Vilos Cohaagen was a really fun character to play. Paul Verhoeven, the director of RoboCop, and I had gotten along famously when I was playing Dick Jones in Robocop, so naturally I was thrilled when he wanted me to play the “Dictator of Mars” in his next project, Total Recall, which we started shooting in 1988.

Most people don’t know this, but things could easily have worked out much differently with the movie. Total Recall had gone through several different incarnations before Paul Verhoeven and Arnold Schwarzenegger became attached to it. First of all, it had been in “development” for fourteen years. Every studio loved the story, but couldn’t figure out how to make the movie and stay within a manageable budget. Several actors, William Hurt and Richard Dreyfuss had, at one time or another, been considered for the lead role and directors like Ridley Scott to film it. I had been told by one of the screenwriters that production had, at one point, actually begun in Australia with Ridley Scott directing and with Patrick Swayze set to star. My understanding is they only shot for a short time before producer Dino De Laurentiis shut down production. So when we started shooting in Mexico City, the film was already six million dollars in debt. By the time I got onboard, Total Recall was fast on its way to becoming the then most expensive production in the history of film.   

After the plug was pulled in Australia, it was decided to shoot the movie at Churubusco Studios in Mexico City, clearly as a penny-pinching exercise. Even though, at that time, it was the most expensive film ever with massive sets, the production company tried to cut so many corners they made it feel like the lowest low budget film I’d ever been on. I remember getting a call to ask me, “Ronny, the actors have agreed to fly coach down to Mexico. I know we’re supposed to fly you first class, but would you agree to fly coach too?” Dumbfounded, I replied, “Are you telling me that Arnold Schwarzenegger has agreed to fly coach?” There was a pregnant pause: “Oh, well, not Arnold”… I said: “Well, no – not Ronny!” I also heard the production team actually called some of the actors to say with a wink… “Listen, we’re gong to be shooting on x and x dates. If you happen to be here in Mexico, there’s a good chance we’d hire you.” Actors were literally going down to Mexico on their own dime and they weren’t receiving a per diem – a daily rate – or lodging. And on the days they weren’t working there was no compensation. Talk about cutting corners!

There were certainly no shortcuts for me with this picture. I literally faced the longest commute you could imagine. At the same time we were shooting Total Recall, I was also making Captain America in Yugoslavia. So, I was flying back and forth between Mexico City and Dubrovnik, Croatia. Ironically, in Captain America I played the heroic, honorable, and patriotic President of the United States…(perhaps the nicest man on earth)… while in Total Recall I was the meanest man on Mars… (perhaps in the universe). It sometimes felt like I had to look down and see what I was wearing to remember who I was playing.

My haircut threw an expensive monkey-wrench into the works of their budget. I was called to Mexico a week or so before most of the other cast arrived. They needed me for a couple of days of preliminary shooting: Cohaagen addressing the citizens on Mars TV, and those well-known scenes of him barking out orders on the monitor to Richter… simple scenes that required only me and since they were close-ups, and a very simple background…. not much of a set. Here’s the deal, when we shot those scenes I had a fairly normal hairstyle, not slicked back like, as Mary used to say: “the Lizard King look”, that ended being how I looked in the final version of the movie. And that haircut caused me no small amount or trepidations, which I’ll explain later.

When I returned from Mexico the production wanted Rob Bottin, (the special effects make-up genius) to do a prototype full head mask of me for the film. ***I’m sure you’ve heard of people who have a photographic memory? Rob, has a photographic memory with his hands. He can sit with his pad and paper and draw a photographic likeness of you, or mould an absolute likeness of you in clay***. Arnold and I spent an entire day distorting our faces in every way we could imagine (our face muscles were sore the next day). They were for the scene when Arnold and I were on the surface of Mars (my dramatic death scene at the end of the movie when my eyes pop out of my head). Rob created exact masks of Arnold and me, and from those beginnings he put air bags at strategic spots inside the masks. He could then take our expressions and make them more and more grotesque. Which, on film, paradoxically is both exaggerated and fairly realistic at the same time.

