Written by Rick Archer
awakens one morning in his family's apartment to find himself inexplicably transformed into a gigantic insect.'
-- Metamorphosis, Franz Kafka
One night in October
1964, I went to bed looking just like all the other boys my age.
I was 14.
When I awoke, my
face was burning hot. Alarmed, I raced to the mirror.
Then I screamed bloody murder.
I was staring at the
face of a monster!
the course of the night, I had turned into a
hideous creature. This was the stuff of nightmares, but it
was Reality. My Midnight Metamorphosis would become the
single defining moment of my entire life.
to High School Hell.
THE 1959 DIVORCE
Mary, my mother, came from
a solid home in mid-Pennsylvania.
Her father William
was the district supervisor for a Pennsylvania oil company.
Mom 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. Mom on the other hand
was plump, plain and and always wore thick glasses.
mother was a nag. Her mother constantly berated Mom 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.
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 Dad 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.
My father lost an eye due to a childhood accident.
So did I.
an only child who didn't get along with his strange mother.
Same for me.
Dad grew up a very
lonely, insecure young man who turned to dreams of college as his
escape route. And me? Same for me.
Jim lost his father at
age six. His father died from appendicitis. While my
father didn't exactly die on me, he removed himself
from my life at age ten. Dad told me how much he missed having a father,
a statement I found bitterly ironic. I often wondered if Dad
ever caught on that he had made 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 solved the problem. Sad to
say, although they were well-match for smarts, the disparity in
their appearance was noticeable.
Dad had a strange mother
who at times related to her son more as her 'companion' than
as her son.
I don't know just how creepy things got, but there were rumors.
Coming from such a
terrible home, I suspect my father had character issues.
However, he was a good-looking man, extremely bright, and very
Plus I can't imagine my mother had a wide range of marriage offers.
So 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.
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 from a nuclear reactor.
was frequently called in to handle the toughest assignments.
My father's best piece of work came on a project where
other engineers 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. Dad was the first man to overcome the problem of the
bitter arctic temperatures. After that, my father's
fame spread. He became 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.
Consumed with curiosity, Dad loved talking about
Dad was positive his
crane was being used for a plane with stealth technology or
some sort of UFO. I don't think he was kidding. Dad
did not tease.
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 nonsensical 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.
dramatic event of my life took place when I cut my left eye
out. I was five.
I had a piece of
thick rope I wanted to cut, so I found a table knife with an
edge barely sharp enough to cut food at the dinner table,
but not much else. Unfortunately, progress was really
slow because the knife was so dull. I discovered I was
stronger pulling the knife towards me, so that is the
direction I used. Ten minutes passed, maybe fifteen.
My mother was in the next room the entire time, but she
never had the slightest idea what I was doing.
It was slow going, but I was almost done.
My mother suddenly called to me and told me to hurry up whatever
was doing and get ready. I guess we had to go
somewhere. So to speed up the process, I gave the knife a big
I wasn't aware that just a thread was keeping the rope intact.
Boom. The knife
through the remaining rope and kept going in an arc that barely
grazed the front of my my left eye. I had sliced the pupil
of my left eye.
To my surprise, it didn't even hurt.
Emergency room here I come.
I soon developed a cataract.
to correct the cataract when I was six was unsuccessful. Even more problematic,
I developed a detached retina.
At this point, the doctor detected the early signs of 'sympathetic ophthalmia'. This is an inflammation of both eyes
that can follow trauma from the bad eye to the good eye. Sometimes the good eye
goes kaput just like the bad eye. This condition can leave the
patient completely blind, so they decided to completely
remove my bad left eye as a precaution. I was given a plastic eye
to fill the empty eye socket.
The loss of my left eye
would keep me out of high school sports. That was a
real shame because I turned out to be a pretty good athlete.
So was this blind eye my Fate
or was it just a tough lesson given to me by the School of
Hard Knocks? The thing that
made me suspicious was the perfect timing between the moment
my mother suddenly ordered me to get moving and the
thinness of the remaining rope. In other words, Mom
had called at the worst possible time. I might
add I was so distracted by my mother's call that I failed to
notice the job was almost done. Later in my book I
will discuss the theory that there are no accidents, but for
now, I will list this as a potential Supernatural event and
give it two
Stars on the
five star Mysticism scale.
