Mike Davis
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Chapter 12: Losing Control... I begin to fall apart w the fear that I am not going to college
Chapter 13: Self-Destructive... I begin to fall apart even worse



Written by Rick Archer




Ten days after the blow-up with my mother on Navidad de Negro, I returned to school and found a message waiting for me at school to call me my father to schedule lunch. 

When I showed up at the usual coffee diner the next day, I realized my father had not invited me to his house for Christmas this year.  It was embarrassing to realize I cared so little about my father I had not noticed. 

My father was cheerful as always.  "Today's lunch can be our Christmas meal instead!  Besides, you are old enough to understand."

Maybe I wasn't old enough.  Understand what?  What I assumed that meant was that his wife couldn't stand to have me in her house again.  Trust me, the feeling was mutual... I couldn't stand the woman.

With that, Dad gave me a book about his favorite mystic, some guy named Edgar Cayce.  When I opened it up I found a ten dollar bill in it.  Thanks, Dad.  Touching. 

During the meal, I was upset that my father never said a word about college or college finances.  My father's neglect of this all-important subject signaled real danger.  My mind drifted back to the promise he had made five and a half years ago.  At the end of the 6th Grade, my father had stopped paying tuition at St. John's the moment he was no longer legally obligated.  At the time, he promised to save up for college instead.  In my mind, I referred to this moment as the Sixth Grade Pledge.

If Dad had kept his promise and banked the tuition as he said he would, I estimated he would have close to $4,000 saved for me.  I scoffed.  In my dreams.  I didn't trust my father then and I didn't trust him now. 

February 1968 was right around the corner.  Soon the college acceptances would begin coming in.  However, I still had no idea how to pay for college.  One would assume this was the time a father would bring up the subject of college.  No such luck.  When Dad ignored any talk of college during our fake Christmas lunch, I was disheartened.  This was a bad omen indeed.

I should have said something, but I was too scared to bring the subject up.  If I said anything, I was certain he would tell me the truth and dash my hopes for good.  I simply wasn't strong enough to bear the disappointment.  My ugly Christmas fight with my mother was still fresh in my mind.  My mother had hurt my feelings badly and I had retaliated in kind.  I did not want to admit how upset I was that I wasn't welcome in her home anymore.  Whether she meant it or not, it really hurt.  Consequently I was simply not brave enough to risk alienating my other parent as well.

Rather than take the chance of being crushed now, I preferred to cling to my long-shot hope that my father would come through for me in the end.  So I remained silent.  When this meal was over, I was in a terrible mood.  It wasn't my father's Christmas snub that upset me.  I was used to my father's indifference by now.  Besides, I didn't want to go to his house anyway.  What upset me is that I felt deserted by both parents.  My Little Mexico argument with my mother had taken place two weeks ago.  She didn't want me in her home and now it looked like my father wouldn't help me with college.  What a pair.

If my father could not be counted on to help with college... and I was becoming more certain all the time this was the correct conclusion... then I was in big trouble.  Therefore, starting with my father's Christmas snub, I began to worry about money night and day.  Without my father's help, I was way short of the necessary money to make it to the Promised Land. 




Here at Christmas time, I thought I was losing my mind.  The first half of my Senior year had been one long nightmare. 

 I couldn't make myself study. 
 Due to my father's indifference, I couldn't stop worrying about college finances. 
 I hated my mother with a passion. 
 I was arguing constantly with Mr. Murphy at school.
 Now I was also arguing with Mr. Norris, my new grocery store manager. 
  I felt a disturbing bitterness towards my classmates that I couldn't shake. 
 The Holy Roller music was driving me crazy and so was the Ranchero music. 
  My mother's determination to turn her house into Little Mexico was the last straw as far as I was concerned. 

Did I leave anything out? 

Actually, yes.  There was a new burden that I was having trouble facing. 


I would sleep at Little Mexico, but it would never be my home again.  I spent as little time in this house as I possibly could.  However, there was a heartrending consequence to my decision.  It broke my heart to see how much my border collie Terry missed me. 

Terry would stare at me with the saddest eyes whenever I left.  I would think about him and feel so guilty.  Terry looked just as lost in this house as I was.  I don't think he spoke Spanish any better than I did.  Nor did Mom give him the kind of attention she used to.  She had La Familia to attend to.

The thought of leaving Terry for college next fall had begun to upset me greatly.  Terry the Terrible, the dog I loved so passionately, had been my best friend in the world for as long as I could remember.  However, that meant I was his best friend as well.  Through thick and thin, for ten years we had been inseparable.  I knew my dog would never stop loving me.  Despite all the problems I faced, the thought of leaving Terry to go to college was my single greatest sadness.  I knew my dog would miss me so much. 

How would Terry ever understand my abandonment?  Just thinking about leaving my dog brought me so much sorrow.  The bond we had was incredible.  What would happen to my dog when that bond was broken?


This was a time when I was becoming a hard kid.  I was growing tough and mean.  I was intense.  I rarely smiled or laughed.

Nevertheless, no matter how much I hated the world, whenever I saw my dog, I always seemed to break down crying.  My guilt over the separation that awaited him when I left for college troubled me no end. 

Oddly enough, I was grateful for those tears.  Those tears were about the only thing I had left that reminded me that deep down, I was still a pretty good kid at heart.  If someone could reach my puppy dog side, I was a kind and decent person.  However, good luck reaching the puppy dog side these days.  I felt very cold inside.  During the worst part of this dark period, I felt like Terry was virtually the only friend I had left.  My love for my dog was the only thing that proved I still had any kindness left in me.  If only I could find a way through all this hostility! 

Following my disappointing visit with my father, I began to go off the deep end.   My home, my school and my job had all become battlegrounds.  With no support system to fall back on, I felt like there was no one I could turn to.  Feeling unloved, unwanted, and unappreciated, I wanted to lash out in the worst way and tell the world just how pissed off I was over my crummy life.  As my bitterness rose, I developed an anti-social streak that allowed me to justify a series of misguided moves. 


Up till my Senior year, I had loved my school.  I wrapped my self-esteem around doing well at St. John's and pleasing my teachers.  If it hadn't been for my sarcastic, bristling nature, I might have even been a teacher's pet like my sun-kissed classmate Katina Ballantyne.  I was on the verge of achieving my nine year dream.  Soon I would be accepted into college.

However, with the Finish Line so tantalizingly close, something was wrong with me.  Deeply wrong. Throughout the second half of the 12th grade, I hovered on the brink of self-destruction.  I could not understand my tailspin.  During my first eight years at SJS, I had always been a disciplined, conscientious student.  Academics had always come so easily to me.

But now my vaunted self-discipline had seemingly deserted me.  I was having trouble concentrating in class.  My grades suffered because I could no longer force myself to study things I wasn't interested in.  What was wrong with me?   This loss of self-control had never happened before and I was scared.  I would never succeed if I continued to ignore classes I didn't like.

The problem that bothered me the most was money.  How was I ever going to pay for college? 

More than anything else, it would be my fears about paying for college that sent me hurtling into a dangerous downward spiral.


Three weeks after my father's Christmas Snub, in late January I heard something during school lunchtime that disturbed me greatly.

As for college tuition, I had three possibilities... my father's help, a college scholarship and a local scholarship known as the Jones Scholarship.  In my heart, I did not believe I could count on my father.  A responsible man would have discussed college finances at our last meeting.  Dad had ducked the subject entirely. 

If I couldn't count on my father, then a college scholarship was my best hope.  A college scholarship was no sure thing, but I believed I had a pretty good chance.  In fact, I told my friend David that exact thing as we ate lunch at school.  If I could get a scholarship at St. John's, then surely a college scholarship should be no problem.

David said not so fast.  David attended SJS on a half-scholarship and he worried about college scholarships almost as much as I did. David proceeded to tell me something I had never thought of before.  David said a couple years ago his older brother was unable to get a college scholarship to Trinity College, a private school, because his father made too much money.  His brother had been forced to go to the University of Texas-Austin instead.   Now that it was his turn, David was worried about the same problem.  His brother was saddled with a huge college loan debt and David was certain a similar fate awaited him as well.

I replied my father's salary was not an issue.  I had nothing to worry about because my father wasn't even in the picture.  St. John's knew this for a fact which is why I had gotten my full scholarship here in the first place.  Surely the same principle would apply for college.