It was a long monotonous and scary process making those masks. They completely covered your face with latex. I’m claustrophobic, it was torturous, being completely closed in with only straws in your nostrils for breathing tubes. I was pretty freaked out. Anyway, they slicked back my hair with gel and Rob took photographs of me to document the project. When I saw the photographs with my hair slicked back , I realized that was what Cohaagen should look like. But there was one big stumbling block: I had already shot two days of scenes in Mexico with normal looking hair.

I didn’t know how best to approach Paul …. as we all know, his reputation for having volcanic temper when things go South is well deserved…. as well as being well documented.. So, you can imagine my dread of how he might to react to my creative suggestion. Particularly in light of the fact that he was under increasing pressure over the budget. But I took a deep breath and said. “Paul, I want to show you something. I know we’d already shot a couple of scenes, but look…….. ,” I showed him Rob’s photograph.

He glared at me for a long time: “I’m angry at you Ronny!… you know why?… “Because I’m going to have to shoot those two days again!” he had an impish smirk .

An interesting sidelight about the look of Cohaagen… when I was at Churubusco for those first couple of days of shooting, I’d walk from the make-up trailer to the set and no one ever paid any attention to me. We had a huge multi-national crew… but most of them were Mexican. There were a gazillion actors, so obviously we were unknown to the crew. But… once Paul had settled on the “Lizard King” look for Cohaagen… whenever I walked from the make-up trailer to the set… all the crew guys would stop as I passed them and make some gesture, nod submissively and say, “El Jefe”…….

In many ways being cast as Dick Jones in RoboCop was as big a break in my career as being cast as Drew in Deliverance. Let me explain: Drew was the good guy, the moral one, and because of that, for the next ten or fifteen years, I was cast in “boy scout” good guy roles. Producers and directors, and studio executives in film business tend to typecast. And since Drew was the sensitive “moral“ one, it became a bit of an albatross for me. You see, if you play a character with “sensitivity”, that nearly always gets equated with weak or soft, so if there was a role with any “balls” I seemed never to get it. It was really frustrating for me. I’ve been an athlete all my life… tennis player, a marathoner and the four of us did all the canoeing in Deliverance. So you can see why I was mystified at being known as a “soft actor”… and why I was thrilled when cast as Dick Jones in RoboCop.

I try to be a good person in my ordinary everyday life, but it’s no fun playing the clean-cut, good guy all the time. Those guys make the right and predictable choice almost every time. Boring!! I liken it to painting: the good guy gets three colors – red, white, and blue. But the bad guy gets the whole palette… and those roles are way more fun to play. The most fascinating characters are nearly always the bad guys.

I have always wanted to play the whole gamut … good guys, bad guys, and everything in between. Some actors like being typecast. There’s comfort in playing a character that’s a slight variation of a guy they’ve played before. That has zero appeal to me…and because of that, the actors I admire most are the guys who play “character” as opposed to persona. I’ve done my damndest to carve out a career without getting pigeonholed. I want to play someone as far removed from me as possible. A lot of actors, when talking about their character, refer to that character as “me”. I’ve heard them say…“I did this or I did that.” That would never occur to me. It’s always he. “He does it,” because his actions have little or nothing to do with me. Oh, sure… eventually, the character moves out of my impulses… but there are a thousand other details that I’m having to deal with, (hitting my mark for the camera crew, being there for my fellow actors, and of always being aware of the rhythm of the scene)…. getting caught up in me, me, me can doom the scene… and, in my estimation, the movie.

