Deprivation Row

Lobo Peak near Taos, NM

Lobo Peak from Llano Quemado

“John,” she called out as I was heading for the door, “could I see you for a minute?” Coming from my eighth grade social studies teacher in Abilene, Texas when Buddy Holly walked the earth, this was no request, but I was fine. Ever the would-be teacher’s pet—grateful for the only grownups who sometimes understood—I thought some special privilege or honor must await. The class had been a triumph for me that day. The assignment, whatever it was, was one that interested me (historical or map-related, perhaps), and I knew the answer to every question she had asked. I couldn’t fathom why the other kids were bored or dumb, and didn’t care much either, happy I’d done well.

“I’d like you not to raise your hand so much,” she said. “I know you know the answers, but let the other students have a chance to answer first! All right?”

My mind raced like a pinball heading for the hole. What was wrong with being right? The others never answered questions, anyway. I couldn’t understand, but said the thing she wanted. “Okay,” I stammered, ashamed and stunned, as doors were slamming in my head. It had been my favorite class of all and now was snatched away.

Of all the things that happened to me in school, this probably stayed with me the longest. I see her now as real as life: dark hair, black sweater, white blouse, red skirt. She bends down to talk to me in the doorway as the bell rings and my classmates push past to the hallway. My arms are full of books—at least I brought mine—my head is bowed, my ears are red. I manage not to cry.

As awful as this was, I could have parried the blow with better training, but my parents were of similar mind and taught me well. A few years before in Germany, my sister and brother weren’t the best in school, so my father invented a plan to boost our grades: every “A” on our report cards was worth a quarter, a “B” a dime, and so forth. This meant a bonanza for me, I knew, because I always got straight A’s. My weekly allowance was only twenty-five cents, anyway. It took over a month to save enough to buy a record (45 rpm) or a simple model plane.

You can probably guess the rest. Just before Christmas, report cards in hand, Johnny, Teresa, and Bill walked proudly up to Dad. He started with with my brother, who only got a nickel. Teresa got a couple of dimes. I had six A’s on my card and was so excited!

My father handed me a single quarter.

“But-but, I—”

“Your mother and I expect you to get A’s,” he said. “It wouldn’t be fair to give you that much more than them…”

The fucking sons of bitches, I sometimes think, these many decades later. The lonely, weary, Depression-era bastards full of preacher’s guilt. I’m not so angry now—I know they loved me, in their way, and holy wounds can lead full-circle to the truth. Here I am though, much older than I ever dreamed I’d be, with a closet full of ragged shirts I bought ten years ago on sale. Then this morning someone mildly famous whom I’ve never met loved something I’d written and shared online. The telling thing was what a shock it was, like something didn’t fit!

The reaction brought the memories back. I understood about the shirts and gave myself another day to be a goddamn mighty man.

John Hamilton Farr lives in Taos, New Mexico, U.S.A. with his classical pianist wife. “Possibly the only place I can get away with this,” he says. As New York Times best-selling author James C. Moore (Bush’s Brain) put it in a review of John’s first book, Buffalo Lights is the work of a man attuned to the world who sees it differently than you and I and writes about it with a language and a vision of life that is impossible to ignore.” John is the author of BUFFALO LIGHTS, TAOS SOUL, ANOTHER DAY IN PARADISE, and THE HELEN CHRONICLES. He has been publishing online since 1996 (Zoo Zone, Farr Site, MacFaust, GRACK!, FarrFeed) and blogs regularly here at JHFARR.COM. See also → John’s Twitter profile, Amazon Author Page, video channel at YouTube, and website photos at SmugMug. To email John, please see CONTACT INFO on About page.  

  • chris ienni July 21, 2016, 6:01 PM

    “Is it possible to do great work without being miserable or insane? Do great artists need messy lives? I know it’s a cliched question, it’s a cliche idea, but it is what it is. Would Lou Reed be Lou Reed if he had skipped the smack and stuck to kale (and I’m not talking about Cale the guitar player I’m talking about kale the vegetable)? Would Norman Mailer be Norman Mailer had he not stabbed his wife with a pen knife? It’s not a great example, it’s a weird example, but I think you get the idea: Tortured Lives, do we need them? Don’t know the answer. Ask myself the question all the time. Not necessarily because I can stop it. I do know what’s great about being a creative person or an artist, as opposed to an accountant. I mean if you’re an artistic person, whether that’s a painter or a stand up comic or a writer, a musician, a poet, whatever it is, that the worst shit you go through is just fodder, it’s just material, or it’s fuel for your creativity; it’s some weird gift. If you’re an accountant, it just makes you blow your brains out.” -Marc Maron

  • Marti Fenton July 21, 2016, 11:13 PM

    Perhaps it’s the depression era that generated parents who wanted all children like grass cut the same length. My parents also were terrified of standing out and terrified that I would embarrass them. Don’t know if a tortured life makes one creative. Maybe we need to explore forbidden spaces to compensate for the very small space where we were once confined.

  • Rita July 21, 2016, 11:59 PM

    The double message – excel, but not too much. Maybe just be above average? I remember feeling confused when I was little when a stranger remarked “What a pretty little girl” because my stepdad was afraid that if I heard that I would become a spoiled brat. So even now if anyone should compliment me – I don’t hear it. Then later I realize that I am embarrassed that I did not say thank you. I really can’t acknowledge it until later. And most girls knew better (in school) than to appear intelligent. Even today, if I am stopped by the police, I automatically go into my dumb blonde routine. And it works, sad to say, but I do it unconsciously. Hopefully though, by reading others revelations, such as yours above, and becoming more conscious of these things, I can one day overcome it. Or not. 🙂

  • M.J. July 23, 2016, 8:07 AM

    Childhood is something we spend a whole life time trying to get over!

{ 4 comments… add one }

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