I Was a Fish-killing Fool

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Pogoagogo
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Postby Pogoagogo » Wed Mar 12, 2008 3:32 pm

I'd be surprised if Isthmus doesn't decide to publish this in several parts!

fennel
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Postby fennel » Wed Mar 12, 2008 5:03 pm

Henry Vilas wrote:Isn't fishing in the Bering Sea and environs one of the most dangerous jobs in the world?

I think you're right. The rankings vary from year to year, but fishing is always at or near the top.

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Postby blunt » Wed Mar 12, 2008 5:56 pm

Pogoagogo wrote:I'd be surprised if Isthmus doesn't decide to publish this in several parts!


I won't.
Marvell: you got something here---shoot higher.

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Postby jjoyce » Wed Mar 12, 2008 5:58 pm

I've already optioned it to Fox. They're going to turn it into a reality show hosted by Carlos Mencia.

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Postby Marvell » Wed Mar 12, 2008 8:57 pm

jjoyce wrote:I've already optioned it to Fox. They're going to turn it into a reality show hosted by Carlos Mencia.


As long as Mencia's not playing me, fine.

I always saw George Clooney playing me; we already know he does fish movies.

After all, by brother Dan used to always say I looked like the boxer Gerry Cooney. And I figure, that's pretty close...

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Part Five: The M/V Amfish's Gallant Crew

Postby Marvell » Wed Mar 12, 2008 10:17 pm

Well, the journey continued, I got my sea legs, the factory foreman stopped tormenting me, and I began to figure out just what the fuck it was I had gotten myself into.

There were approximately forty people on the crew. For the ships crew there was The Captain, who was probably six three and blonde and looked like he could and would kill anyone who even looked at him funny. The First Mate was a funny dude; he totally had the pirate thing going on - curly hair, curly beard, one earring. But he was a super sweet guy - one time when I was off-shift and sitting around in the galley I heard him shout down for help.

I sped up the stairs to the bridge, and there was the First Mate sitting in the Captain's Chair.

"Hey - take the wheel for a second, man. I gotta go take a crap."

I blanched. "You want me to steer the ship?" I croaked.

The First Mate shifted impatiently. "What's to steer? There's no wind, no sea to speak of - all the catcher boats are at least a mile off; unless Godzilla decides to suddenly emerge from the bottom of the sea and start beating on shit there's nothing that can possibly go wrong. Now grab the wheel, bro - that coffee's goin' through me like Plumber's Helper."

There was the Purser, a pretty, slightly zaftig gal in her late twenties. She was my favorite combination - smart and tough - and I definitely got a vibe from her, but she was wearing some other dude's rock on her left hand.

So it goes.

The deckhands I mentioned in passing. Curtis, the head deckhand looked like the roadie for a bad heavy metal band, mullet and over-stimulated attitude and all - but he turned out to be a great guy, and told me the single creepiest story I have ever heard in my life.

"Yeah, I had a friend on this other boat," said Curtis one night when we were sitting in the galley, smoking cigarettes and drinking coffee. "And the cook on the boat started going fucking nuts. He just started getting really, really bitter - just sitting around, and talking about how everything was just shit, and life is just shit."

"And then one day they got up, and there wasn't any breakfast. So they went looking for the cook. They looked all over the ship. And they never found him."

"What happened to him?" I asked.

Curtis pantomimed diving into a pool.

"So you think he jumped?"

Curtis shrugged. "Jumped or was pushed. Think about it - you're a two-day tramp at full-throttle to the nearest police station. You wanna off someone just for bumming you out, the Bering is the right place."

Welcome to Alaska.

Then there were the ship's engineers: the Chief, an unspeakably ugly warthog of a man from Louisiana, and his two assistants, a doddering old fart and a happy-go-lucky ex-drug addict rocker guy with whom I immediately bonded.

Finally, there was the most important person on the ship - the Cook.

Someone once asked me exactly that question: "Who's the most important person on the ship?"

I snorted. "The Cook, you idiot."

"How you figure?"

"Well, look at it this way. Maybe the fish we're catching isn't selling for shit on the market, and our shares aren't going to be worth half what we thought they were. And maybe all the hydraulic equipment is fucked up, and the factory has a foot and half of standing water with fish heads floating in it. If people are still getting three hots and a cot, they'll come to work in the morning."

It's just that simple.

Then there was the factory crew. The Foreman I've already mentioned; then there were the two shift-leaders, Bob and Daryl.

Bob was this weaselly-looking guy with the classic white-trash mustache; he smoked Winstons.

Daryl Williams was a black guy from Tuckwilla, Washington, and Daryl was old school. It took a while, but he became my best friend on the Amfish.

Then there was all the rest of us mugs. And, to speak truthfully, we were a sorry bunch.

There were a couple white-bread college kids from the U of Florida, out to make some scratch over summer break, who were probably the most respectable of the lot - I got along with them fine, and one of them brought a hugely phat boombox that will play a major role when we get to the tales of shore leave debauchery Ned was hankering for.

The Vietnamese guys I already mentioned; they were great. Frankie was a force of fucking nature.

