A SIMPLE ACT OF KINDNESS
Written by Rick Archer
2015, Richard Archer
- HAUNTED AND
It was October
my Sophomore year
in high school. I was 15. It was late in the afternoon.
I was headed
back to the locker room after P.E. (Physical Education). Harold and his two cronies filed in right
"Hey, look everybody,
look who's here. It's Dead-Eye Dick, the Clearasil Kid!
Hey, Dickless, did anyone ever tell you are one hell of a creepy loser
'Ha ha ha!' roared his buddies.
My back was
turned, but I knew who it was. It had to be Harold.
Who else? I felt my shoulders
tense with resentment.
Harold had gotten under my skin
repeatedly, but this was worse than usual. Harold had never taunted me to this
extent before. I saw no point in retaliating. With my face
covered in a sea of red pimples, this was no time to
exchange words. I was far too ashamed of my grotesque appearance
to act cocky. In addition, with a three to one disadvantage,
slugging it out with Harold seemed out of the question.
With my temper
barely under control, I kept walking towards the locker room
seething with rage... and helplessness. I
despised being unable... or unwilling... to fight back.
Sad to say, I halfway agreed with the
jerk. I felt
exactly like a creepy
loser kid. I was so angry at the world that I wanted to hurt
somebody in the worst way possible. And if Harold
didn't shut up, I wanted to start with him.
I felt so alone. I had no father in my life, no
mother to speak of, few friends, and my face was covered ear to ear
with the worst case of acne imaginable.
I hated my life
worse than my tormentor could ever conceivably imagine.
surely I got my temper back under control. I said
nothing and just kept walking with my back turned to them.
I was forced to absorb the insult
just like I always did. What exactly was I supposed to do, turn
around and get into a shouting match? With my clown
mask of red and these three boys taking turns taunting me, what
were my chances of winning that argument?
They had the
upper hand. After all, I was the one who looked like a
I turned into
the locker room where I expected the taunting to
stop. It turned out I was wrong. Harold was on a
roll. Three minutes later when I
walked naked into the shower room with a towel on my
shoulder, Harold and his boyfriends were already there waiting for me.
I winced. Harold had obviously rushed to the shower so
he could greet me and continue his heckling.
Harold saw me enter, sure enough he grinned with delight.
Grinning, Harold exclaimed, "Hey, Dead Eye Dick, why
don't you go use the other shower? We don't want to
catch your disease!"
That's all the
excuse I needed. I walked over to him. He
expected me to say something, but instead I
surprised him. I clapped my hands hard over
both his ears, stunning him.
Then I punched Harold in the throat with my fist.
Hard. As he
doubled over in pain clutching his throat, I lifted my knee to catch Harold on
the chin, snapping his head back. I hurt him badly. Harold crumpled to
the wet floor in agony. I started to kick him in the face,
but barely managed to stop when Harold covered his face in fear.
Harold was finished.
Now I turned to
the other two boys. The other two
boys were in no mood to rush to Harold's defense. As
they stared at their henchman on the shower floor covered by
spray, they were stunned to see him moaning in pain.
they gaped back at me in startled fear.
Here at this posh, exclusive prep school, neither of them had ever
seen this kind of violence before... me neither for that
matter. Boys didn't fight with their fists at this
school; everyone was far too well behaved. We were
supposed to fight with clever words and witty put-downs like
"Dead Eye Dick", "Clearasil Kid" and of course Harold's
favorite, "Creepy Loser Kid".
I had broken the unspoken gentlemen's code.
Now I glowered at them to
see if they were going to make a move at me. There I
was stark naked, dripping wet, red face and shaking with Hulk-like
ferocity. No doubt my red mask of pustules made me
appear even more dangerous. The two boys remained frozen
with terror. Convinced Harold wasn't getting back up,
they weren't so brave anymore.
were no threat, I took a quick rinse, grabbed my towel
and left. I smiled
contemptuously as the two boys ran to Harold who
was still crumpled on the wet floor. Served him right.
live. In fact, after he had dressed, he demanded I
meet him after school to settle this. I simply ignored
My own personal
Psycho shower scene was over. I would have
never guessed it at the time, but this would be the last
serious fight for the rest of my life. I don't believe in fighting, but
this guy had crossed way too far over the line.
