After 9/11, I finally became a real(ly irresponsible) man
In the summer of 2001 I was waking up drunk on Florida beaches. A year later I found myself in the Alaskan wilderness (and still drunk).
NOTE: What follows here is essentially the prologue to my diary of the years I spent in a remote Alaskan village, the chronology of which has been conveniently summarized in easily digestible capsule form here.
January, 2002: Six months before arriving here, I had never even heard of Galena or been aware of the existence of entire cities in the Alaskan Bush accessible only by plane (or a 12-hour river journey via boat or snowmobile in the winter).
I was whiling away three months on a houseboat in the Florida Keys, sometimes waking on an empty beach, the sand coating my head having scratched out all memories of how I got there.
After playing it pretty much straight and safe for my first 21 years, that summer was my first real taste of irresponsibility - or maybe of actually living in the moment, to borrow a cliche. Arriving in Galena would be the catalyst to accelerate this constant craving into an addiction to drama fueled by cheap vodka.
But there was a short period in between my leaving Florida and arriving in the Bush.
The Florida summer that followed college graduation was my escape, it was a field trip to visit the adolescent stupidity I sat out. But it ended in August. That September I returned to my hometown, moved into a house with some high school friends, my college girlfriend took a job nearby. I felt smothered by the utter inertia of it all.
My second week back home, the Towers were knocked down and my own angst and frustration was suddenly everywhere.
My grandmother described the view from her Union Square apartment, downtown Denver was evacuated. In our house we argued interminably for the next month about the merits and mistakes to be made in bombing Afghanistan. We had nightmares about the World Trade Center jumpers.
We had been kids when the first Gulf War played out quicker than a Saturday double-header and were foolish enough to believe we were living in a world that had moved beyond "real" war. Joining the military still seemed like nothing more than a way to pay for college. In the week that followed the attacks, the front page of the Onion summed up our feelings with typical poignancy in a three-word headline:"Holy Fucking Shit!"
So, when the General Manager of a tiny radio station named Shadow Steel called a few months later, the only response to dozens of resumes sent all over the continent, it seemed like another escape, but this time a permanent one.
I had spent two decades building a solid reputation as a guy both funny and smart, capable of being spontaneous and taking risks, but nothing too big or impressive - for the most part it could be agreed upon that I was not just a dork, but a total pussy. I had never thrown a punch, or used a power tool, or run from the cops, or done anything else that might earn me some credibility on the street or other places like that - I wasn't even sure where I could spend the currency earned from developing un-pussy habits. But that moment in history in the last part of 2001 was demanding big moves from us all; the era of the lovable pussy dork was over, it was time to open an account at the First National Bank of Manliness, and Alaska seemed like a place to both earn and spend.
So now the tiny plane is taxiing to a stop outside an equally tiny airport. I hunch over to fit through the tiny frame of the door, descend a trio of steps and finally set foot on the tarmac of Galena’s airstrip. Kind of. It’s covered by a thick layer of ice and packed snow. It’s 11 a.m. on January 2nd, 2002 and the sky is still nearly dark. A thermometer on the door flanked by 8-foot snowdrifts that leads to “baggage claim” reads 35 degrees below zero.
The man with a two-foot long red mullet claims to be Shadow Steel and offers me a ride to the double-wide trailer that will be my home for the next two years.
In an instant, six months of inertia give way to panic.
Under my breath, I mutter the three poignant words now looping in my brain: “Holy Fucking Shit.”