David disagreed.  First he shook his head 'no'.  Then he continued.

"I wouldn't be so sure about that, Rick.  Any college is going to expect the parents to pay, especially someone like you from a prestigious rich kid's prep school.  A college doesn't know you from Adam.  It has no obligation to take your word for it that your father is a jerk.  If colleges did that, every kid in America would say they had just been disowned by their parents upon graduation. 

Why would any parent willingly pay all that tuition if all they had to do was tell the kid to lie and go to college for free?  There's cheaters everywhere in this world.  That's why colleges go over the money parents make with a fine-toothed comb.

How do you expect to explain how your father is able to send two kids to private school but doesn't have a cent for you?

I bet they're going to take one look at your father's salary and say 'Sorry Charlie, your Daddio needs to pay up.'"

I was stunned.  David was absolutely right!  I had no reply for that.   My jaw dropped.  I felt sick.  My father's money was going to count against me.  How was I ever going to explain my father bizarre attitude to some school that had never heard of my situation?

Maybe I could get my father to write a letter on my behalf.  I dismissed that idea in a nanosecond.  My father didn't give a shit about me.  My father's attitude was that I was on my own.  He would never cooperate. 

No doubt money was tight in my father's home at the moment.  After all, both my step-brother and step-sister were enrolled in private schools.  In fact, their enrollment was a source of real irritation to me.  I bitterly recalled how my father had sanctimoniously preached the value of public school after he refused to continue to send me to St. John's following the 6th Grade. 

Public school was good enough for me, but his two children by his second wife deserved private school.   No doubt the child support my father had discontinued was helping to pay their way.  I got the message loud and clear.

Although I still hadn't given up hope that father was good for his 6th Grade promise, I was pretty skeptical.  Adding insult to injury, now I had to deal with the thought that my father's salary might sabotage any chance at a scholarship.  That was sickening.

If David was right, my father's salary would count against me unless he cooperated in some way.

That would never happen.  My father would not have touched a financial aid form in a thousand years.  I doubted seriously my father wished to print on some form the reasons why he was unwilling to spend a single dime on me. 

"Dear School, I make good bucks as an engineer, but my son has no mechanical ability so I disowned him years ago.  He's all yours.  Sincerely, Deadbeat Dad"

The blood drained out of me.  I stopped breathing.  I felt sick.  My disappointment was so powerful that I felt like someone had punched me in the stomach.  A huge bitterness arose.  My fear that I might not have a way to pay for college had just been amplified to crisis level.

After lunch, I staggered to class.  I had the same sick feeling one would have after a doctor reveals the presence of an incurable disease.  The more I thought about what David said, the more upset I got.  The thought that my father's salary might work against me was unfathomable.

I had German class after lunch.  When I walked in, I was almost in tears.  Mrs. Anderson, the nice lady who taught German in my Senior year, asked us to translate a long paragraph of German into English.  I finished first, mostly because my heart wasn't in it.

With nothing to do, I began to scan the room.  I looked at the twelve students one at a time.  Every student in this room had come to school today secure in the knowledge their father's money guaranteed they were going to the college of their choice.  And then there was the thirteenth student.  Me.  I shook my head in dismay.  An overpowering wave of bitterness surged through me. 

While my classmates didn't give attending college a second thought, I now believed there was a good chance I wouldn't be going to college next year.  This thought made me furious.  Who at this school had worked harder than me??

Was it really possible my father's job could present a nearly insurmountable obstacle to my chances of getting a scholarship?  That thought absolutely blew my mind.  My entire life had been wrapped around college ever since the acne attack three years ago.  The thought of being trapped at Little Mexico for another year was more than I could handle right now.

As I looked around, some very dark thoughts entered my mind.  My sudden fear about not being able to go to college next year led to an absolutely devastating attack of envy towards my classmates. 

At a time when I had no idea how I would ever pay for college, it infuriated me that every single one of my Senior classmates BUT ME had parents who were going to take care of their college education. 

Unbelievable.  Was it really possible everyone in my class might go to college but me??

For the rest of the day the words "everyone but me" bounced through my head repeatedly. 

And with that, the resentment towards my classmates began to build to unprecedented new depths.




Little Mexico was driving me out of my mind.  I had to get out of this house or go mad.  My dreams of escape were the only thing keeping me going.   College meant peace and quiet.  College meant happiness. College meant the chance to start dating.   College meant everything.

Ordinarily, an SJS senior with my grades and my beleaguered financial position could expect a college scholarship.  But I had a very real concern.  Due to David's lunchtime warning, I was terrified that my father's financial status would prove to be a real impediment in getting a scholarship. 

My father was currently paying full tuition to send two children to two different Houston private schools.  One look at my father's finances would raise serious questions as to why he couldn't provide for me too.  That spelled trouble.  I had no idea how to explain my father's status in my life to anyone unfamiliar with my situation.

On the other hand, if my father came through with his Sixth Grade Pledge of college tuition, I was good to go. However, that sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach said it all... I was certain his promise was complete bullshit. 

In case my father jilted me, I came up with a backup plan. 

I called it my Foot in the Door strategy. 


This strategy was modeled on the circumstances of how I received my scholarships at St. John's.  Once I had shown the SJS Administrators what I could do, they went to bat for me.  So my plan was to find a way to get my Foot in the Door at Georgetown and make an equally good impression, then throw myself on the mercy of their Financial Aid officer. 

Who said I had to pay for four years?  What if I could pay for my first year of college out of my own pocket?   Once I was there, surely I could show Georgetown my value during that first semester.  It was one thing for Georgetown to be indifferent to some anonymous kid from Texas with a strange story.  However, if I could walk into their office with an impressive first semester Georgetown GPA, surely they would listen.  I would no longer be anonymous.  If they could see my good grades and how earnest I was, my personal request to receive financial aid would be much stronger.

But first I had to find enough money to get my foot in the door.

My father and his Sixth Grade Pledge was one source of potential money. 

My remaining hopes were pinned on winning a special grant known as the Jesse H. Jones Scholarship.   This scholarship was given to one graduating Senior per year from each high school in the Houston area.  Back in those days, the Jones Scholarship paid a $4,000 total spread out over four years.  In other words, $1,000 per year.  This doesn't seem like much money, but it would have been enough to pay for four years at the University of Texas.  Every day lately I regretted not applying to UT.  Then this problem would be gone.  I had finally begun to wonder why Mr. Salls had not suggested this or why I had so much tunnel vision on Georgetown that I didn't think of it myself.

However, it was too late to apply now, so it was Georgetown or nothing. 

The Jones Scholarship was awarded based on both need and performance.  I really liked my chances of winning this award.  In fact, I considered myself the top candidate.  No, change that.  I assumed I was the ONLY CANDIDATE.  I couldn't even imagine who else they would give it to.  There were no other poor kids in my class that I knew of.  When it came to 'need', I was the poorest kid in the entire school.  What more did it take?

When it came to 'performance', I was in the Top Five of my class.  It seemed to me that my level of need and the quality of my performance formed an unbeatable combination.  But I dared not count on the scholarship until it was in my hands.  I worried about getting that scholarship day and night. 

Although $1,000 per year wasn't nearly enough to solve my Georgetown money problems, it was a good start.  I also assumed winning this grant would make it easier to persuade a Georgetown financial aid officer that I was a needy student no matter how much money my father made.  Winning this scholarship would go a long way towards overcoming my Deadbeat Dad handicap because it implied that my own school had nominated me for this award due to my financial problems.  If St. John's believed in me, wouldn't that make it easier for Georgetown to believe in me?

So where did I stand with my Foot in the Door plan?   Studying the college brochures sent to me, college tuition plus room and board would cost $6,000 a year.

 I had already saved $1,000 in grocery store money. 
 I figured I could add another $1,000 working throughout the rest of my Senior year and the coming summer prior to college.
 The $1,000 Jones Scholarship would boost me to $3,000.  Halfway there.

Unfortunately, I was well aware that my plan was still $3,000 short for my first year of college.  Where would the remaining money come from?  Perhaps my father's infamous Sixth Grade Pledge would make up the difference. 