The next Supernatural Event took place four months after I cut my eye
Dad had recently been
transferred to Houston from Bethesda, Maryland, by his company.
At the time, I was still walking around with a giant patch over my left
eye. My father knew I was going to lose that eye, but he
didn't have the heart to tell me yet. Dad felt sorry for me,
so one summer night he 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 were the thunderous roars which scared me.
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,
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 two or three
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.
I will give this
incident a 5 Star Rating on the Mysticism Scale. The perfect
timing of my sudden desire to play the game combined with the
importance of the coincidence was very suspicious.
This 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 Dad in the world!
My first eight years
were idyllic. 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 me.
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. We kept quiet
as we huddled and quivered 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.
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 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?
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 developed a permanent scowl. When he wasn't
arguing with my mother, he spent his nights locked in his study
reading or solving math problems. He also grew distant with
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 running his finger across every object till
he found dirt somewhere.
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 partially right. Mom was not
big on housework and she was quite comfortable with clutter.
On the other hand, the house wasn't that bad. It
didn't bother me at all.
My father didn't see it
that way. He expected the house to look perfect. His
attitude was why the hell should he have to
work so hard every day and come home to a dirty house? What
did his wife do all day, watch TV? Read magazines? Damn
off your fat ass, woman, and do a little work sometime!
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 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 was nine years old 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.
Now my father picked on
me too. I was stupid. Dad didn't like anyone. Or
maybe he did. There was that pretty secretary at work.
- DR. MENDEL
AND ST. JOHN'S SCHOOL
I was a happy kid until I turned nine. That's when the fighting began at home.
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 regret. My poor teacher
tried to overlook my disruptions, but how could she?
I thought I kept my noises muffled, but
teacher could hear them up at the 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
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. Such a mystery, right?
Hmm. 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 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. As I would
later discover, Dr. Mendel's son Mark was in my class.
Mark was aloof, but he was also far and away our smartest
My father was opposed
from the start, but he finally relented and allowed Mom to take me
to the school to get
tested. To be honest, I think Dad 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. Too expensive. Giant 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
secretary. Mom told her husband that she knew full
well he was seeing another woman and had proof. Mom said she would make this divorce
very ugly unless Dad did the
Mind you, Mom didn't
have any proof. Although she was
bluffing, Mom 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 pay the tuition at St. John's for three years...
4th, 5th, and 6th grades.
A Buddhist monk
was chased by a tiger. To his dismay, he reached the
edge of a cliff. Now he was trapped. Seeing a small shrub, the monk
grabbed it and suspended himself over the cliff. The
tiger caught up and snarled down at the helpless man.
Slowly the shrub began to give way. At that moment, the monk noticed a
strawberry next to him. With his free hand, the monk
plucked the fruit and ate it. The strawberry was
delicious. The monk smiled.
And then he plunged
to his death.
The moral is to enjoy every moment
because you never know what awaits around the corner.
My life would never be the same after the divorce.
I gained a school and lost a father. I
would barely see my father for the rest of my life.
My life had been
wonderful for eight years. Then came the year of Divorce which
was really bad for me. But nothing could be worse than what
I was in for a rude
surprise. Things went south immediately. I quickly learned my mother was unable to cope on
her own. 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.
- MY MOTHER
STRUGGLES TO COPE
Following the divorce, my mother was
ill-prepared to take care of herself, much less me.
Mom had serious trouble
supporting the two of us. Like many wives of the post-World War II era, she had dropped
out of college to support my father while he got his degree in
electrical engineering. My father was something of a genius,
so his career came first.
The decision to support
my father was a good idea at the time, but backfired badly
Although Mom possessed some serious smarts of her own, now she
had no college degree. Consequently my mother was forced to accept secretarial jobs for which she was
Mom didn't play politics very well. My mother was rather headstrong
especially for that era. She insisted on doing things her way, an attitude
that rubbed some of her less-talented male bosses the wrong way.
Whenever the friction mounted, Mom would be shown the door.
My mother was quite the gypsy. She wandered endlessly.
