Christmas greetings from the forty-ninth state! Damn the luck, it's that time of the year when I try to organize a year of insanity into a form letter.
If you'll notice, there's a slight footnote to my address..yes, Lou's gone electric with the internet. Some of you will be receiving this by the net. If you'll send me your address, I can write a bit more often. Frankly, I find the internet to be vastly overrated. I use it mainly to correspond with friends and family. It's much cheaper than the phone but `surfing the net just doesn't do it for me'. Walk down to your corner library and check out the books..it's the same concept as the internet but you don't have to leave your computer. Sure, we get some intense debate but it's just a different way of sending a fax if you will. Please note that Kodiak is getting their own internet service so my e-mail address may change in January.
One of my e-mail correspondents is my sister, Michele. In September, she packed up her two kids and husband and drove from Houston to Omaha for our first family re-union in a couple of years. After driving back to Houston, she packed up the clan for a new job in Saudi Arabia. She's a pharmaceutical doctor working in Riyadh. It's two and a half bucks a minute so e-mail is a far better bargain. Face folks, women are far more liberated in the States than anywhere in the world. We still have a long way to go but we really should count our blessings. Except for work and home, she has to go covered in veil and abaya..that's what they call the sheet they dress their women in. She's not even seen. In Saudi, women are not heard. Women can't drive either. Men have to run all the errands! Still, she loves it over there. Bottom line..she'd do it again. Why did she do it? Same reason as me..money! The money is almost as good as money in the States but it's tax free after a year and living expenses are taken care of. I haven't done much scouting but I'd go back overseas if the opportunity presented itself. You may have heard about the recent bombing of a military base in Riyadh. Their home was only four miles away.
Alaska has been an adventure. I had a couple of friends come up in July. We'll have all kinds of memories to share. Bald eagles, whales, buffalo (not wild), and several other of God's creatures were among the items we got to view. This is no fish tale but we did some serious halibut fishing and I caught an eighty-seven pound, forty-seven inch halibut! When you fish for halibut, you bait two hooks. Halibut in the forty to hundred pound range (halibut have no natural enemies and can grow to over 1300 pounds and live over a hundred years), put up the most fight. One of my friends caught two forty pounders at the same time. I struggled with my whopper for around a half hour swearing like there was no tomorrow. My arms felt like two rubber bands. At the end of my fight, I discovered there was another tiny halibut on my hook for the ride. After the bones were tossed, we must have had over two hundred pounds of fillet meat. After the catch, I got to hear more ways to torture a fish. It's enough to make you give up fresh fish.
Alaska is truly God's country. I encourage you to see it. The vastness of open space and all of the wild life is truly a sight to see. I awoke one Saturday morning to see a wonderful ESPN special on Kodiak. If any of you recorded it, please send me a copy as my brain wasn't quite functional at six a.m.. There are only seventy miles of roadway on America's second largest island. The rest of the island is only accessible by boat or plane. I've only seen the island from above a couple of times while flying to Anchorage. I'm still threatening to jump on a charter plane (two to four hundred bucks an hour) on the next nice day.
Tourism to Alaska is a growing industry. Frankly, it's quite amusing for the residents. The zoo in Anchorage had a problem with Binky, it's bear. It was so loveable that some folks weren't content just viewing Binky from outside the cage. They had to crawl inside..call it a snack for Binky. Two folks tried this with the same result. Zoo officials threatened to kill Binky but Alaskans, having more common sense than Binky's new human mass, staged a successful campaign to save Binky. They even made a popular commemorative tee shirt with Binky with a tennis shoe stuck in his mouth. The caption read: "Send More Tourists". Binky died recently from cancer. The zoo got trashed for cremating Binky. Some thought he'd be a good attraction if he were stuffed.
The cruise ships also contribute to this comedy. Pacific Princess (the Love Boat Folks), had a crew working on it's ship controls. They raced the engines. A woman and her child were on the gang plank when they realized the boat was moving. They ran off onto shore before the gang plank crashed into the water. The crew didn't realize that the boat was in gear.
I'm sure you've heard of the Exxon Valdeez accident in Alaska. Here's the story you didn't hear. In an effort to contain and clean the spill, Exxon chartered as many boats as they could find. Brand new boats got paid off in weeks. People entered lotteries just for the opportunity to earn some of the big bucks leasing their vessels to Exxon. Fisherman were paid NOT to fish. They were hired on cleaning crews and made a killing. These same fisherman turned around and sued for lost fishing income even claiming their young children as crewmen (some as young as seven and eight). Exxon spent years fighting the lawsuit even after the bulk of the publicity died down. They just recently started paying off. The Borough of Kodiak, my client, was recently awarded forty-two million as their share of the Exxon claim. Folks I've spoken to said that you had to really search to find any oil traces in Kodiak. Four to five years after the spill, fishing harvests are at record levels because of the ban on fishing. Many folks won't publicly admit it but will privately say that the Exxon accident was the BEST THING THAT EVER HAPPENED TO ALASKA!