There was a real
finality to the incident. Harold
would never say another word to me. For that matter,
despite his threat to meet him after school, Harold must
have had second thoughts. Harold
never came near me again.
Phys Ed was the
last class of the day. I got
dressed, got my books, got on my bicycle and rode home.
Once I was sure no one was looking, I cried uncontrollably the entire way
I was an only
child with just one parent. Consequently I spent a
great deal of my childhood alone. Today was no
different. The only one in
the apartment to greet me was my beloved border collie Terry.
Thank goodness for Terry; he
was usually the only friend I had in those days.
refused to leave my body. Desperate to
find some way to shake off my agitation, I got back on my
bike. Terry ran alongside me
over to Cherryhurst Park, my sanctuary. While Terry ran around chasing squirrels,
I spent the afternoon shooting basketball while I cooled off. I saw my mother when she
came home from work that evening, but I didn't tell her. This wasn't
something I was proud of. Besides, we didn't talk much
about school. Or anything for that matter.
In the days to
follow, I was never
punished by the school's administration. I have no
idea whether they knew or not. All I know is that no
one, be it student or teacher, ever said a single word to me
about the incident.
As for the vicious
teasing, it stopped. No one else ever
challenged me again. I have to assume that whatever rumors were
spread behind my back at school worked in my favor.
For the remaining two and a half years of high school, no St. John's
student ever taunted me again.
So in this
crazy, mixed-up world there are millions upon millions of
unhappy children at any given moment. Why would anyone
ever want to spend their valuable time reading my story
about another creepy loser kid?
Sad to say, some
creepy loser kids massacre the innocent at Columbine or
Sandy Hook. Other creepy loser
kids shoot John Lennon or John Kennedy.
On the other
hand, this particular creepy loser
kid - yes, me - went on to create a special dance studio that
would teach half a million people how to Twostep, Tango, and
Waltz. Thanks in large part to my studio, someday Houston would become the Western Dance capital of the country.
importantly, my studio created fun and happiness
for countless numbers of people. At least 300 marriages
developed at the dance studio. Today I
imagine a thousand children walk the streets of
Houston because my dance studio helped their parents find
each other through dancing.
So why does one
deeply disturbed kid go off the deep end while another
goes on to become a person whose main goal in life is to contribute to
I will offer a
hint. When I was 28, a very important person said this
"Rick, it is beyond
amazing how a simple act of kindness turned my entire life around. I
don't want you to ever forget the importance of kindness."
Rick Archer's Note: Before we begin, be forewarned I intend
to speak of my parents in a distinctly candid way. I apologize
for my candor in advance, but clearly the story makes better sense
Out of respect for my
waited till they passed on before
writing this memoir. However, now that they
are deceased, I see no reason to disguise or distort the truth. Although my
parents deserve credit for their role helping me obtain a fine education and of course
for giving me
a home, beyond that they came up woefully short.
My mother Mary came from
a solid home in mid-Pennsylvania
Mary's father William
was the district supervisor for a Pennsylvania oil company.
She grew up in a comfortable, upper-middle class home atop a hill in
a rural area located near Reading, Pennsylvania.
There were two boys and
two girls in the family. Mom was extremely close to her
younger brother Dick, but she always felt inferior to her older
sister Gwen who was quite beautiful. Mary on the other hand
was plump, plain and and always wore thick glasses.
mother Lenore was a nag. Her mother constantly berated her
daughter about her looks. She asked why Mary couldn't try
harder to be pretty like her older sister. Do your hair, use
some make-up, but for heaven's sake, do something! Mary
grew up feeling like the ugly duckling.
Mary wasn't particularly
athletic or social. On the other hand, Mary was extremely bright
and excelled in school. Her books were her best friend.
So what about Dad?
My father Jim came from a
lonely existence in mid-Ohio. He and his mother moved to
Reading, Pennsylvania, when he was thirteen.
The nicest thing I can
say about Jim is that he was a very smart guy and brilliant in
his field. Unfortunately, he was also a superficial man who
lacked character. He was soft. I think the world knocked
him down at an early age and he never completely got back up.
For the rest of his life, he always took the easiest way out of any
dilemma. Dad spent most of his life hiding behind the skirts
of domineering women.
The parallels between my
father's childhood and my own are disturbingly similar. Dad was
an only child who didn't get along with his strange mother.
my father lost an eye due to a childhood accident.