Loans were something I knew nothing about.  I vaguely understood that loans were a possibility, but I was certain one parent would have to be involved.  My father was out of the question and my mother was out of the question.  That didn't leave much, did it?  When I left for college, I was planning on a clean break from both parents.   If loans meant staying beholden to either of them, then forget it.  I intended to be on my own.  Did they give loans to 18 year old kids?  I doubted it.  Loans were not the answer. 

And then I saw it clearly... I didn't need to pay for an entire year of college at once.  I just needed to pay for the First Semester.  That would get my Foot in the Door, Dad's Pledge or not.  But first I had to win the Jones Scholarship. 

The Jones Scholarship was the absolute cornerstone of my plan.  I had to have it.




Dad must have known I was thinking about him.  Out of the blue I received a message that he wanted to see me.  Surely this was it.  It was now February 1968.   I had waited six years for this showdown.  It was time to learn the fate of the Sixth Grade Pledge. 

As I drove to the coffee shop to meet him for lunch, I was intensely curious.  Six years ago Dad had promised to help me pay for college.  Today was the day I would find out.   I actually had no idea what would happen.  I was skeptical and hopeful at the same time. This was my father's chance to finally come through for me.  I needed his help in the worst way imaginable.  Was my father good for his word?

As I walked through the doors at the coffee shop, my heart was thumping.  I was praying that Dad had really put that money into a savings account like he said he would.  If so, the nightmare of how to pay my college tuition would be over.  

The phrase 'hoping against hope' was coined for a situation like this.  Would the father I had always hoped for show up today or would the father he had turned into appear instead?  I expected the latter, but maybe he would surprise me. 

My father was waiting for me in a reception area at the coffee shop.  He stood up and greeted me with the biggest smile on his face.  He shook my hand and gave me a big hug.  Dad was so glad to see me!  

My spirits lifted.  This was a good sign.  Maybe there was hope after all.

A waitress escorted us to a booth.  We sat down across from one another and our eyes locked.  I could barely breathe.  Six years of waiting since the Sixth Grade Pledge and four years of High School Hell had brought us to this moment.  The tension I felt was unbearable.


At this point, Dad reached in his coat pocket and placed $400 in cash on the table. 

I stared at the four $100 bills laying on the table.  I frowned. Did this mean what I thought it meant?

"Dad, what is this for?"

Dad beamed with pride. 

"Look, son, it's Four Hundred Dollars! 

Dick, this is the money I have been saving for your college tuition!  I promised you long ago I would help.  I told you I would help you pay for college and I meant what I said!  This money will help you go to college!"


I stared in disbelief.  The very first thing that crossed my mind was the number 24,000

The tuition at Georgetown was $20,000 for four years.  I estimated another $4,000 for room and board. 

Compared to $24,000, this $400 was a drop in the bucket, maybe 1% of what I would need. 

Instantly the phrase 'everyone but me' starting playing in my brain again.  Every student in my class would be going to college next year but me.  I was sure of it.

For a moment I was bewildered.  Dad was sitting across the table, smiling and exulting with triumph.  Dad was so pumped he looked like he was ready to put on a Indian war bonnet and dance around a campfire. 

What in the hell was my father so damn happy about?  At that moment, I wondered if Dad was playing a joke on me.  Did he have more money that he was hiding in an attempt at building the tension?  If so, it was working.  I was so tense I could hardly stand it.  I began to peer at him for clues.  I couldn't tell.  But I soon surrendered all hope.  This was it.  No more money would be placed on the table. 

So what could this man be thinking?  I knew my father was a born salesman, but even Dad had to know he was stretching it here.

Or maybe not.  Oh my god, look at him!  The man was as proud of himself as he could possibly be thanks to this amazing contribution he had just made.  I could not believe my father was doing a goddamn victory dance over $400!

The way he was grinning from ear to ear, you would think Dad had just won the f...ing Father of the Year contest.   

I was sick.  I was beyond sick.  I was disgusted.  I had planned on getting nasty with him if he disappointed me, but here in crunch time I had just discovered I was far too introverted to confront him.  I didn't say a word.  I just stared at the money dumbfounded.  I wouldn't even touch it.  The money laid there on the table like a Betrayed Kingdom daring me to pick it up.  The money seemed to laugh at me with contempt. 'Ha ha ha, you thought there would be more, didn't you!'

This moment would become the defining image of my father for the rest of my life.  Any time I thought of my father, the image of that $400 would automatically pop into my mind before anything else. 

I should have just slapped him in the face and left.  But I didn't.  Although I was 18 and built like a football linebacker, psychologically I was a dwarf around my father.  I didn't have the guts to confront him.  I hated myself.  For six years, I had vowed I would confront this man if he stiffed me.  It was all false bravado.  Here in crunch time, I had just reverted back to being a feeble child. 

However, to my surprise, I rallied a little.  It took all the courage I had just to mumble a question, but I had to know the answer. 

Stuttering with fear, I whispered, "B-b-but D-d-dad, you said you were saving my St. John's tuition for college.  S-s-shouldn't there be more money?"

Dad's face lit up with the brilliance of July 4th fireworks.  In an instant, I knew he had anticipated my question.  He was just waiting for me to ask.  Dad smiled with warmth and understanding. 

"Well, yes, of course, you're right, Dick.  There was more money."

My ears perked up. "W-w-well, what happened to it?"

"I'm sorry, Dick, but I had to take that money out of your college savings to pay for your skin operations.  It was $2,000 if I remember."

I stared at my father in dumbfounded disbelief.  I could not even say a word.  That comment drove a stake through my heart.

After all I had suffered due to my fractured face... a pariah at my school, unwelcome at parties, no chance of dating, giving up basketball to work a job after school, forced to hide in the shadows for four long years... that comment about college money spent on the skin operations was without a doubt the cruelest thing my father had ever said to me.  

It made me violently sick to discover that my acne operations had dried up my college funds.  Hadn't I suffered enough?  This acne problem truly was the curse that kept on cursing.  I was reminded of the Myth of Sisyphus where some poor jerk could never get ahead no matter how hard he tried.  Just like Sisyphus, surely there must be some similar Curse over me.  There had to be.

While I sat there in complete shock, Dad used my silence as an opening to remind me how tough things were for him financially.  He said when my skin problems hit a couple years ago out of the blue, there was no place he could have turned to for cash that quickly. 

As he talked, all I could think about was how expensive it had to be sending my half-brother to Briarwood School and my half-sister to costly Kinkaid.  Gee, with those kind of obligations, no wonder it was so hard for him!  Plus that home in the prestigious Memorial area of town must cost a pretty penny as well.  All those taxes and civic fees.  Plus that fancy car to make the neighbors envious.  Living with the best can't be cheap, no doubt about that. 

As my father rambled on and on about all his problems, I focused on that promise he had made to help me with college back in the 6th grade.  In six years since that promise, Dad had amassed the princely sum of four hundred dollars.  What's that, six bucks a month?  A command performance!  Heck, even Mom could have done better than that and she was dead broke.

Dad had more to say.  Just in case there was any flicker of hope left in me, Dad made sure it was lights out.  He had time for one final shove on that stake he had stuck in my heart.

Dad said that unless he got a raise and things dramatically improved in his finances, this $400
was going to be his one and only contribution towards my college education.

Now if that didn't take the cake.  This man might actually be the most pathetic father of them all.   The disgust I felt in this moment was overpowering.  I was incredulous.  How was it possible for me to have the lowest possible expectation for this man and still be disappointed beyond my wildest imagination?

The life drained out of me.  What good would it do to tell him what I thought of him?  I stood up.  Then I reached over and picked up the $400.  It made me sick just to touch it, but I needed whatever I could get. 

I said, "Thanks, Dad.  Sorry, but I have to leave early today.  I have a paper at school I have to finish.  I appreciate the money."

That was that.  I knew it was rude to leave, but I had no appetite for a meal or further bullshit excuses.  What's done is done.  If he said one more word about how poor he was, I might scream at him.  What was the point of sticking around and losing my temper? 

I got up and left my father sitting there.  I cannot imagine what he was thinking.  He was probably happy I left.  He didn't want to be here any more than I did.

As I drove away in my beat-up VW Bug, I seethed.  I was angry growing angrier, incensed and insulted.  Then out of the blue, my anger vanished.  Something shifted.  I realized that I was more hurt than anything else.  To be brutally honest, I half-expected something like this would happen all along.  What hurt the most was that I was right all along.  I did not think today's scenario was possible, but some sort of premonition had warned me.