I have a small, rustic log cabin in June Lake. And I do mean small… less than a thousand square ft. Mary and I bought it in the mid-eighties. It was really cheap… we got it for a song and only had to sing half of it. Mary was adamant: she wanted a “get-away” place where she didn’t have to worry about housekeeping and other household chores. We had a deal (still do) with a local resident who checked on it every week or two to make sure nothing catastrophic happened to the cabin. Our times there were almost always idyllic. Care-free hikes, napping by a stream with a fishing line bobbing near the bank, driving the eight miles to Lee Vining and the road to Tioga Pass, (Eastern entrance of Yosemite)… and occasionally going further up 395 to the ghost town of Bodie. The cabin was Mary’s favorite place to be. Fifty yards up the trail from the cabin is a huge boulder. It was at least 25 ft high and you needed to use a bit of care to find a safe climbing route to the top. But once you were there you’d have a magnificent view of Carson Peak and the canyons of the Eastern Sierras. We all called it “Mary’s Rock”, and she could spend hours on end there. BTW… Her ashes are spread there.

During that period of my career, I was working a lot… (it seems I was in every movie made there for a while) but typical of the film business, we’d often have a week or at least a long weekend when I wasn’t needed on the set, and if I wasn’t working you could find us at the cabin… which is a roundabout way of getting to this story.

It is about a 5 hr drive from our house to the cabin. Highway 14 to 395, through Mojave, Red Rock Canyon, Lone Pine, (legendary with over 400 films shot there)… Hell, every Western from my childhood. Whenever I drive through Lone Pine, if I look off to the West at those unmistakable rocks of the Alabama Hills, I could cut the nostalgia with a knife. In fact,
there is a wonderful film museum in Lone Pine and anytime we drive through town, I’m drawn to it like a moth to a flame. Death Valley, the Mojave Desert… to Bishop, Tom’s Place, Mammoth and then June Lake.

So, as you can imagine, I know that road like the back of my hand. About 35 or 40 miles after Hwy 14 becomes 395, there’s a wide spot in the road with a small store, service station and a couple of other buildings that didn’t seem to be occupied. I hear it was once called Cowan Station, but by the time Mary and I started going up there regularly, they had changed the name. Above the store in crude hand-painted letters was…“DUNMOVIN”.

Naturally, Mary and I were always curious… and one day, the car was overheating, as it always did driving through the desert, and we needed gas anyway, so we decided to stop. The proprietors were delighted to see us and anxious to talk… I got the feeling they didn’t get a whole lot of customers. It turns out their names were Henry and Henrietta Johnson. They both called each other Henry. We talked for quite a while as Henry made sure the car got checked for anything that could possibly cause it to overheat and, of course, to fill the tank FULL, check the oil and tires, and wonder if I might need a new fan belt. While he was ministering the car, Mary and I asked the other Henry about the sign. This is what she told us.

They were originally from Arkansas and had been married for over 30 years, and when Henry lost his job they packed up and moved to wherever the next job took them. She said they moved 18 times in 13 years… Henry finally ended up working in the mine at Coso Junction, which is only 4 or 5 miles away. When Henrietta heard that the people running this store were leaving and that they were looking for someone to take over the lease, she scraped up all her savings, contacted relatives and sold her soul to the bank to put up the deposit for the property. She said it took her a couple of days to paint the sign… and she was aware that it wasn’t the most professional looking sign, but, “dammit, I wasn’t about to waste the money for a proper sign”. When she finished it… she waited for Henry to come home and when he walked through the door, she said… “You know that service station down the road? Well, we just rented it”. And with that, she removed the bed sheet she had draped over it. He started to speak…. she said…”Henry, Don’t say nothing… I’ve already signed the papers”. He stood there for a minute or two and finally said… “Henry, that’s wonderful.”

I told this story to my friends Greg Edmonson and Ron Boustead… and we wrote a song about it. It’s on my “Cowboy Savant” album if you’d like to hear it.

  1. Done Movin' Ronny Cox 3:10


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I’m writing a new book. I guess it’s an autobiography of sorts, marveling at the unlikely twists, turns and unbelievably lucky accidents someone from a poor uneducated family encounters while striving to achieve recognition in the entertainment business. I’m also a storyteller and I didn’t want this book to follow the normal chronological progression of childhood, early struggles, big break, etc. I want this to be a book in which one story reminds me of another and that if sometimes it skips forward a few years and then back again… well, so be it.