Following the divorce, during the nine year span from 4th grade till
college, my mother drifted from job to job, home to home, man
to man. Nine years, nine
different jobs and eleven different homes. I lost count of the
men. As one can imagine, this helps explain the importance of St. John's as the
only constant in my life.
Let me say that my
mother was never mean to me. Not at all. Mom was a
good person with a kind spirit. I admire her for being
extremely open-minded for her era. She embraced Blacks,
Hispanics, Jews and Gays in an era when that simply wasn't
accepted. I give her high marks for raising me
without the many prejudices of the day.
Sad to say, Mary
was not cut out to
be a mother. Nurturing was simply not her strength. Her
major fault was that she tended to worry about her own needs first.
I was forced at an
early age to fend for myself.
Following the divorce in
1959, I began to raise myself.
During the week, my mother would be home in the
evening three or four nights out of five. On the weekends,
Mom frequently left the house at night to pursue
activities and new boyfriends. Every now and then she would
say no time for supper tonight. No matter.
I would heat up my hot dog, do my homework,
play with my dog Terry, then watch TV or read a book.
became extremely self-reliant for my age. I learned to get my
homework done without ever being told. Depending on where we lived
at the time, I got myself to and from school by bike or by
bus. Since my mother wasn't big on cooking, I learned to
myself when I was hungry. Oddly enough, I have never
had the slightest interest in learning how to cook. So I became the master of
the simple meal - Wheaties
for breakfast, peanut
butter after school, hot dogs and hard-boiled eggs for
dinner. Since my best meal of the day came at the St. John's
cafeteria, I learned early on not to be too fussy about my food.
The simplest meal was good enough for me.
My favorite TV show
was The Fugitive. Constantly running from
the law, the Fugitive had to be the loneliest man on
Boy, could I relate to him!
I wasn't the only
person who was lonely. I remember how
lonely Mom was after the divorce.
after the divorce, Mom
married some bum named Tom Cook. What was she thinking?
This guy was a total loser!
I disliked this man with a passion. I remember Tom was the
guy who tried to teach me to smoke. After gagging and nearly
throwing up, I said no thanks the next time he offered.
Mom had a smart
mouth, so Tom took to beating her periodically. Mom learned
to lock the bathroom door to avoid his drunken beatings. Or she
would crawl into bed with me for protection. Now that I
think about it, more likely she crawled into bed with me so the
dog would protect her. Tom never came near Terry. He
may have been a drunken lout, but he knew better than to take on my
extremely loyal dog.
I remember Tom well
because he was the first in a long line of men who made me feel
protective towards my mother. I would see her cry and feel
miserable because these men treated her so poorly. It upset me
no end that I had no way to stick up for her.
Tom, he lasted
Tom left thanks to a series of hot
checks he had written. The police did us a real favor by knocking on the door
one night. Tom was out getting drunk, but when Mom told him
about the visit, he turned ghost white.
Tom left the next day. Good riddance.
We were always poor.
This was due largely to my mother's inability to play politics.
Mom didn't have any trouble getting jobs, but she sure had trouble
keeping them. Mom had one very bad
habit. She had a big mouth. Mom had grown up as Daddy's
girl. Her father had always taught her to speak her mind.
Unfortunately, the early Sixties were not very kind to women who
dared to open their mouth on the job. My mother did not take
orders well. She would often suggest a better way to do
something. Needless to say, that rankled her bosses.
Another trick was to agree with her boss, then do it her way anyway.
Nor did my mother handle criticism very well. She
would often respond with some sarcastic comment. Or she might
disagree with the criticism and argue with her boss. Not surprisingly, my
mother got fired a lot.
I don't think any of my
jobs lasted much more than a year at a time. Either she got
bored and quit or she wore out her welcome.
Since my mother received no
alimony and her unimpressive pay grade did not lend itself to
money was a constant problem.
We were ridiculously dependent on my father's
$100 a month child support. The hardest times came during
Mom's occasional stretches of unemployment.
I would come home at least
a couple times a year to discover the electricity had been turned
off. Or sometimes it was the water. The next time it was
the gas. In a day or two, Mom would receive my father's child
and service would be restored, but now she didn't have
enough money to pay the rent. Sooner or later the landlord
would tire of her excuses and tell her to hit the road.