The spirit of the Alaskan is something that cannot be denied. Alaska has been ignored for so many years, by the federal government, that many Alaskans automatically answer that you can't do that in Alaska. Such is the case of the hospital I'm currently building. Despite this negativity, they plunge on. You can keep them down but not out. Most try their luck at commercial fishing for several years. Fishing, like farming, is either a boom or a bust. One of my friends made over three hundred thousand dollars in less than a month from salmon fishing. Others that got in after the prices dropped could make more money by eating their own catch. Most have other jobs in times of bad fishing. Tales of the free flowing money from the now diminished crab and oil industries are rampant. The money is a little bit more elusive these days.
I was sitting at the counter of one of my favorite drinking establishments one night. I was looking across the bar at a few of some of the local fishermen. They're scruffy looking dudes wearing coveralls, rubber boots, long beards, and long hair..unkept describes them all. They smell like their trade..fishy and reeking of body odor. Some are highly educated with college degrees. They were spending the paychecks from their daily labors. I was thinking of the time Clinton was on MTV saying that his young audience was America's future. Looking across the bar, my mind kept saying "Say it ain't so Bill!" The only other time I had this thought, it was an equally ironic situation..a Grateful Dead concert. Radio commentary man, Paul Harvey, said there is fifteen single men to every single female in Alaska. Most of the males think there should be more women. I can only imagine the women looking across the bar at the list of `winners' thinking it should be more like 30:1.
One local bar proprietor lifted up a VW Beetle to the top of his bar as collateral for a delinquent patron's bar tab. Another bar was the sponsor of the golf tournament I wrote about in my previous letter..the one hole tournament up the mountain..par 76. No chain saws but hack saws and axes are allowed. Proceeds to benefit the local hospital's freeze care unit. This year's tournament was nearly canceled due to snow blindness. They also sponsored a frog jumping contest with prizes going to the best dressed frog jockey.
Rock star Ted Nugent as unofficially been declared as Kodiak's native son by the local radio station. He came up early this spring to hunt "wild buffalo". There's a buffalo ranch on the island and these creatures will nearly walk up and introduce themselves. Ted `hunted' down one of these docile creatures and killed it. Unaccustomed to the large amount of rainfall, Ted turned it into a publicity tour and went on the air at the local radio station for a combined interview and opportunity to offend and amuse the residents of Kodiak..three hours.
Earthquakes, hurricanes, typhoons, and flooding drive out most folks in the "lower 48". It makes for interesting tv. To an Alaskan, this is a normal occupance and it's simply "Friday". Swimming in the sixty degree ocean is normal for most natives. I'll never forget the first day the mercury struck seventy-five. Folks were wearing bikinis. I've developed my own theory about Alaska. I call it my nine out of ten theory. Nine out of ten days are absolutely miserable but it's the tenth day that makes you forget all about the other nine. We had one of the wettest summers on record but the fall had cool temps and gorgeous sunshine. It's uncanny to come home from the bars around two a.m. and it's still daylight in the summer. We only had about two hours of daylight in the summer. In the winter, we have about six hours of sun. Winter temps range from ten to forty and summer temps fall between forty-five to eighty. It's a mild temperature extreme compared to Nebraska. Snow falls would total in the foot range but it would melt the next day. So far, this fall season, only the higher altitudes have snow.
As for me, my school project is winding down. In my fourteen years of construction, I have never started and finished an entire project, until now. It's something I will be proud of. We've had our share of problems but working through them will give us a nice school house. Right now, my contract for 96 is in negotiation but it looks like I'll be here for another year finishing up a hospital that we also started this year. After that, I'm heading south. Living on an island has been an adventure but I need heat, humidity, and the city. If they do renew my contract, I'll be moving to another address. My landlord has put this place up for sale. I'll be sure to pass the new address on.
News flash..the legendary Mr. Ed didn't get married. Since I'd already bought my ticket to Chicago for his wedding, I went anyway and had the time of my life. Mr. Ed joined my friend Joe and I for a trip to Chicago's famous Rush Street and an `unbachelor party'. It's traditional to have bachelor parties for prospective grooms to be. We thought it was just as proper to have an unbachelor party for a no longer prospective groom to be. We had just as much fun and the ungroom got just as trashed. I love sports and did my best to see them all. In this long Labor Day weekend, we hit the Bears, Cubs, and White Sox games.
All of these Chicago establishments won during my visit. I'd like to say it had something to do with my visit but we both know better.. I would consider a temporary professional fan status should any of these teams would care to investigate this theory. I even managed a trip home..my second in less than a month.
One of my personal creeds is to put the money where the mouth is. Anyone who knows of my near addiction to Diet Coke also thinks I should own stock in the company. This year, I did put the money where the mouth is. I bought stock in Coca-Cola. It's done real well I might add.