I had hoped against hope my assessment of the man was too harsh.  Now it really hurt to see I had my father pegged all along.  And with that, all remaining illusions as to my father's concern for me died.  After six years of waiting, I finally knew who my father was to the core. 

I looked at the $400 again.  The four bills were laying on the passenger's seat where I had thrown them in disgust.  This money had just become the everlasting symbol of my father's ultimate snub.

There was something about that $400 that bugged me, so I did some quick math.  Dad had stopped paying child support after October.  That left November, December, January, and now February.  Four months times $100 equals $400.

A dark possibility crossed my mind.  Maybe Dad didn't want Stepmother to know he had given the Forbidden Child any money at all.  How closely did she supervise his finances?  So he had just pretended to keep paying my $100 child support for the past four months and converted the money to four one-hundred dollar bills.  Stepmother probably had no idea when my child support ended or maybe she had forgotten when my birthday was. 

Clever.  I told you my father was smart.

And then it hit.  In all those years, my father had never saved a dime.  There was never any savings account.  That was all a bunch of bullshit.  Dad simply collected that $400 over the past four months and pretended it was my college pledge money.  How pathetic.  I could not believe the ease with which this man could lie to me with a straight face.

Now my defiance drained out of me.  I felt my world collapsing.  What in the hell was wrong with me?  What did I ever do to my father to deserve to be treated this way?

I bet every father at my school would be ecstatic to have a child pull down the kind of grades I made.  I bet every father at my school would thrilled to see his son or daughter go out and get a job on his own after school. 

Not my father.  My father treated me like I was worthless.  Okay, so maybe I didn't have any mechanical ability, but it wasn't like I was useless.  I had other talents.  I had drive, I had ambition.  Didn't that count for something?  Did he have any idea how hard I tried, how hard I studied?  Did he even begin to understand what I had to overcome on a daily basis?

What did I have to do to get my father to show some pride in me? 

His indifferent attitude made no sense at all.  Why did my father think so little of me?

To me, after the promise he had made years ago about helping me with college, giving me this $400 was the single worst insult of my life.  My father had no earthly idea of the struggle I was going through right now to pay for college.  Nor did he care.

That was it, wasn't it?  My father didn't care.

Now I began to cry.  It is a good thing I was still able to cry because it was the only thing that kept me from turning into a monster. 

The money problem was depressing enough, but most of all I wondered why my own father didn't love me. 




My father's $400 bombshell sent me reeling.  I knew my father was frugal where I was concerned.  I also warned myself not to get my hopes up too high.  However, my worst expectation had not prepared me for this final salute to my worthlessness as his child.

Checking myself back into school, I went to the beautiful school library and found a corner where I could be alone.  I stared into space as I mulled over father's revelation that my two skin operations, the one good deed he had ever done for me that wasn't legally mandated, had been deducted from his college donation.  So much for his voluntary generosity. 

My father claimed the skin smoothing operations had cost somewhere around $2,000.  My memory told me each operation cost $1,000, so the $2,000 quote made sense.  But I remembered something else as well.  Where did that $260 figure come from, the supposed cost of the third operation?  I decided to check it out. 

That night I actually talked to my mother for the first time in ages.  "Mom, I have a question.  I spoke with my father today.  He said something about my medical insurance that doesn't add up.  Will you explain it to me again?"

"Your father's insurance has a $200 deductible and an 80-20 split after that.  In other words, after the initial $200 outlay, his insurance paid 80% of the remaining $1,000 for the first operation.  Your father was charged $360.  For the second operation, since he had already met the deductible once, your second operation cost $200.  Your father once told me he paid $500 something for your two operations."

I nodded.  "That math adds up.  Now tell me again what my father was obligated to do regarding my skin operations."


"Your father was legally responsible for all medical bills.  You were covered by his company insurance plan."

"In other words, to some extent Dad was lawfully obligated to help me repair my face?"


I asked, "So what was the extent of his responsibility on the third operation I did not receive?"

"Your father and I never talked.  However, I imagine he consider that third one a judgment call.  It was cosmetic surgery, so it was his judgment against the doctor's judgment.  I doubt anyone could force him to do the third operation."

"When his deductible ran out, do you remember what would the third operation have cost?"

"I suppose a new $200 plus 20% of the remaining $800.  What is that?"

"No, that is wrong.  If you recall, the doctor was so convinced that one more operation would do the trick, he offered to do the operation for half-price.  So the third operation would have cost $500.  My father's outlay would be $200 plus 20% of $300.  My father refused my third operation because $260 was too much for him.  Does that sound right to you?"

My mother looked at math on the paper.  "Yes, I suppose $260 is correct."

"Thank you, Mom."

I called to Terry and we went for a walk.  I was angry.  Incensed.  My father claimed to have removed $2,000 from my college fund.  Not only did he lie about that, I recalled how the cheapskate wouldn't even pay for the discounted final operation. 

Now I knew the truth.  In the six years following his Sixth Grade Pledge, I doubted the man had put a single dime into savings for me.  At lunch today, my father had lied to my face.  I was sure of it.  More than likely, my father figured the day had finally come to get his Pledge over with, so what was the easiest way to get me off his back?

Dad simply converted the discontinued child support payments into $400 of cash his wife didn't know about.  By handing me cash, he could escape his wife's wrath and get rid of me at the same time.  In case I protested, he practiced his cock and bull story about the skin operations ahead of time and figured I was too stupid to figure any of it out.  Besides, even if I did figure it out, what difference did it make?  He had no legal obligation to me.  I was on my own now.  He was rid of me.


The sting would not go away.  My world turned blacker than usual.  Ironically, shortly after this I got news that all three of my college applications had been accepted.  Big deal. 

What should have been a joyous moment for me was completely negated by the fact that I had absolutely no idea how to pay for any of these colleges. 

Actually I was too numb to even care about college right now.  The pain of being treated so coldly by my father ripped my heart out.  My father had bought me off for $400 and a bald-faced lie.

Here is what bothered me.  My father had once loved me. 

Why had he stopped loving me?  It made no sense.  I knew I wasn't the most likeable kid in the world, but my teachers thought I was okay.  What would cause him to turn his back?

At this point, I hit a major tailspin.  The world hated me, so I hated the world right back. 







  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




Written by Rick Archer




My father's rejection sent me plummeting.  I thought I was taking my anger out on the world, but I was taking my anger out on myself.

I had become a law unto myself.  No one could tell me anything unless I was in the mood to listen.  I had stopped listening to my mother.  I completely tuned my Calculus teacher out.  I argued with my grocery store manager at work so much that I was on the verge of getting fired.  Mr. Murphy ordered me to Penalty Hall with alarming regularity.  Due to the bitterness in me, my smart mouth was making enemies at every turn.  What was the point of behaving?  No one liked me anyway.

Junior year had been a breeze for me, but here in my Senior year I was out of sorts.  I had once been the most conscientious student in the school, but I was shocked to discover my heart wasn't in my studies any more.  I just wanted to graduate and get out of this place. 

A prime candidate for my Me Against the World attitude was Senior Chemistry.  This was a mandatory Senior-year class for anyone who had avoided science throughout high school.  That would include me.  I hated science classes like the plague.  I wasn't interested in the material.  I didn't want to know how a battery worked.  I knew how to put a battery in a flash light.  As long as the battery worked, that's all I cared about. 

My attitude towards Chemistry was straight out of the movie Peggy Sue Got Married.  Peggy Sue is a grown woman who is magically transported back to high school.  One day she hands in a blank Algebra test. 

Her teacher asked what the meaning of this was.  Peggy Sue replied, "Well, sir, I happen to know that in the future I will not have the slightest use for algebra, and I speak from experience."

However, unlike Calculus where I struggled, I thrived in this class.  Despite my inherent dislike for ions, acids, and redox reactions, I would go on to score a 90 for the year in this course.  And then of course I promptly forgot everything I learned the moment I graduated. 

So how does a disinterested kid make an A- in a course he doesn't like?  The answer is that I studied very hard.  I actually surprised myself with the depth of my effort considering I absolutely couldn't stand this stuff. 