My mother's inability to
pay her bills meant that we were moving all the time... eleven times
in nine years. Growing up, I
never had a single neighborhood friend. We
never stayed in a neighborhood long enough for it to matter.
The worst part
of my childhood had to be the men. With one exception, I
detested every single one of
them. Tom Cook was
definitively the worst; he was an actual criminal.
I still can't believe Mom married this guy.
After Tom Cook left, Mom
got involved in the theater as a stage hand. She
volunteered to help with the Alley Theater production of Guys and Dolls.
I was too young to be left at home, so she packed me into
I would do my homework
backstage, watch the rehearsals for a while, then get sleepy and
fall asleep in a chair. However, the noise kept waking me up,
so I complained. She said go sleep in the car. That
didn't work because I was scared. Mom's next solution
was to bring the dog with us. Poor Terry would be
left behind in the car while we went inside. However, this
solution worked. When I got sleepy, I went to the car. As long as I had Terry with me, I
felt safe enough to fall
asleep in the car.
One night I noticed a
car following us as we drove home. Mom said don't
worry about it. It turned out to be some
guy from the play. They went into the bedroom. I heard
the guy leave a couple hours later.
This scenario quickly
became standard operating procedure. I was too young to
understand the dynamics, but Mom had to bring her men home because
she couldn't take me to their place. Mom had
begun working her way through the cast members.
To this day, I
still hate Guys and Dolls with a purple passion.
When Mom decided
to volunteer for the next play, I put my foot down and told
her to just leave me at home. I would rather spend my
evenings home alone with Terry and my books than
watch Mom spend the night shuffling props around and
flirting with the actors. At
least I could go to sleep in my own bed.
Mom didn't mind a
bit. This allowed her to come home when she felt like it.
I didn't mind either. I was relieved that I did not have to
listen to Mom moaning in the bedroom.
- THE ATHENS
BAR AND GRILL
Opa! Mom eventually worked
her way through the men at the Alley Theater, so now it was time to
switch tactics. When I was 11, Mom began to hang out at
the Athens Bar and
Grill down at the Houston ship channel. This
was a favorite hangout for Greek sailors to let loose during their
brief stay in port. I never saw the place, but from what I gather, the Athens Bar was a
It featured good food, good wine,
plenty of Greek dancing, and an abundance of Greek sailors. Although my mother was rather
plain, she didn't seem to have any trouble picking up
men. The Athens Bar became her stomping grounds. She liked the
fact that these guys would be shipping out. Here today, gone
tomorrow. Mom would bring them back to our house
at night and then ferry them back to their ship in the morning.
After each new tryst Mom
would play music from Zorba the
Greek on the phonograph for the next week. I think
it helped get her in the mood for her next conquest.
Mom eventually got tired
Europeans so she switched to Americans. After
her Greek Sailor period, Mom dated a black guy named Fred. Fred
lasted about two months.
Then it was Jewish guys
for a while. I must have listened to Exodus
more times than any non-Jewish kid in history. The music
must have rubbed off... I like Jewish people.
One poor Jewish guy was
Murray the dentist. He was recovering from electroshock
therapy in the mental hospital. I actually liked Murray.
He was a kind man, but his mind was completely gone. He was so
helpless that I felt sorry for him.
Mom liked Murray, so she
let him live with us for a while. I liked Murray too, but not
enough to have him live with us. Like Fred, he lasted about
After Murray, Mom
continued her latest
strategy of dating white men with problems. Most of these
men came and went within a month, but some of them like Fred and
Murray needed a home so
they stuck around longer. The worst was Neal, the drunken taxi driver.
We will get to him shortly.
Personally I wish my
mother had stuck to
I absolutely loathed my
mother's ill-considered attempts to force her men into my life. I
were eight or
nine live-in boyfriends. However there
might have been more.
To cope, I spent a lot of time in my room
with Terry doing my homework.
Eventually Mom switched to
Mexicans. She found these guys at a place called The
Last Concert. She took this place very seriously.
Not only did she learn to dance to Mexican ranchero music, she
learned to speak Spanish.
