Youthful Gratitude of Ocean Dwellers

My social psychology teacher in grad school was actually an Alaskan fisherman with his own boat. He and his family lived in a quonset hut house with a deepwater dock to his boat somewhere in the extremities of Alaska. How he arrived at Humboldt State University (HSC, my graduate program alma mater) was because he held a masters from Columbia and a doctorate from Oxford and needed rolling capital. When he came down from Alaska to be a college professor no one knew him. I though his name was familiar (no idea why) so i enrolled in his two courses – statistics and advanced social psychology.

HSC at the time was on a four quarter system, not a semester system (dumb idea). I remember going to his first class and sitting in the room with 12 maybe 14 others. 

A robust, ruddy faced, barrel chest guy with bright blue darts for eyes got up from a desk in the front. He was dressed in baggy corduroys, a hand knit sweater, and desert boots. He went over and with oversized hands grabbed for the pole of a large fishing net leaning up against the blackboard on the back wall. He quietly padded back over to his audience standing at the foot where the rows of seats started to ascend. Looking at no one in particular he unexpectedly methodically whipped the net over our heads, back and forth, making several students emit loon sounding shrieks as the net swooped over their heads. 

When he was done affecting and infecting us with his stunt, he stationed his upright pole with slacked net next to himself, and offered, “You have four choices with me at the helm: One, you can jump ship, now; Two, you can get a life preserver and go below in the cuddy cabin; Three, you can become part of the working crew on this vessel, or Four, you can tell me the significance of the fishing net and i will give you time at the wheel.”

After several dead lull minutes of him standing there looking like an American primitive painting, I raised my hand. He took up his staff and dipped the net in my direction. 

My response went something like this, “Professor Anderson, could the net mean there is a possibility some of us will become by-catch and some of us become money fish?”

With this he walked up the side of the lecture hall, and with no further ado placed the very large net over my head. Laughter and further odd ball sounds were heard. Yet, what tickles my memory is the ozone scent of the sea as he vaccinated me (or blessed me?) with his unusual wand. 

Over the course of the next 16 months, we became friends as student to instructor. I was invited to his rented double wide trailer in the redwoods to discuss the state of humanity, eat local salmon or crab cakes, and grilled butter clams (grilled bivalves was brand new to me). I would seriously play scrabble with him, his wife, and three kids and occasionally with the date I brought along. Rain poured and pelted down while tule fog obscured sword ferns guarding the base of the redwoods outside. Inside was human mirth and informative debating.

On certain tide-proper Sundays, his clan would join mine. We would carefully crowbar off exposed rocks selected mussels from mussel colonies two hundred years old. Never taking too many from any one slippery village. Sometimes we waited for premium low tide near Moonstone Beach to not be swamped as the chill from the water could freeze your kidneys. 

Once enough mussels were collected we would steam our bounty in pots full of cut limes, herbs, strings of seaweed from the beach, and Pacific Ocean water tended over driftwood fires. Slurping up the tasty salty cooked innards while slugging down cheap wine munching on loaves of sour dough bread was better than any fare served at a five star gourmet cafe. Banana cake or wild Himalayan blackberry cobbler would finish off the meal, usually baked by me (I possess a sweet rack of teeth, not just a sweet-tooth). As dankness and mist gathered and the ocean flattened at high tide, we would draw near to now a larger fire to spit out made up on the spur of the moment tales or recite awful poetry (theirs not mine, of course). 

There would be no other humans for miles. Our laughter and teasing zingers would expand in environmental impact as the jugs of wine were passed around and spliffs were not bogarted. 

What my first Professor A taught were basic life skills how to morph from immaturity to maturity without losing your sense of humor or lust for understanding human behavior, no matter if your role was therapist and/or captain of the sea.

I held onto many of his suggestions during the thin gruel and thick puke of my life. At times, one of his repetitive comments yawled like a gale wind, “If you’re f**king going to keep your wisdom secured under a basket for Chr*st’s put some holes in it and let it become your lantern.”

Without fanfare I post-graduated (with honors) and exited the scene for Central America to work and travel. When i was done with this madness, I returned to Gringolandia. Eventually, I called to Mckinlyeville to see how Professor A was doing up in the lost coast of Humboldt County. His 14-year old son answered. His radio announcer voice stated his father had gone back to Alaska but there were cardboard boxes of books with my name plastered on them waiting for my pickup.

I still have some of these books, here in my library. Many came into my possession autographed by their living famous authors. The photo below reminded my heart of those glorious moments when learning from a master of social psych was almost better than getting a life bird.

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