And what miracle can explain my performance?  It was simple.  What a difference a teacher makes!  One teacher reached the Porcupine, the other teacher found the Puppy Dog.  I really liked Mr. MacKeith, my teacher.  He was one of the finest instructors I ever had.  How he managed to keep my attention was a testimony to this man's immense talent as an educator.  Not once did I ever surprise myself and find the information interesting, but I worked hard in his class anyway simply out of respect for the man.

If Mr. MacKeith had bossed me around or ordered me to pay attention, I would have tuned him out and turned in the same lukewarm effort I did in Calculus.  Instead, once I saw how passionate Mr. MacKeith was about his subject, I developed a respect for him pretty much identical to the same respect I had for Mr. Salls.  I gave my best effort in his class for one simple reason - I chose to.  


However, I absolutely drew the line at memorization. 

I hated memorizing stuff I knew I would forget the moment I left high school and would never need again.  What a complete and utter waste of time!  If I wanted to know something, I could just look it up. 

So when it came time to memorize the Periodic Tables of the elements in science class, I rebelled.  For the first time in my life, I decided to cheat. 

I wrote the entire Table down on a piece of paper and copied it onto my test.  I didn't feel the slightest shred of guilt.  Due to the cheat sheet, I finished my test early.  Now I sat back and stared at my teacher.

Mr. MacKeith spent the entire test hour reading a book.  He never once looked up.  I should know because I had studied his behavior enough times to realize how predictable he was.  Mr. MacKeith trusted us.


My teacher trusted us... that was the thought that kept running through my mind.  This was a moment very similar to the time when Mr. Ocker had said "Please don't steal from us again."  As I watched Mr. MacKeith continue reading, I was full of regret.  I didn't exactly feel what I had done was wrong, but I didn't like knowing that this man had trusted me either.

I wrestled with my conscience quite a bit over my mixed feelings.  I finally admitted that I felt guilty.  I did not want to cheat again in his class. 

From this point on, I memorized whatever I was told to memorize.  That didn't mean I had to like it, but I did it anyway... because I respected Mr. MacKeith.

There was a curious story not long after this incident that reflects the depths my life had sunk to. 

The Holy Roller organ music from across the street seriously interfered with my ability to study for the entire school year.  I found it impossible to memorize with that awful noise blaring.

Then to my consternation, just when things couldn't possibly get worse, now came the mariachi and ranchero music.  I thought I would go insane.  I had no patience for this distraction, but what was I supposed to do, throw a fit?


I had tried throwing a fit at Christmas time and my mother hadn't spoken to me since.  No, that wouldn't work.  I soldiered on, but fumed the entire time.  One night in January the combination of the organ music and mariachi music forced me to find a highly unusual solution to my inability to study Chemistry. 

It was a Thursday evening. I had a Chemistry test at 8 am in the morning.  When I got home, I was already exhausted from my grocery store job and I dreaded the Chemistry test.  As always, I waited till the last minute to study, but I was in trouble.  There was a tremendous amount of noise from across the street and Linda's Hispanic music was drifting in from the room next door.  I turned my own radio on as well, but that just made it worse.  Now my own radio distracted me.   

As an only child, I had never learned how to tune out distractions.  I needed complete silence to study, especially when it was material I wasn't very interested in.  Due to the blaring noise and the ghastly shrieks, I wasn't getting anywhere studying for my Chemistry test.  Plus I was falling asleep.  Unable to concentrate, how was I ever going to get ready for this Chemistry test?  

I remembered how easily I had cheated on the Chemistry test once before.  Now I was facing more memorization and I was sorely tempted to try it again.  However, I had felt so guilty afterwards that I didn't want to do it again.  My respect for Mr. MacKeith had grown to the point that I could not force myself to take this route a second time. 

But what could I do?  Studying here in my noisy house was impossible.  I had an odd idea.  Why not go to sleep now, get up very early in the morning, go to school and study in some quiet room before class?

So that's what I did.  I got to St. John's at 6 am.  The place was deserted.  Not even the janitors were there.  I wandered through the halls of the huge Science building looking for a quiet place to settle.  To my dismay, I found that the library door was locked.  Study Hall was locked.  All the doors to the classrooms were locked.  Great.  Now what? 

As I explored the Science Building, I noticed a faculty restroom located at the very end of the long hallway on the second floor of the Chemistry building.  Since it was located in the most remote corner of the building, I had never been in this section of the building before.  I assumed a restroom door would not be kept locked and I was right.  I opened the door and poked my nose in. 

Perfect.  The restroom was small, but that didn't matter.  It was totally quiet and completely secluded.  That's all I cared about.

I took another look at the sign on the door. "Faculty Restroom Only". 

Do I follow the rule or defy it?  Well, there wasn't any other place to go and I was running out of time.  Desperate times call for desperate measures.  I broke the rule and went in.

There was one immediate problem.  I could either sit on the toilet seat or I could lay down on the cold tile floor on my side with my head propped up in one hand.  I tried both and decided laying on the cold floor worked better.  So I spread out, laid on my stomach and put my book under my nose. 

At first I worried that someone might use the restroom, but no one came in.  I eventually stopped thinking about it and settled down.  That extra chance to study turned the corner.  In the solitude, I was able to completely lock in.  With the cram session material fresh in my mind, I did well on the test.  I was proud of myself.  My strange trick had worked like a charm. 

Thanks to the ongoing noise problem at my house, I did the same thing again two weeks later for the next test.  That was the start of a tradition.  Every Friday morning before a Chemistry exam, I would get to school early, cram like the devil and ace the test.  

I did this for two solid months. 


One morning about ten minutes before class started, the restroom door suddenly opened.  I was so immersed in my studies that I was completely startled by the interruption. 

I screamed at the top of my lungs in fear.

At the sound of my banshee wail, poor Mr. MacKeith jumped back like he had seen a ghost!  Now he was screaming too!!  He quickly slammed the door shut in fear. 

Standing outside in the hall, Mr. MacKeith had no idea what had just happened.  When he first opened the door, he had caught a fleeting glimpse of what had to be a dead body lying on the restroom floor.  Then that body had suddenly come to life and screamed at him.  Of course his fear instincts had kicked in. 

Mr. MacKeith steeled his nerves and decided to open the door again. 

Meanwhile, I was panic-stricken.  Oh no!  I had just scared my teacher out of his wits!   

Full of adrenaline and fearful of the trouble I was surely in, I bolted up off the floor.  I arose just as Mr. MacKeith reopened the door to investigate. 

There I was pale as a ghost.  Mr. MacKeith's eyes grew huge.  I began to apologize profusely.  I swore I would never do this again.  I admitted I had no business being in here.


I was so nervous I could not stop talking. 

Mr. MacKeith finally put both hands up as if to ask me to hush up for a second.  

He said, "Mr. Archer, please calm down.  It is okay.  I am not mad at you.  We will both somehow survive this moment.  Now, will you please explain what you are doing?"

I told him about my noise problem at home and confessed that I had been studying in this little restroom for several months. 

I was so worried.  I was certain I was going to be suspended.  After all, this was a faculty-only restroom.  I was definitely off-limits.

Finally Mr. MacKeith nodded.  He put his hands up again to signal he had heard enough.  I got the message and stopped talking.

Mr. MacKeith smiled at me and said, "Mr. Archer, it is not a crime to be sitting on a restroom floor.  A bit unusual, perhaps, but not a violation.  And yes, this is a faculty restroom, but I am the only person who uses it.  You have my permission to continue.  From now on, I will just knock first to save us both the trouble of screaming again.  Now please get to class.  Your test starts in five minutes and I have business to attend to."

I sprinted to my classroom.  My heart was still racing.  I could not believe Mr. MacKeith had let me off the hook.  I knew I broken a rule.  Why didn't he punish me?

Mr. MacKeith never said another word.  Nor did he ever use that restroom again on test days. 

From that point on, I practically worshipped the man.  To his students, he was no-nonsense instructor, but for a moment there he had dropped his stern teacher's mask to reveal that he was a really great guy.  The fact that he gave me permission to continue to study in there shocked me and thrilled me at the same time. 

The gracefulness with which Mr. MacKeith handled this highly embarrassing situation speaks volumes about the man's dignity.  I appreciated the mercy he showed me no end.

I dedicate my A- in Senior Chemistry to his memory.  I worked hard in his class because I respected him immensely.




