The Fishing Trip
Sharon stood up as I came in the door, the hem of her 1970’s miniskirt barely brushing the top of her desk. She had turned out to be a competent Division secretary, in spite of the way she’d been hired, and was a friend and ally for me.
I paused at her orderly desk to say good morning. She pushed a NW Regional Lab Memo across to me. “Did you get one of these?” Sharon said. “It’s about the fishing trip.”
I picked it up and scanned it.
To: Non-classified employees
Date: August 2, 1970
Subject: Annual Salmon Fishing Trip
Next Friday, August 7, is the date for our annual fishing trip out of Ilwaco. Please sign below and return it to the Executive Office if you plan to go. Car pooling arrangements will be made by Tamara.
There was a signature line at the bottom of the form.
Non-classified employees were professional staff, those on salary. Classified employees worked for hourly wages. Non-classified were exempt from wage and hour laws, and were not paid overtime no matter how many hours their job might require them to work. Professional staff, like me, were non-classified. Secretaries, like Sharon, were classified.
I handed the form back to Sharon. “No, I didn’t get one. They do this every year. The men take a paid day off to go fishing, and the women get to stay here and keep the place open.” I could feel the familiar slow burn of resentment rising in my gut, unbidden, reflected in Sharon’s indignant expression on my behalf.
Her pretty face hardened. “But you’re a Program Director. You’re non-classified! And they even gave a copy to Dale, he’s classified, he’s just the tech guy. So’s Archie. He’s media. And John, down in Procurement. They’re all classified, like me!”
“Did this come in inter-office mail?” I asked.
“No, it was hand-delivered, by Tamara.” Tamara was the CEOs Executive Secretary. “She personally placed a copy on everyone’s desk except yours. I borrowed Dale’s and made you a copy.” She handed it to me.
“Thank you,” I said. I pulled a pen from my purse, signed the form, and handed it back. “Would you please see that Tamara gets this? And put it on my calendar?”
Sharon beamed. “I knew that’s what you’d do.”
I did it for her, too. I had been encouraging her to go back to school, to get a degree, to better her status.
Two days after I had signed and returned the Fishing Trip memo, Rex came to my office, closed the door and sat down. Rex directed another of the several Divisions in the Lab, and he had become a good friend. “Good friends” was a phrase always tempered with my knowledge that for my male colleagues, their loyalty was usually, first and foremost, to the good-old-boys network. They were capable of indignation on my behalf when it didn’t threaten their own status, but that was often as far as it went.
“Listen, Sweetie…” Rex began awkwardly.
I stopped him. “The name is Judy. Or Ms. Edwards, if you prefer.” I knew what this was about. He’d been deputized by the others to do the dirty work.
“Sorry.” He shifted uncomfortably in his chair.
“The fishing trip, right?” I said.
He handed me the memo I had signed. “Well, yeah, I think you don’t understand…”
I hoped my face didn’t display my anger. I had to play this cool and professional.
“I think I do understand. Everyone but the secretaries goes salmon fishing, all expenses paid and reimbursed. It’s not even called a vacation day. It’s professional bonding, on company time, but women professionals are expected to stay here with the secretaries and put in a full day’s work.”
“Well, you see, we can’t just close the place down. Someone has to stay.”
“And, conveniently, women don’t like to go on fishing trips, anyway,” I said.
“Right.” He gestured at the signed memo. “So, you were just kidding?”
“I wasn’t kidding. Oddly, I enjoy salmon fishing.” It was a lie, but I’d never tell.
“So you’re determined to go?”
“Is someone going to tell me I can’t?”
His face turned bright red above his white collar. He shook his head, looked out the window, considered his options. Finally, he got up to go.
“Take this with you,” I said, and handed him the memo. He took it.
“You should really give this some more thought,” he said. “You’ll hate it. We take our sleeping bags and share a big motel room, drink beer and play poker all night, then leave at five a.m. on a charter boat. It’s a guy thing. We tell raunchy jokes. We pass gas and pass out, and someone usually pukes.”
I lost my professional resolve, and couldn’t help laughing.
“Will I be more welcome if I fart and throw up?”
He stopped to look at me, a smile warring with a worried frown.
