PAT NEAL: Back-to-school drugs

BACK TO SCHOOL. I wonder if any if any three words in the English language can shoot such a bolt of stark terror into my heart. I’m not blaming anyone, but I think it’s my big sister’s fault. Being two years older, she’d gotten educated a couple of years before I got mine.

As September approached, I counted the days until the end of life as I knew it, the first grade. My big sister was more than happy to tell me anything she wanted me to know about school.

“They put you in a big dark room with no windows. They have a big spotlight,” she said.

“They shine the light on the teacher who stands up in front of the class talking all day without a break. You sit in the dark and don’t move.”

“What if you have to go to the bathroom?” I asked.

“You’d better not. They’ll shine the spotlight on you and everyone will know.”

Try as she might to look on the bright side, my big sister could not shield me forever from the harsh realities of that first day of school. There were the fellow students, a half-wit gang of 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 those kids had been stuck in grade school so long they’d started shaving. If you had a problem trading your slice of blackberry pie for a rotten banana, 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 care what we did. 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 brush pile into a real live haunted house with a hidden treasure, a stack old National Geographics that would have made Caligula blush. Before you knew it, a teacher fired a signal shot out of an old Luger she brought back from the war and recess was over.

This was the old days, the late Pleistocene, I think. We used fountain pens, which could shoot ink quite a way 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.

Thankfully, we’ve developed brave new ways of dealing with problem children. You know the ones, messy, distractable and physically overactive. We have problems with delayed gratification, in fact, instant gratification isn’t fast enough. We lose things. We can’t finish tasks, wait our turn or engage in a conversation that doesn’t have anything to do with fishing. All of these obnoxious symptoms can now be controlled with drugs.

Just one pill a day at the start of the school day, with or without food, and Johnny Rotten becomes a model student. Back-to-school drugs may cost more, but aren’t our children worth it? For just a few dollars a day you can dose your child and keep them from ending up like me.


Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing and rafting guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via

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