On average I slime a fish every three seconds. Twenty fish a minute. Twelve hundred an hour. Twenty one thousand six hundred fish a day. A hundred and fifty one thousand two hundred fish a week. We start the line at six. Go to noon. Fifteen minutes for lunch. Go to six. Fifteen minutes for dinner. Go to midnight. Five minute breaks at seven ten one four seven and ten. Ten minute breaks at eight eleven two five eight and eleven. Soup breaks fifteen minutes at nine three and nine. Every day they pay us twenty bucks just to shove our faces full. Room and board is fifteen a day. Deducted at source. Which is good cuz you don't get taxed on it. All the overtime puts us in a higher bracket. We slime the fish and the IRS slimes us. Al Capone had it easy. But then you get a big tax check in April. It all works out.
I'm in Egegik cuz Blaise Thompson's got a nice ass. She's Judge Thompson's daughter. We went to Anchorage Central. She was my girlfriend when I dropped out. I got construction work at Job Service downtown. Then I got a job doing demolition on Elmendorf Air Force Base. Worked with a guy named Sonny. Never knew his last name. The demo job lasted six weeks. Boss was some guy called Jim. Wanted the wood from an old dorm on the base. Bought the building at an auction. Came into Job Service and picked me and Sonny out of the crowd cuz we looked strong. Six fifty an hour.
All we had to do was tear the building apart from the roof on down. Floor by floor. Salvage all the wood and smash everything else to bits. The windows were bullet proof and blast proof. You took a full swing with the sledge and you put a dent in them. It was weird. Dented glass. So we took the chainsaw and cut around the frames and kicked them out. Sinks bathtubs and toilets we broke into small pieces. I always wanted to smash a toilet with a sledge, so Sonny saved the toilets for me. We got along just fine. One of us stood on a nail, we both took a break. Didn't mess around with tetanus shots. When we pulled the ceilings down we got asbestos in our eyes. Just had to leave it there cuz if we tried to get it out with our fingers the asbestos left scratches on our eyeballs.
Blaise dropped me off every day at the base in her red Olds. Sonny said she had a nice ass. That was fine. But then in the third week he found her phone number and called her up. Told her I fucked a hooker on the base. Then he told her how much he liked her ass. Next day I had her drop me off early. Chainsawed a piece of wood off a door frame. About four feet long. Waited by the door. Sonny was late so maybe he was worried. When he walked in I let him have it. Perfect line drive straight into his teeth. Fie boxed Golden Gloves for two years so I had to get unconventional on his ass. They carted him off to Emerg and I got charged with aggravated assault. When I visited the hospital he said the cops made him press charges. Otherwise it would fuck up his parole. His mouth was wired shut so he couldn't say a lot. Kept him there for five days. Sonny was wired the rest of the time I knew him. He was back on the site two weeks later.
When he got back he was a lot thinner. All he could eat was soup through a straw. Couldn't laugh cuz of the stitches in his gums. But he wasn't laughing much anyway. I gave him five hundred cash to drop the charges, but the DA said Sonny couldn't just drop charges like that. Blaise told me to talk to her dad. She lived with her mom so I didn't know him. Made an appointment to see Judge Thompson in his office. His 'chambers' he said on the phone. He looked at me like I was a piece of shit when I walked in. A big shot with all his law books behind him.
Judge Thompson asked about my previous assault charge. Mitch Potter had gone for my throat at Lucy's. All I did was break his arm and a few ribs. The arm with an arm lock Craig Meech showed me. The ribs with my steel-toed boots after I dropped him. Weird thing was Potter didn't fight back. Broke my right hand chopping the back of his neck. Almost picked up an aggravated charge there. Judge thought I had used a weapon. Potter said I hadn't but the judge thought he was scared of reprisals. Lucky for me two bar chicks saw the fight. Testified I didn't use a weapon. So 1 just got assault with a suspended sentence cuz I was under age. Hundred hours of community service. Picked up garbage in Earthquake Park on weekends for six months.