“No. You won’t be welcome at all.”
“I’m sorry to hear that. Because I’m going.”
He shook his head. “Judy, let me talk to you as your friend. For your own good, please don’t go. Save the Lab and yourself the embarrassment.”
I folded my arms and leaned on my desk. “I’m going. Get used to it.”
He turned back from the door, and his worried frown won over the smile. “Okay, you need to know this, then. That uppity attitude is why you’re never going anywhere in this institution. You’re a rabble-rouser, a troublemaker.”
I was not surprised to hear it, though no one had ever been quite this direct. Nevertheless, it felt like a door had been slammed abruptly in my face. And locked. I toughened up—my usual response to this kind of challenge. The set jaw, the glitter in my eye that might have been tears, or could have been ferocity.
“Who says I’ll never go anywhere in this institution?” I had had my eye on maybe moving up to Division Director, when Duane retired.
“Everyone. And this won’t help.” He meant the male hierarchy, from the CEO on down. Rex opened the door. “The guys think women would ruin the fishing trip. They’d have to be molly-coddled, need a room of their own, and they’d get seasick on the boat.”
So I had been warned. Go, and confirm attitudes that really didn’t need confirmation.
“What’s the big deal?” I said. “That won’t be me. You’ll hardly know I’m there.”
His shoulders slumped in resignation. “Okay. If you’re determined to go against my wise advice, you can ride with Archie and me.” In the end, he was my friend. But he was a Division Director, a level above mine, and couldn’t afford to get too chummy. That’s just the way it was, then. I might play cribbage and drink coffee in the Media Center with Archie and Rex in the early morning before starting work, but there were limits to friendships at work.
Over the next few days, I did give it some thought. Why was I going, what did I hope to accomplish? I listed some reasons for myself: since it was a paid day, it was sexist that only the women, of whatever classified status, were expected to stay at work. If it was, as they claimed, an occasion for professional bonding, building trust, then I was excluded from that bonding. As I was excluded from the bonding and trust-building that occurred around golfing, for example—a male domain, then. Golf games usually happened on their own time. My free time was spent with my children, not on the golf course, and I preferred it that way.
Another reason: this event was planned as a paid day to go somewhere to bond and build trust among the program and division directors, like Rex, Duane, andWarren, and include a few classified staff members who served every division, like Archie in the media center, Dale in IT, and Ken in Human Resources. But if this was the purpose, then all employees in any of those categories should be included. We could call it a Planning Retreat, and there could be plenty of golf during the day and poker at night, but I’d be included in the professional events and most of the social events—drinking and dining and drinking. Even though I didn’t drink much, I enjoyed hanging out and talking. Bonding.
But, why couldn’t I just accept a day off with pay, as some of the classified men did, and have a day to myself which I badly needed and rarely achieved? There were no other women at my professional level, so there was no precedent for how I might spend the day, except for being a woman, and therefore expected to show up at work. But I had been radicalized, so jazzed up by the energy of the birthing Women’s Movement that I had to make the point, whatever it took. Having been righteously radicalized, I had to act. I was angry! I had to change the world, and I had to start with the men around me.
I couldn’t accept it as a paid holiday because of the above—it was assumed that men went fishing, or got the day off. They were never expected to “hold down the fort.” It was assumed that women, regardless of status, held down the fort so the men could go fishing. There was no other way, short of a lawsuit, to get their attention on why this was unjust and unwarranted.
Someday, I mused, there would be many more professional women employed by the Lab, and there could be an annual fishing trip open to all, with separate sleeping facilities for the women and for the men. The men could play poker and fart, the women could do whatever we chose, probably just talk, and pretend not to fart. On the boat the next day, we would all be equals.
I was naïve, and way ahead of my time.
Mike, Kelley and Laurie were eleven, nine and eight. Mina had abruptly quit and returned to Independence the day Laurie fell out of a tree and strolled into the kitchen with a big smile, rivers of blood running down her face from a scalp cut. My adopted sister Barbara had then come to live with us to finish her senior year in high school, and she was in charge at home.
I took my backpack and sleeping bag to work, and left with Rex and Archie right after work, stopping for dinner in Astoria on the way to Ilwaco. On the drive to Astoria and across the bridge to Washington, they kept the conversation light.
