Today, Gentle Reader, we turn to my brief time in Alaska. I worked on shore, in a cannery – it’s much easier to get on at a cannery for a few years, before attempting to get onto a boat. Most of my male relations work/have worked in the Alaskan Fishing Industry, and while it was clear that wasn’t where my destiny lies, everyone thought spending a season or two would do me good. They were right.
J. went with me – the same J. from a few posts ago, yes; we were inseparable, at the time. Further, he had just become affianced to the woman he’d eventually marry. Twelve-hour shifts, six-or-seven-day weeks; nothing to spend your money on. Meals and Lodging were provided, and deducted from one’s pay. Once a week, whether I had a day off or not, I’d trek the six miles to the library, where the internet was.
I had been lucky enough to be put onto the Roe line, as a Scaler. It was easier work than any of the other white boys*, and came with an extra $0.35 per hour. I’d spend my days weighing and sorting cod ovaries. As I said at the time, “A fitting occupation for a duke, I should think – weighing caviar.” I really haven’t grown any less pompous, over the years.
We were crammed four to a room. J. and I were lucky enough to be able to bunk together. There was a very nice fellow from Mozambique sharing our room, as well as a chap called Brandon Tatiano. Brandon threw up into J.’s boots within an hour of meeting him. He was five foot nothing, 250 pounds, prone to vomiting at the drop of a hat, and even freshly bathed, he smelled of an abandoned locker-room. Charming, I’m sure. Further, his conversation was absolutely inane, and he wasn’t up to the work. Alors.
Brandon, before he was fired for being incompetent, had purchased a few bottles of wine to celebrate the end of the season with. As J. and I were both underage at the time, we were glad to claim them when he was sent home months early. At the end of the season, we had about a week of free time before we were to be sent back home.
Now, there’s not-quite-a-mountain that overlooks the cannery.
At any rate, perched right at the top of the hill, there’s a concrete structure. Two days before I was to fly out, J. and I and our friend Rod† decided to climb the mountain and explore it. Once up there, there was a nifty little brass plaque explaining that it was a decommissioned bunker from WWII. The broken bottles and cigarette butts illustrated that it was also a popular party destination. This is when J. revealed the wine that he’d hiked up with us, and that’s how it came to pass that the three of us killed two bottles of wine in a bunker, before sliding back down the mountain on our asses.
* A note on race in Alaskan Canneries: labor is usually divided according to race, in my experience. Young white guys are typically off-loaders, who, yes, unload the boats. Filipinos work the belts, sorting and grading different fish products. Mexican and Chinese folk were typically working the packing line, when I was there, and so on and so forth. I have no idea why this is. However, it’s not a hard and fast rule.
†Rod was significantly older than J. and me, being in his late forties. He was a fascinating man; a self-described “Soldier of Fortune” who had once lived at the bottom of the Grand Canyon for a year, for no particular reason. The three of us were known collectively as “The Irish Mafia.” I was known as “The Professor.”