Not long after the Ghost on the Toilet Floor incident, I was called into the Headmaster's Office.  I turned white as I entered the room. 

There was Mr. Salls, Headmaster, Mr. Murphy, Dean of the Upper School, Mr. Lee, Head of the athletic department, and Mr. Osborn, Mr. Lee's second in command.  These were the four most important administrators at St. John's.  

They all had a frown on their faces and they all had their arms crossed.  This didn't look good.  Oddly enough, I didn't have the slightest idea what I had done wrong.  However, I knew I was in trouble for something. 

Mr. Lee spoke first.  "Mr. Archer, will you please explain to us why you have two hundred dollars worth of unauthorized St. John's sports equipment in the back seat of your car?"

Uh oh.  My heart sank to my stomach.  Now I knew.  Busted.

It was true that I kept St. John's sports equipment in my car.  I used it for my after-school basketball adventures. 

So how was I caught?  


I drove a Volkswagen Bug to school, a cheap used car I had bought with my grocery store money.  I was too embarrassed to park this sad little car next to the shiny new GTOs and Mustangs of the rich kids over in the student parking lot. 

Instead I always parked the car in a spot across the street next to the athletic department where no one would notice that this pathetic car belonged to me.  I didn't want anyone giving me a hard time about my unimpressive vehicle.

I suppose one morning somebody in the athletic office had parked their car next to mine.  They had noticed the stuff laying in my back seat, then said something to Coach Lee.  Then they figured out the car belonged to me.


It wasn't hard to know where this stuff came from... there were several red and white tee-shirts with the SJS logo plainly visible.  In addition, there were two expensive leather basketballs that had "SJS" clearly printed on them.  There was other stuff too.  Softballs, gym shorts, gym socks, you name it.  All of it was laying there in plain sight in the back seat.  Not only that, I left the windows rolled down to help the clothes dry out after playing basketball.  Anyone could open the door and inspect it with their own hands if they wanted to. 

Now I was facing the four most important administrators in the school.  They wanted an explanation.

Since I had not asked for permission, these men had every reason to ask why that equipment was in my car.  

I told the men that I was just 'borrowing' the stuff.  I fully intended to return it.  If I wanted to steal it, then why would I leave it completely visible in my unlocked car next to the Athletic Department? 

That argument had one advantage - it was the truth.  I told the men I had not bothered to conceal the equipment because I intended to return it at the end of the school year. 

'So what was it doing there?', they asked.

I explained that I played pickup basketball two or three afternoons a week after school.  I would drive to different public gyms around the city looking for pickup basketball games. 

'So why not use your own clothes?', they asked.  'Why do you borrow St. John's gym clothes instead?

I explained I had been recycling St. John's gym equipment for several months now.  I admitted I did this because I did not feel like washing my own clothes.  It was very embarrassing to admit I was too lazy to wash my own clothes, but I confessed this was reason I borrowed the clothes. 

In a manner similar to Mr. MacKeith's consternation over why I studied on a bathroom floor, these men looked at each in confusion.  They had never heard of a St. John's student who responsible for washing his own clothes before.

I decided the less I said the better.  I did not tell them my hatred of the basketball coach had prevented me from going out for the team last Fall.  Nor did I tell them about the fight with my mother back in December which had resulted in becoming responsible for doing my own laundry.  What I didn't tell them was wearing SJS gym equipment was my pitiful way of representing my school.  I felt more regret over giving up basketball at St. John's than I could possibly imagine. 

However, the acne crisis had ended those dreams.  Now I refused to give up my Weingarten's grocery store salary to play basketball for a man I despised.  Instead every free afternoon, I drove around the city looking for public gyms in search of good competition.  Fonde Recreation Center, Denver Harbor, Godwin Park, Freed Park, and Stude Park were my usual haunts.  Wherever there was a public gym with a basketball court, I would visit it.  And every day I would proudly wear the SJS logo on my tee-shirt.


In my heart I felt tremendous school pride.  I was a St. John's Rebel through and through.  But in all these years, I never had the chance to prove my love for my school to the other students. 

In my Senior year, I had agonized over keeping my Weingarten's job or going out for the basketball team.  In the end, it all boiled down to desperation.  As desperate as I was to show off my ability, I was more desperate to find a way to pay for college.

Given my concerns, the correct choice was to keep my grocery store job.  However, even though I knew I had made the right decision, it crushed me to give up this chance.  My disappointment was overwhelming.  I had a deep sense of regret I just couldn't seem to shake. 

Once I decided to skip going out for the team, my bitterness knew no limit.  Heartbroken, I continued to play basketball at the city gyms.  Wearing the SJS school gym uniform was my only solace.  Every time I played pick-up basketball, I revisited the pain of skipping something that meant a lot to me.  I would look at my SJS tee-shirt and pretend I was in the starting line-up for my school team.  But how was I supposed to explain such a pathetic story to these four men without shaming myself?


Now, however, looking at the stern faces of these four administrators, I still didn't have the strength to tell them this story. 

Nor did I have the courage to confess I didn't dare wash my own clothes at home because that would give my mother the satisfaction of knowing she had forced me to give in.  During that fateful yelling match in December, my mother snapped at me and suggested it was time I learned how to wash my own clothes.  Due to my anger at her, I didn't want to give her the satisfaction of seeing me wash my own clothes.  I decided I had a better idea.  Why not borrow clean gym clothes from St. John's?  The chip on my shoulder was in full bloom at this point.  I was mad at everyone...  the basketball coach, my classmates for their wonderful lives, my grocery store manager, and of course my mother as well.

I bet the other St. John's kids didn't have to wash their own clothes, so why should I have to?

So I made the dubious decision to sneak clean SJS gym clothes out and dirty gym clothes in.  Let St. John's do my wash for me.

And a couple basketballs followed me out as well.  I knew what I was doing was questionable.  I justified my actions by saying my classmates had everything taken care of for them.  This would be my own special privilege.  Thank you, St. John's, for loaning me these basketballs to practice with.   I would return the basketballs when I graduate and leave for college.

"Gentlemen, if I am guilty of anything, it is bad judgment.  I didn't think of my actions as stealing.  I 'borrowed' that equipment.  After all, I left all that equipment in my car in plain view right next to the Athletic Department with my doors unlocked.  If someone saw it, all they had to do was say something.  When no one said anything, I assumed it was okay."

"How long has this been going on?"

"Two months.  Ever since Christmas.  In fact, when you confronted me today, I had no idea what you were upset about.  I have been doing this for so long I no longer give it a second thought.  This explains why I had no idea what I was in trouble for when I first walked into the office."

"So tell us again why you did this?"

I didn't think explaining my grudge against the basketball coach would help win my case.  No, I probably shouldn't bring that up.

I didn't really want them to know about the pride I felt at wearing a tee-shirt with an SJS logo on it.  That embarrassed me.

I didn't think explaining that since the other kids got their clothes washed for them, I should too.  Probably not a good idea.

I didn't think telling them about the fight with my mother was a good idea either.

Unable or unwilling to share the full truth, I decided to blame the decision on my 'immaturity' which was actually the correct thing to say. 

"I 'borrowed' the clothes because I was too lazy to wash my own clothes.  It was more convenient just to swap out dirty clothes for clean clothes. The way I looked at it, what difference does it make to the school?  Who would care if I used a few clean gym clothes for my own purpose?  You have a ton of laundry to do every night, so I figured what was the harm of taking advantage and saving myself the effort?  If you intend to punish me for being immature and lazy, you have every right to do so, but I was not stealing that equipment.  I fully intended to return it all when school ended.  The clothes were laying there in plain sight right next to the athletic office and the door was unlocked.  That isn't exactly how a thief operates, yes??   If I wanted to steal, I would have kept the loot hidden."

As I stood in the Headmaster's Office with these four administrators staring at me in exasperation, having all that gym equipment in my back seat didn't seem like a very good idea any more.  So would they think I stole the clothes or would they accept my explanation that I borrowed the clothes and the basketballs? 

The four men listened in complete silence.  I noticed they kept fidgeting in their chairs.  I could tell they had trouble making sense of the strange story I was telling them.  They seemed puzzled.  I think they sensed there was something I had not told them. 

