used his Hopkins connections and Houston business connections to make this happen. 

At the time, Johns Hopkins was the national lacrosse champion and Navy was their biggest rival.  Up till now, only the Eastern colleges played lacrosse.  Mr. O'Connor was quoted as saying it was high time someone introduced lacrosse to the West, adding he arranged this game because he wished to popularize the sport in the state of Texas. 

The article said that Ralph O'Connor (Hopkins '51) had enlisted his good friend Dr. Denton Cooley (Hopkins '50) to help him promote the game.  In turn, Dr. Cooley, the eminent Houston heart surgeon, had persuaded some of his fellow heart surgeons to help sponsor the game.  Once Dr. Michael DeBakey, Cooley's famous rival, came on board to help promote the event, the success of the game was assured.

I could not help but notice Ralph O'Connor had some very impressive friends.  Due to their ground-breaking work with heart transplants, at the time Dr. Cooley and Dr. DeBakey were America's two most famous doctors. 

After reading the article, I got goosebumps.  Just exactly who is Ralph O'Connor?"

"Did you ever get your answer?"


"Not really, but I did read another story about Mr. O'Connor a year or so later.  Apparently Mr. O'Connor had just made a generous donation to Johns Hopkins.  The article mentioned Mr. O'Connor was married to Maconda Brown, a well-known Houston philanthropist who was the daughter of George R. Brown, a prominent Houston businessman.  George R. Brown was the founder of the Brown and Root construction company and the man credited with getting Lyndon Johnson elected president.  George Brown had made a matching donation in his son-in-law's name.  I got the feeling that Mr. O'Connor was not only very wealthy, he was also very generous."

"Do you know how Ralph O'Connor made his money?" 

"I believe he was an oil man, obviously a pretty good one.  The mystery began thanks to a friend named Rob.  During my Freshman year at Hopkins, I made friends with a guy named Rob.  He was one of the guys in the dorm and loved basketball almost as much as I did.  Shortly after I read the lacrosse story about Ralph O'Connor, Rob asked me to join his intramural basketball team.  I said I would like to join, but if it conflicted with my work-study job, I would be forced to choose my job over playing. 

Worried about the likelihood of a conflict, Rob asked what the hours were.  I answered morning, day and night.  That made Rob curious, so I explained I had three part-time jobs all of which had varying hours.  When Rob asked why I had so many jobs, I answered, "I'm here on scholarship, but I still have to find a way to pay for my room and board."

Rob did a double-take.  "You're here on scholarship?"

When I nodded yes, Rob grinned and said, "I didn't know that.  So am I!  Did your father bitch and moan as much as mine did?"

I answered, "Uh, no, not really.  What are you talking about?"

"My father lost his temper over the financial aid process.  To begin with, he could not afford to send me to Hopkins based on his salary.  He was willing to dip into savings if necessary, but preferred not to.  So he decided to ask for a half scholarship.  Hopkins cost $4,000 a year.  If he could knock that price down to $2,000, his savings would remain intact.  My father is a Hopkins alumnus, so he figured all he had to do was contact the school and ask for an interview.  He got some lady on the phone who said the main guy was out of the office and would get back in touch.  What Dad got instead was a thick envelope that came in the mail a week later.  Dad was not only irritated by the size of the package, he was mad no one had bothered to return his phone call.  I guess Dad was hoping for some warm, fuzzy person to make the process seem a little less impersonal.

When I got home from soccer practice that night, Dad pointed to the envelope.  The moment I saw how big it was, I shook my head in dismay.  In order to be considered for financial aid, they expected my parents to fill out a lengthy twelve-page form.  The length of that form had my father depressed.  He said it was almost as bad as filling out a complicated income tax form.  Dad would have to round up all sorts of documents and it would take at least two nights of his time to complete.  Then he added the worst was the essay part."

"What was so bad about the essay?

"Dad didn't like the questions.  My father said it was so demeaning he just wanted to puke."

"What were the essay questions?"

"There were two questions.  "Why is the parent unable to pay full tuition at this time?" and "Why does the parent feel this student deserves a scholarship?

Seeing how aggravated he was, I told Dad I would fill out the forms myself if it was too much for him.  Dad smiled at the gesture, but said it was his responsibility.  Then he added, 'I just wanted to be sure you feel my pain.'  Believe me, I felt his pain loud and clear."

"But you said you got a scholarship.  That must mean your father filled out all those forms, correct?"

"Yeah, Dad swallowed his pride and spent the next two nights filling out the forms.  He wasn't too keen on begging for money in the first place, but this mountain of paperwork really rubbed him the wrong way.  Still, it was better than drawing money out of savings, so he completed the process and I got a partial scholarship.  But ever since, Dad never misses a chance to remind me what a pain in the ass that was.  He made me promise to name my first-born son after him.  It's a joke between us, but heck, I'll name all my children after him if that's what it takes to shut him up."

While Rob spoke, I recalled that Mrs. Ballantyne had told me about all the arguing she had to go through to get financial aid for her own children at their respective colleges.  Apparently Rob's father had to wrestle for money just as hard as Mrs. Ballantyne did.  It also crossed my mind that neither I nor my mother had been subjected to that process.  That is when the mystery began.  Thanks to Rob's story, I realized for the first time that my Hopkins scholarship had been handled in a very irregular way.

In my case, Johns Hopkins had bypassed the usual paperwork necessary to request aid.  My mother was never contacted nor was my father.  They didn't even have my father's address.  In fact, I never asked for financial aid.  I was the one who filled out the application to Hopkins and there was no place in the application to indicate 'need'.  Instead a letter from Johns Hopkins had shown up in my mailbox one week after my visit with Ralph O'Connor.  Since neither my mother nor I had requested financial aid, obviously this gift had been Mr. O'Connor's doing.   

Grateful for my scholarship, first I said another quiet 'thank you' to Ralph O'Connor.  However, there was something about Rob's story that bothered me enough to dig deeper.  Adding my 1968 name to the list, I concluded there were at least three boys from St. John's up here at Hopkins... one boy per year... 1966, 1967, 1968.  This was probably no accident.  For the first time, I caught on that Mr. Salls and Mr. O'Connor might have some sort of pact to send one SJS student per year to Johns Hopkins.  The way I saw it, the idea of attending a far-off, unknown men's school was so unpopular, Mr. O'Connor had enlisted Mr. Salls' aid in identifying potential candidates."

"Did Doug and Charles receive scholarships to Hopkins through Ralph O'Connor?"

"To be honest, I do not know this for sure, but I would place a considerable bet Ralph O'Connor had done the same thing for them that he had done for me.  If you met Doug and Charles, you would see they were both quiet, introverted young men who were very serious about their education.  In addition, they both appeared to be struggling to make ends meet.  They were perfect scholarship candidates, studious and poor. 

"Was there something about how your scholarship was handled that bothered you?"

"I could not exactly put my finger on it, but it had something to do with Rob's father being forced to jump through considerable hoops to obtain a half-scholarship.   That is when I recalled something my friend David had told me a year ago.  During lunch at St. John's, I had just told David I would have no trouble getting a scholarship.  All I had to do was say that my mother was broke and my father had abandoned me.

"I wouldn't jump to conclusions.  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 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."

Now I knew what bothered me.  David's description was exactly what Rob's father had to go through.  Why did the Hopkins put Rob's father through such a ringer, but simply mail me a letter?  What made me so special? 

The answer, of course, was Ralph O'Connor.  It had to be him.  But why had he been so trusting?  Why would Mr. O'Connor take my word for it that I was poor?  To use David's term, Mr. O'Connor 'didn't know me from Adam.'  All I did was spend 5 minutes handing the man my tale of woe.  Then after our conversation, Mr. O'Connor turned around and persuaded Hopkins to offer a four-year scholarship to some kid who had not even bothered to apply for financial aid.  Who gets a four-year scholarship in the mailbox without even asking?  How did Hopkins even know I deserved a four-year scholarship?

Obviously the school had taken Mr. O'Connor's word for it that I was poor.  What other explanation could there be?  For the first time, I realized my scholarship was a done deal before I even entered the man's house."

Dr. Hilton nodded.  "I think you are right about that.  I agree the way your scholarship was handled was very unusual.  So did that solve your mystery?"


"No.  There was still something nagging at me.  My next step was to speculate how Mr. O'Connor had arranged my scholarship so quickly.  The speed with which the letter appeared in my mailbox suggested Mr. O'Connor had made a phone call to Hopkins the day after we met.

Since Hopkins didn't ask for any paperwork from me, that meant Mr. O'Connor must have considerable authority here at Hopkins.  The combination of the massive 'Ralph S. O'Connor Recreation Center' and the crazy story about Mr. O'Connor renting the Astrodome for a lacrosse game suggested he must be a very wealthy donor.  I decided Hopkins had bypassed Rick Archer's paperwork specifically because a wealthy donor with serious credibility had asked them to do that as a personal favor.

But then I thought of another possibility.  Did Mr. O'Connor pay for my scholarship himself?  I had a funny feeling that Ralph O'Connor had donated money to Hopkins to establish a scholarship fund in his own name.  If so, all Mr. O'Connor had to do was phone the school and tell them the name and address of the lucky recipient for the upcoming school year.  That explanation made a lot of sense to me.  I also believed that Mr. O'Connor preferred to keep his benevolence something of a secret.  This would explain why his name had not been on the letter I received from Johns Hopkins. 

That brought up another question.  Why had Mr. O'Connor trusted the word of an unknown kid so readily?  I recalled his words to me. "Dick, could you take a moment to clarify your home situation?"