When we arrived, we could hear the boisterous noise in the motel while still unloading the car. The poker game was well under way in a large conference room, sleeping bags piled in the corner, large round poker table at one side, large cooler full of Olympia beer close by. About ten men were playing, two or three kibitzing. The losers in each round had to kibitz the next round, offering unwelcome advice.
When the three of us came in, the room went silent, the cards stopped moving. No one greeted us. They watched me stow my sleeping bag in a corner by itself, sit down on the floor next to it, and pull a book out of my backpack.
I could hear the collective sigh of relief. She’s not going to insist on getting in the game. It was fine with me, I knew nothing about poker. I had come to fish. I sat in the corner and opened my book, and the noisy game resumed.
There was a new guy in the game. Dr. Reggie Johnson had just been hired in another division. He was an old Navy buddy of the Associate Director of the Lab. I assumed he was a professional, like me, and worthy of special respect. Professionals with doctorates were given special respect at the Lab. In my division, Duane and Warren held doctorates, and most everyone else at the Director level as well, except me, a fact about which, increasingly, I felt defensive.
Another round of the game ended, and chairs scraped back. Everyone stretched and got a fresh can of beer. The kibitzers changed places. Now Dr. Johnson was a kibitzer.
“Hey, Reggie, we’re almost out of beer,” someone yelled. “Go to town and get another case.” They threw dollar bills on the table.
Reggie gathered up the cash and strolled over to my corner. I looked up. “Guess we’re both kibitzing,” he said. “You might as well ride to town with me.”
I got up and joined him. It would be a good chance to get to know a new person on a professional level, not personal. He was married and too old for me anyway, his leathery face already showing wear and tear. Maybe too much time on deck in the Navy. Otherwise he was handsome, tall, blonde and well built. He had well-defined muscles for an old guy, probably worked out.
Reggie turned out to be not much of a conversationalist. I hadn’t paid enough attention to how much beer he had already consumed. We got to town and parked outside a tavern. I stayed in the car to wait while he picked up the case of beer. Instead, he came over to my side of his car and opened the door. “Come on, you might as well go in with me.”
I didn’t want to offend Dr. Johnson. I went. Not being a drinker, especially not of beer, I was uncomfortable in taverns, especially this kind of tavern—dark and dim, no decoration beyond the blinking neon beer signs, just the smell of old ashtrays and stale beer, with a long bar running down one side. Behind the bar was a muddy-looking mirror with bottles stacked in front of it. Dr. Johnson sat on a stool. I climbed up on the stool next to him, feeling out of place.
“Two beers,” he said. A tiny red light blinked on in my consciousness.
“No, just one,” I said. “I don’t drink beer.”
“Aw, come on,” he said. “Just one.” He nodded at the bartender.
“No, thank you, you’ll have to drink them both yourself.”
Blink, blink. Bad decision to say he would have to drink them himself.
Can’t offend this guy, I was thinking. He has a doctorate and he’s a close friend of the second in command. I can’t ruin the fishing trip the way they all think I’m going to, I have to conduct myself with dignity according to my plan: stay out of the way, cooperate, participate, catch fish.
Reggie drank both beers. The bartender set a case of beer on the bar. Reggie ordered two more beers.
Blink. I stood up. “You’ve got the beer, they’re waiting for it, let’s go.” I headed out the door.
“Okay, okay, just let me pay,” he said, and soon followed me.
We headed back in the direction of the motel. I let myself relax and breathe. This could still turn out OK. Had to show respect—the PhD— and dignity.
Reggie drove one block and parked in front of a lounge. What? He got out, opened my door, and pulled me out of the car by my arm before I could react. He was strong.
“What?” I said. “Where are we going?”
“Just one more drink,” he said.
My mind whirled. What should I do? Can’t make a scene, can’t ruin the fishing trip, have to somehow get through this, get safely back to the motel, act as if nothing happened. Have to prove women can go on the annual fishing trip without bad results. And, what are my colleagues going to think if we’re gone too long?”
He dragged me into the lounge. I felt trapped and short of options. He held my arm tight and shoved me into a booth in the corner, closed off my escape route by sitting next to me.
