It wasn't long until the pink salmon fishing begun at Middle
Bay. My worry was about setting up the egg room but it was
solved since a sujiko technician of Fuji Marine, Mr. Tanaka
had come to help me.
He didn't want to come to Middle Bay.
"I hate pink salmon. They are so small that it's so tiresome
to process them," said Mr. Tanaka. He was already 60 years
old. About 10 years later, when I was watching a T.V. program
in Japan, the subject was about Alaskan salmon processing,
and he appeared there: not retired; still making sujiko. He
was interviewed and spoke a couple of words. He was a quiet
loner who loved to travel.
"You can't make good products at this plant," said Mr.
Tanaka. Hunch of an expert, it was.
Where they got information, I didn't know, but many
applicants for working at the Middle Bay plant were received.
The ones who were hired -- they probably hired everyone --
were given rooms in the trailer houses parked inside the plant.
There were many of these trailer houses. Mr. Tanaka, Mr.
Minami and I also stayed in one of them.
Generally speaking, seldom were there workers who
wanted to work at the egg room. Even when the salmon
processing was done, lots of fresh salmon roe were left unpro-
cessed. They needed immediate processing, which meant the
workers still had work to do, such as salting, grading, packing.
In exchange for working extra hours, all the workers got was
to be pushed around by a broken English speaking Japanese.
They never knew what the Japanese were complaining about,
nor what the slight and minor checkpoints of sujiko processing
were worth .
The workers who came to the egg room kept on quitting.
Finally Mr. Tanaka and I had to do all the processing by
At first, the pink salmon delivery was slow, so the pro-
cessing was all right.
It was ebb tide. Small fish boats were anchored but they
were seen way below the dock level. Winchs were used to
bring the pinks up onto the dock. The fish were put in a large
tote and fork-lifted to the salmon processing line. There were
many workers, of various ages, clothes, sex and race, working
there. Rock music was blasting out from a radio cassette player.
The ceiling was high, and the sound was echoing and noisy.
Sometimes, the salmon delivery stopped. Then, some
workers came to the trailer house where the other Japanese
and I stayed. Perhaps, they were trying to kill time.
A tall one with a beard on, whom we called "Wise Guy,"
always named what we were eating. "What's this?" "What's
this?" he asked. He never left until we let him eat something.
We called the forklift driver "Fatso," since he was fat. He
had long hair and wore a black T-shirt that was so small that
his navel was always exposed. Though, "Fatso" played a
beautiful jazz guitar I had never heard before.
One day, Wise Guy and Fatso came and I went with them
to town. Wise Guy had some cocaine. He told me to try it in
the car driving to town, but I didn't. I was simply afraid of
that stuff.
Wise Guy parked the car, which he said that he had
borrowed from a widow he picked up when he reached the
island, in front of a bar at the downtown. It was a local bar
you could find anywhere. Wise Guy, Fatso and I entered the
bar like the Clantons meeting Wyatt Earp. A couple of a young
man and woman were playing pool. We watched them for a
while, then suddenly Fatso moved fast and went close to the
couple. Fatso said something to threaten the young man who
was wearing a T-shirt that had the words, "Marijuana Pickers,"
written on it.
It was not so long before Fatso succeeded in getting himself
a piece of hashish.
"Marijuana is legal in Alaska only if you do it in your car
with your doors shut," said Wise Guy while passing around
the pipe of hashish. We didn't care about the pedestrians at
All of a sudden, I felt like I was being hit by a hammer and
I went high.
I don't remember much after that. What I can recall is
fragmentary; going to a certain bar; getting on a strip tease
stage; being stripped by a stripper; dancing naked; getting
cheered on by an audience; the prize for my naked dance being
a half dozen Budweisers -- but I'm not sure.
Anyway, it was a party: as the Americans often say.
The next day after the party, a large freighter fully loaded
with pink salmon came into Middle Bay's dock. The fish
seemed to be from a far away fishing ground, since their
freshness was not good. As a matter of fact, the fish had been
rejected from all the main plants in Kodiak and came to Middle
Bay, their last destination. Fred and Mr. Minami decided to
buy this fish.
Mr. Tanaka and I started to process this fish in a 24 hour
shift. I still had a hangover but I had to work. The processing
continued for 3 days, until the fish went rotten.
For the first time in my life, I didn't sleep for 2 nights.
Hanwa had the option of rejecting poor quality fish, so
Hanwa rejected the remaining fish and the processing ended.
Everyone was exhausted but soon it was payday for the
workers. Though, there was a rumour that the wages wouldn't
be paid. The rumour was true. Fred said that it was only a
delay of remittance from the main company. There were no
fish to process, so Mr. Tanaka and I had nothing to do but stay
in the trailer house. It was raining outside and Mr. Minami
was out in town. All we could do was sit by the table; drink
some booze; play cards; or something like that. There was
some shooting outside once in a while, and drunk workers
were yelling. Some workers seemed to be God Damn drunk
because they were drinking all day. It was surely a bad mood.
It became night, dark and the shootings, although probably
into the sky, became more frequent.
Then, there was someone knocking heavily at our trailer
house door. Mr. Tanaka and I looked at each other. The
knocking was shaking the white lace curtain that was hanging
over the door's window. The visitor seemed not to be one
welcomed but we tried to stay cool and opened the door quietly.
We didn't let him wait. We thought that it would be better not
to do so. The man we saw standing outside was a worker of
the salmon processing line. He was wearing a raincoat and a
cowboy hat which made him look so wicked like Franco Nero
in Django. Maybe it was just because of the situation or
weather that he looked like that, but in the first place, he was
not the cheerful type. He had something in his right hand that
seemed to be a gun, but it was hidden in his pocket. He smelt
like marijuana, too.
I felt a chill.
"Do you want to come in?" I asked this stoned cowboy.
At the same time, I was telling myself to relax.
The cowboy didn't say anything and came in. I didn't like
the silence, so I asked him, "What do you want?"
After a small pause, the cowboy said,
"How come we don't get paid?"
I had to think about this question but before I did, the
cowboy continued,
"You guys know something, don't you? Why are we not
The stoned cowboy seemed to get excited. He wasn't
looking at us at all. <Showdown,> I thought.
"Now, wait a minute. We don't pay wages to you. The
person in charge of that stuff is Fred!" I told the cowboy in a
hurry. After saying it, I tried to look into his eyes.
The cowboy slowly made a weary grimace and started to
think. After about thirty seconds, he said,
"But it's you guys who buy the fish, isn't it?"
"Yeah, yeah, yeah! But we buy fish from Fred. He pays
the wages. We don t even know how much you get paid."
"Is that true?" said the cowboy in a cloudy voice.
"Yes! You ought to have asked Fred. Did you ask Fred?"
It was time to speak, speak, speak.
"No. Fred's not in the plant."
"Where has he gone?"
"I - don't know "
"Fred will come back, so you ask him then," I said and
shut my mouth. The cowboy said nothing, too. I thought it
was time for silence. Meanwhile, I prayed to God that this
cowboy wouldn't go insane and shoot me down. Who knows
what would be in the mind of this stoned cowboy and what
kind of conclusion he would get from it? His eyes had no
expressions of any kind of human feelings. I almost closed
my eyes.
Then, the cowboy said, "I see."
The cowboy, Mr. Tanaka and I had been all standing at the
dining room all the time.
The cowboy slowly walked to the door. Mr. Tanaka and I
looked at each other.
"I'll ask Fred," said the cowboy with his back turned
towards us. He opened the door and went out into the cold
pouring rain.
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