I will be posting some of the stories on my website from time to time if anyone is interested. You can find them on my website, under the menu, “The Book.”

Typical of my songs… I don’t allow the truth to get in the way of a good story. I wrote a song called Grady that’s a compilation of three different guys in my hometown of Portales. It’s mostly about a man named George but when I was writing it, Grady worked much better for me lyrically. There were aspects of each that I wanted in the song. They were George, Burt, and Grady, but in the song, they’re just one guy. Grady lived two or three miles out of town and he didn’t own a car, so he walked into town just about every day. He wore an old worn out, John Deere baseball cap …. and he wore it backwards. Sure… everybody wears their baseball cap backwards these days, but in 1950 that was considered really weird. That wasn’t the only thing that made him “different”… he also had an almost comical way of walking that was an endless delight to me and the other kids who followed him around town like he was the Pied Piper. In the 50’s people often made fun of that slow, eccentric guy. Looking back, it was often mean, and unthinking. And a lot of the time, it was us kids who could be the most cruel.

Grady was a delight to us as we all ran to greet him… begging for his song. If you gave him a penny or a nickel or a dime, he would sing Woody Guthrie’s song “Oklahoma Hills”. He also had a dance that was the most incomprehensible jumble of gyrations, kicks and random movements that seemed to come out of nowhere, and were in no way connected to the rhythm of the song. It was wonderful and amazing. He would finish with an elaborate flourish… leaving us kids pleading for more. And here’s the thing…. if we gave him another penny or nickel …. he’d do the same song again …it was the only one he knew… ( the dance was always different, though). It was an incredible dance. Sometimes we’d have him do it two or three times.

Anyway, that was the genesis of the song…. it’s on my album
“Songs with Repercussions” if you’d like to hear it.

  1. Grady Ronny Cox 4:01


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My brother, Rick, and I were really close as young boys. Rick was diagnosed with polio when he was three. Early on he was 90% paralytic…. and spent 6 months in an Iron Lung. He spent a lot of those early years in the hospital, and because of that, he missed a couple of years of school. So, he and I ended up being in the same grade. Everyone thought we were twins… Rickey and Ronny. And because of that, he and I were naturally together more than any of the other brothers. We teased each other and were always pulling tricks on each other. I complained mightily about having to push him around all the time and he was always saying can’t someone else push me? Why do I have to spend all my time with “Him”….. we were constantly bickering.

I remember once when we were kids… I couldn’t have been more than eight or nine. We were going to a movie in town. It was about eight or ten blocks to the theatre. I was pushing him along and we were fussing with each other, as we always did, and when we got to the railroad tracks, I was pissed off at him, and I said “If you mess with me, I’ll leave you on the railroad tracks.” He said, “If you do, you’ll never get out of trouble”! “Oh yeah”, I said…. “Watch this!!” And I left him on the tracks…… , I mean, I was only a few feet away… there wasn’t a train coming, and he was only on the railroad tracks for two minutes, tops. Typical eight or nine-year-old boy crap.

I had forgotten this story until one day when my mom was visiting me out here in California, and we were laughing and reminiscing about the crazy things we did when we were kids. And I told mom the story… she did not think it was funny. She got mad at me, and I mean really, really angry. “How could you leave your brother on the railroad tracks? I am ashamed of you.” I’m not sure I had ever seen her as angry as that.

I said “Mom, I was eight years old, and I didn’t leave him. I was just messing with him.” She was unmollified! As a matter of fact, a couple of years later we were at a family gathering, and Mom brought that story up and was still angry at me for leaving my brother on the railroad tracks. So my advice is to listen to your brother when he says, “You’ll never get out of trouble”… and to be very careful what you tell your mom.