I proceeded to give Mr. O'Connor a five minute summary of the problems I faced.  I told him my mother was broke and my father was pathetic.  I explained that my father made serious money, but had no intention of helping me because his other children were more important.  After my speech, Mr. O'Connor simply nodded.  He smiled at me and said he would be back in touch. 

Ralph O'Connor was considering giving an unknown kid a full college scholarship based on a five-minute interview.  Why would he take my word for it so readily?  What convinced him that Rick Archer, a young man he had never met in his life, was telling the truth??  The impression I got was that I had just confirmed something he already knew.  That's when it hit me.  Mr. O'Connor had called me 'Dick'.  Someone who knew me as 'Dick' had already told him my story.

Mr. Salls.  Of course.  It had to be Mr. Salls!  That was the answer to my mystery.  Mr. Salls had surely penciled me in as the 1968 member of the Ralph O'Connor Scholarship Club!"


Dr. Hilton smiled.  "Good story.  I might add I thought Mr. Salls had his hand in this all along.  But aren't you leaving something out?"

"What are you referring to, sir?"

"How did Mr. Salls know about all your problems to tell Mr. O'Connor in advance?  Did you ever to speak to Mr. Salls about your difficulties at home?"

"Ah, very good question, Dr. Hilton.  The answer is no.  I had never had a single private conversation with Mr. Salls in my life.  However, there was one person on the faculty who did know my story.  Therefore the only answer I could come up with was that Mr. Curran must have told him."

"Who is Mr. Curran?"


"I first met Mr. Curran in the 7th Grade when he was my math teacher.  Ed Curran was more than a teacher, he was my friend.  I really loved this man.  Mr. Curran was the only teacher I ever cried in front of.  When I had my acne attack in the 9th Grade, he pulled me aside and asked me what had gone wrong.  When he put his arm around me and told me how sorry he was, I completely lost it and cried my heart out.  Mr. Curran was so kind to me that day.  Mr. Curran always had the most wonderful way of cheering me up. 

In the 12th grade, I had Mr. Curran for English again.  Without Mr. Curran, I don't know how I would have ever made it through my Senior year.  He could see how sullen and tense I had become.  Mr. Curran could tell something was eating at me, so he offered to help.  At least once a week, Mr. Curran would pull me aside after class just to check on me.  We developed an odd ritual... an 8 minute 'how are you doing?' chat.  This was the kind of talk that I wasn't getting at home.  We would talk for 8 minutes, he would offer some advice or some encouragement, then I would sprint to my next class. 

One day Mr. Curran realized things were so serious I needed a lot more than 8 minutes.  He invited me to meet him for breakfast at a restaurant on a Sunday morning.  He was even nice enough to pay for it.  Not long after that, Mr. Curran invited me to his home for yet another long talk.  I suspect he sensed I was going off the deep end and was really worried about me.  All told, I visited his home on three different occasions in my Senior year.  Mr. Curran's pretty wife would bring us coffee and then leave us alone in the living room.  The moment she left, I would pour my heart out.

These invitations were always made with the face-saving excuse that I was here to discuss my Senior year thesis for English, but invariably our talks drifted into long conversations about my home life and my problems with my father. 


Without Mr. Curran, I cannot imagine how I would have survived my Senior year.  In retrospect, there is no doubt in my mind that Mr. Curran must have been so worried about me that he gave Mr. Salls a head's up.  The more I thought about it, I believe these two men worked in tandem all year long to help guide me through my difficulties.  Mr. Salls already knew about my financial difficulties, but thanks to Mr. Curran, now he learned about Little Mexico, my father's $400 insult, and how hard I was working at the grocery store in a pitiful attempt to pay for college out of my own pocket.  I bet Mr. Curran's concern is what made Mr. Salls decide to intervene on my behalf.


My imagination suggests that early in my Senior year, Mr. Salls selected me to receive Ralph O'Connor's annual St. John's scholarship.  He picked up the phone and called his good friend. 

"Listen, Ralph, I have a student who is perfect for your school.  This young man has been with us for nine years so I know him well.  He has good grades, good SAT scores, and studies hard.  I am positive he can handle the tough academics at Hopkins.

In addition, this boy works his tail off.  I have information from Ed Curran, one of our teachers here, that this young man is really worried about college finances.  In fact, he has been working at a grocery job after school for the past two years due to trouble at home.  In all my years at St. John's, I have never heard of a student go to these lengths.

Confidentially, based on what Ed Curran has told me, this boy has the most screwed up parents of any student we have ever had at this school.  There is no way this boy can afford to go to your school without a scholarship.  Do you think you can help him?"

What do you think, Dr. Hilton, does that story make sense to you?"

"Actually your story makes a lot of sense.  I guess my only question is to wonder why it took you so long to figure this out??  Back when you told me how Katina got her Jones Scholarship instead of you, the only explanation that made sense was that Mr. Salls knew you needed a lot more financial help than the Jones Scholarship could offer.  I kept waiting for you to see this angle, but you never said a word."

"Why didn't you say something??

"I thought about it, but since you had not told me about the Hopkins scholarship yet, I decided it wasn't my place to speak up.  So when exactly did you finally catch on?"


"My talk with Rob took place in my Sophomore year.  I still can't believe it took me two entire years to catch on that Mr. Salls had arranged my scholarship to begin with, but I never gave him a bit of credit.  I thought he was mad at me the whole year."

Dr. Hilton laughed.  "What makes you think he wasn't mad at you?  Cheating, stealing, smart-mouthing Mr. Murphy, I would be furious with you, especially after the lengths Mr. Salls went to try and help!  What makes me admire the man is that he went ahead and helped you anyway.  He must have cared about you a lot more than you realized."

"Oh, gee whiz, you're right.  Mr. Salls had every right to be angry at me.  That makes what he did for me even more amazing.  Now I feel so embarrassed.  It blows my mind that I didn't see any of this going on back when it happened.  Knowing what I know now, it is apparent that Mr. Salls was watching out for me the entire year and I completely missed seeing that."

Dr. Hilton grinned.  "Yes, that has been fairly obvious to me all along.  Every time you told me a story, the most obvious explanation was that Mr. Salls went to bat for you.   Let me add that without Mr. Salls, you would have been in a world of trouble.  That said, I take your word for it that his help went right over your head.  To fail to see this, you must have had some sort of Blind Spot."

"It crushes me to hear you say that, but it's true, isn't it?  I bet Mr. Salls had my scholarship arranged before my Senior year even began, but he never let on due to his secretive nature.  Mr. Salls was the one who let me get away with cheating on the German test.  Mr. Salls was the one who persuaded Coach Lee to go easy when I stole the gym equipment.  Mr. Salls was the one who prevented Mr. Murphy from suspending me.  I bet Mr. Salls was even the reason I was allowed to graduate with an unpaid bill.  And I never once caught on except to some extent with the cheating incident. 

It upsets me how close I came to missing this completely.  I can't believe it took a strange conversation in college to realize Mr. Salls was responsible for my scholarship all along.  Ordinarily, if someone arranges a college scholarship, one would assume I would be bright enough to figure out the details.  Not so in my case.  As hard as it is to imagine, I spent my entire my Senior year completely blind to the truth where Mr. Salls was concerned. 


All I could think of was how ashamed I felt in his presence at my Graduation Ceremony for disgracing myself repeatedly.  Sad to say, I graduated under the firm impression that Mr. Salls was disgusted with me.  Believing my bad acts caused this man to turn his back on me, I graduated thinking Mr. Salls hated my guts.  How could I have been so blind? 

Dr. Hilton, I have a question for you.  You said you saw these things the whole time.  So how you do explain my confusion?  How could I have been so ignorant?"

"You are upset because you can't figure out how you completely misjudged Mr. Salls."

"Yes, sir, that is what concerns me.  To hear you speak, the answer was plain as day.  So how did I miss it?"

"The trite answer is that teenagers get confused easily.  However, in your case, I think your instructors were deliberately trying to conceal how worried they were about you.  A good teacher always knows more than they let on, but they learn to keep a poker face about it.  I get the feeling that several people kept a close eye on you throughout your nine years at the school. 

You were dealing with highly talented men and women.  From what I gather, these men and women were deeply committed educators who believed their role went beyond merely imparting knowledge.  They wouldn't be any good at their job if they couldn't realize just how emotionally disturbed you were.  People like Mr. Salls, Mrs. Ballantyne and Mr. Curran all realized that for you to make a contribution later in life, someone needed to intercede on your behalf.  Since your parents weren't getting the job done, they decided to handle things their own way.

However, I know from experience that the decision to intervene in a student's life requires the utmost discretion.  If they tipped their hand and showed you obvious favoritism, it could backfire in all sorts of ways.  That probably explains why Mr. Salls chose to operate behind a curtain as much as possible.  I would venture a guess that your Headmaster asked Mr. Curran to keep tabs on you on his behalf.  Mr. Salls was in a tough spot.  He could not show public favoritism in any way.  Nor could he hand you a crying towel.  That wasn't his nature.  He was a very reserved man who preferred to operate completely out of sight.  But there can be no doubt that Mr. Salls cared deeply about you.  His actions make that clear to me.  From where I am sitting, Mr. Salls was the most important benefactor of your entire childhood. 

I wouldn't be too hard on yourself, Rick.  Given the lengths Mr. Salls went to conceal his actions from you, it is easy for me to see how you jumped to the wrong conclusions.  To begin with, you were frantic.  First your mother forced the insane Little Mexico situation on you.  Then father brushed you off with $400.  I suppose your father gambled that St. John's would likely come through for you if he didn't step up himself.  A cynical decision to be sure, but an accurate one nonetheless.  Money was tight in his home and he was trying to save money.  Why not take a chance and let some rich guy like Ralph O'Connor pick up the bill instead?  Of course you had no idea someone like Ralph O'Connor even existed, so you blew your top. 