There were a couple of middle-aged white guys who were cabin mates and who, after a month or so, might as well have been a married couple. There was Tom, who was an Army lifer and was just taking a break from Army life to try to get a little ahead in his child-support, which was a little behind. The other one was Dan, a tall, lanky hillbilly from the hollers of Kentucky; Dan had been a doorgunner in Vietnam, and was one of the kindest, gentlest people I've ever met.

Then there was this whole distasteful tribe of white trash from Yakima: Terry the uncle (who actually hailed from Arkansas and was the only one who seemed like he possessed any reserves of what I would describe as human feeling) and his nasty, nasty wife; and then two of his nephews, the over-muscled would-be stud with the two-sleds hairdo, and his cretinous, oafish cousin.

There was Walter, a laid-back, fun-loving Yupik guy from the mainland; I used to always crack him up by saying, "Walter, you're a bad mo-fo."

"That's right, man," he'd giggle, "I'm a bad mo-fo. Don't fuck with me."

There was this couple of - not to put to fine a point on it - skanky gals (the 'hot' one and the 'good-hearted' one) from Seattle, girlfriends who decided to come up to Alaska 'to make money and meet cute guys.' Well, if mullets and Tom Selleck mustaches are your idea of cute, then western Alaska in the late 80's was, indeed, a free-range fox farm.

And then there were a bunch of other, basically fungible people who rounded-out the crew; two guys named Joe - who, when that became too confusing, metamorphosed into Joe and Old Joe. Old Joe was my cabinmate; he was a moron, but since he worked the opposite shift his being a moron never really became an issue between us. There was an old black guy named Ben, who copped a constant pose of low-level umbrage towards every aspect of God's creation. And finally I remember this one sad-sack of a country boy named Corey, who once sidled up to me unbidden and announced, "You know, I don't need this shit. I could move to Vegas and fuck rich old women and take their money - somebody told me I could."

I stared at him for a second. Finally I spluttered, "Hell, I'll tell you you can. Go fuck rich old women and take their money, Corey - it is clearly your destiny."

I was out at sea with these people for over a month - I didn't see anyone else, or talk to anyone else. There was no TV reception; people watched movies on the vcr, but there was no newspaper and we had no idea what was going on in the outside world.

Hell, what outside world? As far as we were concerned, the Amfish was the world.

[End part five]

Pogoagogo
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Postby Pogoagogo » Wed Mar 12, 2008 10:58 pm

Aye, gifted you are. This is starting to remind me of how people might have felt, waiting for their favorite radio serial to air.

Thanks for this. :)

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Postby Marvell » Wed Mar 12, 2008 11:04 pm

Thanks for asking.

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Part Six: Endo-San's Leap For Life

Postby Marvell » Thu Mar 13, 2008 12:24 pm

I've found that one of the aspects of the whole Alaskan fishing boat thing that is least-understood by people who never experienced it for themselves is how, exactly, you make all that money. Most people assume that you get paid at some mind-bogglingly high rate, and then rake in even more from overtime; this assumption is almost entirely incorrect. The fact is, you don't get paid by the hour at all - and if you ever crunched the numbers, you would find that you were barely being paid minimum wage.

The fishing boat thing is all about the contract. Here's how it works: when you first commit to the whole crazy enterprise, the company has you sign an employment contract - on the Amfish it was for 90 days. If you leave before the end of the contract you get one share of the ship's take for the period that you were on the boat; however, you're on the hook for the plane ticket to Dutch and back (about $800 in 1988), and your room and board for the time you were on the boat. Chances are that, after you settle all your obligations, you probably have about enough left over to buy yourself a can of Rainier and a grilled-cheese sandwich. If, on the other hand, you gut it out all the way to the end of your contract, not only do you get two shares but the company also picks up the plane ticket and your room and board.

So you may be only making $5/hour, but you're not spending a dime. That's where the money starts adding up.

Now (as I previously mentioned) on my first voyage on the Amfish it took us over a month to fill our hold - a lot longer than anyone expected. There were two chief reasons for this:

1.) We got nailed by a serious late spring storm. I worked the last shift before we stopped fishing, and let me tell you - I was absolutely terrified; nothing like being tossed around like a rag doll by an indifferent force of unimaginable power, and realizing that there's not a goddamn thing you can do about it.

So we limped into Atka harbor, and spent the better part of a week waiting the storm out. I played a lot of euchre with the ship's crew (mostly Curtis, the First Mate and the Purser), occasionally stepping out onto the deck to survey the landscape of Atka, and to gaze upon the island's one tree.

2.) At some point The Captain realized that the fish in our hold were worth a lot less than he had been led to believe they would be. I wasn't privy to all the particulars, but apparently there was some dissimulation on the part of Crystal Products in all this (as Alaskan fishing companies go Crystal proved to be less-sleazy than some, but still plenty sleazy).

So The Captain - unbelievable badass that he was - decided to make full use of the one clear advantage he had; namely, he had the fish. Essentially, he threatened to not bring the boat back to Dutch Harbor until Crystal re-wrote all our contracts to guarantee a minimum dollar value for our shares.