Blaises's big shot dad didn't like this. Wanted to know why Sonny was dropping charges. I said cuz we were friends. It was true too. If Sonny wasn't my friend he wouldn't have taken the cash. For a while I thought Judge Thompson was going to screw me over big time. He had the power. I just sat there in his chambers. Finally he told me what a diversion agreement was. No charges no trial no record. He'd have the DA keep a report of the incident on file. If I stayed out of trub for two years they'd chuck the file. But if I got in trub during that period the city would add the old charges to the new ones and push for a heavy sentence. Then Judge Thompson told me I should get outta town for a while. Wanted to get me away from Blaise. Few days later he called me at my place on Muldoon. There was a job for me at the cannery in Egegik. The plant's famous for accidents and injuries. Judge Thompson told me I should take it. Good money. The hard work would keep me in line.
Blaise cried but I flew out of Anchorage the next Sunday anyway. Nothing wrong with making good coin. Jet to King Salmon. Bush plane to Egegik's gravel runway. I left June twenty-seventh. There were no hard feelings with Sonny my last day on base. His mouth was still wired shut but he was getting the wires off in a few weeks. Jim gave me my pay and three hundred for the flight to Egegik. Blaise took me to the airport in the Olds. So like I said, I came to Egegik cuz Blaise Thompson's got a nice ass.
I was a palletizer at first. Best job in the cannery. Cuz it's dry. Giant Don the plant manager picked out the bigger guys on the landing strip. Made the work assignments right there on the runway cuz some people hear they're gonna be slimers they get right back on the plane and go straight back to Anchorage. Sliming's where some people draw the line. Palletizers work a machine that stacks cans on pallets. Just before they get loaded onto the containers. Cleanest job in the plant. No rain gear no stink no blood no guts. Just work your rotation on the palletizing machine.
Which is what I did. But I'm not palletizing any more cuz Doug Janes is epileptic. He's this joker from Palmer. Never did like comedians. Janes is one of these karate guys. Always punching holes in pieces of wood and kicking cans off pallets. I'll give him that--Janes can kick a can off a stack of pallets as good as the next guy. He was getting on my nerves the first two weeks. Slamming the inverter tray down. It started to get to me. The noise. Slam bang. I counted stuff to help me keep cool and it worked. For a while anyway. Janes was determined to get to me by slamming that inverter down. When I asked him did he have to do it so loud he smiled. He liked that it was getting to me. It's a small-town guy thing. Then one day he said my hobby was counting cans with my head. All the other guys laughed. I always hated that word hobby. Funny how it works. Broke a guy's nose once for calling me Sasparella. Something about the word. I just worked my rotation and kept counting stuff. Went back in my head and counted all the places I'd lived. How much I was making. Then I just started playing with numbers. But Janes could tell I was concentrating. Started slamming that inverter tray down even harder. Attacking my mind.
Then I get a letter from Blaise. She's got a job at a massage parlor in Anchorage. Some guy from the parlor putting a new engine in the Olds for free. Wasn't that great? At work the next morning, I'm quiet. Just worked my rotation. Then Janes starts slamming that inverter down. Bam. Bam. Bambam. Finally I tell him that if he slams that inverter down one more time I'm gonna shove his head in there and snap his neck. What does he do? Slams it right down again. But I can't do anything cuz of the diversion agreement. Cuz the cannery fires you on the spot if you get in a fight. Sends you back to Anchorage. Makes you pay for the flight back. So 1 walk around the palletizing machine and warn Janes. The Jellinek brothers tell him to knock it off. I go back to my place and start ramming cans into the sorter. Then the lunch bell rings.
When I walk past Janes he lets out this Bruce Lee cry and launches a roundhouse kick at my head. But he misses. I get him in a chokehold and push him back and back and back. While he's trying to get my arm off his throat he trips on a pile of boxes and falls backwards. Catches his head on a piece of machinery as he goes down. Passes out and goes into convulsions. His whole body's thrashing around like that girl in The Exorcist. Big Joe the loader starts crying. I'm shitting my pants. You hear stuff like that. Just an accident and someone dies. We drag Janes up onto some flat boxing. His eyes are rolled up in his head like he's possessed. Then he comes around. Says he's epileptic. Must've had a fit. Wants to know why Big Joe is crying.
Giant Don shows up and sends for the nurse. Yuri Jellinek says me and Janes were just horsing around. Giant Don asks me what happened and I tell him. Ari Jellinek comes in on my side. Janes is up now and talking to Yuri. He's confused. Tells Giant Don it happens once in a while. Says it's nothing to do with me. He's pale. The nurse comes and we head off to eat. After lunch Giant Don tells me I'll be working the slime line till the end of the season. Says I'm lucky there's no cops in Egegik. Tells me the nurse says Janes is fine. Just a routine seizure and a little bump on the head. Everything's smoothed over. Giant Don says no more problems. Just work the slime line. So like I said, I became a slimer cuz Doug Janes is epileptic.