Pat Garrett was the sheriff who killed Billy the Kid: New Mexico’s most famous desperado… and when we were living in Roswell, his family owned a ranch a couple of miles out of town. I don’t know how we got permission, but the owners of the Garrett ranch allowed some of us kids to come out and swim in their irrigation tank. I guess I was six or seven and my mom’s brother, Uncle Bob, took me and my brother Harold, out there. Harold and Uncle Bob were gonna go swimming. I just came along for the ride. I didn’t know how to swim, didn’t even bring a bathing suit.

When we got out there, Harold and Uncle Bob vaulted out of the car and jumped in. I sat on the bank watching as they “horsed around” in the water. When they climbed out, Uncle Bob came rushing at me… grabbed me by the seat of my pants, and threw me into the irrigation tank.

I was terrified and thought I was gonna drown as I sank several times as I flailed and struggled trying to make my way to the bank. Both Uncle Bob and Harold were rolling on the ground laughing at my distress. And then when we got home, he could hardly contain his laughter as he told my folks it in great and exaggerated detail. He said he had decided it was high time I learned to swim…. after all that’s how he learned. I can still remember how panic-stricken I was… I had never been in water over my head… didn’t have the vaguest idea of how to swim. I was fully clothed. It scared the hell out of me and he couldn’t stop laughing. Yes, I finally managed to make it to the bank… coughing and crying, and I didn’t drown… but I’ll tell you something… I’m 80 years old now… I’m still angry at that son of a bitch.

Roosevelt County, New Mexico…where I grew up in the ’50s was a dry county. And here’s something most people don’t realize about dry counties. Bootleggers couldn’t care less if they sell to kids. So… in Portales, if you hadn’t been drunk by the time you were in the eighth grade, you were definitely un-cool. It was just too easy to get booze. All you had to do was go to the nearest phone booth, give a bootlegger a call, and pretty soon he’d bring you a bottle. Another thing that added to the ease of obtaining booze in Portales was that a lot of kids started driving when they were very young. A lot of kids could get early driving permits because they needed to drive a tractor on their dad’s farm. Hell…some kids were driving when they were twelve or thirteen. So… the deal was, you’d find some kid that had a driver’s license, and a bunch of us would chip in and buy a bottle of whiskey and a six-pack of soda pop, and drive the four miles out to the sand dunes.

Once we were safely away from town, we’d sit in a circle, open the bottle, and pass it around. You’d take a swig of whiskey and then chase it with a gulp of coke and you just keep passing it around and around until the bottle was completely gone. And then you jump up and go running around the sandhills screaming “I’m drunk, I’m drunk, I’m drunk!” And then you throw up, and eventually, when someone is sober enough to drive, you go home. I did that once when I was in the eighth grade, and it just seemed so silly… so, even now, I’m basically a non-drinker.

Also in Portales, we didn’t have school-sponsored dances… I think primarily because it was a Baptist, Church of Christ community. So… no Junior-Senior Prom. However, halfway between Clovis, (nineteen miles North of us), and Portales, was the Midway dance hall. You could get booze in the parking lot there pretty easily too. On Saturday nights, when they had the big country barn dance there the place was jumping. (My mom and dad started taking me to dances when I was 10 years old… and to this day, I love it). But in the fifties, a lot of people went for the sole purpose of getting drunk and/or getting in a fight.

A lot of us kids would go out to Midway on Saturday nights and just sit in the parking lot, and watch the fights. The cowboys and farmers hated the guys from Cannon Air Force Base they called “fly jockeys”. The animosity was always bubbling in a way that could explode any minute. So, some of the guys from town would go out and sit in the parking lot and watch the fights. I only ever saw one of those fights, and it was sickening. Extremely violent. It wasn’t like the movies. These weren’t movie fights. These were awful, violent fights.

