I grabbed the nearest boot and launched it across the room towards the wall. It brushed against the life vests that hung on a hangar rack that went across the ceiling. The vests fell to the ground, succumbing to the watered down weight in its fabric. As the rain beat down on the dock outside, I swore off my boss (for the past two summer seasons) for demoting me to strenuous and physical labor. I continued to grab the nearest things to me and throw it at the other side of the room like a boyfriend in a jealous rage. I made an even bigger mess than what I first encountered.
Just a couple summer seasons ago, I started working for a local company as a barista and was promoted to fish monger my second year around. When I returned to the company for a third season, my boss demoted me to rain gear cleaner. It was my duty to clean and dry fishing equipment in preparation for fishing tours the next day. In other words, I cleaned up everybody else’s shit.
Fishing tours took place in the morning time on skiffs along the coast around Gravina Island, a lowly inhabited island just across the sound of Revillagigedo – the island where Ketchikan city existed. Then again, I hadn’t been on a skiff, nor was ever invited on one, so this assumption of the fishing tour routes remains beyond (or short of) my actual belief.
The worst days were when the fishermen would decide to hold a tour later than usual – say from 5 to 7. I had to wait for them to come back after already cleaning up the first round of mess. The absolute worst was when there would be more than 60 people doing fishing tours in the morning. That’s 60 people that were different shapes and sizes.
This scenario was typical during what happened seven days a week during the summer tourist season. There was someone that needed to clean up the mess after. That someone was me.
Inside my workspace – a room on the shaky dock that was 8 feet high, 6 feet wide, and 12 feet long – I saw that raincoats covered the floor. Boots, gloves, and socks remained as lifeless on the planks, soaking the wooden planks as if it were a pile of unwanted fish slaughtered in cold blood.
I stared at the mess. My temples throbbed. I raised my fists and began to speak.
I turned around. It was the boss’ son.
“You alright in there, bud?” he asked.
“Yeah, just sorting the mess out” I replied.
“Well, you let me know if you need anything.” He spat the saliva from his snuff. “Cause I hear ya from the end of the dock.”
“Yeah, nothing wrong here.” I replied.
He then went back to his clipboard and waved me off, exiting the workspace.
Looking back at that moment when the boss’ son asked if I needed something, why yes, yes I did. A meat grinder to shove my boss’ face and his grizzly beard and serve it to the poor.
I did my usual sorting of the clothing. Gloves here. Hats there. Pants in different sizes and different piles. I prided myself in the system I made.
“Kris!” my boss called out. “How are you doing today?”
Besides my name and the usual “how are you?” my boss would pull me aside at a random moment during my shift and ask “Did you clean these clothes properly?”
In the middle of scraping fish guts off of a pair of trousers, it’s no surprise that he did it again that day.
“Did you clean these clothes properly the other day?” he asked. After asking, he told me about the tourists that complained the other about how some of the clothing was still wet.
Not making eye contact with him, I projected my voice.
“Yeah I did, but I’ll do a better job today.”
When in reality I think: “Why of course I did! Despite the fact that was raining shit the other day, liiteral shit, I most definitely dried all 60 pairs of raincoats, rain paints, socks, gloves, beanies, and lifevests.”
Any day for a fisherman (or rain gear cleaner) is filled with an open grumpiness. You ask a fisherman for some bait, they give you the hook. You ask a rain gear cleaner for some clean clothes, he gives you a coat with dried up fish blood.
The good thing about being me is that I always have an effective icebreaker: telling people where I’ve lived and what I’ve done with my life.
“I’ve lived in Alaska before,” I would say.
“Really? That’s so awesome!” they would reply.
“Yeah, it was cool, but also very shitty the last time I went.”
“Why is that?”
“My old boss exploited me. He demoted me to the lowest position of the company and didn’t give me a raise.”
“That sounds terrible.” you might ask.
“Yeah, it was alright.”
“What did you do?”
“I was a rain gear cleaner” I reply.
“A reindeer cleaner?!”
“No, a rain gear cleaner!”
Perhaps this conversation would not work with music playing in the background.
But if you don’t mind, the rain is beating quite loudly at the moment, and I can’t hear a word at all. I got a lot of cleaning to do.