Reeling from your father's rejection, you did something stupid and cheated on the German test.  Now you were stuck with a guilty conscience.  Then came the Jones Scholarship debacle.  Due to your guilt, you wrongly assumed you had been punished by your mentor Mr. Salls.  So to answer your question, you were the victim of a very unusual set of circumstances.  I contend it was your guilty conscience that was the main reason for your misconceptions about Mr. Salls.  All I can say is that thank goodness there were kind people at St. John's who were willing to help you.  In addition, I think you are luckiest kid alive that Mrs. Ballantyne came along when she did."




Rick Archer's Footnote:

The story of my Senior year chaos has been a complicated one to be sure.  To me, the key event was my mysterious decision to cheat on the German test.  Some might say I was 'temporarily insane'.  Yes, I would agree with that, but why?  What would the explanation be?

Dr. Hilton pointed out that Sigmund Freud and Carl Jung had two completely different approaches to explain human behavior.  Freud would have said my inability to express my anger towards my father is what caused me to take this self-destructive action.  That happens to make a lot of sense.  However, Carl Jung might ask if there was a mystical explanation. 

I am with Carl Jung on this one.  There might just be a mystical explanation.   The whole point of my book is to demonstrate that 'Fate' might turn out to play a much larger role in our life than we realize.  If it is true that 'Fate' plays a part in our life experience, then some things must happen whether we like it or not.  Some 'Fated' events we may like such as meeting a beloved soul mate.  Other 'Fated' events we may not like very much, such as my acne attack or blinding my left eye. 

It is my theory that the Universe operates just like Mr. Salls... it prefers to disguise what is really going on. 

Cheating on the German test... what was I thinking?  What did I stand to gain?  On the surface, my behavior did not make the slightest bit of sense to me.  Yes, I admit I cheated, but I had no reason to.  My behavior was 'uncharacteristic', a tell-tale sign that perhaps I was manipulated beyond my awareness. 

I contend that I was 'Fated' to be caught cheating.  I base this conclusion on the fact that it took not one, but two extraordinary circumstances for me to be caught cheating.  The utter improbability of the boy's appearance at the perfect time to catch me in the act is undeniable.  However, what is less obvious was my decision to cheat in the first place.  What is the best explanation here?

There is a very strange saying in our culture... 'The Devil made me me do it.'  Many people use this explanation to somehow make sense out of making a horrible mistake.  Since I do not believe in the Devil, I hate this expression.  It sounds to me like they are trying to evade taking responsibility for their behavior.

However, look at it this way.  At some point in our lives, we all seem to make at least one mistake we spend the rest of our lives not just regretting, but trying to figure why we did it in the first place.  What happens if we substitute the word 'Fate' for 'The Devil'?

Instead of saying 'The Devil made me me do it', what if we said 'My Fate made me do it.'  I contend that would change our view of Reality in a very dramatic way. 

In my case, I am not trying to escape responsibility for cheating by blaming it on 'Fate'.  Trust me, not only have I regretted my mistake my entire life, my Senior year was ruined in the process.  What I am driving at is a whole new way of looking at mysterious situations that alter the direction of our lives.  Maybe at some point in our lives, we are all destined to drive our personal Titanic straight into an iceberg.  And why would we do that?  Because our Fate temporarily renders us 'Cosmically Stupid'.

I wish for the Reader to understand I am not insisting I am right.  The idea of 'Cosmic Stupidity' is an idea born of several unusual experiences in my life, one of which was the German Test Cheating episode.  I prefer to share the experiences that helped me arrive at my theory, then let the Reader draw his or her own conclusion.

So now I ask for the Reader's indulgence.  For the sake of argument, let's pretend that Fate does exist.  Let us also assume that if there is a purpose to Life, that purpose is to learn for our experiences.

A favorite theme of Greek Mythology is the deadly character flaw which causes a hero's fall from grace.  Prior to my cheating incident, I had a major character flaw that contributed to my downfall.  I dug my own grave by refusing to ask anyone for help.  Because my parents were so useless, I developed a very bad habit of trying to figure things out on my own.  For example, not once did I ask an adult at St. John's to talk to me about the Jones Scholarship.  Not once did I have the courage to approach Mr. Salls and tell him how worried I was about paying for college.  Had I gone to Mr. Salls and asked him how I could overcome the handicap of my father's large salary in order to receive a college scholarship, I am fairly certain that my Headmaster would have reassured me.  No doubt he would have told me not to worry about it and still manage to hide my secret scholarship till the right time.  If I had the sense to speak to this man even a single time during my Senior year, I am certain I could have bypassed all the confusion and anxiety.

So one part of my Cosmic Stupidity was my inability to ask for help prior to cheating.  Once I did cheat, the consequences were catastrophic.  Although Mr. Salls let me off the hook, my own mind was poisoned.  My mistake drove a deep wedge between me and the one man with the wisdom to solve my problems.  It was this cheating event that led me to completely misinterpret Mr. Salls' motives for handing the Jones Scholarship to Katina.  I drove myself nuts trying to figure out why I did not win that award, but not once did the true reason ever cross my mind.  I could not talk to Mr. Curran because I was ashamed of myself and feared he would ask me if I had cheated on the German test.  I could not talk to Mr. Salls for the same reasons.  Unable to seek help from the only two men who could help me, I began to spiral out of control to the Abyss.  Thank goodness Mrs. Ballantyne came along when she did.  As I have said repeatedly, one more disappointment was all it would have taken to send me looking for the nearest tall bridge.

If Life is for learning, then what did I learn?  I took this event to heart.  I would never cheat again.  In addition, I learned not to jump to conclusions.  However, I think there was more to this incident meets the eye.  I believe I was deliberately kept in the dark during my Senior year.  I think I was meant to suffer.  If I had known the truth, I would not have cheated.  If I had not cheated, I would have not suffered.  Instead of being deceived, I would have understood all along that Mr. Salls was the great champion of my life.

However, that was not my Fate.  Given that I believe in the Hidden Side of Life, I firmly believe Mrs. Ballantyne and Mr. Salls were destined to play important roles in my Destiny.  In order for them to make the greatest impact, I believe I was deliberately shielded from both people until the timing was right.  It was my Fate to stumble repeatedly and it was Mr. Salls' and Mrs. Ballantyne's Fate to pick me up at the right time. 

Why did Mr. Salls and Mrs. Ballantyne take such a keen interest in me?  Mrs. Ballantyne and Mr. Salls had struggled so much in their own childhood that when they came upon a young man who reminded them of their past, their heart went out to me.  Both Mr. Salls and Mrs. Ballantyne went far out of their way to help a struggling boy in much the same way as someone had once helped them.  Given that Mr. Salls and Mrs. Ballantyne reached out to me in such a profound way, one can understand why I have chosen to give these remarkable people the honor they deserve in my book. 

So here is the most important lesson of all.  Mr. Salls and Mrs. Ballantyne taught me the value of a Simple Act of Kindness.  Would I have learned this lesson if my Senior year had been a breeze?   No, of course not.  Mrs. Ballantyne and Mr. Salls left an indelible impression on me about the importance of helping others who struggle.  Nor were they alone. 

  It was left up to my dog Terry to pull me through much of my childhood heartache.  We have heard of kids raised by wolves, well, how about border collies?  Terry was a better friend to me than my own parents.  Without Terry, this book would have never been written.

  Mr. Chidsey is the man who handed me the two scholarships that enabled me to receive the finest education imaginable. 

  Uncle Dick and Lynn Griffiths stepped in at a key moment to pay my way to St. John's for two years when my father coldly turned his back on me in the 6th Grade. 

  Mr. Ocker took a disturbed kid who had stolen from his grocery store and gave him a job.  It was this 'Second Chance' that started my comeback from the Acne Crisis.

  Mrs. Ballantyne encountered a near-suicidal kid who was seriously down on his luck.  On the spot, she reached out to that boy and refused to leave until she had totally restored the boy's lost confidence.

  Mr. O'Connor made sure a young man he had never met in his life would have a chance at a college education when that boy's own father refused to help. 

  Mr. Curran repeatedly reached out to a troubled child and took him under his wing.  In fact, I would like share another story about Mr. Curran. 

For my Senior year English project, I begged Mr. Curran to let me write about The Graduate.  I had discovered this blockbuster movie had been based on a modest fifty page short story.  Mr. Curran preferred I write about a classic novel such as Wuthering Heights or Pride and Prejudice, but relented when he saw how important this topic was to me.  

When I turned in my eighteen page hand-written thesis, Mr. Curran gulped.  Mr. Curran forced a smile and said, "Um, very impressive, my young friend, but did you forget that I only asked for ten pages??"

"Yes, sir, I knew that, but I had a lot to say.  Besides, you tell me all the time how much you like to decipher my hand-writing."

I was being sarcastic.  In truth, Mr. Curran teased me all the time about being left-handed because my hand-writing was so atrocious.  Nevertheless, he somehow slogged through my teenaged musings.  Afterwards, Mr. Curran asked me to visit him at his house to discuss what I had written.  When I arrived, he asked why this project had been so important to me. 

I was a very confused kid in those days, so it took me about an hour to get to the bottom of my motivations.  Fortunately, I finally figured it out.  The Graduate was about an underdog kid with no direction in life.  Somehow the hero brilliantly played by Dustin Hoffman managed to win the heart of a popular girl who was engaged to a handsome USC fraternity man.  I suddenly realized I had been writing about myself.  I was the kid who feared I wasn't good enough or handsome enough to compete with the boys at my school in a courtship battle for the hand of a fair maiden.