I remember one night we were at the only 24-hour cafe in Portales. It was on the outskirts of town: “The Truck Stop”. My band had just played a gig and we were getting some breakfast. It was like, one or two o’clock in the morning. Sitting at the counter were two guys, so drunk they could hardly sit up. They were loud and obnoxious and we couldn’t help but overhear their conversation. They were cussing… they had been looking for a fight all night long, and still hadn’t found one. Finally, one of them turned to the other, and said “Well, hell, let’s me and you fight!” And the two of them got up, staggered outside, and had a knockdown drag-out fight in the parking lot.

One last story about the culture in Portales where a whole bunch of guys always seemed to be looking for some kind of macho confrontation. As a way of setting this story up, I need to offer my perceived view of how the people in Portales reacted to my being in movies and tv. In all honesty, they weren’t overly excited that I had been in Deliverance. First of all, you have to remember that in 1972, Deliverance was considered by some people as bordering on pornography. So… my being in a movie didn’t impress them. Starring in a TV series, however, was a very big deal. I still don’t understand that phenomenon. I think it might be because you’re actually in their home and they talk to you and feel like they “know” you. Anyway, I was back in Portales visiting my mom and Rick and Luanne shortly after “Apple’s Way” started airing on CBS. There’s a favorite drive-up burger joint in town. Pat’s Twin Cronies, where you park, go up to the window, order your hamburger and milkshake and then stand around outside for a few minutes waiting for them to call your name. As I was waiting, I noticed a guy sitting in his pickup truck. He was staring at me and after a minute or two, he very pointedly gave me the “finger”. I looked around, wondering if he intended his gesture for someone else. Nope… I was the only one in the vicinity. I didn’t know what else to do, so I walked over… “Can I help you?” as he was getting out of his truck, he stopped and said, “Oh, hell, Ronny,… It’s you.. I thought you was some stranger. I was gonna kick your ass.

As long as I can remember there has been an enduring skeleton in our closet about the dreaded “Cox temper”. I almost never get really, really angry, but I’ve always wondered if that was my way of proving to myself that I didn’t inherit the gene. The one that makes you go into an uncontrollable rage, and blindly and brutally lash out as many of my relatives are rumored to have done. Hitting someone in anger was not only something I heard about but something I experienced as a kid. That “Cox “ trait is, sadly, present in this story.

The first time I heard this story, I was 9 or 10 years old. I heard it from my uncle Pete Mays. Uncle Pete was alternately revered or vilified for his wild… bordering on unbelievable… tall tales. My dad always said not to believe anything your Uncle Pete tells you. He said, “He just makes things up”. True… they were unbelievable but they sure were entertaining… (most of the time) This particular story was always adamantly rejected by dad and my aunts and uncles… obviously, it doesn’t paint the family in a very favorable light. But… If there aren’t snatches of truth in it, then why did my brothers and I keep hearing the details of the story.

In the late 1800s, according to Uncle Pete, my great grandfather came from some unknown place back East to homestead in New Mexico Territory. New Mexico didn’t become a state until 1912. Anyway, as he was on the way to New Mexico, he stopped and spent some time at a reservation and married a Cherokee woman. They settled on the Eastern New Mexico/West Texas border. They had three sons…. I don’t know any of their names. According to Uncle Pete, my grandfather was the middle son. This is where the “Cox Temper” enters the story:

When the youngest son was 18… by this time, the two older boys (my grandfather being one of them) had already left home. Uncle Pete said that my great-grandfather had an argument with his son and flew into an uncontrollable rage. He attacked his younger son… and in the brutal fight between them… the young son killed his father. There was a fairly quick trial, and there were several witnesses who testified that the old man attacked his son and that the son’s actions were clearly self-defense… the verdict was justifiable homicide.

Is the story true??? Uncle Pete always said the reason the relatives didn’t want the story to be told was because of the way the story ends. Even though my great-grandmother and great-grandfather had been married for over 20 years… the citizens of the Territory of New Mexico were not about to let a “squaw” own a house or property…. and she was sent back to “her people”.