Coach Lee knew me well.  He was a good man who commanded my complete respect.  Coach Lee was the head football coach and the man who had explained how worried he was that I would get hurt playing football.  With such a limited enrollment in our small school, he could have used a big, strong boy like me on his team.  However, my welfare was more important to him.  I long admired Coach Lee for doing the right thing.

Once I accepted that I should not play, Coach Lee accepted my offer to keep the varsity football statistics.  I traveled with the team to all their games and tracked the yards gained on every play.  I had been doing this for four years and had been extremely reliable.  So Mr. Lee had developed a quiet appreciation for me.

In addition, Mr. Lee and Mr. Osborn knew I was telling the truth about the pick-up basketball.  For the past four years they had watched me play basketball in the physical education classes they supervised.  By my Senior year, I was virtually a one-man team.  No one in P.E. class could check me.  Mr. Lee asked me how I had developed such a deadly shot.  After I explained that I had been practicing non-stop since the 8th grade, he asked me why I didn't play varsity basketball.  I explained my job after school and he just sort of nodded. 

I think Coach Lee was well I had serious problems at home.   So as my fate hung in the air, I watched Coach Lee in particular.  I had the feeling the final decision was his.  Mr. Lee had the oddest look on his face.   Mr. Lee glanced at Mr. Osborn several times as if to say, "Are you getting this?" 

What I think passed between the coaches was a suspicion that there was more to this story than I was saying.  Well, they were right, but I wasn't going to humiliate myself with some pathetic explanation of how this was mostly related to my anguish over skipping varsity basketball, my issues with my mother, my intense dislike for the basketball coach, and my unfulfilled school pride. 

Telling this sad story would have improved my chances of exoneration, but the cost to my pride would have been immense.  I decided I would take my chances with the partial story.   As it was, I got the impression these men were at a complete loss to know what to do with me.  When I finished my story, I was dismissed from the office.  Obviously the four men were going to talk it over.   I had such a sense of dread in me.  I expected the worst.  Surely I would be suspended.

If they decided to suspend me, I would accept the punishment wordlessly.  I felt I had done something wrong. 

Suspension could have been easily justified, especially with Mr. Murphy in the room.  I had been arguing with this man non-stop for the past two years.  Once Murphy pointed out my continued defiance of his authority and my frequent visits to Detention Hall, it would be obvious to the other three men that I was in great need of more serious measures of discipline.  This gym equipment issue offered the men the perfect opportunity to lay down the law once and for all.  I assumed I was doomed.

Later that day, Mr. Lee approached me in the hallway.  He told me to return the clothes and the basketballs and to not do this again. There would be no punishment.  All I had to do was promise I would not repeat this mistake. 

Don't worry about that!  After the terror I had experienced facing these four men earlier in the day, I would never dream of doing it again.

Mr. Lee walked away and then stopped to look at me.  With a hurt expression on his face, he said, "You know, all you had to do was ask permission."  Then he turned and kept going. 

I was astonished.  Just like Mr. MacKeith, they had let me off the hook.  I was mystified.  I had a hard time believing I had only received a slap on the wrist.  So I got off scot free.

That afternoon as I cleared the equipment out my car, I gave it some serious thought.  Why did they choose not to punish me?  My sense of justice said that I deserved at least some sort of punishment for taking those clothes.  This school had a strong reputation for discipline.  I had been at this school for nine years so I knew about incidents where other kids had been suspended for various offenses.  Therefore I knew that discipline was a reality, not a myth.  I could not figure out why I had gotten the kid glove treatment when other kids got suspended. 

First Mr. MacKeith had let me off the hook.  Now Mr. Lee had let me off the hook.  Why were they going so easy on me? 




At the end of February, I was caught cheating on a German test. 

The events of December with my mother and January with my father had caused me to snap.   My mind was saturated with depression and bitterness.  I wasn't thinking clearly anymore.  Like reckless driving, sometimes when you can't hurt the people you are mad at, you hurt yourself instead.  All that anger has to go somewhere.

German was my best subject bar none.  Nevertheless, I decided to cheat on one of the tests.  In a situation similar to the Chemistry test I had cheated on, I was expected to memorize material that I thought was a total waste of time.

I saw a perfect opportunity to cheat.  One day in February 1968 I was allowed to take a makeup German exam in a room by myself.  I had missed the test because I had called in sick.  I wasn't sick, but I was incredibly pissed off at the world. 

On a Sunday night at Little Mexico, Manuel, the little two-year old kid, hurt Terry in some way.  I didn't see it happen, but I heard Terry's yelp of pain down in the living room.  I ran out of my bedroom and down the stairs in a flash.  Terry came to me instantly for protection.  Terry was shaking. 

As I held my dog, I could see the little boy was crying profusely.  However, the boy did not look hurt.  I had never seen Terry bite anyone and there were certainly no bite marks on the child.  I think the little boy was crying because Terry's howl of pain had scared him.  I was certain the boy had done something to hurt my dog, so I was really angry

I wasn't the only one who was angry.  The boy's father was furious.  Enrique, Manuel's father, didn't see it either.  He came barreling down the stairs right behind me.  He was very upset because his little boy was crying. 

My mother heard the sound too and rushed into the living room.  In Spanish, Enrique spoke excitedly to my mother and pointed at Terry.  I had no idea what he was saying because it was in Spanish, but no doubt he accused Terry of biting his kid.  

Raising my voice, I told my mother, "Terry didn't bite that kid.  There's not a mark on that boy.  I say that kid hurt the dog and you know it."

My mother barked, "For once, Richard, can we please skip the argument?  The kid will live.  Just take Terry upstairs and be done with it."

I looked at my mother incredulously.  Why wasn't she sticking up for the dog to Enrique?  Why wasn't she chewing out Enrique for not supervising that spoiled brat?  If I knew any Spanish, I would give this guy a piece of my mind.  However, due to the language barrier, I didn't see the point of sticking around.  In a huff, I took the dog upstairs and slammed the door. 

That didn't mean my anger went away.  I was very upset.  In fact, I was so upset I couldn't settle down enough to study for my German test.  I just sat on my bed with Terry and seethed.  No one hurts my dog.  I wanted to lash back in the worst way. 

The next morning I called in sick to school.  I was in a really bad mood.  I still angry at my father over the recent $400 incident.  Maybe I needed to cool a little, so I took the day off.  Not only did this allow me to protect my dog in case Enrique was in the mood for revenge, it allowed to finish studying for the German test without the organ music or ranchero music.

It was just as well that I stayed home.  I was worn out.  My worries about paying for college wore me out.  My envy and bitterness towards my classmates wore me out.  My home life in Little Mexico wore me out.  My problems with Calculus wore me out.  The holy roller music wore me out.  The mariachi music wore me out.  Studying for Chemistry tests on a bathroom floor wore me out.  Arguing with my grocery manager at my after-school job wore me out.  My bitterness towards both parents wore me out.  Skipping basketball upset me no end.  My loneliness wore me out.  My bitterness over my disfigured face wore me out.

You name it, it wore me out.  My life was crumbling around me one piece at a time.  I was scared.  The stress I felt was unreal.  I knew I was losing control.  I hated the world and the world could care less. 

The next day, as expected, Mrs. Anderson allowed me to take the German test on my own.  I met her that afternoon in our regular German classroom.  She handed the test to me, then left.  Since Mrs. Anderson liked me, I doubted seriously she would return.

I had decided to cheat today.  I had cheated once before in Chemistry.  Afterwards I had decided I would never cheat again... in Chemistry.  Today I had decided to cheat again because the world was being mean to me and I was entitled to a break.  I knew there was no chance of being caught, so I was going to make a statement.  I, Rick Archer, was entitled to skip being forced to memorize stupid stuff that I would never need later in life.

For this test I was supposed to memorize the names and the most famous works of great German authors such as Wolfgang Goethe, Thomas Mann, Hermann Hesse, and Gunter Grass.  Oh, and let us not forget Friedrich Nietzsche, my favorite philosopher because he had such a cynical view of life.  Although I liked discussing these men in class, in my opinion, this wasn't German.  This was Literature. 

The Literature portion of the test was worth 20 points out of 100.  Here is what is ironic about my decision.  Just in case I was asked to take the test in study hall, I had studied this part too.  Therefore I was cheating for the sake of cheating, not because I needed to.  Even though I knew most of the names anyway because we had covered them in class, I had decided to cheat on this portion of the test for the sheer reason that I was angry at the world. 