Mom would date Mexicans
exclusively for the rest of her life. Miguel. Ramon. Lupe. Nemescio.
Pasqual. She married three of them. The worst was Pasqual, the
alcoholic who beat her and helped Mom squander away the entire $30,000
she had inherited from her father's estate. I was in college
at this point. The one time in her life my mother had any
money and she blew every last cent of it.
Just when I was developing a serious dislike for
Mexicans, there was
one very good man, Miguel. A gentle, caring man, Miguel made me realize that not all Mexicans
are bad. Miguel was a decent guy, the only one among the
nine live-ins that I would grow to care about. Miguel lived with us for two years until Mom discovered he had a wife and children
back in Mexico. With her pride hurt, Mom threw him out.
We both missed Miguel. So did the dog.
Greeks, Jews, Blacks,
Hispanics... Mom was
a veritable United Nations in her choice of lovers. I told you
she was open-minded.
I cannot begin to convey the
limitless depths of my disgust towards my
mother on this issue, but I think I've gotten my point across. Most of all I didn't want them living
with us. I complained no end, but Mom told me it was none of my business.
Throughout my childhood,
the loneliness, the constant moves to new homes, the insecurity and the occasional
loss of electricity were nothing compared to the men I was forced to
live with. That is what I objected to the most. I told her I could live
with the one night stands, but please stop letting these jerks live
with us. After all, when it was just Mom
and me and the dog, life was fairly peaceful.
Mom would reply that she was lonely. Sure
enough, Mom would go to a bar, pick
up some guy
like a stray dog, and bring him home and feed him. Big
mistake. The next thing I
knew, he was living with us. Unbelievable. Without any say-so
in the matter, I was forced to watch with disgust as the revolving
door of losers came and went.
If my mother had just kept her romantic forays
out of sight, I think my childhood would have been a lot
easier to cope with.
mother was very prone to depression. There were times when Mom would be in the
bedroom crying uncontrollably and I would be terrified with
insecurity. I had no idea how to console her. I had virtually
no one to turn to. I knew my mother
was a mess, but she was all I had. There were no nearby relatives, no
close friends and no neighbors to call for help when Mom had one of her crying
jags. All I had was the dog. Consequently I spent much of my childhood
in the days following the divorce in constant fear she would
go off the deep end and then I would be forced to go live with my
father. Since I had already begun to figure out my father didn't have a nurturing bone in his body, I prayed my mother would find a way to keep it together.
At Christmas time in 1961, Mom hit
bottom. Although she did not confide in me, I have to
assume the issues were loneliness or lack of money.
Lately Mom had been crying all the time. Mom did not seem
able to snap out of it.
She was just going through the motions. Three days before Christmas, Mom made a startling
announcement. Get packed; we are driving to Dick and
Lynn's house in Northern Virginia.
"Does Uncle Dick know we are coming?"
"No. It's a surprise."
My eyes bulged. I seriously did not want to do this.
It was freezing cold outside and we had the worst car imaginable
for winter driving. It was a giant convertible nearly
the size of a tank. The canvas roof was hardly going
to be able to keep us warm. Even worse,
the floor board in the back was so rusted out that I could
see the street pavement through some of the cracks.
The cold air blowing up from below was sure to make us miserable.
want to rethink this?"
"No. We are going."
What a shame it was that I did not have a map available.
If I had a map, I could have pointed out this was a trip of
one thousand, three hundred and fifty miles. 1,350
miles in a beat-up car, no money, and the worst winter cold
spell I could remember in a long time.
"Are you sure about this, Mom?"
"Did you not hear
me the first time? Get packed before I lose my
Reluctantly I gathered every blanket in the house and
stuffed them into the car. We left at 1 am.
Mom said driving at night was the best way to make good time. Mom had
a choice between going through southern Louisiana or
northern Louisiana. She chose the northern route.
We did indeed make good time, but that changed dramatically
at 9 am the next morning. That is when the snow began to fall.
Snow doesn't fall in Louisiana very often, but as we would
discover, we had run smack dab into the worst winter storm
in the past twenty years. As the snowfall increased, I
begged my mother to stop and ride out the storm at some
roadside diner. She disagreed.