Funny thing is I like being a slimer. You work alone. Just you and your knife. You wear full body rain gear cuz of the blood and guts. Two pairs of gloves. Rubber gloves and knife-proof gloves on top of them. Cut yourself you can get salmonella. Blood splashes onto your face you can't wipe it off. Gets into your mouth you have to swallow it. Fish blood. Tastes sweet. Sliming, you do the same thing over and over. Gives you time to think. You have earplugs in and industrial headphones over them. Blocks out the sound of the machinery. Blocks out all the other noise too. You can talk but no one can hear you. When the fish come down the line fast you slime fast. When they don't you don't. It's a very simple job.
The fish are already headless and gutless when they come to us. The Iron Butcher does that. Most dangerous machine in the cannery. From way back the Chinese work the Butcher. They feed the fish in after they come down into the hoppers from the tanks. Can't make any mistakes. The machine snatches the fish from the feeders and yanks them inside. Rotator blades take the head off. Slice the stomach open. Rip the guts out. Then the fish come out the other side onto a conveyor belt and drop onto the slime line. That's when we get them. We fix the chopper's cuts. The head's dangling we slice it off. The guts are still attached we cut them out. Then we drop the cleaned fish into a flume. That goes to another conveyor belt and on to the shredder. Women man the shredder. Only men slime.
Like I said, sliming gives me time to think. But eighteen hours can be a long time. My first day on the slime line I thought about everything. Everywhere I'd been. Every song I knew. Every kind of car. Put everything in boxes in my mind. But there weren't enough boxes to fill it. On my first soup break the fourth day sliming a girl on the shredding line gave me a book. Said it was her favorite. Something about a seagull. I hadn't read a book in a long time. Next day the fishermen got caught in a squall. We got time off with pay until they made it back. Wasn't even raining in Egegik. The palletizers don't talk to me much anymore so I took that book out to the dump. Only place in Egegik to go. Twenty-five people in the village. Five six families. Funny thing is they have a Mayor. Rides an ATV. No one goes to the dump cuz of the bears.
But the dump's the only place you can be alone in Egegik. So I went out there and read that book about the seagull. Sat on a rusting Sherman tank. This one seagull was a big hero cuz he wanted to fly higher than the others. It made no sense to me. I lost all respect for seagulls when I came to Egegik. There's an old fishermen's cemetery on the hill above the cannery. The hill's sliding into the sea bit by bit. Some graves they're right on the edge. They mustn't have any coffins in Egegik. Cuz you can see the skulls sticking out of the sand on the edge of that hill. You'd think they'd be bone white but they look like worn shoe leather. You have a view of the cannery docks from up there. A stream of blood and guts runs into Bristol Bay. And hundreds of seagulls pile into that river of slime. Fly back up with entrails hanging from their beaks. In the air they scream as they fight for bits of flesh. That's seagulls. Next day I gave the girl the book back.
Seven days to go. First thing I do when I get back to Anchorage is get Blaise out of that massage parlor. Then we'll drive the Olds down the Al-Can Highway. Get a look at Canada and Idaho. Her mom's got a cabin in Hayden Lake. Pan handle of Idaho. Just a little place. Said we can go down there and stay as long as we want. No rent. I figure on the money I've saved in Egegik we can live for two years. Then my diversion agreement will be up. Be able to go back to Anchorage without worrying about not being able to defend myself.
But like I said, me and Blaise are going to Hayden Lake. It'll be nice to see the autumn Al-Can and the Yukon. We'll stay in Whitehorse for a few days. They say it's an interesting town. Then down that long long road to the lower forty-eight. Won't be anyone else around. Just Blaise and me. If we need extra money I can work construction. That's the good thing about construction. They do it everywhere. Maybe not in Idayden Lake but in Coeur D'Alene or Spokane for sure. They say there's always construction in Spokane. Another week and I'll be packing the Olds with Blaise. Seven days. A hundred and sixty-eight hours. Ten thousand and eighty minutes. Six hundred and four thousand eight hundred seconds.