At this realization, a wave of emotion came over me.  As tears filled my eyes, I could see that this had been the major theme for me throughout high school.  I was the underdog, the creepy loser kid who wanted desperately to show his best and brightest classmates that he was just as good as they were.

Mr. Curran smiled.  Obviously Mr. Curran had understood this from the start.  He also realized I was such a confused kid that I probably had a blind spot on this.  Sad to say, he was right.  I had missed the fact that I had been writing about myself the entire time.

When the tears stopped, Mr. Curran asked me how I intended to remember my difficult high school years.  I thought about it for a moment.  "I think when I grow up, I want to show the world that I used my incredible education to the best of my ability."

Mr. Curran smiled warmly.  "I have a feeling you will do just that." 


In retrospect, I believe it was my Fate to go through my difficult Senior year with blinders on.  For this reason, I have added 'Senior Year Blind Spot' to my list of Supernatural Events at Number 15.  However, I have no idea how to Rate the event. 

My Senior year may have been the most valuable year of my life.  It put the finishing touch on a different kind of education.  If Life is for Learning, then I can truly say that the people of St. John's taught me the value of a Simple Act of Kindness. 

I was in so much pain during my Senior year that I made one mistake after another.  Only a miracle could have saved me... and that is exactly what happened when the charismatic Maria Ballantyne emerged to remove my pain with her magic wand. 

However, what I did not realize is there had been TWO MIRACLES.  I completely overlooked the role of the enigmatic E.K. Salls.  The fact that I eventually learned the truth well after the fact was something of a miracle in itself.  

E.K. "Charlie" Salls was not just a brilliant educator, he was a man who possessed a very big heart.  He took a misguided kid and had the wisdom to see past the young man's poor judgment.  Mr. Salls gambled on me, no doubt about it. 

In so doing, Mr. Salls joined the impressive list of people whose Simple Acts of Kindness helped me slowly but surely climb out of the giant hole I found myself early in life.  Someday it would be up to me to pass my own Simple Acts of Kindness forward.

But first I had to climb out of my hole.  Despite my long list of mistakes, Mr. Salls is the man who gave me the fighting chance I needed to one day become a decent person. 

I have a favorite saying that the mark of character is when a man does the right thing even when he knows no one is watching and no one will ever find out what he did.

Mr. Salls consistently did the right thing and he did it without any expectation of reward or credit.  I consider it a tremendous honor to have been given the chance to illustrate the deeds of this truly fine man.  Mr. Salls exemplifies the highest ideals of St. Johns, the school he loved so much.



Johns Hopkins





002 003 004 005 006 007 008 009 010
011 012 013 014 015 016 017 018 019 020
021 022 023 024 025 026 027 028 029 030
031 032 033 034            

  1974: January   I begin five months of therapy with Dr. Hilton
  1973: December   Rocky Mountain Menstrual Cramps, Vanessa leaves for Portland, I receive a 'D' in Interviewing, Jackie reveals the truth about Vanessa
  1973: November   Love Affair with Vanessa begins, showdown in Fujimoto's office, Vanessa makes one excuse after another
  1973: October   I meet Vanessa, Portland Woman song (17), butting heads with Fujimoto
  1973-1974  Colorado State
  1972-1973  Interlude, Arlene, Mental Hospital
  Freshman at Hopkins
 Emily at the Train Station (16), Sanctuary at Aunt Lynn's house, Car stolen in December, Night School Computer class
   1967-1968: 12th Grade  Mr. Salls asks me to apply to Johns Hopkins, Mom's Cosmic Stupidity regarding child support check (09), Little Mexico, Cheating in Chemistry,
 Christmas Eve blowup with mother
, Father gives me Edgar Cayce book at Christmas, Foot in the Door Strategy, Father's $400 insult,
 Off Limits Chemistry Restroom, Caught cheating in German (10), Lost Jones Scholarship to Katina, Edge of The Abyss,
 Mrs. Ballantyne fails to connect with me at SJS for 9 years (11), Cosmic Meeting with Mrs. Ballantyne at Weingarten's (12),
 Ralph O'Connor hands me a scholarship to Hopkins, Close Call Car Accident (13), Senior Prom Cheryl (14), Heartbreak with Terry,
 Senior Year Blind Spot (15)
   1966-1967: 11th Grade  New identity forms at Weingarten's, I buy a car
   1965-1966: 10th Grade  Locker Room fight, Set of weights appears (07), George Broyles is paralyzed, Second skin operation,
 Father denies third skin operation, Weingarten's job (08)
  1964-1965:  9th Grade  Profile of Mr. Salls, Acne Attack (05), Basketball strike on swollen face (06), First skin operation
   1963-1964: 8th Grade  Knocked unconscious playing football due to blind eye, quit 8th Grade basketball team, Caught stealing at Weingarten's,  
 Granted full scholarship to SJS, Summer Basketball Project, Discovery of chess book (04)
   1962-1963: 7th Grade  Katina Ballantyne joins my class, Illness at Boy Scout camp leads to invisibility, I feel I don't belong at SJS, Uncle Dick pays my tuition at SJS
   1961-1962: 6th Grade  Mom's suicide attempt at the bayou, Terry runs away in Hurricane Carla, Blue Christmas (03)
   1960-1961: 5th Grade  Dad remarries, Obsession with the St. John's Mother's Guild, Comparisons between my mother and Mrs. Ballantyne begin
   1959-1960: 4th Grade  Divorce, 4th grade at St. John's, Mom begins to fall apart, Dad abandons me for  his girlfriend
   1959-1968  Nine Years at St. John's School
   1955  Cut my eye out (01), Near Death with Stock Car (02)
   1949  Born in Philadelphia




Written by Rick Archer




Following high school graduation at the end of May, I moved out of my mother's house one week later.  I embraced my escape from Little Mexico with indescribable relief.

My friend Walter, one my SJS lunch buddies, told me his family had just moved to a new home in the Montrose area.  Walter was well aware of my problems at Little Mexico.  He said his new home had a garage apartment that was not being used.  I was welcome to move into this tiny one-room unit if I wished.  I did not hesitate for a moment.  This place was perfect for me.  Not only would my Wheaties and peanut butter remain safe from now on, this spot was within walking distance of my grocery store job. 

I was on my own for the entire summer of 1968.  Best three months of my life.  Not only did I leave the nightmare of Little Mexico behind me, I conducted a Farewell Tour at the store.  For the next three months, I made sure to tell each of my favorite customers about my scholarship to college.  Using the word 'scholarship' turned out to be a very effective hint.  After each customer told me how much they would miss me, they kindly lined my hands with generous tips. 

The money was sweet, but it was the outpouring of affection that really touched me.  These customers made me feel important.  I was reminded again how much my job at the store had meant to me over the past two and a half years.  I could not imagine how I would have ever come out of my shell otherwise.

Best of all, girls began to smile at me.  Now that High School Hell was over, I was in a very good mood.  With the clouds of darkness lifted, I actually began to joke and tease like other boys my age.   I could not help but notice that as my mood lightened, I became more attractive to the girls who chatted with me as they walked through the store.  Amazing.

I would see the girls and flirt a little.  I was hardly a Casanova, but I was making steady progress.  I even dated a couple of the girls at the store that summer.  Wonders never cease.  However, the dating was not serious.  Knowing I was leaving town, I made sure to keep things superficial.  Nevertheless, my lonely days were over.   My world was no longer painted black.   Let the sunshine in.

This summer was a triumphant time for me.  I cherished every moment.   

I avoided my mother and her house like the plague all summer long.  After what she put me through with Little Mexico, I didn't want to go anywhere near the place.  My bitterness towards her knew no limit.  I was not in a forgiving mood for the stunts she pulled during my Senior year.

One night in late August a lady in the grocery store front office said my mother had left a message.  The message said I had some mail from Johns Hopkins.  I had not been back to the house in two months.  However, if it was from the school, I suppose I had best go see what it was about.  So I drove over after work.  To my surprise, there was no one home when I arrived that evening.  To my further surprise, my key didn't work.  Ah, Mom was sending me a message.  I wondered if she had already rented out my room.  I wouldn't put it past her.

Well, the locked door wasn't going to stop me.  There was bound to be an open window somewhere.  If I couldn't find an open window on the ground floor, then I would climb the huge sycamore tree, jump to the second level and try there next.  I had left a window in my bedroom upstairs unlocked in anticipation of this exact problem.  I seriously doubted anyone had bothered to lock it.

I scouted the windows on the ground floor first.  I stopped to check a promising window.  To my surprise, my dog Terry came up from behind and stuck his cold wet nose into my hand.  I whirled around in shock.  I had no idea that Terry was outside.  I guess he had been sleeping underneath the elevated house to escape the summer heat.  Terry must have heard me shuffling around and decided to come to say hello.

I looked down at Terry and saw the saddest expression on his face.  He should have been excited to see me, but he was strangely motionless.  No wagging tail, no excitement.  I felt a stab of fear.  Was he sick?  Was he being fed?  Had someone hurt him? 

As I checked him over, I figured it out.  My dog missed me so much he was suffering from an overwhelming depression.  Oh my gosh, I was besieged with the most powerful sorrow possible.  What had I done to this poor dog?  How on earth had I forgotten about him?

It had been over two months since I had last seen Terry.   My neglect must have hurt terribly.  My poor dog was forlorn, I could tell.  I could just see it in his eyes.  Terry greeted me with such a profound sadness that I instantly fell to pieces.  I was beset with an overwhelming grief.  I collapsed to my knees and began bawling my head off.  I buried my face in his fur and began to sob uncontrollably.  I had no idea that my leaving had caused such a terrible impact on my beloved dog.

