My Own Bed
It’s just that I wanted to go. Sure I didn’t want to stick around, but mostly I just wanted to see it. People still ask: ‘how much money can I make in Alaska?’ I say ‘that’s not what I went for.’ As simple as that. Those people aren’t worth it. They’ll ruin a rainy day complaining about it. They will take you somewhere and then say ‘Sorry, it wasn’t that great.’ They will worry about the cops or their shoes or about how they needed to call someone but didn’t. Even when it’s too late to call, they still worry.
No one believed I was going. They’d ask if I had my ticket yet. Even when I said yes, they weren’t sure. So I went, early July with a pair or new shoes. I went to Juneau first because I had a friend there. He took a bus to the airport and found me sitting against my bag. Told me he’d got out of prison the day before. Maybe he’d been in a while, I didn’t know.
We took the bus to docks and walked, floating over the water, past the houseboats and rusty seining rigs. Passed fishermen and motorboats. As we walked we saw more seaweed in the water until we had reached a small mastless sailboat, covered with a tarp and knocking gently against its buoys. The bow was filled with gear, and the cabin with proof that it hadn’t moved in years. It belonged to a man he’d met on some island. Old as hell, but it held water and he’d lived out of it for eight months, before prison. He’d relied on the foodbank and sometimes worked.
There were books stacked on every surface but the top of the Bunsen burner stove.
I called up my friend joel in Minnesota and told him to come up and join me. He didn’t ask about the money, he just came. After a few days the friend of mine who’d been in jail took off. He wanted to travel. I couldn’t blame him. At that point, after he left. Joel and I were squatting. We showered in the locker rooms of the local high school and dug change out of hotel couches and the urinals in bar-bathrooms: places like that.
Sometimes Wells Fargo coffee tasted like ash out of an ash tray, but it was good enough for us. We would make up a new reason each day to go in. Put two dollars in, take two out; we asked about their savings accounts. Banks will never kick you out as long as you have potential to become a rich white man.
Two Man Tent
There were a lot of tourists there so we decided to skip town. We managed to get up to Anchorage where a couple of friends picked us up. They’d been in a tent in the shipyards of Kenai looking for work. Old wooden fishing boats balanced on dunnage, that sort of thing. It seemed like a good enough place: a spigot and a makeshift fire-pit.
I started out working the slime line in a cannery: gutting salmon and cod. There were a lot of colors and my hands and feet got numb, kind of like swimming. There were yellow and orange rain-pants. There were yellow and green rain-coats, Yellow blue and red entrails. The knives had white handles. Ice and water was everywhere. And there were so many blue crates: bright blue. It didn’t take long though before you cold only focus on the mechanical drone of the industrial guillotine, which threw up maybe eighty headless fish a minute.
After my first paycheck, I bought a second hand tent and a sixteen-dollar bicycle. the warehouse was fanfare: there were plenty of Inuit and Eskimo and high school kids: wrist braces and missing teeth. The foreman had a mullet and a limp so !got out of there as fast as I could.
I pounded the pavement till the captain of the F V Shiloh said 'sure' when I asked if he needed a deckhand. Captain Leeland Todd. We started the next day. We Pulled anchor at 3 sometimes and didn’t get back till after midnight. The wind blew like ice, but I learned to keep my eyes open and one hand, when I could spare it, on the railing. If we were riding low, if the fish-hold was sitting pretty full, the captain would clean a sockeye and we would eat our fill.
It isn’t the rocking of the boat that keeps you awake; it’s the slapping of eight-foot chops against the hollow hull. The terns fished along side us. Sometimes seals would eat salmon right out of our nets. Some days saw us busy as hell and sockeye ran for nearly two dollars a pound.
Just about anyone I talked to had the same story- anyone who picked me up hitchhiking or sat down by my cooking fire: they came up from the lower fourty eight in the seventies and just never let themselves leave. My captain had come up for a summer, knew he needed to stay, and only went home long enough to marry the girl he’d been dating- half a year. He’d been in Alaska for forty.
I guess I don’t have what it takes: I left Alaska to go to college. I didn’t even hesitate. Traded the bike on Craigslist for some fresh fruit, fit most of what I had into a pack, and hid the rest in a dry-docked tin can fishing boat. It was ok because someone had said the Russians took out a piece of the engine a few years back and no one had noticed. I left thin except my arms, but at least I didn’t go for the money.