an excerpt from Unalaska, Alaska by Wolf Larsen
The barge tied up next to the other fishing boat. We were now in a cove on the Russian Coast. I went out on deck and I "saw Russia". That is, I saw a barren side of a mountain that went steeply up and up out of the ocean. It looked a lot like Unalaska, but it was even more desolate and rugged and beautiful. It was more beautiful than anything i had ever seen in a book.
On this other fishing boat there was also half a dozen other quitters getting on the gas barge. Their story was even worse than ours.
"The only problem" he continued talking as I continuing wondering, "was they only brought us fish during the day. The day shift did all the work and made half the money."
"Didn't they just move everybody to the day shift?" I asked. "No," Mr. Sweet and Cuddly said.
One guy named Wild-and-Crazy got fired. He was the only one that got fired.
"Why'd you get fired?" I asked him.
"I fucked the foreman's girlfriend, but it wasn't like I was the only one! When he asked me 'Did you get a piece of that?' I said 'yes'. Next thing I know he told me 'you're fired! Get on the barge."
Wild-and-Crazy showed them a pack of Marlboros. Then he pointed to the big fur hat one of them was wearing. The guy didn't look too happy about parting with his hat but he wanted those cigarettes.
"American cigarettes must fetch a pretty good price at the local market," Wild-and-Crazy told me. "They'll give anything for them."
First the Russian threw the hat on our boat. Then Wild-and-Crazy tossed the pack of cigarettes unto their dingy. International trade. It was that simple.
"That's one nice hat," I said.
Then we began steaming back to Unalaska. In the cargo hold there was now a bunch of men of adventure. One of them was the book worm who I had worked with last year. "No more boats for me," he said. "I don't work for free, or almost free. The next time i do some Alaska adventure, i think I'll do the tourist kind," and then he went back to reading his book.
There was also a black guy from Oakland, a white supremacist from the middle of nowhere, a psycho deckhand that appeared to be from a maximum security mental ward, and a lazy worthless deckhand from the bosses' spermatozoa.
We were sitting in the galley talking about the economy and the lack of good paying jobs when out of the blue a white dude with long hair said, "Black people are taking jobs from white people!"
That's when the book worm (also white) started laughing all over again. "That's great!" he said as he continued laughing. "I think too much Alaska adventure has made you nuts!" He said "Alaska adventure" with a sarcastic twist to his voice.
"Normally I wouldn't even argue with someone like you." I said to long hair. "I would just find some way to SHUT YOU UP!" I said. "But since I'm stuck as a captive audience on this floating shitcan with you I'm gonna explain you something… You worked your ass off over 16 hours a day 7 days a week and you didn't make any money! This fishing company just reamed you up the ass real good - and you wanna blame black people for that…"
The whole time I was talking I was ready to leap out of my chair and fight. I thought he might start swinging at any moment.
"You're right," he said. He just sat there with a smile on his face waiting for me to continue on with more long-winded speeches. I couldn't believe his reaction! Was "educating" white supremacists so simple? Maybe some white supremacists are not as hard-core as other white supremacists. I don't know. But that was the last time he brought up the subject of race when I was around.
Then there was the black guy from Oakland. He said, "it seemed like everybody I knew was getting shot and my fiancé dumped me and everything was going wrong with my life and I wasn't too thrilled about my job as an asbestos remover and so I came up to Alaska because I just had to have a change in my life - I wanted an Alaskan adventure - and in Alaska I found a big change because back in Oakland I was paid good money for removing asbestos while in Alaska I worked practically for free processing fish! I think I was better off in Oakland!" He talked like a run-on sentence in a soap opera.
He was a big guy but he had a small shrived up voice. He looked miserable like some puppy that's been repeatedly beaten by its owner.
And then there was the psycho deckhand from the maximum-security mental institution. One day I was hungry. I went to the galley and I poured myself a bowl of cereal.
