if its not yummy, then we better make it funny.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

some old writing... Lance

I read that book, Women who love too much and always I wish I hadn't. It so clearly defined me, yet didn't tell me how to solve the problem. I have been approval seeking and pleasing my way through men for decades. There comes a bitter resentment when that pendulum swings. My first marked choice of an emotionally unavailable man was Lance. He was thirteen years older than I, yet retained some personality attributes of a teenager. He was an Alaskan crab fisherman who strutted though life charming and or revolting those he met. He seemed to have colorful nickname where ever he went. The son of a miner in Butte, Montana, he had substance use and infidelity modeled for him in his formative years.

Upon my first visit to Butte I had a claustrophobic sense with a yearning to turn back the clock. The dilapidated town, loaded with once opulent churches and bars and hidden naughty nooks seemed to be in its geriatric stages. Oh, how I would have loved to see the ruckus of that booming mining town, it's style, bravado and decadence. In the 1980s Butte was living on gray canned peas, its teeth just too tired to bite off much more. There were thriving motorcycle cults and junkyards that seemed to be doing o k, but for the most part the town was hurting. Folks with money from other cities were coming to Butte and buying up low priced properties to deconstruct the buildings to relocate the materials to their primary, more desirable area of residence. That architectural salvage brought a new kind of shark into the wild west of Montana. Artful features, the grandeur of yesteryear, in Butte was getting appreciated, only it was getting appreciated in other towns, ones that didn't court suicide so frequently.
Lance's family had lived there for as long as I can remember. His mother Elza was from a Hungarian family, she was the first generation to be born in the United States. With a healthy dose of Hungarian verve she kept the culinary traditions (cabbage and paprika centered as they were) alive. Elza was a short woman with a girth that didn't factor in well with her arthritis. Her toes looked like they wanted off her feet, protruding in different directions. She didn't move much and wasnt very comfortable.
She loved all three of her children, but I suspect she loved Lance, her middle and only boy with a special flourish. The girls, Little Elza and Lorraine tried not to take this to harshly. They did however, occasionally team together to compensate for the inequitable treatment. Lance told stories of the tricks they would play on him while he held a washcloth over his crusty eyes during hay fever mornings. All of the children had gotten their father's facial structure, long angular faces, with rakish bird noses.

Lances father, Alfred Nygard was a first generation Norwegian. He was tall and lanky and had some quiet pluck, that could creep out and surprise you. He was, in contrast to his wife, stoic and observant. There was not room for more reactionary fanfare, Big Elza had that covered. I wonder if she got that way from the insecurity of her husbands conduct earlier in life. One time when I was visiting Butte, with new baby Nina, Lance failed to return from his fraternizing one night. I was seething and inconsolable. Big Elza said, I had better get used to it, that there were times that her husband didn't return for days on end.
Well, I didn't want to get used to it. I wasn't going to get used to it. She seemed baffled by my belligerence and defensive of Lance, when he finally returned home having been away “just” one night. That trip to Butte could not end too soon.

I much preferred the Lance that took me out in his boat, that helped me and my skipper collect gear that the storm had put out of reach. The joking, grabbing, gleaming eyed sailor I had to myself in Alaska. Of course, I never really had Lance to myself. He had such an inclusive yet irreverent manner, people were drawn to him. He was fun. He could get you laughing. Lance seemed to have more male admirers than female ones. He was so robust and cocky that he scared away most women. His attention on you was impossible to ignore whether he played the coy innocent boy or the groping caveman letch.
Much later...after Nina was born!

Wednesday had come and gone. Wednesday was the day that Lance was to call me to arrange our next meeting the following weekend in Corvallis, where Nina and I lived. He had obligations back in Seattle to help clean up and batten down the boat that he had been working on. It was a crab fisher /processor called the Deep Sea. Lance had spent close to three months on board crabbing. Nina was just about to turn one. We had purchased a plethora of toys for her, the weekend before. The end of crab fishing season was usually punctuated by lavish spending. In the past, if I hadn't been in Alaska myself, I would meet up with Lance in Seattle where we would dine and drink and shop to our hearts content. Sometimes Lance would dabble in harder celebratory substances like heroin and cocaine. It was a slow dawning for me realizing that Lance had a weakness for such things. When we were in remote Alaska there weren't temptations like that. There were plenty of warning signs of general substance dependence, though. Lance could usually be seen walking with at least a half case of beer, regardless of the time of day. When I pestered him about his apparent alcoholism, he gave me the “It's only beer” disclaimer. Lance was a robust viking of a man. He was Norwegian and Hungarian. He had a long face, wild golden straw hair, bold white teeth and a strong nose that I can see in Nina today.
Lance was grounded at sea, a huge asset to any crew. He was fit and fast and smart. Having fished the “big king crab years” and then a couple more decades, he had experienced many episodes and managed through plenty of rough seas. Lance was less dependable on the land, however. Like most extreme laborers (like miners, fishermen and oil riggers) he played as hard as he worked. He had lots of tales of his mischief after loosing himself from a fishing vessel. I think I was one of those in my earlier meeting with him. He was one of the few men in Sand Point Alaska who had a girlfriend, but he wanted me, too. Judy was his girlfriend when I first met Lance in 1981. I found her a fascinating character . When I met her she was hauling a huge load of groceries to the dock. She had a bit of a slur in her speech. I imagine she had been trying to drink alongside Lance (a dangerous thing I tried a time or two, myself.) She had cases of Grosch beer that came in levered stopper bottles, she told me she was to make rhubarb wine and refill them. I asked her where she lived and she told me Unga Island. Unga Island is a ghost town. It had been a thriving prolific gold mine community, and then a cod processing plant until all the residents bailed out quickly, partly due to diphtheria blowing over from Europe, but mostly the gold mining technology couldn't remedy the seeping sea water. In later ghost town years there were many homes to choose from, since they had just been abandoned. There was also a variety of tools and crude appliances to adopt. In my own later exploration of Unga Island I found misshapen marbles on the beach that had been rolling for decades and old fashioned stationary and an exquisite peacock blue wool gabardine shirt. That lovely shirt was ripped off my back by an angry Aleut woman- Shirley, the growling woman of steel, my skipper's big sister. It only lasted about a week, but that's another story.

Unga is geologically much older and larger than Shumigan Island, which is where the population lives and fishes today in the little town of Sand Point. It has beds of fossilized oysters and eerie, compelling, lonely shacks. As far as civilization goes, Unga Island had a village called Squaw Harbor, the Apollo Gold mine, (complete with two curmudgeons) and the old Unga Village.

More to come if you like it...

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