Like me, he had a
serious bout with acne, although not nearly as bad as my problem.
Jim lost his father at
age six. His father died from appendicitis. While my
father didn't exactly die on me, he did more or less remove himself
from my life at age ten.
Dad grew up a very
lonely, insecure young man who turned to books as his escape route.
Hmm, so did I. Dad told me how much he missed having a father.
How ironic. I often wondered if Dad realized he was making me
suffer the exact same fate he did.
My father caught a lucky
break in World War II. Practically on his first day of action,
a German sniper popped him in the hip while he was on patrol during
the Battle of the Bulge. Although Dad was unable to walk for a
while, it was a non-threatening wound that left an impressive scar.
By the time the wound healed, the war was over. Dad collected
his purple heart and began his free ride to college paid for by
However, Uncle Sam
didn't pay for room and board and my father was penniless.
My mother came from a wealthy family in my father's hometown. Although
Mom was plain and lacked confidence,
Dad needed a meal ticket and Mom was a
Dad had a strange mother
who at times related to her son more as her "companion" than son.
Coming from a
terrible home, I suspect my father had some character issues. On
the other hand, he was a good-looking man and extremely bright.
Plus I can't imagine my mother had a wide range of marriage offers.
I expect she decided to take a chance on him. I have no idea whether either of them loved one
another, but based on what I saw, I doubt it.
Dad received his training as an
electrical engineer from Drexel Tech in Philadelphia. Mom
dropped out of college to support him. Dad
started his career a year before I was born in 1949. My first home was in
Bethesda, Maryland. Dad worked as a salesman for Square D,
a manufacturer of fuse boxes and equipment used to control and
distribute electric power.
The company transferred Dad to Houston when I was six.
Dad was good at
sales, but yearned to put his engineering talent to better use. While
I was in college, Dad moved over to Kranco, a company that built massive
cranes. Kranco is where my father made his mark.
During his career at
Kranco, Dad was finally able to show the world what he could do. He became
the go-to guy for large and difficult projects that called for unusual solutions.
was frequently called in to handle the toughest assignments.
For example, he designed the
electrical system for a rocket-launching crane at Cape Kennedy
meant to hurl astronauts into space. Another time he designed
the electrical system for a crane that removed spent tie rods
a nuclear reactor.
One of my father's best pieces of work was succeeding at a job where
others had failed. He designed the electrical system
for a crane that needed to work in sub-zero temperatures at a lumber
mill up in far northern Canada. The Canada project is where he
showed his special talent. Several engineers had worked on
this assignment previously, but couldn't overcome the problem of the
bitter arctic temperatures. Dad nailed it.
After that, my father's
fame spread. He was known as the guy who could succeed where
others couldn't. Consequently he received several impressive
Dad's most interesting project was
designing a crane to handle a
secret prototype aircraft
for the military. Asked to work strictly from
specifications, Dad was never allowed to see the actual plane itself
in New Mexico.
Dad loved talking about
Consumed with curiosity, Dad was positive his
crane was being used for a plane with stealth technology or
some sort of UFO.
The Civil War was my
father's favorite preoccupation, but my father was also very interested
in the unexplained. Considering
the proximity of that airbase to Roswell, New Mexico, that UFO story was right
up his alley.
For Christmas one year,
Dad gave me a book on Edgar Cayce, the sleeping
prophet of Virginia Beach. Dad would explain to me how Edgar Cayce would go into trances and
magically come up with amazing cures for very sick people. Mr. Cayce also
raised the prospect of reincarnation as a fact of life, not just
some mumbo-jumbo Hindu philosophy.
Dad used to say Edgar
Cayce interested him more than any other person. Due to some
strange college experiences, I would come to agree with him.
I have spoken that
coincidences have played an important role in my life.
When I was six, Dad and I
shared one very frightening moment. Dad had recently been
transferred to Houston from Bethesda, Maryland, by his company.
At the time, I was still walking around with a patch over my left
eye. Two months earlier I had cut my eye with a kitchen knife.