I just couldn't bear the thought that I had left him behind knowing how much he loved me.  I should have come to visit!  What the hell was wrong with me?  I had to be the stupidest, most insensitive jerk on the planet for treating my dog like this.  As massive waves of self-hate surged through me, I squeezed my poor dog to my body and sobbed profusely.

I felt a grief that surpassed any emotional pain I had ever felt before in my life, even more than the time my father had given me the $400 and made me realize how little he cared for me.  The guilt I felt for leaving my dog was far worse.  The pain was absolutely overwhelming.  I couldn't bear it.  I hurt so bad inside I thought I was going to die.  The ache in my heart was bottomless.  I hugged that sad, wonderful dog as hard as I could and kept repeating over and over again, "Oh my god, Terry, I love you so much.  I am so sorry I left you.  Please forgive me, I am so sorry I left you.  I must be the worst person in the world!"

The grief was so profound.  What could I do to make it up to the best friend I ever had in my life?  The pain would not go away, but I finally recovered enough to assume a sitting position with my back against the house.  I pulled my dog onto my lap, then patted him and scratched his ears.  I could not stop telling him how much I loved him.  I held him close forever and ever.  Finally Terry gave me a quick lick on the face. 


I guess Terry forgave me, but I wasn't sure he would ever recover completely from what I had done. 

Soon enough he began licking the salty tears off my face.  That didn't help, I just cried harder.  I could not stop crying.  This must have gone on for half an hour.  It was so painful.

I think all the tension and all the worry and all the frustration I had felt throughout my Senior year decided to come out at once. 

But nothing could possibly heal the sadness I felt towards my dog.  I could not bear the thought I had hurt the one person on earth who loved me with every possible part of his being. 

I took a good look at Terry.  He was graying and no longer moving with the kind of energy he once had. Terry was 10 now, but he looked older than that.  I realized for the first time that he had aged badly in my absence.

The difference between now and when I had last seen him two and a half months ago was frightening.  It was painful to think my absence had taken such a terrible toll on my beloved dog.  Now the tears swelled up again and I cried uncontrollably. 

The guilt refused to abate.  I hated leaving him so much.


We sat there in the darkness for the longest time.  It was me and Terry, alone together for old times sake. 

At least Terry was happy for now. I could not bear to think the hole I had left in his heart by leaving him all summer long. 

I crushed me to know the fate that awaited Terry soon.  The thought of leaving him forever caused a huge lump in my throat.  As he lay contentedly in my lap, every time I looked down and thought about leaving him permanently, the tears started all over again.

To heck with getting inside the house.  A half hour turned into an hour.  We just sat there in the darkness on the side of the house with me crying the whole goddamn time.  I wanted to take my dog to college so badly... please don't make me leave him!  I had no idea this was going to hurt so bad.  My dog loved me just as hard as I loved him, probably even more.  What had ever made me think a dog could deal with loss any better than I could? 

Throughout the terrible days of my Senior year, Terry had been the only thing keeping me from going off the deep end.  It was Terry who sat in the dark with me on the long, dark night following my Graduation.  It was Terry who kept reminding me that somewhere lost inside me, I had the ability to love.  And look how I had repaid him. 

It is important to note I was not a particularly wonderful person at this time in my life.  Although I sensed there was something wrong with me, I wasn't quite sure what to do about it.  All those years of being a loner had made it difficult for me to open up.  I was an only child who did not make friends easily.  Due to my insecurity, there were times when I was obnoxious, boastful, and sarcastic.  When it came to competition, I was 'win at any cost' and I could care less about sparing the feelings of my opponents.  I was a selfish, self-centered guy who didn't think much about the feelings of other people.  I had two basic attitudes... 'It's all about me' and 'Me against the world'.  I lived my life according to me-first and nobody else.  My four years of isolation during High School Hell had served to reinforced my selfish ways.  It crossed my mind that dating in college might not work out like I had planned. 

This sad moment with my dog upset me because I realized I had turned my back on the only person in the world who loved me without a second thought.  Yes, to me Terry was a person with thoughts and feelings too.  On the eve of my college career, my insensitivity towards my dog was a huge warning that I still had a long road ahead of me if I ever intended to become a decent human being.

Eventually my mother returned home to snap me out of my dark thoughts.  Terry and I got up off the ground and went to see her.  I was very shaken, but I did not want to explain to my mother why I was so ashen-faced.  I talked to Mom for a while, found my mail, then went upstairs to get some other stuff I needed to take with me to college.  It was time to leave.  I gave Terry one last tearful hug and kiss, then left Terry behind with Mom.  I could not bear to look back at my dog as I walked out the door lest I break into tears again.  I was so upset.  I had thought I was all grown up.  Suddenly, I wasn't so sure anymore.  How would I ever be able to find my tender side without him?  

That was the last time I ever saw my dog.   I left Houston a week later.  I could not bear to return home and go through this pain again.  As I drove to Baltimore, I thought about Terry so much.

How do I leave someone behind who doesn't understand?  How do I explain to a dog who has wrapped his entire life around my existence why I am leaving him?  I felt an unbearable guilt, a guilt that would never heal.

My abandonment had devastated the most loyal dog who ever lived.  That knowledge tore me completely to pieces.  I am 67 years old as I write this story and I can tell you without hesitation the pain and the guilt has never gone away.  I have cried just as hard retelling this story today as I did on that painful night so many years ago. 




The day was finally here.  I was a college Freshman at Johns Hopkins.  Did I care about my college education?  Not particularly.  The moment I set foot on campus, I was ready to fall in love as soon as possible. 

Let the long-awaited Dating Project begin! 

The acne crisis was now four years in the rearview mirror.  There had been a time at the start of the attack when my appearance was truly repulsive.  This was not my imagination.  By the time my face finally cleared up in high school, my role as the Invisible nobody was so firmly established in everyone's mind... including my own... that I decided dating a St. John's girl was out of the question.  I might add that no SJS girl dropped any signs of interest.   It was easier just to wait till I got to college.

Now the time had come.  It was Freshman year at Hopkins and I was ready to challenge my negative self-image.  Although I was consumed with doubts about my attractiveness, maybe I wasn't quite as ugly as I thought I was.  I was going to take advantage of my fresh start and give dating a try.


Unfortunately, as expected, attending a men's school was indeed a problem when it came to finding prospects.  At least at St. John's I had a chance to be reminded what girls looked like.  Fortunately, I discovered a posh women's college 6 miles north of Hopkins known as Goucher College.

Located near a Baltimore suburb known as Towson, Goucher was nestled inside a lovely wooded campus.  The young ladies who attended Goucher came from wealthy homes up and down the Eastern seaboard. 

These young ladies were pretty, polished and confident.  They reminded me of the young ladies back at St. John's.  In a sense, I would finally be dating the girls from St. John's.  It was time for the grand experiment.


Thanks to my VW Beetle, I was one of the few Freshman who had a car.  Using it to great advantage, I drove out to Goucher four or five night a week.  Does that seem excessive?  Maybe so, but it paid off.  To my relief, I actually did have some success.  After a flurry of dates, it did not take long to decide that a girl named Emily was my favorite.  I had a huge crush on her. 

Emily was a brown-eyed sweetheart with light honey-brown hair.  Emily came from Shaker Heights, a wealthy suburb of Cleveland.  Emily was far and away the prettiest girl I had ever met.  In addition to her considerable beauty, Emily was also a very warm, down-to-earth young lady.  Emily reminded me of Aunt Lynn, a beauty in her own right who was always very kind to me.

There was no doubt in my mind that Emily really liked me.  To my relief, my looks were not a problem.  I brought Emily over to Hopkins for a visit.  We went swimming at indoor pool.  Emily let out a soft whistle when she saw me in a bathing suit.  "I had no idea, Rick, but you are built like a Greek God."

I suppose those three years of weight-lifting had paid off thanks to Harold's taunts.  But it was my face I worried about, not my body. 

One weekend I took Emily down to Northern Virginia to meet Aunt Lynn and Uncle Dick.  To our delight, it was snowing when we got there.  All bundled up, Emily and I took a stunningly romantic walk through the nearby snow-covered hills and forest.  It was a beautiful setting... stone bridge, rocky creek, complete silence and isolation.  Just the two of us.  I remember rolling in the snow with Emily and sharing kisses sweeter than wine.  Emily was my first girlfriend.  I was in love.


One night Emily said something very unsettling.  "Sometimes I worry that you like me too much."

I tried my best, but somewhere along the line I guess I screwed up.  I imagine my mistake was coming on too strong.  What a shame. Emily was a sweet girl.  Very special.  I had the talent to attract her, but certainly not enough to keep her.

The story of Emily ended in a very strange way.  At a party in our Freshman dorm, I briefly introduced Emily to Eric, another boy in the dorm.  Eric was a rich kid from Odessa, Texas.  Eric was the boy with the big car care of Daddy's oil money.  Eric reminded me of my wealthy male classmates at St. John's from my prep school days.  Same rich kid swagger. 

On a Thursday afternoon in late October, Emily called and said she couldn't keep our date for the weekend due to an unexpected project at school.  To soften the blow, she added that we could get together sometime next week.

I was crushed of course, but accepted her excuse at face value.  Emily was my first love.  Wasn't I supposed to trust the one I love?  Since I had never dated in high school, I had no experience with women. 

Two days passed and it was now Saturday morning.  There was a knock on my door in the dorm.  A young man in my dorm named Jake needed an emergency lift to the Baltimore train station.  Since I was one of the few boys in the dorm with a car, Jake thought maybe I would help.  For $5 gas money, could I give him a ride this very moment? 

