17 July 2014
Everyone’s out at the bar tonight but I’m in the shack lying topless on a cat-pissed-upon sofa, perspiring lightly, composing a letter to entertain and inform my dearest reader some five thousand miles south, the most beautiful of all the women in my life and by far the most kindred of the dozen or so odd spirits. The pissed-upon couch is a gift of sorts, by which we mean a borrowed object we never intend to return, from a friend of Treavor’s who lives across the street from the plant here in Naknek. When I say friend I mean Drug Dealer With A Baby Whose Chances In This Thing Called Life Are Pretty Well Shot. Treavor unscrewed the lofted bed from the post that supports it, shoved the couch in under the half-suspended bed and screwed the post back in with great ceremony and swagger and a look that contained the whole history of man’s triumph over oddly shaped pieces of wood. He did all of this manual labor sans shirt, as is his way. This couch is thus a permanent art installation and a testament to sweat, love, sex, God, rescue and cordless power drills. It will never leave the shack. Sorry, drug lords of Bristol Bay, you’re just going to have to smoke pills standing up or sitting down on some lesser kind of furniture, cat-pissed-upon-or-no, the choice is yours and I trust you will make the right one.
This is the summer for breaking hearts and quitting in dramatic fashion, usually under the influence of at least three different intoxicants. The other day I answered the office phone to this:
“I’m sorry – who is this?”
“Sssssss bloose! Can ya hear me?”
*clear sounds of glasses clinking and bottles being opened in background*
“I can hear you, but I can’t understand you. Who is this?”
“Bruce! It’s Bruce! The forklift, fuckin’…driver!” “
Ah, Bruce! A dawning of delighted and dismayed recognition.
“What’s up, Bruce?”
“I been thinkin, and what y’all are payin’ me and everything, I quit.”
“I’m not comin’ in tonight.”
“Bruce, you can’t call in sick. You have to come in personally and talk with us.”
“I ain’t callin’ in sick, I just ain’t comin’ in. I’m done. I quit.”
*Several seconds of bar noise*
Or take the other day: a cheerful and industrial woman on our crew, with a penchant for doling out voluptuous laughter and slender Japanese cigarettes in equal measure, slipped her letter of resignation into a stack of more covert matters on my boss’s desk and made a break for the King Salmon airport in a Red Line Taxi speeding into the twilit tundra. Was she followed? She was, dear reader. She most definitely was. The senior dock lead stuffed his whole room in a canvas backpack, called his own cab and raced after her. As he was throwing his bag in the back, the bunkhouse foreman, eyes squinting suspiciously against the sun, asked him what in hell he thought he was doing. “I’m doing it for love,” he said. All of which came as a blistering zinger to the dock crew, who had just barely begun to recover from the fantastic loss of the other and much beloved dock lead who finally, after years of partying harder than Steve Rubell at a viking funeral, burned out like a quarter stick of dynamite in a rusted-out hub cap. By which I mean got himself canned. He taught me all the Spanish I know, most of it filthy. He had more machismo and fuego and corazon than any Mexican boy I’ve ever met (and I once met a Mexican boy in Juarez who tried to sell me lobster and a handful of off-brand Xanax in the same city block). He taught me this: Con el punto de la mi verga yo lo hazo. “By the tip of my dick I do it.” Amen.
Which puts us at the end of salmon season with exactly one (1) dock lead who has any idea what is going on or how to get anything done, and that’s Treavor. So he works around the clock and takes naps at weird intervals and sometimes I come home from a shift and he’s there falling asleep with a beer in his hand and my laptop is totally dead. I take the beer from his hand and I take a long drink of it and I set the beer on the shelf littered with sand and Hemingway paperbacks and kiss him awake. In the fall we will be married in South America, or, failing South America, Australia, or, if we are feeling humble, our home town in the valley where we grew up together and for so many years wrote barely disguised love letters to each other while we each hung off the hip or the arm of someone else.
It’s my brother’s birthday today and I haven’t had a chance to call him. By the time I got off work it was eleven at night his time. You can see this constant missing and meaning-to-call on peoples’ faces, in their eyes the horrible homesickness, in their one collective gut the hunger for a normal day with a room swept clean of sand and a clock that is not armed to the teeth with alarms. Little sisters graduating from college. Best friends growing fat with babies. Old friends getting married, and none of us are there to hug them or buy them a drink. We are here, so far away and so long gone we don’t even dream about home any more. We all stopped dreaming in June, right around the time the hot dogs started hitting hard and fast.
“We got stuck between a dog and a hard place,” says Treavor.
A moment of somber reflection, and then he adds:
“We got straight-up sneak-dogged.”
This is how we speak when all there is to eat, seemingly at every meal, is hot dogs. It kills your very will to live, but keep living we must, or else who will redeem our frequent flyer miles?