One night Dad took me to a carnival on South
Main. Afterwards, we were going to attend a stock car show on
a race track located behind the carnival. Dad let me play games for a while - ring toss, baseball
toss, haunted house, house of mirrors, etc - but then he became impatient and said it was time to
the stock car show. I could have cared less about the cars, but that was what
Dad was interested in
so I tagged along willingly.
we began making our way to the race track at the back of the
carnival, I could hear the loud
roar of the powerful car engines. The drivers warmed their cars
up by barreling around the track.
However, I couldn't see the
cars; they were hidden behind an eight foot wooden fence. All
I could hear was the thunderous roar.
Suddenly I stopped in my
tracks and told Dad I wanted to play one more game.
just come up to some game where I could shoot wooden ducks with an air
rifle that used corks for bullets. Don't ask why, I just had a sudden irresistible urge to play.
Dad said, "No, you've
had enough. We're going
to be late
as it is."
But I wouldn't take no for
answer. I grabbed his arm and
"C'mon, Dad. Just this
one last game, Dad, please??"
Just as the word
'please' left my mouth, we were both startled by the sound of a
loud crash. We had been standing
there debating for no more than 8-10 seconds when we were jolted by a crash on our left. Since we were both blind in
our left eyes, we
had no idea what had happened. As we both whirled our heads in panic,
we screamed as we saw an enormous metal car hurtling straight at us through the wooden fence.
We were sitting ducks! That flimsy fence had not slowed the powerful car one
bit; we had no time to dodge the giant flying vehicle.
Something had caused the
car to leave the ground. It was literally flying at us.
At that speed, there was nothing we could do to
protect ourselves. The car missed us by no
more than five
feet. The displaced air knocked us both down with a rush.
Moments later the car
crashed violently into a telephone pole ten feet to my right. The impact was
brutal; the driver was killed
instantly. He had paid the ultimate price for losing control of his
car. As we scrambled to our feet, we heard a snapping sound.
We stared in shock the phone pole
broke in two and fell on top of the crumpled car.
Dad was in shock.
I suppose I was too. I couldn't get over that poor lifeless driver
slumped over the wheel in the car. I started to cry.
Dad stared at me funny.
He had the weirdest look on his face.
"Son, if you
hadn't stopped us, we would both be dead now."
My father was right.
We had missed death by an instant. Had we continued walking,
we would have been right in the path of that speeding car. I was too
young to fully understand the metaphysical implications, but Dad was
convinced some higher force had intervened to save us.
seems to me your Guardian Angel was watching out for both of us."
That strange incident took
place back in the days when my father and I had been close.
I think Dad liked me
a lot, or at least he did in the beginning.
As for me, when I
was a little boy, I worshipped the guy. I remember watching in awe as he built
his incredible train network. Up in the attic, Dad had
covered a giant table with interlocking train tracks. He
tunnels, bridges and split levels where one train would pass
over the other. This amazing complex took up nearly one third of the
I was absolutely mesmerized as two different trains crisscrossed
the complicated tableau without ever crashing into each other. I beamed. I had the
smartest father in the world!
One time when I was
8, Dad showed his love for me in a curious way. We had
just moved to Sharpstown, a brand new development at the far
western edge of Houston. We lived one house in from the
corner. Our next door neighbor was a grouchy old guy who
lived and died for his beautiful St. Augustine grass.
Every time I walked past his house, he was working on his lawn.
I had just gotten my
new puppy Terry. One day as Terry and I came home from a
nearby field, this old man screamed at me for walking across his
lawn. My mistake was using a dirt path that cut diagonally
across his lawn instead of the corner sidewalk. As I
cringed in fear, the man pointed to the barren path where his
precious lawn had been damaged by neighborhood boys doing the
same thing I did.
"From now on, kid,
use the sidewalk! And while you're at it, I want you to
keep your damn dog from doing his business on my lawn!"
That night when I
told my father what had happened, he was furious. Dad had a very
unusual way of getting even. He immediately drove to the
hardware store and brought back three sacks of fertilizer.
That night after I went to bed, I heard Dad doing
something in the garage. So I went and peeked through the
door. Dad got out that fertilizer and sprinkled some of it
on the man's yard. Dad did this every night for two weeks.
Sure enough, that man's grass began to grow like crazy.
For the next four months, that poor man was forced to mow his
lawn practically every day in the hot sun. Dad thought it
was the funniest thing he had ever done.
My first eight years
were idyllic because I had the best father in the world.