I’ve read a lot of autobiographies by actors and comedians talking about their desperate childhoods, but that just doesn’t apply to me. I had a really happy childhood. Oh, sure, we grew up poor. My dad never made more than $4,000 in one year in his life, and he and mom had five kids: four boys, and one little girl. When my sister Luanne was born I was already 17, so it always felt like I grew up in a family of boys. I love my little sister Luanne, but I was already grown by the time she came along and she and I had a very different relationship than I had with my brothers.

My older brother, Harold, was three years older than me so he could kick my ass anytime he chose and since I didn’t like anyone bossing me around, there were always ego problems between us. (Mainly caused by my stubbornness). Rick was my next oldest brother and he and I had a really special relationship. My little brother, Mike, was five years younger than me. By the way, in my band, Ron’s Rock Outs, even though he was the youngest, (five years younger than me, and seven years younger than Rick), he was the best musician. At 13 years old, he was our lead guitar player.

So… four rowdy boys for my parents to deal with, and we lived a simple paycheck to paycheck existence. My dad was a jack of all trades. He was a carpenter, a bus driver, a maintenance man, drove a cattle truck, and worked as a cowboy… it seemed he did everything. We lived in Roswell, NM until I was in the fifth grade… yeah, we were actually living there in July of 1947 when the UFO’s visited earth, as a matter of fact, my dad was working as a bus driver at Walker Air Force… so we were THERE, which might explain something about me. We then moved to Hot Springs, NM… (Rick had polio and we moved there to be near him while he was in the Carrie Tingley Children’s Hospital). While we were there, Ralph Edwards, a Hollywood radio and tv producer came to town and talked the city fathers into having a referendum, which passed overwhelmingly, and they changed the name to Truth or Consequences. Yeah, I was there when that happened. We moved again when I was in the seventh grade. I went to Junior High, High School and to Eastern New Mexico University in Portales, NM. Even though I was born in Cloudcroft, NM… I consider Portales my home town.

I said I was a happy kid, so I don’t know where this memory comes from but I can remember one day when I was in the second grade at East Ward Elementary School in Roswell. It was after school… I was in the playground, just sitting there on the see-saws. To this day it gives me such satisfaction to think about this: for some reason I started saying every cuss word I could think of. It gave me such a feeling of entitlement and of power that I could say these forbidden, naughty words…. all of them!! Now, in those days, those naughty words were probably, “damn” and “hell”, and not much beyond that. “Son of a bitch”, maybe. But I can remember it just felt so good for me to be out there cussing.

I’ll tell you something else. It’s a wonder I lived to be 14 because when I was 13, I knew everything, and I was perfectly willing to let everybody know that. In fact, it was an imperative. The year I was in the 8th grade at Portales Jr High, the school administrators had decided to stop corporal punishment… (a couple coaches had been going overboard so they decided giving licks with the paddle would be discontinued). So now, if you got in trouble, you had to serve detention. They would give detention in 30-minute increments, and I once had accumulated 42 hours to serve. No matter how hard I tried, some teacher would invariably say something that forced me to respond.

What’s a kid to do?

I can remember talking to myself on the way to school. I’d say, “Okay… Listen, you’re going to shut up today. Don’t say anything, just sit there, be quiet, listen, and don’t get in trouble today. Don’t do it again today.” And that would last until I got to school, and then the teacher, or a student, or one of my friends, or just some …something would happen. It was almost like Tourette’s. It would just leap out of my mouth.

Forty-two hours of detention… and you could only do away with them 30 minutes at a time because school started at 8:40. You could come in at 8:10. You got an hour for lunch, so that you could take only 30 minutes for lunch, and you could stay for 30 minutes after school, so if you came 30 minutes early, stayed in for lunch, and stayed after school, you could work off an hour and a half, but still, 42 hours. Finally, the Principal came to me with a possible solution. Maybe he could reinstitute corporal punishment just for me. I reluctantly agreed… but then never showed up to get my licks. I wonder if I’m a fugitive from justice from Portales Junior High. I don’t know.