Since memorization was a total waste of my valuable time, why bother memorizing this stuff when I knew I would forget it for the rest of my life?  Due to all the problems in my life, I was entitled to cut a corner.  So I decided to cheat as a form of protest. 

I might add that this was the perfect opportunity for my protest because I knew I would be totally alone.


Our German classroom was located upstairs in the most deserted corner of the school.  Being upstairs, there was literally no passing traffic.  This eliminated any chance of accidental discovery.  There was no reason for anyone to visit this room.

As I took my test, I sat all by myself behind a closed door in a remote room.  It was late in the afternoon and there was complete silence.  I was certain I would hear anyone coming because they had to climb the stairs to get here. 

The situation offered an effortless opportunity to cheat.   All I had to do was open the book.

As usual, I handled the vocabulary segment and the translation segment of the test without problem.  Yes, I had studied for this part.  I didn't need to cheat.  I was good at German. 

Half an hour passed.  Not a sound.  Okay, this was as good a time as any.  Why not?  It would take about three minutes to copy the names.  So I simply pulled out the book and began copying the list. 

At the exact moment I opened my book to the section on German authors, a German classmate named Bob opened the door and walked in.  No warning, no knock... Bob just threw open the door and barged in. 

Had Bob knocked before entering, I could have closed my book.  No such luck.  He took me totally by surprise.  I was incredulous.  Why didn't I hear him coming?

Bob froze the moment he saw me.  By his startled expression, I could see that Bob had no idea anyone was in here. 


Bob immediately apologized to me. 

"I am so sorry to barge in like this!  I went to Study Hall with German homework to do, but I couldn't find my book.  The last place I saw was in this room during German class earlier in the day.  Sorry I didn't knock.  I didn't expect anyone to be in here." 

At that moment, Bob noticed my open book and his expression changed in a flash.  Something didn't look right to him.

I quickly closed my open book.  Bob could not possibly see what chapter I was on.  I wasn't exactly caught red-handed, but my hands were definitely dark pink.  The way I rapidly closed that book was definitely suspicious.  I remember the puzzled look on Bob's face; he was not sure what he had seen. 

Bob quickly grabbed his missing book from his desk and left the room without further word.  Once Bob closed the door, I sat there stunned.  I didn't know if Bob would report me, but I definitely did not like the look on his face.   

How was this even possible?  This was only the second time in my life I had ever cheated.   I was completely alone in a small upstairs room in the furthest, most remote corner of the school.  There was at most a narrow three-minute window for someone to catch me.  No one but Mrs. Anderson knew I was in here and she didn't care. 

So how was it possible that in this brief flicker of time someone would walk in?  Bob had come out of nowhere! 

Did Mrs. Anderson send Bob?  Very unlikely.  Why would she involve a student when she could just come herself.  Besides, Bob was totally shocked to find me in there.  The look on his face was complete surprise.  No, this was an accident, I was sure of it.

Bob had caught me cheating by accident. 

As I calculated the odds of his appearance, I was befuddled.  This was a 1,000 to 1 shot.  Bob had no business being here in the first place... that was strange enough.  But how did he manage to walk in at the exact moment to catch me?  And why didn't I hear him coming considering I was on high alert? 

This was a coincidence of the highest magnitude.  This moment defied all laws of probability. 

The more I thought about Bob's sudden appearance, the more I was convinced Bob was meant to catch me.  I didn't have the slightest idea what mechanisms were in play, but this incident had an otherworldly feel to it that I could not shake.  (Indeed, in Hindsight this coincidence was so astounding that I will list it as Supernatural Event #8 with a 4 Star Rating.)

Now my mind turned to assess the damage.   I moped around school for the rest of the day with the darkest thoughts.  If Bob did turn me in, I fully expected to be called into the Dean's Office.  I could be in serious trouble.

I did not have long to wait.  The following day, a young man named Dunham stopped me in the exterior hallway during a break between classes.  Dunham was the president of the student council.   Taking one step into the Quadrangle for privacy, Dunham said, "Dick, there was an odd incident that I have been asked to speak to you about.  You were seen with an open book while taking a German test yesterday.  I know how good you are at German.  In fact, I consider you such a great student that I cannot IMAGINE someone of your talent needing to cheat.  You may consider the matter closed."

Dunham patted me lightly on my shoulder and then walked away.

It was over in 20 seconds.  I never got a chance to say a word.  I just stood there staring in shock as Dunham disappeared down the hall.  I swear my mouth fell open at the brilliance of Dunham's approach.  Dunham did not accuse me of cheating.  Nor did he ask me f I had cheated, a question that would have put me on the spot.  Instead he had complimented me.  This young man knew exactly how to play me.  If he had accused me, I would have turned into a defiant porcupine and denied everything.

Instead Dunham had appealed to my sense of decency. 

What charm!  What utter bullshitBut it worked.  This was almost the exact same approach as Mr. Ocker saying 'Please don't steal again' four years ago.  This had been an explicit warning, but it was covered in sweetness. 

I felt completely ashamed of myself.  How stupid could I be?  I could have ruined my reputation permanently. 

Due to the supernatural timing involved in catching me and the highly undeserved decision not to punish me, I decided this message went beyond the St. John's Administration.  This was the Universe was sending me a message.   The message was received loud and clear.  I would never cheat again in my life at anything.  Not at German, not at Chemistry, not at cards, not at sports, not at any walk of life.  I was done with cheating.  I had learned my lesson. 

For the remainder of the day, I thought about Bob, Dunham, and getting off scot free.

I had been caught red-handed at cheating.  I should have been brought before the disciplinary committee, but I had been given a warning instead... and a strange warning at that.  Someone had decided to cut me some slack.  But who?

I have little doubt this incident was discussed behind closed doors at great length.  We had a very strict Honor Code that had been drummed into us on a non-stop basis for my entire time at the school.  There had once been a star athlete at St. John's who had been caught cheating on a final exam.  He was forced to leave the school in complete disgrace and was barred from participation in graduation exercises.  Even though he had been a sports hero, his name would be tarnished by this extreme punishment.  This young man had brought much glory to the school.  If they would treat him harshly, what kind of treatment could a nobody like me hope for?

And yet in my case, someone had decided to give me a warning instead of taking me down several notches like I deserved.  With those other students as examples of the perils of being caught cheating, I was flabbergasted that they had shown me mercy. 


Who was watching over me?

There had to be someone's unseen hand involved in this.  I had no doubt that Dunham was coached by someone.  I mean, Dunham was a bright guy, but his approach showed wisdom way beyond his years.  It was almost like he 'knew me'.  Hmm.  Dunham didn't know me from Adam.  Someone had told him what to say, I was sure of it. 

I suspected that someone was Mr. Salls, my former German teacher and current Headmaster.

Mr. Salls was known as the toughest disciplinarian in the school.  If that was the case, then this made no sense.  Why would Mr. Salls show mercy??  As Headmaster, surely he couldn't let this kind of behavior go unchecked.  Furthermore, Mr. Salls had a reputation as a tough, no nonsense disciplinarian.  None of this made a bit of sense to me.  The only thing that was clear to me was my guilty conscience.


My mind rolled back to the 8th Grade when I had been caught stealing candy from the grocery store.  There seemed to be an obvious parallel between that behavior and this.

What was I thinking?  Was my life really so bad that stealing candy bars was going to make a difference?  Now that same thought applied to cheating.  Was my life really so bad that I cheated on a test just to prove that I could cut a corner and get away with it?

Mr. Murphy was fed up with me.  He said the next infraction would mean Suspension.  Mr. MacKeith had looked the other way on using an 'Off Limits' restroom.  Coach Lee had looked the other way on what amounted to stealing school property.  Now Mr. Salls had looked the other way on a likely cheating incident.   Why so many second chances?

I concluded that I was one heck of a screwed up kid. 

I wanted to talk to someone about my problems in the worst way.  The only person I could think of Mr. Curran, my favorite English teacher.  However, I couldn't bear to let him know I had cheated on a test and I knew I would have to tell him.  I could not bear to let him know how badly I had behaved.

So I told no one.  I just hung my head in shame. 

I really hated myself.  I had no pride left. 







  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)



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