Not only did I love him with all my heart, Dad was very fond of
me. Aunt Lynn
once told me that back when I was a little
boy, my father used to watch me with a look of pride that touched
her deeply. Lynn said, "Your father absolutely adored you."
I completely agreed with Aunt Lynn. That was my memory
too. When I was young, things were very special between my
father and I.
Dad and I had a grand adventure when I was
eight. We embarked on a cross-country summer camping
trip that took us all the way to the Grand Canyon. One night in
some obscure, completely deserted park in Arizona,
we were awakened by two bears who got into our trash outside the
tent. Uh oh. Dad had left some food out. Unfortunately, we
were the only ones at the campground. There was no one
around to save us if the bears came after us.
Boy, was I
scared, especially when the bears growled! As we cowered in our
tent, I can still remember Dad pulling out his prized Bowie
knife. Dad told me not to worry; he was ready to defend me. I
wasn't so sure that knife was going to be enough, but
fortunately the bears never bothered us as we remained huddled
and quivering in our tent. We eventually made a run for our car and
drove to a motel. When we returned the next morning
to pick up our gear, there were bear tracks all around our tent. We were
both pretty shaken by he ordeal.
Dad was done with camping. We
stayed in motels for the rest of the trip. Oh, so what?
Bears or no bears, that was a great trip! Dad and I had a
wonderful time together.
Sad to say, that
1958 trip was our last real moment of happiness together.
We were so tight that his
later abandonment made it that much harder to understand. How does a father go
from idolizing his son to forgetting his son? Why
would a man go from caring to not caring?
- BROKEN HOME
Not long after we
returned home from Arizona, serious marital problems developed.
My parents began arguing every single night of the week.
I am an only child.
As many an only child can attest, 'only' and 'lonely' rhyme for a
At age eight, I was terrified when my parents began fighting practically
any time they looked at each other. Their raised voices during the
nightly arguments reverberated throughout the house.
I would run to my room,
but no walls could contain
the sounds of their anger. Consequently I spent many a night
crying myself to sleep. I was very frightened. That was
about the time I learned to depend on Terry, my year-old border collie, for security.
I had no idea why my
father had become such an angry man. He
had gained weight and grown distant. When he wasn't
arguing with my mother, he spent his nights locked in his study
reading or solving math problems.
Personally, I wish he
had stayed in his study. When he did decide to come out, Dad
turned into something straight out of the Shining.
My memory is that Dad
started the fights. He liked to pick on my mother. He
found fault at the drop of a hat. Dad's favorite trick was to
come home and inspect the house. Seriously, Dad would walk in
the door, put his briefcase down, hang up his hat and immediately
stroll around the house.
It was obvious he would
keep looking until he found an excuse to start an argument.
Eventually Dad would find something to
criticize my mother over.
Game on. Now the fireworks would begin.
Dad loved to tell my mother
how lazy she was. I suppose he was right. Mom was not
big on housework and she was quite comfortable with clutter.
On the other hand, the house wasn't "that bad".
My father didn't see it
that way. He expected the house to look perfect.
Why the hell should he have to
work so hard every day and come home to a dirty house? What
did she do all day, watch TV? Read magazines? Damn
off your fat ass and do a little work sometime, woman.
Terry is in the middle.
Duke is Mom's dog.
Mom gave the other puppy away.
Those were fighting
words and a major battle quickly ensued. Pretty soon things
would escalate and some really mean things would be said.
In my opinion, my father was totally off base.
Whatever he objected to was hardly worthy of a screaming
match. In addition, my father had
conveniently forgotten this was the same woman who had
sacrificed her own education so that he could get his.
Now that he didn't need her any more, my father began to tee
off on Mom nightly.
couldn't care less that I was standing there watching them in
horror. When their voices began to rise, I soon learned to run to my room for shelter.
I would grab Terry and pull the bed covers over my head.
When the arguing got too intense, I would start crying in the
solitude of my room. I had only my dog Terry for comfort. It
didn't matter that Terry was little more than a puppy; he was the only friend I
Once I ran to my room,
the door stayed closed for the rest of the night. Neither parent ever
came to check on me after the battle was over. That was a really rough year for me.
That was about the time I became a major disruption at public
school and my grades plummeted.
- DR. MENDEL
AND ST. JOHN'S SCHOOL
My early childhood was
good. I was a happy kid until I turned nine. That's when the fighting began at home.
