I wonder if any three words in the English language could shoot such a stark bolt of terror in my heart.
I'm not blaming anyone, but it's probably my big sister's fault. She'd already been to school and was more than happy to tell me anything she wanted me to know about it.
"They put you in a big dark room with no windows and they have a big spotlight," she said. "They shine the light on the teacher who stands in front of the class talking all day."
"What if I have to go to the bathroom?" I asked.
"You'd better not. You gotta raise your hand and teacher will shine the light on you and everyone will know."
Try as she might to look on the bright side, my big sister could not shield me from the harsh realities of that first day of school. There were other students, a shifty gang of delinquent sucker-punchers who remain my friends to this day.
Lunch time was an opportunity to share whatever special treats Mom packed in the old lunch box with your new friends. If you knew what was good for you. Some of them had been stuck in grade school so long they started shaving. So if you had a problem trading them a rotten banana for your piece of blackberry pie, you’d better wolf it down first thing in the morning before you got on the bus.
There was recess, with games like "crack the whip," "Dutch knuckles" and "Indian rope burn."
The teachers didn't bother us much at recess. We thought they were in the basement smoking or something.
No one wanted to bother the teachers unless we couldn't get the bleeding stopped on our own.
On a good day we’d head out across a gravel pit, through a barbed wire fence into an abandoned haunted house with a real hidden treasure, a stack of old National Geographics that would've made Caligula blush.
Before you knew it a teacher fired a signal shot with a Luger she brought back from the war and recess was over. We’d line up for a drink at the water fountain. It looked like a toilet you stuck your head into.
You had to be quick. Just when you were ready to gulp down a drink, some joker would plow into the end of the line, creating an unfortunate chain of events that cracked your skull into the fountain.
Maybe that's why I write good.
We learned to write with fountain pens, which could shoot ink quite a ways when you got them sighted in. Once you got inked, you were bound to get pasted, with the white gooey stuff you could never wipe off. Mix in the rotten fruit and dirt bags you were constantly getting pelted with and you could come home from school looking like a modern art painting.
Discipline was strict. They impacted my self-esteem, sometimes with large pieces of wood. It must have knocked some sense into me.
Educated beyond my intelligence, I started to write stuff. You're supposed to write what you know. All I knew was fishing. I began working at a fishing resort at Neah Bay in 1970. It was the best salmon fishing in the world.
Crooner Bing Crosby fished Neah Bay. Movie star John Wayne anchored his minesweeper, The Wild Goose, out in the harbor.
The limit was up to six fish a day.
There was a fortune to be made cleaning fish for two bits apiece. This began a fishing career that stretched from “The Prairie” northwest of Cape Flattery, south to the Quinault River.
Then fishing up the Quinault River and over the divide and down into the drainage of the Greywolf. Then fishing west to the Elwha and Quileute, then south again to the Hoh and Queets Rver in a yearly cycle until I got old.
Spawned out and headed downstream tail first, I began writing my masterpiece, translating the fishing laws into English.
Fishing has changed a lot since 1970. For one thing the fishing laws have gotten so complicated you have to take a college course to understand them.
That's where I come in.
I will be teaching a class on fishing at Peninsula College at 6 p.m. April 4 and 11. The course will teach you more than just how to get your limit without getting arrested.
You'll learn the history, ecology and politics of fishing with some guide's fishing secrets thrown in for free.
There is no spotlight in this classroom, but please remember to raise your hand if you have to go to the bathroom.