"WHAT THE HELL ARE YOU DOING?!" the psycho deckhand demanded. I stopped. "What the hell?" I thought. "I'm pouring myself a bowl of cereal," I said. "I LIKE THAT BRAND OF CEREAL! I EAT THAT CEREAL! I DON'T WANT YOU EATING UP ALL MY CEREAL!" he said.
This guy was shaking with rage as he screamed at me. I wondered if this was going to be the first time that I got into a fight over a bowl of cereal.
"Calm down," I said. "We can -
"YOU'RE EATING UP ALL MY CEREAL!" he yelled.
"O.K. O.K. I won't eat any more of this cereal," I tried to say as calmly and as soothingly as possible.
By now he had an audience. More and more faces showed up in the galley to see what was going on. Having an audience seemed to give him even more energy.
Now please just step away from the exit so that I can leave. Don't make any sudden movements. Now just step away from my exit. I'm asking you nicely."
He moved away from my exit. And then I left.
And then there was the bosses' son. He was a deckhand too. But unlike his co-worker he was very laid back. During the entire trip the only thing I ever saw him do was file some rusting paint off of something for about twenty minutes.
And of course there was the blue-eyed gentlemanly looking all-American psycho ex-marine.
While we steamed to Unalaska a rumor spread that water had mixed in one of the fuel tanks and the barge had pumped all the fuel out into the ocean. Of course that's a big no-no and bad for the environment and all that but it was cheaper for the company to just pump all that ruined fuel out into the ocean than to be nice to the environment.
Another rumor spread on the boat that the psycho deck hand might be fired. Suddenly a lot of the guys started volunteering to work, even the book worm. They were all painting and washing walls for free to help make the floating trash can a little prettier. The black guy was the most motivated and worked harder than anybody else. Since he had only been on a fishing boat once I guess working for free was still an exotic Alaskan adventure for him. Or maybe he was really driven not to return to Oakland. Since I had worked for free so many times for this company before working for free wasn't an exotic adventure for me any more - I was kinda bored with it so I wasn't as motivated as the others.
"What about our plane tickets back home?" asked the book worm.
"You guys are quits. You don't get a ticket home," said the young lady.
"WHAT DO YOU MEAN WE DON'T GET A TICKET HOME??!!" exclaimed the ex-Marine.
"You guys quit! You don't get a ticket home," repeated the lady. She said the word "quit" in a disgusted tone of voice.
"The company is just going to dump us here on this island?!" exclaimed Wild-and-Crazy.
"Yep," said the young lady.
"But a ticket off the island costs big bucks!" exclaimed Cuddly."What if we don't have the money to fly out?"
The young lady just looked Cuddly in the eyes and shrugged her shoulders as if to say, "Who cares?"
To all of the guys except me this was a crude shock. I was planning to stay on the island anyway and work.
In the entranceway to the Unalaska bunkhouse I came across the bosses' son drinking an entire case of cheap beer by himself. I said nothing to him and kept on walking. He said something stupid. I ignored him. And then he yelled at my back, "I'D OFFER YOU A BEER BUT I ONLY HAVE ABOUT 17 MORE BEERS LEFT" and then he started laughing. I was glad he spared me the bother of turning his invitation down.
That night Wild-and-Crazy flattered and smiled and joked and flirted his way into the bed of the housekeeper.
I talked with my ex-marine friend. I told him, "I'm staying on the island. I came here to save up money and that's exactly what I'm going to do."
"Not me," said the all-American psycho. "I'm just counting it all as a loss of time and money. I'm flying out of here tomorrow."
"I'm leaving too, I don't care what it costs to get out of here! No more of this Alaska adventure for me!" said the book worm.
"It's 700 dollars just to get to Seattle one way! 600 to Anchorage!" said the all-American psycho.
"I don't care!" said the book worm. "I'll spend anything to get the hell away from this place! Are you really staying Jay?"
"Yeah," I said.
"You really are nuts!" the book worm said.
Copyright © Wolf Larsen 2004
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