Mom was determined to
continue, even when the car began to skid badly on the snow
and sleet covering the highway.
That giant car kept weaving back and forth. This went
on for an hour and I was terrified. My eyes ached from
straining to see through the thick snowfall to spot oncoming
traffic. I complained bitterly, but Mom would not
listen to reason. Finally I couldn't take it anymore.
I was afraid for my life, so I got in the back seat and
wrapped myself in every blanket we had for safety in case
there was a collision. Despite all those blankets I
was still cold; Mom said the heater had stopped working.
This car was no use. The canvas of the convertible
roof let cold air in from the top. More cold air came
up through the rusted floor board. Freezing and
clung hard to Terry and shivered terribly with cold and
fear. Even the poor dog was cold and he had a fur
coat. Good grief, Terry clung to me
Meanwhile Mom had started to cry again. She knew this
was a mistake, but she could not force herself to turn
around. I looked at the woman. Poor Mom.
Her face was white with fear. Somehow Mom had gotten it through
her head that this something she had to do. Like a
lemming, Mom was driving us to certain disaster because she
lacked the presence of mind to turn around while she still
speak throughout my story of Cosmic Stupidity.
It is my contention that during certain 'Fated Events',
a person can have their Free Will... and their common
sense... temporarily removed. Since I have no way
to prove this theory, I ask that the Reader bear with me
until I can offer better examples. However, this
incident is a good place to start. My mother was
operating on automatic pilot.
Huge snow drifts accumulated on the side of the road.
The car got harder and harder to control. Even though
Mom was barely driving 20 miles per hour, one time we
skidded far into the next lane. Mom was barely
able to get us back in our lane before a giant truck whizzed past us.
The driver beeped as loud as he could to signal his anger at
the near head-on collision.
Now I begged
Mom again to pull over and wait out the storm until the
roads could be cleared. Nothing doing.
Mom would not explain, but I have to believe her life was in
serious crisis. Out of options, Mom must have
felt she had no choice but to continue forward. Mom
was determined to follow her dangerous path even if it meant
risking our lives. She was completely out of control.
The snowfall continued unmercifully. The icy road conditions
were the worst imaginable. Our tires could not seem to
grip the road for long. As the car constantly weaved back
and forth on the snowy highway, I experienced more fear than
any 11-year old kid should ever have to face. I felt
so helpless stuck there with this insane mother trying
without luck to control this
weaving car. I was certain we would be killed at any
And then it
happened. The car skidded badly across the
oncoming truck, I was certain death was imminent.
I screamed bloody murder and squeezed my dog to my
There was no
time to allow Mom to regain control. She never
even tried. Instead she just kept driving in a
straight line across the road and plowed into a
giant ditch. It saved our lives.
snow accumulation softened the blow of the crash.
Now the car was face down in a snow drift. Mom
tried to back out, but nothing doing.
Mom broke down
in another one of those miserable crying jags.
I was crying myself. I was so scared. I
didn't know how we were ever going to get out of
this mess. I just sat there in quiet
desperation. Thank God I had my dog for
Mom never quite
snapped out of it. She just kept sobbing.
However, after ten minutes of crying, she stopped
long enough to tell me I needed to do something.
Surely my mother wasn't serious... but she was.
"Mom, I am
eleven years old. I am just a kid. We
are in the middle of nowhere. What do you
expect me to do?"
expect you to get out of the car and go get us a
exactly am I supposed to do that?"
stand on the side of the road and hitch a ride
into that town we just passed. Get to a
station and ask a tow truck to bring you back.
Terry and I will wait here till you return."
can't all three of us go?"
"Because no one will pick up two people and a
dog. However, they might take pity on a
I stared at my
mother as if she was out of her mind. And then
I realized she was out of her mind. Mom
had been out of her mind ever since we had left
Houston. Are you starting to believe in Cosmic
not believe my mother was sending me out on my own
like this, but maybe she was right. I couldn't
think of a better solution, so on the spot I decided
to grow up fast and do this. I got out of the
car and climbed out of the ditch onto the road.