Now I began having trouble in my
3rd grade public school class.
My school grades were lackluster at best and my discipline marks
were abysmal. I had become a constant
disruption in my classroom.
Each morning I would
take a seat in the back of the class room. I would draw
extensive tableaus of two armies complete with tanks, hand grenades and
bazookas. I would then spend the rest of the morning blowing
up every soldier complete with boom boom boom sound effects and
excruciating death moans.
For variety, I
would draw spaceships and destroy them too... yes, complete with
eerie ray gun zap zap zap sound effects.
Then I switched to dinosaur
battles. I wasn't quite sure what sounds dinosaurs made, but
growls were sufficient.
I must have
been a load. Looking back, I feel so sorry for my poor teacher.
I thought I kept my noises muffled, but since the
teacher could hear them up front, apparently not. She would ask me
to be quiet, but the battle would soon resume.
My noisy pitched battles
just the tip of the iceberg. I had a smart mouth too.
I talked back all the time. I was becoming a cold, surly, angry kid.
Not surprisingly, I received the lowest marks possible for
What a difference a year
had turned into an angry, unhappy kid
One day I brought a note home from school to
The note said that I was an enormous disruption in
my 3rd grade class. It was time for my parents to visit the principal.
The principal made it clear to my parents that I would be suspended if
couldn't get me under control.
My parents were also very
concerned over my poor grades in school.
My parents had always
thought I was smart, but after seeing my most recent report card,
they were seriously beginning to have their doubts.
Since their own childhoods
had been accompanied by an unending series of superior school marks, I
imagine their pride was shaken to see their only child had barely
mustered a C average.
At the time, my parents were busy trying to save their marriage.
They had been in therapy with Dr. Mendel, a noted psychiatrist here in
Houston. After the principal's warning, they asked Dr. Mendel to take a look at me too.
Maybe the eminent doctor could explain why my grades were so poor and why I was so
angry all the time.
Well, now that I think about it,
I suppose my parents knew full well why I was angry.
What they didn't know was what to
do about me.
After some testing, Dr. Mendel told my parents they didn't need
to worry about my intelligence. In his opinion, I was a
smart child. As for the anger, I was simply acting out due
to the tension at home. He also suspected I was terribly
bored in school. He told my parents that I desperately needed a challenge,
a school with a faster pace, something to
focus my unharnessed energy on.
Dr. Mendel knew exactly where I would find that challenge.
He suggested my parents put me into St. John's, a private school
where his own two boys were current students. He had been very
pleased with the progress of his sons. Dr. Mendel was
convinced this school
for gifted children was just what I needed.
My father was opposed
from the start, but finally relented and allowed to let the school
test me. To be honest, I think he expected I would do poorly
and let him off the hook. Then he wouldn't have to be
the bad guy. However, to his surprise, I did well on the test
and was given an acceptance letter.
Now my father began to
seriously object. My father was
reluctant to send me there. Too expensive. This idea was a
big waste of money. Public school had been good enough for
him and it would be good enough for me.
my mother insisted. Mom had an ace up her sleeve... she had a strong suspicion Dad was having an affair with his
When my parents decided
to divorce, Mom told her husband to his face that she knew full
well he was seeing another woman and had proof. She said she would make this divorce
very ugly unless Dad did the
Mind you, Mom was
bluffing, but she said my father folded like a wet blanket.
After Dad caved in, Mom knew she was right
about the affair.
So there you have it, my mother successfully
blackmailed me into St. John's. The divorce settlement included my
father's agreement to send me to St. John's for three years...
4th, 5th, and 6th grades.
At the time, I had no
idea about any of this drama. Neither parent had the guts to tell
me. Instead they packed me off to spend the 1959 summer at Aunt Lynn and Uncle Dick's house in
Northern Virginia just outside of Washington DC. My
parents wanted me out of town while they sold their house.
They also preferred to let Dick
and Lynn break the sad news.
The summer of 1959
marked the start of a new life. I gained a school and lost a father. I
would barely see my father for the rest of my life.
Now I was in for a rude
surprise. I quickly learned my mother was unable to cope on
her own. Things went south immediately. Considering the erratic
behavior of my mother, at the tender age of ten, I
was forced to grow up on my own. Thank goodness for Terry or I
would have never made it.