(Read Part I here)
“Welcome to Anchorage, Kevin. Now, let’s get the fuck out of here before my ex-wives find out I’m here.” That’s how Captain introduced himself to me when he picked me up from the airport. He had a white beard and wore a blue knit cap pulled down tight over his head. “My exes can smell me when I’m in town. Maybe it’s the fish they smell on me, but I think they can smell my money underneath that.”
Captain did most of the talking as we drove to Valdez. “This is the largest port in Alaska, the most important. We’ll be fishing in the Prince William Sound. See those mountains in the distance? Those are the Chugach Mountains. They’re about 250 miles long. Because of their position on the Gulf of Alaska, they receive the most snowfall in the world. You hear that, Kevin, the whole fucking world.” As he rambled on, in a lazy drawl that sounded like he must have originated in the south, I tuned him out and followed his pointing finger toward the mountain, jagged razors cutting the horizon.
My dad said Alaska would make me feel like a man. My dad was convinced I needed to feel like a man: “Your mother babied you too much. We should have had another child. You needed a sibling, but your mother’s pregnancy was difficult. She babied you too much, her only son.”
Captain explained our geography—Prince William Sound, where we’d be salmon fishing and Valdez, his home, with a population of less than 4,000 people. He talked, and I thought of the brief and horrific research I had done when I learned two weeks earlier I was being shipped off to Alaska to spend the summer fishing before leaving for school in August. My research was grim: of the nearly 1,000 work-related deaths in Alaska between 1990 and 2008 (eighteen years, the number of years I’d been alive), one-third were fishermen.
“Most of the surrounding land is part of the Chugach National Forest, which is the second largest national forest in the U.S.,” Captain explained. He had a picture of Poseidon, god of the sea, on his bicep that I watched flex and relax as he steered the driving wheel.
The number one reason for fatalities on fishing boats is death after a vessel disaster.
Captain: “We’re in South Central Alaska, the most populous region in Alaska. That’s only because of Anchorage.”
The second most common means of death for fishermen is falling overboard.
Captain: “The average temperature in Valdez is about 60° Fahrenheit this time of year. So you won’t freeze your balls off, Kevin, but don’t expect to be a bathing beauty either. You’ll be working all day and you’ll be tired as fuck at night. Most nights, you’ll be too tired even to rub one out. You can try, but you’ll probably fall asleep with your dick out.”
The third most common cause of death of fishermen is onboard injuries.
Captain: “Don’t fall asleep with your dick out, Kevin. You’re bunking with Marco and I’m in the cabin too. We don’t want to see your dick.”
The fourth most common cause of death of fishermen is diving-related.
I didn’t know who Marco was, nor did my dad. For all Dad knew, it would just be Captain and me. But the Captain, even with a Gillnet boat, still needed two people to help him.
“Marco, this is Kevin. Kevin, this is Marco. Kevin’s from Washington. Kennewick, right Kevin? Marco here is from Los Angeles. He’s a tough piece of shit, but he’s been fishing with me the last five summers,” Captain said when we boarded the boat the next day and found Marco sitting and smoking a cigarette. He was shirtless and had sleeve tattoos on both arms. He had an anchor on his left pec.
“Hey Kevin, nice to meet you,” Marco said and noticed me eyeing his artwork. “I put this here so any girl of mine would know from now on, without a question, what my first love is. I got this one put on me after my first summer here. Stick around long enough and you’ll fall in love too.”
Some of the ink on his arms was pretty good. I thought the anchor a bit expected. Maybe I just hated sea tattoos because of my dad. He had an anchor on his right bicep.
“Hey man, nice to meet you,” I said, standing up straight and slapping his hand in greeting.
“Marco spent a few years in jail when he was your age, Kevin. On and off. For stealing cars, right Marco?” Captain asked.
Marco had a glare, then a far off look, and then he said, “Yeah, Captain. A long time ago. It’s been nearly a decade. Lay off. I’m not your fucking poster boy for delinquents, alright?”
Captain brushed off Marco’s complaint. “I was just making introductions,” he said. Captain signaled me and we left Marco on the deck, whistling.
Captain gave me a tour of his at least thirty-foot long boat. The stern. The cabin we’d all be sharing. The jerk-off parlor, where Captain introduced me to Anna. He took his cap off in front of her and revealed his buzz cut skull. Next to her was Marco’s girlfriend, a picture of her at least (I’d find out later that her name was Marylou, three years and one kid together). In this picture, hung to the right of the mirror over the sink so I’d have to look into her brown eyes every time I washed my hands, she was sitting on a bed with her legs tucked under her. She was topless, cradling her chest. She had a secret smile, a smirk like she believed, believed, this picture was only for Marco. Now this picture was for Captain and for me, I guess.
“She’s a beauty alright, a bit exotic, if that’s your thing,” Captain said as I stared into those trusting eyes, those eyes that loved Marco unquestionably and wholly. “But I prefer my Anna. I need a bit more all-American, blue eyes and blonde hair. “
Captain was an old-fashioned pornographer. He liked his women 2-D, flat eyes on flat tear outs. His porn was ancient, paper. Mine was modern, secrets held on the Internet. The problem was I didn’t clear my search history the last time I used the computer.
He never mentioned finding it, but a week after I forgot to clear “big cocks” my dad said, “Before you leave for school, why don’t you spend the summer in Alaska fishing with my buddy the Captain? You need the sea air. It will do you good. You don’t spend enough time outdoors.”
Stay tuned for Part III