Sure, why not?  Thanks to Emily's cancellation, I had all the time in the world.

Just as we got to the Baltimore train station, I was dumbfounded when I saw Emily and Eric get out of a cab together complete with suitcases.  This took place 50 feet in front of my car.  The taxi and my car must have arrived within seconds of each other.  I was so transfixed I didn't even notice that Jake was thanking me and trying to hand me a $5 bill.  I did not respond, so he dropped the bill on the seat instead and closed the door.  All I could do was stare in shock at Emily.  I will never forget the laughter on her face.  Emily was happy and excited to be with Eric.  My jaw dropped.  I knew that look.  I had seen that same look before when Emily had been with me.

It was apparent Emily had broken our date to go somewhere special with Eric.  Where would their train take them?  New York maybe?  Catch a play?  No doubt share a hotel room?  I felt so insecure.  I had very little money.  I could never afford to spring for a weekend adventure of that caliber.  I felt a sharp pain at the realization Emily had lied to me just so she could be with Eric instead.  Thank goodness they didn't see me.  I was full of anguish and wanted to get out of there as fast as I could.

This unexpected revelation sent a dagger plunging through my heart.  Of course I had been disappointed when Emily broke our date earlier in the week.  That had really hurt.  However that pain was nothing compared to the ache of this cruel betrayal.   I had known heartbreak throughout childhood, but this was different.  Never in my life had I known this kind of hurt.  I felt so incredibly inferior again just like I did throughout prep school when I was the poorest, ugliest, and most socially awkward boy at St. John's.

I was very shaken.  When I got back to the dorm, I collapsed and cried my eyes out.  The pain refused to go away, but it eventually dulled to the point where I could briefly move my attention to a related subject.  At the time, I could not help but notice what a huge coincidence it had been to see Emily at the train station.  First, I had no business being at that station.  I was only there because Jake had popped up out of nowhere to ask me a favor. 

Second, the train station incident took place within a narrow window of opportunity.  Two minutes tops.  That is the time it took for me to stop the car in front of the train station and let my dorm friend retrieve his bag from the back seat.  So during this narrow two minute window, I saw Emily with Eric.  Isn't it interesting that my arrival coincided so perfectly with Emily's arrival?  What were the odds??  And what prompted me to look up ahead and notice Emily when my friend Jake was trying to get my attention?

Third, the significance was overpowering.  This particular moment was so evil that it immediately joined my 'Greatest Hits' list right beside the Parking Lot Meeting with Mrs. Ballantyne (#9) and getting caught cheating by Bob (#8).

I will place the Emily incident on my Supernatural Event List as #13.  They are starting to add up, aren't they?  Guess what, we've only just begun.  In this case, the timing of the Emily coincidence was so painfully perfect that it stretched all limits of probability.  Therefore I give it a 4 Star rating, one notch below the Parking Lot Meeting which was 5 Stars.

The problem with coincidences is that they are weird and they make no sense.  We have no scientific method to explain them.  Since coincidences don't happen very often and we cannot predict the next one, there is really no way to test them either.  A coincidence will appear out of nowhere and then it is gone in a flash, leaving us filled with wonder and confusion.  Once life kicks in and we get distracted, it is easier just to forget about it and move on.  Rather than hold the Universe accountable for an event that seems to break all known laws of probability, we chalk it off as something odd, then get on with things.

Not me.  This incident with Emily reminded me of the time my classmate Bob had burst in my room at the perfect time to catch me cheating on my German test.  As we recall, it was that incident that initiated my serious tailspin.  Ever since then, I made a point to pay close attention to all coincidences.  And this incident with Emily had been a significant one... it broke my heart.




The pain from Emily's betrayal was so great that I got on the phone and asked Aunt Lynn if I could come down to visit.  She said of course.  This was new for me.  I had never before called someone to cry on their shoulder.  I am glad I did... Lynn really came through for me.  By late afternoon that same Saturday, I was in her house pouring my guts out.  Lynn had met Emily, so she knew how fond I was.  Lynn's compassion was wonderful.  By Sunday afternoon, I was strong enough to return to Hopkins and try again. 

Unfortunately, when it came to dating again, I folded like a wet rag.  I had known heartbreak throughout my childhood, but this was different.  Never in my life had I known this kind of hurt before.  In the next week or so, I would die a million deaths thinking about Emily getting out of that taxi.  Welcome to the world of dating, Rick.  When it came to women, I had learned absolutely nothing while in high school.  In a sense, I was still in the 9th Grade.  I had just realized how much catching up I had to do.  I was four years behind my peers in that School of Hard Knocks course known as the Book of Love.  


Emily's cruel surprise hit right on top of my raw nerve that I didn't match up with wealthy boys my own age.  This insecurity had followed me from high school to Hopkins.  Eric was supposed to be my friend.  That's how he met Emily.  And he had stolen my girl. 

It did not help that Eric was a very good looking young man.  When I compared my own appearance to his, I felt so incredibly inferior.  How could I ever match his looks, his confidence and his wealth? 

Considering that I had an inferiority complex carried over from St. John's roughly the size of the Pacific Ocean, Emily's decision to choose the rich boy over me reinforced all my beliefs that I could not compete.  No wonder I didn't have any confidence around girls.   

My fears of being the creepy loser kid began to resurface.  For four long years in high school, I had avoided the St. John's girls because I expected they would reject me.  I was ugly, I was poor, I had no idea how to charm a girl and I could not possibly afford the price tag necessary to date an SJS girl in the style to which they were no doubt accustomed.   


That was high school.  Yes, those St. John's girls were far out of my league.  But what about college?  When Emily rejected me, it reinforced far too many negative self-images.  In my mind, the Goucher ladies became just as unattainable as the St. John's girls had been.  Once Emily left, I felt pretty gun-shy.  Should I try again or throw in the towel?  I let about ten days pass.  At this point my loneliness demanded that I try once more. 

So one night in mid-November I decided to go out to Goucher just for the heck of it.  I didn't even go to see anyone, but rather just to sit there in the reception room of one of the Goucher dorms and think about things.  Anything to be around women.   I wasn't even sure why I was there.  Probably because I was lonely.  A girl named Miriam walked by on the way to her room.  She recognized me and, noticing me flinch, decided to offer a fly-by insult. 

"Oh, Rick, look, it's you!  Where have you been?  I've missed you lately, but now you're back again.  I'm so glad.  After all, you've become part of the furniture here!"

With that, Miriam turned her back and walked away.  Not even a glance back.

I had never heard that line before, so I had to think for a moment what it meant.  However, once I caught on, I immediately turned crimson with shame.  Miriam was telling me I had worn out my welcome, so I took that as my cue to leave.  I did not return for a long time.  That insult was a major clue that my dating project was headed in the wrong direction. 

Once Miriam walked by and took her random pot shot, I concluded no one wanted me here.  I had a lot of defiance in me, but not for something coming from a pretty girl that dealt with my attractiveness issues.  I recalled how much Harold's 'creepy loser kid' taunt had hurt.  To my surprise, Miriam's random insult had the same powerful effect.  I barely even knew her, but Miriam's unprovoked barb had ripped me to shreds. 

Why I had thought I could do any better with these Goucher girls than the St. John's girls was ridiculous.  They were the same girls!  Not only was I still poor, but I had just begun to realize how much my inexperience put me at a disadvantage. 

I was dismayed to learn my problems with girls had failed to magically disappear once I reached college.  Once I met so much disappointment, I retreated back into my shell.  Everyone knows the only way to learn about women is to be with them and keep trying, but I didn't have the guts to risk the kind of pain that came with Emily's rejection.  I told myself I would try again in a couple months, but then suddenly my car disappeared. 

Believe it or not someone stole my car in December.  Considering the used car had little value, I had not bothered with theft insurance.   Now I didn't even have a car.  That was the last straw.  Between Emily's betrayal, Miriam's sucker punch, and losing the car, dating would have to wait till... well, it waited a long time.  Since Johns Hopkins was a men's school, there were no women around to entice me to try again.  Eventually it just became easier to concentrate on my studies. 

Just months into my college career, my college dating project was over.  I dated a little in my Senior year, but even then I still had no idea what I was doing.  Pathetic.  College was supposed to be the Promised Land where life would become easy.  It was painful to realize my shortcomings from high school had followed me all the way to college.  I had assumed once I made it to college, I would be magically cured of my social handicaps.  Guess again.  I was not out of the woods by a long shot.  

How about some candor?  It was eerie how my dating premonition during that terrible last night spent with Terry had come to pass.  At the time, I had no real idea what I had done wrong.  However, in retrospect I can make some educated guesses.  Since everything was about me, I talked about myself all the time.  I needed too much attention.  At first, I had been popular and no one seem to mind my frequent appearances.  But then the girls caught on that my constant presence masked an overwhelming neediness.  That didn't sit well with them and they began to ignore me.  No one wants a clinging vine for a boyfriend. 

I had gone four years in high school without dating.  Now four more years in college would pass.  By the time I graduated, I knew no more about women than I did when I graduated from high school.  When it came to dating, Emily had put the nail in the coffin. 

"Sometimes I worry that you like me too much."

One of my favorite sayings is that 'Experience is a hairbrush that Life throws you after you have lost your hair.'  At the time I had no idea what I was doing wrong.  All I knew was that I was doing something wrong and I did not know how to correct it.  So I gave up.  Emily's betrayal had done untold damage to my confidence.  My self-esteem could not handle another train station incident.




I had come to college far more interested in dating than actually learning anything.  So far I had made only a half-hearted stab at studying.  However, now that I had a broken heart courtesy of Emily, I was done with women for a while.  Now I turned my attention to my studies for lack of anything better to do. 

