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Opinion

Meeting different people in Nuknek

March 9, 2012

Do you remember Goofy the Walt Disney dog with the big two-buck teeth? Well, I knew a different Goofy who got his name ironically. At the Red Salmon Cannery in Naknek, Alaska, I would meet all sorts of strange and bizarre creatures that technically are called humans.

It took only 10 seconds for me to get the job. They gave me everything that I couldn’t turn down; round trip tickets from Minneapolis to Anchorage, free meals, crazy overtime, laundry and accommodations. The catch was that I had to work with these interesting people 16 hours a day for three weeks. Anecdotal demographic evidence goes as follows: half were Mexicans from Mexico or SoCal who couldn’t speak English, murderers, thieves, one quarter were college girls, bad work histories and the rest were no questions asked.

Goofy was one of these. When he grew up in Mexico, he drank some water that disintegrated the top front five teeth in the middle. It looks like someone kirbied his teeth to a metal grinder. Instead of having two-buck teeth, he had ground up teeth.

He was a regular employee of the month. He had several beds in between the palates where he would go to sleep during the long 16 hour shifts. We all thought this was a gas. He even said that he would smoke recreational drugs on break and his boss would see him do it and just call him a crazy son-of-a-b—h and let him continue on working.

My crew worked in the can shop. Our job consisted of putting green cans into a hopper that would be filled with fresh salmon.

Twenty-four months later freshness would not be as it was then, but the food would still be edible. Goofy and his other Mexican nationalities worked as custodians. They always complained of picking up the slack, asking where Goofy was. We pointed at the palates. Goofy nicknamed me “Shock-Collar” for the summer. I don’t know why, he was Goofy.

He had a way of distancing us so we didn’t get too comfortable with him. “Yeah, I’ve been to jail before. There was this guy I didn’t like at a party I was at. So, when he walked outside I got in my car and ran him over. Don’t worry he didn’t die, but I did go away for two years.”

He and the other janitors informed us at one point that they were gangsters in SoCal. This always perplexed me. If they were in a gang, why were they here? Naknek is an island because there are no roads and only boats and airplanes could access.

Things came to a head one day. Goofy knew I was a writer. He also hated snitches and feared the worst when he saw my black journal in my back pocket. Others gossiped about the journal too. That day when he was walking by he said, “I’m gonna take a s—t, why don’t you write that in your book.” The next day I “told” him I threw it away. The custodians were still complaining about his laziness, how sometimes he would leave work to take a shower.

Angel, another custodian, told me that he was offered a substantial amount to kill Goofy. I left alive and a few thousand dollars richer and most of all got to see “A Goofy Movie” when I got back home.

Christopher Pagels is an alumnus of UW-River Falls.

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