HOW `BOUT THEM HUSKERS!! 11-0!! Let's make it two titles in a row..bring on them Florida Gators! I've got a friend who shelled out a hundred and ninety bucks for one ticket to the Fiesta Bowl. He gambled on the ticket about a month ago.
In my own private athletic endeavors, our basketball team fell true to the movie title "White Men Can't Jump". Our team won a game before I came to Alaska. We didn't win another until the final tournament when we won two in a row but fell victim to defeat in the finals of the loser's bracket. My personal stats included a couple of fouls and a single basket. I took second in the Kodiak Valentine's Day racquetball tournament. Organized racquetball has fallen apart since that time. Our volleyball team is undefeated so far this season at 4-0. We're not outstanding players but do well as a team. I try to get in as much bicycle time as I can but with lots of rain and ice, it can be prohibitive.
In the spring, I helped on the community theater production of South Pacific. It was almost comedic. Just as the curtain closes for the end of the play..two thugs pull the fire alarm..couldn't have been better timing. Unfortunately, there were a lot a disappointed cast members. They caught the two that did it. They paint the fire alarms with a special paint that rubs off on the hands and spreads with moisture contact..perspiration or water. I'm about ready to begin work on the Nutcracker.
Since I went home twice this fall, I'll be spending the holidays here in Kodiak. It's just too much of a hassle flying home for a holiday season that doesn't really turn me on. I don't have the cash either. It's just so expensive leaving the island..two hundred just to get to Anchorage. Since I came here in January, I've only left this island three times.
Have A Cool Yule!
My Christmas Letter Part II:
If I could have one wish for Christmas, it would be to get rid of this cold. Most folks around here call it the 'Crud'. I describe my symptoms of congested lungs, cough, runny nose, and hoarse voice. The immediate response is..you've got the crud. I've characterized the crud as a cold or flu with a totally unrelated body ache such as a sore back. I don't have the unrelated body ache. Actually, I'm feeling better. I'm on a constant regime of Ny-quil and Day-quil. Ny-quil works wonders and I wake up feeling wonderful. Ever try to get behind the wheel after downing some Ny-quil..like driving after a couple of shots. Not a wise idea. The Day-quil works but I don't feel as well as I do with the Ny-quil. I've been trying to get more sleep but the biological clock doesn't help much. The only day I seem to sleep in is Sunday..thank God that's tomorrow. I stocked up on my survival kit for the Holiday. Ny-quil and Day-quil are on sale at Safeway.
I'm thinking I might clean up my house as a present to myself. It's not fair to call my place a pigsty..pigs aren't that filthy. I don't get many visitors so I really don't care. I'd rather tap on the keys of my PC. My kitchen table is covered with software, cables, floppies and other PC stuff. Forget about eating at the table.
I've been playing with my recipes..thanks Mom.
My Christmas letter prompted lots of cards and letters. My mailbox generally has one or two every day. Some of them, I pick up and call. I'm going to hate getting my next phone bill.
There aren't as many Christmas invites as there were for Thanksgiving. I have an invite for one Sunday afternoon affair but nothing else. We had a pot luck party at the home of one of the Borough workers. Unfortunately, the grandfather of the hostess had to be hospitalized so her husband filled in as she went to his bedside. I guess he's going to make it. We had another pot luck buffet at work yesterday. The Borough gave us all the afternoon off but the boss kept thinking of ways to fill it with things to do.
No word on the new contract. I'm on complete hold. After two previous jobs dealing with the same thing, I'm used to it but I don't have to like it. If something doesn't come through, I may just say screw everything and head for drier weather. Living on unemployment doesn't seem so bad right now.
We had only one day of sunshine this month and one day without rain. I figured I could come to Alaska and see a white Christmas..not so. It's supposed to rain through the holiday. I've got a couple of round trip tickets that I can use next year..my one trip to San Diego is already in the works. As for the other, I have no idea but it will be to a place equally warm.
I'll probably stay home, catch some football and basketball on the tube, play on the PC, call the family and friends, and make a big batch of lasagna for Christmas day. Staying busy is the secret to not dwell on being alone on the holidays. I have no regrets about staying here for the holidays. Flying home is a royal pain in the butt.
Trying to wrap up my school project is one large pain. Everyone wants to make changes now that they see the final product. We've got a play field made out of sand that goes everywhere except where it's supposed to. Everybody wants to get rid of it, nobody wants to fess up to saying they wanted it at first, and there's no money to pay for it. The contractor wants his money but doesn't want to do the necessary paperwork. I'm keeping four hundred thousand as an incentive and he really can't understand that. He's taken his plight to the mayor but the mayor supports me. That helps but the circus continues. I'm trying to move into my hospital project at the same time. This circus has two rings.
Drop me a line. I'd love to hear from you.