College at Johns Hopkins had its ups and down.  I had some serious problems with depression, but certainly nowhere on the scale of my high school years.  I was intensely lonely most of the time, but that was something I was used to by now.  Other than my problems with dating, I enjoyed the fact that I was finally completely on my own.  This situation suited me just fine. I discovered I was far better at taking care of myself than the legion of mommas boys in my dorm who called home every night for encouragement.  

I certainly didn't need my mother to tell me what to do.  I was independent, hard-working, and responsible.  However, I also possessed serious character flaws.  When seen in a harsh light, I was a rebellious, insensitive, self-centered young man with serious authority issues.  I was a loner who had trouble making friends.  I stuck to myself much of the time.

Fortunately, despite my immaturity, I never got into a lick of trouble in college.  That is because no one ever challenged me.  My Hopkins experience was odd in that there were practically no rules.  In four years, not once did anyone tell me what to do or what not to do.  My sense of rebellion was still there, but with nothing to rebel against, my defiant streak went into dormancy.


I remained just as self-centered as I had been in high school.  But guess what?  Practically every young man on campus was just as self-centered as me.  We all wandered around in our own little worlds.  I was still a moody kid prone to depression. 

Fortunately, for the first time in my life, I had a support system to fall back on.  I love being reunited with Uncle Dick and Aunt Lynn who I admired greatly.  As I had hoped, Dick and Lynn welcomed me into their family with open arms. 

For the first time in my life, I had the chance to feel part of a close-knit family with two parents, three brothers and one sister.  

Aunt Lynn was a born mother in same mold as my idol Mrs. Ballantyne.  Lynn went far out her way to make me feel like a part of her family.  I loved her dearly and soon began to feel like her adopted son.  Lynn became the mother I never had before. 

Lynn came to my rescue again many times.  For example, she had somehow put me back together the weekend I saw Emily getting on the train with Eric.  When I got back to the dorm, I was devastated and crying. 

On an impulse, I called to Aunt Lynn and told her what had happened.  She asked if I wanted to drive down and talk about it.  One hour later, I was sitting in her kitchen crying my eyes out.  Lynn let me get the tears out of my system, then helped me calm down.  Her reassurance was wonderful. 


This was the first of many trips to McLean, Virginia, during my college career.  Dick, Lynn, and their four children Rick, Dale, Tami and Todd were kind enough to accept me into their family.  Lynn in particular was the only reason I made it through college. 

After my car was stolen, within a couple weeks I bought another used Volkswagen using my grocery store savings.  I bought the car not to resume my dating project, but rather so I could continue driving down to Northern Virginia whenever I was going nuts again.  I simply could not bear being cut off from this family.

Visiting the Griffiths family became my sanctuary.  Whenever I was going crazy at school, I would simply drive down to Northern Virginia for the weekend and talk to Lynn.  After a long talk, her abundant sympathy and encouragement would cheer me up.  Then I would spend the remainder of my time hanging out with Lynn's four children.

These kids were great!  I fell effortlessly into a big brother role.  One winter's day during my first Christmas at their house, I helped my cousins construct a long toboggan run on a snowy hill.  Dick and Lynn's house was built along a steep hill.  There were seven houses side by side at different elevations.  Our first effort used just my cousin's front yard and their neighbor's yard which was 20 feet lower. 

After we finished, we had so much fun that I suggested we make our toboggan run longer.  My cousins looked at each other and nodded. Good idea!  So we asked five neighbors whose houses occupied the same slope if we could use their front yard as well.  They all said sure.  One lady really cracked me up.  "Young man, I fully expect to be given the opportunity to take a ride when you finish!"

By the time we were done, our run started at the peak of the hill.  Using the front lawns of seven consecutive homes to build our masterpiece, the run spanned three hundred yards.  The long ride was a huge thrill.  We had an indescribable amount of fun and laughter with our project.   Even Aunt Lynn tried it and she laughed her head off with delight.  "This is the best toboggan run I have ever seen!" 

We all grinned with pride at the compliment.  This was one of the happiest days of my life.  For the first time in my life, I felt part of a family.  Thanks to Aunt Lynn, Uncle Dick, and my cousins, after each weekend visit to my sanctuary, I was ready to go back into the arena and try again.

Uncle Dick was an amazing man.  Dick had contracted polio while he was in the Navy.  For a while, he wasn't sure he would ever walk again.   Dick said the biggest break of his life came when IBM took a chance on him despite his crutches. His body may have been withered, but his genius and work ethic were intact.  Uncle Dick not only thrived at IBM, he gained enough experience to open his own data processing center in Northern Virginia.  Dick proved to be a very successful businessman. 

While I was in college, Uncle Dick became both a friend and a father to me.  Lynn and the children went to bed around 10 pm.  At this point, Dick and I stayed up to watch Johnny Carson together.  Those were very special moments for me.

During college, I spent every Christmas at Dick and Lynn's house.  During our first Christmas, Dick offered some very good advice.  One of his suggestions was to learn more about computers.  He said computers would be the wave of the future.  I smiled.  That sounded exactly like 'plastics', the famous one-liner from my favorite movie The Graduate.

Hmm, computers, eh?  I took Dick's advice.  Still suffering from my broken heart, on the way back to Hopkins I decided to turn my attention to computers. 




It was now January 1969.  When I went to enroll in a computer class in the second semester of my Freshman year, to my surprise there were no computer courses listed.

I went to the Registrar's office and showed a nice lady the catalogue.  I asked her where I could find the listings for computer classes.

She smiled, "Next year we are going to open up a new computer department for undergraduates, but right now we don't have anything."

Seeing how disappointed I looked, she had a suggestion.  "You know, we do have a couple of night school computer classes."

My ears perked up.  "I don't mind taking a night school class if it is here on campus."

The lady smiled. "Yes, it is here on campus.  I will tell you what.  Pick the class you want and I will ask the Dean to grant permission."

I nodded.  The night school catalogue contained a course called 'Basic Computer Programming Skills'.  I told the lady that was the course I wanted.  The lady knocked on the Dean's door and soon returned wearing a big smile.  "Dean Masterson said no problem.  When the new semester starts next week, your course will be on Wednesday evening at 7:00 pm, Room 201, in the Math building."

It was pitch dark as I walked across the campus to my first class.  Night school indeed.  I was at least 10 minutes late, but I didn't care.  I was late to class all the time because no one seemed to mind.  After all, most of my classes were lectures with 200 anonymous boys spread across a large auditorium.  The professor was so far away he didn't know what half of us looked like, so I would stroll in whenever I felt like it.

Nobody knew my name, nobody took attendance, nobody spoke to me and no one told me what to do.  No one cared if I was late to class and no one cared how long my hair was.  This was college.  I was on my own, so I came and went as I pleased.


You want to wear your hair long?   Go ahead, kid, wear your hair long.  At times my hair came down past my shoulders.  Not that I stood out... half the boys at school wore their hair long.  No one gave my long hair a second thought. 

I might add that since there weren't any girls around, I had little incentive to be beautiful.  I paid no attention to my appearance.  Half the time I did not bother to comb my thick brown hair.  Hey, this was a men's school.  Why should I care how I look?

As I opened the door to my night school class, everyone was already seated.  I gasped... the entire room was full of men in business suits and women with dresses, nylon hose and high heels.  Every single person in the room had a briefcase. 

I had not even remotely anticipated this.  What the heck have I gotten myself into? 

Hearing the door open, the entire room turned around to see who the intruder was.  Instantly a huge collective gasp of horror filled the room. 

Standing before them was none other than the Creature from the Black Lagoon.  

Seeing the disgust written on their faces, I stopped dead in my tracks.  Whoa, Nelly!


The business world of the late Sixties had just met the counterculture.  Hi, everyone, welcome to the Age of Aquarius!  You know, harmony and understanding, sympathy and trust abounding.  Hmm, maybe not.  The angry expressions said it all.  I was even more discouraged when I got a dirty look from the instructor.  He challenged me in a sharp voice, "Young man, can I help you?"  

I picked up on his hostile tone.  Evidently the instructor hoped that if he was rude enough, I might panic and leave.  After all, no one enjoys being in a place where they are not wanted.  I had no defiance for pretty girls who insulted me, but I had plenty of defiance for this guy.  I was going to take this class whether he liked it or not.  Very slowly, I walked the gauntlet up the aisle to his desk in front.  There were twenty people seated on one side and twenty people on the other.  Every single face was intolerant and unwelcoming.  One guy whispered, "Get a haircut, freak!"  No Peace Signs for this group.

Ordinarily I never kowtowed to authority, but being outnumbered forty to one had a chilling effect on me.  Recalling how the hippie had been blown to bits at the end of Easy Rider, the current hit movie, I moved cautiously.  I decided not to challenge anyone by staring back.  Given the angry looks on their faces, one wrong move with this crowd and I could be facing a further barrage of ugly comments.  So I adopted a look of submission.  I made sure my shoulders were slumped and I looked down as I handed the instructor my admission form.  I didn't want any trouble.

Frowning, the instructor studied the form.  To his obvious disgust, everything was in order.  He gestured for me to take a seat.  Everyone in the room was stunned.  They couldn't believe the instructor had given me permission to stay.  What in the hell was this hippie doing in their class?  The ladies in particular had a horrified expression.  I could see they were terrified the creature might sit next to them.   One lady quickly filled the empty seat next to her with her briefcase.

They need not have worried.  I knew my place.  Saying nothing and looking at no one, I retreated to the very back of the room and took a seat.  I wanted to be sure to be near my escape route at all times.  I was nowhere near these people.  There were ten rows of empty chairs separating me from the pack. 