Not surprisingly the folks back in Ballard screamed and stormed, but eventually they folded, and we steamed back to Dutch Harbor with our boat's belly full of frozen plunder.

I'll never forget sailing back into Dutch that first time; I stood on the boat's prow and looked inward, to the crazy volcano-studded mountains and, in the distance, the high snow-bound valleys into which few (if any) people had ever ventured.

I felt, with an immediacy I had never experienced before, the full vastness of the world, and the painful ephemeralness of existence. And as we entered the harbor I sang softly, to myself and to the self-obliterating majesty of the Aleutians; I sang Leo Kottke's "Tiny Island," and "Lord Franklin," and I don't remember what else.

Not a happy moment, exactly - but a profound one.

That night we offloaded the fish. A cargo ship tied up alongside us at the dock, and the deck hands popped the hatch in the center of the boat, and then a second hatch on the factory deck, so that they could lower the cargo net right down into the freezer hold. Then we all got on our warmest shit, and clambered down into the freezer.

The main thing about the offload is that you're freezing your ass off, and so you have a vested interest in working as hard as possible; the sooner you get all that fish out of there, the sooner you can get the hell out of the freezer.

So at one point I was stacking a bag of fish on the cargo pallet, and Daryl, in a hurry and not really paying attention, threw another bag on the pallet - smashing my left index finger between the two blocks of frozen fish.

Daryl immediately looked stricken, but I just said "Excuse me for a second," and went to the head. I ran cold water on it for a couple minutes so that it wouldn't swell, and then put my gloves on and went back to work.

It wasn't until much later that I realized I almost certainly broke it; the first knuckle of that finger still pops when I clench my fist.

Well, anyway - we were nearing the end of the offload when all of a sudden the cargo net tore. We stood around for a while, watching the deckhands trying to stitch it back together, when suddenly Endo-San, the Japanese fishing captain, appeared at the edge of the hatch. He stood there for a few minutes, watching the deckhands with an expression of increasing impatience. Finally he could bear no more; he gave a shout, and then leapt out and onto the dangling cargo net. Clutching the net with one hand, he pulled some sewing gear from the utility belt that all the Japanese fishing crew wore with the other and began furiously stitching away at the ropes of the net. We all gathered around, and began chanting "En-DO! En-DO!" At last, and with a great dramatic flourish of his hand, Endo-San jumped down from the net and, looking up at Curtis behind the controls of the crane, made a circular gesture - let's go.

The rest of the offload was a snap. And as I collapsed, completely spent, into my bunk that night, I felt like a million dollars.

I had survived my first voyage on the Amfish. And tomorrow I would actually have shore leave.

[End part six]

thebookpolice
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Re: Part Six: Endo-San's Leap For Life

Postby thebookpolice » Thu Mar 13, 2008 12:33 pm

Marvell wrote:And tomorrow I would actually have shore leave.

Bone City!

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Postby tibor » Thu Mar 13, 2008 12:36 pm

This is by far my favorite thread in my 1,310 registered days.

More, please.

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Postby O.J. » Thu Mar 13, 2008 12:39 pm

This is shaping up as one of those eternal struggles one faces when reading an incredible book: you're dying to hear the ending, but you never want it to end. Please don't make it end, Marvell.

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Postby Oprah » Thu Mar 13, 2008 2:13 pm

O.J. wrote:This is shaping up as one of those eternal struggles one faces when reading an incredible book: you're dying to hear the ending, but you never want it to end. Please don't make it end, Marvell.

I hate to be a spoiler, but I'm thinking there was some foreshadowing with the sluice chute and heading machines. My hunch is that the protagonist dies a heroic, but nasty, death saving Daryl.

By the way, Marvell, I urged Steadman (who never read TDPF, until now) to read your tale. Steadman, a lovely and wonderful (and sexy) woman who displays an abundance of compassion and intelligence daily, thinks the story is very good but a little fishy.
Last edited by Oprah on Thu Mar 13, 2008 4:58 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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Re: Part Six: Endo-San's Leap For Life

Postby Kyle Motor » Thu Mar 13, 2008 3:18 pm

Great story Marvell, keep it up.

TheBookPolice wrote:
Marvell wrote:And tomorrow I would actually have shore leave.

I was all like, BONE....BONE...BONE...

Bone City!

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Postby Oprah » Thu Mar 13, 2008 4:23 pm

Oprah wrote:
O.J. wrote:This is shaping up as one of those eternal struggles one faces when reading an incredible book: you're dying to hear the ending, but you never want it to end. Please don't make it end, Marvell.

I hate to be a spoiler, but I'm thinking there was some foreshadowing with the sluice chute and heading machines. My hunch is that the protagonist dies a heroic, but nasty, death saving Daryl.

By the way, Marvell, I urged Steadman (who never read TDPF, until now) to read your tale. Steadman, a lovely and wonderful (and sexy) woman who displays an abundance of compassion and intelligence daily, thinks the story is very good but a little fishy.
Last edited by Oprah on Thu Mar 13, 2008 5:21 pm, edited 1 time in total.


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