When I was in Alaska, I held quite a few different jobs, some simultaneously. My last job was in a fish cannery and was my second position there, the first having been computer work in the cannery office. This second one was real cannery work: the slime line.
When I took this job I was on my way out of the state, having made all the arrangements for the return to Washington. It seemed almost criminal to have been there for nearly a year without ever really participating in that community's major industry. Besides, I figured I could stand on my head for two weeks; how bad could real cannery work be?
The slime line sounds better than it is, which ought to tell you something. On this particular slime line, about 30 people worked two sides of a conveyor belt pulling off the gutted and half-frozen samon that moved down the belt, slapping them onto a work area, and using a spoon device connected to a cold-water jet to scoop out the blood line that runs down the spine of the fish. Dressing for this occupation involved wearing heavy rain gear over jeans or overalls, rubber boots, a hat, and cotton gloves covered with rubber gloves. It took about 30 minutes just to get the outfit on.
So at 8 am I took my position on the line. Everyone knew what to do except me. The salmon started coming down the belt, thousands of them, fast. I grabbed a fish as it moved by and put it in front of me with the open belly facing the belt. I smiled at my own stupidity and flopped the fish over to face the right direction. Splat. Quickly I realized why no one on the line was smiling. I wiped what I could off my mouth with my sleeve. It was very ineffectual. I didn't even attempt that much with my glasses.
At 10am the belt stopped moving. The silence was profound. Everyone turned off their faucets and slogged off for a snack and a cup of coffee. There was slime in my nose, in my eyes, all over my rain gear, and I could barely see through the glasses. I was frozen, stiff, and miserable. I was not hungry.
The shift was scheduled to go back to work in 15 minutes so I considered my options: I could continue with this job to prove I could do it or I could just walk out. I decided to give it two more hours, just because it had taken so long to get dressed.
At lunch time I turned in my time card and told them I wouldn't be back.
"Gee," the guy at the office said, "I thought you could take it."
I didn't bother to explain that it wasn't a matter of my not being able to take it. I was just too aware that I didn't have to take it. That somewhere, anywhere, there were jobs less odious than that one, and I would find one of those jobs.
Okay now. Three weeks go by and I have returned to Washington, found a new place to live, and find that jobs aren't as easy to get as I thought they would be. I hadn't filed for unemployment in ten years, but thought it might be a good idea just in case nothing materialized soon. The form wanted my Alaska job history and I truthfully answered, ending with my four hours on the slime line.
"When did you decide to quit?" asked the form. Hah.
"What reason did you give your employer?" I said I couldn't stand it because it was disgusting, demeaning, cold, smelly, filthy, noisy, and in the wrong state.
"Were you aware of the working conditions when you were hired?" Well, they had given me a tour and I saw people pulling the fish off the belt and scraping the blood out of the fish's body cavity, but until I actually experienced it...I reluctantly answered with a yes.
"What effort did you make to have the conditions corrected before you quit?" Well, what could I ask them to do? Gosh, these fish smell so bad. Do you suppose we could do this to stuffed animals? It is really cold in here, could you turn up the heat? Guess that one is a "No."
No unemployment benefits for me since I had quit. But I wasn't sad. I would find something and whatever I found was not going to be as bad as what I had left. There wasn't a cannery in a hundred miles.
Saints celebrating feast days today include, but are not limited to, Everild, Nicholas Pieck, Jerome Weerden, Leonard Vechel, Nicholas Janssen, Godfrey van Duynen, John van Oosterwyk, John van Hoornaer, Adrian van Hilvarenbeek, James Lacops, Andrew Wouters, Antony van Willehad, Nicasius van Heeze, Veronica Giuliani, and Anatolia.
Birthdays today include Brian Dennehy (1938), Tom Hanks (1956), and Fred Savage (1976).
Tomorrow I am going sturgeon fishing. We are going for the monsters, which means I will come home with memories, not meat, because the monsters have to be released. even though they might warn the others. Here's a picture from the charter service I am using: