Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Scaly Job

Yesterday one of my personal mentors asked me,
"What was the best job you ever had?"

That's simply an impossible question to answer of course, but if you try to
determine which job led to the strongest period of personal growth for me,
it would be easy to suggest that my time on a processor ship in Alaska
was a milestone, if not one of the most formative periods of my life.

Ugly, nasty, horrible work.  Dehumanizing, is what one man called it.

A processing ship is anchored in one spot, and the workload is 24 hours a day,
seven days a week.  The shifts vary depending on position... my own job
required a 12-12-18-12-12-18-12 hours schedule.

When you slept, you didn't sleep well.  When you awoke, you were still
covered in the scales of the fish you had handled the day before.

Carpal tunnel syndrome?  Only time in my life I've EVER had it.  Weary.  Dreary.
After 2 weeks of working on the "gut line" (I'll spare you the details)
I was promoted to Quality Control.  My job became determining the quality of salmon and
to grade each fish appropriately into one of four categories.  The speed of work was literally
fish fish fish fish fish (basically at the speed you can say it out loud, that was the speed of the work).

There were no breaks.  Sometimes, when those of us upstairs did our job exceedingly well, we would back up the workload of the folks downstairs and then we would have a pause in the action.

Occasionally, my boss Ben King, whose physical presence and personal character were completely unmatched by all but a few men I've known, would halt the line and come upstairs. 

Picture this, if you will:

Every minute which passes, the company is losing MASSIVE amounts of money, if the line is not moving.
Yet this man would come up to the line, call a "HALT!" as loud as possible, and then turn on me, personally, each time, and feed me my ego right back into my ear as loudly as he could, so that 50 or more men could hear him.  It was always so frustrating, and I felt it unfair because it was my opinion that my observations and pace of work were stronger than the other Q.C. men. 

A year later, after the horrible death of a mutual friend from the ship, my friend Mike S. (who was a better expert on meat quality because he was a career butcher but never did make it to Q.C.) told me that Ben King did that to me on purpose, that there was no way to tell which of us working the Q.C. position was making mistakes but that I was the only one who could take the pressure and keep working harder.  The other guys in that position would crumple under the strain of the yelling but that I just got mad and worked harder. 

I don't know if that's true or if Mike was trying to make me feel better but I choose to believe that it's true.

This is a short story which is a true story which occurred to me upon this ship.   
It is "unfinished" because it's actually a longer story but I rushed the art to be able to present it at the Spokane ComicCon in May 2012.  I will one day revisit this piece.

- J.

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