“Gin and tonic,” he said to the waitress, and turned to me. “What’ll you have?”
“I told you, I don’t drink.”
“Two gin and tonics,” he said.
Blink, blink, blink. The red warning light in my mind blinked brighter and faster. I had to think, had to figure out a way out of here. But he had me trapped in the booth, against the corner. Think, calm down, think. I tried to slow my breathing.
He started on the first drink. I couldn’t wait any longer. Through gritted teeth, I laid it out. “Finish that drink, and we’re leaving. I mean it.”
Later, I would go over and over it in my mind. At what point should I have said to the waitress, “Please call the police. This man is holding me against my will.” But it was 1970, and I had agreed to accompany this barbarian to the tavern. How would I be able to convince anyone that Dr. Johnson had kidnapped me?
He started on the second drink. I considered climbing over him to get out. Instead, I pushed his glass away and gave him a hard shove. “We’re leaving. Now.” I tried to catch the waitress’ eye, but she was busy elsewhere, and probably had seen similar scenes more than once.
“Okay, okay, no need to get pushy.” He got out his wallet and laid a few bills on the table. We went to the car. I didn’t wait for him to open the door, but jumped in and once again felt relief, holding tight to the door handle. Almost there.
We drove two blocks, to the street where a right turn would take us back to the motel. Instead, he turned left, and we were almost immediately in uninhabited wilderness. This had no possibility, now, of a reasonable outcome. I opened my door. “Keep going, and I’ll jump out and call the police.”
What if he sped up, instead? Could I jump out? Would he catch me anyway? Would I hurt myself in the jump? Would I be able to run, to defend myself? Who was this man? Images of news stories flashed through my mind, kidnap, rape, disappearances, murder. But the guys, my friends, they’d miss me. They’d look for me. What if he told them I’d decided to go on home? How long would it take for anyone to find my body? What about my kids? Who would raise my kids?
I screamed at him. “I’m jumping out! Now!”
He slowed down, muttering to himself. “God damn bitch.” Made a U-turn and sped up to drive to the motel. Again, I slumped against the seat while relief washed over me. I’d made it. It was over. My dignity and reputation were intact, and so was the fishing trip.
But I was wrong.
When we pulled into the parking lot, I jumped out of the car immediately. Reggie was just as fast. He grabbed me on my way to the motel room—those working-out muscles—and picked me up easily. He threw me over his shoulder, head down his back, and held me there firmly with one hand while he pulled the case of beer out of the back seat with his other hand. I screamed. This time I screamed, and kept screaming, for help. Dignity be damned. Reputation be damned. I’d be damned if I would let him haul me into that room like a caveman for the benefit of all my coworkers, like a conquest or a haunch of meat. I pounded his back with my fists and kicked, and kept screaming. He dodged my kicks somehow, laughing, and I couldn’t get good purchase for the kicks I wanted to deliver, where I wanted to deliver them, and which I fervently hoped would surely emasculate him.
We got to the door of the motel room. All was quiet within. There was a small ice machine outside by the door, and I wrapped my arms around it, found purchase, and as he turned the doorknob, I kicked his crotch with my wooden clogs as hard as I could kick. My clogs flew off, the door flew open, the case of beer hurtled into the room as he fell forward to his knees, and I flew off his shoulder backwards and skidded into a TV set, knocking it off its stand.
When I picked myself up, by now in a killing rage, the poker game had come to a dead stop. The ten players stared at the tableau before them, paralyzed in mid-play. Reggie writhed in a fetal position on the floor, groaning and clutching his crotch.
I snatched up my sleeping bag and my backpack and plunged for the door. I went to the road, started walking, and stuck out my thumb. It was the middle of the night. No traffic.
Let them all go straight to hell. I’m going home. Let them fire me. I quit. And to hell with their damn fishing trip. They were right—allowing women to come ruins everything. Because they’re pigs! And they know it!
My wiser inner voice kicked in. But what about the kids? I need this job, for them. And for me.
I can find another job. But this is a great job, perfect as another launching pad for my career. To hell with that! Who wants to work with pigs. And they’re all pigs.
