How I Turned My Parents' Hair Grey

by | Nov. 23, 2003


I admit it; I gave my parents their grey hair. That largemouth bass back in 7th grade made me do it. Really.

I caught my first big bass in a small Southern California farm pond by tossing on of my father’s topwater plugs next to a lily pad. Just as I finally got that bass to shore, it suddenly flopped, twisted, and muscled its way out of my mitts to disappear back into the water. My mind snapped. I started casting madly to get him back. I kept casting and casting and casting. The sun went down. The moon came up. I vowed to keep casting until I fooled that monster again or turned 35, whichever came first.

”Where have you been!” my mother cried when I came through the door. “It’s almost midnight!”

“Out,” I explained.

“Out where!”


Somehow that seemed to sooth her. At last I hadn’t been smoking cigarettes, stealing hubcaps, or holding up a liquor store.

That night I experienced what is called “bass fever.” It begins with chills, nightmares and an unbearable longing to catch another bass. In the days that followed, I couldn’t sleep. I couldn’t eat. School days went by, but somehow I missed them. I’d start peddling my bike toward school, suddenly break into a fever and become weak – too weak to turn my handlebars toward school. I’d pull like crazy to turn them, but they’d pull even harder toward the bass pond.

It was during these missed school days that they taught us how to solve for “x.” I have been looking for “x” ever since. Missing those key algebra lessons eventually cost me a career is astrophysics, an occupation of which my parents could have been proud.

Only a kid, I knew smoking was a crime and lying was a sin (or was it the other way around?), but I wasn’t sure if fishing for bass instead of going to school was right or wrong. After all, Jesus had recruited fishermen to work for Him.

To deal with the unavoidable “How was your day?” question – and to avoid outright lying – I mastered the mumble and shoulder shrug.

By the third day I’d caught a dozen good bass. None were as big as the one that’d ruined my opportunity to assist Albert Einstein with those pesky equations or help launch America’s first moon shot, but several were in the 3-pound class.

During one particular nightmare, Old Mr. Bass sucked in my plug and spit out my future as a computer scientist. In another night terror, he pulled so hard I ended up on the floor next to my bed where, interestingly, I thrashed about helplessly like a boy drowning in a sea of lost “x”s.

Sick with bass fever, I spent Saturday mornings at the hardware store ogling fishing plugs. I bought a bug, green wooden frog with rubber legs, which cost me not only a week’s paper money, but my nest egg for medical school.

The fear of getting caught skipping school was making my food go down in lumps. During supper, little beads of guilt began dropping from my forehead into the mashed potatoes – especially when a direct question forced me to tell my parents a whopper about my talent for long division. I couldn’t look father in the eye.

Then one evening at dinner – and just one second before I would have exploded in a full confession – father opened a letter and began to read aloud. “Dear Mr. and Mrs. Quinnett,” it began, “We have confirmed that your son, Paul, has not been attending.”

I blacked out. My chair tipped over backward. I crashed into the china cabinet and hit the floor, faking an epileptic seizure. My family is a cold-hearted bunch. Not one person responded with help or compassion. My older brother laughed out loud.

After I regained my composure and rested my insanity defense, my father’s hair turned grey as he delivered the punishment: no fishing for one whole month. Pulling crabgrass was easy; life in Sing Sing was a breeze, but being denied fishing – well, that was cruel and unusual punishment, and probably unconstitutional.

Still, I was fortunate that both father and principal were fishermen. Perhaps they understood. Unfortunately, the principal – a staunch Republican – was no softy on the crime. He refused to let me make up those lesson to solve for “x,” thus preventing my plan to please my parents by receiving the Nobel Prize for Chemistry.

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