Now the professor did his best to regain control of the class.  Slowly but surely, once they were certain I wasn't the cousin of Charles Manson, everyone turned their attention back to him.  However, just in case I was sneaking up, every now and then someone would turn around to look at me.  They wanted to know where the creature was at all times.  I was darkly amused at their discomfort.  These crewcut types were not at all happy to have their backs turned to the long-haired boy.

I tried to make sense of the situation.  This scenario was just as much a surprise to me as it was to them.  These people were in their mid-twenties and early thirties.  Some were ex-military and others were college graduates who had started their careers.  I noticed the IBM logo on several of their briefcases.  I gathered that these people either worked for IBM or were trying to get hired by IBM. 

Every person was perfectly groomed.  The men had short haircuts and no facial hair.  They looked sharp in their business clothes.  Every woman wore heels and a dress.  Not a single woman displayed long hair.  If they did have long hair, the ladies made sure to tie it up in some way.  Based on the way they were dressed, it appeared these people had come straight from work. 

Judging by their concentration and their expressions, this was a serious, highly-motivated group.  This computer class was an important stepping stone.  It was obvious they were intent on climbing the ladder of success.

As for me, I had inadvertently found myself placed on the front lines of culture shock and social change.  Compared to these disciplined business people, I stuck out like a sore thumb.  I was wearing a worn-out white tee-shirt, cut-off jeans, and sandals.  My hair was uncombed and I had not bothered to shave that day.  Whenever someone would turn to check on me, they made sure to cast a withering stare in my direction.  They seemed to be sending some kind of message. 

And what could that be?  I did not speak IBM, but if forced to guess, they wanted me to leave.  They clearly did not like having a hippie in their midst.   Long hair may have been popular with the Hopkins undergraduates, but these buttoned-down IBM people were disgusted by the slightest hint of my 'make love, not war' generation.  To them, I was a drug-crazed, syphilis-infected draft dodger who burned flags and marched in anti-war protests.  

In addition to my bedraggled appearance, at age 19 I was the youngest person in the room by at least six years.  I definitely felt out of place.  However, I wasn't intimidated.  They may hate me, but so what?   I had a right to be here.  In this case, my years of standing my ground to the Mothers Guild snobs back at SJS served me well.  Since I did not like to be pushed around, I was here to stay.  Dirty looks meant nothing to me.

One month came and went.  No one said a word to me, including the instructor.  How could they?  I never gave them a chance.  I came in late on purpose.  I took notes, never asked a question, never answered a question, and left the moment the instructor signaled class was over.  No lingering for me.

In the fifth week, the instructor handed out a test.  He made me come up and get it, so this gave everyone another chance to practice their withering stares.  Once I got back to my chair, I realized this test was unlike anything I had encountered before.  The instructor called it a 'take-home exam'.  Okay, this was new, so what's the task? 

First we were supposed to solve a mathematics riddle.  Then we were supposed to write a flowchart of computer commands designed to help a computer solve the riddle.  After leaving class, I stopped off at the library and took another look.  The instructor had given us a classic math puzzle known as the 'Twelve Billiard Balls'. 

I had never seen this puzzle before, but it caught my interest.  There were 12 balls identical in size and appearance.  Eleven balls weighed the same, but one ball was an odd weight.  It could be lighter or heavier than the other 11 balls.  Using a balance scale, I had three chances to weigh the balls to determine which ball was the odd one and if it was heavier or lighter than the rest. 

This was an excellent logic test.  Since I love puzzles, I took to this challenge like a duck to water.  The riddle proved to be very tricky, but I loved it.  The answer was so ingenious that I admired whoever had designed the puzzle.  After that, the programming was easy.  All I had to do was use computer language to write out the same logical steps I had used to identify the wrong-weight billiard ball. 

When I was done, I smiled.  Although the problem took about two hours, I had enjoyed the challenge.  This wasn't work, this was fun. 

The following week when we handed in our assignment, there was an unusual amount of grumbling.  The consensus with the business people was that this assignment was far too difficult.  The instructor seemed very surprised at the amount of negativity.  I didn't say anything, but I knew this project had required some serious thought plus a minimum two hour investment of time, probably more.  I imagined these were busy people with jobs and families.  They probably didn't have the luxury of two hours of complete silence to concentrate on this project like I did.  So in this sense I had the advantage of more free time. 

And did I feel sorry for them?  Nah.  After all, I had spent nine years competing against SJS kids who had far more advantages than me.  It was nice to have the advantage arrow pointing at me for a change. Why feel guilty?

The following week, the instructor was in a bad mood.  He had finished grading the exams and apparently he was not happy about the class performance.  Before he handed out the graded tests, he told the class how disappointed he was in the overall performance.  However, rather than challenge the group to step up their efforts, the teacher tried to appease them.  Apparently this challenge was tougher than he expected and he wanted to apologize. 

I was surprised at his tactic.  To me, he was showing weakness.  Why apologize?  That was like a lion tamer backing down to a few snarls.  Mr. Salls would have immediately intimidated us, but not this guy.  Sure enough, the grumbling increased immediately.  Now the professor compounded his error.  He added that the test had been so hard that only one person in the entire class had solved both the puzzle and the programming element.

Mentioning that one person had done well turned out to be a mistake.  He should have said nothing.  This odd tidbit brought a hush to the grumbling.  Now the anger was replaced by the need to identify the rat.  Heads turned searching for an embarrassed face.  Who was the traitor among them who had made everyone else look bad? 

No one responded, so one lady spoke up.  "Dr. Burnett, who was the person who solved the puzzle?"

To my dismay, that stupid instructor decided to name the perpetrator.  The instructor asked 'Richard Archer' to raise his hand. 

Oh my god, what an idiot.  I rolled my eyes, but I didn't say a word.  Since I had solved the problem handily and he stated only one person had succeeded, I assumed he must be referring to me.  However, I had no intention of responding.  I was already the most unpopular person in the room.  Why direct further wrath my way?

What I did not anticipate was the furious wave of curiosity that ensued.  Too late now.  Once the instructor had let the cat out of the bag, everyone was looking around for someone to turn on.  The reaction of the class was interesting.  Heads turned every which way trying to guess the identity.  Oddly enough, not one person turned to look at me.  That spoke volumes as to their opinion of me.

The longer it lasted, the higher the curiosity.  Who could it be?  Disappointed the villain was not willing to step forward, the group looked back at the instructor who in turn shrugged.  He didn't know who it was either.  Realizing no one was going to confess, his eyes went down to his roster.  He must have seen something, because I saw a flash of recognition cross his face.  With a look of utter incredulity, he lifted his head to stare directly at me.

Uh oh, busted.  The teacher had just figured out that 'Richard Archer' was the last name entered on his list.

Everyone picked up on the instructor's strange expression.  They turned their heads to see who he was looking at.  Suddenly every person in the room turned around to look at me.  When they realized it was me who had solved the puzzle, a look of total shock crossed their faces.  They gave me the weirdest looks... anger, disbelief, disgust.  This entire group had written me off because I didn't dress like them. 


As they at me with undisguised hostility, I crossed my arms and stared back at them grim-faced. To these people, I was a worthless bum.  Except that I wasn't a bum, was I?   Although I looked like a long-haired, brain-fried hippie freak, it was just a disguise. 

It absolutely blew their minds to realize why they say a book should not be judged by its cover.  I knew a secret none of these people would have guessed in a million years.  When it came to academics, I was more dangerous than they could have ever imagined.

This experience was an affirmation of the elite education I had received at St. John's.  These people had no idea I had spent nine long years as a scholastic gladiator at the toughest, most competitive school in Houston, Texas.   Mr. Salls had promised me Hopkins was a perfect fit for my talents.   At the memory of his words, I smiled.  My Headmaster was right all along.  Thank you, Mr. Salls.  Forgive me for doubting you. 

Underneath my ghastly appearance was a mind accustomed to tackling academic challenges with supreme confidence.  I did not get a free ride to Johns Hopkins by accident.  I earned my scholarship.  In fact, I was probably more driven to succeed than any person in this room.


part THREE: Johns Hopkins





  1955   Cut my eye out (01), Near Miss with the Stock Car (02)
  1959-1968   Nine year career at St. John's
  1959-1960: 4th Grade   Divorce, Mom falls apart, Dad abandons me, Feelings of inferiority begin to develop, fascination with Mrs. Ballantyne begins
  1960-1961: 5th Grade   Terry runs away for over 2 days
  1961-1962: 6th Grade   Hurricane Carla, Dad refuses to send to SJS beyond 6th grade, Granted half-scholarship to SJS
  1962-1963: 7th Grade   Fred Incident - Illness at boy scout camp leads to Invisibility, Katina Ballantyne joins my class
  1963-1964: 8th Grade   Knocked 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
  1964-1965: 9th Grade   Acne Attack (04), Basketball strike on swollen face (05)
  1965-1966: 10th Grade   Father denies third skin operation, Locker Room fight, set of weights appears (06)
  1966-1967: 11th Grade   Weingarten's Resurrection (07), I buy a car
  1967-1968: 12th Grade   Mr. Salls asks me to apply to Johns Hopkins, Little Mexico, Father's $400 insult, Cheating in Chemistry,
  Caught stealing gym clothes, Caught cheating in German (08), Jones Scholarship lost to Katina,
  Parking Lot Meeting with Mrs. Ballantyne (09), Ralph O'Connor hands me a scholarship to Hopkins,
  Close Call Car Accident (10), Senior Prom Cheryl (11), Mr. Salls Blind Spot (12)
  1968-1969: Freshman at Hopkins   Emily at the Train Station (13), Sanctuary at Lynn's house, Car stolen in December, Night School Computer class


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