Chapter 18: Blind
Spot... how I learn the truth about Mr. Salls
Chapter 19: Johns Hopkins... first year of college
Written by Rick Archer
morning, Rick. What do you have for me today?"
have a mystery for you."
I like mysteries. What is your mystery?"
has something to do with Mr. Salls and my scholarship to Hopkins."
sounds interesting. What does this concern?"
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?"
so, but I would like to run it past you."
"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
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
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
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
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."
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...
my opinion, this school is a perfect match for your talents."
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?"
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.
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
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
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
Cooley and Dr. DeBakey were America's two most famous doctors.
After reading the
article, I got goosebumps. Just exactly who is Ralph
"Did you ever get
"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
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,
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.
$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
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
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?"
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
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
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.
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.
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
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
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?"
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.
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
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
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
"What are you referring to,
"How did Mr. Salls
know about all your problems to tell Mr. O'Connor in advance? Did you ever to speak to
about your difficulties at home?"
"Ah, very good question,
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.
"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.
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
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
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.
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
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
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
What do you think, Dr. Hilton, does that story make sense to
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
"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?"
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."
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
grinned. "Yes, that has been fairly obvious to me
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
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?"
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?"
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.
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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
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.
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'?
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.
theme of Greek Mythology is the deadly character flaw which
causes a hero's fall from grace. Prior to my cheating
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,
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
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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
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.
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
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
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
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.
| 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
|| Love Affair with Vanessa begins,
showdown in Fujimoto's office, Vanessa makes one excuse after another
I meet Vanessa, Portland Woman song (17), butting heads
Interlude, Arlene, Mental Hospital
Freshman at Hopkins
at the Train Station (16), Sanctuary at Aunt Lynn's house, Car stolen in
December, Night School Computer class
|| Mr. Salls asks me to apply to Johns
Stupidity regarding child support check (09), Little Mexico, Cheating in
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,
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)
|| New identity forms at Weingarten's, I buy a car
|| Locker Room fight,
of weights appears (07), George Broyles is paralyzed, Second skin
Father denies third skin operation, Weingarten's job (08)
1964-1965: 9th Grade
of Mr. Salls, Acne
Attack (05), Basketball strike on swollen face (06), First skin
1963-1964: 8th Grade
unconscious playing football due to blind eye, quit 8th Grade basketball
Caught stealing at Weingarten's,
Granted full scholarship to SJS, Summer Basketball Project, Discovery of chess book (04)
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
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
Nine Years at St. John's School
Cut my eye out
(01), Near Death with Stock Car (02)
|| 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
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
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
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.
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.
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
against the world'. I lived
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
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
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
Let the long-awaited Dating
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.
ladies who attended Goucher came from wealthy homes up and down the
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
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
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."
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.
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
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
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
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?
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.
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.
PICKING UP THE PIECES
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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
turned her back and walked away. Not even a glance
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
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
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
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,
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.
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.
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.
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
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
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
I loved her dearly and soon began to feel like her adopted
son. Lynn became the mother I never had
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.
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
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.
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
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
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.
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
my favorite movie The Graduate.
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
"Next year we are going to open up a new computer
department for undergraduates, but right now we don't have
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
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
You want to wear
your hair long? Go ahead, kid, wear your hair
long. At times my hair came down past my
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
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.
disgust written on their faces, I stopped dead
in my tracks. Whoa, Nelly!
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
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
a haircut, freak!" No Peace Signs for this group.
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
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
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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?
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
was probably more driven to succeed than any person in this room.
Cut my eye out
(01), Near Miss with the Stock Car (02)
Nine year career at St. John's
Divorce, Mom falls apart, Dad abandons me,
inferiority begin to develop, fascination
with Mrs. Ballantyne begins
runs away for over 2 days
Hurricane Carla, Dad refuses to send to SJS beyond
6th grade, Granted half-scholarship to SJS
Fred Incident - Illness at boy
scout camp leads to Invisibility, Katina Ballantyne joins my class
unconscious playing football due to blind eye,
Caught stealing candy at Weingarten's ,
Discovery of chess book (03),
Granted full scholarship to SJS, Summer basketball project
1964-1965: 9th Grade
Attack (04), Basketball strike on swollen face (05)
Father denies third skin operation, Locker Room fight, set
of weights appears (06)
Resurrection (07), I buy a car
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)
Freshman at Hopkins
Emily at the Train Station (13),
Sanctuary at Lynn's house, Car stolen in December, Night School Computer