Finally, a car came up behind me, slowed, and inched along next to me. Archie driving. Rex called out the window. “Please, Judy, get in.”
“I’m not going back there! Go away! Leave me the hell alone!”
“No, you’re not going back, and neither are we. We brought our sleeping bags. We’ll all go down to the dock and sleep until time to go fishing, and we’ll watch over you. You’ll be safe.” It was patronizing, but okay. I needed, now, just to feel safe; needed it more than I needed to prove anything.
I stopped walking. These were my friends. I trusted them.
We went to the dock, and Archie laid out my sleeping bag, then laid his out next to it, with Rex on the other side. We crawled into our bags with our clothes on.
“So, what happened?” Archie said. “Did he hurt you?”
I poured out the whole story to these two men I trusted, and took some comfort in their indignation. Then they told me what had happened after I stormed out.
“We figured out what Reggie was trying to pull,” Archie said. “We pelted him with full beer cans.”
“We wanted to hurt him,” Rex said. “He stayed on the floor and whimpered like a baby.”
I couldn’t suppress a laugh. “Good!”
“Then the police came. They’d gotten calls from several people in the motel that a woman was being attacked in the parking lot.”
I laughed some more. “Good! And what did you tell them?”
“Well, we said it must have been a mistake,” Archie said.”We told them it was a bachelor party, there were no women present. The cops searched the room, looked in the bathroom and closet, and finally left. Then we came to get you.”
Self-serving, to say the least. It was no mistake. But I had missed my chance to call the cops myself.
Rex added, “Can you imagine the headlines about NW Regional Laboratory if this gets out?” He paused, frowning. “You’re not going to file a complaint or anything, are you?”
I should file a complaint. The guy is a potential rapist. But a complaint would go nowhere. They would find a reason to quietly end my tenure at the Lab. And Reggie would survive and probably be promoted. I had three children to support. I didn’t need to make this into a crusade.
I sighed, feeling defeated, angry and betrayed. “No. But I should.”
We were all trapped by this situation. That’s the way things were, then.
Now I could see the other motive for their outwardly gallant rescue. Yes, they were friends and were concerned about me, but avoiding embarrassment to the professional reputation of the Lab was more important.
But I had my own reputation to consider, too. If this incident were made public, I would be radioactive in my profession. Being the only female in most professional settings guaranteed that. It would be “He said/She said,” and I’d lose. He didn’t rape me, just held me captive against my will. I could have insisted that someone in the tavern or the lounge call the police, and I hadn’t; I had been trying to preserve reputations and avoid embarrassment, not ruin the fishing trip, and God forbid, give Dr. Reginald the benefit of respect for his position.
I got what I deserved. And it was probably the best I could have gotten.
We settled down and got a couple of hours of sleep, and I felt safe.
The next day, which the perpetrator spent puking over the rail, I caught the first fish, the biggest fish, and the most fish. I didn’t get seasick.
What might have become a permanent rift of distrust with my colleagues had been somewhat redeemed by my two friends. Even though they did have a dual agenda, I knew their protective feelings toward me, at least, were genuine. I was complicit. I settled for what I could get. But in my heart, I made silent vows. Never again. No matter what it cost me.
They never had another annual fishing trip. Word got around, and the secretaries were secretly delighted with the story—in particular, Sharon, who welcomed me back with a high-five and a hug. From then on, my work always took priority over work given to her by my colleagues. Tamara was cool, and pretended she knew nothing. She was secretary to the CEO, and had her own position to protect. The guys, however, felt I had proved how right they had been. Women ruin everything. They should just shut up, stay at the office and answer the phone. Step aside and cover for the guys, make them look good while they take a paid day off doing their guy thing. Bonding. For guys. I bided my time. Never again.
As for Dr. Reginald Johnson, there were no consequences. The protective sanctuary of the good old boy network closed around him. I avoided him at work, and he avoided me even more carefully. He continued his employment at the Lab and was actually promoted, even when it became known that he had lost his previous job after being arrested for sexual assault.
Why were these men pigs? Why did they continue being pigs even when they knew they were? Why did they cover up even when they knew this guy Reggie had priors as a pig?
It was the early Seventies. That’s the way things were, then.