Alaska Stories — Land Shark (formerly Crazy)
When I can’t write, I become like a badger and start digging around. Maybe there’s something in the past I can revisit/improve since I can’t think of anything new. To me, that counts as exercise. Literary calisthenics. Years ago, I worked on a fishing processor in Alaska. Instead of taking photographs, I wrote a lot. I’ve never done anything with those pieces– and last night I found them to be sloppy, disappointing poems. There’s a couple I can retrofit into good stories, though.
This one seems kind of salvageable as a prose poem, even as I’m kinda disappointed in its ending. I re-edited it, re-typed it and it feels fine. There’s something here, I just don’t know if this is enough. As David Letterman might say: is this anything?
I worked for two months on a ship that traveled from Anchorage and Cordova up the coast of Alaska to about Bethel, before I quit. We were processing herring for the Japanese. This story was called Crazy but I think it deserves a better title. Land Shark? It also deserves a better, sharper ending. Its like running through a forest that ends on a sheer cliff. If you don’t get the joke, then its just awkward and ‘eh..’ How or where else could it end?
There’s a faucet dripping in his mind someone forgot to turn off. His eyes haunted by manic ghosts. His smile waxy and practiced. He moves in arrhythmic spasms
The men on board want to know: what meds did he neglect to bring? The talk began when he started collecting cigarette butts in a mason jar half full of seawater he kept tied to his belt like a holster. We’ve all seen him frantically scrub the unused
metal sinks on deck only to leave them lined in gray soap scum. He dips water from the bay using a bucket and rope and with an old broom sweeps clean an enclosed portion of the deck two
or three times a day. He caused our first on-deck fight. I watched as he took a steel pipe and beat a pile of fish stacked on the floor of the processing room, fisheyes and scales shooting through the air like popcorn. I watched as he took down
the pressurized air hose used for the pneumatic staple gun and inhaled as if taking a bong hit. One morning he appeared with his head shaved bald beneath his triangle-hooded jacket.
He resembled a human dorsal fin and the crew began calling him Land Shark. He wrote his new name on back of his plum colored jacket with a black marker and patrolled the processing area with a mason jar of cigarette ashes in water and a broom.
One day, mercifully comes a lull in work. Four of us at a time are allowed on land at Port O’Brien to call home or buy candy and supplies from the Mom and Pop store. Mom and Pop are two of four residents
in town. The Sherriff and Deputy are a horse-sized Labrador named Buster and a smaller tan lab mix, the real boss, called Katie. After buying snacks and calling home, I sit on the dock awaiting the return skiff. In the distance, our ship resembled
a black and white shoe on a glass coffee table. The clouds reflected in the bay were thick and moist as cake. Distant mountains huddle shoulders like dozing old men.
And here, quietly, Land Shark approaches and sits down next to me. Just the two of us, alone.
Later that night, I sit in the galley with Frank; a man who looks as if Andre the Giant was cast in a movie to play Ozzy Osbourne. Or vice versa. I say: Frank! Land Shark’s NOT crazy!
Frank’s eyes narrow. We sat on the dock at Port O’Brien, I said. And had a great conversation! We talked about the huge dogs that couple had, we talked about music and the Talking Heads. We talked about him living in Sacramento. It was… great.
Frank gulped down a mouthful of lemonade, ran his sausage fingers through his thick curly locks and said, James—you’re crazy.