Then I stuck out my thumb like I had seen Richard
Kimble do on the TV show The Fugitive.
right. Some man saw me standing there and
slowed down. When he saw our car in the ditch,
he stopped to offer to help. The person seemed
safe enough, so I asked for a ride to town.
miles later I was in the nearest town and bringing
back a tow truck.
truck was able to get our tank out of the snow
drifts. The truck took us back into town
whereupon the station manager checked out the car.
Amazingly, there was no damage. However the
manager insisted Mom get some snow chains for the
what we had been through, Mom wasn't going to argue.
Her defiance was gone now. It had turned to
fear. She was completely broken and just
hanging on by a thread.
looked at the man and told him the truth. She
did not have enough money with her to pay for the
towing fee or for the chains. What little
money she had left was for gas and meals. But
if he would trust us, she would write him a check.
She said if he could wait a week before cashing it,
once we got to Virginia, her brother would give her
enough money to cover the check. The man
thought long and hard, then he eventually smiled and
said okay. Thank goodness it was Christmas
man agreed to take my mother's word, I will never
know. Actually, now that I think about it, I
know one possible reason. He told me he had
been impressed by my courage. He said he had a
son my age and he could not imagine asking his son
to do what I did.
asked if I had been scared.
him he had no idea. I was still shaking.
This experience had scarred me in unimaginable ways.
Nevertheless, I thanked him for his kindness.
I said we were in great debt to him for his
incredible kindness and trust.
night we ate a warm meal of spaghetti at a diner
next to an inexpensive motel in Vicksburg,
Mississippi. I think that meal tasted better
than any meal I have ever had in my life. I
was so grateful to still be alive.
Fortunately, the road conditions were better in the
morning. The highways had been cleared and the
snowfall was more flurries than anything else.
We no longer had to drive in constant fear for our
lives. Mom stopped at a gas station and had
them take the chains off.
We stopped at another motel in Georgia that night.
From there, Mom drove straight through to McLean,
Virginia. We pulled into Dick and Lynn's
neighborhood at 4 am on Christmas Day.
However, to Mom's dismay, her car could not make it
up the steep hill thanks to the icy street.
She tried and tried, but the car kept sliding back
down. Disgusted, she told me to get out of the
car. Now we walked up the snowy hill hoping
the street above was the one we were looking for.
Thankfully, Mom guessed right.
When we got to
their house, Mom didn't want to wake the family. So I
offered to look around. I found an unlocked door to
the basement, so we walked in and plopped down on a sofa in
the basement den. To my surprise, a dog appeared to
greet us. Beauty, their Lassie-lookalike dog, came
down the stairs and greeted us with her tail wagging.
Terry was in love.
As for me, I
rolled my eyes. Beauty was so excited to have a
boyfriend, she never even barked. Beauty wasn't much
of a watchdog, but she was a darling welcoming committee.
Dick and Lynn
never even knew we were there till the morning came.
It was Christmas Day. Surprise Surprise. Look
what Santa brought.
It had been
Mom's plan to throw herself on her brother's mercy. As
Mom hoped and prayed, Dick was incredibly generous to her.
He bailed her out of what had to be a serious financial jam.
I never learned the details, but I believe that Dick and
Lynn saved her life that Christmas. More important,
they restored her will to carry on.
I will always
love Dick and Lynn from the bottom of my heart.
I never forgave
my mother for what she put me through.
I just added it to the ever-growing list of resentments.
Due to the extreme nature of my mother's foolishness, this
very well could have been an incident where Cosmic Stupidity
was involved. My mother was definitely out of her mind
and there was extreme danger involved.
Therefore I will
give it One Star on the Mysticism Scale and call it
Supernatural Event 3. Please keep in mind that
sometimes a dark cloud is just a rain cloud and sometimes a
dark cloud appears to be an omen. In the case of Blue
Christmas, perhaps I am being overly superstitious.
However, as the events begin to pile up, it will become
apparent why suspicion and superstition seemed to weave in
and out of my life like an unbroken thread.
Cut my eye out
(01), Near Miss with the Stock Car (02)
My dog Terry
comes into my life
Divorce, 4th grade at St. John's,
Mom begins to fall apart
Blue Christmas (03)